Archive for May 2007

Inauguration: Issues Yar’Adua must reflect on

May 27, 2007

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 27 May 2007

Dr. Deji Adejobi seems to be getting frustrated with Nigeria. At present, he is on forced holiday because of the current strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities. In a recent email to me, the lecturer in the department of Agricultural Economics, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, said, “It is unfortunate that the President of the country is so ignorant, or rather put, is misinformed about a vital issue that is going on in the country. And he has actually betrayed his inordinate plans of making only the private universities in Nigeria thrive (maybe because he owns one.) You know what, the most annoying part of it is that he feels that the (ASUU) strike is all about increase in salaries. Casmir, as I am sending you this mail, the air conditioner in my office is not working, not to talk about the obsolete equipment we rely upon in teaching our students…”

I had received other similar mails from lecturers and students regretting the systemic rot in Nigerian universities. I do not intend to bore you again with the gulf between the UK and the Nigeria educational systems. But it is a fact that sound education is one of the major foundations for the success of any nation. If Prof. Chukwuma Soludo had not passed through good public schools, he would not have become the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria today.

This is why what is going on in our ivory towers is annoying every rational mind. Frequently, ASUU goes on strike to press home some demands. Stubbornly, the Federal Government has refused to accede to most of its demands. The result is that the rot continues. And innocent students are the ultimate losers. The incoming President, Alhaji Umar Yar’Adua, must resolve to put a stop to this ASUU/FG face-off. Let the court’s judgement on this issue, especially with regard to the sacked University of Ilorin lecturers, be his guide.

On Tuesday, 29 May, the President-elect will, hopefully, be inaugurated. As soon as he moves to Aso Rock, he must be very careful with political jobbers, hangers-on and bad advisers. Such advisers may have even started working on him. Or how does one explain the fact that the dance is yet to begin, but Yar’Adua has already assumed the character of a young antelope dancing his legs to pieces. He had toured some countries even when he has not been inaugurated. What could be the motive of the visit? To drum support, or to corner investors?

President Olusegun Obasanjo also globe trotted soon after he assumed power under the guise of attracting foreign investors. But will investors come when the environment is not right? In the Niger Delta, for instance, militants kidnap expatriates almost on a daily basis. This has continued in spite of the deployment of soldiers in that region. The crisis has drastically affected oil production and the revenue that should have accrued to the FG.

Nigeria is not the only country in transition. In Britain, Gordon Brown will take over from Prime Minister Tony Blair in June. He has not started globetrotting to show that he is the prime minister in waiting. Rather, it is Blair that has embarked on farewell tours mostly in his country. Even this has attracted scathing criticisms from some quarters. Last week, for instance, the leader of the Conservatives, David Cameron, said there was no room for farewell tours in the UK. Blair, he reportedly said, was elected to be prime minister, not a pop star.

Yar’Adua must resolve not to make himself a foreign pop star. He should stay at home and concentrate on fixing our poor infrastructure, which contribute in scaring potential investors away. On assuming office in 1999, the incumbent government promised to improve the power situation in the country. Today, power generation has declined drastically from about 3, 800 megawatts attained in 2006. The former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, amplified this problem in a keynote address at the World Bank Spring Meetings in April 2005. According to her, infrastructure is the most problematic factor in doing business in Nigeria.

Regrettably, the money that should have been used to fix this problem is frittered away on unimportant ventures. Sequel to the forthcoming inauguration, rumours gained ground that billions of naira had been mapped out for that purpose. The Minister of Information and Communications, Mr Frank Nweke Jnr., has reportedly denied this, saying it is a little over N820m that was approved. It’s good that some companies are said to be sponsoring some aspects of the programme. Otherwise, the FG would have spent more than the amount Nweke mentioned.

The question is: What will this money be used for? To entertain foreign dignitaries, perhaps. When they go, our problems remain as they are. Blair is leaving as the British Prime Minister in June. The government has not committed this kind of money to usher in his successor. Granted that transiting from one civilian government to another is an achievement in Nigeria; but it will make more meaning if our celebration, for instance, has to do with first one year of uninterrupted power supply.

