Archive for June 2009

Thoughts on Otedola/Dangote N155m donation

June 29, 2009

 Casmir Igbokwe

 First published June 28, 2009

I thought we were done with missing genital tales in Nigeria. But primitive societies are never short of ludicrous stories. Last week, police authorities in Taraba State confirmed that four people had lost their lives in the hands of an irate mob. The four were not armed robbers. They were not kidnappers. They were, according to the Commissioner of Police in Taraba State, Aliyu Musa, suspected to have snatched the genitals of some people.

 Much as I pitied the deceased who died for something they knew nothing about, my pity went more to those who committed the atrocity. They did it out of ignorance. They are probably illiterate citizens, who need some training on how to live in a civilised society. Though this type of story is not peculiar to the North, I pitied that region the more.

 Northern Nigeria is a bundle of contradictions. It has some of the richest and poorest people in Nigeria. It has the highest concentration of born leaders and born trumpeters in the country. It probably harbours more preachers who teach tolerance and love but witnesses more religious crises in the country. Northern women are naturally beautiful and adorable but they suffer untold subjugation in the hands of their men. The urchins called almajiris roam the streets begging for alms. Sometimes, they are easy tools in the hands of mischief makers who use them to fight one cause or the other.

 I believe the North needs more education – more help to catch up with the rest of the country. The government may not do it alone. This is where wealthy individuals from that region and their friends should come in to give a helping hand.

 Achieving this objective requires the ingenuity of those who organised the fund-raiser for the rehabilitation and expansion of the Ilorin Central Jumat Mosque. Recall that the fund-raiser took place penultimate Friday under the chairmanship of the Niger State Governor, Babangida Aliyu. At the event, Nigeria’s billionaires and millionaires struggled to outshine one another.

 The most dramatic was the donation between arch friends later turned arch-enemies, Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola. According to reports, Dangote donated a total of about N75m. Not wanting to be outdone, Otedola donated N80m. The audience responded with a great applause. The organisers must have felt very pleased as millions upon millions of naira poured in from other highly-placed Nigerians. It is expected that the mosque, after refurbishment, will have 99 domes and accommodate about 10, 000 worshippers.

 This is good. It is no mean achievement to contribute to the building of a befitting house for Allah. Such big donors may get pardon for their sins and even make paradise before tight-fisted fellows who do not contribute to such causes.

 However, I believe that it will be better if such donors also sow a seed in the individuals who will worship in those imposing buildings. For what will it profit a man if he builds a palace and there is no family to live in it? Surely, Dangote and Otedola will not want almajiris and other dregs of the society to inhabit a worship centre they laboured to build.

 Today, Nigeria is assailed by a myriad of problems. Academic Staff Union of Universities is on strike. Fake and adulterated drugs are everywhere. Militants are blowing pipelines in the Niger Delta, in spite of the amnesty the Federal Government granted them. Our oil revenue is dwindling by the day. About 10, 000 Nigerian teenage girls were reported to have been trapped in sex slavery in Morocco and Libya. The rest may have migrated to Italy or other European cities to look for greener pastures.   

 To cap it all, a United States-based agency, last Tuesday, rated Nigeria as 15th, out of the 177 countries that have greater tendency to fail in the world. According to The Fund for Peace in its 2009 Failed States Index of 177 countries, “Although Nigeria is an oil-rich nation, oil revenues scarcely benefit the majority of Nigerians. Instead, elite and criminals benefit from the vast oil reserves. In order to improve its economy, oil revenues should increasingly be directed toward public service programmes.”   

 True, criminals in government and elsewhere have sapped the nation dry. Corruption and other criminal tendencies do not reside only in Nigeria. The only problem is that while we worship our own criminals who have a lot of cash to throw around, other nations make them face the law.

