Archive for January 2008

Raping young girls for rituals

January 28, 2008

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 27 Jan 2008
The African Nations Cup fever is still on in Ghana. One of the revelations of the tournament is Anjorin Moucharaf. The man is not a player. But, as a core African and the President of the Benin Football Federation, Moucharaf believes in the efficacy of juju in African football. He told a THISDAY reporter shortly before the commencement of the competition that he knew (thanks to voodoo) that his team would not lose to Mali in the opening game. As he reportedly put it, “We might not win any other game in the group, but if there is one outcome I am very sure of, it is our match with Mali – we will win.” Unfortunately, Mali beat Benin 1-0 in their first group game.

Absolute belief and trust in charms and superstitions have continued to wreak havoc on our society. Ordinarily, people are free to believe anything that suits their fancy. But it becomes worrisome when that belief verges on lunacy, when it instigates the defiling of a girl-child for sinister motives.

This is what is happening in different parts of the developing world today. In China, a former lawmaker and millionaire businessman visited a fortune-teller a few years ago. The fortune-teller told him that having sex with virgins would enhance his health. Pronto, Wu Tianxi resolved to have sex with 100 virgins. He had only raped just over 20 young girls when nemesis caught up with him. Early this month, a court in Nanyang city convicted him and sentenced him to death for this heinous crime. He was also fined 500, 000 Yuan (£35, 000; N8.7m.)

In the same China, two teachers were sentenced to death last December for forcing about 23 young girls into prostitution. Zhao Qingmei and her husband, Chi Yao, allegedly took these girls (between 11 and 17 years) to local hostels and told them to either have sex or have their families poisoned. About 12 other people who colluded with this couple received jail sentences.

In Africa, raping under-age girls is also common. In Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan and many other war-torn countries, many girls fall victim. In 2006, an 11-year-old girl, Janjay, died after being raped in Liberia. Such rapists as Stephen Dollo and Arthur Blackie (a pastor) had reportedly been convicted of raping five-year-old and eight-year-old girls respectively in Liberia.

The question is: why will a sane man defile a child? The reasons are as different as the individuals who engage in it. Some believe raping a child brings good luck. Some others believe it will cure them of HIV/AIDS. This erroneous belief seems to have gained currency in South Africa. In an article in an online journal, Medscape, Eileen Meier noted that in 2001, six men between the ages of 24 and 66 raped a nine-month-old baby who was left unattended by her teenage mother in South Africa. In 2002, Meier added, four men gang-raped an eight-month-old baby. Also, a four-year-old girl reportedly died after being raped by her father.

These evil acts are gradually creeping into Nigeria. Earlier this month, media reports indicated that young girls had become endangered species in Kano and some other parts of the North. Reason? HIV-positive men now mark them out for rape, believing that it would cure them of their disease. The most vulnerable are said to be girls who hawk in the streets. There were instances where men as old as 70 raped girls as young as three.

This points to the fact that ours is still a pre-scientific society. While civilised societies are busy plotting how to relocate to the moon or build cars that will fly over a traffic jam, we are busy nurturing fetish and superstitious beliefs. While some of the world’s richest men such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett engage in a transparent way of creating wealth, some of our people believe they can only make money by raping a virgin.

For parents and victims of child-rape, the stigma and trauma that come with that are immeasurable. Some of the victims have contracted HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. In Suleja, Niger State, for instance, some girls between the ages of six and 12 have reportedly been diagnosed with HIV. Men old enough to be their grand fathers did the abominable act. Shameful!

Parents must endeavour to give more protection to their children. Those who send their female children to hawk in the streets should know that danger is lurking. Those who send them to school unaccompanied should remember that some HIV-positive young men and ritualists are on the prowl.

Happily, there are laws to take care of this type of people. For instance, Section 218 of the Criminal Code Act stipulates that any person who has unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl under the age of 13 is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for life, with or without caning. Whoever attempts to have carnal knowledge of such a girl is liable to imprisonment for 14 years, with or without caning. Section 221 (1) says any person who has or attempts to have unlawful carnal knowledge of a girl being of or above 13 years and under 16 years of age is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for two years, with or without caning. The same Section 221 (2) prescribes the same punishment for anyone who has or attempts to have unlawful carnal knowledge of an imbecile.

