Archive for December 2007

Ribadu: Ceasefire on anti-corruption war?

December 31, 2007
By Casmir Igbokwe
Published: Sunday, 30 Dec 2007
An Igbo adage says when a man on top of a palm tree pollutes the air the flies get confused. Certain actions of Nigerian leaders with regard to the war against corruption have left many citizens confused and dumbfounded. In an article in this column last Sunday, I wrote against the attempt by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Michael Aondoakaa, to merge the anti-graft agencies.

In the article entitled, ‘Aondoakaa’s dogfight with anti-graft agencies,’ I likened the AGF to Maurice Fox, a Briton. Fox (77) was accused of always farting at a social club he visited at Devon in England. Following complaints from other disgusted members, authorities of the club banned him from such an act anytime he was indoors. I cautioned that the AGF‘s flatulent anti-graft policies were also becoming too disgusting to many Nigerians and that he should control his actions. Now, the police authorities have decided to take over from Aondoakaa. And the mess is getting messier.

Last Thursday, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mike Okiro, confirmed what started as a rumour. According to him, the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, will proceed on a one-year course at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru near Jos. The course, the IG noted, was to equip Ribadu for more challenges ahead.

Okiro stressed, “The claim that the battle by politicians to sack Ribadu may have shifted to his constituency is unfounded and it is a calculated attempt to smear the good name and reputation which I have built over the years as well as portray the Nigeria Police Force in a bad light. This is because I am not a politician and I am not succumbing to the whims and caprices of politicians as being speculated.”

Well said. But Okiro should answer the following questions: What impact will this course have on the current job of Ribadu as the EFCC boss? Is he going to Kuru to master how to prosecute corrupt public officials? If the IGP is grooming him as a potential IG of Police, will he be the one to appoint Ribadu to that position or the President? And does Ribadu, in his current position, report to the IGP or to the President?

Undoubtedly, the chickens have finally come home to roost. The plot against Ribadu started with an attempt to stifle the powers of the anti-graft agencies to prosecute suspects. Aondoakaa wanted them to get his permission before prosecuting anybody. Public outcry led to the stoppage of that plan. Not yet satisfied, the AGF sent his boys to court unannounced to take over the case the EFCC instituted against the former governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu. He also frustrated the trial of the former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, in London. When he talked about merging the EFCC with other anti-corruption agencies recently, I thought that was the highpoint in the grand plot to get at Ribadu.

But the current go-on-study-leave order indicates that a drowning man will never get tired of clutching a straw. President Umaru Yar’Adua may feign ignorance of the moves to cripple the EFCC. But let him know that the major suspicion now is that he is the one beating the drums for Aondoakaa and Okiro. And the aim may be to shield the corrupt politicians who sponsored his electioneering. Ribadu is seen as a dogged fighter. In spite of obvious lapses in his methods, he has personified the war against graft. So far, he has prosecuted seven governors and is set to prosecute more. Invariably, those who have skeletons in their cupboards are scared. Hence, Ribadu must be stopped by all means.

There is no sincerity in the actions of most of our leaders. They say one thing today and do a different thing tomorrow. For instance, after the assassination of the former Minister of Justice, Chief Bola Ige, in 2001, the government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo vowed to do everything possible to unravel the mystery surrounding the murder. The Assistant Inspector General of Police investigating the killing, Mrs Abimbola Ojomo, strove hard to unravel this mystery. She provided useful leads. But when the coast seemed to be getting clearer, the powers that be sent her on study leave.

Yar‘Adua started well as President. He has taken some popular decisions, which have endeared him to the people. He professed zero tolerance of corruption. But what is happening now to Ribadu and the anti-corruption agencies is giving contrary signals. The President should not allow the gains he has made so far to be frittered away.

