Archive for July 2009

Her Excellency, Chief Mrs. First Lady

July 27, 2009

Casmir Igbokwe

First published July 26, 2009 

He celebrated 25 years of his marriage in 1992. Then, he was an honourable councillor in the local government area he resides. Almost everybody called him honourable. And he cherished the appellation very much. He is also a red cap chief and a knight. This was why most of the gift items he received at this silver jubilee anniversary bore the inscription: Chief, Sir, Honourable Councillor S. A. Igbokwe.

 Somehow, this infected me as well. Being a titled chief myself, I emulated my father and would insist at public functions that I be addressed as such. I only became suspicious of the title when I noticed that some people would call you “thief” but it would appear as though they said “chief.”  

 The craze for titles and recognition explains the struggle to be Eze Ndigbo (king of Igbo), be it in Birnin Kebbi, Kafanchan or Ibadan. Recently, the Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Samuel Odulana, reportedly reiterated the ban on Eze Ndigbo in Ibadanland. The Olubadan advised whoever wanted to be Igwe (king) to go to his community and rule his people there.

 I doubt if this advice will work. For one, the penchant for titles by our people is legendary. Some people are ready to sacrifice even their first sons just to be made a chief or king of a town. My own town is currently squabbling over who becomes the Igwe and how the selection should go.

 I was ruminating over these issues when I stumbled on a birthday advertorial in a national daily last Monday. What particularly caught my attention was a smashing beauty that was the subject of the advert. And then her title: Her Excellency Chief Mrs. Oby Andy Uba.

 “Chief Mrs.” is understandable. But “Her Excellency?” I had to cross-check to be sure of the meaning of the phrase. My dictionary tells me that it’s “a title used when talking to or about somebody who has a very important official position, especially an ambassador.”

 I’m not aware that Mrs. Andy Uba occupies any official position in Nigeria. Perhaps, it could be the two-week stint her husband (assuming it’s Andy Uba of Anambra State) had as the governor of Anambra. Or maybe the Ubas are sure of being in government house Awka in 2010.

 A cursory look at the names of those who placed the adverts confirms my notion about the mindset of our people when it comes to titles. Of the 30 friends of the Uba, only two people have “Mr.” as titles. The rest are either chief this or Hon that. Some samples: Sen. Dr. Joy Emodi, Sen. Ikechukwu Obiora, Her Excellency Dr. Kema Chikwe, Hon Okey Udeh, Barr Bright Nebedum, Hajia Rahmatu Umoru, Chief Mrs. Uzo Nwandu, Dr. Obi Anyanyo and so forth.     

 Have you seen why the ban on the use of siren by First Ladies and some others may not work? Recall that the House of Representatives was reported penultimate week to be working on a bill that will bar the wives of the President, Vice-President, state governors and their deputies as well as ministers from using siren on Nigerian roads. The bill if passed into law will also affect the Inspector-General of Police and service chiefs.

 The truth is that almost every Nigerian wants to feel important. Some chief executive officers of banks move with siren. Some pastors, who should be the epitome of humility, have siren-blaring vehicles in their convoy. Even prisoners have sirens that clear the way for them.

 Experience has shown that many Nigerians hardly respect the laws of the land. So, in spite of the bill, the use or abuse of siren may not stop. One major thing that may put a check on it is sophisticated crime. For instance, policemen in a vehicle blaring siren indiscriminately may discover that rather than dispel, such an action may invite armed robbers to them.

 If you still don’t understand what I’m saying, please listen to the Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Zone 9, Mr. Olusegun Efuntayo. At a meeting to find solutions to the robbery and kidnapping incidents in the South-East last week, Efuntayo had said, “Our policemen are lily-livered. When they hear the bursting of a vehicle exhaust, they run away.”

 One other thing we need to bear in mind is the fact that our public offices are too attractive. We need to make them less attractive so that whoever desires to occupy any position will have service rather than enjoyment at the back of his mind. The Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission is doing something close to this currently.

 Last week, the commission reportedly said local government chairmen travelling abroad were no longer entitled to estacode. Even that of governors was drastically reduced. There has also been a reduction in the allowances of some political office-holders and a cessation of severance allowances for some categories of public officers.

 The whole essence of being in public office is to serve; not to be served; and not to gloat and be puffed up with self-importance like a decaying grasshopper that thinks it is getting fat. For what will it profit me if you call me Hon Chief Dr. Casmir but I have not made a significant contribution to my society?

