Archive for November 2008

Obama and Nigerian spiritualists

November 17, 2008

Casmir Igbokwe

 

Published Sunday, Nov.9, 2008

 

Since Tuesday, November 4, when Barack Obama won the United States Presidential election, the whole world has been agog with victory dance. Many people have also poured encomiums on the American ideals. The world media are awash with many stories about the life and times of this president-elect. Analysts and commentators have also written on the lessons Nigeria could learn from the Obama phenomenon. I almost could not write this week because I thought that people had said and written everything worth saying and writing about Obama.

 

But Nigeria is never lacking in stories of dramatic significance. Last week, one Banji Oguntayo sent an SMS to me. It reads: “Breaking news…Barack Obama is the next President of America. Like President Umar Yar’Adua of Nigeria, he is coming to power with spiritual number 5. 21-4-07. Add them together they will give you 5. What it means is that Yar’Adua would persevere and succeed in spite of opposition and cynicism on his path to political greatness.

 

“Tomorrow (last Tuesday) is 4-11-08. Add them together again; they will give you 5. This is the moment of change that America and the world need but President Obama of America should learn to be a little bit taciturn like President Umar Yar’Adua. This is the master key to his political success as the new American President. I see unbridled attempts being made to terminate his administration and life in the first five months. After this comes sweeping positive changes that will confound his cynics. That will be the moment the world has been waiting for. And let us pray he sees the end of the 5th year of his administration as revealed by God.”

 

As I was trying to figure out what this person was trying to communicate, a friend came to my rescue. According to him, if one adds the first figure, that is, 21+4+07, it will give one 32. Three plus two gives you five. The second one, which is 4+11+08, will give you a total of 23. Two plus three gives you five. My friend adds that the figure 9 is seen as God’s number while 6 is seen as Satan’s number. The explanation is that if you multiply nine by two, it will give you 18. One plus eight equals nine. This, my apprentice spiritualist says, means that nine is as unchangeable as God. Six, on the other hand, is seen as the opposite of nine. While nine is pointing down, six is looking up.

 

One of my readers had earlier phoned to express the fear that Obama might be the long-predicted anti-Christ. He was honest enough to say that he was not sure, but that he had a feeling that Obama would rule for seven years and then the predicted troubles linked with the so-called anti-Christ would start.

 

There are some others who wrote to congratulate me for predicting that Obama would win. Recall that in my last Sunday’s article entitled “Before the new ministers assume duties”, I said, “On Tuesday, November 4, Americans will go to the polls to elect a new president. From the look of things, the incoming President Barack Obama…may announce his cabinet before our own president.”

 

Of course, were I to be a prophet, I would have been controlling a large number of followers by now. Not only did Obama win as I predicted, but he has also announced Mr. Rahm Emanuel as his new Chief of Staff. He will likely announce his other cabinet members soon before his inauguration next January.

 

To confirm that we are a nation of hypocrites, the Delta State lawmakers reportedly prayed for Obama during the election. The Majority Leader of the House, Mr. Akpodiogaga Emeyese, was reported to have said that the prayers of Nigerians were essential to sustain Obama’s victory. Many other Nigerians prayed fervently that Obama should win to restore the pride of the black race.

 

I have no problem with praying for Obama and Americans. But there is a huge problem when our ‘prayers’ are winning souls in foreign lands while we continue to sink further into oblivion.

 

I’m almost certain that some of those Delta lawmakers who advertised their Obama prayers rigged themselves into office. Ironically, the prayer request came shortly after the inauguration of one Dr. Alphonsus Ojo as a member representing Ukwuani Constituency in the state Assembly by the Speaker. Somebody else had occupied the man’s position until the Appeal Court in Benin restored his mandate last month.

 

Over one year after our own presidential elections, legal fireworks between the incumbent president and some of his opponents are still raging. More than a year after the gubernatorial elections in the country, erstwhile Labour leader, Adams Oshiomhole and the current governor of Edo State, Oserheimen Osunbor, are yet to know who rightfully won the election.

 

We are all happy that Obama has realised the dream Martin Luther King had over 40 years ago. As we celebrate the rare victory, let us also have our own dreams and move towards realising them in no distant time.

 

Perhaps, by this time in the next 40 years, I see an Ibibio man sitting in Aso Rock as the president of Nigeria. I see my son, Ebube, from Anambra taking Aisha from Kaduna as his lawfully wedded wife. I see Kemi from Ekiti hugging Musa in Zamfara after a successful exam without attracting any sanctions. I see Benin-Ore Road paved not with interlocking stones but with gold. I see ministers, military officers and even governors driving side-by-side ordinary mortals like us on Nigerian roads. I see a Gombe citizen contesting a gubernatorial election in Oyo State. I see an election that is open and transparent and not do-or-die.

 

I may not be a professional prophet. I may not be a Martin Luther. But these are my little dreams for Nigeria. My prayer is that these will come to pass before my final exit from this plane.

