Archive for July 2008

The revolution we need

July 28, 2008

By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 27 Jul 2008

THE message was short and direct: ”When those in authority have pushed their people to the wall, what else do you expect? A revolution! Watch out!” This is one of the reactions to my piece last week. It came from an unknown group that calls itself the Nigerian Revolution Force. Though the group appears to be over-ambitious in its mission, there is no doubt that Nigerians are angry. They are bitter with our leaders, past and present. They are dejected by a life of squalor amid plenty. And they are confused as to how the nation will come out of this self-inflicted mess.

Today, you have to bear with me again as I present more disturbing facts of our life. The idea is not to spoil your day, but to critically engage you in thinking about the sinking boat called Nigeria and how to salvage it.

One of the topical issues in the country is the fleecing of our unemployed youths by some government agencies. A few days ago, we learnt that the authorities of the Nigerian Police Force made N2bn from job seekers. Each of the applicants bought a scratch card for N2,000 to enable them apply online. The Inspector-General of Police, Mike Okiro, reportedly said they embarked on the e-recruitment system to generate funds for the smooth operations of the force. Incidentally, Okiro did not just make money for his force; he also empowered the consultant who designed the system. According to reports, the consultant received N1.2bn while the police got N800m. Recall that scores of youths died recently during the recruitment exercise of the Nigerian Immigration Service. Have we learnt any lessons?

Just as Abia citizens are still mourning the loss of scores of people to what some have termed mystery fire after a prayer session in Isialangwa South, about 10 or more people perished last Thursday at Orile-Iganmu area of Lagos. A petrol tanker, which burst into flames, caused the tragedy. There were different accounts of what caused the accident. But it is either that the tanker fell into a ditch on the road or the driver was careless about the maintenance of his vehicle. Either way, we have not learnt any lessons.

Last week, I got a message from a potential student of the Lagos State University. He said he would write the post University Matriculation Examination for LASU on August 1. But by July 21, he had already seen the English and mathematics questions. ”Nigeria has truly degenerated,” the young man lamented.

The day I got this message, a relation of mine called from the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. Her own message was simple. ”Could you help me to write something?” she asked. She mentioned the topic and said it would be 30 pages. That is a term paper. Even as I advised her to do some research and do it herself, she reminded me that most of her colleagues got people to write it for them. What this means is that these people, who might have entered the university through the efforts of mercenaries, will continue to hire people to do some of their assignments. They graduate with little or no knowledge of the subject they studied. Ultimately, they swell the ranks of job seekers and, perhaps, claim that a particular company rejected them because they refused to sleep with the managing director.

In the larger society, the problems are just too many. As someone who discusses Nigeria‘s problems at different forums, I‘m beginning to have constant headache now. Year in, year out, the same problems keep recurring. Most comments and editorials in the media this year are a repetition of the issues discussed in previous years: Niger Delta crises, cement and fertiliser scam, water and electricity problems, poor and dilapidated roads, railway and aviation contract fraud, election manipulations, pipeline and tanker fires, etc. They only have different pegs and headlines. What then do we do?

Some people have resigned to fate, hoping that there will be divine intervention someday. This is currently the thinking of members of the Nigerian Union of Teachers. They are currently on strike over welfare and salary issues. But since the Federal Government has not acceded to their request, they decided to embark on what they call prayer and fasting session. The prayer is for God to deal with their enemies and give them victory.

This only reminds me of a ”prayer for the salvation of Africa,” which was popular in the Catholic Church some years ago. It seems that that prayer has died naturally. I remember one morning in the early 90s, when we were saying our family prayers. My mother led the prayers that day. After about one hour of reciting the rosary and making other supplications, many of us were itching for an end to the prayers. It was then my mother started the prayer for the salvation of Africa. Now furious, my father shouted her down saying, ”My friend, salvage yourself first before salvaging Africa. Close this prayer!”

A few years ago, the Catholic Church produced another prayer called ”Prayer for Nigeria in distress.” Essentially, the prayer is for God to save this nation from anarchy and doom. That prayer seems to be going the way of African-salvation prayer, as I have not been hearing much of it these days.

In any case, our problems are man-made. And so, our salvation is in our hands. An adult who is in the habit of bed-wetting should not expect anybody but himself to wash his bedding.

We must all learn to change our value system. If the citizenry could behave themselves, then they can have the moral right to call their leaders to account. Some readers took me to task for not supporting a revolution in my piece last week. They contend that nothing short of a bloody revolution will sanitise the Nigerian system.

