Archive for August 2008

August meeting, August festivals and Shagamu-Benin Road

August 25, 2008

By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 24 Aug 2008

She had warned me never to mention her again on this page. Only someone who does not appreciate the power of women will dismiss that warning. But I’m compelled to mention my wife again because of some issues surrounding her preparation for this year’s August meeting. And her 24-hour journey from Lagos to the East.

She had asked for money to prepare for the meeting. Initially, I ignored her request. Apparently to soften my heart, she went to the market and bought a fine wedding ring for me. Though the ring was too tight, I forced it on my finger. But when I wanted to remove it, the thing refused to come out. I rubbed cream, soap and palm oil to ease the process of bringing it out. I even tried pliers, but the situation did not change. I later went to bed with a swollen finger.

The following morning, I thought of inviting a carpenter to rescue me with pincers. But I decided to try out my neighbour, Joe, first. He brought out a long knife that looks more like a saw. Just like a carpenter cutting a log of wood, he sawed and sawed. When we noticed that the knife had cut the ring to an extent, we used pliers to break it. I breathed a sigh of relief.

As you know, women will always have their way. I parted with some money eventually with which she prepared for her August meeting. I understand the essence of the meeting is to discuss how to move the society forward. Christian women in different parts of Igboland do this meeting once every year or two years as the case may be. The meeting can last for one week. The initial issue against it was that women used it as an avenue to show off. And in most cases, their husbands were the ones who bore the financial brunt. Today, many women groups now wear uniform such that there is no opportunity to show off. But there are still some ways by which they spend money.

By and large, August is a special month. It is the birth month of our President, Umaru Yar‘Adua, the initial mix-up of his actual birthday notwithstanding. It is a month many individuals and towns in Igboland hold one ceremony or the other. And like December, it is a month that records a mass return of Ndigbo to their ancestral homes.

For me, this August is also special because my younger sister, Ogochukwu, did her traditional marriage penultimate Saturday, 16 August. And so, I had genuine need to travel to the East. As I was not sure of the current state of the roads and the mood of armed robbers along the Ore-Benin Road, I asked my wife to travel earlier than me. The idea is that should anything bad happen, two of us would not be affected at the same time. She left on Thursday preceding the traditional wedding, while I left the following day. The vehicle she travelled in left Lagos about 8am. Ordinarily, by about 3pm, she should have been home. But when she called about 7pm and said they were still at Ore, I became very uncomfortable. At 9pm, I spoke with her again. “Daddy, we are now in Benin,” she fumed.

“The roads are terrible! There is gridlock everywhere. Everybody is at a standstill. I don’t really know when I will get home today. In fact, I leave this journey in the hands of God,” she lamented. She did not get home until the following morning. What this meant was that a journey of between six and seven hours took her 24 hours.

It was that Friday morning that I took off for my own travel. Some friends advised me to go by air. But I wanted to have a feel of this Shagamu-Benin Road. I boarded a luxury bus that took off about 7.30am from Lagos. The journey was smooth until we got to Ore. There was heavy confusion on the road. For hours, we were on one spot, as motorists had blocked the two sides of the pothole-ridden road. I looked for the officers and men of the Federal Road Safety Commission. I saw none. The whole situation was unbearable. I was even lucky to arrive my hometown at 11pm. My relations, who travelled in a private car the same day, slept over in Benin. They arrived at home the following morning.

In my moody countenance, I remembered that a woman was reportedly delivered of a baby last May while trapped on this road. I also recalled the harrowing experiences of many commuters, especially women, who were robbed and raped on this same road. I remembered my sister-in-law, Ebere, and others who died in auto accidents on this bad road.

My countenance changed to extreme bitterness when I remembered that in August last year, the Minister of Transport, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, visited this same road and reportedly shed tears. She expressed displeasure at the state of the road, apologised to Nigerians and ordered an immediate rehabilitation. Why this rehabilitation seems to be taking ages to effect is still a puzzle.