 Last week, for instance, US billionaire, Sir Allen Stanford, appeared in a Houston court in handcuffs and leg chains with regard to a $7bn fraud charges levelled against him. Before his court appearance, he had already spent a week at a detention centre. Stanford allegedly conspired with some others to defraud investors who purchased $7bn in certificates of deposit from Stanford International Bank. They allegedly promised such investors returns that were too good to be true.

 Remember our own wonder banks? How many of those involved in defrauding Nigerians of their hard-earned money have faced the music? Almost on a weekly basis, some of the victims of these wonder banks urge me to plead with the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria to release their money trapped in these banks (as if the CBN Governor needs my advice to do what he is supposed to do).

 One interesting thing about Stanford is that he handed himself in to Federal Bureau of Investigations agents. For us in Nigeria, that is another big lesson. How many of our billionaires will willingly hand themselves over to law enforcement agents to be investigated. There were allegations and counter allegations as regards the reported share manipulation of AP Plc. I’m not sure how far the relevant authorities have gone to compel the principal gladiators to face the law of the land.

 For us to grow as individuals and as a nation, we must get our priorities right. We must make our laws work. Those who kill for whatever reason, be it manhood theft or breast theft, must face the consequences of their actions. The society that produces such characters needs serious education. They need good things that make life worth living. Without this, we may discover that the body of the worshippers may be in the mosque while their spirit may be revolving around what to eat and how to escape from genital thieves.

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Akunyili, Ndukwe and the sale of a radio frequency

June 22, 2009

Casmir Igbokwe

First published June 21, 2009

Of recent, I try to do a little exercise before I leave for work every morning. Even if I skip press-up or hip-swinging, I don’t miss the tummy trimmer. This is because a few people have noted (I don’t know if it is true) that I am gradually developing pot belly. Hence, I need to shed some weight. And I don’t need to go for a tummy tuck to be able to remain trim.

I wish to recommend this tummy trimmer to the Honourable Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, and the Executive Vice-Chairman of the National Communications Commission, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe. Please look not at their bellies, for that is beside the point. Rather, their quarrel and the concomitant effect on the communications industry have developed a pot belly and they need to trim.

The issues at stake have to do with the reported sale of a 2.3GHz radio frequency band by the NCC. The Commission advertised this sale on April 30, 2009. The advert reportedly gave the applicants five working days to pay N1.368bn to the NCC account.

Ndukwe and his supporters believe there was nothing wrong with the sale. Akunyili and her own supporters believe everything was wrong with the process leading to the sale. Hence, the media has been inundated by write-ups either for or against the two government officials, who incidentally are from Anambra State.

For supporters of Ndukwe, Akunyili is a busybody who pries into what should not concern her. They say NCC, by virtue of the NCC Act, is an independent body within whose purview it is to regulate the supply of telecommunications services in the country. Some commentators have also quoted the Nigerian Communications Act of 2003 (Section 121), which empowers the NCC to grant licences for the use of the frequency spectrum.

In conformity with some of these laws, Ndukwe had supervised the auction of GSM licences some years ago.

So, why has this particular sale generated a furore? Akunyili and her supporters believe the NCC did not follow due process. A company called A3 & O Ltd reportedly petitioned the minister, alleging that the NCC advertised the sale in a non-transparent manner. The petitioners urged the minister to investigate. Akunyili enquired and discovered that the NCC allegedly ignored pleas made to it by the National Frequency Management Council and the National Broadcasting Commission to follow due and constitutional process.

Consequently, she reportedly asked Ndukwe to halt the processes pending when she would be able to brief the President. The NCC boss reportedly flouted this directive. I gathered from some sources close to the information minister that one of the companies interested in buying the frequency, Galaxy Wireless, paid only one per cent of the fees before the deadline. Having purportedly been announced as one of the winners, Galaxy was said to have paid the remaining fee on May 18, 2009.  This same day, the NCC allegedly replaced Galaxy with Multilinks Telecom.          

