Archive for December 2009

Farewell to the year of the mad pig

December 26, 2009

Casmir Igbokwe

Published in SUNDAY PUNCH, Dec. 27, 2009 

On Christmas Eve this year, a Swiss-Italian woman reportedly jumped a barricade and lunged at Pope Benedict XVI. The Pontiff was processing down the aisle towards the altar to celebrate Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. But Susanna Maiolo, 25, with psychiatric problems, grabbed his vestments and pulled him down.

 The other day, it was the Italian Premier, Silvio Berlusconi, who suffered attacks at a political rally. His attacker, a man with a history of psychological problems, hurled a souvenir statuette at him, leaving him with a fractured nose and two broken teeth.  

 Nobody has knocked our own President, Umaru Yar’Adua, down. His nose and teeth are also intact. But for now, he is wrestling with acute pericarditis which has kept him in a Saudi hospital for the past 34 days. As the year ends in a few days time, Yar’Adua looks like he will not celebrate the New Year with us. 

 On the hospital bed with him is a nation that has witnessed 10 years of disjointed democracy; a nation going into a new year and a new decade with uncertainties and misfortunes.  

 Chinese people have a unique way of describing such misfortunes or fortunes of their New Year, which begins on Sunday, February 14, 2010. To them, next year is Year of the White Tiger. The outgoing year is Year of the Brown Cow. Last year was Year of the Brown Rat. Though this is not about Chinese Horoscope or New Year, I have chosen to adapt the country’s use of animals to depict the fortunes or misfortunes of any particular year for our own use here.

 For Nigeria, 2009 is a year of the mad pig. It is a year many Nigerians would wish to forget forever; a year that brought many misfortunes for them; a year that has shown the characteristics of a pig that is inherently dirty and mentally sick.

 Or is acute poverty not a manifestation of some form of sickness? Some even say it is a sin. To me, it smells. It nauseates. And it is embarrassing. This is a year 70 per cent of Nigerians are classified to be poor. In a recent report, the African Peer Review Mechanism notes that six per cent of all poor people in the world reside in Nigeria. I believe the percentage is higher because many hitherto middle-income earners have become very poor on account of the loss of their investment in the capital market.

  The problem is worsening with the sacking of many breadwinners by some companies. The banking sector appears to be the worst hit. This month alone, some banks like Intercontinental and Oceanic sacked thousands of their workers. Many more will likely go in the next few months.

 The main cause of this poverty in the midst of plenty, according to the APRM report, is corruption. In political circles, corruption thrives. Many of the people parading the corridors of power at the three levels of government are not supposed to be there. They rigged themselves into office. They continue the rigging while in office with our common resources as the main launch pad.

 It is quite disheartening, for instance, that the Federal Government could not complete any road project in 2009. The Ministry of Works had a budget of N240bn for 2009. For 2010, the ministry has requested N249bn to continue the same projects it couldn’t complete.

 The Minister of Works, Lawan Hassan, tried to rationalise this cardinal sin by telling us that most Nigerian roads deteriorated before this administration came on board. And even when they awarded the contracts for their repairs in April this year, rainy season could not allow contractors to mobilise to sites. So, he wants another N249bn “to sustain the momentum.”

 Which momentum, you may ask? The momentum of corruption, excuses, lies and failed promises. At the advent of this democracy in 1999, the Olusegun Obasanjo’s government promised Nigerians heaven on earth. It awarded billions of naira contracts for the repair of roads. Ten years after, contracts are still being awarded for the same roads. And the ministers who were responsible for the past failures still walk the streets and direct political affairs overtly and covertly in the country.

 Besides, other infrastructural facilities are not better. Public water supply is non-existent in many parts of the country. Electric power supply has remained abysmal. And the promise of 6000 megawatts by the end of this year has become what a public commentator called 6000 mega lies.

 The victims of our mega failures reside in Libya, Angola, Mozambique and many other better-run countries. This year, Libya deported the highest number of Nigerians. Note that I have not mentioned any European country.

 Our image has not only plummeted, it stinks. The civilised world sees us as a nation of scammers, kidnappers and killers. Three former American Ambassadors to Nigeria, Princeton Lyman, Walter Carrington and John Campbell did not mince words in telling us recently about our worthlessness in the comity of nations today. Carrington reportedly said Nigeria had become the butt of jokes and comedians at drama shows.

 There is every need to cleanse the system; to bathe the dirty pig. First of all, all the evil deeds that give us bad name and bad image, we should resolve to do away with in the coming year.

 My suggestion to the President whenever he comes back to his seat is to start the cleansing process with his ministers and aides. Whoever is not doing their work well should be shown the way out. The number one on this list should be the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa. He has brought so much confusion in the discharge of his duties just to protect some interests and his job.  

 The number two should be Rilwan Lukman. Here is a petroleum minister who has chosen to relax in Austria while his house is on fire. This is a clear violation of the directive of the Vice-President, Goodluck Jonathan, that he should stay back to solve the current fuel crisis in the country. Is there another name for insubordination?

 Those who call themselves our leaders should just be very careful in the New Year. That is if they don’t want to end up with bruised and bloodied noses.

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Nigerian police and 53 marabouts

December 21, 2009

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in Sunday Punch, Dec. 20, 2009

Lawrence Anini presumably had extraordinary powers. During his reign as a robbery kingpin in Benin City, the citizens of Edo State trembled at the mention of his name. While Ibrahim Babangida ruled Nigeria from Lagos then, Anini controlled events from Benin.

