Archive for September 2009

Still chasing rats at 49

September 28, 2009

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in Sunday Punch, Sept. 27, 2009 

A friend, Dr. Chidi Okpaluba, forwarded a story circulating among Nigerians on the Internet to me yesterday. It is about a purported new kidnapping method in town. The incident reportedly happened at a popular shopping mall in Victoria Island, Lagos.

    The story is that a woman, after shopping, noticed that she had a flat tyre. She was about to change the tyre when a man dressed in business suit and carrying a suitcase walked up to her and requested to change the tyre for her. She thanked him immensely. The man changed the tyre and then asked her to give him a lift to the other side of the mall where he purportedly parked his car. 

The woman was said to be unease. But since one good turn deserves another, she did not object to his request. He put his briefcase in the trunk of her car. Being suspicious of the man, she told him she just remembered one last thing she needed to buy.

She hurried into the mall, and told a security guard what had happened. The guard accompanied her to the car. But the man, probably out of fear, had left. They reportedly took his locked briefcase to the police station.  The police opened it ostensibly to look for his identity card so they could return it to him. 

But then, “What they found was a rope, duct tape, and knives.  When the police checked her ‘flat’ tyre, there was nothing wrong with it; the air had simply been deflated most likely by the suspect.  It was obvious what the man’s intention was. It is clear that he had carefully thought it out in advance.” Whoever got the message was urged to share it with their loved ones so that they wouldn’t fall victims.

The veracity of this story is immaterial. To me, it is a reflection of the phase we are passing through now as a nation. The state of insecurity has never been this bad. Last Thursday, a friend, Gbenga, called to inform me that armed robbers snatched his jeep at gunpoint about 9pm in front of his house at Ikeja. Luckily for him, the car has been recovered. But many other victims could not recover theirs. Some did not even survive to tell their stories.

 The nation is still mourning the assistant news editor of The Guardian murdered last Sunday by unknown gunmen. There are many other high-profile murders, the mysteries of which our security agencies are yet to unravel.

Unfortunately, the police seem ill-prepared and incapable of ever solving the problem. Or how else do we categorise a police force, for instance, whose leader claimed not to be aware that the former anti-graft czar, Nuhu Ribadu, sneaked into the country to pay a condolence visit to the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi’s family?

The best illustration of the current state of our nation is the recent trip of President Umaru Yar’Adua to Saudi Arabia. The President was a guest at the opening of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. While he was smiling and shaking hands with Saudi kings and princes, some other world leaders were at the United Nations headquarters in New York for the 64th UN General Assembly meeting. Our President, as the cliché goes, has chosen to pursue rats while his house is burning. 

This undue pursuit of rats permeates all through our national life. And as the nation clocks 49 years of political independence next Thursday, it has become imperative again to ask our leaders some pertinent questions.

 Perhaps, we should start with education. The President of the school where Yar’Adua visited in Saudi Arabia said they had recruited the very best minds from around the world and that they had students from over 60 countries. Here, our own best minds are being frustrated out. We used to have many foreigners in our universities. Today, the reverse is the case. At present, lecturers are on strike. Students have idled away for over three months now. Even public primary and secondary schools in some states have joined the strike.

 Somehow, the rot in our school system manifests in the employment market. You will realise what I’m saying here if you are a manager saddled with the responsibility of recruiting new workers. Most times, you are left sad and depressed because of the poor quality of the job seekers.

 Some of these people who cannot find jobs anywhere are the ones who have found in kidnapping, a veritable source of livelihood. Nobody is spared anymore. In my state, Anambra, the problem is such that people dread visiting home these days. Christmas is usually a period of mass return and reunion with family members. This year may not witness such reunion.

 Many people will likely prefer to stay back in the cities. Relatives of some Nigerians abroad have warned their loved ones to remain where they are even when some of them are finding it difficult to survive. In China, over 700 compatriots are in prison.