Section three of the Act establishing the EFCC provides for two terms of four years each for the chairman of the commission. Ribadu has only completed a tenure. He still has more than three years to finish his second term. The Federal Government should allow him to finish the job he started before sending him on any course. The President should also call Aondoakaa and Okiro to order if he is not in support of what they are doing. He should warn them to leave Ribadu and the EFCC alone. Though a police officer, Ribadu, in his current position, does not report to the IGP. His successful arrest and prosecution of the former IGP Tafa Balogun lends credence to this fact.

It is unfortunate that we have been paying lip service to the war on corruption. No nation succeeds with that kind of attitude. In July this year, China convicted and executed the former director of the country‘s food and drug safety agency for corruption. Zheng Xiaoyu was accused of taking 6.49million Yuan ($1m) in bribes from pharmaceutical firms in return for approving new drugs.

The other day, the Supreme Court in Peru sentenced the former Peruvian President, Alberto Fujimori, to six years in prison and fined him $92,000 for abuse of power. Fujimori sent a military aide, who posed as a prosecutor, to illegally search and retrieve boxes of video and audio tapes from the apartment of the wife of his former intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos. The tapes allegedly contain incriminating evidence of corrupt practices against the erstwhile President.

We need to be hard on our corrupt officials too. That will deter people from the act. Experience has shown that Nigerians obey the laws of the land if they see some sincerity on the part of their leaders. It happened during Muhammadu Buhari/Tunde Idiagbon‘s regime. The War Against Indiscipline of that era taught people to respect the laws of the land and to behave themselves. We can achieve the same feat again if Ribadu is given a free hand to wage the anti-graft war.

Feedback

Re: Aondoakaa‘s dogfight with anti-graft agencies

Casmir, you are superb, amazing and entertaining. Your choice of topics is educative, informative and really cuts across different spheres of life. Keep the flag flying. Kudos.

Clifford Enobun

nboycosa@yahoo.com

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Aondoakaa’s dogfight with anti-graft agencies

December 24, 2007
By Casmir Igbokwe
Published: Sunday, 23 Dec 2007
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, may be likened to Maurice Fox. As an old man, Fox farts a lot. The disgusting thing is that he does it at the social club he frequents in Devon, England. The club, in a recent letter, banned him from breaking wind while indoors. The BBC quoted the 77-year-old man as saying, “I think someone has complained about the noise. I am a loud farter, but there is no smell.”

Metaphorically, Aondoakaa is a loud farter too. Or how else does one interpret his actions and policies, which tend to confuse and disgust some Nigerians? The man wants people to believe that his presumed mess does not smell as well. But it is coming to a point Nigerians will ask him to control his flatulence.

Recent media reports indicate that the Federal Government plans to merge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission with other anti-graft agencies. The nation’s chief law officer reportedly said having one stronger body was better than having a multiplicity of bodies performing similar functions.

Aondoakaa, who spoke during the inauguration of the House Committee on Justice, supported his argument with the petition the Attorney-General of Ebonyi State sent to President Umaru Yar’Adua. Ebonyi had purportedly complained about the involvement of the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission in the investigation of the government of that state. He also cited the trial of the former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, by the Code of Conduct Bureau as another reason to merge the agencies. Alamieyeseigha, Aondoakaa noted, had already been tried and convicted of the same charges as preferred against him by the EFCC. Despite criticisms, the AGF says he is not going back on the merger.

Ironically, the same AGF, last October, hinted of plans to create what he called a Special Legal Unit that will be distinct from other anti-graft agencies. The SLU is to prosecute persons and public officials indicted for corruption by the National Assembly since 1999. According to the minister, the special unit will complement the efforts of the existing anti-corruption bodies. Aondoakaa added that the unit would specifically handle reports on corruption by the National Assembly and abuse of budgetary provisions.

Does the proposed merger indicate that the AGF is dropping the SLU idea? Or could he be experimenting on something Nigerians are yet to know? I must confess that I have been a staunch supporter of Aondoakaa. In many debates where people have expressed reservations about his conduct in office, I have always opined that he should be given a chance. His rule of law mantra had particularly captivated not just me, but the Nigerian Bar Association as well. I doffed my hat for him and the EFCC when they decided to challenge a Federal High Court order in Benin restraining the anti-graft agencies from arresting, investigating and prosecuting Ibori.

