Archive for September 2008

Memo to our governors on leadership

September 29, 2008

 By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 28 Sep 2008

HURRAY! Nigeria will be 48 years as an independent nation on Wednesday, October 1. This should have been a moment for wild celebrations. But the reverse is the case because since our independence from Britain in 1960, many Nigerians have had a lot of sad stories to tell. Many have lost their dear ones to avoidable accidents. Many have died of preventable diseases. And many more others have suffered and continue to suffer the consequences of inept and insensitive leadership. We seem to be in an irremediable exile, with no hope of a Promised Land to come.

Concerned at this sorry turn of events, many citizens have resigned themselves to fate. Some have tried to proffer some solutions. In a recent email to me, a human capital development consultant, Beckley Jones, suggested a study trip to Singapore by our leaders. In Singapore, according to Jones, we have a model to learn from and a catalyst that is capable of fast-tracking the transformation of our society.

“The leaders should go on this mission armed with Lee-Kwan-Yew’s book, From Third World to First-The Singapore Story 1965-2000, to see, learn, experience and draw lessons from a multiracial, multicultural, multi-religious country that metamorphosed from a Third World to a First World country between 1965 and 2000. There is no way they can go to Singapore, read and understand Lee-Kwan Yew‘s book, come back to this hell on earth called Nigeria and remain the same. They are bound to experience a ‘paradigm shift,‘ which should be a precursor to good leadership and good governance in Nigeria,” he said.

I have a similar but slightly different proposition. I want us to look inwards first. This is predicated on the fact that some readers of this column have accused me of always focussing on the negative aspects of our existence. In my search for positive news about Nigeria, I encountered some leaders who present us with hope that all is not lost. Not that these leaders are saints, but from reports and personal experiences, I have observed that they tend to tower above their peers.

One of such leaders is the Gombe State governor, Danjuma Goje. In spite of little resources at his disposal, the man has reportedly achieved for Gombe what many other governors with bigger revenue allocations could not achieve.

For instance, he built a water treatment plant that treats water from Dadinkowa Dam, which, from media reports, is about 40km away from Gombe. From the treatment site, water is distributed to different parts of Gombe. There is also the Gombe Regional Water Scheme that gives water to the state capital and 15 other towns.

The governor has also constructed roads, 48 of which are in the capital city alone. He has reportedly connected over 100 villages to the national grid, constructed and rehabilitated over 20 dams across the state. He also constructed and upgraded an airport in Gombe to international status. He constructed two new general hospitals at Deba and Nafada, even as he has renovated, expanded and re-equipped the existing hospitals in the state. There is also a free antenatal and delivery services in the state hospitals, as well as the provision of six primary health centres in different parts of the state. He has also tried in the area of education, capping it with the establishment of the Gombe State University. The governor did not neglect housing, agriculture and so on.

Governor Tunde Fashola of Lagos State is another leader worthy of emulation. Those who have suffered his demolition exercises may not agree with me. But the truth of the matter is that his desire to improve and develop his state is visible. Take the beautification projects going on in Lagos at the moment for example. Some parts of the state are wearing new looks with streetlights and flowers dotting the landscape. Construction of roundabout, median, drainage, etc is ongoing in some other parts of the state.

What has particularly thrilled me about Fashola is his inclination for openness. While the government at the centre was administering oath of secrecy to some officials, the Lagos State Government went a step further to open up government. Recently, the state published the telephone numbers of the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Marvel Akpoyibo; the Commander of the Rapid Respond Squad, Mr. O. Odumosu; Area Commanders and Divisional Police Officers. This is in addition to the governor‘s number and those of his commissioners published earlier in the year. There is also the security number, 767, that Lagosians could call in case of emergencies.

However, the governor needs to do more on road rehabilitation and provision of potable water. This will greatly enhance his mega city project dream. Of course, I appreciate the fact that he has just spent one year in office.

A few other governors, I believe, have good intentions for their states. But one problem or the other ends up scuttling their efforts. Anambra and Rivers State governors are in this category. Mr. Peter Obi of Anambra has to contend with 30 legislators, who all belong to the Peoples Democratic Party. He is of the All Progressives Grand Alliance. The governor had been in and out of squabbles with the lawmakers and other political wolves such that he has had little time to devote to developmental issues. It is even surprising that he has remained in office up till now.