I gathered that there was a meeting of all the interested parties where it was agreed that the release of the frequency band to NCC for sale did not follow due process because the FMIC did not ratify it. Hence, the meeting cancelled the whole process and directed that all the money collected be returned to their owners.

There are so many other allegations and counter allegations on this controversial sale. I don’t need to regurgitate them here. Our concern should be: was due process followed in the sale of the band? Was there an attempt to favour some companies as alleged? What is the position of the law on the whole process?

This is where the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice should have stepped in. He should have interpreted what the law says and then advised the President on what to do.

Unfortunately, we have an A-G that tends to pursue rats when his house is on fire. What quality of advice is he giving to the President?  It shouldn’t be my headache if the President, for reasons best known to him, decides to still keep him in the saddle. But for goodness sake, certain things are not going on well in the country; and as a government that professes rule of law and due process, the type of problems trailing the sale of the band should not be allowed to linger without direct intervention of the Presidency.

The communications industry in Nigeria is not yet what it should be. Our GSM operations still have one hiccup or the other. Drop calls; text messages not going through; high call rates and inability to recharge lines are some of the problems besetting the industry. We should be thinking about how to solve these problems. 

The problem now is that Akunyili and Ndukwe will be waiting for who blinks first. Since the Federal Government is delaying in bringing amicable settlement of the problem, other stakeholders should come in to broker peace. And it will not be a bad idea if Ndukwe, being the junior player in this highly-charged chess game, initiate moves to meet the minister and iron things out with her.

 Whichever way the combatants decide to handle the situation, all Nigerians want is that the pot belly is trimmed now to avoid it leading to some other crises.

Praying kidnappers out of business

June 18, 2009

Casmir Igbokwe

First published Sunday, June 14, 2009

Though I laughed off a recent joke by the Editorial Board Chairman of The Guardian, Dr. Reuben Abati, it set me thinking once again about this country and where we are heading. I had complained about the growing incident of kidnapping in my state, Anambra, and the danger inherent in travelling home these days. Abati told me to beware because my complexion and outlook might give some kidnappers an impression that a wealthy Oyinbo had come to town.

No doubt, the business of kidnapping has assumed a frightening dimension, especially in Anambra, nay the South-East. There is apprehension everywhere. Nobody knows who the next target of these hoodlums will be. If you are building a new house, you are not safe. If you struggle to buy a new car, you are an easy target. Some rich men in some towns now sneak into their houses to avoid people knowing that they are around. Some, I learnt, don’t even put on their generators anymore. They light their lanterns, which, sometimes, they hide under the table so that people may not notice their presence.

If you attend a function outside your home and you are not back by 7pm, your relations will be in pains. Except you constantly phone them to assure them of your safety, you may come home and discover that the high blood pressure of some of them have shot up. Our villages, which used to be a haven for peace, have become more dangerous than the urban centres.

Penultimate Friday, gunmen waylaid a billionaire businessman, Chief Paul Okonkwo, who just returned from a trip abroad, in Awka and kidnapped him while on his way to his hometown, Isuofia. He regained his freedom after about three days. Similar fate had befallen such people as the chief executive of Tonimas Petroleum Limited, Chief Anthony Enukeme; the traditional ruler of a town called Abagana, Mbamalu Okeke; and a host of other prominent Nigerians.

In fact, the malaise started in the Niger Delta where militants used it as a weapon to bring global attention to the plight of the people of the region. But if we could attribute the difficulty security agencies encounter in trying to nip the problem in the bud to the terrain of the Niger Delta, how do we explain the inability of security agents to put a stop to the incident in the other parts of the country?

The most worrying thing is that rather than think of practical ways of stopping this problem, some Nigerians have chosen to pursue shadows. In spite of the security challenges in Anambra State, for instance, some individuals consider security as the number one achievement of Gov. Peter Obi. In an advertorial last week, a group that calls itself Continuity Group says the Obi’s administration “has been able to restore peace, security and stability through the provision of communication gadgets and more than 100 patrol vehicles to various security agencies in the state thus reducing crime drastically.”