However, his resort to technicalities in the fight against corruption has been worrisome. When he attempted to curb the powers of the anti-graft agencies sometime in August, he based it on the rule of law. He had wanted the agencies to get his approval before prosecuting any suspect. Some people cried foul, and the FG reversed the decision.

Hardly had this died down when the AGF engaged the EFCC in another tug of war. The AGF’s office had attempted to take over the prosecution of the former governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, from the EFCC without prior information to the agency. To the minister, this action was to protect the rule of law. He had cited an Umuahia High Court order restraining the EFCC from arresting and prosecuting Kalu for corruption as an excuse.

Only recently, a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt complained that the AGF’s office was delaying proceedings on the case the former governor of Rivers State, Dr Peter Odili, instituted against the EFCC. In the words of the presiding judge, Ibrahim Buba, “The attitude of the office of the Attorney-General to this matter has been drawing back the hands of the clock and affecting proceedings negatively.” Odili had prayed the court to restrain the EFCC from arresting him and investigating his activities while in office. Even the ICPC Chairman, Emmanuel Ayoola, and the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Constance Momoh, have had cause to complain against the AGF. Momoh, for instance, was angry that the government prosecutor was delaying the trial of Alamieyeseigha by asking for unnecessary adjournments.

Equally interesting was the AGF’s actions over the trial of the former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, in London. A London Court had ordered the freezing of Ibori’s assets in London pending the conclusion of investigation into money laundering or corruption charges against him. Aondoakaa fired a letter to the ex-governor‘s counsel, saying Ibori was not under trial for corruption in Nigeria. Attempts by the Metropolitan Police to obtain some evidence from the AGF’s office in relation to the case were also frustrated. Ibori’s assets were later de-frozen, although the freezing order was reinstated.

Ordinarily, there is nothing wrong with merging the anti-graft agencies, especially the EFCC and the ICPC. But Aondoakaa’s body language has cast suspicions about his real intentions. Granted that Section 36 (9) of the 1999 Constitution forbids trying an offender twice for the same offence, Aondoakaa should have allowed the courts to make that pronouncement. Why has he chosen to act as counsel to the accused ex-governors? It does appear, rightly or wrongly, that all he is after is to clip the wings of the EFCC.

Besides, these agencies may appear to be doing the same thing, but they are not. The EFCC is for economic and financial crimes. The ICPC takes care of other corrupt practices. The CCB is mainly concerned with asset declaration of public office holders. It is a constitutional creation. I am not a lawyer, but my learned friends tell me that except the Constitution is amended, nobody can tamper with the CCB.

The AGF should have allowed Alamieyeseigha’s lawyer to argue that his client had been tried for the same offence for which the CCB is trying him again. He could have also gone to court to challenge the trial like he did in the case of Kalu. Rather he feels that merging the agencies will solve the problem. Aondoakaa should rather work towards strengthening these agencies. He should fulfil his promise of ensuring the trial of public officers indicted by the National Assembly, and not to withdraw from the suit seeking to compel the anti-graft agencies to investigate and prosecute the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Patricia Etteh, and her deputy, Babangida Nguroje as his office is said to have done. He should by all means avoid fishing on technicalities.

Like the disgusted club members in England who cautioned Fox to stop farting, I am tempted to ask Aondoakaa to consider his actions in the interest of the public.

Poverty and Kpakol’s welfare palliatives

December 17, 2007

Casmir Igbokwe

Published Sunday, 16 Dec 2007

Two mythical babies had different experiences during their birth in Lagos. One was delivered at Ikoyi, a highbrow area. The other chose Ajegunle, a slum, as his birthplace. The Ikoyi baby first brought out his head from the birth canal. He looked round and saw a beautiful environment. The air conditioners were humming. The flowers glowed even as the doctors and nurses looked so cute. The baby was eager to come out. Hence, the delivery was smooth. The one from Ajegunle brought out his head and looked round. What he saw were women tying dirty wrappers, goats and fowls. Nothing in the vicinity enticed him. He refused to come out. “Puuush!” the wrapper-tying midwives told the woman in labour. The baby said, “No way! Please take me back. I can’t live here.” I am not sure if this baby was delivered safely. Perhaps, the priest at St. Peter’s Catholic Church Ejigbo, Lagos, who narrated this story last Sunday, should know better.