In the same token, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, in his own words, has over N100bn in the banks, but cannot really do much because of the activities of militants/criminals. Some investors have pulled out of the state. New ones are afraid to come for fear of either being attacked or kidnapped.

There may be a few other leaders who are quietly doing some good jobs in their states. The truth of the matter is that a golden fish has no hiding place. One way or the other, their efforts will not go unnoticed.

In another good news, Nigeria improved in this year‘s global anti-corruption ranking. According to Transparency International, the country moved from 2.2 points in 2007 to 2.7 points this year. Thus, we moved from 147 in 2007 to 121 in 2008 out of 180 countries ranked.

With this positive news, let us mark our independence anniversary with renewed hope and optimism. I presume my praise of some governors is not coming too early. The idea is to encourage good leaders to keep up the pace and not to relent. For Gombe, which is said to be number 33 out of 36 states in terms of revenue allocation from the federation account, to achieve what it has achieved so far means that money is not really the problem, but the will to serve.

Thus, can all Nigerian leaders promise to be faithful, loyal and honest, and to serve Nigeria with all their strength?

Happy independence!

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Hackers and Yar’Adua’s rumoured resignation

September 22, 2008

By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 21 Sep 2008

PENULTIMATE Saturday, I got a frightening text message on my mobile phone. It read, “Now dat (that) Tinubu has filled the LGs with his boys, we can expose him too. That is why U (you) are receiving this text from your own No. We apologise to Osun Tribunal.” The sender used my Glo line, 08058104058, to send the message. And I received it on the same Glo number.

I was still trying to unravel this puzzle when I read a similar experience of the President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Mr. Gbenga Adefaye. In this case, the hackers used Adefaye‘s MTN number. And they asked, “Was the so-called Osun scandal contrived to embarrass the judiciary and fool us?”

Recall that TheNews magazine had alleged that members of the Osun State Election Petitions Tribunal had contacts with the counsel to the Osun State governor, Kunle Kalejaiye. This was shortly before the ruling in the suit instituted by the Action Congress governorship candidate in the April 2007 election, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, challenging the election of Olagunsoye Oyinlola as governor of Osun State. The magazine even published purported logs of calls between the chairman of the tribunal, Thomas Naron and Kalejaiye.

The questions are: could the architects of this own-phone message be trying to lay a foundation for the denial of the allegations against Naron and Co? What explanations do the Nigerian Communications Commission and the phone service providers have over this dangerous trend? And why is it that we hone our ingenuity largely to crime and other negative tendencies?

Generally, hacking is a major problem in the cyberspace. It is not peculiar to Nigeria, though it seems to be more rampant here. Last week, I got a message from some friends in the United Kingdom and Poland on the social network platform called Facebook. It says, ”If someone by the name of Akran Mohamed Elsamadouni wants to add you to their list, don‘t accept it. It is a virus. Tell everyone on your list because if somebody on your list adds them, you will get it too. It is a hard drive killer and a very horrible virus…”

So far, I have escaped the Elsamadouni virus. But I could not escape the one that goes by the name Raila Odinga. I used my flash drive to copy something from a computer that had the virus. Immediately I inserted the drive to my laptop, the Odinga virus duplicated itself all over my desktop. It even defied the computer‘s Panda anti-virus software. This virus is so wicked that no matter what you do to delete it, it will bounce back.

Last Thursday, some hackers invaded the official website of THE PUNCH. They claimed to have logged out all the newspaper‘s online system administrators and taken full control of the website‘s content management system.

Though the organisation has reclaimed control of the site, the situation shows how mischievous some Nigerians can be. It is in this light that I want to see the recent rumour regarding the resignation of President Umaru Yar‘Adua. Some hackers, last week, sent out information to the effect that Yar‘Adua might resign after constituting a new cabinet. They allegedly used the News Agency of Nigeria‘s email address to send the information.

