Archive for February 2008

Urgent vacancy for bandit hunters

February 25, 2008
By Casmir Igbokwe
Published: Sunday, 24 Feb 2008
I abandoned my car and ran for dear life. It was about 9pm on Egbeda-Idimu Road on the outskirts of Lagos. Not that I am a coward. But when you see people parking their cars and running to nowhere, the first instinct will be to join them. On enquiry, I learnt that armed robbers were operating nearby. A few metres from the scene of the robbery is the Idimu Police Station. After more than 30 minutes, when people felt the robbers had gone, they re-entered their cars and continued their journey.
I also emerged from my hideout and sped off. In front of the Idimu Police Station was a team of policemen on checkpoint duty. They stopped me and ordered me to open my boot. They searched everywhere, even to the point of removing my rear light cover, apparently to search for guns. I felt like hitting the man peeping at every corner of the boot. Some minutes ago, armed robbers operated in their domain unhindered. Instead of hunting for these marauders, the police showed their ingenuity in searching a man, who was alone in his car.

I pitied the cops, just as I took pity on some thieves who stole my mobile handset penultimate Friday. I didn‘t wind up my glass as I used to. So, as I drove along a traffic jam on the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway by Dopemu Bridge in Lagos, somebody tapped me, saying some incomprehensible things. Just as I turned to look at him, his comrade in crime stretched his hand from the passenger’s side, took the phone I kept below the stereo compartment and ran away. It happened within a split second.

Many other people have lost their phones and other valuables this way, some at gunpoint. In many streets of our cities, robbers unleash a reign of terror. Sometimes, they move from house to house, maiming, killing and terrorising citizens without any challenge from the police.

Banks particularly have been the worst hit. Last January 31, bandits invaded Canaanland, headquarters of the Living Faith Church, also known as the Winners Chapel at Ota in Ogun State. They raided four banks in the complex, carted away huge sums of money and killed some people. Penultimate week, up to 23 people lost their lives to robbery attacks on banks in Ebonyi, Osun and Kogi states. Millions of naira were also lost to the bandits.

Snatching of cars is now a regular occurrence. Music star Tuface Idibia and popular actress, Uche Jombo, are recent victims as they reportedly lost their Jeeps to bandits. An editor of a national magazine was also said to have recently lost his official car two times within one week in Lagos. The first time, it was Oodua People’s Congress that helped him to recover it. The robbers snatched it the second time about six days after. Since then, nobody has been able to trace the car.

What bothers me in all this is how 20, 40 or even 50 youths, as the case may be, could gather together to plan robbery attacks. How possible is it to recruit this large number of armed robbers? Something tells me that these could be university graduates who, perhaps, belonged to one cult or the other when they were in school. By the time they come out of school without any prospect of finding jobs, they easily gather together to form a robbery gang.

The crime situation in the country is worsened by the fact that there is no social security system, as obtains in some advanced nations, to take care of unemployed people. After enduring pangs of hunger for some months, some youths become willing tools to be recruited into robbery gangs.

They do not care about the consequences because those elected to take care of their interests have abandoned them. They are more after amassing wealth and looting the commonwealth. The Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission was reported last week to have increased the annual salaries and allowances of National Assembly members to N60bn up from about N41bn. This contrasts sharply with the general trend of grinding poverty in the country.

In a report, which the US government released recently, Nigeria reportedly earned $55bn from oil exports in 2007. This placed the country as the fourth highest revenue earner among member states of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Ironically, the report also ranked the country second among the poorest OPEC members with a per capita income of $409. Algeria reportedly earned $51bn with a per capita income of $1,516.

The argument of some people is that Nigeria’s population is large. This, however, ought to be an asset. China and India are equally very populous. But because they have mastered the art of wealth creation, they are better off. We depend almost solely on oil revenue without bothering to diversify the economy. People struggle to be in government not to serve, but to be part of those who share the resources of this country. Little consideration is given to the development of infrastructure that will make private businesses thrive.

