Archive for November 2007

Hall of shame for Nigerian villains

November 27, 2007

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published Sunday, 25 November

Randy Cunningham will ever live to regret his greed. When he was a member of the US House Defence Appropriations Subcommittee, he brokered contracts for defence companies in exchange for bribes. Two years ago, Cunningham resigned as a member of the US’ House of Representatives. In March last year, he bagged eight years and four months prison sentence. He was also ordered to pay $1.8m in restitution.

Cunningham is among other prominent US leaders a public interest organisation inducted in its Ethics Hall of Shame. The organisation, Public Citizen, established a website called “Clean Up Washington” to rid the US capital of what it calls “entrenched special interest influence-peddling.” Simply put, the idea is to fight corruption and prevent abuses of the public trust. To merit a place in the hall of shame, a candidate, Public Citizen says, “must have committed illegal acts or engaged in conduct that is highly abusive of the public trust in the service of special interests.”

Human Rights Watch also does a similar thing. In May 2006, for instance, the organisation inducted former President Olusegun Obasanjo into its hall of shame for, in its words, “playing politics with human rights.” This induction followed a bill Obasanjo’s regime brought to the National Assembly in January 2006. The bill, “the Prohibition of Relationship Between Persons of the Same Sex, Celebration of Marriage by them, and for Other Matters Connected Therewith”, was a pre-emptive measure against gay marriage in Nigeria.

This idea, perhaps, influenced the recent decision of the Anambra State Association in the United States of America. Late last month, the organisation gave hints of its plan to establish its own hall of shame for evildoers who have made Anambra a failed state. At the end of its sixth annual convention held in Miami Florida, ASA-USA reportedly said the initial medium for this exercise would be the Internet. Later on, the list of the villains will be published in other media.

This idea is worth replicating throughout the nation. This is because corruption and other evils have continued to taint the image of this country. Just when you think we are winning the war against sleaze, another scandal will break out to shame our collective integrity. For instance, the Willbros bribery scandal had hardly died down when the Siemens scam surfaced. Siemens AG, a German telecommunications firm, allegedly paid bribes to some former Nigerian government officials to secure contracts in the country. Recent media reports named four ex-ministers and some other prominent Nigerians as accomplices in the 10m-euro scam. The former ministers are Chief Cornelius Adebayo, Dr Mohammed Bello, Maj.-Gen. Tajudeen Olanrewaju, and the late Alhaji Haruna Elewi. Senator Jubril Aminu was also mentioned. These individuals, though, have denied the allegations.

Since the Federal Government has ordered a probe of the incident, and since the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission is investigating it, let’s give the suspects the benefit of the doubt. If after investigations, they are found culpable, their names must be prominent in this proposed hall of shame. This is besides any other punishment that will come their way.

Other Nigerians that should occupy this hall are past leaders already convicted of corrupt practices. The late Gen. Sani Abacha should be top on the list. This man alone, in the estimation of the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Mr Antonio Maria Costa, stole the equivalent of two to three per cent of the country’s GDP for every year that he was Head of State. Collectively, Nigeria reportedly lost close to $400bn to graft between 1960 and 1999. During the regime of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Nigeria also lost substantial part of its revenue to corruption. Until date, nobody has properly accounted for the $12.4bn Gulf War oil windfall of that era. At a point, the Pius Okigbo panel report that allegedly indicted some principal officers of that regime was declared missing. Today, some of the people at the centre of that mess still strut around our political turf. The natural place for such people is the hall of shame.

At the state level, most ex-governors milked the treasuries of their states. So far, only chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha has been convicted. The rest are still playing hide and seek games with the law. Any time the courts finally convict them, they should occupy special positions in the hall of shame. From Tafa Balogun to Salisu Buhari and from Dan Etete to other convicted villains in our midst, this hall of shame is imperative. Even those who may not have been convicted of stealing but have caused trouble and untold hardship for citizens should be inducted in this hall. The troublemakers in Oyo and Anambra States must be on the list.

This exercise will serve as a constant reminder to people to continue to isolate the inductees. The problem of our short memory would have been solved if, at election time, we tell a dubious politician, “Go, your name is in the hall of shame.” Most people cherish their reputation. They love to maintain their good names. Which is why Adebayo, in his defence against the Siemens allegation, said he had a reputation for integrity. He expressed confidence that at the completion of the process, “this unjustified and unjustifiable stain will be removed from my hard-earned name.”