Unfortunately, Channels Television and the Agence France Presse fell for the bait. The Federal Government immediately denied the report. And as soon as Channels discovered the slip, it retrieved the story and apologised. It should have ended at that. But in a show reminiscent of the military era, the State Security Service invaded the station and arrested some of its staff. The National Broadcasting Commission suspended its licence.

Though the NBC lifted the suspension last Friday, the action was uncalled for in the first place. It was a mistake arising from the secret way we run government affairs in Nigeria. The other day, the President was in Saudi Arabia ostensibly for a lesser hajj. There were reports that he was hospitalised. His information managers denied this report. The official mantra was that the President was hale and hearty, though it was apparent that all was not well. His eventual return to the country was also shrouded in secrecy. This gave room to all manner of rumours and speculations. The point is that when you tell one lie, you need a thousand lies to cover it up.

Be that as it may, I expect that a regime that professes the rule of law should have known that the action of the SSS in particular was illegal. The government should have gone to court if it feels strongly against the broadcast of the purported resignation.

This should serve as a lesson to media organisations in the country. Editors and reporters should be vigilant and endeavour to crosscheck sensitive stories before publication. Just as I was rounding off this piece, news filtered in that South African President, Thabo Mbeki, has accepted to resign on the promptings of the African National Congress. This comes against the backdrop of a recent suggestion by a High Court judge that Mbeki might have interfered in a corruption case against his rival, Jacob Zuma.

Conversely, after the secrecy and misinformation trailing the health of our President, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party came out to express support and solidarity with Mr. President. Can we draw any lesson from this episode?

Death sentence on Nigerians

September 16, 2008

Casmir Igbokwe

 

Joe (surname withheld) lost his sister-in-law last week. The young woman, who reportedly died of high blood pressure, left five children behind. The widower, who has no visible means of livelihood, has another wife who has six children– five boys and one girl. He had married that one to give him a boy because the five children of the deceased wife are all girls. Now that depression and a troubled existence have taken the first wife, it is not certain how this man will cater for 11 children.

 

Throughout Nigeria, similar cases abound. Many people are no more living. They merely exist. On the news menu last week, as usual, are depressing news items about life and living in Nigeria. For instance, a civil society group, ActionAid Nigeria, reportedly conducted a research last year and found that about 54 million Nigerians go to bed every night hungry. I suspect that this number is low. Even for some of those who are sure of having a good dinner every night, there is some uncertainty over the continuous availability of food on their dinner table. A man eating with golden spoon today may end up eating with aluminium one tomorrow.

 

This is why a Senator of the federal republic will collect wardrobe allowance, car maintenance allowance and will still struggle for constituency and capacity-building allowances. This is why ministers and some other government officials will go out of their way, even visiting juju houses, to retain their positions. This is also why politicians will do everything possible to win elections, not to serve but to corner resources for generations yet unborn.

 

It is for this reason also that our youths trade in scam mails, or join gangs to raid commercial banks and snatch cars. Some sneak out of the country to peddle hard drugs. Sometimes, they are successful. Oftentimes, they are not.

 

This is the fate of some 10 Nigerians or so currently languishing in Indonesian jail. Reports have it that about 20 of them were on death row in that Asian country for drug-related offences. Already, two of them – Samuel Iwuchukwu and Anthony Nwolisa – had been executed while Augustine Ogbonna died in prison earlier this month. The condemned men only have one month to apply for a review of the penalty. Last Friday, there were reports that the police in Indonesia shot dead a Nigerian, Oliver Osondu, during a raid on suspected drug traffickers in Jakarta.  

 

Recall that another Nigerian, Amara Tochi, was executed in Singapore last year for alleged drug trafficking. Last July, Saudi Arabian authorities beheaded a Nigerian suspected drug trafficker, Shuaib Mohammed. Foreign Affairs Minister, Ojo Maduekwe, reportedly said over 50 Nigerians were on death row in some other Asian countries.

 

Elsewhere, especially in Europe and America, a greater number of Nigerians are in jails for criminal activities. Last week also, there was a report that a Nigerian woman, Remi Fakorede and her daughter, Denise, were jailed in the United Kingdom for fraud. The woman was allegedly involved in a £925, 000 tax credit fraud while her daughter was jailed for laundering £70, 000 of the stolen money. Besides, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and other Related Matters in collaboration with international agencies arrested 60 Nigerians for alleged human trafficking in eight European countries.

