Archive for May 2009

Our lawmakers’ sponsored trip to Ghana

May 20, 2009
By Casmir Igbokwe
Recently, two friends confided in me their inability to perform their conjugal duties. One of them wanted some pieces of advice. The other wanted some money to buy libido-enhancing drugs. I am not a doctor. But I guess that the problem with these men is psychological. The global financial meltdown is dealing with them. I only hope that their wives won‘t get to read this and start imagining that I‘m referring to their husbands.

Many more couples will likely be going through harsher situations. It‘s not that Nigeria is not richly blessed. It is. But the insensitive display of opulence by some of our rulers and the perennial allegations of sleaze against them, call for some reflection on why we are where we are today.

Last week, our lawmakers were in the news again mainly for the wrong reasons. The major one was the allegation by the Special Adviser on Petroleum to the President, Dr. Emmanuel Egboga. The man was quoted to have said that oil companies took some senators to Ghana to feed and bribe them to oppose the oil and gas reforms being initiated by the Federal Government.

No sooner was this allegation made than the senators began to fight back. Senator George Sekibo moved a motion that the allegation be probed. Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba said some people were looking for scapegoats to rationalise their inability to perform their duties. Senator Lee Maeba said he couldn‘t attend the Ghana assignment, but that even those who went regretted going there. In other words, there was “no show”, as Nigerians are wont to say. Senate President, David Mark, could not hide his anger not just on the issue but on the fact that the lawmakers had consistently received bad publicity in the past few weeks.

He thundered, “There is going to be a serious public hearing…because when people begin to beckon at their whims and caprices to label us in the way they want, we should take it seriously. They cannot just blackmail us and get away with it the way they want to do things.”

My first reaction to the Senate President‘s ruling was to shout ”another public hearing?” Of what purpose will that be. What is the fate of other public hearings we have had in Nigeria? Just look at the probe into the power sector reforms, for instance. The Ndudi Elumelu-led committee of the House of Representatives that probed the rot in the power sector spent millions of naira in the course of conducting their investigations. They turned in many volumes of the report of the probe. At the end, the House set up an ad hoc committee to review the report.

Last Thursday, the Aminu Tambuwal review committee dropped the probe report. The review committee reportedly accused the Elumelu panel of lacking understanding of the nature of power sector contracts. Hence, it exonerated the Olusegun Obasanjo-led government of mismanaging funds for power projects.

Ironically, the tide has turned against Elumelu himself. Last Thursday at the Federal High Court, Abuja, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission arraigned him alongside the Senate Committee Chairman on Power, Senator Nicholas Ugbane; the House Committee Chairman on Rural Development, Mr. Paulinus Igwe and others over N5bn contract scam committed in December 2008. Part of the 157 criminal charges was that the contracts were awarded to 51 different fictitious firms, some allegedly benefiting up to 10 times each. The companies allegedly got the money upfront for non-existing rural electrification projects.

Nigeria is an interesting and exciting country. No week passes without some dramatic events occurring. The more one tries to understand these events, the more befuddled one becomes. I will be pleasantly surprised if anything concrete and revealing comes out of this latest presumed war against corruption.

I will also be pleasantly surprised if the latest public hearing of the Senate bears any fruitful result. But come to think of it, what is it that is attracting our lawmakers to Ghana? Why can‘t they hold their capacity-building workshops in Port Harcourt, Calabar or even Birnin Kebbi?

Remember that members of Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello‘s committee on health were in Ghana last year on a capacity-building trip. That trip drew some flak from many Nigerians, especially with regard to the allegation that the senators sponsored themselves with the N10m said to be part of the N300m unspent budget of the Ministry of Health. Now, 10 senators will be answering questions over a recent capacity-building workshop in Ghana.

My guess is that Ghana is becoming very attractive to our lawmakers because Ghanaians have laboured to put their house in order. In their recent Presidential elections, Ghanaians voted the opposition candidate, John Atta-Mills as their President. Nobody upturned the popular will of the people. I‘m sure your mind is flashing back at our own rerun elections in Ekiti State. Worry no more as we may be forced to come to our senses if Ghanaians ever decide to pursue us out of their country like some South Africans did to foreigners a few months ago.

We have no shame. Just for what they considered an abuse of expenses claim, Britons are harassing the hell out of their Members of Parliament and cabinet ministers. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has just suspended Labour MP, Elliot Morley, for collecting £16, 000 for a mortgage that does not exist. Some MPs were accused of claiming as low as £119 dubiously.

In Nigeria, nothing shocks us anymore. Our public officers can steal billions but nothing will happen. They keep getting richer while the majority of Nigerians keep getting poorer. People are dying of hunger and other diseases. Fuel scarcity continues to bite harder.

Why won’t men lose their libido! The way the war in the Niger Delta is going, Nigerians may wake up one day to discover that there is even no oil money to fight over anymore.