In any case, life here for most people is even worse than living in prison. As I was writing this, information filtered in that a truck killed about five people on Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, by Cele Bus stop in Lagos yesterday. Five others were rushed to the hospital. Elsewhere in the country, bad roads have continued to claim lives and cause unnecessary delays for travellers.

There is no country that is problem-free. The major difference between us and many others is that we don’t place much premium on finding truthful solutions to our own problems. For instance, President Yar’Adua is said to have identified insecurity and power supply as our greatest challenges. At the 48th National Executive Committee meeting of the Peoples Democratic Party, held in Abuja last Thursday, Yar’Adua (represented by Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan), gave us his usual we-will-do hope.

He said, “We believe we will be on top of it very soon. The issue of power is also there and some other major challenges are there but we believe that by the time he (President) would give his last quarter address, a comprehensive briefing on all these issues would have been addressed.”     

 Note that it’s a comprehensive briefing and not solution that we have been promised. It’s obvious we are not in a hurry to leave this we-will-do mentality. Talk of pursuing rats!

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PDP’s N5m question

September 22, 2009

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in SUNDAY PUNCH, Sept. 20, 2009 

Anambra State will never cease to draw attention. It is a state where contradictions and ironies romance high ambitions. The state has produced many intellectuals and astute businessmen. But it also boasts of young men who borrowed the art of kidnapping elsewhere but have now turned it into a lucrative trade. It is a state that has not been able to conduct local government elections because many people want to be chairmen and nobody is ready to concede defeat. The state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party has been embroiled in different squabbles mainly because many individuals want to be at the helm of affairs at the same time.

 Last week, this uncanny character of the state manifested again. The ruling party had advertised its intention to pick a candidate for the governorship election coming up in the state in February 2010. Up to 48 aspirants rushed for the nomination forms. Media reports indicated that the screening committee cleared 31 of the aspirants and disqualified 17 others. These 31 fellows will slug it out in October when the party will conduct primaries for the governorship position.

 One issue that has sprouted from this contest is the commercialisation of our democracy. The aspirants, for instance, reportedly paid N5m each for the nomination forms. This is outside the N250, 000 reportedly paid for the expression of interest forms.

 To the aspirants and to the ruling party, this is no big deal. The money may not be up to what some of them spend in one outing with their girlfriends.

 It is worthy to note that democracy is not cheap. For instance, in the run-up to the United States Presidential election last year, the campaign organisation of the Republican Presidential candidate, John McCain, reportedly spent over $200m on campaigns. President Barack Obama and his team spent over $500m.

 The difference between the American system and ours is that while the source of funding for US candidates is known and easily verifiable, ours remains mired in secrecy and corruption. For instance, Obama lovers made donations to fund his campaigns. Even our own Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke was so moved that she also organised a fund-raiser for Obama in Nigeria.

 Here, rich godfathers play prominent roles in the funding of candidates. Chris Uba, for instance, sponsored the fraudulent election of Chris Ngige as the governor of Anambra State in 2003. To Uba, that was an investment. And many attempts to recoup from his investment set him on a collision course with Ngige. Now, the same Uba is said to be favourably disposed to the immediate past governor of the Central Bank, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo. It will be interesting to see how things play out in the next few months.

 In Oyo, the late strongman of Ibadan politics, Chief Lamidi Adedibu, was instrumental in the emergence of Alhaji Rasheed Ladoja as the governor of the state in the last dispensation. His overbearing attitude and his quest to have at least 15 per cent of the security vote of the state engendered serious quarrels between him and Ladoja. 

 Now the question for the PDP is, if the governorship aspirants could pay N5m just to obtain a form, how much will the candidates spend when the real campaign starts? Nigerians also need to know the source of income of these aspirants and how they intend to fund their campaign programmes.

 Those who are already in government need not fret as the source of funding can never be a problem. State treasury never runs dry. They can easily hire thugs and buy over some electoral officers to rig out their opponents.