Yar’Adua must avoid this type of profligacy. He must make fiscal discipline his cardinal principle. Every government agency must be made to account for every kobo it spends. This is why I am happy with the recent steps taken by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission. The commission, it was reported last week, took the FG to court. The move is to stop the government from making further deductions from the Federation Account, outside the stipulations of the constitution. The commission also wants the FG to refund over $90bn allegedly deducted from the account.

The incoming President should not only refund this money if proved, he must strengthen the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to go after this kind of fraud. The EFCC has made some inroads into tackling corruption in the country. But the outgoing regime manipulated some of its actions. If the government gives the body a free hand, I believe it will achieve more.

In all, Yar’Adua must look for ways to tackle unemployment in the country. The outgoing government promised to create millions of jobs when it came to power. So far, it has created millions of migrants who leave our shores to escape the harsh economic realities at home. Some of those who cannot check out engage in all sorts of criminal activities. Creating employment, fixing our poor infrastructure and giving priority attention to our health and educational institutions are the things that will make Adejobi and the majority of other Nigerians happy. Happy inauguration.

Humility lessons from Bloomberg

May 20, 2007

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 20 May 2007

Bob Franklin rides his bicycle with pride. When you see him pedalling to school, you will be tempted to call him a poor old student. Or even push him out of your way. But Bob, as he is fondly called, is a professor at the journalism school of the Cardiff University. It‘s not that he cannot afford to maintain a car, but the number of books in his office tells you what the man values most – to leave a worthy legacy behind. A student who runs into him anywhere in the school will likely say, ”Hi Bob!”

This disregard for status is what intrigued me when some colleagues and I visited the Bloomberg headquarters in London recently. The Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies facilitated the visit. Bloomberg, as you know, is the leading provider of financial news, data and analysis in the world. From outside, what you see of the company is a solid seven-storey building. But as you pass the security hurdles and enter into the main building, you will meet openness and equality face to face.

Bloomberg operates a flat organisational structure. There is no brick wall demarcating offices. All you see on each floor is a large space occupied by workers fiddling with their computers. Managers, reporters, cleaners and all manner of staff share the same space. Everybody has the same entitlement. There are a few transparent glass cubicles though. Some serve as conference rooms and studios where they hold interviews. Others are aquariums where members of staff go and feast their eyes on colourful fishes when they feel tired. Though treated equally, everybody knows his duties and responsibilities. And collectively, they have brought bloom to Bloomberg.

In most other aspects of the British life, I find this disregard for class or status at play. I do not know how many official aircraft Prime Minister Tony Blair has at his disposal. But what I know is that some of his foreign travels had been on the ticket of the British Airways, a commercial airline. If he does anything wrong, the police will quiz him, just as they did in the cash for honours enquiry. Most of the leaders and senior citizens, whom I have encountered, show no air of superiority or hubris.

Besides, nobody cares if you park 10 jeeps in your street. In fact, the more you acquire such things, the more you pay tax and parking fees. And a bicycle owner has equal right of access to the road as you. What will distinguish you are your accomplishments and contributions to the good of the society.

In Nigeria, our leaders almost equate themselves with God. Our president is a tin god. Our governors are semi-gods. And our local government chairmen, demigods. If the president is travelling to Ota via Lagos, the Murtala Mohammed Airport is closed. If he is travelling by road, every other mortal must give way. Siren-blaring and gun-totting security agents are always handy to discipline recalcitrant persons. Lots of man-hours are lost waiting for his convoy to pass.

I will not be surprised if he wakes up tomorrow and calls for additional aircraft to the presidential fleet. After all, some governors now have their own aircraft as exemplified by Dr Peter Odili of Rivers State. Soon, local government chairmen will start acquiring chairmanship aircraft.

Political leaders are not the only ones to blame in this craze to display ego and power. There are some private individuals who move about with large escorts in siren blaring vehicles. There are company executives who build an impregnable walls around themselves such that their workers have no easy access to them. And whenever they are around, everybody trembles as if judgement time has come. But in this atmosphere of fear, sycophancy replaces respect for such leaders.

For you who may be nodding your head now, are you free from this problem? If you are the type that sits in front of the television barking orders at your wife, and sometimes even battering her, then you are a culprit. If you are that housewife who dabs her housemaid with hot iron and generally treats her as an outcast, you are also culpable.