Now, they have come again with their promises. According to media reports last Friday, the Federal Government has unveiled a three-year plan to improve Nigerian roads. Alison-Madueke reportedly said the government intended to repair and construct major roads across the country, starting from this year to 2011. The FG intends to do this through Public-Private Partnership. The rail sector will also benefit from this new plan. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had similar good plans for the transport sector. His government even awarded billions of naira contract on road repairs. Today, most Nigerians know where that has left us.

Let’s continue to be optimistic. Let’s continue to have hope. And that is why I wish to end my piece today on a happy note. Some of the things that keep us happy in spite of our sorrowful conditions are parties, ceremonies, or festivals. I witnessed some of them in the village. Nanka, a neighbouring town, had its New Yam Festival that Saturday my sister wedded. It was fun, even as people temporarily forgot the erosion menace that is threatening to wipe out the town from history books.

Even my younger sister’s traditional wedding was fun too. I gulped a lot of palm wine. The only snag was the downpour that disturbed us that day. My father had assured me that it would not rain as he had engaged the services of a rain doctor. But when it started drizzling early in the morning, he, in anger, went to the man he had paid to stop the rain. “Give me four bottles of Gulder (beer) and leave the battle to me,” the rain doctor said. Quickly, we sent what he requested. But the man who went to drop the drinks had not come back when the main rain started. It continued unabated. But then, the rain doctor had made his money. Just like that!

Even on my way back to Lagos the following Monday, I saw more ingenious ways of making money. Inside the bus, mobile salesmen sold different items. Sundry mobile evangelists also preached and shared envelopes. People were expected to put their donations in the envelopes. A particular preacher, who said he was in the occult world before, made thousands of naira from cassettes and CDs he sold in the bus. He had said he didn’t come to ask for money. But by the time he finished his talk, people were rushing to buy his cassettes, which contain spiritual messages such as how to deal with the devil and conquer the spirit of fornication and masturbation.

This hilarious trip was almost truncated on Asaba-Agbor Road. We saw commuters who parked their vehicles. Soldiers and mobile policemen were emerging from the bush. It was later I learnt they were in hot pursuit of armed robbers. Yesterday, I was full of prayers that my wife, who left the village for Lagos after a weeklong August meeting, should not have any nasty experience again. As at 6pm before this piece went to bed, she told me their vehicle broke down at Shagamu. 

Thinking about hell

August 19, 2008

Casmir Igbokwe

 

Njide is a Christian who does not joke with church dogmas. She did her traditional marriage earlier in the year. But she has vowed not to live with her husband until after their church wedding in November. Living with her man without this important rite, she believes, will be an easy ticket to hell.

 

I almost experienced a similar thing with my wife some eight years ago. Traditionally, we were married. But because we had not done our church wedding then, my dad advised that we should not sleep together. “There is no need pinching a parcel that will eventually be opened,” he admonished. I nodded as I took my wife to Port Harcourt. As a bachelor then, I had just one bed. And so, I was in a dilemma whether to sleep on the floor so as not to miss heaven or sleep together with my wife and go to hell. 

 

Be that as it may, heaven is supposed to be a place of eternal bliss; hell, a place of eternal damnation. Generally, believers assume that all those who commit fornication, adultery, murder, armed robbery, etc are confirmed candidates for hell. The fact that no living being has gone there to see how it looks like is another matter entirely.

 

Now, I am beginning to think that the location of that hell is nowhere else but in Africa. And Nigeria being the most populous country in Africa, we need not look elsewhere for an example of how hell looks like.

 

Or how does one explain the fact that in spite of our human and material resources, we still cannot move forward as a nation. For some days now, I have been moving round filling stations in some parts of Lagos searching for kerosene. A fuel attendant in one of the filling stations at Egbeda looked at me with surprise and asked, “You are asking of the chairman (kerosene) like that? Don’t you know that you can’t find it anyhow now?” I understand that even where you find it at all, one gallon goes for between N600 and N700. Diesel seems to be more available now than kerosene. But the price is so exorbitant that companies and individuals who use it to power their machines feel the pinch everyday.

