Biafra: Buhari should apologise to Ndigbo

June 18, 2018

Casmir Igbokwe

“We recognise that an error has been committed. We will no longer tolerate such perversion of justice. This honour is for the grievous injustice done to the country. It is meant to assist at healing the wounds and building national reconciliation of the 25 years of wounds caused by the annulment. I earnestly urge Nigerians to accept it in good faith and bury the past of June 12.”

That was President Muhammadu Buhari’s national apology to the family of the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola. And it was for the annulment of June 12, 1993 Presidential election. Abiola was the adjudged winner of the election. Last Tuesday, the President conferred on Abiola, Nigeria’s highest honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR). At the investiture ceremony in Abuja, Buhari also tendered national apologies to all those who struggled to actualise the June 12 mandate. Not only that, June 12 has now replaced May 29 as our new democracy day.

This is good. For a rigid President whose constituency did this grave injustice to the nation to have done this means there is still hope for the country. In this same spirit of June 12, Nigeria also needs to bury the ghost of May 30 for total national reconciliation and cohesion.

May 30, 1967 was the day the then Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu proclaimed the Republic of Biafra. The proclamation became inevitable after the pogrom in the North against innocent Igbo population. It was consequent upon the military coup of 1966 said to have been led by Igbo officers. Over three million Igbo lost their lives in the ensuing war that followed from July 6, 1967. Millions of Igbo children died of starvation, which the Nigerian government used as a legitimate weapon of war.

Even after the war on January 15, 1970, the starvation did not abate. The government of Nigeria gave every Igbo man 20 pounds. This is not withstanding if you had 20 billion pounds in your account. In a state like Rivers, many Ndigbo lost their properties to the so-called abandoned property saga.

In present day Nigeria, starvation has changed to marginalisation. No Igbo man, for instance, has been found good enough to become the President of Nigeria. In key political and security appointments, Igbo people are not found worthy. In admission into federal unity schools, Igbo children suffer discriminatory admission policies despite their brilliance.

Very often, millions of Ndigbo who live and invest everywhere in Nigeria, become victims of religious riots and other violent acts in different parts of the country. Their lives and properties are always targets of marauders.

These have actually fuelled the agitation for the actualisation of the sovereign state of Biafra. There are different groups championing this agitation. One of them is the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

The group became so vociferous that the Federal Government banned it and declared it a terrorist organisation. That was after it had sent soldiers to the South-East to harass and intimidate the people in what was termed Operation Python Dance. Up until today, the whereabouts of the arrowhead of the IPOB agitation, Nnamdi Kanu, are unknown. Nobody is sure whether he is alive or not.

President Buhari added insult to injury when he stated earlier in the month that the Nigerian army was soft on Biafrans during the civil war. He said the then Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, issued strict instructions to the army not to treat Biafrans as enemies but as brothers and sisters.

He noted, “I remember with nostalgia the performance of the commander-in-chief, General Yakubu Gowon. Every commander was given a copy of the commander-in-chief’s instructions that we were not fighting enemies but that we were fighting our brothers. And thus, people were constrained to show a lot of restraint.”

I don’t want to belabour this because a number of people have faulted the President on this issue. The point is, Buhari should not give the impression that the war against Ndigbo is perpetual. The Sarduana of Sokoto, the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, reportedly told his people in October 1960 to use the minorities of the North as willing tools and the South as a conquered territory. They must ruthlessly prevent a change of power and never allow the South to have control over their future.

Incidentally, Igboland today is like a conquered territory. You will feel this more when you embark on a travel to that part of the country. Police and military checkpoints along the roads give the impression that something deadlier than Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen operates in the South-East.

As if to also confirm Ahmadu Bello’s position, a Second Republic lawmaker, Dr Junaid Mohammed, was quoted to have said last October that Igbo caused the civil war and so he did not understand why they turned around to demand presidency.

He allegedly said Igbo wanted to blackmail the North to concede presidency to them, asserting, “By this means, they will never get any hope for presidency because democracy is a game of numbers. You cannot tell people to vote for you because you are being irresponsible.”

Like the Igbo, northern minorities are bitter today. They had believed in the sanctity of one North. They joined the rest of Nigeria to fight Igbo during the civil war. They have produced many gallant soldiers who have helped to keep this country together. Today, these northern minorities suffer the indignities of frequent raid and killing of their people by suspected Fulani herdsmen.

Consequently, one of their leaders who is the Chairman of the Northern Elders Forum, Paul Unongo, recently threatened that they would mobilise and train their people into an army to defend themselves if the government couldn’t protect them.

Former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd), also made a similar threat recently. He accused the Nigerian army of ethnic cleansing and urged his people to defend themselves because the military as presently constituted, would not defend them.

All these killings, threats and counter threats are hallmarks of a nation sliding into a failed state. Recently, the Global Peace Index, GPI, ranked Nigeria as the 16th least peaceful out of 163 countries surveyed in 2018. We are only better than such countries as Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan.

To prevent our further descent into Syria, many Igbo leaders, last month, gathered at Ekwueme Square, Awka to present a common position on restructuring of the Nigerian federation. It was tagged the Ekwueme Square declaration. This is in line with other nationalities and groups that have consistently called for the restructuring of the federation.

Among others, the Igbo essentially asked for a new truly federal Constitution of Nigeria; continuation of the presidential system of government at the federal level, with a bicameral legislature; the regions or states to determine the type of government to operate at that level as enshrined in their respective constitutions; and the tenure of office of the President will be a single term of six years and it will be rotational among the six regions of Nigeria.

The declaration also recommended five Vice-Presidents, one from each of the geopolitical zones or regions except the region/zone of the president, and each also to serve for a fixed term of six years. The Governor and Deputy Governor of the region/state should have a single term of six years only. The office of Governor will rotate among the senatorial districts, or among such other configurations as may be enshrined in the Constitution of a region/state.

In the spirit of reconciliation, equity and justice, Ndigbo demand an additional state for the South East Zone; fiscal federalism, which presupposes that the states will have control over all the natural resources within their territory.

On merit and federal character principle, the Ekwueme Declaration recommends that 60 per cent should be reserved for merit, and 40 per cent to ensure federal character principle or affirmative action.

It will be surprising if the present government at the centre accedes to these demands. The South-West, South-South, Middle Belt and even the North have called for the restructuring of the country. The national conference of 2014 also made some far-reaching recommendations on how the country can move forward. But so far, the powers that be have refused to initiate processes that will engender the enthronement of these recommendations. Is this a confirmation of the so-called Caliphate’s wish to have a perpetual hold on the entire country?

President Buhari is in a position to answer this question today. One major step towards achieving an enduring peace in a given society is for leaders to acknowledge past mistakes and apologise for them. President Buhari should initiate national healing and reconciliation to avoid further escalation of our dire security situation. He should tender an unreserved apology to the victims of the Fulani herdsmen massacre in the middle belt, the Boko Haram killings in the North-East and above all, the genocide in the South-East between 1967 and 1970.

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Lai Mohammed, Buhari’s factsheet and wolf-crying opposition

June 4, 2018

Casmir Igbokwe

Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila spiced up Nigeria’s democracy mood last week. He gave a befitting birthday gift of Mercedes G-Wagon to his wife, Yemisi, who turned 50 on May 27. The car is said to be selling for between N75m and N100m in Nigeria. The man, who is the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, named the gift “Assurance”.

Last Thursday, Nigerians got a better assurance from the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. Brimming with pride, Mohammed listed some of the achievements of the present administration. They include, among others, taking power generation from 2,690MW to 7,000MW; moving Nigeria closer to self-sufficiency in rice; feeding 8.2 million pupils in 45,394 schools in 24 states, and employing 87,261 cooks in the process.

Others are paying conditional cash transfer of N5, 000 monthly to 297,973 poorest and most vulnerable households; building roads, rail and power; spending an unprecedented N2.7 trillion on infrastructure alone in just two years; and raising capital expenditure in the yearly national budget to an unprecedented 30 per cent on the average. Also, Nigeria’s economy recorded 1.95 per cent growth in Q1 2018.

The Information Minister said the administration was fighting corruption like never before with the Whistle-blowing Policy yielding N13.8bn from tax evaders, as well as N7.8bn, $378million, £27,800 in recoveries from public officials. He slammed the political opposition for downplaying the achievements of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, describing them as very disdainful of the truth, crying wolf where there was none and spewing out fake information at the speed of light!

The Peoples Democratic Party had raised some issues about corruption in high places. The opposition party, for example, urged the Presidency and the ruling All Progressives Congress to immediately account for trillions of Naira they allegedly frittered away to finance their opulent lifestyles and political interests.

The PDP also asked the Presidency to address Nigerians on the leaked memo detailing alleged corrupt oil contracts to the tune of N9tn ($25bn) at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.

It also alleged looting from the Treasury Single Account as evidenced in the reported stealing of N10bn from National Health Insurance Scheme’s account in the TSA; the frittering of fresh N25bn under questionable ‘deals’; and the reported stealing of N18bn Internally Displaced Persons intervention fund. The PDP also wants answers to the source of the N671m allegedly stolen from the APC account by some of its national officers.