Hall of shame draws its concept from hall of fame. When people do something good and get commendation, they will have the motivation to do more. Earlier in the month, 23 women leaders were inducted into the Nigerian Women Hall of Fame. Among the women were the first female governor in Nigeria, Virgy Etiaba; the first female head of service, Ebele Okeke and the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives, Patricia Etteh. These women received this honour for distinguishing themselves in their various fields. It appeared the major criterion of the organisers was being first female this or that. There is no problem with this. But they should also establish a hall of shame for all those debasing womanhood. Etteh, for instance, presided over a rancorous House for about two months. Recently, she was forced to resign over a N628m house renovation scandal.

We must be serious about fighting corruption. The anti-graft agencies may prosecute offenders. They may recover their loot and harass them thoroughly. But if there is no collective action against corrupt officials; if we (like some Bayelsa people who held reception for Alamieyeseigha after his return from prison) continue to indulge fraudsters in our midst, the fight will never be won. Cunningham and his ilk did not just face the courts. They faced the civil society who disgraced them and put them in their hall of shame. Our nation needs something like this in this period of sleaze. It may not totally cure the malady. But it will go a long way. Civil society groups should take note.

Between babies and their ‘containers’

November 19, 2007

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 18 Nov 2007

My mum was at it again. When I met with her recently, the first thing she sought to know was the condition of my wife. From her tone, I immediately knew where she was going. But I wanted her to explain what she meant. She lowered her voice and asked, “Is your wife pregnant?” I answered in the negative even as I told her that I didn‘t intend to have more than the three children I already have. “My son,” she began, “a child-bearing woman does not wait that long. If she does, getting pregnant again may become difficult. You should have five children at least…”

Many Nigerian couples face this type of pressure from friends and family members. A typical African society adores children. Any woman who has not had a child a few years after marriage feels highly distressed. Nothing matters to her anymore. Out of frustration, she, sometimes, resorts to visiting prayer houses and native doctors to find solutions to her problems.

Even in some Western societies, there are people who also cherish children. Some of them may not want to endure the pangs of labour. But they still have children through adoption or other means. For instance, in 2004, Lisa Montgomery reportedly strangled a pregnant woman in Missouri, US, ripped open her womb with a kitchen knife and took away her baby. She had apparently lied about being pregnant. And part of her alleged fear was that her ex-husband, Carl Boman, would expose her lies. Before she was arrested the following day, she had shown the baby to people as her own. Last month, jurors in Missouri convicted her of the crime.

Many Nigerians will frown on this. But inadvertently, some of us also behave like Montgomery in a way. A woman just gave birth in my neighbourhood the other day. She had two girl-children and desperately needed a boy. She did all she could in terms of visiting prayer houses that advertise signs and wonders. Unknown to her, another woman she had quarrelled with, prayed and swore that she would never have a baby boy. After hours of painful labour, this woman had another baby girl to the delight of her adversary. That baby now contends with sleeping in one poorly-ventilated room with the rest of the family members.

On March 4, I wrote against the inclination of some Nigerians to have many children on this page. That piece, entitled ‘Chinese soothsayers and Nigeria‘s population explosion,‘ did not go down well with some individuals. One Ms Ifeoma Okoronkwo fired back, saying the irony of it all was that Nigerians, who condemned large families, most of the time, were products of large families.

She added, “Mr Igbokwe, I don‘t know you in person, but I can bet that you are from a family of not less than five children. And your father or mother is not ‘a multimillionaire or a politician eating from the public till…’ yet they catered for you up to the university level (UNN). I can also bet you are not the only graduate in your family. So if your parents can cater for you in spite of the number of children, why are you condemning large families or couples who like having many children? The excuse of the state of the economy is as lame as it is old.”

She said Nigeria’s population was not the cause of its economic woes but recurrent bad leadership. As she put it, “It doesn‘t take a rocket scientist to know that our resources (human and natural) are more than enough even for double the size of our present population. The point is that every child comes with his own gift from God and no man or economy can determine the child’s destiny. I am sure five years ago you never thought you would have the opportunity of studying ‘free of charge’ in the UK. So it is with the ways of God. No one knows how or what a child will be. In other words, please stop using your column to make couples commit abortion in the name of population control. Don’t be afraid for your three children. They are God’s children. You are just a custodian. With all your wits, connections and education, you cannot determine their future…”

This argument sounds seductive. But the truth is that things are difficult in Nigeria today. Just as I was putting this piece together, I got a call from a good friend in Port Harcourt. His first sentence was that I had forgotten and abandoned him. His next words were, “Things are difficult for your brother o. I learnt you just came back from the UK. How can you help me? I have lost my job and there is nothing I am doing now.”