    

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Jaundiced democracy and looting of Edo governor’s lodge

November 17, 2008

 By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 16 Nov 2008

Some of my colleagues from Edo State have a common way of describing what they consider a unique achievement of a former governor of that state. According to them, each time the then governor had very important visitors, he would send his boys to comb university campuses. Before the visitors would settle down in their hotel rooms, some beautiful girls would come knocking on their doors. ”I have been asked to come and keep you company and make you feel at home,” is all the ladies would allegedly say.

Edo State has particularly been unlucky with leadership. The immediate past governor, Oserheimen Osunbor, may have tried his best to be different. But also during his tenure, motorists were always apprehensive of driving on certain streets in Benin whenever it rained. Those who dared it had their cars floating on Noah-like flood occasioned by bad roads and poor drainage system.

To enthrone a purposeful leadership that will not only drain the gutters but also their tears of agony, the people of Edo went to the polls last year to vote for Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as their governor. Typical of its do-or-die politics, the ruling People‘s Democratic Party rigged the election and had its candidate, Osunbor, inaugurated as governor.

For 18 months, an impostor reigned in the state. And so, one can really appreciate the joy, the drumming and the broom-waving that have been going on in Benin since last Tuesday when the Court of Appeal declared Oshiomhole the duly elected governor of the state.

Similarly, Nigerians and the entire world are still celebrating the election of Barack Obama (a black man) as the 44th President of the United States. Soon after the voting, the result became public knowledge. No rigging. No shooting. No litigation.

But beyond this general ecstasy lies some fundamental problems with our own brand of democracy. Let’s not even talk about the violence and rigging that characterise our elections. The fact that a duly elected governor will wait for 18 months or more to claim his mandate is abnormal. Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State suffered that fate. The people of Anambra elected him in 2003 to be their governor. Dr. Chris Ngige of the then PDP usurped that position. He ruled until sometime in 2006 when the Appeal Court in Enugu validated Obi’s victory and pronounced him the governor. A few months after Obi assumed duties, Andy Uba of the PDP usurped his position again. The Supreme Court intervened in this case and ruled that Obi’s four-year tenure would expire in 2010.

The Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, was in the same shoes with Obi. For some months, Celestine Omehia straddled the state as governor. It was not until late 2007 that the Supreme Court sacked him and restored Amaechi’s mandate. In Adamawa, Bayelsa, Cross River, Enugu, Kebbi, Kogi, and Sokoto states, election tribunals had nullified elections of the state governors many months after their assumption of duties. There were reruns, which returned the same governors to power with fresh mandates.

Over one year after the presidential election, the Supreme Court is yet to decide who should be the rightful occupant of Aso Rock. Should the All Nigeria Peoples Party candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, or his Action Congress counterpart, Atiku Abubakar, win the case, the political system will witness some momentary hiccups.

Even if Yar‘Adua’s election is nullified, he will leave the scene as the former President of Nigeria. People now address Ngige and Uba as former governors of Anambra State. Omehia is also a former governor, even with a stolen mandate.

Something is definitely wrong with this type of system. This is why President Umaru Yar’Adua’s call for the speedy passage of electoral reform laws is timely. The President had said, “I am not aware of any country, for example, where litigations arising from elections drag on for years after the presumed winners have been sworn in. The distractions that these cause for smooth governance and delivery of the dividends of democracy are better imagined…It is reasonable to expect that such litigations should be concluded before elected officials are inaugurated.”

I cannot say more than this. Apart from the electoral laws, our entire political system needs an overhaul. Yesterday, media reports indicated that some Edo State officials allegedly attempted to loot the governor’s lodge in Abuja two days after the inauguration of Oshiomhole. Some individuals had allegedly taken away such items as mattresses, furniture, standing mirror, and spoons. Yes spoons! An official who worked with Osunbor had also allegedly withdrawn about N500m from the state government’s account in Benin.

It is because we consider government’s property as no man’s property in this country that somebody could think of stealing something as infinitesimal as a spoon. The police have already arrested nine persons. But the matter should not be rested until those found culpable are adequately punished.

It is not enough for us to dream of having the system that produced an Obama in US. We should take steps to entrench that in our polity. Leaders should take the first step. Governors and military officers who disturb the peace of their citizens with sirens should think of doing away with that. The police who shoot guns instead of tear gas to quell civil unrest should learn how to operate in a democratic setting.

The godfathers who insist on pocketing 10 per cent of their state funds should think twice. A ruling party, which collects over N6bn to build a new national secretariat when the majority of the people it is ruling are dying of hunger, deserves proscription. A system that sends petty thieves to jail but humours big time looters of public treasury needs to be reviewed.

All hope is not lost. Comrade Oshiomhole, I salute your doggedness, your courage. You are part of the reason why many Nigerians still reserve some hope for the entity called Nigeria. Your people sincerely hope that you will not disappoint them. May your reign be long! May it trigger in the Federal Government the urge to repair Benin-Ore Road! May it ultimately usher in your people genuine and enduring joy as against the ephemeral pleasures of those who squander our commonwealth under the armpit of wayward girls.