Searching for truth in Ekiti

May 11, 2009

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 10 May 2009

Dumped on uninhabited islands without food for weeks, over 300 dogs began to eat one another. Pulau Ketam villagers had reportedly rounded the dogs up last month and cast them away on two islands off Selangor, a state in Malaysia. Their reason was that the increasing population of stray dogs fouled the streets and sometimes bit children. However, one animal rights group in Selangor is making efforts to rescue and rehabilitate the dogs.

In Nigeria, dog eat dog is a common phrase. But the domestic animal is not the cannibal here. Human beings are. And in no sphere is this more visible than in politics. Our politicians can roast their mothers just to win elections and be in government.

Four days after the April 25 rerun election in Ekiti State, I had an encounter with some prominent Nigerians at the residence of the Deputy British High Commissioner to Nigeria. It was at the celebration of the birthday of Queen Elizabeth.

Almost all the people I interacted with were not happy with the goings-on in the country. They condemned the charade called elections in Ekiti. They toasted to the health of the Queen and to the system where she reigns as the monarch. They complained about our own awkward system.

At a point, I retired to a corner to lick my red lips (the redness has nothing to do with lipstick but red wine). I looked critically at the faces of Ernest Shonekan, Atedo Peterside, Frank Nweke Jr., Edwin Clark and many other eminent Nigerians. I saw warmth. I saw smiles. I saw radiance. But I wondered what the British nationals and other foreigners at that gathering would be thinking about us. 

No doubt, we are a good people and a great nation. But this greatness has been obliterated by our perennial search for truth. Nobody knows what to believe; or who to trust.

 Again, Ekiti elections come handy here. We are all too familiar with what has happened in that state in the name of elections. We saw charms and ammunition on display. We saw thugs arrested in front of some politicians’ houses. We saw how people who were into some illegal deals battered journalists who were recording their perfidy. We witnessed how some of the 10,000 policemen looked the other way while some people committed atrocities in some wards and local governments. We noticed how the Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mrs. Ayoka Adebayo, announced the results in five LGAs and suddenly developed cold feet in announcing other results. We heard that she went into hiding; that she was ill; that she had resigned. She said she could not do something that would go against her Christian conscience. The police declared her wanted.

 After some pressures here and there, the woman resurfaced and claimed to still be part of INEC family. She went back to Ekiti to announce what her Christian conscience did not initially permit her to do. Mr. Segun Oni won with a fantastic result in one local government – Ido-Osi – and his supporters gloated.

Where is the truth in all these? Somehow, I praised Adebayo on this page last week not that I had absolute confidence in her short-lived heroism, but I thought that our little voices of support would make her stand resolutely by her convictions. How mistaken I was!

 I am not a politician. Neither am I from Ekiti State. I support neither Segun Oni of the Peoples Democratic Party nor Kayode Fayemi of the Action Congress. As a journalist, I am biased for truth. And if truth must be told, something was wrong with Ekiti rerun election and the results as announced by INEC.

This is why I find the reaction of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Afe Babalola, on the Ekiti crisis rather worrisome. In an interview he granted THE GUARDIAN yesterday, Babalola was quoted to have said that he “watched with total dismay, the ugly events that happened at the collation centres, where people of the noble profession (lawyers) joined in what I call shameful and barbaric acts.” These were people who peacefully protested the irregularities that trailed the announcement of the results.

 When the reporter sought his comment on the manipulated results, our respected legal luminary said the report he got about the allegations was that the media blew what happened out of proportion.

 He then lectured, “I have had the opportunity of addressing the media several times on the ethics of the profession. Some media organisations deliberately publish falsehood to please their owners…”

To an extent, Babalola is right. Some journalists and their media organisations deliberately try to distort facts to suit their pecuniary objectives and political interest. The situation was not different in the reports on the Ekiti rerun election as a few misguided journalists tried to distort the facts about the election. But as in journalism, so it is in law, medicine, accountancy, and so on.

 However, with all due respect to Babalola, journalists did not manufacture the thugs that wreaked havoc on the day of the election. Journalists did not withhold the Ido-Osi result to wait and see what results would come out of other wards. Journalists were not behind all that transpired between Adebayo and the Nigerian state. They merely reported what they saw and discerning Nigerians know where to locate the truth.

 If Babalola had told us about the ethics of law with regard to the behaviour of lawyers he felt disappointed in, I would have paid more attention. But, with all due respect, I don’t think he is qualified to talk about the ethics of journalism. Journalism is a profession that thrives on objectivity and truth. And since there is no absolute objectivity, it is biased against injustice, against rigging, against falsehood and against any form of fraud.

These malpractices were prevalent in Ekiti and most of the reporters who covered the elections reported them with illustrative pictures. To that extent, they have not breached any journalism ethics. We should not divert attention by heaping blames on them.