Like Mohammed, the APC’s response to some of the allegations is to simply say it is increasingly baffled by the PDP’s alleged new found proclivity for constantly spewing falsehood without any iota of proof in the name of opposition rhetoric and politics.

To reinforce Mohammed and the ruling party’s statements, the Federal Government just released facts and figures of Buhari’s monumental achievements in three years.  The 41-page factsheet highlights successes in economy, security and the fight against corruption.

Nevertheless, my problem with some of these facts and figures is that they usually conflict with the realities on ground and the views of some international experts. Early March this year, the International Monetary Fund reported that more Nigerians got poorer under the President Buhari government despite the country’s slow recovery from recession. It added that Nigeria needed urgent economic reforms.

Last Month, the World Bank gave its own verdict, saying unemployment and poverty rates increased in Nigeria despite an exit from recession in 2017. The apex global financial institution, in its report, added that the decline in the non-oil and non-agriculture sectors continued as aggregate demand remained weak and private sector credit low.

Besides, the Co-Chair of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, recently admonished the Federal Government not to concentrate on physical infrastructure to the detriment of human capital development.

As if to downplay the reported progress in our economy, Gates said Nigeria was one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth, with the fourth worst maternal mortality rate in the world. We are ahead of only Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad. Also, one in three Nigerian children is chronically malnourished.

Obviously, the FG needs to redouble its efforts. Its N5, 000 monthly conditional cash transfer and school feeding programmes are a drop in the ocean. Rather than waste billions of Naira in the name of feeding pupils, the government should find ways of empowering parents of these children to provide better food for them at home.

With regard to the fight against corruption, Transparency International has become a spoilsport. The other day, it said in its latest annual Corruption Perception Index, that corruption in our country worsened between 2016 and 2017. Last Monday, this same Transparency International released a report which revealed that federal and state governments spend N241bn on security votes annually. It is from these security votes that politicians siphon a lot of money to fund campaigns and other extravagant lifestyles.

The report titled, “Camouflaged Cash: How security votes fuel corruption in Nigeria,” was unveiled in Abuja by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre. It said the security votes were more than the annual budget of the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Air Force and the Nigerian Navy combined. The federal-level total spending on items identified as security votes reportedly increased by 43 per cent in 2018’s budget from 2017.

The National Assembly that should act as a check on the executive is even worse. There, money has become a non-stop smooth-flowing river. Just last week, the former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof. Attahiru Jega, alleged that the members of the National Assembly, especially committees, were in the habit of demanding bribes with impunity. A good example is the alleged pressure many vice chancellors go through during budget defence and so-called oversight assignments. He suggested that the fight against corruption should be intensified in all its ramifications.

Though the Senate has denied Jega’s allegation, it is yet to effectively respond to allegations of budget padding that has been levelled against it. Last week, a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos ordered President Buhari to “urgently instruct security and anti-corruption agencies to forward to him reports of their investigations into allegations of padding and stealing of some N481 billion from the 2016 budget by some principal officers of the National Assembly.”

The Court also ordered President Buhari to “direct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN, and/or appropriate anti-corruption agencies to without delay commence prosecution of indicted lawmakers.” The judgment was delivered by Justice Mohammed Idris following a mandamus suit brought by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

Also padded are the lawmakers’ salaries and allowances which have been variously described as being the highest in the world. Every member of the Senate, for instance, receives N13.1million monthly as running cost and a consolidated salary of N750, 000 per month. Each Senator is also given the opportunity to execute constituency projects to the tune of N200 million per annum.

As Senator Shehu Sani put it recently, “The National Assembly is one of the most non-transparent organs of government.”

State governments are not left out in this wastage of the national resources. Many of them, for instance, spend billions of Naira to settle pension entitlements of former governors many of who are serving ministers or lawmakers. Lagos, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Gombe, Kano and Zamfara states are some of the culprits here.

In his Democracy Day speech, Buhari boasted that tackling corruption was one of his major achievements. He vowed to win the war against it, and appealed to all well-meaning Nigerians to continue to support his government in this fight.

My own little support is to advise the President to start the anti-corruption fight by eliminating wasteful expenditures from the budget. A civil society group, the Centre for Social Justice, CENSOJ, recently said about N467.4 billion, or 5.43 per cent of the expenditure proposed in the 2018 Appropriation Bill of N8.612trn was frivolous, inappropriate, unclear or wasteful. Some of the wasteful expenditures include maintenance of office building and residential rent as well as computer software acquisition. Must government buy computers and software every year?

Worthy of emulation here is the shining example of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). Since the inception of the leadership of Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, JAMB has not been receiving capital votes from the government. Yet, it remits billions of Naira regularly to government coffers. In 2017 alone, the agency generated N12bn and remitted N7.8bn to the Federal Government after deducting expenses. Before Oloyede came, the total amount JAMB reportedly remitted to the government coffers between 2010 and 2016 was N50million.

Hopefully, we shall get it right some day. Only last week, a Federal Capital Territory High Court, Guru, sentenced a former governor of Taraba State and clergyman, Jolly Nyame, to 14 years in prison for criminal breach of public trust. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, had charged Nyame, whose trial began on July 13, 2007, with 41 counts for criminal misappropriation, diversion of public funds, and breach of public trust.

While handing out the sentence, an outraged Justice Adebukola Banjoko, said: “There’s no moral justification for the level of outright theft, and the Court must therefore, impose a statement, hopefully as a deterrent to other public officers, who may be similarly inclined.”

There is nothing more to add.

2019 and Hameed Ali’s unquantifiable love for Buhari

May 28, 2018

By Casmir Igbokwe

The official age for Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari is 75. If he wins a second term in office next year, he will be 80 years by the time he completes his tenure in 2023. If it were to be in Uganda, he would no longer qualify to be President. But here, some of his supporters think the best decision he has taken this year is to seek re-election. This is not surprising because no good son tells the whole world that his mother is not a virgin.

Last week, the Comptroller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali, led a delegation of the Buhari Support Organisation (BSO) to Aso Villa on a courtesy visit to the President.

In his speech on the occasion, Ali said, “I have said it and I will repeat it here, Mr. President, with all due respect, at 70-plus, with good retirement benefits and with your house in Daura, if I were you, I would see no reason to be in this arena.”

According to him, Buhari wants a second term because he loves Nigeria and has left his comfort to serve the country.

Which comfort? Is Buhari’s house in Daura more comfortable than Aso Villa? The Customs boss provides a likely answer: “Mr. President, it is always politics, and when politicians speak they speak with two sides of their mouth.”

In the spirit of this doublespeak, Ali continued: “Four years back, some of us from the North East were not praying in the mosque, some of us from the North East had moved from our places of abode to settle somewhere else. Today, we can sleep with eyes closed; today, I drive at midnight; today, we can breathe the air and, most importantly, those of us who are Muslims can pray in the mosque during Ramadan. Today we have that security. What else are we looking for?”

Wonderful! It appears Ali has been on vacation outside Nigeria. That, perhaps, is why his sound sleep with two closed eyes has not allowed him to see the incessant killings in Benue, Taraba, Plateau, Kaduna and many other parts of the country.

Perhaps, the entire Catholic faithful in Nigeria who embarked on nationwide protests against the killings in the country last Tuesday are stupid. Perhaps also, the leader of the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, is insane. After a meeting with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, last week, Fasoranti reportedly said, “Nothing is being done properly in this country presently. Look at the killings in the North; the President is very silent about it. We are all Nigerians; if he can keep silent about the killing of his people; that is bad enough.”

Ali’s political inclination has also blinded him to the economic realities in the country today. According to him, Nigeria’s economy has never had it so good. Only lazy people, he said, complained that they were hungry. What this means is that the over 100 million Nigerians who live below poverty level are lazy. It means that the rise in unemployment rate from 14.2 per cent to 18.8 per cent in 2017 is because these lazy Nigerians don’t want to work. I don’t really blame the Customs boss. He is feeding fat from the current system and he has to defend it by all means.

No doubt, the President has failed in his main duties towards his fellow citizens. He may have personal integrity, but it takes more than that to govern a country like Nigeria. Our President needs to be mentally and physically alert and should purge himself of ethnic/religious bias and nepotism.

The questions are: is Buhari physically and mentally alert to tackle the intricacies of governing Nigeria? Should age really matter in the choice of the President of a country? Should a presidential candidate be transparent about his health status?

For me, age is just a number. What should matter to us is physiological age rather than chronological age. A 70-year-old man, for instance, can be sharper and healthier than some 50-year-olds. The late President Umaru Yar’Adua, for instance, was 55 years when he sought to become President in 2007. But he did not last beyond three years in office.

The usual perception is that younger people will not be stuck in the status quo or older ways of doing things. But it does not necessarily follow. You may be old but focus more on what young people want and care about.

What should bother us is the health status of whoever wants to be President. President Buhari has visited London for medical vacation at least four times since last year. In one of the trips last year, he spent over 100 days in London. He is yet to inform Nigerians what he is actually suffering from. His Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said recently that Buhari was the only person who could reveal his ailment. According to him, details about the President’s health are private and personal.