This tale shows the reality of existence in today’s Nigeria. About one per cent of the population enjoys 85 per cent of the oil revenue. The rest of the people live from hand to mouth. The situation is such that the United Nations’ Development Programme, in a report in 2006, noted that the standard of living in the country was low. According to the report, less than half of the population had access to improved sanitation. Those with access to clean water dropped from 48 to 46 per cent in the last 14 years. Average life expectancy was put at 43.4 years. The UNDP may not have reckoned that a lot of people do not also have access to toilet. That is why some bush paths and pedestrian bridges are littered with faeces.

In a similar report recently, the World Bank said the country’s macro-economic successes were at variance with the standard of living in the country. Infant and maternal mortality rates are still high. People go to bed without electricity. They sleep halfway and spend the rest of the night pursuing mosquitoes and wiping heat. And this is a country that has about $50 billion in external reserves and rising Gross Domestic Product.

In an apparent bid to salvage the situation, the Federal Government plans to launch a welfare scheme to help poor families. Recent media reports indicated that these poor families would get monthly payments for one year. After one year, the beneficiaries will receive a grant to enable them to establish small businesses. The condition is that they will send their children to school and have them immunised against childhood diseases. The National Poverty Eradication Programme, which will administer the programme, has reportedly set aside about $70m (N9bn) for it. The BBC quoted the National Coordinator of NAPEP, Magnus Kpakol, as saying that it is un-Nigerian for anybody to be left in misery.

Kpakol and his team deserve commendation for this initiative. In a country bereft of social welfare schemes, this programme looks wonderful and interesting. Recall that this same NAPEP gave out tricycles called Keke NAPEP to some individuals a few years ago. Under its Capacity Acquisition Programme, NAPEP had trained thousands of unemployed youths as tailors or fashion designers. The agency had also given small loans to some poor Nigerians. What this means is that NAPEP leaders are constantly thinking of how to eradicate Nigeria’s poverty.

However, a cursory glance at Nigeria’s past poverty alleviation experiences paints a disturbing picture. For instance, the military government of Olusegun Obasanjo introduced Operation Feed the Nation. The programme died with the exit of that regime in 1979. When Shehu Shagari came, he introduced Green Revolution. The emphasis was on food production. By the time Shagari left, poverty level had increased to over 40 per cent.

Ibrahim Babangida’s government introduced Peoples’ Bank mainly to provide soft loans to prospective entrepreneurs. That government also initiated the Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure. DFRRI was mandated to open up rural areas and, thus, enhance national economy. The same government set up the National Directorate of Employment in 1986 to fight the scourge of unemployment in the country. Today, only the NDE is still in existence. Its impact, though, has not gone beyond training soap makers and such miniature achievements. Babangida’s wife, Mariam, came with her Better Life for Rural Women programme. This was later transformed into Better Life for Urban Women.

Sani Abacha came up with the Family Economic Advancement Programme. This empowered his own family and a few other cronies. By the time Obasanjo came back the second time in 1999, Nigeria had taken a prime position among the 25 poorest nations in the world. Today, about 52 per cent of the population lives in abject poverty.

Obasanjo started his second leadership journey with the establishment of Poverty Alleviation Programme. His government gave N10 billion to PAP to help Nigeria’s poor. That money was squandered. NAPEP arrived in 2001 apparently to remedy the situation. Yes, it gave out Keke NAPEP. But at what cost? Was the price not allegedly inflated? It dished out some poverty alleviation funds to people. But how many Nigerians benefited from that? How many used their money to set up sustainable businesses? And how are we sure that the current efforts will not be mired in corruption?