Unfortunately, these laws have not been strictly enforced partly because of the legal hurdle of proving rape cases. Again, victims are often subjected to embarrassing questions relating to their sexual history from counsel for the accused persons.

Nevertheless, our laws must be made to work. Last Friday, THE PUNCH reported the arraignment of a 55-year-old man at Ikeja Magistrate Court in Lagos for impregnating his 13-year-old housemaid. Mr James Obasi reportedly brought the girl (name withheld) to Lagos from the East in 2001 when his wife had a set of twins. In a confessional statement he allegedly made to the Police, Obasi claimed to have started making love to the girl in October 2007. He was said to have admitted impregnating the girl, but said he was not the one who deflowered her. He also expressed his readiness to marry the girl and take care of her. This case has been adjourned till February 11.

It will be good if women and other rights organisations follow this case and similar cases to their logical conclusion. It will equally be good if our people could learn some lessons from the failure of Benin Republic’s voodoo to secure victory for her in her opening game with Mali. And as the Super Eagles prepare to tackle the Squirrels of Benin Republic in their last group match on Tuesday, neither Moucharaf nor his native doctors can determine the outcome of the match. The failure of Benin voodoo equals the delusion that raping young virgins could give one money or cure one of HIV.

FOI: Mark has overstepped the mark

January 21, 2008
By Casmir Igbokwe
Published: Sunday, 20 Jan 2008
Please pause and ponder over these posers: One, how many extra-marital affairs did the former United Kingdom‘s Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, conduct between entering office on 2 May 1997 and 12 July 2006? Two, how much toilet paper was used at 10 Downing Street, London? And three, how many eligible bachelors did Hampshire police in the UK employ last year? These are some of the requests that have been made under the Freedom of Information Act in the UK. No doubt, the questions were frivolous. But the requesters felt they were exercising their fundamental rights. They are not known to be journalists. And they don’t need to be journalists to exercise the right to know.
This is the point the Senate President, David Mark, seems to be missing. Recently, Mark reportedly expressed his desire to convene a mini-conference between his office and media owners. Agenda? To discuss how to check the menace of quacks in journalism. He gave this as a condition for the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill pending before the National Assembly.

The question is, what exactly does the Freedom of Information represent? Writing in Comparative Media Law Journal, an FOI expert, Toby Mendel, submits, “The FOI refers primarily to the right to access information held by a wide range of public bodies. It reflects the principle that public bodies do not hold information on their own behalf, but rather for the benefit of all members of the public. Individuals should thus be able to access this information, unless there is an overriding public interest reason for denying access.” This means that with FOI legislation, market women, housewives, mechanics, lawyers, journalists and indeed, any citizen can seek and receive information, especially about their living conditions.

It is either that Mark is ignorant of this principle or he deliberately chose to pull the wool over the eyes of Nigerians. Either way, his action tallies with the obstacles and controversies that dogged the passage of this bill in many countries. In the UK, for instance, the legislation came into being after a quarter of a century of campaigns by the Labour Party. The Labour government had issued a White Paper entitled “Your Right to Know” in 1997. The White Paper contained features aimed at facilitating easy access to information. But important members of the Cabinet, especially the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, were uncomfortable with it. Thus, they watered down much of the proposal in the White Paper before publishing the draft bill. There were some other amendments to the bill, which eventually became law on 30 November 2000. But it was not until 1 January 2005 that it became operational.

In South Africa, which enacted the law on 3 February 2000 and started using it on 9 March 2001, the Act did not also have an easy passage through Parliament. Some controversial aspects of the Bill were the right of members of the public to gain access to information held by private bodies and the provisions providing protection for whistle-blowers.

In Nigeria, the FOI Bill has had a tortuous journey as well. The government first rejected the proposal for it to present it as an Executive Bill in 1999. It was subsequently presented as a private member’s bill and published in the Federal Government’s Gazette on 8 December 1999. The then House of Representatives chose to play games with this Bill. This did not surprise informed Nigerians who knew that the proclivity for corruption among some legislators meant they would never be comfortable with any law that would prescribe a probe into their affairs. As such, the Bill died temporarily with the termination of the lifespan of the then National Assembly in June 2003.