 Money politics has continued to pose a serious problem in our quest to attain genuine democracy. Those who have the leadership skills to move the country forward usually find it difficult to occupy positions of authority because they may not have the financial muscle to match dubious politicians.

 The most unfortunate thing is that efforts to correct some of the problems of our electoral system appear to be doomed. The former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Muhammed Uwais, chaired a panel that recommended good measures to right some wrongs inherent in our system. Some powers that be decided to twist the report of that panel. Now we seem to be back to square one.

 To move our country forward, we need to learn certain values from other countries. For instance, last week in Kenya, parliamentarians threw out a proposal by President Nwai Kibaki to reappoint the country’s anti-corruption boss, Aaron Ringera, for a second five-year term. The lawmakers took a cue from Kenyans who had criticised Ringera for not doing enough to fight corruption.

 Penultimate week, former Taiwan’s President, Chen Shui-bian got life jail for corruption. A Taipei Court found the man guilty of embezzlement, money laundering, and bribe taking while in office between 2000 and 2008. Chen’s wife, Wu Shu-chen, did not escape the hammer of the court as she got a life sentence for corruption. The court also fined them $15m.

 Court spokesman, Huang Chun-ming reportedly said, “Chen Shui-bian and Wu Shu-chen were sentenced to life in prison because Chen has done grave damage to the country and Wu because she was involved in corruption deals as the first lady.” Some of the couple’s relatives including their son and daughter-in-law were also sentenced to some years in prison for money laundering. 

 We should begin to clear any virus that will endanger our match to an ideal democracy. The first of such virus is an overbearing influence of money in our politics. Billions of naira will likely go down the drains in Anambra next year. Other states will follow the trend in 2011. But the questions for our ruling elite remain, for how long will we continue like this? And when will we begin to give the Chen treatment to whoever is found guilty of frolicking with ill-gotten funds?

Aondoakaa must go to confession

September 14, 2009

Casmir Igbokwe

First published Sept. 13, 2009 

Rev. Father Frazer is said to be Chief Michael Aondoakaa’s school principal at Mount Saint Gabriel Secondary School in Makurdi, Benue State. In a recent report, TheNews Magazine quoted the priest as saying that Aondoakaa was a destined child of God. The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Frazer added, took his religion seriously and showed good example to others.

 I’m not sure if Aondoakaa is a Catholic. But since he is a Christian and since his secondary school principal is a Catholic priest, he needs to go to confession as the Catholic tradition demands.

 Though I’m not competent to judge him, it is apparent from the controversies trailing him since his appointment in 2007 that he has committed some form of sins. What I’m not sure is if his sins are mortal or menial.

 Last Thursday, for instance, Aondoakaa reportedly said that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had cleared former governors of Akwa Ibom, Victor Attah; Delta, James Ibori; and Lagos, Bola Tinubu over the sale of their states’ shares in Vmobile now called Zain in 2007. The allegation was that the three governors sold the shares through African Development Funds Incorporated in a non-transparent manner.

 Hardly had this information hit the newsstands on Friday when the EFCC denied it. According to the commission, it has not at any time or in any way cleared the three ex-governors of complicity in all the matters concerning them which are either in court or still under investigation.

 The former Chairman of the EFCC, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, did not spare Aondoakaa either. He denied the treason allegation the Attorney-General levelled against him even as he noted that the minister was using cheap blackmail to deceive President Umaru Yar’Adua.

 To many other Nigerians, Aondoakaa’s role in the fight against corruption since he assumed office has been a cause for serious concern. In August 2007, Aondoakaa wrote the Southwark Crown Court in the United Kingdom exonerating Ibori from the money laundering allegations against him. The Court had requested information that would help in prosecuting a case of money laundering preferred against Ibori’s wife, Nkoyo.