This is a family man with children. I know many other families who are going through excruciating conditions because of abject poverty. Some men cannot even afford hospital or maternity bills of their wives. Some pregnant women, because of poverty, do not attend antenatal care. They don‘t take nutritional foods. They resign themselves to fate, arguing that as God gives children, God will also take care of His own children.

The result is that there is high rate of infant and maternal mortality in Nigeria. Over 50, 000 women reportedly die from pregnancy-related causes every year. Over one million others suffer disabilities annually from complications during childbirth. And infant mortality stands at about 100 per 10, 000 live births per annum.

A UNICEF survey put the major killer of pregnant women in Nigeria to haemorrhage. This reportedly accounts for 23 per cent of maternal deaths. Unfortunately, some women who have this problem refuse to take blood for one reason or the other. For instance, a member of Jehovah‘s Witness sect, Emma Gough, allegedly died after giving birth to twins on 25 October. The suspicion was that her death was because she refused blood transfusion. To members of this sect, blood transfusion is a sin. Although this happened in England, it is typical of what happens in some parts of Nigeria as well.

Globally, half a million women, according to The Lancet medical journal, die from pregnancy-related complications annually. Editor of the journal, Dr Richard Horton, was quoted as saying that people often see women only as “containers” for babies. Hence, there is little consideration for their health and well-being. This is why the Federal Government’s plan to offer free medical care to pregnant women and children below five years is commendable.

The Lancet captures the essence of this piece in these words, “Since the human race began, women have delivered for society. It is time now for the world to deliver for women.” The best way to do this is to give our women some breeding space. It is good to have children. But let’s also consider the health of mothers and our capacity to cater for those children. We should not turn women to baby containers. I hope my mother understands.

Love, adultery and marital quarrels

November 12, 2007

By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 11 Nov 2007

 There was something fishy about Ms Uju Akonwu’s recent message. It reads: “We at LEAP Africa want to congratulate you on your wedding. How come you didn’t invite us? I only saw it in the news. All the same, we are happy for you and pray that you have a blissful marriage. Our regards to your lovely wife.”

 This is not April. So this Programme Coordinator of a respected non-governmental organisation like LEAP Africa could not have played April fool on me. I got married seven years ago. And I drew Akonwu’s attention to this fact. She apologised, saying she saw the news on Channels television and that was what got her a bit confused. Having not gone close to Channels TV station in recent times, I concluded that Akonwu, perhaps, wanted to give me another wife. Or there was a conspiracy somewhere to make me steal love.

I quickly drew my wife’s attention to the issue. I laboured to convince her that the congratulatory message was just a figment of someone’s imagination. I achieved my purpose. But the matter set me thinking. Why, for instance, can’t couples see everyday as their wedding day? Why can’t partners rediscover and re-explore themselves? Why do some marriages collapse a few years after consummation? Why do some partners either poison or shoot one another on flimsy excuses? And why do some married couples, even old and experienced ones, cheat on one another?

Last month, for instance, an 80-year-old man was jailed for two years in South Wales, UK, for what the BBC called love theft. The man, David Cryer, stole £365, 000 from his partner to service his new love, Maureen Edwards. He reportedly took the girlfriend out for weekends and holidays and gave her a car and a £167, 000 cottage. In spite of all this largesse, the woman refused to have sex with him. She even told him, at a point, to stop visiting her, describing him as a fat old git. Painfully, Edwards is a nurse hired to look after Cryer’s wife who had suffered a series of strokes.

In far away United States, it was also a nurse that allegedly seduced and deceived our own Ikemba Iweala. Queen Nwoye (28) ended her affair with Iweala (husband of Nigeria’s former Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala) in 2003. But in February 2006, she decided to make money from Iweala (59) through blackmail. Together with her boyfriend called Adriane Osuagwu, Nwoye reportedly extorted a total of $185, 000 from Iweala. This was to keep the affair secret. It was a dejected Iweala that later informed the Federal Bureau of Investigation about the incident. The FBI took the matter to court and recently, the court found Nwoye guilty and convicted her accordingly.