The result is that bandits are not just multiplying by the day; they operate with venom. In the last six months of 2006, according to official statistics, 150 Lagos residents lost their lives to robbery attacks. The police have also lost a good number of their men to robbers.

Besides, a regime of fear has pervaded the land. Nobody feels secure anymore. People sleep with one eye closed. Many motorists drive with their hearts in their mouths. Some drive into their houses with trepidation, always looking back to ensure nobody is coming behind. Even when a bad car exhaust pipe releases its thunderous sound, some people duck from imaginary bullets.

No doubt, the police have failed in their duty to secure citizens against robbery attacks. And typical of a man who is pursuing rats while his house is on fire, the Inspector General of Police, Mike Okiro, is rather upset at the way policemen are presented in films. He reportedly told senior police officers in Abuja recently that “our policemen are courteous and responsible and not the way they are represented in films.” Hence, he plans to have a meeting with Nollywood film producers to discuss the issue. He also intends to vet scripts that have police characters.

Happily, authorities of the force in Edo, Kwara, Lagos, Ogun and Railways are said to be thinking of how to effectively use community-policing concept to fight crime. Beyond this, security agencies need to guard their armouries jealously. Nigerians do not want to hear any story of missing arms and ammunition anymore. The cops must emphasise intelligence gathering in their efforts to fight crime. They must be thorough in their recruitment process to avoid recruiting ex-convicts into the force.

Above all, they must engage in some soul searching. They should find out why some state governments have placed their hopes of combating crime on a local hunter. According to a front-page report in THISDAY of 19 February, the governors of Bauchi, Katsina and Kebbi have engaged the services of a hunter called Ali Kwara to flush out robbers from their states. The man is so effective that some other states in the North are showing interest in engaging him. And the police high command is said to have endorsed him.

Gradually, the black uniformed men are advertising their irrelevance in the fight against crime. We need more hunters in all the states of the federation to save us from the incompetence of this crippled force.

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More money, rich libido

February 18, 2008

Casmir Igbokwe

Published Sunday, 17 February, 2008

When Sean Dubowik tattooed his manhood with the words, “Hot Rod,” he did not realise the ridicule that action would bring him later. Last December, the strip club owner found himself at the prestigious Mayo Clinic based in Scottsdale, United States, for a gallbladder surgery. A surgeon in the hospital, Dr Adam Hansen, did not only perform the surgery on Dubowik, he also took a photo of the man’s manhood during the operation. A member of the surgical staff reportedly leaked the information to a local newspaper. Feeling greatly embarrassed, the management of the hospital promptly suspended Hansen and instituted an enquiry into the case.

This, however, is not about Dubowik and his photo doctor, Hansen. Rather, I wish to borrow the doctor’s camera to view the sexual drive among the rich and the famous in our midst. It is more relevant now that some people still have a hangover of what has become known as St. Valentine’s Day. Moreover, February is generally regarded as the month of love. It is a month even birds purportedly choose their lovers and engage in high sex.

French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, gave us a tip of what to expect this month. On 2 February, he got married to an ex-model, Carla Bruni. Earlier last October, the President and his former wife, Cecilia, had formally announced their divorce. Cecilia is also an ex-model. On the eve of Valentine Day, the world’s media was agog with the latest story of Sarkozy’s love life. According to the story, Sarkozy’s lawyer, Thierry Herzog, denied a media report, which claimed that the President sent a text message to his former wife imploring her to come back to him. As the headline on the BBC News website put it, “Sarkozy ‘never sent Cecilia text.’ ”

At least, Sarkozy is decent enough to go for only former models. In Malaysia, a Health Minister, Chua Soi Lek, chose to be a star character in a sex video. The video showed the man having sex with a female friend in a hotel room. Media reports indicated that the hotel’s Close Circuit Television captured the act. Chua, who resigned shortly after the incident was made public, said whoever exposed the amorous act was not important. “What is most important,” he reportedly said, “is that my family, wife and children have accepted my apology.”