It was a new House of Representatives that eventually passed one version of the Bill in 2004. The Senate passed its version two years after. In February 2007, the two chambers of the National Assembly harmonised and adopted the versions and subsequently sent it to the then President Olusegun Obasanjo for his assent. Obasanjo refused to sign this into law. His major grouse, according to media reports, was that the title of the Bill should have read “Right to Information Bill” instead of “Freedom of Information Bill”. The lawmakers failed to override this veto before their tenure expired on June 3, 2007.

The leadership of the incumbent National Assembly has variously pledged to quickly pass the Bill into law. But from Mark‘s recent statement, it is doubtful if there is any sincerity in those promises. In the UK, some parliamentarians, last year, failed in their attempt to get through an amendment that would exclude anything relating to the parliament from the Act.

Any attempt to stall the passage of this law in Nigeria will also fail. The legislation will definitely not solve the problems of sourcing information in Nigeria. But it is a step forward. In spite of the problems associated with the Act in South Africa, for instance, some villagers have used it to get some services they need. In one particular case, the people of Emkhandlwini village in KwaZulu-Natal had no access to municipal water. Although the municipality had decided to provide water in the area, the villagers did not know about this plan. They contacted a non-governmental organisation called Open Democracy Advice Centre for help. ODAC made a request under the country’s Promotion of Access to Information Act for the minutes of the council meetings where the decision to provide water was made. After some months of digging for facts, the NGO got the relevant documents indicating plans to provide water in the region.

Gradually, both government functionaries and civil society in many countries are recognising the values of an open society. Although the FOI law had been in operation in Sweden over 200 years ago, it was not until about a decade and half ago that most countries began to adopt it, though in varying degrees. Now, over 60 countries have adopted the law. In Africa, the legislation exists in Angola, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean Act, though, has censorship provisions that had been used to harass and intimidate journalists.

David Mark should rally his fellow lawmakers to pass this law as soon as possible. He does not need any meeting with the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria to do this. He should not bother if such frivolous requests, as how many extra-marital affairs he has had since he assumed office, crops up. Only corrupt leaders should worry themselves. His guiding principle should be in these wise words of the major proponent of the American Bill of Rights, James Madison: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. And a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives. A popular government without a popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both.”

Mr President, save us from pendulous policies

January 13, 2008
Published: Sunday, 13 Jan 2008
On assumption of office in May 2007, he enunciated a seven-point agenda aimed at lifting Nigeria up. He promised to declare an emergency in the power sector; to make Nigeria one of the 20 biggest economies in the world by 2020; and to provide security for lives and property. But about eight months after, President Umaru Yar’Adua’s policies have become a pendulous breast that hangs down loosely and swings from side to side. No firmness of purpose. No direction.

In the beginning, Yar’Adua cut the picture of a populist President. He quickly declared his assets and made rule of law and due process the cardinal principle of his government. He also professed zero tolerance of corruption. For the first time, Nigerians thought a messiah had come to redeem the country. They clapped for him.

Apparently, to continue on this path of populism, the Yar’Adua administration decided to reverse some policies of the immediate past administration of Olusegun Obasanjo. It cancelled the hike in Value Added Tax and the prices of petroleum products. It nullified the privatisation of Kaduna and Port Harcourt refineries. Unfortunately, it also reversed some aspects of the monetisation policy, which Obasanjo introduced to address the problem of wastage in government.

The reversals assumed a ridiculous dimension when the Federal Capital Territory Minister, Aliyu Modibbo, claimed to have revoked some land allocations, which had earlier been done by his predecessor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai. Modibbo, you will recall, claimed last November that he had revoked land allocations belonging to some former governors, including President Yar’Adua, at Pendam Dan area of Asokoro District, Abuja. But he did not tell us then that many victims of the revocation had got replacement plots in other areas of the city during the regime of Obasanjo. Perhaps, Modibbo did this to get at el-Rufai, who tried to bring some sanity in Abuja by demolishing illegal structures. The former minister stepped on toes in a bid to restore the Abuja Master-Plan. Now, I don‘t know the direction of the new FCT Minister, as all I hear from Abuja are stories of filth and a reversion to laxity.

Besides, this government has a penchant for reversing itself as well. The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof. Charles Soludo, came out with re-decimalisation of the naira last year. Without decorum and without considering the merit or otherwise of the policy, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Michael Aondoakaa, called a press conference to announce the cancellation of the programme. According to him, the CBN did not get the approval of the President before announcing the programme.