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Oil curse, oil wells and bad blood

July 20, 2009
 Casmir Igbokwe
First published July 19, 2009
HUNGER strike is a weapon some downtrodden people usually employ to protest some
perceived injustices. To an extent, this form of protest works in civilised societies, as government is often forced to listen to the grievances of protesters. In Nigeria, I‘m not too sure of its success, as our government can always call the bluff of any individual or group who dares it in the name of protest.
This is why I took a special interest in the two-week hunger strike the federal lawmakers from Cross River State embarked upon early this month. Incidentally, rather than the hoi polloi, it was those we call the oppressors that went on the strike. Though some of us don‘t live with them to actually determine if hunger has taken its toll on them, it is worthy to take a look at why the lawmakers went this far.
Media reports indicated that their action was to protest the ceding of 76 oil wells, hitherto in Cross River State, to Akwa Ibom State by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission. The chairman of the Cross River State caucus in the National Assembly, Bassey Ewa-Henshaw, not only described the ceding of the oil wells to Akwa Ibom as unwholesome and despicable, he also warned that his people had been pushed to the concrete wall and could go no further. The administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo had allocated the contentious oil wells to Cross River in 2004.
Some weeks ago, the Cross River State governor, Liyel Imoke, had lamented the dwindling fortunes of the state occasioned by the RMAFC action. Before now, the state used to get allocations from the derivation formula as an oil producing state.
There have been claims and counter-claims as regards the ownership of the wells from both sides. To the Cross River State Government, the negotiation and settlement of the maritime boundary between it and Akwa Ibom took place between 2004 and 2006. It claims the state was recognised as the historical owner of the maritime territory.
Akwa Ibom, on the other hand, believes that the handover of Bakassi to Cameroon effectively put the territory under it. The argument of the state is that the Bakassi Peninsula had been administered and controlled by Akwa Ibom until
Gen. Sani Abacha’s regime came and changed that in the 1990s.
Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi, added another dimension to the problem when he reportedly claimed last week that about 172 oil wells ceded to Akwa Ibom by the Obasanjo administration belonged to his state. He threatened to go to court, even as he reportedly noted that the activities of the commission and the National Boundary Commission had brought division among the Niger Delta governors.
Without prejudice to whatever solution the Federal Government may find to this problem, it is worthy to note that the present altercation amounts to oiling the instruments of another war in the war-wearied region. There is no need for this when there is a big ‘external enemy’ to contend with.
This is what usually happens in a country that depends on one source of income. Everybody struggles to take control of the common till. The oil bearing communities want a bigger share from what they consider ‘their resources.‘ The FG wants to take full control of it. The states all struggle for oil wells. Even in an oil-bearing community, there is usually some fight over which family owns what land and all that.
In all, what should have been a blessing to Nigeria has turned out to be a curse. Even countries that have little or no natural endowments tend to fare better than ours.
The ultimate end to all these crises is for the nation to de-emphasise the rush for oil revenue. Each state of the federation should look inwards with a view to finding another source of revenue different from oil. Cross River, for instance, has a rich cultural heritage. Tourism could be another money-spinner for it. The state is already into it and should explore every means possible to fully exploit the benefits of that sector.
But before this ultimate solution, there is need for the FG to find an amicable solution to the problem. President Umaru Yar’Adua is said to have set up a committee to look into the crisis. Whatever the committee comes up with, it is important to note that a lot of historical injustices might have been done to either of the parties. Ours being a system where laws are made and broken with impunity; where the rule of law takes a back seat in the scheme of things, it is possible that constitutional provisions were not followed in the ceding and re-ceding of the disputed territory. This is where political solution comes into play. Yar’Adua or the committee he has set up should invite the two sister states, discuss with them and then find an amicable settlement of the crisis.
That is if we don’t want our distinguished and honourable lawmakers to die of hunger.

Ikuforiji’s kung fu against journalists
Sometime last week, some concerned Nigerians emailed to me what they considered Adeyemi Ikuforiji‘s weighty allegation against Nigerian journalists. Ikuforiji is the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly. What is more surprising to those compatriots is that Nigerian journalists appeared not too keen on defending themselves.The speaker reportedly said that the Nigerian media was not doing its job the way it ought to be done. He allegedly described the corruption in the media as worse than in any other sector; and that Nigerian journalists chose to spare the executive and concentrate on the legislature.

Trying to defend the media here may send the wrong signals. Since the media criticises the ills in the society, it should also be ready to be criticised. But Ikuforiji and his likes should realise that the media, more than any other profession, fought for what he is now enjoying in the Lagos State House of Assembly. Different military juntas closed down newspaper houses at will. Many journalists went into exile. Some paid the supreme sacrifice.
Perhaps, journalists contributed to the bad state of our roads; to the poor electric power situation and to the general rot in the Nigerian system. Ikuforiji, please prove your point beyond reasonable doubt or forever remain silent.