The family of former US President, Bill Clinton, also forgave him for his alleged liaison with Monica Lewinsky. The scandal tainted Clinton’s reputation and almost ruined whatever he achieved as President. Former Presidents John F. Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt of the US were also reputed for their sexual prowess.

In Nigeria, sexual scandals involving rich, powerful men abound. Some of these men allegedly prefer maidens between the ages of 16 and 18. A former Head of State was once rumoured to have died in the hands of imported prostitutes. Some of our magistrate courts are replete with divorce cases involving high net worth individuals. These cases are hinged mainly on allegations of infidelity. The case of a former President whose son accused of having an affair with his wife is still fresh in our memories. I leave further comment on this pending when the accuser is able to prove before the court that he either caught the accused in the act or he planted somebody who held torchlight when the sexual acts were going on. There are other high profile cases, which I need not recount here.

The question then arises: is there a correlation between wealth or fame and high libido? While searching for an answer to this poser, I stumbled on a report published on the website of the Wall Street Journal on January 23, 2007. The report was based on a survey released in the US by Prince & Associates in conjunction with wealth consultant, Hannah Grove.

According to the survey, 70 per cent of multimillionaires say wealth gives them better sex. Sixty three per cent of rich men and 88 per cent of women respectively attribute better sex to wealth. To men, the report notes, better sex means having more frequent sex with more partners. To women, it means “higher quality” sex (whatever that means.)

The WSJ quoted a New York based sex therapist, Ian Kerner, to have said that wealth equated to better sex principally because money helped to alleviate many of the daily stresses, such as financial stress, that could greatly affect one’s libido. The rich, according to Kerner, travel more. Hence, they have more exotic and adventurous sex lives. “What this tells us,” Prince & Associates founder, Russ Prince, reportedly said, “is that, on the whole, more money equals more magic in bed.”

This is not ruling out temptation by women. Any successful man, be it in business, sports, government or even religion will tell you that coping with ladies is a big challenge. Women tend to have a soft spot for wealth and fame. And so some of them go all out to seduce whoever is seen to be successful. Some prominent clergymen have had cause to complain about ladies who sit in a compromising position before them while pretending to be seeking spiritual guidance. Some male lawmakers have also complained of sexual harassment from women. They say people sell senators’ phone numbers to women for N20, 000 and those of Reps for N10, 000. Those who cannot get these numbers parade the vicinity of the chambers with skimpy dresses as bait to hook their preys.

While the rich contend with increased libido, the poor have more than sex to worry about. Some of them sleep in one room with their wives and children. While mosquito is dealing with a child in the right corner of the room, cockroach is crawling on another in the left corner. Of course, there is no electricity, which means everybody in the room will be dying of heat. When one child is down with malaria, there won’t be enough money to go for proper treatment. They resort to a quack chemist for some drugs some of which may be fake and, hence, complicate the problem.

In this situation, the man turns an emotional wreck; the woman, a nagging housewife. And because it is likely they share their bed, the man becomes sluggish at work. In a study in 2006, Prof. Gerhard Kloesch et al of the University of Vienna note that men who sleep together with their mates don’t sleep well and that this impairs their mental ability the next day. Women who share a bed, on the other hand, are said to sleep more deeply and as such fare better than men.

Perhaps, because of the rising influence of women on men, different institutions have attempted to impose dress codes on them so that men will have their peace. Even the National Assembly is thinking of enacting a law to that effect. However, be it seduction, pornography or high libido, there is no law that will be more effective than self discipline in controlling lasciviousness in our society.     