The point is that in most of us, there is class-consciousness. There is some element of hubris. The woman who dances to the altar to give offering may not be giving from her heart. What she may indirectly be telling whoever cares to look at her is, ”See my latest dress and trinkets. I belong to the high class.” A relation of mine has been worrying her husband to discard what she considers his small car and buy a luxury car that will look more befitting. This is despite the fact that the man is building a house and needs to worry less about luxury cars for now.

A couple of friends and relations have also given me a description of the type of the jeep I must buy on my return to Nigeria. To them, I have got to show some difference in my lifestyle. Somehow, I don‘t blame them because our value system is quite different. My ancestors, for instance, may revolt from their grave if all I come back from the UK with is an iron horse. The irony is that we can‘t even produce a spoke of it.

Nigerians are a proud people. I am a Nigerian. So, I am proud as well. That is why my ego is inflated when close friends who know that I am a titled chief in my village call me chieeef! But people like Bob and the Bloomberg team have humbled me. I am no more comfortable answering chief. The worst of it is that sometimes, when I look closely at the lips of those hailing me, it looks as if they are saying thieeef!

Addendum

Many people have written either reacting to the issues discussed on this page or requesting one favour or the other. Some want me to send pounds to them. Some want me to connect them to a football team in the UK. And some others want the details of the admission process into Cardiff University or how to get the UK visa. I have replied some. But clearly, I cannot satisfy everybody. I am not a staff of the British High Commission. Nor do I know anything about football beyond such names as Jay Jay Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu and some other Nigerians playing the game in foreign lands. Those seeking admission to UK universities can Google any university of their choice and find details of the admission process on its website. Alternatively, one can visit either the website or any of the offices of the British Council in Abuja, Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt. One major thing I have gleaned from the requests is the desperation of Nigerians to check out of their fatherland. It says much about the standard of living in the country. So sad!

Breast-ironing, a solution to rape and sexual harassment?

May 13, 2007

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 13 May 2007

In Nigeria, we use the wooden pestle to pound yam or fufu. In Cameroon, the instrument is reportedly used to pound and massage the developing breasts of young girls. It is used together with hot objects like coconut shells to get maximum effect. They call this practice breast-ironing. And parents who do this believe it will flatten the breasts of their daughters and make them unattractive to lascivious men. There is a lesson to draw from this cruel tradition.

But, let’s first recount some sexual atrocities we witness in our world today. The worst of them is sexual offences against children. In February, for instance, the British press reported that three paedophiles were jailed for using the Internet to plot the rape of two young sisters aged 13 and 14. The three men met each other in an incest chat room. The same month, a Sheffield Crown Court jailed a violent sex attacker, Gary Howe, for a series of attacks on young girls.

In January, there were reports that a convicted rapist was jailed for life for kidnapping and raping a 15-year-old girl from northern Wales. Alan Grant, 49, had earlier been jailed for 12 years in 1991 for raping a woman at her home in West Sussex. He beat the woman’s husband and locked him up in a cupboard so that his evil act would not be interrupted. Similarly, a former North Wales police constable was jailed for nine years for raping a 14-year-old girl at his home in Flintshire. The man got the girl drunk before raping her.

In one interesting episode in southern Wales, a 20-year-old man, after raping a girl of 10, got a reprieve from Swansea Crown Court. The pardon was because the man thought, and the judge believed him, that the girl was over 16. Some reports in the media quoted the judge, Roderick Evans, to have said that the girl was looking for a man and got what she wanted. She consented to sex, but it was called rape because of her age.

This, somehow, shows that men can also be victims of sexual harassment. Some girls, initially, may consent to sex. But for reasons best known to them, they turn around to claim rape afterwards. Some of them clearly show in their behaviour that they need men. If you go to most pubs in Britain, you will see them in different seductive moods. In some cases, they outnumber men in these pubs. And when no man seems to have interest, some of them resort to kissing and cuddling each other. Now that the cold winter season is giving way for the sunny summer, mini skirts and hot pants of all shapes are resurfacing.