 At a point, Aondoakaa decreed that anti-graft agencies must get clearance from his office before prosecuting anybody. His apparent attempt to exemplify this resulted in a mild drama at Abuja High Court in the case involving former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia State and the EFCC. Without prior information to the EFCC, the Attorney-General’s office attempted to take over the prosecution of Kalu. Counsel to the EFCC and the Director of Public Prosecution in the Ministry of Justice appeared the same day in the case as prosecutors.

 A few weeks ago, I had wondered about the quality of advice he gives to the President. A typical example was his take on the controversial sale of the 2.3GHz radio frequency by the National Communications Commission. The Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, had said the licensing did not follow due process. But Aondoakaa did not see anything wrong with it. In spite of this, the President cancelled the sale, saying the letters and spirit of the stipulated rules were not adequately complied with.

 So far, the role the AGF has played on the Halliburton scam probe, the Muhammed Uwais-led Electoral Reform Panel report, the recent controversy over the creation of new local council development areas in Lagos State and so on, leaves much to be desired.

 Elsewhere in the world, leaders who have some question marks on their integrity do not waste time to resign their appointment. This is because what is paramount at all times is the common interest of the people. Just last week, Taiwan Premier, Liu Chao-shiuan, resigned over the slow response of his government to Typhoon Morakot, which devastated the country early August. Over 600 people died in that tragedy.

 Liu’s resignation notwithstanding, about 90 per cent of the victims have reportedly received relief payments while about 92 per cent of the homeless were quartered in military barracks and other official facilities. In a press conference hastily called to announce his resignation, Liu said, “Someone has to take political responsibility.”

 The questions for us in Nigeria are: How many people have taken responsibility for the killing of innocent people in some parts of the North in the recent Boko Haram crisis? How many people received relief payments for this human-induced mayhem? How many people have voluntarily resigned for neglecting to do their duties in Nigeria?

  Most of us have eulogised the late human rights lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, for his fight against all forms of injustice and oppression. How many of us supported him in our own little way towards achieving his aims? Now that he is gone, we are all crying and looking for another person who will wear his shoes and stake his neck for the salvation of Nigeria.

 That salvation does not lie in any one individual. It lies in all of us, particularly those parading the corridors of power as leaders. People in authorities must take responsibilities for their actions or inactions. If former Health Minister, Adenike Grange, could be forced to resign; if the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Patricia Etteh, could be forced out of office, I don’t see why Aondoakaa should not honourably bow out from the ministry of justice.

 More disturbing is the fact that the AGF seems not to be bothered about controversies surrounding him. Like Catholics who are barred from receiving Holy Communion when they are not in a state of grace, the AGF must be barred from further polluting the country’s justice system. He should put a stop to his unpopular actions or resign from that position. Why Yar’Adua has not summoned courage to call him to order remains a topic for another day.

Customs and the sale of second-hand cars

September 7, 2009

Casmir Igbokwe

First published Sept. 6, 2009

There is a book, published by the London-based Catholic Truth Society, which contains prayers that couples are expected to say before sex. Part of the prayers urges God to place within couples, love that truly gives, self-offering that tells the truth and does not deceive, loving physical union that welcomes…

Though this is not about couples or sex, I wish to recommend the spirit behind the prayers to the Comptroller-General of Customs, Alhaji Abdullahi Dikko, and other officers and men of the Nigerian Customs Service.

Last week, I narrated my experience in the hands of fraudsters who advertised cars for sale in THISDAY Newspaper of August 24, 2009. After the publication, I got over 200 reactions from those who had suffered the same fate and some other Nigerians. Some of these reactions wondered why the authorities of Customs had not deemed it necessary to make a public statement about this issue. Some are actually of the opinion that some men of the paramilitary service cannot be totally exonerated from the scam. (See readers’ court page).

The silence of the Customs has made me think along this line. For one, this scam did not start today. According to the testimonies of some readers, it’s been on for over two years now. And even after my write-up last Sunday, the same advert appeared on page 10 of THISDAY of September 1, 2009.