Before the new ministers assume duties

November 3, 2008

Casmir Igbokwe

 

There is nobody who does not know the name of his mother. “Mummy” is just for the sake of respect. Since he assumed office in May 2007, President Umaru Yar’Adua has laboured to convince us that he means well for Nigeria. He had declared his assets; enunciated a seven-point agenda; dreamt of Vision 2020; composed some rule of law lyrics; and made some policy reversals that presented a façade of a man fully in charge. However, discerning Nigerians know the truth though some, for political reasons perhaps, choose to play the ostrich.

 

For about five months or so, the Presidency regaled us with stories of a cabinet reshuffle. Rumour-mongers went to town with all manner of speculations. They mentioned some names of those who will make the new cabinet. Even some ex-governors standing trial for some corrupt practices were touted. When it seemed that the wait was becoming too long, the President decided to make some moves.

 

The first step was to sack his erstwhile Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babagana Kingibe. Most of us clapped and said, “So this man can bite.” As if to remind us that his rumoured ill health would never stop him from taking any action, not even a game of squash, our President announced the creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta.

 

Over one month after this announcement, we are still debating who will be the minister and from which zone he will come from. Almost one year after the forced resignation of the former Minister of Health, Prof. Adenike Grange, we are yet to have a substantive minister for that ministry. And after about five months the cabinet reshuffle rumour started, the President finally announced the sacking of 20 ministers.

 

I will not be surprised if the constitution of a new cabinet takes another five months. The question is: what does it really take to constitute a cabinet? But for what happens in other countries, I would have been tempted to believe that it’s a very difficult task. Soon after taking over government last year, for instance, the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, announced the list of his ministers. Even without looking outside, I don’t remember any Nigerian leader who has made a snail-work of constituting a new cabinet like the present leader.

 

On Tuesday, November 4, Americans will go to the polls to elect a new president. From the look of things, the incoming President Barack Obama (there is no harm in being optimistic) may announce his cabinet before our own president.

 

Of course, there will be fresh excuses to rationalise the delay. Now, the speculation is that the new ministerial list has gone to the State Security Services for security checks. According to a front-page report in THISDAY yesterday, the security check is to ensure that the nominees are of impeccable character. Some people are already being touted as new ministers. Former military administrator of Borno State, Col. Abdulmuminu Aminu (ret.) is one of them. The Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, Prof. Dora Akunyili, is another. Such names as Chief Ufot Ekaette, Prof. Babatunde Oshotimehin and Adamu Aliero have also been mentioned.

 

What else can I say now than congratulations to the new ministers! The position is worth celebrating. Otherwise, the erstwhile minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Dr. Aliyu Modibbo Umar, would not have shed tears last Thursday while handing over the administration of the territory to the Minister of State for Finance, Mr. Remi Babalola. He must have enjoyed the work so much that it was difficult for him to let go. My sister Akunyili, if her position is confirmed, should go there and prove that women can still do more than what a man can do. She should look at the performance of the Minister of Transportation, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, as a guide on how not to work as a minister.

 

The major task for the new ministers is to reverse the confusion, the slow motion, the inexplicable reversals and the general lack of direction that define this government. Official policies must be well thought-out before ever anybody makes any announcement for implementation. The new ministers must avoid the World Cup syndrome by all means.

 

World Cup syndrome? Yes! We accepted to host the Under-17 World Cup next year. FIFA had done some preliminary inspections. Suddenly, the Presidency announced that the country could no longer host the competition because it was not a priority. Then, the Local Organising Committee reduced the cost from N35bn to N9bn. The FG reversed itself again, saying it would now host the competition. We are very good at marketing our idiocy to the outside world. I will be very surprised if FIFA is not already preparing another country to host the junior World Cup.                  

 

The new ministers must also avoid profligacy in government. Shortly after taking over the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the supervising minister, Dr. Idi Hong, reportedly said that that ministry under Chief Charles Ugwu wasted $10bn in pursuit of foreign investment.

 

He reportedly said, “$10bn was wasted in the search for investors and not even one billion dollars worth of investment came into the country. Investors won’t come because they know you have come to engineer stories to them…Yearly, about $700bn indirect investment goes to China, Dubai, Asia, etc. In these countries, they don’t run after investors. Investments chase them.”

 

Our leaders know what they are doing. Most of them know that they are pulling the wool over the eyes of Nigerians. The President knows that he is not too healthy. He knows that he does not have a firm grip of the Nigerian problems and the solutions to them. But he is pretending to be in control. He must realise that Nigerians are not fools. In the midst of the confusion called governance in Nigeria, they tend to resign themselves to fate. They know that their mother’s name is Nigeria. But some have chosen to stylishly call it Naija just to cushion the negative connotation associated with their motherland.

 

Mr. President, we need the new ministers now!