The ‘scam’ called Halliburton scam probe

July 13, 2009

By Casmir Igbokwe

First published Sunday, July 12, 2009 

I READ the story of Nollywood actress, Eucharia Anunobi, with pity. The buxom lady had reportedly sued for the dissolution of her marriage to Mr. Charles Ekwu. And she is asking for a N100m compensation. Her grouse, according to reports, is that she has spent so much to maintain their seven-year-old son, Raymond.

She stressed, ”I have always been responsible financially for the marriage. We have been living in the house that I secured as a spinster, even after we got married.”

The agony of this actress reminds me of the atrocities some Nigerians commit abroad in the name of cross-cultural marriages. As you know, many of us want the Green Card or permanent residency in Europe or America. To achieve this aim, some usually enter into fake marriage contracts with their white partners. Some ladies endorse the contract with full knowledge of what they are going into. Some do not. When the men get what they want and abandon them, some of them fret and sometimes commit suicide.

As it is in marriage, so it is in business, in government, and most endeavours in life. In our country, it goes by different names: ABC Company‘s fertiliser scam; Amadioha local government council in N40m fraud; top Lagos socialite in N10bn contract scandal; Chibuzo oil company in $10bn bribery saga; Ocean State lawmakers in N25m constituency project scam, and so on.

We have short memories. And so, we tend to forget most of these scandals after a few weeks of noise making. But largely due to the efforts of the media, the Halliburton scam has refused to fade. The $180m deal occurred between 1993 and 2002. The company had accepted offering bribes to win the multibillion dollar Liquefied Natural Gas contract in Bonny. But the outcry of Nigerians has literally forced the Federal Government to look for ways of solving the riddle behind the fraud.

Part of the ways was the setting up of the Mike Okiro-panel to investigate the bribery scandal. Last week, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mike Aondoakaa, told Nigerians that the FG actually set up the panel to test the capacity of our security agencies.

The first question is: Why do we need to test the capacity of our security agencies? From the murder of Bola Ige to the assassination of Marshal Harry; from Wilbros scandal to Siemens scam, our security agencies could not do much to either unravel the mysteries surrounding these crimes or prosecute those involved. What makes Aondoakaa or his principals to think that this particular test will yield a positive result?

Now the FG has reportedly approved the sum of N42m for the Okiro panel to travel to France and some European countries to obtain evidence on those behind the scam. Again the question is: Why does the panel need such an amount of money to travel to Europe? Can‘t one or two of them embark on this trip if it is absolutely necessary? And why can‘t Nigerian embassy officials obtain these documents from their host countries and then pass them on to the panel? How are we sure that by the time this probe ends, Nigeria will not have spent more than the $180m bribe money it is investigating?

Aondoakaa also travelled to the United States and the United Kingdom for the same purpose a few months ago. The major result of his travels was a letter from the US rejecting Nigeria‘s request to provide it with evidence against some of the principal suspects. The same Aondoakaa that went seeking evidence abroad could not honour invitations extended to him by the joint Senate committee investigating the scandal.

Much of what the two Mikes (Okiro and Aondoakaa) are looking for is already public knowledge. US investigators had actually confirmed that Halliburton paid bribes to Nigerian government officials. These bribes came in instalments. The fingered officials collected some $60m in 1995, $47.5m in 1999, $51m in 2001 and $23m in 2002. Perhaps, the two Mikes need concrete evidence from the US or Europe to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt in Nigerian courts.

In a country where sincerity and transparency thrive, nobody may raise any eyebrows about travelling to get evidence abroad. But ours is a unique system. The more you look, the less you see.

From the way things are going, I have a feeling that the probes of some of these scams are becoming a scam in themselves. The House of Reps Committee on Power spent millions of naira going round the country in the name of probing the mismanagement of funds meant for some power projects. The outcome of the probe was the prosecution of the chairman of the committee for scams of a different hue.

Just as I was about to conclude this piece, I got a report that the chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, Justice Emmanuel Ayoola, has suggested taxing Nigerians to raise funds to fight corruption. He calls it integrity tax. And he wants every tier of government to be involved in collecting the tax in order to have adequate funds to fight corruption.

This is laughable. Ayoola wants the same people traumatised by the effects of corruption, caused largely by public officials, to contribute more money for the same public officials to embezzle. I may not be a good boxer, but I shall be waiting for the day anybody will come and ask me to pay integrity tax.

As for Okiro and his committee, let’s wait and see if their so-called trip is for good or to woo us and elope like a man who marries a woman not for love, but for some material gains.

 

Nude politicians, naked country

July 6, 2009

 Casmir Igbokwe

First published July 5, 2009 

“My manhood has never gone down and I have never asked anybody to assist me in restoring it. My manhood never failed at anytime. It has always been functioning. My manhood has never stopped working, I repeat, it has never stopped working.”