In a recent survey, Transparency International noted that bribery hit the poor the hardest. The report observed that poor people mostly pay bribes in order to obtain basic public services. This year, 42 per cent of people in Africa reportedly paid a bribe to get a service. In a country of 140 million people, NAPEP, initially, will concentrate on 12 out of 36 states and 12, 000 people. What will likely happen is that some people will feed fat on this initiative. Many would-be beneficiaries may likely be cronies and relations of the powers that be. The real people who need this assistance may never get it. I wish Kpakol proves me wrong.

Ultimately, the best poverty alleviation scheme involves the provision of the enabling environment for businesses to thrive. The more these businesses employ people, the less people will go for poverty handouts. A barber or hairdresser or welder may collect this money to set up a business, but without electricity, the business will die. In the United Kingdom, unemployment rate has been on the decline. The number of people seeking jobless benefits reportedly fell by 11,100 in November to 813,000. This is said to be the lowest since June 1975. And because the number of the unemployed is low, it is easy for the government to pay unemployment benefits.

In Nigeria, the number of people waiting for NAPEP’s largesse is greater than those with gainful employment. This gives room for the ultimate failure of the programme. But if a baby in Ajegunle pops out his head from the birth canal and sees electricity, clean environment and tarred road, he will be encouraged to come out and face life squarely. He may not notice any inequality in the system because what is there in Ikoyi is also there in Mushin.

Yahoo boys and the upsurge in other Christmas crimes

December 10, 2007

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 9 Dec 2007

I was almost taken in by the antics of the criminals. The message was supposedly from MTN. And it reads: “Yello! Congratulation. U have won N1million, Ur code is 1835Z. Please call MTN staff Remi on 07035837778 now for your bank wire details. MTN MOVING YOU AHEAD.”

I must confess that I am out of touch with the current crime strategies in the country. And so, when I got the above message on my mobile phone, I was happy. I immediately started planning with my wife what to do with the N1m. We almost quarrelled about where to channel the money. That was before I dialled the number I was asked to call. The number rang and a male voice picked the call: “What is your name and where are you calling from?”

Alarm signals registered in my brain immediately. Why was this character after my name and where I was calling? I wondered. I simply mentioned the text message I got, to which he replied, “Call 185 immediately so that you will be among the first few beneficiaries.” I dialled the number, but a computer voice welcomed me to one of MTN‘s departments (I am not too sure of the department again.) According to the voice, the department works Monday to Friday, 8.00am to 5.00pm and does not work on weekends. This was on a Saturday. So, I stopped my search here as my instinct told me that this was a clear-cut fraud.

Last Thursday, I attended a dinner hosted by the Deputy British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Richard Powell. During informal discussions, people expressed concern at the persistent incidents of scams in Nigeria. Somebody even jokingly said that Lagos Island was the forgery capital of the world. There, people could forge anything from international passports to all sorts of certificates.

In spite of warnings and public enlightenment campaigns, people still fall victim to Advance Fee Fraud. An official of the Deputy High Commission told me the story of a blind old British woman who fell into the trap of fraudsters recently. They lured her to Nigeria with a proposal to buy a hotel and duped her of £80,000 (about N20m).

Swindlers are also not relenting in bombarding people’s email addresses with scam mails. I get not less than 10 of such emails everyday. I have got business deals from different quarters, including the widow of Jonas Savimbi of Angola. One particular mail entitled, “Universal International Lottery SA” congratulated me on winning $950,000.00. My email address, the criminals noted, was among those chosen this quarter from their new java-based software that randomly selects email addresses from the web. The promoters even magnanimously pleaded that because of Internet lottery scams, “You must quote your security code (ZA-184/08) so that the scammers will not be able to get your winning information.” I have also won lotteries from the BMW Group, Shell Foundation and Microsoft. Fools!