As the rich and the powerful throttle the globe and enjoy the exotic things of life, it will be good if they could spare a thought for others who don’t have the privilege. Each time a governor, a senator or even a chairman is cavorting with his mistress, let him remember that the majority of his people are hungry and may have lost appetite for sex. All that such people need are good roads, potable water, constant electricity and availability of cheap food. If these are available, there won’t be any problem. Without them, a rich powerful man should not be surprised if, one day, hungry hoodlums invade his hotel room in the night to disrupt his enjoyment with his mistress.

   

Lawmakers, jumbo pay and public waste

February 11, 2008
By Casmir Igbokwe
Published: Sunday, 10 Feb 2008
The day after the Super Eagles lost their quarter-final match to Ghana, Coca Cola came up with an advert. It reads: “No shaking, 2010 still dey.” Perhaps, the advert was meant to lift up the spirit of Nigerian soccer fans, who felt disappointed about the nation‘s dismal performance at the African Nations Cup that ends today in Ghana. But can there be “no shaking” in a country where an incompetent coach in the name of Berti Vogts reportedly collects as much as €50,000 per month? Can there be “no shaking” in a country where money is wasted on people and projects that yield no result?
The story of the Super Eagles is the story of Nigeria –– a nation that celebrates waste and incompetence. Take the sham elections that took place last April, for instance. The Independent National Electoral Commission wasted the resources of this country not to conduct free and fair elections, but to thwart the wishes of the people. Last Wednesday, the Court of Appeal in Abuja upheld the nullification of the election of Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, by the Kogi State Election Petitions Tribunal.

Within 90 days, INEC will pump money again into a fresh gubernatorial election in that state. The Commission created the mess in the first place by appropriating powers it doesn‘t have. As in Kogi, it disqualified candidates based on their spurious indictment by some commissions of enquiry set up by either the Federal or some state governments. In saner environments, the Chairman of the Commission should have either resigned or been forced out of office. The National Assembly should also have been probing its finances by now. Not here.

Our own lawmakers are more interested in cornering a greater share of the national wealth. Last Tuesday, members of the House of Representatives reportedly demanded a pay rise from Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission. The Deputy Speaker of the House, Mr. Bayero Nafada, was quoted to have said that the salaries and allowances of parliamentarians were nothing to write home about. Hence, the honourable members resolved that the RMAFC should adjust the salaries to befit their status.

Part of the problem with Nigeria is that we place so much emphasis on status. That is why no motorist should be on the road when the governor‘s convoy is passing. That is why a local government chairman moves with a swagger stick and desires to move with a siren that should be louder than that of the President. And that is why a company executive talks to his subordinates like slaves.

The same lawmakers who are complaining now got an increase in their salaries and allowances last year. Sequel to the new pay package, each Senator was entitled to N53.7 million while each member of the House of Representatives got about N47.9 million. A breakdown of the money shows that every member of the National Assembly got N600,000 per annum as entertainment allowance; each Senator and Rep got N126,650 and N124,075 as a monthly car maintenance allowance respectively; and N500,000 for each of the lawmakers as an annual wardrobe allowance. Also, there were other sundry allowances and perks such as the N5 million-constituency allowance for each senator and N2 million for each Rep. member. In different state Houses of Assembly, the story is the same. Some lawmakers, like the ones from Delta State, received generous car gifts from the James Ibori government.

What is really wrong with our politicians? Leadership is not about personal aggrandisement. It is not about wealth accumulation. It is about service. This ideal is defeated when public officers continue to give the impression that all that matters to them is money.

The lawmakers’ recent clamour for pay rise was a reaction to the Bill for an Act to amend the salaries and allowances of certain political and judicial office holders. The bill, passed by the Senate on January 22, 2008, stipulates an annual basic salary of N3,514,705 for the President of Nigeria. The current pay is N1,405,882. The Vice President’s recommended pay is N3,031,573.50, up from the current N1,212,629. This translates to N292,892.08 and N252,631.12 respectively per month. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and members of his cabinet will also enjoy this new package in arrears as it is deemed to have taken effect from February 2007.