 

The implication of this is that saner nations will continue to view us with suspicion. We cry that immigration officials in other countries harass many Nigerian visitors. But with this type of scenario, will there be an end to such harassments? We even give the impression that we are not serious with the fight against hard drugs. On many occasions, convicted drug couriers escape with light sentences only to plunge in deeper into the illicit business.

 

The problems notwithstanding, the Federal Government should, as a matter of urgency, intervene to save the lives of these Nigerians. Like the Singaporean case indicated, it may not be easy to cajole these Asian countries into dropping death penalties already passed. But the government should at least ensure adequate legal representation and demand fair trial for these Nigerians. It should not relent in asking the Indonesian authorities to commute the death sentences to a more humane punishment.

 

The government should also fix the socio-economic problems that drive many Nigerians into this type of business in the first place. A starting point, perhaps, is to address the infrastructural problems that cripple the growth of businesses here. It is disheartening that Nigeria ranked 118th out of 150 countries the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation surveyed for 2009 ease of doing business index. This was a drop from the 108 and 114th positions the country attained in 2007 and 2008 respectively. No doubt, a better economic climate will curb the inclination for this illicit business.

 

Generally, Nigerians should realise that things are hard. They should therefore desist from doing things that will further worsen their economic plight. Breeding children that one cannot adequately take care of is a typical example.

 

Postscript

Last Sunday, there was a production mix-up that resulted in the reproduction of my previous article on the Niger Delta. The piece should have been, “Mr. President, where are you?” It was later published in THE PUNCH on Monday, September 8, 2008. The mix-up is regretted.

 

Mr. President, where are you?

September 8, 2008

 By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Monday, 8 Sep 2008

President Umaru Yar‘Adua has something in common with Bello Abubakar, the man with 86 wives. In the past two weeks or so, both of them have been subjects of discussion in Nigeria. But while Abubakar‘s predicament paints a picture of strangeness and hypocrisy, the issues surrounding Yar‘Adua‘s health throw up some deceit and secrecy in our face. Altogether, the issues around these men have, once again, showcased the strange and deceitful nature of our existence as a nation.

It was as if Ola Rotimi had the current situation in mind when he wrote Our husband has gone mad again. In that play, Rotimi ridicules political opportunists who find themselves in the corridors of power in Africa. In it, a former Major goes into politics not to serve but to achieve some vain motives. He attempts to adapt to a situation he hardly understands. But this produces comic results. To compound his problems, his American wife arrives unannounced only to discover that his husband has two other wives and is enveloped in political problems.

To an extent, Nigerians have become this American wife. They placed their trust in some individuals. Unfortunately, these individuals called leaders have continued to betray this trust. Or how do we explain that for 17 days that our president stayed in Saudi Arabia for either a lesser hajj or medical check-up or both, his spin doctors played pranks on Nigerians.

Hear the Information Minister, John Odey, ”The official position is that he went for lesser hajj. That is true. Of course, I must tell you that he is free to take that opportunity to undertake medical check-up…We inquired from the vice-president, who has been in touch with him, they also spoke yesterday (Tuesday) and by the close of work today (Wednesday), we will also confirm his schedule when he will come back…One thing I will like to solicit from the general public and the gentlemen of the press generally is to exercise patience. I would confirm to you whenever he will be coming back but he is hale and hearty.”

I pity Odey. Looking at his body language on television when he was making this statement, I saw a man who was not comfortable with the information he was dishing out. But he had no choice but to parrot what would please the powers that be. We were still waiting for Odey to tell us when Yar‘Adua would be coming back when reports filtered in that he arrived the country early yesterday under the cover of darkness.

While he was away, there were speculations and permutations as to what would happen if, for any reason, he ceases to be our president. Some reports claimed there were pressures on the members of the National Assembly to look into his health conditions with a view to removing him from office. Some feared that there might be a constitutional crisis as the so-called northern oligarchy would not allow vice-president, Goodluck Jonathan, to take over in the event of the president‘s removal or demise.