The format is the same but with different phone numbers. In the August 24 edition of the advert, a Toyota Prado 2004 model went for N1.5m while a Toyota Highlander 2005 model went for N1.4m. In the one published last Tuesday, the advertisers further reduced the prices apparently to attract more preys. Prado was reduced to N1.3m while Highlander now goes for N1.3m. The price change also affected other cars.

I detailed a female colleague of mine to call the advertised numbers (07037096556, 08050707959) for purchase enquiries. At first, the man who received the call said the cars had been sold out. But when the lady showed much interest, he wanted to know who she was. She told him she was Jumoke, a banker. Apparently feeling that his trap has caught a mugu, he told her to apply for allocations to the same Customs Area Controller at Federal Secretariat building, Bodija Ibadan. When the lady wanted to know his name, he introduced himself as Samuel Enai, personal assistant to the Area Controller. His email address, he says, is samuelenai@yahoo.com.

Further enquiries with the Customs in Ibadan indicated that there was no such personal assistant named Samuel Enai. What worries me is why the Customs hierarchy has not bothered to alert the public about this scam.

Perhaps, the Customs boss, Dikko, is still preoccupied with the case involving him and one Olajide Ibrahim over certificate forgery. Olajide had sworn an affidavit at Ikeja High Court alleging that Dikko approached him sometime in 1995 and 1999 to help him forge some certificates, which he allegedly needed to get rapid promotion. Though Dikko, in an advertorial placed by his counsel, Chuks Nwanna & co. refuted the allegation, Nigerians are eagerly waiting for the outcome of this latest case.

Just as Dikko came out publicly to deny forging any certificate, his organisation also needs to let Nigerians know its involvement in this advertised sale of cars.

The Customs boss should also endeavour to bring sanity into his agency. Many banned goods have found their way into the country. Smugglers seem to be having a field day, though occasionally, Customs officers display some rotten frozen fish and textile materials seized from some unfortunate smugglers. The International Centre for Reconciliation in England recently estimated that there were about one million firearms in civilian hands throughout Nigeria. Lagos, the centre noted, was the major clearing point for these illegal arms. And this is with the connivance of Customs officers.

Even when some of these goods, especially second-hand cars, are successfully smuggled into the country, the same Customs officers erect checkpoints on major roads to either impound them or collect huge sums of money from the owners.

Dikko needs to find practical solutions to the problems of his men. Since Nigerians believe so much in prayers, he may take a cue from the prayer for couples and kneel down to pray for inspiration and courage to tackle the rot in the Customs.

Goodbye Gani

Like a thief, death came yesterday to snatch the fiery Lagos lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi from the shores of this planet. His death at 71 has left a vacuum in the struggle to salvage Nigeria from the clutches of oppression, bad governance and injustice.

He was one man who was willing to lay down his life for the good of the country. He was moved from one detention centre to another by successive military regimes in Nigeria. Ironically, Ibrahim Babangida who gave him much of the troubles was among the first to shed crocodile tears on his death.

Hear him, “It is disheartening and utterly discomforting to learn of the death of our own indefatigable, irrepressible and highly principled social crusader Chief Ganiyu Fawehinmi, who devoted better part of his life fighting for improved standards, good governance and rule of law. He was a man who lived his own peculiar life and fought battles without boundaries. Surely, there can never be another Gani Fawehinmi in Nigeria in the near future…”

True. But Gani could have lived longer if not for the dictators who were not comfortable with his crusades. It’s possible, as has been suggested by those close to Gani, that they sprayed some chemical on him while in detention, which now engendered the cancer that led to his death.

No doubt, many Nigerians will miss this dogged fighter of our time. As Nigerians grapple with the problems of existence, there is need for another Gani who will fight selflessly for the people of this country. Can we still get somebody like that?

Until such a person emerges, goodbye Gani.