Yes, health records of any person should be personal and private. But when it comes to the records of a presidential candidate, privacy ceases to matter. Transparency becomes the watchword. For instance, after a year in office, former United States President Chester Arthur (1881-1885) was diagnosed with a kidney condition. He refused to seek a second term in office. In less than two years after leaving office, the man died.

Similarly, the US Republican candidate, John McCain, was 71 during the 2008 presidential election. He had a history of skin cancer, but when faced with a much younger opponent, Barack Obama, he was compelled to release eight years of medical records to prove that he was capable.

Our President should take a cue from either Arthur or McCain. That is, take a bow if his health condition is serious or release his records to show he is capable.

In any case, campaigns will soon start and that is one way of knowing a candidate who is capable. When former President Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to foist the late Yar’Adua on the nation as his successor in 2007, he claimed the man was healthy. To prove that he was fit, the late President even challenged his critics to a game of squash.

At a point, Yar’Adua, who suffered from a kidney condition, broke down and had to be flown abroad for treatment. To dispel the rumour of his death, Obasanjo, at a presidential rally of the Peoples Democratic Party in Abeokuta, placed a curse on the rumour mongers, saying they would die before Yar’Adua. He even phoned the ailing man and bellowed, “Umoru, are you dead?” The man continued to manage his illness until 2010 when he died in office.

My concern here is not just Buhari’s age but the fact that he appears not too fit to face the rigours associated with governing a country like Nigeria. Can he, for instance, face Nigerians in a presidential debate with other candidates? I know many of his supporters and members of the ruling All Progressives Congress will call me names. To them, Buhari is the most qualified candidate to rule Nigeria at this point in time.

I don’t blame them because it is in human nature. For instance, before the 2008 US presidential campaign, a February 2007 Pew poll showed that the majority of Democrats (60 per cent) said they would be less likely to support presidential candidates in their 70s. This, presumably, was because of McCain, a top Republican presidential contender who would have been 72 upon taking office. Democrats also thought the same thing about Ronald Reagan who was 69 at his first inauguration.

But when Hillary Clinton, who would have been 69 years if she had taken office as president in 2016, emerged as a candidate of the Democrats, the party faithful started feeling more positively towards older candidates.

Debate about the age and health of a presidential candidate always tops the agenda in advanced democracies. This is because old age slows one down and is a potent risk factor for different diseases, especially heart attack, Alzheimer’s and cancer.

In the run-up to the US presidential election in 2016, a number of people expressed concern about the age of the Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders. If he had succeeded in his bid for the presidency, he would have been 75 years and the oldest person to be elected president. The current US President, Donald Trump, holds that record now. He was elected at 70 and happens to be the oldest person elected at that age for a first term as US President.

In Africa, we have a reputation for old and sit-tight leaders. If not for the intervention of the military in Zimbabwe last year, Robert Mugabe, 94, would have still been parading himself as the President of that country. Since 1986, Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni, has been ruling his country. Now 73, the man, through his ruling party, plans to scrap the constitutional provision that says presidential candidates should not be older than 75. This is so he can stand again in 2021 and probably rule for life.

For Nigeria, the few months ahead are heavily pregnant. Will Buhari succeed? Will he shame his critics with a spectacular win? The answer lies with the Nigerian voters, all things being equal.

 

Government should beware of religion

May 22, 2018

Casmir Igbokwe

A certain South African Prophet, last week, asked his congregants to remove their underwear and wave them in the air during a church service. Pastor Paseka Motsoeneng popularly known as Prophet Mboro told his members to do this in order to attract angels from heaven. The church members, who ululated in joy, acted as instructed and even held their private parts “so that angels can impregnate and bless them.”

It was in this same South Africa that a pastor, Lesego Daniel, asked his followers to eat grass so that they would be closer to God. And they gladly did that. To a rational mind, this may sound strange. But to the underwear-removing and grass-eating worshippers, it is faith at work.

Religion does not operate in the realm of rationality. It invokes a lot of emotions and blind faith. That is why people can kill in the name of God and believe they are heaven bound. And that is why government should beware of it.

If a government is not neutral, how will it handle the superiority contest among different religions? Christians, for instance, believe you can only go to heaven through Jesus Christ. Muslims believe only through Allah will one get to paradise. In the competition to outshine one another and win more converts, religious organizations establish worship centres in nooks and crannies of the country.

In the last three years in Lagos, for instance, the state government registered about 13, 000 religious institutions in the state. Some individuals even go to the extent of building worship centres on their residential or business premises. This comes with the attendant noise pollution.

The Lagos State Government has actually been showing good examples on how government should relate with religious bodies. The state, through the Ministries of Home Affairs and Physical Planning, has commenced moves to address the conversion of residential buildings to religious centres. It has also been working in concert with the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) to address noise pollution by religious bodies.

Besides, the current administration in Lagos State deserves commendation for the pragmatic steps it has taken on the issue of government sponsorship of religious pilgrimages. Before Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode emerged as the governor in 2015, the state government spent an average of N1.5 billion to sponsor people for religious pilgrimages to Israel and Saudi Arabia. But since Ambode came, the Lagos State Government said it saved a total of N4.5billion in the last three years as a result of the decision of the governor to stop the sponsorship. Commissioner for Home Affairs, Dr Abdulhakeem Abdullateef, said last month that funds saved from the development had been diverted into the construction of roads and other amenities to make life easier for residents.

“What the Governor has said and we have been doing is that the State Government will provide for the welfare of the pilgrims; support them with medical tips; support them with clerics who would guide them to ensure that they are focused on the spiritual objectives of the pilgrimage and not something else,” Abdullateef said.

This is not to say that visiting Mecca or Jerusalem to stone the devil or pray for us sinners is bad. Every true Muslim who has not gone to Mecca sees himself somehow as incomplete. He may end up answering Alhaji ba Mecca, (an Alhaji who has not visited Mecca.) For Christians, Jerusalem or Rome happens to be their own Mecca.

Part of the problem is that some of the pilgrims do not go for spiritual exercises. They see this pilgrimage thing as an opportunity to travel outside the country, or escape from Nigeria and seek asylum abroad. For some of the very old, it is also an avenue to even die in the holy land believing that dying there will catapult them to paradise. Some cheat the system and travel more than once on the account of the State.

It is not right that government at different levels should commit billions of Naira every year to sponsor these types of individuals for pilgrimages. Bauchi State Governor, Mohammed Abubakar, had boasted last year that it had continued to sponsor pilgrimages despite recession. Abubakar’s counterpart in Katsina State, Aminu Masari, said his state had been subsidizing Hajj annually with N1billion.

The question is, since we sponsor Muslim and Christian pilgrims to holy lands, why can’t we sponsor Ifa or Udo Shrine worshippers to Benin Republic or Haiti to visit voodoo sites? Sponsorship of religious pilgrimages is a discrimination against traditional religious worshippers. It is also against the spirit of Section 10, Chapter 1 of the 1999 Constitution. That section states that “the Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as a State religion.”

Hypocrisy and selfishness define most of our actions in this country. What some of these government functionaries do is to exploit the religiosity of our people for political gains. They sponsor pilgrimages so as to patronize acolytes and supporters. Sometimes, they deploy government resources for religious crusades that they may not even believe in.

Some of them claim to be strong advocates of Sharia and nearly caused national crisis when they introduced it in their states a few years ago. Today, they show no scruples in marrying 13-year-old girls and doing other things that are at variance with morality and common sense. Some of them visit shrines on Saturday night and take front pew on Sunday morning to chant Holy Ghost fire to the devil and his associates.

Religion is a private affair and should remain so. When government dabbles in religious matters, it unconsciously creates a situation that fosters abnormalities like Boko Haram and the like.

The worrisome thing about this phenomenon is that many of these states sponsoring pilgrimages are so poor that they can’t even pay workers salary. Education and health care are seriously neglected as well. In Zamfara State, with the poverty rate of about 92 per cent, the state of education is so appalling. Despite reducing the cut-off marks for entrance into the Federal Unity Colleges to as low as two out of 200, pupils from the state still find it difficult to fill their slots. Many of them are in the streets soliciting for alms and ending up in one imam’s house for some religious tutelage.

Good enough, hardship has forced some states in the North to back out of pilgrimage sponsorship. Kano and Kaduna are typical examples. In 2016 alone, Kano had reportedly spent N3billion on Hajj. That was the year it decided to put a stop to it.

The Federal Government is not helping matters. In 2015, it announced the discontinuation of state sponsorship of religious pilgrimages as a cost-cutting measure. A year after, it decided to subsidise Hajj. This was even when the Nigerian economy was in recession. At a time manufacturers were finding it difficult to access foreign exchange to import machinery, the Federal Government decided to give concessional exchange rate to pilgrims.

Recall that the Central Bank of Nigeria directed banks and authorised forex dealers to pay Personal Travelling Allowance to intending pilgrims at a concessionary exchange rate of N197 to $1 in 2016. In 2017, it gave a concessionary rate of N305 to $1 when the prevailing rate then was N360 to $1.