Last Sunday, rumours were also rife that the President had passed on. There is no need rehashing what has transpired ever since. But the truth of the matter is that Nigeria has been reduced to a nation of rumours and half-truths.

That is why some of us will openly condemn the man with 86 wives, but secretly maintain girlfriends and concubines outside marriage. That is why some government functionaries took up adverts spaces in newspapers to send birthday messages to Yar‘Adua in July when his actual birthday was August 16. And that is why a minister announced earlier in the year that an aircraft that went missing in Cross River State had been found only to recant his statement later. There were rumours too that the plane was diverted to Cameroon. About six months after that episode, we now hear that local hunters found the wreckage of the plane in a certain bush in Cross River State.

Government officials at all levels should emulate the Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola‘s openness. Sometime this year, the man published his email address, telephone number and those of his commissioners. It did not cost him anything. Rather, it has brought him closer to the people. Lagosians can now call or text their governor and tell him their problems.

This is how governance should be. The world has embraced openness as a way of life. The seat of power of the United States, the White House, has a website. The No. 10 Downing Street in London also has.

Yar‘Adua started well by declaring his assets. Most of us hailed him for that. We thought we now have a president who cherishes the ideals of an open society. How wrong we are! He is too secretive, too taciturn that even some of his ministers know very little about him or his plans for the country. That he is sick is not a sin. Every human being can fall sick any time.

Perhaps, he is afraid that there may be calls for his removal if he is found to be terminally ill. And I ask, for what will it profit him if he gains the Presidency and loses his life? Is it not better for him to retire quietly and attend to his health than stay put at Aso Rock to the detriment of his life?

Some concerned individuals and groups called on Nigerians to pray for his quick recovery. But how can we pray for someone who is ”hale and hearty”? Foreign Affairs Minister, Ojo Maduekwe, was his comical self when he told Nigerians a few days ago that the President‘s scheduled visit to Brazil was only adjusted or is it readjusted. What a deceit!

When the former Cuban president, Fidel Castro, was hospitalised, the whole world heard about it. When former President Ronald Reagan of the US fell ill while in office, the world also knew about it. Former Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, was constantly ill while in office. There was nothing secret about it. There are many other examples.

Yesterday, our own President was in a German hospital. We spoke about it in hushed tones. Today, he is in a Saudi Arabian hospital. We also shrouded it in secrecy. Even his reported arrival in the country, as at press time, is still a guarded secret. No statement. No broadcast. Tomorrow, he may end up in a Ghanaian or Angolan hospital. We will also likely hide our mouth while talking about it. What does that tell the world about us as a nation?

We are only confirming the perception people have of us around the world. Enter any foreign country as a Nigerian and see how suspicious people will treat you. They see us as a bunch of fraudsters and liars. Since 1999, the National Assembly has refused to pass the Freedom of Information Bill. I don‘t blame them because that will mean exposing some secrets which some of them are involved in.

It‘s all a matter of deceit. Deceitful leaders beget deceitful followers, who in turn beget a deceitful nation. And a nation that thrives on deceit ends up a failed state.

Niger Delta: Between militancy and criminality

September 1, 2008

 By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 31 Aug 2008

I presume we are now familiar with what happened last Tuesday night in Port Harcourt. The Rivers State governor, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, had played host to the Israeli Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Moshe Ram. At the dinner, Ram reportedly said the Nigerian media had blown the crisis in the Niger Delta out of proportion. As he put it, “The picture that is being depicted in newspapers about what is happening in Rivers State is different from what I, in the two days I have been here, have experienced.” He likened the situation in the state to that of Israel, which outsiders considered unsafe, whereas the inhabitants of the country did not see it as such.

As if to punish Ram for this statement, gunmen, the same night, abducted his compatriot, Mr. Ehud Avni, from his residence in Port Harcourt. The abductors have demanded N2bn ransom in order to set the man free.

To Amaechi, the kidnap of the Israeli was a calculated attempt to embarrass the people and government of Rivers State. The timing of the act, he noted through his media consultant, David Iyofo, was aimed at making the state look unsafe to the envoy and his entourage. He said the abduction was a criminal act that had nothing to do with the genuine agitation of the Niger Delta people.