 

We may be enjoying the availability and affordability of fuel now, but the Federal Government is bent on increasing the price next year. The Minister of State for Energy, Mr Odien Ajumogobia, has told us that the government cannot sustain the subsidy on petrol anymore. He reportedly put the subsidy for this year at N700bn.

 

Ajumogobia has marshalled fine arguments to support the planned hike. But he has failed to tell us other things Nigerians enjoy from their government and from the natural resources that abound in their land. Even most Western countries we emulate have different welfare schemes for their citizens. In the United Kingdom, for instance, unemployed citizens are entitled to some benefits. Till date, people still confront me and express surprise over the story I shared last year on how my son got first class medical attention in Cardiff free of charge. This was in spite of the fact that I was a foreign student then.

 

Do we still wonder why our people prefer to die while crossing over to Europe to remaining in Nigeria? The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ojo Maduekwe, was quoted recently to have said that no less than 59, 000 Nigerians were currently in Northern African countries waiting for an opportunity to migrate to some Western countries. According to him, 8, 000 of these migrants were in Morocco, 16, 000 in Algeria, 20, 000 in Libya and 15, 000 in Mauritania. Over 10, 000 migrants, Maduekwe reportedly noted, died between 1999 and 2002 in their desperate attempt to cross over to Europe. The most recent example was the drowning of illegal migrants off the coast of the Canary Island in Spain. The incident affected some 100 Nigerians, including pregnant women and kids.

 

Some of those who do not have the opportunity to migrate to “heaven” engage in different kinds of crimes to sustain themselves. About 64 million youths are unemployed. Without the prospect of finding job anywhere, they create one for themselves. Last week, Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Amaechi, ordered the destruction of an illegal refining site in Rivers State. Some youths established the illegal site to refine diesel and petrol with 100 per cent local technology. Since our refineries cannot produce to optimum capacity, these youths, perhaps, decided to fill the gap.

 

Some government functionaries are wont to label Nigerian journalists as purveyors of negative news. But can anybody tell me the good things about Nigeria that we should celebrate now? I have been thinking of such good news. So far, I can’t remember any. Perhaps, you, dear readers, will be of help in this regard.

 

Perhaps too, there is some good news in the call, last week, by the Nigerian Ambassador to the Netherlands, Mrs. Nimota Akanbi, that Nigerian businessmen should invest in the Dutch economy in order to improve the balance of trade between the two countries. According to her, Nigeria will grow economically if it adopts a diversified international investment policy.

 

Good. If Nigerians could invest in the UK, USA, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands or even China, our international profile may rise; people will then know that Nigeria is not all about advance fee fraud and other crimes.

 

However, before we begin our movement to the Netherlands, we need to answer some questions about hell. Is there any hell anywhere that is worse than not having electricity for days or even months in some cases? Can any hell be worse than one becoming a refugee in one’s own land as experienced by Bakassi indigenes last Thursday? Could there be a hell that is worse than living in perpetual fear of armed robbers, assassins and kidnappers? And is it not hellish travelling on roads filled with potholes and craters? Don’t you think that this hell we often talk about is in Africa with Nigeria as the corporate headquarters? And do you now blame our youths who celebrate and go for thanksgiving service anytime they have an opportunity to check out of the hell called life in this country?

 

As the cliché goes, charity begins at home. I don’t see how we can begin to invest in other countries when we have not invested enough in our country. No matter the sermons, no matter the amount of campaigns against illegal migration and illegal refineries, Nigeria will only begin to move forward when we find answers to our economic problems. The major key to this answer lies in fixing our power problems. That will greatly enhance the work of barbers, welders, and manufacturing concerns. It will make our products competitive globally, fuel price hike or no hike notwithstanding. Ultimately, it will liberate us from hell and make us the light of the world.          