Penultimate week, the Special Adviser to the President on Communication, Olusegun Adeniyi, announced that the present government was not interested in probing Obasanjo. Hardly had he brushed the tongue that made that pronouncement when Aondoakaa, again, cautioned him. The AGF was quoted as saying that the incumbent government was not afraid of probing Obasanjo.

Just last Wednesday, the government, characteristically, reversed its reversal of the monetisation policy. Adeniyi reportedly said the President had directed that the purchase and dedication of official vehicles to ministers, special advisers and permanent secretaries, as earlier approved by the Federal Executive Council in August 2007, be stopped. This stoppage is the right thing to do because the monetisation reversal, in the first place, was ill-advised. Even the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babagana Kingibe, tried fallaciously, to justify it. It shows the quality of advice Yar’Adua is getting from his acolytes. One wonders if policies are subjected to any serious debate before they are announced for implementation.

Look at the recent constitution of a 16-member panel to transform the Nigeria Police Force, for instance. The committee, headed by a former Inspector-General of Police, Alhaji Muhammadu Yusuf, will examine the present state of the police. It is also expected to review previous reports and government White Paper on the restructuring of the force.

Surely, no President worth his salt will sleep soundly when armed robbers and assassins are terrorising his people. This is what Nigerians battle with everyday. Those who survive armed robbery attacks may not escape sudden burst of violence either in the Niger Delta or elsewhere in the country.

But pray, what is wrong with the report of the Presidential Committee on Police Reform set up by Obasanjo? That committee submitted its report shortly before the last regime left office. And it made far-reaching recommendations on how to tackle the problems of the police. Moreover, police problems are too obvious to warrant another waste of public funds in the name of a reform committee. To complete the picture of helplessness and confusion that dogs this regime, Yar’Adua approached the British Prime Minister late last year in Uganda to solicit the British government’s assistance for the NPF.

Why can’t this government put its house in order? Why is it confusing Nigerians with incoherent pronouncements and policy summersaults? It professed zero tolerance of corruption, but the actions of the nation’s Chief Law Officer seem to suggest otherwise. At one point, the AGF talked about creating a Special Legal Unit to complement the efforts of these anti-corruption agencies. In another breath, he planned to merge them for optimum performance. When Nigerians were still trying to figure out what direction Aondoakaa was going, the IGP, Mike Okiro, emerged out of the blue to announce that the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, would proceed on a study leave to the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru in Plateau State.

A general is as good as his field commanders. Part of the problems Yar’Adua has is that most of those he chose to be his field commanders don‘t seem to know what they are doing. Obasanjo was not the ideal leader Nigerians desired. But his ministers were technocrats who were sure-footed. You could accuse them of anything, but not shortage of smart ideas and good policies. I cannot say the same thing of the present crop of people in the federal cabinet.

For any individual to succeed in business, he must carve a niche for himself. The same thing goes for companies and governments. The question is, what is the niche of this government? Which direction is it going? I have not seen any. Governance is about the implementation of policies that have positive impact on the generality of the people. Good policies inherited from previous administrations should be upheld, while bad ones should be corrected or discarded. Yar‘Adua must beware of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The New Year soothsayers

January 8, 2008

Casmir Igbokwe

Published on Sunday 06 Jan. 2008

Prior to the return of civilian rule in 1999, Rev. Chinecherem Oliwe was sure to be the next civilian President of Nigeria. The man called himself the founder of the Great Mustard Seed Church in Oyigbo, Rivers State. And he had claimed that God spoke to him and assured him that he was the only person ordained to redeem the country. He called some reporters in Port Harcourt and revealed this divine vision. Some newspapers published it. Not even the emergence of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as the President in 1999 could shake Oliwe’s faith. Obasanjo, he noted, was a military man in a civilian dress. In other words, his regime was still an extension of military rule. Heaven and earth might pass away, but God’s words about Nigeria’s presidency, Oliwe believed, would never pass away. He was able to convince some people who clapped for him and addressed him as Mr President.

Nigeria is never short of seers like Oliwe. On 25 December 2007, the Nigerian Tribune came out with a front page headline entitled “New Year predictions: Mark, Bankole may be impeached.” According to the story, the Senate President, David Mark, may be impeached in the New Year. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, may face serious opposition as some lawmakers may move to impeach him. He may survive the plot by divine intervention.