Revolution is prone to different interpretations. And how do you even rescue innocent people who may fall victim of a bloody insurrection? What we need is a peaceful revolution – a revolution that will change the mindset of our people from docility to action – citizen action.

Let me explain. At a recent meeting of my town union in Lagos, people complained bitterly about the current repair work on the Nnobi-Isuofia-Ekwulobia Road in Anambra State. The contractor handling the work, they alleged, abandoned the project at the Igbo-ukwu end of the road. From Isuofia down to Ekwulobia is still in a terrible state. The anger was largely directed at a prominent politician from the state, who is suspected to be handling the contract. The parent union had reportedly invited the legislator representing the area in the House of Representatives for explanations. The man did not honour the invitation. I understand they have sent another invitation to him.

Many towns in Igboland have unions. I believe other towns or villages in the other regions have similar groupings. Such groups should learn to confront their political leaders, and, perhaps, their relatives and those who work closely with them whenever they try to take people for a ride.

This should be the starting point. My fear is that this may not happen yet because some people are still profiting from the Nigerian crises. A country where a group of people, mainly students and market women, trooped to the streets ostensibly to protest the nullification of the election of a former governor Liyel Imoke may not be ready for this citizen action yet. But a time may come when the money we collect from politicians will be so worthless that it may not buy anything meaningful. That, perhaps, will be the time we will all be roused to action.

The bats in our belfry

July 21, 2008

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 20 Jul 2008

Bat is a strange mammal. It is ugly, mouse-like and nocturnal. But unlike other mammals, it can fly. Recently, the strangeness of this animal manifested in Norwich, England. Foreign media reports indicated that a 19-year-old lady felt some vibrations in her bra. For about five hours, she endured the thing, thinking it was the mobile phone in her jacket pocket. When the vibration persisted, Abbie Hawkins decided to check her 34FF underwear. Curiously, she found a baby bat taking a nap there. Apparently, this strange lover got to the bra the previous day when the underwear was on the washing line. As Hawkins reportedly put it, “I put my hand down my bra and pulled out a cuddly little bat. That shocked me very much at the time, but it scuttled off under the desk into the dark…It looked quite cosy and comfortable in there so it was quite rude of me to take it out.”

Like Hawkins, Nigeria has some bats in her belfry or bra if you like. To have bats in the belfry means to be crazy, eccentric or mad. There is no better way to describe what life is gradually turning into in this country than this. A few examples will suffice here.

Last Wednesday, some newspapers reported the tragic death of scores of people in Abia State after a deliverance prayer. The Nigerian Tribune headline says, “40 die after deliverance prayer.” The Daily Sun of the same day says, “Mystery fire consumes 30 family members.” Essentially, the story is that these people organised a prayer and deliverance session in their compound to arrest a series of spiritual problems purportedly hindering the progress of members of the family. Apparently, they belonged to the same extended family.

According to the Daily Sun account, after the prayer, came the deliverance session. This involved the exhumation of charms some enemies allegedly buried in the compound. As this was going on, a mysterious fire reportedly came like a wind and consumed everybody in sight. The Nigerian Tribune account says the dead were members of Deeper Life Church. And that a zonal coordinator of the church organised the prayer session in his newly built house, which he had not slept in because of perceived spiritual attacks. The incident occurred at Umuolihe village near Omoba in the Isialangwa South Local Government Area.

Almost the same period, the nation witnessed the demise of some youths, who had gone for immigration and prison service recruitment. Over a dozen applicants reportedly died during the exercise. Tens of thousands of job seekers had applied for these limited vacancies.

I was saddened the more when I read reports that over 64 million Nigerian youths are unemployed. The Minister of Youth Development, Akinlabi Olasunkanmi, who gave this grim report last week, said of the 16 million youths that were engaged, 1.6 million of them were underemployed. This means that more than 80 per cent of the 80 million Nigerian youths are unemployed.

Most of the few who are working go through hell taking care of siblings, relations and hangers-on. Teachers have been on strike because what they receive as salary barely lasts for one week. So far, they have not been able to get what they are asking for. And so, the Nigeria Union of Teachers enjoined its members to embark on a regular prayer session. This is to invoke nemesis to deal with their enemies. Happily, there is no mystery fire yet.