Voodoo, prayer conference and Niger Delta crises

August 11, 2008

 By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 10 Aug 2008

Incredible! That is the only way I can describe the latest scandal involving the Chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Ambassador Sam Edem. The police arrested the man last Friday in Abuja for allegedly contracting the services of a native doctor with N510m. Edem even reportedly put the total amount at N800m. The allegation is that he hired the sorcerer to do a few things for him.

One, to kill the Managing Director of the NDDC, Mr. Timi Alaibe, who he allegedly sees as a stumbling block to achieving his aims at the commission. Two, to ”spiritually influence” Vice President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State to always favour him in any decisions concerning the NDDC. The bubble burst when the native doctor, Perekambowei Oga, could not deliver. Edem wanted his money back, but Oga bluntly refused. Quarrel ensued. The scandal blew open and the police stepped in. President Umaru Yar‘Adua has also ordered the suspension of the man from the NDDC.

Nigeria is an interesting country. For a man of this standing to be associated with this dirty, mundane thing is outrageous. It confirms that ours, indeed, is a backward society. Recall that a few years ago, some political gladiators in the eastern part of the country made some allegations and counter allegations about their patronage of Okija shrine in Anambra State.

Every passing week, Nigerians contend with a menu of crisis. If it‘s not building collapse, it will be multiple accidents that will claim many lives. If it‘s not sad exploits of armed robbers, it may be some accidental discharge from a trigger-happy policeman. In all this, the Niger Delta remains the main hot spot.

People hardly sleep with their two eyes closed in many parts of that region, as kidnapping turns into a lucrative business. Last Tuesday, gunmen reportedly abducted some women returning from a political meeting in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital. The bandits demanded N100m ransom. In the same Port Harcourt, gang wars and cult clashes hold sway. Militants have blown and continue to blow oil pipelines. Soldiers and other security agents have a torrid time trying to contain the crisis in the region. Some of them die in the process. In revenge, they usually visit their anger on hapless, innocent citizens. Recall that last week, soldiers attached to the Joint Task Force on the Niger Delta razed Agge community in Bayelsa State.

That the Niger Delta crisis has persisted up until now is because of our inclination for monumental insincerity. The Henry Willink’s Commission of 1958 recommended that the Federal Government should pay special attention to the area. The government’s response then, perhaps, was to establish the Niger Delta Development Board to tackle issues of development in the region. By 1966 when this board died naturally, it could not achieve much for the region. After the Civil War, oil revenue boomed. But doom was another name for the lot of the people of the region.

To show some façade of concern, the Federal Government set up the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission in 1992. Allegations of corruption marred whatever plans the body had. The people of the area intensified their agitation for better life. Ogoni people became a thorn in the flesh of the government. To silence them, the government set up the Rivers State Internal Security Task Force. The climax of the madness then was the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa by the Sani Abacha military junta. The administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo replaced OMPADEC with the Niger Delta Development Commission in 2001. The commission’s task, among others, is to facilitate rapid and sustainable development of the region. The NDDC may have built some infrastructural facilities here and there. But can we really say that it has justified its continued existence?

The current crisis in the region indicates otherwise. It is as if nothing has been done. Authorities of the commission claim the government is not funding it well. Managing Director, Timi Alaibe, said last year that the commission was being owed about N224bn spanning over seven years. Now we know where part of the money has gone to – spiritual consultations. Ironically, the same NDDC, whose chairman is embroiled in the voodoo dance, sponsored a prayer conference, which held in Port Harcourt last Friday. The initiative, according to the organisers, was to restore peace and sanity in the region.