Obi himself knows this is farther from the truth. This is why he convened a security summit recently and promised a reward of N2m to whoever would volunteer useful information that would enhance security in the state. He believes, though, that his political opponents are the ones masterminding the crisis in the state.

The question is: what shall we do to curtail this menace if not eradicating it entirely? It is in crisis situations like this that one discovers how hopeless Nigerian’s feel about the ability of government to protect them. Most times, they believe prayers will work where government or adequate planning has failed.

Penultimate week, for instance, it was reported that the Redeemed Christian Church of God embarked on a three-day fasting and praying session so that God would give victory to the Super Eagles against their Kenyan counterparts in the World Cup qualifying march played last weekend. To the sports minister of the church, Pastor Paul Bankole, the prayer was for God to uproot all the “uprootables” to ensure Nigeria’s presence in South Africa.

Super Eagles won the game with three goals to nothing. It is likely the prayer warriors gloated over the victory as a sure sign that their prayers worked. But could Eagles have won without adequate preparation and skills?

A number of people I have spoken to have also canvassed prayers as the only antidote to kidnapping in Nigeria. I have no problem with this. We have prayed and continue to pray against bribery and corruption in Nigeria. We have prayed and continue to pray for Nigeria in distress. We have prayed and continue to pray against some other social vices in our churches and mosques. It is time to ask ourselves why, in spite of our prayers, things tend to be moving from bad to worse.

I had an argument with somebody who agrees that prayers alone may not solve the problem of kidnapping. But, according to the person, we should continuously pray and fast so that even if kidnappers strike; we will not be the victims. This presupposes that those who fall victims of kidnapping are those who either don’t pray or are sinners.

While we continue with our prayers, the government at all levels should do everything humanly possible to protect law-abiding citizens of this country. It won’t be a bad idea if the state governors, for instance, donate 80 per cent of their security votes to train and equip security agencies to tackle the menace.

We have lost enough precious lives and property already. It will be very sad to continue to lose more. I have hinted my family members that should this problem continue; they should forget going home this Christmas.

Before our governors relocate to Harvard

June 8, 2009

Casmir Igbokwe

I knew I was deceiving myself. But I had to do it to belong. I’m talking about acquiring the techniques of talking to girls and winning their love. That was in my secondary school days in the early 80s. Then, the more girlfriends you had as a boy, the more respect you gained from your peers.

Being particularly shy, I dreaded wooing girls mainly because of the embarrassment one could suffer if a girl decided to give one the boot. But to be able to discuss the art of wooing effectively with my peers, I bought one of the numerous pamphlets on sale then titled, “How to talk to girls and win their love.”

An example of a conversation between a boy and a girl in the booklet starts with something like, “Excuse me fine girl, your face is familiar.” The girl will naturally say something that will elicit another sweet talk from the boy. It goes on and on until the girl finally falls. To some boys then, taking a ‘no’ for an answer from a girl was a sign of weakness. Some of them actually got some slaps in the process.

I studied this pamphlet but never practised what it teaches. I remember when I travelled home during a particular long vacation and hid the booklet in a remote area of my school box. One day, my mum brought it out and quietly asked, “So you have started pursuing girls.” I was livid even as I tried to cook up stories to defend myself.

There is a huge similarity between my childhood escapades and the quest by our governors to go back to school. For those who have not heard, the 36 state governors under the auspices of the Governors’ Forum have signed up for a capacity-building training at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at the Harvard University in the United States. Key secretariat staff of the Forum and some other political leaders will also benefit.

Media reports late last month indicated that the periodic training would inculcate in the governors the rudiment of governance and leadership. The Chairman of the Governors’ Forum, Dr. Bukola Saraki of Kwara State and the Director-General of the Forum, Mr. Asishana Okauru, reportedly signed for the Forum while the Director of Programme on Intrastate Conflict of the university, Prof. Robert Rotberg, and the Programme Manager, Katie Naeve, signed on behalf of the university.

