Archive for January 2009

Foreign Affairs ministry and Nigeria’s stinking image

January 26, 2009

Published Sunday Jan. 11, 09

Casmir Igbokwe

No doubt, Nigeria’s image abroad stinks. This is largely because one major commodity we have exported in large quantity is fraud. A Nigerian traveller knows that he is not a friend to immigration personnel anywhere in the world. They are always suspicious of us. Ordinarily, the first group of people that should have done something about this ugly scenario are officials of Nigerian embassies abroad. They are our first point of contact with the outside world. But what we see and hear about our embassies or the Foreign Affairs ministry indicates that a snake will always bear something long.

Last Sunday, media reports indicated that Nigeria House in New York was in disrepair. According to the report (see SUNDAY PUNCH January 4, 2009), the 21-storey building was already sinking and might be shut down by the New York City authorities. The only thing that has saved the building for now is said to be the diplomatic status of the House.

The report adds, “Currently, a new but temporary housing has been found on rental basis for the Nigerian ambassador on a rental of $200, 000 for two years due to the inhabitable conditions at the sprawling ambassador’s residence in Tarrytown.” The building reportedly has poorly maintained toilets, leaking roofs, dirty walls and so on. The condition is such that even the Nigerian diplomats reportedly informed the Foreign Affairs Ministry that the House could damage Nigeria’s image at the United Nations.

The question is: why will a nation vying to have a permanent seat on the Security Council of the UN leave its House in such a deplorable condition? The answer is simple. It would have been out of character if we had done otherwise. We are very good at building edifices because oil money is still flowing. But we lack the capacity to maintain such structures. Today, most of our airports, schools, hospitals, roads, and some other public institutions are in a terrible state of disrepair.

We are also very good at chasing shadows. Although we could not muster enough resources to maintain our building in New York, we had $500, 000 (N70m) to donate to the dictatorial regime in Myanmar. Cyclone Nargis devastated the country last May and Nigeria’s donation last December was said to be in response to the UN’s call for assistance to the Asian country.

This is how we delude ourselves as being a big brother to other African nations. For many years, we had Africa as the centrepiece of our foreign policy. We contributed to the fight against apartheid in South Africa. We supported the independence struggle of Zimbabwe. We did many other things to many other African countries believing that as the most populous country in Africa, we owe it a duty to protect our brothers.

Apart from Zimbabwe, which has a mad man called Robert Mugabe as President, can we say we are better than those countries we helped? We even have to learn the tenets of democracy from some of them like Ghana, which inaugurated its new President, John Atta-Mills last week. It was when Ojo Maduekwe came on board as Foreign Affairs Minister that we started hearing of citizens diplomacy. But beyond mere sloganeering, how have Nigerian citizens benefited from this policy?

One way, perhaps, is through the N4.5bn the ministry returned to the treasury as unspent fund from the 2008 budget. Spokesman of the ministry, Ayo Olukanmi, told newsmen last week that they returned the funds because they could not meet the due process procedures. “The ministry is one of the most responsible when it comes to fund management and remittances to the treasury. In the period under review, the headquarters generated over N44m while our missions abroad also generated a little above N1bn that were duly remitted to the treasury,” Olukanmi reportedly said.

Good. But it would have been better if part of such money were used to rehabilitate our House in New York and elsewhere. This year, the ministry presented N46.7bn budget. The House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs wants Maduekwe to come and defend the budget. So far, the minister has not been able to do so.

Even, the House committee doubts the authenticity of the budget proposal. The Chairman, Bature Umar, was quoted to have said that the ministry’s claim to have renovated foreign embassy buildings was false. There are allegations that there are syndicates, cartels and cliques holding the ministry to ransom.

Could this be true? There is need for proper investigation of that ministry. Similar cartels, I presume, hold sway in many other ministries and parastatals. Early last year, the illegal sharing of the N300m unspent 2007 budget of the Ministry of Health led to the resignation of the erstwhile Minister, Prof. Adenike Grange and her junior counterpart, Gabriel Aduku. It was also reported that the Ministry of Works allocated about N40bn to already completed roads in the 2009 budget. When questioned, officials of the ministry reportedly claimed it was a mistake.

With this type of image, how can other nations take us seriously? What claim do we have to the permanent seat of the UN Security Council beyond the fact that we are the most populous country in Africa? We have become a big-for-nothing nation; a nation whose citizens troop out en masse to escape the harsh realities at home; a nation where civil servants are among the richest; a nation that cannot conduct a simple election; and a nation where many laudable projects have either been abandoned or failed outright.

This is the time our legislators should perform their oversight functions. I’m happy the House Committee on Foreign Affairs is scrutinising the budget of the Foreign Affairs ministry. I’m also happy that the House generally is critically examining the entire 2009 budget with a view to blocking loopholes where they exist.

The legislature in states and local governments should emulate the Reps. State governors and their commissioners should be able to justify their budget proposals. Local governments should not just be content with paying salaries and allowances. They should embark on some capital projects that have direct impact on the people. Let’s hope that this year will be better. Let’s hope that President Umaru Yar’Adua will engage the speed gear as he promised this year. And let’s pray and believe that the Nigerian House in New York and other decaying public institutions will experience a facelift.