As political leaders enjoy jumbo salaries and allowances, no serious thought is given to the development of physical infrastructure. For instance, in 1998, payroll and overheads gulped about N124 billion. By 2002 when Obasanjo had already assumed power, the expenditure had jumped to N493 billion. Capital expenditure within the same period went down to 32 per cent from 63 per cent. We have heard that Obasanjo’s government spent N500 billion on roads. The state of roads in Nigeria today is worse off. The nation also spent billions of naira on the national ID card scheme. Today, most Nigerians have not seen this card. There are conflicting reports on the actual amount wasted on the power sector. President Umaru Yar’Adua said $10 billion. The Speaker of the House of Representatives said $16 billion. Today, the power situation in the country has not improved.

The lawmakers’ demand, simply put, is not realistic in the face of the abject poverty dealing with many Nigerians. It is not justified in the face of paltry national minimum wage of N7,500. Today, many Nigerian children are dying of malaria, cholera, typhoid and other preventable diseases. In the State of the World Children Report for 2007, UNICEF noted that more than one million Nigerian children under the age of five years die annually. In a similar report, the United Nations Development Programme put infant mortality rate at about 160 deaths per 1,000 live births. There is poor access to improved sanitation and clean drinking water. Life expectancy revolves around 43.4 years.

There is anger in the land. That anger is now expressed in rising armed robbery cases, ritual killings, kidnappings and militant activities, especially in the Niger Delta. If the national leaders are not careful, the problem will spread to every part of the country. No rich man will enjoy his wealth when the majority of the people surrounding him are poor.

I just read an online report, which put the total wealth of the former American President, Bill Clinton, and his wife, Hilary, to between $10 and $50 million. This is peanut compared to what some political office holders acquire while in office in Nigeria. Corruption and mismanagement of resources have become the major bane of the country.

This is why leaders at all levels should emphasise service. The legislators, for instance, should use their constituency allowance to do tangible things for their people. Left for me, they should only collect sitting allowances and stop any further agitation for salary increases. If they insist on increasing their salaries and allowances, the Nigeria Labour Congress should also insist on increasing the minimum wage in the country.

Nigerians need a break from this vicious cycle of misplacement of priorities by arrogant leaders.

Our Supreme Court has dared the gods again

February 4, 2008
By Casmir Igbokwe
Published: Sunday, 3 Feb 2008
LAST December, a court in Jharkhand, India, dared two Hindu gods over a disputed ownership of 1.4 acres of land housing two temples. Villagers reportedly claimed the land belonged to the two deities, Ram and Hanuman. Temple priest, Manmohan Pathak, claimed the land belonged to him. The dispute has raged for 20 years. Recently, the court sent two notices to the gods by a peon and a registered post, asking them to come and testify before it. But when the deities refused to appear (as the notices were returned after the gods could not be located), the judge was forced to put up adverts in local newspapers summoning them.

The Supreme Court of Nigeria may not have summoned any god to appear before it. But it has dared some tin gods in the country. Since the advent of the current democratic dispensation in 1999, the apex court has touched sacred cows. It has shown courage in its judgements and it has left worthy legacy that other arms of government should emulate.

Last Tuesday, the Court, in another progressive verdict, dismissed the application filed by the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the April 2007 gubernatorial election in Anambra State, Mr Andy Uba, seeking a reversal of the court‘s earlier ruling that declared Mr Peter Obi as the governor of the state. The Independent National Electoral Commission had declared Uba the winner of the election. And Uba had ruled for about two weeks before the judgement declared his purported election a nullity.

In the most recent judgement on the Anambra saga, the justices of the apex court descended heavily on one of the appellants and the Anambra gubernatorial candidate of the Nigeria Advance Party, Mr Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo. The man alleged that Obi bribed him with N10m to withdraw his preliminary objections to his (Obi‘s) appeal in the Appeal Court. As Justice George Oguntade put it, “The sum total of your position is that you accepted money to withdraw from the case but later turned around to blackmail the governor and say that you have been compromised and asking the court to set aside the judgement. I have a feeling that you are one of those exploiting politicians and making things difficult for them to rule this country…You are a common crook. I think very little of you…I wonder where you derived the courage to come before us and ask us to set aside our judgement after you took bribe to compromise yourself… .”