Part of our problems in Nigeria is insincerity. People capitalise on crisis situations to make money. I will be surprised if some of the sponsors and organisers of this prayer conference did not make good money from the event. That was how the Federal Government embarked on a wild goose chase in 2005 with the setting up of the National Political Reform Conference. That conference ended abruptly when the northern delegates opposed demands by the South-South delegates for a 50 per cent increase in the derivation formula. Nothing came out of the conference even when huge amount of money had gone down the drain.

Following the same tradition of deceit, the Federal Government recently proposed a Niger Delta summit, but appointed an unpopular candidate, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, to chair it. The overwhelming opposition against Gambari forced the FG to shelve the summit. Now, it rather prefers a ”discussion” (whatever that means).

Many individuals and organisations have made different suggestions on how to solve the Niger Delta problem. In 2006, 65 Nobel laureates visited the area. They suggested, among others, that oil companies should establish what they called a community investment fund. This is to take care of some developmental needs of the region. Some concerned citizens have proposed an amendment of the Petroleum Act of 1969. This Act gives ownership of petroleum products to the FG. The oil-bearing communities are left without any control over oil resources in their land.

In a piece he contributed to some national dailies last week, former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Victor Attah, said militancy and restiveness in the Niger Delta would end if there were massive infrastructural and human development, employment creation and restoration of human dignity. To start with, he proposed the development of four new towns in the Niger Delta: one each in Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Delta states.

He stressed, ”The new towns would not only come with a certain euphoria, but would indeed provide employment during and after construction…I am convinced that the mere start of these projects would provide an alternative, and a much more dignified engagement for the militants, it would win the co-operation of all and bring about the much needed peace.” According to him, new towns bring about employment, roads, power, water, good communications, schools, hospitals and other amenities.

This is a good suggestion. But who will bring the initiative to fruition? It is unfortunate that a region that yearns for rapid development gets nothing, but doses of voodoo and conferences. Until we stop chasing shadows, we will never grow as a nation.

PDP as stick in our throat

August 4, 2008

Casmir Igbokwe

 

The recent scuffle over N10, 000 by some supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party in Ikirun, Osun State, typifies what the ruling party has become. A party chieftain had reportedly given out the money. But these thugs disagreed over the sharing formula. Hence, they freely used broken bottles, charms and knives to settle the quarrel. This resulted in the chopping off of the ear of one of them. 

 

Troubled by variegated crises, the PDP is afraid even of its shadows. It parades influential godfathers and boasts that it will rule for 60 years (or is it 100 years?) But from the way things are going, the self-styled largest party in Africa may not live to see those years. And unless it maps out strategies to provide genuine leadership and correct some perfidy within its ranks, it may be dragging the entire nation along its thorny and destructive path.

 

The party is currently strategising on how to ensure the victory of Liyel Imoke in the forthcoming gubernatorial election rerun in Cross River State. Last month, the Court of Appeal in Calabar nullified the election of Imoke as governor. The former Power and Steel Minister, you will recall, was one of the characters the House of Representatives Committee on Power interrogated recently over the mismanagement of the power sector funds. 

 

Nigerians are anxiously awaiting the report of this panel. But a report in the SUNDAY TRIBUNE last Sunday indicated that the boss of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mrs Farida Waziri, visited the Presidential villa two days after the National Chairman of the PDP, Chief Vincent Ogbulafor, took Imoke to see President Umaru Yar’Adua. Besides, the report of the panel has been unduly delayed. The question is, are there attempts to sweep some issues under the carpet?

 

Speculation is rife that the report of the panel is being delayed to protect some powerful interests in the ruling party. The rumour is that if the report indicts Imoke, releasing it will put a question mark on his candidacy for the rerun election.

 

Some recent events seem to give credence to this insinuation. At first, members of the committee started quarrelling over how to write the report. Some of them even denied being part of the one submitted to the House by its chairman, Mr Ndudi Elumelu. To worsen matters, Tell Magazine alleged in a recent publication that the committee took a N100m bribe from a contractor in Port Harcourt.