The predictions, as pronounced by the founder of Inri Evangelical Spiritual Church, Isolo, Lagos, Primate Babatunde Elijah, also have it that a frontline pastor of a fast-growing Pentecostal church, two rep members, traditional rulers and an Islamic scholar might die. Many senators and governors, he added, would be removed. The Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, would be sacked.

The primate emphasised, “The Lord of hosts also revealed to me that more governors are going to be removed in 2008 either through impeachment proceedings in their respective state houses of assembly or through the state election petition tribunals.” He also urged Nigerians to pray hard against more collapsed buildings, bloodshed, inter-religious and ethnic crises as well as a foreign invasion. He said Nigeria might be invaded through her borders with Cameroon and Niger.

It has become customary that the dawn of every New Year comes with new predictions. Prophets and evangelists are not the only ones forecasting the future. Astrologers, mystics, psychics and sundry spiritualists also join the fray. Astrologers regarded 2007 as the year of the golden pig. It’s a year Chinese soothsayers predicted a boom in childbirth. 2008 is seen as the year of the Earth Rat. Chinese horoscope comprises 12 animals: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Each of the animals comes with its own luck and blessings. Chinese believe that three great blessings that define the destiny of man are luck, prosperity and longevity. An astrologer who has your birth data can read and predict what is in store for you in terms of health, wealth, love and career for the New Year. He can tell you how your element and animal signs impact your fate. This has to do with the age-long belief of the Chinese that certain parameters of ones luck and fate were set at the moment of ones birth.

Psychics have a way of making their own predictions as well. In December 2005, the California website made some predictions for 2006. Part of the forecast was that Bin Laden was fated to be captured. One psychic reportedly said the war in Iraq would end in the middle of 2006. Many of the predictions went off the mark. In a piece on the National Ledger website, Mike Bates described the California Psychics predictions as pretty typical. As he put it, “You can bet the ranch, though, that everything that didn’t come to pass will be overlooked while the few instances of accuracy will be touted as astonishing and irrefutable proof of psychic efficacy.”

For making intelligent guesses, some Nigerians have also risen to fame and fortune. And since ours is a deeply religious cum spiritual country, we believe anything purported to be divine. If the predictions did not come through, it must be that God intervened to stop the calamity that was predicted. God loves Nigeria especially as Obasanjo reportedly said recently. If the visions come through, voila! The soothsayer is a wonderful man of God.

One pastor told us shortly after Obasanjo’s inauguration in 1999 that he was not the messiah Nigeria was waiting for. He said he did not see any crown on Obasanjo’s head. The former President not only ruled for eight years, he almost got a third term in addition. That same man of God has reportedly told us that Yar’Adua was the President divinely chosen for Nigeria.

Recall that a certain prophet came on a television in Lagos to announce that Nigeria would be in the last FIFA World Cup in Germany. Despite the fact that the country did not qualify for the tournament, the man was sure and emphatic about his vision. Since Nigeria failed to feature as predicted, it will be good if this prophet or any of his followers could tell us what happened. He may wish to also tell us who will win the 2008 African Cup of Nations.

I see in all these predictions some comic relief for the stress called life in Nigeria. Now that we have entered the New Year, I also wish to predict as follows:

·        Former President Obasanjo may marry another wife in the New Year. Although he loved his wife Stella of blessed memory dearly, it is over two years now the woman died. The urge to have another life companion is strong.

·        Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State should watch his relationship with the lawmakers in his state. The plot to impeach him will thicken in the New Year. He can only survive this by divine intervention.

·        There is likely to be another pipeline explosion in the New Year. This will occur in a popular state with large oil deposits and will consume many lives and property. Many women will lose their children.

·        The electric power situation in the country may not improve in the New Year. The government will try to do all in its power to improve the situation, but a powerful cabal in the system will frustrate the efforts.

·        Many Nigerian children will die of malaria, cholera and diarrhoea. Nigerians should also pray hard so that God will reduce the number of deaths that will result from motor accidents.

·        President Yar’Adua should pray hard against any radical ruling of the Election Petition Tribunal. There are forces in the People’s Democratic Party who do not want him to remain in office. These forces may collude with the opposition elements to ease him out of office.