 That was the erstwhile chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Ambassador Sam Edem. He was reacting to claims by a herbalist, Matthew Sonoma, that he assisted him to regain his manhood. Sonoma reportedly told a federal high court in Abuja last Wednesday that Edem allegedly paid him about N1bn for his services.

 Every week comes with a pot-pourri of some dramatic events in Nigeria and the world. Penultimate week, Taraba people regaled us with tales of missing genitals and those killed for allegedly stealing those private parts.

 Last week came with its own medley of oddities.  There was the story of a passenger who stripped naked inside a plane in the United States. Keith Wright, 50, reportedly resisted a female flight attendant’s efforts to cover him with a blanket. The saving grace was two off-duty security agents on board who subdued the naked man and handcuffed him. The plane was carrying about 148 passengers from Charlotte to Los Angeles.

 Except he is a madman, a Nigerian may never strip himself naked in such a public place. He will prefer a hotel room, a shrine and some other secret places. It is only when something goes amiss that the public gets to hear about such nakedness and what necessitated it.

 That was what happened in the celebrated case of Mr. Wale Alausa, a member of the Ogun State House of Assembly. A national daily had published his naked photograph, accusing him of taking a secret blood oath with some other lawmakers to remove Governor Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State from office. Daniel’s acolytes claim they have the naked pictures of the other 14 lawmakers in this “unholy alliance”.

 Alausa did not deny taking the oath. According to him, Daniel forcibly made him do it in his Sagamu home in 2007 to make him win the election to the state House of Assembly. He claimed Daniel compelled his father, Agboola Alausa, to persuade him to take the oath.

 The next naked picture to go public, as Daniel’s Economic Adviser, Ms Yosola Akinbi, reportedly said, would be that of a female member of the G-15. This will be very interesting. It will be another angle to what we saw after the Ido-Osi electoral magic in Ekiti State about two months ago. Then, old women protesting the election results bared only their breasts.

 A few years ago, our high political comedy was staged at Okija shrine in Anambra State. A former governor of the state, Chris Ngige’s name came up as one of the alleged patrons of the shrine. This type of controversy also surrounded the incumbent governor of Abia State, Theodore Orji. Security agents investigated some of these allegations and promised to reveal the names of those patronising Okija shrine. I’m not sure they have fulfilled this promise.

 Africa has a big problem. It has remained a dark continent despite different efforts to bring light to it. From Gambia to Rwanda, and from Angola to Uganda, there is one form of fetishism or the other. In Tanzania, for instance, you dare not move anyhow if you are an albino, else you may fall a victim of ritual killers.

 This ugly situation appears to be worse in Nigeria because our greatest export to the world is corruption and dishonesty. We profess different religious beliefs; we build the best churches and mosques, but deep down many people’s heart, it is as dark as charcoal.

 Rather than think of scientific ways of solving our problems, we prefer to blame every misfortune as an act of God. Rather than keep our environment clean to keep flies and mosquitoes at bay, we prefer to sleep in prayer houses to cast and bind imaginary witches and wizards bringing sicknesses to our homes. And rather than map out good manifestoes to convince our electorate that governance is all about service to the people, we prefer to take oaths, rig elections and impose ourselves on the people.

 Do you blame the politicians? It is this mentality of grabbing power at all cost that brought “do-or-die” into our political lexicon. Manufacturing concerns are closing shops and relocating to neighbouring countries. Oil companies are shutting down operations. The once thriving telecommunications industry is shaking. The banking sector is sneezing at the moment. Except one is a big-time politician/public office-holder; or a big-time pastor/imam; or a big time herbalist/native doctor; or a big-time armed robber/kidnapper; one cannot be too sure of escaping the current economic meltdown.

 Without any prospect of finding good and lucrative jobs elsewhere, many people find in politics a veritable source of livelihood. And that is why they siphon money meant for development into their pockets. With this money, they take care of their godfathers; they take care of their immediate and remote needs; and they take care of their generations yet unborn.

 Once these selfish interests are taken care of, the nation can burn for all we care. Lecturers can go on strike indefinitely if they like. Tankers can fall and claim many lives on the pothole-ridden roads. Power supply can deteriorate, and hospitals can dispense fake and adulterated drugs. These do not bother us.

 Unfortunately, by our strange actions, we have stripped Nigeria naked. And it is only Nigerians who can cover this nakedness with a blanket of political and attitudinal reforms. The reforms must start from the leadership and then trickle down to the grass roots. Current Nigerian leaders must give the country an effective electoral and political system – a system that must respect the wishes of the people, a system that will discourage dishonest politicians from getting close to the seat of power. We already have the report of Muhammed Uwais-led electoral reform panel to guide us.

 If we follow the recommendations of that committee; if we get our electoral system right, every other thing will likely fall in line. Then and only then can Nigerians rise with pride and tell any foreign or local herbalist that we don’t need his services to restore our potency as a nation.