While we lose billions of Naira in the name of religion, Saudi Arabia and Israel smile to the banks. In 2015, Saudi Arabia earned $27.9billion from religious tourism. It has projected an increased income of $46.6billion from the same source in 2020. Last year, Israel reportedly earned 20billion shekels from tourists.

Nigeria should also begin to think of making money from religious tourism. We can’t have prominent pastors like Temitope Joshua, David Oyedepo and Enoch Adeboye and not make a lot of money from tourism. The healing/miracle crusades and Holy Ghost nights should attract not just visitors but money as well.

Fortunately, Lagos is thinking in this direction. The other day, the Lagos State Government said that the State’s Tourism Master Plan had adequately captured the potential of spiritual or religious tourism.

According to the state Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, the Master Plan, which would be ready by the end of May 2018, was geared toward showcasing the State as a major tourism destination across the world.
“Visitors, who come in for spiritual tourism, most times come for conferences, for spiritual healing and exhibition. It shouldn’t matter to the State what you have come for, what matters to the State is that visitors are coming, when they come, they see our city, they sleep in our hotels, they buy our foods, etc. So it’s all about tourism and entertainment,” Ayorinde said.

Other states should emulate Lagos. Poverty is endemic in the country currently. Rather than waste money on unnecessary expenditure, government should convert our religiosity to money-making venture and then deploy accrued proceeds to the betterment of the masses.

In all, if I choose to remove my underwear in church or even eat grass and snake to get closer to God, so be it as long as it is my personal decision. But when a government begins to pay for me to travel to Jerusalem on a sight-seeing mission otherwise called pilgrimage, then there is every cause to worry.

  • First published in the Daily Sun of Monday, May 21, 2018

Painful smile of Nigerian asylum seekers

May 15, 2018

Casmir Igbokwe

Sunday Iserian told a fantastic story about Nigeria in Iceland where he lives with his wife and eight-year-old daughter. This Nigerian, according to the story, had applied for asylum in the above-named country. But last July, after nearly two years of waiting, the Iceland Directorate of Immigration rejected his application. “I’m a dead man if I go back to Nigeria,” he said, “but this isn’t about me, it’s about my daughter. I want her to have a chance of a better life.”

Iserian, 32, and his wife, Joy Lucky, claimed to have been subjected to violence, poverty and threats while in Nigeria. Joy claimed to be a victim of sexual slavery while pregnant with her daughter, Mary. Her husband, on his part, claimed to be a victim of political persecution. According to him, he worked as a driver for a so-called leader of the Peoples Democratic Party, who was murdered when he was driving and his car burnt. He said he escaped only to be declared wanted by the government as he was suspected of killing the man.

A newspaper in Iceland quoted Mr. Iserian as backing up his claim with a story from the Sunday Observer indicating that he was declared wanted by the police following the murder. His plight got worse when Boko Haram members allegedly attacked his uncle’s house where he was hiding, killing his uncle and his son. He purportedly fled to a nearby church where he received money to get him away from Nigeria to Libya and onwards to Italy.

Like Sunday, many Nigerians cook up different pathetic stories to curry sympathy, migrate to foreign lands and escape the existential realities at home. Some say they are being persecuted in Nigeria because they are homosexuals. They present newspaper cuttings of some homosexual arrests and claim they are the ones being persecuted. As usual, they always escape miraculously to seek asylum status in foreign lands.

Canada appears to be the most sought after bride now. Many Nigerians reportedly risk walking from the United States to Canada to seek asylum. These Nigerians had either lived in or arrived in the U.S. but are uncertain about the Donald Trump administration’s immigration policies.

For instance, one Aisha, a Nigerian single mother of four kids, reportedly travelled from Philadelphia to Manhattan and then spent six hours in the bus to upstate New York and another 30 minutes by taxi to the dead end road at the U.S./Canadian border.

Almost crying, Aisha told CBC News, “Please we need a home; our children need to go to school… I left Nigeria with frustration… In Africa, they want them to go to Arabic school. At a tender age, they will give them to a man. I don’t want that to happen…I can work, I’m an African woman. If I see a job, I will do it. I want a better life for my children.”

Canada has been hearing this type of story. Now, it is not taking it lightly anymore. The country is currently tightening its border control measures. It is also suggesting to America to make its visa procurement requirements tougher for Nigerians. This is to prevent potential Nigerian immigrants from getting U.S. visa and then crossing over to Canada from the U.S.

So far in 2018, more than 7,000 people have reportedly been intercepted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police after crossing into Canada at unofficial entry points. About 2,500 crossed into Quebec in the month of April alone. In the past 15 months, more than 26,000 people illegally crossed the Canada-U.S. border to file refugee claims. The majority of those intercepted are reported to be Nigerians with a valid U.S. visitor’s visa.

Last Monday, Canada’s ministers of immigration, public security and transportation hinted that three Canadian officials would be assigned to help U.S. visa officers in Lagos. Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Ahmed Hussen, is also billed to visit Nigeria this month to discuss the issue with Nigerian government representatives.

Soon, some Nigerians who have genuine reasons to travel to the U.S. will face undue interrogation from a combined team of U.S. and Canadian embassy officials. It is shameful that we have to face this type of humiliation. And it is indicative of the gross leadership failure the country is forced to live with.

Otherwise, why will any Nigerian wish to live in a country like Libya despite the hatred and humiliation the citizens of that country subject our people to? Some two months ago, there were reports that some Libyan returnees from Edo State went back to that North African country. More Nigerians are planning to flee to the country in spite of the inhuman and degrading treatment they encounter along the way. They reportedly prefer to die there to remaining in Nigeria.

Some of them were angry that they were brought back home with little or no serious plans to rehabilitate them. Even the aids the International Organization of Migration, IOM, the European Union and other humanitarian agencies sent to them through the Nigerian government allegedly never got to them.

Those who survive a deadly sea crossing to Italy and some other European countries never wish to come back to Africa. Some of them who succeeded in crossing to Italy last year were miffed that Italian authorities supported Libya’s efforts to return them to the North African country. Seventeen of them sued Italy for violating their rights. Last week, they petitioned the European Court of Human Rights, saying Italy violated multiple articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

I don’t really blame these asylum seekers. Even our President also seeks some form of asylum abroad. Or what do you call his frequent medical trips to London? If Nigeria was peaceful and working, many Nigerians would never seek medical or political asylum abroad.

As it is now, we are not fighting any war. But our condition is not better than those of war-torn countries. Virtually in every part of the country, there is one form of killing or the other going on. In the North, Boko Haram is terrorizing people. In the other parts of the country, Fulani herdsmen, kidnappers and armed robbers are the ones mowing people down.

The situation is such that over two million people have been displaced from their homes in Nigeria. That is why our internally displaced camps are growing by the day.  And even in those camps, the displaced people are not safe. Sometimes, they face starvation or attacks from bandits.

In the midst of all these, the government whose primary responsibility it is to protect lives and property appears helpless. The Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, has been prancing about town and flexing muscle with the Senate. The upper chamber of the legislature summoned him apparently to answer to the poor state of security in the country. But he bluntly refused to appear. Nothing has happened and nothing may ever happen to him on that score.

What riles me most is the attempt to divert attention and justify the poor leadership style of the incumbent government. Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo has been reeling out statistics of how much the PDP stole when it was in power and how the party underdeveloped Nigeria.

According to Osinbajo, the cases of grand corruption and open looting of public resources during the Jonathan’s regime pauperized Nigeria and left it with little or no savings in the years when oil was selling at 100 to 114 dollars a barrel. By contrast, the Buhari administration was said to be able to do more with less by stopping grand corruption and impunity.

However, whatever this administration claims to have done has not impacted much on the lives of the average Nigerian. The number of poor people grew higher from what it was before it came to power. The unemployment rate in the country rose from 14.2 per cent to 18.8 per cent in 2017. The country’s labour population also increased from 83.9 million in the second quarter to 85.1 million in the third quarter of 2017. People in full-time employment declined from 52.7 million in the second quarter of 2017 to 51.1 million in the third quarter.

That was why the Co-Chair of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, recently admonished our government not to concentrate on physical infrastructure to the detriment of human capital development. He advised that the country would do better with strong investments in education and health.

Gates stated, “Nigeria is one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth, with the fourth worst maternal mortality rate in the world ahead of only Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad. One in three Nigerian children is chronically malnourished.

“In upper middle-income countries, the average life expectancy is 75 years. In lower middle-income countries, it’s 68; in low-income countries, it’s 62. In Nigeria, it is lower still, just 53 years.”

So, why will many Nigerians not struggle to check out of their country at all costs? The common thread among the asylum seekers is that they want good life for their children. If they were able to get such good life, good education and good health care, will they not think less of rushing to embrace refugee status in other countries?

The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind around the Presidency!

  • First published in The Sun of Monday, May 14, 2018.