Besides the Yahoo boys, there is an upsurge in other criminal activities. For instance, there are people who sell expired rice in the market today. Last week, the Inspector-General of Police, Mike Okiro, paraded eight suspected expired rice dealers in Abuja. The suspects were accused of re-branding N8m worth of expired rice into Mama Gold, Mama Africa, Mama Royal and some other bags.

Thugs and sundry task forces have their own operational tactics. Some pedestrian bridges in Lagos, especially the one at Cele Bus-stop on Oshodi/Apapa Road, have become money-spinners for many of them. Recently, they arrested as many people as they could and took them to the Isolo Local Government Headquarters in Lagos. They claimed that the captives crossed the road without using the footbridge. Some of the culprits pleaded innocent, but the local government officials would hear none of that. They dumped all of them in a cell in the local government.

To bail any of the detainees was N5,000. To bail a student was N3,500. Those, whose relatives delayed in bringing this money found themselves later in a small cell at Isolo Police Station. There, their captors constantly reminded them of a court action if they delayed further in making their payment. I came to bail somebody, but the officials insisted on N5,000. I refused to pay. As dusk approached, somebody else came to bail the same person with N2,000. There was another N200 payment. They called that one counter fee. It‘s supposed to be N500. But the woman who paid the money bargained well. There was no receipt for these payments. And don‘t ask me who keeps this cash. Perhaps, it‘s for the development of the local government.

It is unfortunate that all that some Nigerians think about is how to out-fox and out-rob their neighbours. The market woman sells her tomato to the unwary customer at more than 200 per cent increase. The auto parts dealer gives you fake parts at exorbitant prices. The office secretary exploits any loophole to steal his manager‘s money. Recently, a friend and businessman, Jude Igwe, lost N500,000 to his sales assistant. The girl absconded with the money and has not been seen since then. Armed robbers, on their part, terrorise and, sometimes, kill their victims. These days, they spare nobody. The recent killing of a four-year-old girl, among others, at Iju area of Lagos is a typical case.

It has become a worrisome trend that crime rate must rise towards the end of every year. Some analysts attribute this to Christmas and end-of-year festivities. Some wives, they argue, make enormous demands on their husbands. Children want new clothes and shoes. Girlfriends want the latest jewellery in town. Some want to travel to the village at all cost to show that they have arrived. This is a period breadwinners face serious financial pressure from many quarters.

But this excuse flies in the face of reason. It is the proclivity to live above our income, to live a fake life that pushes some of us into crime. That is what is prodding the Yahoo boys. That is what is behind the fake MTN boys’ scheming. And that is why robbers will not let us have peace of mind. The police who should be hunting these bandits have themselves become the hunted. A number of them have died in the line of duty. Now, they appear helpless and unsure of what to do to stem the upsurge in crime.

As a first step to solving the problem, perhaps, President Umaru Yar‘Adua has approached Britain for succour. He does not seem to know where the help should be channelled. Any help, the President reportedly said, would do. While we await the British intervention, may I suggest that the police or the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission should help me collect my N1m from the MTN boys. They can take 10 per cent of the money.

Signs, wonders and new popular delusions

December 3, 2007

By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published Sunday 02 December 2007

Agbor Ndoma is a farmer and a deacon. As the Executive Director of the Lagos-based Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Development, he works hard to keep his farms productive. As a deacon in the Winners Chapel, he does not joke with his religious activities. He organises regular prayer meetings in his house. And in one of those meetings, his visitors discussed how to command signs and wonders.

This is what inspired this piece. Many of us have continued to search for this signs and wonders. But the one we shall discuss here is of a different hue – the type that has just multiplied the hardship of a promising young man. The man (name withheld) had problems with his business in a popular city in Abia State. But his brother-in-law brought him to Lagos and opened a shop for him. He was doing well in this new business until recently when he decided to explore more of the supernatural world. Some days, he would close his shop and head for a prayer house. It did not take long before his business fortunes started dwindling. Now, his in-law has asked him to return the shop’s key to him.