The other day, I was passing along Llandough Street in Cardiff. Four young men were doing some tip-tap with a football in their courtyard. The ball bounced onto the road. I picked it. But as I came closer to drop it for them, I saw a girl who wore only pants and brassiere lying face up. She was savouring the beautiful sunshine that showered its blessings that day. I cringed as I quickly threw the ball to them and moved away. This lady’s dressing and posture meant nothing to these young men who, I suspect, are her housemates. Thank God that some men are mature enough to withstand this clear provocation. So far, I have withstood such seductions too, my wife’s claim of often seeing women and me in a vision notwithstanding.

The liberal attitude of the West about sex is gradually gaining currency in Africa. In March this year, the Gay and Lesbian Association of Ghana requested a gay rights group in London to write a protest letter to President John Kufuor of Ghana who was on a visit to the UK that month. In the letter, the group, known as OutRage, said Ghana’s continuing criminalisation of homosexuality was a relic of colonialism. It urged the Ghanaian government to turn its back on what it called the hateful, divisive homophobia of the colonial era. It also urged it to follow in the footsteps of the South African government which, it said, pioneered Africa’s commitment to the human rights of lesbian and gay people.

In Sudan, it was recently reported that a man called Charles Tombe had an amorous affair with a goat. Elders of the community where this bizarre story occurred forced Tombe to marry the goat and pay dowry to its owner. The goat, named Rose, has just died after eating scraps of a plastic bag. It’s in this same Sudan (Darfur region) that rape is being used as a weapon of war. A United Nations report last month gave details of many sexual atrocities committed by Sudanese government soldiers against young girls and even pregnant women.

In Nigeria, we have not heard cases of man-goat sexual relationship. Homosexuality exists, but not too common. There are snippets of rape cases here and there. But the worrying issue now is the frequent reports of sexual harassment against young schoolgirls. Earlier in the year, Senator Isa Mohammed of Niger State decried the incessant cases of sexual harassment of female students by some of their teachers at the Federal Government Girls’ College, Bida in Niger State. The Bida problem may be small when compared to what is happening in most other schools across the country.

The solution to this problem is to follow the British example in meting adequate punishment to sex offenders. Now, scientists at Birmingham’s Forensic Science Service have developed a new technology whereby a DNA test will provide evidence in rape cases that, hitherto, would have been difficult to prove. This, scientists say, will help the police in the UK to solve rape cases even when there is no trace of sperm from rapists.

Another way of solving this problem may be in emulating the Japanese in their low appetite for sex. A recent survey by the health and welfare ministry of Japan found that about 40 per cent of men and women aged between 16 and 49 had not had sex for more than a month. The situation was blamed on long working hours. As most young men in Africa do not have jobs not to talk of long working hours, they occupy their idle minds with plots to commit one evil or the other. Young girls are usually their targets.

This is why breast ironing is fashionable in Cameroon. But I doubt if this will deter desperate young men with high libido. I am a bit disturbed because my own daughters are coming up as well. The type of breast ironing I want for them is for the government to strengthen existing laws on rape and other sexual offences. The National Assembly may also consider enacting a law that will subject convicted serial rapists to testicle ironing (castration.) This will kill their libido forever.

Olé to British and Nigerian politicians

May 6, 2007

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 6 May 2007

In English, “olé” is an exclamation. It means bravo! In Yoruba, the word means thief. In this season of elections, we are presented with the best opportunity to say olé to politicians in our midst. Your interpretation of the word depends on your perception of what I will tell you now about the characteristics of some of these politicians.

I had earlier stated on this page that there would be local and National Assembly elections in some parts of the UK on 3 May. I also related some big issues in the campaigns for the elections; and how I got my polling card even when I didn’t queue to register anywhere.

Well, the elections did take place as scheduled from 7am to 10pm. And I made sure I cast my vote for the candidate and party of my choice. Not that I know much about the candidates, but I was just determined to satisfy my curiosity. As a non-British citizen, I was pleasantly surprised that I could vote and thus, determine the fate of politicians in Britain. If I had wanted to contest as a candidate, I would have done so as well. Irish and Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK are entitled to vote and be voted for in elections to the National Assembly for Wales. European Union citizens also have the same privilege.

On this Election Day, I particularly moved round Cardiff looking for thugs who might hijack ballot boxes; or security agents in combat gear; or party agents who would either bribe or compel me to vote for their candidates. I saw none. Not even a bottle of coke from anybody. Perhaps, they are afraid of the electoral offence called ‘treating’. Under their electoral laws, a person is guilty of treating if either before, during or after an election, they directly or indirectly give any food, drink, entertainment or provision in order to influence any voter to vote or refrain from voting.