At a recent South-South Legislative Retreat on Constitution Review organised by Vanguard Newspapers in Port Harcourt, Amaechi had similarly lamented the derailment of the genuine struggle for equity and justice in the oil-bearing region. According to him, “In Rivers State, in Bayelsa and other parts of the Niger Delta, who is fighting whom, what is the war about? What is the shooting about? The kidnap cases that are taking place are against whom..? There are three principal economic centres in Nigeria: Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt; we are by ourselves killing our own economic centre.”

I cannot but agree with this standpoint. If we must call a spade a spade, then we must draw a line between militancy/insurgency and the criminality going on now in the Niger Delta. Insurgency anywhere in the world works on some basic principles. Whether it’s the people’s war popularised by Mao Zedong in China, or the equivalent of it in Vietnam; whether it’s the fight against Britain in Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, Northern Ireland and Rhodesia, or the current United States’ misadventure in Iraq, there is a common enemy and a central focus. The general objective is to battle the common enemy in order to achieve the common purpose.

For instance, insurgents in Vietnam galvanised the people of that country into fighting the US army of occupation some decades ago. They eventually liberated that country from the clutches of the US. Similarly, the African National Congress rallied behind the black people of South Africa to fight apartheid or racial discrimination in that country. It took them time. But today, the battle is over as there is black majority rule in that country.

The struggle in the Niger Delta heightened with peaceful protests by such organisations as the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People. Later, Ijaw youths came with the Kaiama Declaration fashioned after the Ogoni Bill of Rights. Essentially, the declaration contains different demands as regards righting the wrongs in the region. These steps then were in the right direction.

Today, the struggle has derailed. Or how does one explain the kidnap of toddlers, women and innocent people, who are also victims of the injustice in the region? Last week, gunmen hijacked West African Offshore’s oil vessel with eight crewmembers on Bonny River. A prospective youth corps member was also kidnapped when her mother was going to drop her off at the airport on her way for the youth service. This is nothing but sheer criminality. The major aim is to extort money.

Some Bayelsa youths acknowledged this fact penultimate week. According to a report in the SUNDAY PUNCH of August 24, these youths accused top government officials, community leaders and elders as being behind the spate of kidnappings in the region. The spokesman for the youths was quoted to have said, “What is annoying us is that they will send us to do things such as kidnappings and assassinations and fighting with innocent soldiers. At the end of the day, they enjoy while we and the soldiers get nothing…We are not criminals or killers. It is these people in government and our leaders (who) are causing confusion because of money.”

Yet, some of these same leaders are the ones who will visit Abuja, form groups, organise press and prayer conferences to pontificate on how to stop the Niger Delta crisis.

Already, we are paying the price for this perfidy. Last Sunday, this newspaper reported that Julius Berger Plc might sack about 2, 000 workers in the Niger Delta. The company had earlier suspended operations in the region following concerns over the security of its staff. Such companies as Michelin had since divested from the region. Governor Amaechi says he has over N100bn in the banks, but this has not enticed any company to come and reap from construction works in the state.

Apparently because of the governor‘s caustic comments against militants, he and the militant leaders are now at daggers drawn. Media reports yesterday quoted a group called Watchdog of Niger Delta to have called for the removal of Amaechi from office. Without his removal, the group reportedly threatened, there would not be peace in Rivers State.

This latest dimension will only worsen matters. The questions are: is this how the Niger Delta people will win the war? Are they not cutting off their nose to spite their face? Will the demand for ransom by kidnappers solve the Niger Delta crisis? And since when did kidnapping and extortion become a tool for achieving justice?

Soon, there may not be any expatriate to kidnap. That, perhaps, is when the warriors will turn fully against one another. If genuine liberation movements in the region will continue to attract sympathy for their cause, they must help in locating and dealing with those criminalising their struggle.

I have always maintained that the first step to deal with the crisis is to increase the derivation formula of the region. We can start from 25 per cent and gradually increase it to 50 per cent. It is only when the Federal Government has done this that it will have the moral right to attack the criminality in that region.

Without this, we can hold conferences without end; we can embark on massive road construction (that is if the contractors are not kidnapped); we can engage the combined military forces of the United States of America, Britain and Israel to deal with militants, but we will never achieve peace in that region.