I doubt if the so-called leadership training programme has much to do with public interest. Surely, people treasure any certificate from Harvard University, unarguably the number one university in the world. And so, what they couldn’t get outside office, the governors now want to get courtesy of their exalted positions.

The programme, which will last till 2011, will also afford our governors an opportunity to escape from the existential problems at home. They will not only strengthen their nerves and meet new friends from other environment; they will also enjoy the relaxed ambience of a country built by selfless leaders. Estacode is not really the issue because with or without it, they have access to security votes of their states.

The state chief executives may have got this capacity-building idea from the legislature. Some National Assembly members and state lawmakers had had cause to go abroad for one capacity-building retreat or the other. The latest one was a sponsored trip to Ghana by some Senators.

Remember that last year, members of the Rivers State House of Assembly went to Australia to build their capacity on how to make laws. No sooner had they arrived there than two female lawmakers fought one of their male colleagues who reportedly jilted them for a younger and more beautiful lady. This is not suggesting that their Excellencies will go to Harvard to hunt for ladies. They have beautiful wives who they love and adore.

And by the way, what are the Osun local government chairmen’s wives doing with official cars? The Association of Local Governments of Nigeria, Osun State branch, reportedly purchased 30 posh cars for these local government first ladies. They also have official drivers to go with it.  Apparently, this is to enable them to enjoy their own dividend of democracy.

You see where our problem lies? It is the misplacement of priority; mismanagement of resources; corruption; greed; and deception.

Our governors do not need to go to Harvard to know that our roads are bad and should be fixed. They need not acquire any special training to know that their citizens are dying of hunger and other deprivations. They don’t need any certificate to realise that the easiest way to win the love of their citizens is to render unparalleled selfless service.

Their going to Harvard is even a subtle indictment on the leadership of this country. It means that they, the leaders, have failed to provide qualitative education to their people. They could have gone to the University of Lagos, University of Benin or even University of Maiduguri to learn the leadership skills. But they can’t go to such places because Nigerian schools lack the requisite facilities that will make learning worth the while for their Excellencies.

Since our governors have already signed the memorandum of understanding, I don’t think anybody can stop them from going to Harvard now. But before they start their lectures, they must resolve that from 2011 onwards, the leadership problems bedevilling this country will be a thing of the past. Otherwise, their trip will be nothing more than the frivolity of a boy sent to school to study Mathematics, but ended up reading “how to talk to girls and win their love.”

Prayer for Nigeria’s democracy at 10

June 1, 2009

 Casmir Igbokwe

 Published Sunday May 31, 2009

Ara nwanyi Asaba is an Igbo phrase which means Asaba woman’s breast. A popular Nigerian actor, Chiwetalu Agu, kept on muttering these words sometime last week as I lowered my tired frame on a settee to watch Africa Magic channel on DSTV with my family. I had heard of this miraculous breast. But having forgotten what it’s all about, someone reminded me that it belonged to a woman in Asaba. The belief was that whoever sucked the thing would get instant solution to their problems. This had drawn a large crowd of dejected miracle seekers to Asaba.   

 It is this type of delusion that has shaped the response of Nigerians to the problems of existence. With 10 years of democracy producing little or no fruit for the citizens; and with a government that considers the interest of the people as secondary, many Nigerians have placed all their hopes in miracles and native doctors. Some constantly shout the word ‘revolution’, but do not know who will lead it or when it will start.

 Let’s bring down our blood pressure a little by first looking at what we have achieved in 10 years of uninterrupted democracy. The number one, as most commentators have noted, is a smooth transition from one civilian government to another. President Umaru Yar’Adua put it this way, “We have conducted three successive general elections and peacefully transferred power from one civilian administration to another. Given our historical antecedents, these represent a testimony that our people have clearly shown their preference for democratic governance and an abiding faith in its transformative power.”