In February, a former Liberian senior minister, Willis Knuckles, was alleged to have had sex with two women. A local newspaper in Monrovia even printed pictures of the scandal. The ex-minister, who is married with children, was later forced to resign.

Married women are wont to condemn men who indulge in this type of act. If some of them have the powers, they will call for the stoning of those men to death. But in this game of secret love affair, some women are as guilty as men. There are desperate housewives who never feel satisfied with their husbands. Every night, they nag, shout and, sometimes, call their partners lazy. Not that the husband is not hardworking. Not that he refuses to give her enough money or attention. He is lazy because in bed, he may not be an optimum performer.

 Consequently, some of them go in search of young men who will satisfy them sexually. Should there be any DNA test on newborn babies today, many men may discover that some of the children they regard as their own may not really be theirs. There are many illegitimate children who roam the streets, constituting themselves into a nuisance to the society.

 In extreme cases, some couples even eliminate their partners so as to have full freedom to do whatever they want. Early this month, a court in Scotland admonished a woman, Jill Martin, who fed her estranged husband, Donald Martin, a curry laced with dog excrement. The couple had been married for 21 years.

Back home, a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police, Yekini Jimoh, recently shot his wife, Folashade. The man was furious after he allegedly caught the wife at a popular hotel in Ilorin, Kwara State. He apparently suspected her of having an illicit affair with another man. It is unfortunate that some of these soured relationships involve old couples who should be models to younger ones.

There is need for married couples to re-ignite the love in their relationships. They should communicate frequently. They should exercise patience and restraint in their dealings with one another. They should have the willingness to forgive and forget perceived offences. It is not enough to mouth “for better for worse, till death do us part.” We need to walk the talk. We should try to remember more of the positive things about our lives than the negatives. We should also imbibe the blind love that defined the relationship between Mr Reinaldo Waveqche (24) and Ms Adelfa Volpes (82). The couple, in spite of their age difference, got married in September. But the Argentine woman fell sick soon after they returned from their honeymoon in Brazil. The woman died of heart problems last month. This devastated her husband.

 For those who feel that their wives are approaching menopause, there is a lesson to learn from the Australian coal miners. Managers at the mining firm, Xstrata, in Sydney were reported recently to have said that giving their predominantly male workers lessons on menopause and foreplay gave them a healthy sex life and made them happier.

Yesterday, a relation of mine, Chukwudi Okoli, wedded in Lagos. As I watched their dance steps, I remembered my own wedding day with nostalgia. I don’t intend to marry again. But I desperately wish to make everyday my wedding day. You can wish me more blissful marital life if you wish. But more importantly, learn to explore your partner just like the first day you met each other. Our society needs more of this than the infidelity, love theft and love killings we experience today.

Note

My story last Sunday entitled “Cleaning the peculiar mess in the legislature” insinuated that a strong Ibadan politician in the 50s, Chief Adegoke Adelabu, described “peculiar mess” as “penkelemesi”. This attracted emotional comments from some people who felt that the article diminished Adelabu’s intellect. I wish to state that there was no deliberate intention to demean Adelabu.

Cleaning the peculiar mess in the legislature

November 5, 2007

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 4 Nov 2007

There is an email circulating in Nigeria about the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs Patricia Etteh. I am not sure of the origin. But it is about Etteh and her use of English language. The writer likens her English to that of an Ibadan politician in the 50s and 60s, Chief Adegoke Adelabu, and former Kano State governor, Alhaji Barkin Zuwo. Adelabu, you will recall, reportedly called peculiar mess, penkelemes. Zuwo, on his part, was popular for listing Coke, Fanta, Pepsi, Sprite and Mirinda as the mineral resources available in his state.

Similarly, Etteh allegedly asked a member, after a motion had been tabled, if he was “in support of favour.” She purportedly wasted no time in announcing that the “ayes has it” anytime the ayes carried the day on the floor of the House. In response to the David Idoko Panel that investigated the N628m contract scandal involving her, Etteh reportedly said that she asked the management of the National Assembly if due process was followed and each person “answered in the affirmative action.”