Prophetic stones for 2009

January 5, 2009

By Casmir Igbokwe
Published: Sunday, 4 Jan 2009
IN an advertorial entitled The power of the prophetic stone, in SATURDAY PUNCH of yesterday, Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo urged Nigerians to join him today in his church and be the first to be launched into greatness in 2009. Such Nigerians, he adds, will also be the first to be launched into favour, breakthrough and excellence; the first to break all barriers in 2009; and the first to break new grounds.

I have adopted this ”prophetic stone” for my own purpose here today. Whatever the phrase means, let us assume that it has to do with prophecies. Hence, we shall examine some recent predictions here and then cast some stones afterwards.

First, to that of the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye. To him, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes would come globally. ”But if you pray concentrated prayers, their frequency and intensity would be reduced,” the popular man of God reportedly said.

Media reports also quoted the President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, as saying that this year would be very fruitful. He said, ”Number nine signifies fruitfulness. A good Bible student would discover that God does a lot with numbers. The number nine is the number of fruitfulness. For example, we have nine gifts and fruits of the spirit. A woman carries pregnancy for nine months; so, that number in the calendar and programme of God speaks of fruitfulness.”

The Bishop of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission, Dr. Mike Okonkowo, also believes that this year is a year of fruitfulness.

But for the General Overseer of the Inri Evangelical Spiritual Church, Lagos, Primate Babatunde Elijah Ayodele, there will be many troublesome events in the New Year. According to Ayodele, as reported in the SUNDAY SUN of December 28, 2008, ”Not all the senators and House of Representatives (members) will finish their term. (The) Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives will face a lot of problems. There is going to be coup against Senate President and Speaker, House of Representatives (this) year.”

He also predicted that five Speakers of state Houses of Assembly and three secretaries to state governments will be removed this year. Terrorists, he notes, will attack; two actresses will die; some state governors will go; pipeline explosion will occur; tanker drivers will protest; Ooni of Ife and Alaafin of Oyo should pray hard and so on.

I took particular interest in the predictions of Primate Ayodele because some individuals and media reports regard him as the Nostradamus of our time. They credit him with many prophecies that have come to pass. For instance, they say he predicted that the former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, would be sacked last year; and that that has come to pass.

But this same primate made some predictions in December 2007, which have gone off the mark. In his prediction reported in the NIGERIAN TRIBUNE on December 25, 2007, Ayodele said the Senate President, David Mark, might be impeached in 2008. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, he added, might face serious opposition as some lawmakers might move to impeach him.

He also noted that a frontline pastor of a fast-growing Pentecostal church, two Rep members, traditional rulers and an Islamic scholar might die. Many senators and governors, he added, would be removed. ”The Lord of hosts also revealed to me that more governors are going to be removed in 2008 either through impeachment proceedings in their respective state houses of assembly or through the state election petition tribunals,” he emphasised. He urged Nigerians to pray hard against any foreign invasion, especially through our border with Cameroon and Niger.

Perhaps, because of concentrated prayers, Mark and Bankole survived the predicted impeachment. Divine intervention may have also saved the so-called frontline pastor, Rep members, traditional rulers and an Islamic scholar from the jaws of death. Apart from Adams Oshiomhole, who dethroned former governor Oserhiemen Osunbor in Edo State via the Appeal Court judgement, I can‘t remember any other governor or senator that has been removed from office.

It is worthy to note that I also made some predictions last year (see The New Year soothsayers, SUNDAY PUNCH, January 6, 2008.) Some of them have come to pass. I predicted that former President Obasanjo might marry another wife in 2008. Although there was no formal wedding, remember that there was an altercation between him and his son over the latter‘s wife.

I also prophesied that Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State should watch his relationship with the lawmakers in his state as the plot to impeach him would thicken. Perhaps, prayers and divine intervention saved Obi.

As I predicted, there was a pipeline explosion at Ijegun, a suburb of Lagos State. In line with my prediction, the explosion consumed many lives and property. Many women also lost their children.

True to my prediction, the electric power situation in the country did not improve. Besides, many Nigerian children died of malaria, cholera and diarrhoea. So far, I cannot yet estimate the number of deaths that resulted from motor accidents. The month of December alone claimed many lives.

Apparently due to divine intervention, the judiciary could not deliver any radical ruling as regards the contentious election petition against President Umaru Yar‘Adua as I predicted. The forces in the Peoples Democratic Party, who do not want Yar‘Adua to remain in office, failed woefully in their plot to ease him out of office.

This year, I don‘t want to go into specific predictions. But I see the Federal Government reducing the prices of petroleum products. If it does that, it will be following the footsteps of the South African Government, which has reportedly said it would reduce the prices of fuel by about 18 per cent. Media reports on Friday indicated that the prices of diesel in that country would drop by 20 per cent from January 7.

For those who are downcast, Yar‘Adua has given hope. He said, ”With the systematic planning process that we have put in place and our renewed team, we will forge ahead with our agenda for rapid improvements in critical areas with greater vigour and total dedication, even as we face the challenge of attuning ourselves to the pressures of global economic recession and plunging oil prices.” As far as the President is concerned, the promise of Nigeria would not continue to remain a potential. ”It will soon be redeemed. Our season of renewal has dawned,” he affirmed.

As individuals and as a nation, let us resolve to collectively throw stones at our misfortunes, ignorance and gullibility. Let us set goals for ourselves and engage in practical ways to achieve those goals. Let us stop this grand delusion called predictions and presidential promises.