 Besides, the Federal Government gloated over the recently awarded contracts for the construction and rehabilitation of 34 federal highways at the cost of N140bn. In his address to mark Democracy Day last Friday, Yar’Adua also noted that his government had completed 13 of the major highway works inherited from the previous administration.

 It created the Ministry of the Niger Delta to tackle the problems of development in that region. Apparently to show some sympathy over the suffering of the people of the region, the government offered amnesty to the so-called militants who have held the entire nation to ransom. Unfortunately, this has not worked as envisaged as the current war between federal troops and militants continues to claim casualties (collateral damage).

 The point here is that we advertise and gloat over what other serious nations take for granted. If I continue to count our so-called democratic blessings one by one, it will surprise even a chronic optimist how deep we have sunk as a nation.

 When it comes to the real indices of development, we are nowhere near the Promised Land. Our educational system, which should be the bedrock of the nation’s development, is in a shambles. UNESCO estimates that about 10 million Nigerian children are out of school. I guess the number is higher. As you read this, the Academic Staff Union of Universities is on a two-week warning strike. Teachers in the 104 Federal Government Colleges announced the commencement of an indefinite strike last Wednesday. The products of these incessant strikes and poorly-equipped schools graduate to become liabilities to the society.

 The state of our health care system is exemplified by the statistics that stared us in the face when we joined the rest of the world to mark the Safe Motherhood Day on May 26. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, one woman dies every 10 minutes due to complications of pregnancy. Maternal mortality in Nigeria is one of the highest in the world.

 Let’s not talk about roads, power and other infrastructural facilities. In spite of claims and promises of government officials, the general state of infrastructure in this country leaves much to be desired.

 I’m actually getting tired of writing about the same problems most of the time. What I am trying to learn now is to look at the comic side of our problems, have a good laugh and a good sleep to keep my blood pressure down.

 It is in this spirit that I invite you to share a laugh with me over the face-off between Foreign Affairs Minister, Ojo Maduekwe, and members of the House of Representatives. Last Tuesday, the Reps Committee on Foreign Affairs invited Maduekwe to a meeting over the sale of Nigeria’s embassy buildings in Washington DC. When the lawmakers wanted to know why the minister spent part of the proceeds without appropriation, Maduekwe fired back: “You are overstretching your oversight duties to a ridiculous extent; rather than legislators making laws for the good governance of the country, they keep summoning ministers every time.” On realising his ‘mistake’, Maduekwe offered to host the legislators to a dinner either in London, Moscow, his house or the committee chairman’s house.

 Perhaps, the Reps should seize the opportunity of the historic dinner to jaw-jaw on where to hold the next round of capacity-building workshops. They can also think of probing the Ministry of Water Resources or some other ministries that have not passed through their crucible. This will fetch some money. It may also silence those accusing them of passing only four executive bills last year and one (Appropriation Bill) this year. After all, their duties go beyond mere lawmaking.

 One way to measure the effects of misgovernment in this country is to visit major embassies in Nigeria. A colleague of mine who visited German embassy last week to collect her visa bemoaned what she experienced there. The Police at the embassy, she said, had to use tear gas to check the unruly behaviour of the crowd that had gathered to seek visa. In 2008, about 70, 000 Nigerians applied for the United States visa. The number will likely be higher this year.

 Rather than do something to halt the disturbing emigration from Nigeria, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party found it more convenient to accuse the US of plotting to destabilise Nigeria. They hinged their allegation on the fact that some pro-democracy groups are planning to meet with US President, Barack Obama, in Ghana in July. Is this not laughable?

 If not for people like Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos who have demonstrated how good leadership can change a bad situation, one would have completely lost hope in the redemption of Nigeria. My prayer is that a Fashola will emerge at all the levels of government in no distant future to shift the mouths of many Nigerians from the breasts of the Asaba woman to flutes that bring forth memorable melodies.