 

Marching to 2019 with weapon of great destruction

May 12, 2018

Casmir Igbokwe

Last week, Ngozi Muogbo had a rough time with frustration. As early as 5am, she was at the voter registration centre close to her in Lagos. The first problem was that even at that time, some crowd had gathered. By the time the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials came later in the day, the problem had doubled.

The officials started attending to people in a shoddy manner. Some of those who came later were attended to before those who came at 5am. Frustrated, Ngozi had to drop N1, 500. Pronto, she got registered.

A toad, they say, does not run in the day time for nothing. For this young lady to pay money to get what will not ordinarily yield any income to her shows she is up to something. It shows that many Nigerians who wake up as early as 4am to head for various voter registration centres have a mission: They are determined, in spite of all odds, to obtain a strong weapon – Permanent Voter Cards (PVC) – to be able to fire ineffective leaders in 2019.

This determination to show voter’s power did not start today. Prior to the 2011 elections, there was similar huge turnout of voters to get registered. Then, many Nigerians were angry at the way a few cabal hijacked the late Umaru Yar’Adua’s government and prevented Goodluck Jonathan from exercising his powers as the acting President. They were determined to vote Jonathan as President.

By 2015, Jonathan’s government had become corrupt, inept and incompetent. When Muhammadu Buhari appeared as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), a number of people heaved a sigh of relief. To them, a disciplined, upright man has come to right the wrongs in the country. They voted Jonathan out.

Unfortunately, Buhari has dashed the huge expectations of many Nigerians. Corruption has not abated. Unemployment has increased. Poverty is on the rise. Killing of innocent citizens is now a daily occurrence. There are anger and frustration in the land. It is such that the usually apolitical Catholic bishops have asked Buhari to resign.

The year 2019 will be very interesting indeed. Some parties are already holding their ward congresses with fights. Soon, national conventions will follow.

For the leaders of the Arewa Consultative Youth Movement, it is time to hold a mock election for presidential candidates from the North. The mock election will last for 60 days. Some participants in the poll are Buhari, former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar; former Kano State governor, Musa Kwankwaso; Sokoto state governor, Aminu Tambuwal; and former governor of Kaduna State, Ahmed Makarfi. Others are former governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido and Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe State.

What the ACYM President, Kabiru Yusuf, reportedly said is instructive: “There cannot be a better chance for us to contribute to give Nigeria the kind of leadership it deserves in this 21st century. The abject poverty and insecurity in the North must be tackled head-on, and it is our responsibility.”

Yes, it is the responsibility of every Nigerian to participate in the electoral process; to elect leaders who will tackle head-on the abject poverty and insecurity in the land.

Happily, the political awareness among Nigerians is very high now. In places of worship, on the social media and some other social gatherings, there is massive and aggressive campaign for people to collect their PVCs to enable them to vote for a candidate of their choice in 2019. Even some politicians mobilize their supporters at some costs to go and register.

My fear is that INEC appears not be fully ready for Nigerians. For instance, officials of the commission move from one ward to the other without adequate information on how to locate registration centres. In some parts of Lagos, it is political office aspirants and religious groups that inform people about the movement of these officials. This is very discouraging as people labour to get information about registration centres.

Some states and centres have also accused INEC of inadequate deployment of staff and machines.  Some unlucky citizens complained that they were kept waiting for long hours without being registered. Some people, out of frustration, fail to come back for their PVCs even after going through the rigours of registration. As at March this year, for instance, about 600,000 PVCs were reportedly yet to be claimed in Oyo State. In Lagos, though the commission reportedly has close to 100 DDC machines deployed to the 55 CVR centres, the number of unclaimed PVCs is said to be up to one million.

We have travelled this road before. Shortly before the 2015 elections, precisely in November 2014, a state like Lagos even declared public holiday to enable workers to obtain their PVCs. But there were hitches here and there in the third phase of the PVC distribution. At a point, Lagos residents stormed the streets to protest against the failure of the exercise.

The delay in the delivery of the PVCs even prompted the National Leader of the APC, Bola Tinubu, to accuse INEC of colluding with the Presidency to rig the elections in favour of the then ruling PDP. Tinubu lamented then that in some instances, INEC officials were not seen in some of the accredited booths, and that the cards were inadequate. He described the exercise as failed and unacceptable.

Despite this, the APC went ahead to win the 2015 presidential poll and the governorship elections in many states. Will history repeat itself? Are the glitches in the current exercise another attempt to also disenfranchise some people and rig elections for a particular party? Soon, 2019 will be here and eligible Nigerians will answer these questions through their votes.

 

Re: Buhari and quest for president of Igbo extraction

It is political parties that contest elections, not geo-political zones. You can zone and end up losing the election. Imo PDP zoned Gov ticket to Okigwe and lost to APGA’s Rochas in 2011, even after Udenwa’s 8 years. Both Rochas and Udenwa are Imo West. No party would risk losing elections on the altar of zoning. ‘Igbo Presidency’ based on zoning is a mirage. Jonathan emerged President because Yar‘Adua passed on and not on the basis of zoning.

Sir Chris Ike (08032238913)

Oga Casmir, in the absence of restructuring between now and the next election which is no longer feasible, a Nigerian President of Igbo extraction is the way to go. Please use your column to support it. Encourage Ndigbo to vote massively for APC and PMB in 2019 and let Ndigbo see what will happen in 2023 – whether that position will be left for them or not. Whatever happens will enable Ndigbo to know what their position is in Nigeria. And please do not take Obasanjo serious. Before his letter to President MUhammadu Buhari, he said he was for an Igbo man for the Presidency and now he is singing a new tune.

Quoting you: ”He didn’t last beyond six months, as some northern officers (add: led by TY Danjuma) killed him in a counter-coup….”. Were you afraid to mention his name? It was important that you ought to have done so for millions of Ndigbo to appreciate the character of the person accusing others of ethnic cleansing. Casmir, you and other columnists of Igbo extraction MUST be aware that the gang-up against Buhari is beyond his perceived lack of performance but to ensure that ‘onye Igbo’ does not get to that position. Tell me who among the former Presidents or Heads of State performed creditably? Shine your eyes!

Dike (08033072852)

Live with additional 25+ years more than God has for you for your truthful and factual column today. Stay graced.

Anonymous (07035390254)

Hello Casmir, as regards your article on Buhari and quest for president of Igbo extraction, do you think your people can cooperate and allow a credible candidate to emerge for any presidential election in Nigeria? Recall that when the senate presidency slot was given to the south east, it was the same Igbo people that made it fail. Remember that chairmanship of PDP was zoned to the S\E some years back but what was the outcome? I am a Yoruba man and I believe that if Igbo people support a credible candidate, victory is sure.

Mr. Ojo (08023404976)

Buhari and the service chiefs are jihadists. There is no Igbo man as President that Hausa man will not manipulate. Mention one. Let’s restructure Nigeria. Why are they against it? Nigeria is not one and will never be.

Anonymous (08056012716)

Casmir, I must say so far about Igbo presidency in 2023 you are the only person who has written what the Igbo people should consider in 2019 presidential election. We should be alive till 2023 to vote in the presidential election. Buhari looks the other way when his Fulani herdsmen butcher people in their homes. What type of president is he? He is so partial and trickery in his administration.

Pati Ndibe, Awka (08133878436)

Only fools think or believe that an Igbo President of Nigeria is equal to Igbo interests. Nonsense.

Agubamah (08037261289)

Nnamdi Kanu told us that Rochas is a native of Jos. By their words and behaviour, you not only know them but stop doubting when you see the truth.

Anaekwe  P.O. (08037275839)

Chief Igbokwe, bravo for your Daily Sun article. Remain blessed.

Ojinnaka, Eziowelle (08107539574)

 

 

Buhari and the quest for president of Igbo extraction

May 12, 2018

Casmir Igbokwe

Like him or hate him, Owelle Rochas Okorocha continues to mould Nigerian politics with his eccentric acts. His plans and actions stand like a big statue not only in Imo State where he superintends as governor but also in the entire country.

Recently, the man was at his element. He said he would emerge the President of Nigeria after President Muhammadu Buhari’s term in 2023. He reportedly boasted to whoever cared to listen that “Buhari will win again and again. After Buhari, the turn will come to the South-East and it will be the turn of Okorocha.”

He reminded those who probably thought he was joking, that he retired Imo politicians like Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Arthur Nzeribe, Achike Udenwa and Ikedi Ohakim. By 2019, he promised, he would also retire people like Senator Ifeanyi Araraume.

As a dress rehearsal, he intends to contest the Imo West Senatorial seat. He also plans to deliver to the people of Imo a brand new governor in 2019 in the person of Uche Nwosu, his Chief of Staff and son-in-law. Remember that he won the governorship of Imo when nobody believed he could do that and even won it outside the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

At home with Okorocha on agenda 2023 is Senator Hope Uzodimma (PDP, Imo West). In a recent interview with a national newspaper, Uzodimma noted that the South-West produced President Olusegun Obasanjo who ruled for eight years and the South-South produced President Goodluck Jonathan who ruled for six years. “Now, the North is currently in power and is entitled to a second term which will end in 2023. After that the Presidency will naturally return to the South and when it does, it certainly will come to South-East, because South-West and South-South have already had their turn. So, I think this is a simple reality,” he said.