Smart Brits! They are always afraid of breaching their laws. In April, for instance, a new law prohibiting smoking in public places came into effect in Wales. Suddenly, cigarette smokers abandoned pubs, bars and even residential houses. I don’t blame them because these laws are no respecter of persons. When I went to cast my vote, I made sure nobody saw my ballot paper. I was just careful not to breach the secrecy requirements of the electoral law that could fetch me a fine of £5,000 (N1.250m) or imprisonment for up to six months.

Even, what the parties are allowed to spend at elections is also regulated. It is £40, 000 per region contested and £10, 000 per constituency contested. And all spending during the campaign period must be authorised and included in the party’s spending return to the Electoral Commission. The Commission will in turn review the returns.

It is not as if Nigeria doesn’t have its own laws. We have. But we choose the ones to obey and the ones to ignore. The Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, has been shouting and fighting official graft in Nigeria. The man has delivered a series of lectures in which he identified official theft as the greatest human tragedy to have affected our people since colonialism. Earlier this year, Ribadu was quoted as describing a chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party, Chief Lamidi Adedibu, and the Oyo State Deputy Governor, Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala, as unfit to be leaders. Today, Alao-Akala is the governor-elect of Oyo State and Adedibu, the undisputed godfather.

In Anambra State, the issue now is not whether Andy Uba won the gubernatorial election or not. The new agenda is the struggle by some opposition candidates to win his favour. Yesterday, they called Uba’s election a fraud, a sham, a charade. Today, these turncoats see nothing wrong in his election. They have indicated their intention to work closely with him to achieve peace, security, human and material progress of the state. Uba must be grinning by now. Smart politicians!

In Imo State, the gubernatorial election held on 14 April was cancelled while that of the state assembly held the same day was upheld. The election was rescheduled for 28 April. To ensure that its unfavourable candidate, Ifeanyi Araraume, did not emerge, the PDP went to court to compel the Independent National Electoral Commission to accept Charles Ugwu as its candidate. When this failed, the ruling party abandoned its candidate. The result is that Araraume lost the election he won in the first balloting to the candidate of the Progressive People’s Alliance, Chief Ikedi Ohakim.

I won’t be surprised if Ohakim declares for the PDP tomorrow. I will also not be surprised if the opposition presidential candidates that recently visited the president-elect, Alhaji Umar Yar’Adua, to congratulate him and declare their satisfaction with the conduct of the election, eventually join the ruling party. Nigerian politicians have no shame. They have no ideology. They have no character. To them, anything goes. Any party that promises to butter their bread the most is where they migrate.

As for INEC, there is no Nigerian institution today, perhaps, that is as ingenious as that electoral body. It promised to give Nigerians free, fair and the most credible elections in the annals of the country. But so far, it has taken one step forward and two steps backward. It printed excess presidential ballot papers in South Africa, but chose to abandon some of them to the printers there. In the rescheduled elections, INEC was accused of using wrong ballot papers in some parts of Rivers State.

In Anambra State, opposition candidates accused the electoral body of conniving with the ruling party to rob them of victory in the rescheduled National Assembly elections. Tomorrow, the same opposition candidates may pay solidarity visits and pledge their unalloyed support to the ruling party. In some other parts of the country, some INEC officials were also reported to have connived with security agents and party thugs to stuff ballot boxes in favour of the PDP.

As we wobble along in our march for a true democracy, there is need to learn a few lessons from the Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. In spite of the do-or-die win of the PDP in many states, Tinubu still delivered Lagos to the Action Congress. Perhaps, he out-rigged the octopus. In an interview with Saturday Punch in November last year, the governor had admonished Nigerians not to allow the subversion of democratic institutions and the rule of law to continue beyond 2007. According to him, “It is a trend they will want to continue, but we will call the people out. Let there be a revolution, let there be resistance. Liberty is not given easily. Sometimes, you have to spill your blood, you have to make the sacrifice.”

Bravo! Tinubu. Bravo! Nigerian politicians. Bravo! INEC. Hip! Hip! Hip…! Olé!