Tanker drivers have just called off their own strike. Even oil workers equally agitate for better conditions of service. Soldiers may not be able to organise themselves to go on strike. But the other day, they went on the rampage in Akure over peacekeeping allowances. Many workers see and read about profligacy in high places. Yet, their conditions keep deteriorating everyday.

This is partly why many of our compatriots will do anything possible to migrate abroad. Recently, scores of Nigerian illegal migrants drowned off the southern coast of Spain. Over 100 of them attempted to enter that country illegally. They had paid thousands of dollars to a syndicate that reportedly promised them safe entry to Spain. At various embassies in the country, thousands of Nigerians queue everyday to obtain visas to foreign countries. Last Wednesday, a middle-aged woman reportedly slumped and died while waiting to procure German visa in Lagos.

Life doesn’t seem to have any meaning here anymore. Millions of children are dying of preventable diseases every year. Some of those who survive have become articles of trade. The majority of the adult population are at the mercy of poverty-related diseases. The Niger Delta is boiling. The power situation is worsening rather than improving. Some major bridges are vibrating. Railways are comatose. The other name for roads here is gullies. Last Wednesday, a trailer truck with two full containers fell at Ijora, crushing a pick-up van. The country is moving dangerously from a failing state to a failed one. And native doctors and prophets are making fortunes from desperate citizens.

Nothing typifies this bedlam called Nigeria better than the confusion over President Umaru Yar’Adua’s birthday. His actual birthday is August 16. But some highly placed public officials thought his birthday was July 9. And so, they were beside themselves with congratulatory adverts. The President himself did not find it necessary to correct the mistake until THE PUNCH broke the story last Tuesday.

The desperate situation in Nigeria is largely a result of an insensitive leadership. The tragedy is that our leaders do not seem to appreciate this fact. Yar’Adua and his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan, reportedly spent N655.97m on foreign trips in the first six months of the year. This, according to a report by THE PUNCH, is only N63.49m short of the N719,463,736 allocated for their international travels and transport in the 2008 budget. Perhaps, there will be a supplementary budget to take care of more foreign trips that will likely follow. The legislators, on their part, have taken good care of themselves through probes and capacity-building funds. The judiciary has its problems, as some judges are known to have compromised their position.

Some Nigerians have suggested a revolution. This may not solve the problem. But those in positions of authority should know that they are pushing their citizens to the wall. They should take a cue from what happened in Peru earlier this month. Thousands of protesters embarked on strikes and marches across that country to protest the life of squalor they are subjected to amid an economic boom. They accused President Alan Garcia of betraying his socialist roots.

Every mad situation demands eccentric solutions. This is where I tend to support the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mrs. Farida Waziri, who suggested recently that those who wish to govern this country should be subjected to a psychiatric test before they go for any leadership position.

Before we all run mad, we need that psychiatric test desperately!

Fat, killer-vitamins and poor lifestyle

July 16, 2008

Published Sunday, July 13, 2008

Casmir Igbokwe

 

For some male travellers, the attractiveness of air hostesses could be a factor in deciding a particular airline to patronise. In India, private airlines recognise this fact by engaging beautiful and smartly-dressed young ladies as crew members. On the contrary, state-owned Air India used to care less about the physical appearance of its stewardesses. But stiff competition has jolted it from slumber. Recently, the airline prevented its fat air hostesses from flying. The reason it reportedly gave was that overweight crew posed a safety and health hazard. Five of the cabin crew took the airline to court. The Delhi High Court ruled against them, saying the airline had the right to do what it did. According to the court, the physical appearance of an air hostess matters a lot.

 

It also matters to many companies in Nigeria. Most new generation banks, for instance, try to beat competition by employing young shapely ladies in their marketing departments. Love it or hate it, it works for some of them. Some men are wont to fall for such traps by depositing huge part of their earnings to such ladies or their banks.

 

This is one of the advantages of maintaining a trim and shapely figure. But many Nigerians don’t really care about their weight. Some live a sedentary life. They sit in an air-conditioned office from morning till night without any form of physical activity. They eat as much junk as their stomach can contain. Even those who are jobless, especially housewives, have similar problem. Most of the time, some of them do nothing but sleep and eat. Their activities revolve around cooking and a few other household chores.

 

The problem is not peculiar to Nigeria. In the United Kingdom, for instance, food is not a problem. Most citizens can afford to eat five meals a day. They throw away the greater number of this food. A government food policy study indicates that UK families waste about 4.1m tonnes of food every year. This amounts to about £420 per family per year. Much of these foods are burgers, chips and other junks. This, perhaps, explains why about 50 per cent of adults are said to be obese in the UK.