As expected, the Buhari Support Organisation, Enugu State chapter, is in full support of this position. Besides, the organisation wants Ndigbo to support Buhari’s re-election in appreciation for the ‘befitting burial’ the President gave Second Republic vice-president, Dr. Alex Ekwueme. “Accordingly,” the group said, “supporting any other candidate from the North amounts to entering one chance bus.”

To actualize this Igbo quest to produce Nigeria’s President in 2023, the Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo in the 19 northern states and Abuja, urged Igbo people living in the north to court more friends and live in harmony with their host communities.

This campaign is such that any other person outside Buhari who indicates interest for the Presidency is seen as an enemy of the Igbo. The other day, one group known as the Initiative for Demonstrating Change, frowned on the presidential ambition of the former Vice-President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. As far as the group is concerned, Atiku’s ambition is a plot to scuttle the target of the Igbo to become President in 2023; and anybody supporting him is anti-Igbo.

The Igbo’s major fear is that if another candidate from the North wins in 2019, he will naturally want to go for another term. This will now make them wait until 2027 to produce the President of Nigeria.

Moreover, Igbo people want to be assured that they have been reintegrated in Nigeria. They fought a bloody war with the rest of Nigeria between 1967 and 1970. Although the government of Yakubu Gowon declared after the war that there was no victor, no vanquished, the Igbo have remained like a conquered people in the country. Even when the late former Vice-President, Dr Alex Ekwueme, almost got the PDP presidential ticket in 1998, some powerful interests surreptitiously stopped him. Many believed then that it was because he was Igbo.

I sympathise with the Igbo for remaining at the lowest rung of the political ladder in Nigeria. Being one of the major ethnic groups in the country, it is curious that they have not produced the President of this country since after the civil war.

In the First Republic, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was merely a ceremonial president. The real powers resided in the then Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. The Igbo’s second attempt at the Presidency of Nigeria was when Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi became Head of State after the coup of 1966. He didn’t last beyond six months as some northern officers killed him in a counter coup which led to the pogrom against the Igbo in the North and the resultant civil war. It is as if the Igbo have committed an unpardonable crime for which they have been sentenced to perpetual hellfire.

But the questions remain, should we sacrifice good leadership on the altar of zoning or rotational presidency? If it is established that Buhari has failed the nation, do we still vote him for a second term because we want our person to succeed him afterwards? Do we want the killings by the Fulani herdsmen to continue because it will guarantee the Igbo turn to be President in 2023? Do we still want our people to continue to die in poverty and economic hardship because voting Buhari out will scuttle Igbo quest to become President? Do we sanction other acts of marginalisation against the South-Easterners under this regime simply because we want to get the Presidency in 2023?

The truth is that I find it difficult to cast my vote for a leader who has failed in his duties towards his subjects. No matter what his supporters say, President Buhari has not impressed me so far in his handling of affairs of this country. I have had cause to write extensively on his performance in office and the verdict is that he has failed. He may be upright as a person but the hawks surrounding him have dragged him down. Even his wife, Aisha, had once threatened not to campaign for his re-election if he did not change his style of leadership.

Besides, he keeps de-marketing the country each time he travels abroad. For instance, he amplified the corruption tag against his countrymen when he visited the UK in 2016. During his last visit to the UK, he said a lot of Nigerian youths were lazy. Simply put, he does not have the energy and capacity to govern a country like Nigeria.

Most times, those championing this zoning thing are politicians who stand to benefit one way or the other in the arrangement. Thus, they railroad everybody to start singing their tune. That was the same sentiment politicians employed in the governorship election in Anambra last year. Governor Willie Obiano is from Anambra North. So, a lot of the citizens voted him for a second term so that in the next dispensation, it will be the turn of Anambra South.

Last Wednesday, former President Obasanjo warned against this type of thinking. Speaking at a meeting of the Coalition of Nigeria Movement in Awka, Anambra State, Obasanjo reportedly asked Ndigbo to vote out Buhari in the 2019 general elections in their own interest. He was said to have described the promise that the Igbo would produce the President in 2023 as “a grand deceit and evil machination.”

I agree that every zone should be given a sense of belonging in a federation. However, that shouldn’t be at the expense of good leadership. Between zoning and good leadership, I will vote good leadership. I will vote a good candidate. The North has many young and intelligent people who can steer this country to an enviable height. But many Igbo people will not support such a fellow simply because he will scuttle their ambition to produce the President in 2023.

What we should be asking for are developmental projects in our different regions. Where the President comes from should not matter much so long as every section of the country gets dividends of democracy and is represented in the cabinet. When Obasanjo was the President, how many projects did he attract to the South-West as an indigene of that zone?

The Igbo took former President Jonathan as their own; after all, he has an Igbo name, Ebele. The South-South is also closer to the South-East and the two were one region at some point. But for six years Jonathan was in the saddle, did he build more projects in the South-East and South-South than in the other zones?

The struggle for the Presidency will end the day we devolve power from the centre to the regions. That is why we need restructuring of the federation. And if that is the only thing President Buhari achieves for this country before he leaves the scene, Nigerians will eternally be grateful to him.  Then, Okorocha may not even be interested in becoming President again in 2023.

May and Museveni’s same-sex marriage punches

May 12, 2018

Casmir Igbokwe

If the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, had her way, she would jail President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. Last week, May called for same-sex marriages in Nigeria and other Commonwealth countries. It was that same week that Museveni chose to pooh-pooh the idea and even went ahead to warn against oral sex. As far as the Ugandan helmsman is concerned, the mouth is for eating and not for sex.

May made her own proposal at the first joint forum of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Westminster. According to her, though most of the laws against same-sex marriages in the Commonwealth were made by the United Kingdom, those laws were wrong then, and are wrong now.

True, Mrs May had once been an opponent of gay rights. She had voted against many early reforms, including an equal age of consent and same-sex adoptions.

Today, she is born-again. “As the UK’s prime minister,” she said, “I deeply regret that those laws were introduced…as a family, we must respect one another’s cultures and traditions, but we must do so in a manner consistent with equality, as it is clearly stated in the Commonwealth charter.”

According to her, nobody should face discrimination or persecution because of who they are or who they love. She said the UK was ready to help any Commonwealth member wanting to reform outdated legislation that made such discrimination possible. With the support of May, Britain passed the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act in 2013.

Across many of the Western world, same-sex marriage is seen as a human rights issue. Just as they frown upon racial, gender and other forms of discrimination, they also condemn any form of discrimination against gays and lesbians.

When Nigeria passed the law against same-sex marriage in 2014, some Western countries such as the United States and Britain condemned it. The then US Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States was deeply concerned by a law that “dangerously restricts freedom of assembly, association, and expression for all Nigerians.”

Britain said it opposed any form of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. It said the law infringed upon fundamental rights of expression and association which were guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution and by international agreements to which Nigeria was a party.

On the contrary, many African countries see same-sex marriage as unnatural and an abomination. President Museveni of Uganda represents the voice of the continent on this issue. In 2014, Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, making it illegal to be gay in Uganda. Whoever is found to be having regular gay sex risks life imprisonment. It is also a criminal offence not to report someone for being gay.

After introducing the anti-homosexuality law in 2014, Museveni also condemned oral sex, saying it could cause worms. “You push the mouth there, you can come back with worms and they enter your stomach because that is a wrong address,” he asserted.

Now, the man is mooting the idea of banning oral sex in his country. He issued a public warning about it, and blamed ‘outsiders’ for trying to convince Ugandans to perform oral sex on one another. “The mouth is for eating, not for sex. We know the address of sex, we know where sex is,” he said.

How Museveni intends to catch oral sex offenders remains to be seen. Perhaps, he will organize oral sex police who will intermittently snoop on couples with secret cameras to catch those putting the thing in a wrong address.

For now, Nigerians can still enjoy their thing using any address, as there is no plan to introduce oral sex prohibition bill in the National Assembly. What the law currently abhors in Nigeria is gay relationships. The then President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act in 2014. The law criminalizes homosexual clubs, associations and organizations and makes it illegal for gay people to even hold a meeting.

According to the law, whoever registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies or organizations, or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship in Nigeria, or enters into same-sex marriage contract commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of up to 10 to 14 years in jail.

So far, I’m not sure if anybody has been convicted for violating this law. But different arrests have been made. Last August, the police raided a hotel in Lagos and arrested 42 men for alleged homosexuality.  They threatened to charge them to court in accordance with the law after investigations. In April 2017, 53 men accused of participating in a gay wedding, were similarly arrested in Zaria. They were later released on bail after they pleaded not guilty. In Shariah compliant part of northern Nigeria, homosexuals even risk being stoned to death.

The point is, many Africans see homosexuality as anathema to their culture and religion. In Gambia, former President Yahya Jammeh, even suggested decapitation for homosexuals. Senegal’s president, Macky Sall, once reportedly said his countrymen liked polygamy but couldn’t impose it on Europeans because the people wouldn’t understand it and wouldn’t accept it.