 

Elumelu, though, had categorically denied the bribery allegation. Nigerians, he said, had suffered untold hardship as a result of power failure. He fumed, “Let us stop deceiving ourselves. It is important to tell Nigerians the truth. The National Integrated Power Project never existed in the first place…Anybody who takes bribe not to expose what has gone wrong will be taking blood money and will know no rest.” He said some people were frustrating efforts to make the report public. The House ethics and privileges committee is already investigating the allegation. But how far it can go to restore the confidence of Nigerians remains to be seen. Perhaps, by the time they eventually make the report public, Imoke will have assumed power again. By then, any noise about his indictment or otherwise will have no effect, as the ruling party will plead immunity.

 

Already, the party is making efforts to present him as the darling of the people. Market women and students, for instance, had protested the annulment of his election on the streets of Calabar. This is not surprising because the unofficial slogan of the PDP is “share the money.” The other one is “do-or-die.” The most annoying thing is that the nullification of rigged elections has not changed anything. The courts have unwittingly extended the tenure of these governors. Adamawa State Governor, Murtala Nyako’s election was nullified. He re-contested and won. The same thing happened in Kogi, Bayelsa and Sokoto States. Cross River State is another one waiting in the wings.

 

The Senate President, David Mark, was unlucky that the Appeal Court in Jos upheld his own election. If it had ordered a rerun, Mark would have cruised to an extended tenure. When I saw his supporters and hangers-on popping champagne, clinking glasses and dancing to his victory, I was forced to shout, “Pee Dee Pee…! Share the money!”

 

I don’t really blame them because the party is feeding fat on the absence of a virile opposition. Apart from the publicity secretary of the Action Congress, Lai Mohammed, who tackles the ruling party on the pages of newspapers, I have not seen any concerted efforts by other opposition parties to confront the inanities of the PDP. Some leaders of the so-called opposition collect money and pledge their loyalty to the ruling party. Some governorship candidates in one of the Southwest states recently decamped to the PDP. Where then lies ideology? you may ask.

 

It is this bread and butter politics of ours that is causing ripples at different levels in the PDP. In Anambra State, about six factions are fighting one another. There is some spice of juju in the war in Ekiti State. Even when the Alhaji Shuaibu Oyedokun-led reconciliation committee is still preparing its report, two factions emerged in the state chapter of the party. In Oyo, the war is taking a toll on party garrisons and platoons. In Plateau State, supporters of the erstwhile deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu, are licking their wounds. They accused the party of betraying Mantu because he lost the rerun election of the Plateau Central Senatorial District to an AC candidate, Sagir Gogwin. At the national level, Ogbulafor contends with a lot of forces.  

 

To escape its self-inflicted wounds, the largest party in Africa says other parties are plotting to truncate our democracy. The National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Prof. Rufai Alkali, who reportedly made the allegation, premised his argument on the fact that some opposition leaders like Chief Bisi Akande, Alhaji Balarabe Musa and Alhaji Buba Galadima granted press interviews disparaging the ruling party.

 

Weep not, PDP. You should first put your house in order and then impress it on those who mounted the mantle of leadership on your platform to start giving dividends of democracy to the citizenry. You should direct your members in the National Assembly to stop toying with the Freedom of Information Bill Nigerians are earnestly asking for.

 

The ruling party should also take heed of what happened in Turkey last month. The ruling AK Party escaped an outright ban for allegedly undermining the country’s secular system. Judges at the country’s Constitutional Court rather cut half the party’s treasury funding for this year. The court case reportedly arose out of confrontations between the AKP (which has Islamic roots), and secularists.

 

Also late last month, Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, said he would step down in two months time following allegations of illegal election donations levelled against him. Although he pleaded innocent, he said he would quit as soon as his Kadima ruling party chooses a new leader on September 17. As he put it, “I am proud to be the prime minister of a country that investigates its prime ministers.”

 

Can the characters at our own ruling party emulate Olmert? Pee Dee Pee…!