The blame should rather go to the Presidency that has been mouthing electoral reforms but could not do much to show a good example of that in Ekiti. The blame should go the politicians who vowed to win elections by all means. The blame should go to all elders who knew the truth but chose to either keep silent or distort facts.

While we continue to hit and eat ourselves like the Malaysian dogs, other nations like Ghana and South Africa reap bountifully from their own organised democracy. The year 2011 beckons. Where and how will Nigeria’s democracy be by then?

The political flu in Ekiti

May 4, 2009

By Casmir Igbokwe

Published: Sunday, 3 May 2009

THIS is a season of flu. Currently, there is swine flu in Mexico and some other parts of the world. In Nigeria and some other African countries, the flu is political. And it is malignant, life-threatening and deadly.

In Kenya, for instance, over 1,000 people died in post-election violence in 2008. The coalition government formed in the wake of that violence is currently shaky. Relations between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga are said to be frosty. Women have gone on sex strike to protest this development.

In Ekiti, women have also come out in full force to protest the political logjam in that state. Last Wednesday, thousands of women protesters trooped to the major streets of Ado-Ekiti to vent their anger on the stalemated governorship rerun election in the state. Old women marched half naked. Their younger counterparts were part of the protest, but could not bare their breasts.

I think the protest could have attracted more attention and made more impact if the younger women had defied shyness to toe the line of their older colleagues. Yes, the situation in Ekiti warrants even much more than that. It demands total nakedness if that will force our do-or-die politicians to retrace their steps.

Or how do we explain that we cannot conduct a free-and-fair election in 63 wards or 10 local government areas? How do we reconcile the fact that 10,000 policemen could not guarantee peace and security on the day of the election? How can the Independent National Electoral Commission and some other gladiators feed us lies with impunity? How can a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria conduct himself as Senator Ayo Arise allegedly did on Election Day and still remain a free man?

In Nigeria, there are more questions than answers. Better, the more you look, the less you see. What happened in Ekiti penultimate Saturday was expected. It was more than an election. It was a supremacy battle between the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and the Action Congress for the soul of the South-West.

And so it was not surprising when Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola of Osun State boasted in a rally in Ekiti on April 4, 2009 that the PDP would win the rerun election by all means. There were allegations too that the ruling party planned to deploy soldiers to the state. Perhaps, the hue and cry that trailed the alleged plan to deploy soldiers put a check to that plot.

But the desperadoes would not relent. They brought in thugs and armed them with charms and ammunition to terrorise the citizenry. Empowered and emboldened, the thugs went to work on the Election Day. They killed. They maimed. They rigged. Not even journalists and observers were spared. Our photojournalist, Segun Bakare, whose pictures of the thuggery came out the following day in SUNDAY PUNCH, became the butt of attacks by female thugs. How primitive can we be?

Just as Nigerians anxiously awaited the results of the election, the do-or-die politicians went to work. The INEC announced the results from five local government areas. There were some problems with the remaining five. The electoral body cancelled the election in Oye-Ekiti. There were reports of manipulation in Ido-Osi. But the INEC said it would announce the results of the remaining four local governments on Sunday evening. That was not to be.

The next thing was that the Resident Electoral Commissioner for the state, Mrs. Ayoka Adebayo, disappeared. Then different cock-and-bull stories started flying in the air: “Mrs. Adebayo is ill;” “She has resigned;” “No, she is still a member of the INEC family.” What a country!

Obviously, the woman is under pressure. But who is really putting her under this tremendous stress? Her boss in INEC? The Presidency? Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who appointed her? The PDP candidate, Segun Oni, or his AC counterpart, Kayode Fayemi?

Adebayo holds the key to unlocking the answers to these questions. There are insinuations, especially from those close to the government that Obasanjo is manipulating her for his selfish reasons. Those who hold this view point to the not-too-cordial relationship between Obasanjo and his erstwhile benefactor, President Umaru Yar’Adua. They buttress this belief by noting that Obasanjo did not attend the two PDP rallies in Ekiti though he is the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the party.

Many other Nigerians believe the amount of irregularities during the election overwhelmed the woman. She had noted in her resignation letter that the circumstances changed in the middle of the election. Hence, her conscience as a Christian could not allow her to further participate in the process. The same woman emerged a day after to say she was a member of the INEC family.

At 74, Adebayo has nothing to lose but everything to gain if she followed the path of truth and principles. No matter what, she should resist any attempt to force her to go against her good conscience. History is replete with women who sacrificed their liberty in order to make the society better. Adebayo should let her name be among these women.

INEC has fixed Tuesday as a new date to hold the inconclusive election in Oye-Ekiti. But the AC is threatening to boycott the entire process. The stage is set for a fresh crisis in the Fountain of Knowledge. Too bad!

There is the need for every citizen to be vigilant. Let’s have more Adebayos, whose spirit will resist any rigging in any state. Let’s have more youths who will stay under the rain or sun to protect their votes. Let’s have more women (and men) who will go on sex strike or even protest nude if need be.