 

Globally, over a billion adults are overweight. At least, 300 million are clinically obese. More disturbing is the World Health Organisation’s prediction that clinically obese population would balloon to 700m by 2015. As the world continues to grapple with food crisis, experts attribute part of the causes to obese people. A report credited to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine says obese people consume 18 per cent more calories than average. They also reportedly contribute to climate change and higher food prices. The argument is that the higher the demand for food, the higher the efforts to produce more. The more the production, the more fuel or oil is used to service agricultural machinery. This eventually translates into higher energy and food prices.

 

Besides, fatness makes one look old and sluggish. It could engender cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, diabetes, and gall-bladder disease. Fertility experts have linked infertility in some women partly to obesity. Researchers at the University of Aberdeen discovered recently that obesity could also lead to poor quality sperm for men. The scientists reportedly examined over 2, 000 men whose partners have problems in conceiving. They found out that overweight men had a higher proportion of abnormal sperm and lower volumes of semen than men with a healthy body mass index. One probable reason, the researchers say, is overheating of the testicles caused by too much fat. As the lead researcher, Dr Ghiyath Shayeb, enthused, “We are pleased to be able to add improved semen quality to the long list of benefits that we know are the result of an optimal body weight.”

 

Maintaining this optimal body weight requires taking a balanced diet. Vitamins are an important part of this balanced diet. Fruits and vegetables are one of the major sources of vitamins. Nutritionists recommend at least five fruits a day per person. Some rich people decide to add vitamin supplements to their diet as well. Unfortunately, another research suggests that such vitamin supplements could actually result in a premature death. The BBC quoted scientists at the Copenhagen University as saying that vitamins A and E supplements could interfere with the body’s natural defences.

 

These scientists reviewed 67 studies and examined 233, 000 people. They found no evidence to support the belief that antioxidant supplements prevent diseases. To them, 16 per cent of increased risk of dying could be a result of intake of vitamin A supplements, seven per cent to beta-carotene and four per cent to vitamin E.

 

I’m sure those who deal in supplements will dismiss this with a wave of the hand. In Nigeria, there are companies that make fortunes marketing supplements. I don’t know if they have a defence to this research finding.

 

Hopefully, there may not be any research that will caution against the use of natural fruits and vegetables. I try to eat more of them these days. But some friends say I am fatter now than when I came back newly from the UK. I have tried as much as possible to reduce the quantity of food I take. But the more I try, the more I see mountainous food on my dinner table.

 

The ideal thing is for all of us to live a healthy life, eat balanced diet and exercise as much as possible. Those who are over 40 years should watch what they eat and drink. For women, there is no denying the fact that your appearance, to an extent, determines the type of suitor that comes your way. The married ones who feel they are not dancing to attract attention again should realise that, like the Indian hostesses, they could become victims of rejection at home.

 

  From my cell phone

Casmir,

Exorcise yourself of the ghost of intellectual bandwagonism as manifested in your June 22 ’08 piece regarding Prof. H. Nwosu’s book on June 12, ’93 polls. Please read the book before analysing. He didn’t exonerate IBB contextually, by deduction or induction.

Emmanuel Onwubiko, Author/journalist

07055831387

  

Casmir,

You have surely come of age since TheNEWS/Tempo. Not a surprise to some of us who have closely watched you from the sidelines. Keep the quality up.

Dotun Adekanmbi, 08022231789

 

Casmir,

I’m a boy of 17 years and an ardent reader of your column. I’m deeply moved by your mode of thinking. How many people can say the truth openly? I planned on studying economics, but I will become a writer because you inspire me with your column.

Anonymous, 08076234938

Reflections on the National Assembly probes

July 7, 2008

By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 6 Jul 2008

MOST honourable members of the National Assembly are very busy at the moment. They have probed and are still probing some past activities of government agencies and parastatals. Ndudi Elumelu and his committee investigated the embezzlement of the power sector funds. The Senate Committee on the Federal Capital Territory examined Abuja land allocations and revocations. Currently, there is an enquiry into the mismanagement of the N19.5bn aviation intervention fund, etc. Last week, Senate spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze, hinted that more of these public hearings were in the offing. Not only has the wind of these probes exposed the rump of corruption involving past government functionaries, but has also revealed some lacunas surrounding the exercise.