What I don’t fully understand yet is why many of these Western nations will endorse same-sex marriage but frown upon bestiality and incest. Penultimate week, a Louisiana’s state senate in the United States approved a bill explicitly banning sex with animals by 25 votes to 10. The bill not only makes sexual contact with or abuse of an animal illegal, it also requires an abused animal to be taken from its abuser. Those convicted are to be barred from owning any pets in future.

In 2015, Denmark became one of the last European countries to ban bestiality. First time offenders now face up to one year in prison and two years for repeat offenders. Before then, sex with animals was legal in the country as long as the animal was unharmed. Danish Ethical Council for Animals said in a report that there were frequent reports of the occurrence of organised animal sex shows, clubs and animal brothels in Denmark. The practice is still legal in Hungary, Finland and Romania. Ironically, homosexuality is illegal in Hungary and Romania.

With the exception of a few countries like Spain, France, and Portugal, where consensual incest is reportedly not prohibited, the majority of the Western nations do not approve of it. So, does this not amount to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation? Is it not an infringement upon fundamental rights of expression of those involved?

Very soon, countries where incest is practised will start harassing us to also adopt it. Gradually, it is even creeping into our society. Last February, one Chiadikobi Ezeibekwe, married his 17-year-old sister at Ekwulobia in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State. Ezeibekwe, who is a mathematics teacher in a secondary school, claimed God told him to do so. According to him, one advantage of siblings marrying one another is that it discourages divorce and retains family values and norms.

Incidentally, their elder brother, Chijioke Ezeibekwe, who is the priest of Dwelling Fullness of God Church, conducted the wedding. The youths of the village had since set the church ablaze. A Catholic priest later conducted the cleansing of the land.

Somehow, some of the things we still see today as taboos no longer shock me. My sojourn in the United Kingdom some years back has equipped me with a liberal spirit and a shock absorber. My first culture shock in Europe was encountering a wedding reception for a male couple. The two men wore their wedding outfit, hugged and kissed each other. They also took photographs with relatives and guests as done in any normal wedding.

Mrs. May should understand that just as it sounds strange to have sex with animals in her country, it also sounds strange, especially to the majority of Africans, for a man to have sex with a fellow man; or a woman with a fellow woman. It is against the order of nature.

Until Britain and other Western nations sanction bestiality and incest, they should stop preaching homosexuality to us. What we need from them essentially are multi-billion pounds investments, not same-sex copulation.

 

Kudos to The Niche on 4th anniversary

The Niche newspaper marked its fourth anniversary with a lecture at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs Lagos last Friday. The guest lecturer and former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof. Kingsley Moghalu, gave a good account of the topic: ‘Development Reporting and Hysteria Journalism in Nigeria’. The Chairperson of the occasion and presidential aspirant, Prof. Remi Sonaiya, and other discussants such as the President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mrs Funke Egbemode; former Deputy Managing Director of Access Bank, Mr Obinna Nwosu; Senior Research Fellow, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Prof. Fred Aja Agwu and All Progressives Congress chieftain, Joe Igbokwe, enlivened the audience with their contributions.

I wish to particularly commend my good friend and the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Niche, Ikechukwu Amaechi, for the successful outing. At the end of the day, many people were left wondering what the future of the newspaper industry will be in the near future. Many newspapers have closed shop. Many others are struggling to survive with little or no salary for workers. Amid these uncertainties, Mr. Amaechi and his team have trudged on. Congratulations to The Niche team. 

 

 

 

Lyrics Of Ambode’s Second Term Bid

April 9, 2018

By Casmir Igbokwe

Prior to the 2015 elections, the jingle that rent the air in Lagos was, Amboo oh, Ambo..! The picture of a man with folded long-sleeve shirt smiling at residents at strategic corners of the state complemented the song. Not even a strong fight from Jimi Agbaje of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) could stop Akinwunmi Ambode from winning the Lagos State governorship contest then.

Today, the lyrics have changed. It is now Ambode Lekan si (Ambode for one more term). Different groups in Lagos are struggling to be the number one producer of this we-have-endorsed-Ambode song. It is such that one wonders if there should even be any governorship election in Lagos at all next year.

The Lagos Youth Initiative (LYI) is one of the groups that have endorsed the Governor for a second term in office. Chairman of the group, Sofuwam Ogungbo, said the endorsement was borne out of the unprecedented achievements of the governor since he took over power in 2015.

The LYI claimed the governor had employed over one million people, majorly youths, as teachers, neighbourhood corps, traffic officers and cleaners across the 20 local government areas and 37 local council development areas in the state. It promised to organise a one-million-man march in support of the governor’s second term bid in Lagos.

In their own unanimous endorsement, the Chairmen of the 20 Local Government Areas and 37 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) of Lagos State said their support for Ambode was to allow him continue with what they called the massive infrastructural renewal and transformation of all parts of the State. The Chairman of Conference of LGs and LCDAs in the State, Hon Omolola Essien, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues, said the achievements of the Governor in office so far were visible to all.

Inside this endorsement train also are members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the House of Representatives from Lagos State and the three senators representing Lagos East, West and Central Senatorial Districts. Their reasons for endorsing the governor for a second term in office are his reported massive infrastructural development and giant strides in all sectors.

The Senators – Gbenga Ashafa (Lagos East); Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos Central) and Solomon Olamilekan (Lagos West) – were particularly proud of Ambode’s achievements and the renewed vigour he had brought to bear on governance since he assumed office. They also commended him for what they called his smart solutions in tackling the traffic and security challenges that initially faced his administration; his strategic partnerships with Kebbi and Kano States and prompt payment of workers’ salaries.

Last month, members of the Association of Nigerian Market Women and Men of Ajah Ultra Modern Market, Ajah, Lagos State, added their voice to this endorsement galore. The Babaoja of the market, Alhaji Rasaki T. Odunlami, said the decision to endorse the governor was taken as a result of his great achievements which were in all parts of the state.

Endorsements notwithstanding, Ambode had endeared himself to the hearts of Lagosians when he reviewed the activities of many of the agencies of the state based on complaints by people. The governor, for instance, permanently banned Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) from Lagos roads and asked the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) to restrict their activities in Lagos to the federal highways. He also warned the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) to be polite when dealing with motorists.

At the first quarter Town Hall Meeting in 2018, the 10th in the series since his assumption of office, the governor further reeled out his achievements since the inception of his administration. Some of them include a disbursement of a total of N4.5 billion to 5,500 beneficiaries of the Employment Trust Fund (ETF) as at December 2017; presentation of keys to beneficiaries of the first set of allottees of Lagos State Rent-To-Own Housing Scheme; creation of Neighbourhood Safety Corps and beautification of the state with the erection of monuments, parks and gardens.

The governor also boasted of commissioning the first state-owned DNA Forensic Centre in Nigeria and West Africa; disbursement of a total sum of N635.5 million to 8,419 students across the state tertiary institutions; and acquisition of health care equipment worth N2.5 billion.

He listed some of the key projects delivered last year to include the new Tafawa Balewa Square Bus Terminal, new Ojota Pedestrian Bridge, Aboru-Abesan link Bridge and adjoining inner roads, Ojodu Berger Slip Road and Pedestrian Bridge, Jubilee Bridges in Ajah and Abule Egba, Freedom and Admiralty Roads in Lekki, new Lands Registry, and newly upgraded Jubilee Chalet in Epe.

Some projects still under construction are Agege Pen Cinema flyover, the Oshodi transport interchange, which comprises pedestrian bridges, shopping malls, CCTVs, and Oshodi International Airport Road.
Ambode enthused that the newly commissioned Ikeja Bus Terminal was one of his administration’s flagship transport infrastructure under the State Bus Reform Initiative. According to him, the first phase of this programme will see 13 new Bus terminals introduced including major terminals at Oshodi, Yaba, Ojota, Agege and the already completed Tafawa Balewa Bus Terminal.

Late last month, President Muhammadu Buhari visited Lagos State to unveil this ultra-modern Ikeja Bus Terminal. He particularly commended Governor Ambode for his developmental strides in the last three years, saying the projects were indeed laudable. He also commended Lagos State for also developing rail infrastructure to cater for movement of its growing population.

However, not all Lagosians are happy with Ambode. The Presidential visit provided the platform for his critics to table some of their grievances. A civil society organisation, the Save Lagos Group, lamented that the State Government allegedly lost the sum of N1.28b to the visit of the President. It also pegged the total cost of the visit, which it called a jamboree, at N4.7bn.

Convener of the group, Comrade Adeniyi A. Sulaiman, wondered why “the Akinwunmi Ambode-led government would seek to advertise its non-performance by dragging the president of the country to Lagos to commission a motor park.”

He decried the untold hardship the visit subjected Lagosians to, as many people had to walk long distances to their various destinations. There were reports that some citizens were even brutalized by security operatives. This is why Sulaiman expressed the fear that “an emerging fascist style is gradually becoming the order of the day in Lagos.”