In some other parts of the world, this phenomenon comes in different colours. Take Russia for instance. The world had viewed that country as an atheistic state. But the collapse of communism gave birth to the influx of foreign evangelists and missionaries. Recently, members of a doomsday religious group barricaded themselves inside a cave in a remote region called Penza. These doomsday believers said they would be in the cave to await the end of the world in May 2008. They threatened to blow themselves up if authorities make any attempt to force them out of the place. Recall that 11 students of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, were recently rescued from the forest where they had gone to await rapture. They had claimed receiving a message from God to rapture.

The United States had contended with similar end-time movements in the past. Such end-time preachers as Jim Jones and David Koresh had led their followers to commit mass suicide. The recent American wonder involves a polygamist sect called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Its leader, Warren Jeffs, allegedly forced a 14-year-old girl to marry her cousin. He also purportedly encouraged the girl to have sex so that she would not go to hell. Jeffs is said to have 70 wives. And this conforms to the teaching of his church that a man must marry at least three wives in order to make heaven.

This type of delusion assumed a disturbing dimension in India recently. A man reportedly forced his 15-year-old daughter to marry him. Angry Kasiajhiora villagers in the Indian state of West Bengal almost lynched the man for committing incest. The police rescued him, but he and his wife are staying in another town for now.

In Nigeria, anybody can also claim anything and people will believe. The number of those who claim they see visions is multiplying by the day. Some of them can see anything, including the way you sleep with your wife. In a particular village in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State (name withheld), a certain seer has caused some ripples. People contributed money to invite the man to divine the cause of their predicaments. In some cases, he told some devotees that their problem was a close relative. This has caused serious strain in people’s relationships.

In some other parts of the country, juju is the reigning wonder. There is something they call pin in some parts of the east. It looks more like a piece of bicycle spoke. The general belief is that evildoers magically shoot pieces of these pins into people’s bodies. There are specialists who remove the pins. Some of them remove them with their teeth. Some remove them by merely slapping the affected area. And there are people who believe that having bitter kola in one’s pocket wards off the magical pin from one’s body.

Authorities in the Netherlands have even noticed our prowess in the use of juju. Last October, Dutch police arrested some Nigerians who trafficked children into the West as sex slaves. The traffickers allegedly cast a spell on the children before smuggling them abroad. Their voodoo, though, could not confuse the Dutch police from arresting them.

These days, you will hear people saying, “I am strong” when they are sick. To these believers, being strong is a matter of faith. But the question is, if a civil servant, for instance, says he is strong when it is obvious that he is derelict in his duties because of sickness, what will you do to that person if you are his employer? Give him a pat on the back or fire him?

This is the type of faith that defined the response I got from Mr Samuel Ajibode over my recent article entitled “Between babies and their containers”. The article made reference to one Emma Gough who died after giving birth to twins. The suspicion was that her death was because she refused blood transfusion, being a member of Jehovah’s Witness. But as Ajibode put it, “You well know that doctors say they only care but God heals. If God who heals says blood should not be used in any way, don’t you think that anybody who believes God exists should obey the one who heals? The only true God who created heaven and earth inspired the writing of the whole Bible including Acts of the Apostle, chapter 15 verses 28 and 29. Please read these verses in an undertone. Jehovah’s witnesses do not want to go into the fatality and complications that accompany blood transfusion because their only reason for refusing blood transfusion is obedience to the only true God who heals.”

People are free to believe anything. They are entitled to their opinions. But let’s draw a line between reality and delusion. If a pregnant woman is dying and all she needs to come alive is blood, I don’t see why anybody should deny her this elixir.

I don’t also see why people should abandon their businesses the whole day for Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday prayers. Self-styled evangelists, in the name of tithe, collect the little money these miracle seekers have and tell them to expect miracles, signs and wonders. When their businesses collapse, witches and wizards take the blame.

There is time for everything. Ndoma, for instance, does not sleep in a prayer house. He toils everyday to make his businesses grow. He only retires in his house in the night for his religious activities. This is the point many Nigerians seem to be missing. May God open our inner eyes to existential truths. May He give us the wisdom to decipher between reality and delusion.