It is regrettable that since the creation of Anambra State in 1991, some soup-guzzling elders have chosen to be stumbling blocks to its development. From the regime of the first military administrator, Navy Captain Joseph Abulu, to the present government, Anambra has not fully plucked the fruit of development. When Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife assumed office as the governor, he lamented that the state was naked. He promised to adorn it with clothes. He was still sewing the clothes, perhaps, when the military sacked the civilian government of that time. Chinwoke Mbadinuju later emerged as the governor in 1999. But some godfathers held him hostage. By the time he left in 2003, the state had become more violent and more backward. Dr Chris Ngige, who came in 2003, was able to achieve some of his developmental objectives because he distanced himself from some self-serving godfathers. Unfortunately, his was a mandate stolen from Peter Obi of the All Progressives Grand Alliance. It was that mandate that the Supreme Court restored to Obi and had him sworn in on 17 March 2006. The court later ruled that Obi would remain in office until March 17, 2010.

This judgement was what Uba wanted to reverse. The annoying thing is that some youths, who have been at the receiving end of the perfidy in the state, chose to play the devil‘s advocate. In October last year, for instance, some individuals claiming to be Ohaneze Ndi Igbo youths were reported to have expressed their joy and support for Uba‘s legal bid to have the Supreme Court reverse itself on the mandate it gave to Obi.

These characters cannot be true representatives of Igbo youths. Real youth leaders would have expressed concern over the number of their compatriots roaming the streets of major cities in search of non-existent jobs. Authentic youth leaders would have felt sad about the level of underdevelopment in the eastern part of Nigeria. They would have thought of how to contain the level of frustration among the youths, most of whom are migrating legally and illegally to London, New York, Angola, South Africa, Mozambique and other parts of the world.

Surely, the Supreme Court deserves commendation for restoring some hope in the polity called Nigeria. In 2002, the apex court, in its first landmark judgement, ruled in favour of 36 state governors in a suit they filed challenging a provision in the Electoral Act 2001, which attempted to extend the tenure of local government chairmen and councillors in the country from three to four years.

The Court also ruled against some provisions of the Electoral Act 2001 and the Independent National Electoral Commission guideline, which barred civil servants from joining or forming political parties. The Court declared that the restriction was against Sections 40 and 222 (b) of the 1999 Constitution, which guarantee the freedom of every person to assemble and associate with other persons, trade unions or political parties.

Nigerians still remember the intervention of the Supreme Court in the illegal seizure of the Lagos State council funds by the Federal Government during the regime of Olusegun Obasanjo; the voiding of the unlawful impeachment of such ex-governors as Chief Joshua Dariye of Plateau State, Alhaji Rashidi Ladoja of Oyo State and Obi of Anambra; the reversal of the disqualification of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar from contesting the presidential poll by INEC; the restoration of the mandate given to Senator Ifeanyi Araraume to contest the governorship position of Imo State on the platform of the PDP when the powers that be wanted to substitute him with Mr Charles Ugwu; and the sacking of Mr Celestine Omehia who posed as the governor of Rivers State when the rightful occupant of that seat should have been Mr Chibuike Amaechi.

The Nigerian judiciary, however, is not devoid of problems. In 2006, for instance, former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Alfa Belgore, had cause to lament that judges were collecting gratification in handling cases before them. The National Judicial Commission later dismissed some of these judges.

In all, let us all support our judiciary in its efforts to restore the integrity and quality of governance in this country. Let us back the Supreme Court so it can continue to deal with those playing God in our political circles. It is not yet time to sleep because the task ahead is still daunting. The watchword for all Nigerians should be eternal vigilance.