Ambode had promised to make Lagos work for everybody, irrespective of age, sex, or tribe. But he touched the raw nerves of some people when his administration recently repealed the 16-year-old Land Use Charge law. The state government enacted a new one which hiked the rates to the discomfort of many residents.

Although the governor was forced to slash the rates, the Save Lagos Group called on the state House of Assembly to commence the processes that would lead to the repeal of this law and some others. Failure to do this, the group warned, it would begin a two-month occupation of the Lagos State Secretariat in Alausa, Ikeja. Ambode should watch it because a number of people are already thinking of moving their investments to some other states, especially Ogun State, which is close to Lagos.

There are some other potholes the governor needs to fill to make his second term bid a smooth sail. One of such is cleanliness of the state. All his efforts in this area, including the Cleaner Lagos Initiative, appear not to be working. Many roads and streets are so littered with refuse that you begin to wonder what has gone wrong with the waste disposal system of the state.

Besides, while the governor has concentrated in reconstructing major roads and bridges, the inner streets are begging for attention. A lot of them are riddled with potholes and need some form of redemption. Some portions of Okota, Lawanson/Ijesha roads are typical examples. In fact, a combination of potholes and refuse heaps has made Lawanson in Surulere an eyesore. Lagos public works agency should do well to identify some of these bad portions and fix them.

His drawbacks notwithstanding, Ambode is as good as coming back to Alausa to complete his tenure. Though the endorsement singsongs are typical way of politicians, the governor appears not to have any serious opposition in the state.

The PDP that should have provided an alternative is sleeping. I don’t see the party doing much in the coming election in Lagos. This is notwithstanding the boast by the spokesman of the party in the state, Toafik Gani, that the PDP would defeat Governor Ambode in the 2019 poll. What the major opposition party has done so far is to call for the disqualification of Ambode for allowing his supporters to organize solidarity rallies which the party sees as violation of the Electoral Act.

One message I have for Ambode is that when he gets to his second term paradise, he should remember not to kill his people with high taxes and rates.

First published in The Sun of Monday, 09 April 2018

Buhari And The Fate Of Nigeria’s Cockroach

April 9, 2018

Casmir Igbokwe

Cockroach is a household pest. With its size, it can easily crush an army of ants. But whenever it falls on its back, tiny ants make mincemeat of it. In his play, Fate of a Cockroach, Egyptian playwright, Tewfik al-Hakim, equates human foibles and existential struggles with that of this unfortunate insect. In the play, Adil, the principal character, is captivated by the continuous struggle of the king cockroach to climb up the slippery walls of a bathtub.

Currently, Nigeria is struggling to climb out of the slippery walls of chronic corruption, nepotism, ethnicity, poverty and above all, insecurity. And if it makes the mistake of falling on its back, Rwanda and Somalia will be a child’s play.

Already, the signs are ominous. Last week, former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd), stirred up a hornets’ nest when he pointedly accused the Nigerian army of aiding Fulani herdsmen in their killing spree across the country. He urged other Nigerians to defend themselves because the military as presently constituted, would not defend them.

In July last year, this same Danjuma, together with retired Generals Zamani Lekwot, Joshua Dogonyaro, and some other Christian elders, launched similar acerbic attack on the leadership of the country. They expressed sadness that Nigeria was drifting dangerously towards another war judging from the many regional agitations in the country.

In a statement issued under the auspices of the National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF) Danjuma and Co. said the real problem with the country “is that Jihad has been launched in Nigeria and Islamists that have been interfering in the governance of the country using ‘Taqiyya’ (approved deception) as ‘Stealth/Civilization Jihad’ and Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen as violent Jihad, are relentless in their pursuit of eradicating democracy in Nigeria.”

Different political actors in Benue, Plateau and elsewhere had also accused the military, nay the Federal Government, of not doing enough to curtail the murderous activities of the herdsmen.
For instance, during the mass burial of the 73 people the herdsmen killed in Benue earlier in the year, the Chairman of the Northern Elders Forum, Paul Unongo, said enough was enough. “If the government can’t protect us,” he threatened, “we will mobilise and train our people into an army to defend us.”

A former military governor of Plateau and Katsina states, Maj. Gen. Lawrence Onoja (retd.), said he wouldn’t mind commanding such an army despite his age should the Federal Government refuse to address the killings in Benue.

To worsen matters, President Muhammadu Buhari didn’t deem it fit to visit these killing fields. It was when the drums of critics started sounding louder than usual that he recently made a shuttle visit to some of these areas.

The point is, there is mutual suspicion among the various ethnic groups in the country. This worsened when the President consciously or unconsciously appointed almost all northerners as heads of security agencies in the country. This is a breach of the federal character principle as enshrined in Section 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Consequently, almost every move the security agencies make now is seen as another attempt to further expand the alleged hidden agenda of a certain part of the country. This is also why a lot of people believed it when a certain Sergeant David Bako surfaced on the social media to claim that the military stage-managed the abduction of Dapchi schoolgirls in Yobe State. Although the military has debunked the claim and described the so-called Sergeant Bako as fake, the suspicion still lingers.

Regrettably, the Federal Government appears to be unserious in stopping the killings in the country. What we have seen so far is a President who keeps feigning ignorance of the tragedy that has befallen his subjects. The height of it was when he said he was not aware that the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, flouted his order to be in Benue and take charge of the security situation in that state. So far, the IGP is still on his desk dishing out orders.

We can no longer continue to pretend that all is well. I had expected that northern leaders should have reined in on the herdsmen alleged to be carrying out these killings in the country. The cattle breeders have an association called Miyetti Allah. Their leaders are well known. But rather than intervening to put a stop to the crises, the northern leaders, especially the governors, busied themselves asking for cattle colonies for the herdsmen.

However, some northern stakeholders appear to be waking up now because they no longer find the situation in the country palatable. Recently, the Arewa Consultative Forum, the Northern Elders’ Forum and 16 other leading groups in the northern region, held a summit in Kaduna and passed a vote of no confidence in politicians of northern extraction including President Buhari, saying most of them had failed.

The groups felt betrayed that their leaders who have been in power since 2015 have not been able to reverse the abuse and neglect of the northern region in the previous decade. They accused the leaders of poor management of conflicts between and among northern communities.

In many other parts of the North, they said, “communities are routinely exposed to attacks from shadowy killers, while suspicion and anger against the suspected killers is pitching northerners against one other.” Their anger is such that the convener of the summit, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, even called on the North to search for a credible presidential candidate to replace President Buhari.

Northern governors appear to have heard the lamentations of these stakeholders. Hence, they have taken some bold initiatives to engender peace. At a recent meeting with the national leadership of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) in Sokoto, the Northern States Governors’ Forum (NSGF) sought to find lasting solutions to herders/farmers clashes across the country.

The NSGF Chairman, Gov. Kashim Shettima of Borno State, said they had seen enough crises in the North-East with Boko Haram and could not afford to let any other conflict linger without a solution. The governors hope to hear from all sides and finally come up with a workable plan that will restore confidence and entrench lasting peace in the region.

It is better late than never. What happened in Rwanda in 1994 should even teach us some lessons. That country is made up of two main ethnic groups – the Hutu and the Tutsi. Hutu is the majority tribe and constitutes about 85 per cent of the population. Ethnic tensions in that tiny African country worsened when on the night of April 6, 1994, some gunmen shot down the plane carrying the then President Juvenal Habyarimana, and his counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi. Everyone on board, including the two Presidents who were Hutu, died in the incident.

Hutu extremists blamed the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) a rebel group formed by Tutsi exiles. They set up radio stations and newspapers which urged people to “weed out the cockroaches”, meaning kill the Tutsi. Even priests and nuns reportedly joined in killing people, including some who sought shelter in churches. And in just 100 days, Hutu extremists slaughtered some 800,000 minority Tutsi and their political opponents. The situation stopped only when the well-organised RPF, backed by Uganda’s army, gradually marched into the capital, Kigali, and took over power.

Today, Rwanda has bounced back. Things appear to be moving more smoothly there than in Nigeria. If in doubt, travel with the country’s national airline, RwandAir, and see efficiency at work. President Paul Kagame, who sees Singapore and South Korea as models, believes that the key to reconciliation is continued economic development. Though his critics accuse him of suppressing the opposition, Kagame has transformed the economy of the tiny country. Rwanda’s economy now grows at seven per cent a year. And to prevent a recurrence of the genocide, it has become illegal to talk about ethnicity in Rwanda.

Buhari can take a cue from Kagame. I guess he is a patron of Miyetti Allah and they hold him in high esteem. He should invite them and extract commitment from them to maintain peace.

Besides, as a patriot and statesman, the President owes this country a duty to weed out the cockroaches flying around to poison us in our common kitchen. His first major step towards our redemption, and the best campaign strategy for his re-election next year, is to adhere strictly to the clamour of many Nigerians to restructure the country. That is what will guarantee that we will never fall on our backs in this huge bathtub called Nigeria.
Happy Easter!

First published in The Sun of April 2, 2018.