The former Speaker was also said to have once announced that the first place she visited as a young parliamentarian “was a German,” and that when officials of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency visited the House, she urged them to urgently “make our roads habitable.” She had purportedly called social vices, “social devices,” and comity of nations, “international countries.” Etteh’s House, the writer noted, became a hollow chamber rather than a hallowed chamber. There are other alleged grammatical blunders.

The phenomenon symbolises the quality of representation in Etteh’s House. For almost five months, the legislators did nothing but quarrel over the house renovation scandal. Their major achievement was collection of jumbo salaries and allowances. Etteh had stayed put on the seat in spite of several calls on her to quit. When she finally bowed out, she said it was in deference to the counsel from family members, friends and colleagues.

Her mum, Mrs Atoke Alabi, was reported to have attributed her daughter’s fate to an act of God. As she put it, “When I had her pregnancy, I never knew she could ever become Speaker. She was not given birth to as a Speaker. Let Nigerians choose anyone they want. God will reveal the truth.”

God has since revealed this truth. That truth is that Etteh took the Speaker’s position as her birthright. She did not advertise the contract for the renovation of her house and that of her deputy, Alhaji Babangida Nguroje. She did not, as the Idoko panel noted, follow the provisions of the Public Procurement Act 2007. And there was no specific budgetary provision either for the house renovation or for the purchase of vehicles.

Painfully, there is no positive signal from some state assemblies as well. Late last month, members of the Delta State House of Assembly embarked on a foreign trip. The state government allegedly approved N400m for the trip so that the honourable lawmakers could relax after 100 days of hectic legislative duties. Apparently to appreciate that gesture, the legislators reportedly raised the supplementary budget of the state from N32.6bn to N33.6bn in September.

The Delta State Commissioner for Information, Mr Oma Djebah, said it wasn’t N400m that the state governor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, approved for the trip, but some amount. It was the Chief Press Secretary to the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Grey Alumona, who put the amount at N77.9m. The purpose, Djebah had noted, was to enhance legislative business. He stressed that the trip was a well-known practice everywhere in the world.

Ordinarily, there should be no problem if any member of the House wishes to update his legislative knowledge. Or to visit any tourist site abroad. The point is that some of these legislators have been in the House since 1999. So what new thing will they learn from their foreign trip? And do they even need a foreign trip to know how to make good laws for their state?

Recall that it was in this same Delta that the immediate past government of Chief James Ibori gave Prado Jeeps to 29 lawmakers. That was in October last year. And this is a state whose citizens are suffering from abject poverty, unemployment, poor infrastructure and other social deprivations. Ironically, the state receives resources from federal monthly allocations, derivation fund, excess crude oil account and the ecological fund.

In some other state legislatures, the story is almost the same. No serious attempt to pass progressive bills. No attempt to check the excesses of the executive arm of government. It is rub my back, I rub your own. In states where legislators challenge the executive, it is often not on matters that impact on the welfare of the people. It is usually for the selfish interest of the lawmakers. In Anambra State, for instance, the Governor, Mr Peter Obi, is a member of the All Progressives Grand Alliance. The legislators all belong to the Peoples Democratic Party. Today, the lawmakers are flexing muscles with Obi. And they want Nigerians to believe that some people are after their lives for wanting to discharge their duties without fear or favour. I seriously doubt if the lawmakers’ current overt and covert actions are in pursuit of good governance and accountability.

Nevertheless, there is hope for our democracy. That Nigerians rose in unison to kick Etteh out should serve as a lesson to other leaders in the country. What remains is for the Federal Government to fulfil its promise of trying all public officers indicted by the National Assembly. The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Michael Aondoakaa, recently warned that nobody would be spared in the fight against corruption. In his words, “We are not going to target war on corruption on governors alone but on everybody that is indicted by bodies authorised by law. And where criminal charges are clearly demonstrated in the report, we are going to carry out prosecution.”

In the same token, President Umaru Yar’Adua stated during his 100 days in office that the FG would take action against any person found to have committed any wrongdoing in the House contract award scandal. This action should start with Etteh. It is not enough for her to resign. She should pay for her sins.

With the emergence of Mr Dimeji Bankole as the new Speaker of the House of Representatives, there is hope that the era of etekete will soon give way for dynamism in the House. The new Speaker said it all when he noted, in his maiden address, that “from this hallowed chamber shall flow robust debates, exciting motions, timely bills, and quality legislation that will significantly impact on the standard and quality of lives of our expectant people.” May this dream bear good fruits. May it never fall into any hollow chamber again.