First, Senate President, David Mark, has given a hint of what Nigerians should expect from the investigations. According to him, ”This is not a probe (referring to the aviation probe) to indict or send anybody to jail. It is a fact-finding public hearing, so that we know exactly what the problems are. And once we identify the problem, I believe that we will be 50 per cent done in finding a realistic solution.”

Obviously, what Mark is saying is that those who allegedly attempted to bribe members of the Senate committee on aviation will go scot-free; that nothing will happen to those who allegedly inflated the N6.5bn safe tower rehabilitation contract by N5.5bn; and that Nigerians should forgive and forget the mindless looting of over $10bn power sector funds.

At least, Mark is sincere. He didn‘t want Nigerians to have any illusion about the outcome of the probes. Some past administrations, which also embarked on probes, made some noise about them. At the end, they all became an exercise in futility. There was Justice Obiora Nwazota Judicial Commission of Enquiry that investigated the mismanagement of Nigeria Airways. That commission toiled for about 12 months to gather facts. On May 8 2002, it submitted four volumes of report. This indicted some prominent citizens of this country and proposed some sanctions. Till date, nothing has come out of the report.

What of the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa panel? For about three years, that one traversed the length and breadth of the country, collecting information on how past military regimes abused the rights of Nigerians. Today, the report is still gathering dust somewhere. Nigerians had also witnessed the Christopher Kolade panel on contracts and licences; Pius Okigbo panel on the $12.4bn Gulf War oil windfall; and many other panels.

The question is, why does our National Assembly still fancy probe panels when their reports will virtually amount to nothing? I wish to hazard some answers. One, setting up investigative panels may be a way of settling scores with real and perceived opponents. For instance, the Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba Committee that investigated the mismanagement of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund last year gave the impression that the then Vice President Atiku Abubakar was the main target. Recall that the committee indicted Abubakar for diverting and mismanaging public funds. It recommended that he should be sanctioned. Curiously, the same committee did not prescribe any punishment for former President Olusegun Obasanjo who, it admitted, acted outside the law and did not follow due process. The report was generally seen as an extension of Obasanjo‘s personal war against Abubakar then. Even the probe of the Abuja land allocations under Nasir el-Rufai had the same vindictive undertone.

Two, probes are another avenue for committee members to make more money. Of course they cannot embark on such hectic national duties without collecting sitting allowances. We are familiar with the penchant of our lawmakers for agitation for allowances under different guises. A report in THE PUNCH last Friday indicated that the proposed probe of the oil sector by an ad-hoc committee of the House of Representatives would gulp about N273m. The money is to cover for consultancy charges, running the secretariat, publicity, and a capacity building retreat for members. Each member of the panel is also expected to go home with N20, 000 per day for the 90 days the investigation will last. This is not ruling out the temptation of bribery.

If the lawmakers had genuine intentions with regard to this avalanche of probes, why have they pussyfooted about the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill? This is a law that will help ease the workload of the lawmakers. It is a law that will ensure transparency in public office. With it in place, there may not be much need for probes. The 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives are accountable to the over 140 million Nigerians who are desirous of change. But most of these legislators who profess to be working for the interest of their constituents have continued to reject the FOI Bill.

But we need to let them know that while we appreciate their preoccupation with the activities of the past regime, we will appreciate it more if they devote more time to their major responsibility, which is to make law. Last May, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, admitted that they had not done well in lawmaking. The last legislative session, Bankole observed, passed 35 bills after one year. The incumbent legislators could only boast of passing 11 out of 65 bills after their own one year in office.

This low productivity is in spite of the lawmakers’ often-touted capacity-building trips abroad. The truth is that they build the capacity more in their bank accounts. They collect money from ministries and elsewhere for oversight functions. Yet, the cases of corruption they are now probing happened under their noses. Why couldn‘t the committees of the previous assembly discover the crimes then during their oversight functions? I will not be surprised if the next assembly spends time and money to probe how the Ministry of Health mismanaged the N300m unspent 2007 budget of the ministry.

As if to confirm that the probes are an exercise in abracadabra, the National Economic Council, last month, appointed three principal characters, who supervised the rot in the power ministry, to a committee that will monitor investments in the power sector. They are Ondo State governor, Dr. Olusegun Agagu; Cross River State governor, Liyel Imoke; and Gombe State governor, Danjuma Goje.

Can there be a better circus show than this?