But one fateful day, the police in Benin arrested him and some other members of his gang. Leading the team that put a stop to Anini’s reign of terror was Parry Osayande. The police boss became the toast of Nigerians for his gallantry. I suspect that a good number of women might have dreamt of having one form of relationship or the other with him – the type that has currently put Golf star, Tiger Woods, in the spotlight.

 What Osayande, who retired as a deputy inspector-general of police, has not told us is the number of marabouts, native doctors or evangelists he used to neutralise the powers of Anini and his men. Nigerians also need to know whether his spiritual experience then informed his current strategies as the Chairman of the Police Service Commission.

 Last Thursday, Osayande reportedly spoke about his innovative solution to the problems of the police. According to him, “We have also approved the recruitment of 53 imams and chaplains for the Nigeria Police Force. You know the problems facing the police also require spiritual cleansing and remedy. That is what we have done. These people will help in preaching to their colleagues and help in moulding their character.”

 On the surface, this theory looks good. Being a religious people, many Nigerians will likely hail the PSC boss as the messiah we have been waiting for. But looking critically at the problems of the Nigerian police, can we truly say that hiring imams and chaplains will effectively do the cleansing job?

 Osayande himself is not sure. Worried by the resurgence of extra-judicial killings by the police, the same man, who has hired spiritualists, attributed the problem to lack of training of policemen. Does this now mean that the prayers of these imams/chaplains will engender the required training?

 Will these prayers restore the lives of Chukwuemeka Onovo, Chidi Odinauwa, Tony Oruma and many other people allegedly murdered by the police? Will they heal the emotional wounds suffered by the parents and other relatives of these victims? Will the prayers make the police more civil?

 As these clergymen get set to consult the gods on behalf of the police, the black uniformed men are not relenting in their violation of the fundamental human rights of the citizenry. Media reports last Friday indicated that a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Olu Akinola, sued the police for allegedly molesting him because he was a lawyer to somebody who jumped bail. The man claimed the police threw him inside cell at the State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti, Yaba, Lagos. There, he was allegedly stripped to his underpants and forced to wash toilets and carry faeces.

 Will the police prayer warriors put a stop to this kind of incidents? Will their intervention usher in people-friendly police that respect the rule of law?

 I hope they can do that. I also hope that the men of God will help heal what Osayande called “officers with bloated stomachs”. The man boasted that he retired as a DIG and still did not have that kind of bloated stomach. “I think the problem is that many of them don’t do enough recreational activities,” he explained.

 I’m surprised that rather than push this problem to the imams and pastors, Osayande decided to alert the Inspector-General of Police, Ogbonna Onovo, who he is sure is doing something about it.

 Part of the reason why we have remained backward is that we apply wrong medication to our ailments. Some of us take malaria drugs when what is actually worrying us may be ulcer. When any of our relatives runs into a big pothole on an expressway and dies, we say it’s the will of God. Whereas what we need is an action against the authorities that have failed to repair the road. When we come back to our houses after a hard day’s job and there is no electricity, we grumble and say it’s only prayers that can save this country. And when the police mount roadblocks to extort money from motorists, we recruit prayer warriors to deliver them from their bondage.

 I don’t envy Osayande’s evangelists who may have just secured another extra income without much effort. But as the Police Service Commission is paying them, it should also ensure that it provides the necessary tools and equipment for the police to function effectively.

 Our police also need constant training and retraining. They need good welfare packages. They need to evolve a sound recruitment process such that criminals will not infiltrate their rank and file. They need to have human face and learn how to handle civil cases with civility.

 The passing out of the seventh batch of Police Human Rights desk officers penultimate week is a step in the right direction. So far, a total of 1462 desk officers are said to have been trained. And the idea is to effect a change in the negative attitude of the police while handling cases. In Lagos, for instance, each police division is expected to have a human right desk that will handle issues relating to human rights violations.

 This is a practical example of efforts to stop the maltreatment of people by the police. An aggrieved citizen can go to these human rights desk or visit the police headquarters to seek redress against the violation of their rights by the police. Hundred marabouts cannot get that justice for them.

 Or is Osayande telling us that imams and chaplains helped him to arrest Anini and co?

Palatial residences in the midst of squalor

December 14, 2009

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in SUNDAY PUNCH, Dec. 13, 2009

 These are not the best of times for Nigeria. For almost three weeks now, our President, Umaru Yar’Adua, has been in a Saudi hospital. Surrounded by unofficial secret act about the true state of his health, Nigerians have resorted to permutations, rumours, lies and half truths to explain the circumstances of his ill-health. The refrain has been, “Yar’Adua will return next week; Yar’Adua will not return this year; Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan is not the acting president; no the VP is in charge; northern leaders back Yar’Adua; North shops for Yar’Adua’s successor…”

Amid these confusing signals, the nation remains like a plane without a pilot. There is no clear direction where we are going as a nation. Are we deregulating or still regulating the downstream sector of the oil industry? Should we or should we not expect 6000MW of electricity by end of December? Will the contractors handling our various road projects deliver soon or will they collect money and disappear without any sanctions? How do we create jobs for the teeming unemployed even when companies are relocating to other countries and new ones are afraid to invest? These and many more questions demand truthful answers and decisive actions from a purposeful leadership. But what confronts Nigerians daily is a potpourri of ludicrous actions and utterances that propel them into half-hearted prayers and other mumbo-jumbo.

 Let me make my points clear. Media reports last week indicated that the Federal Capital Territory administration was planning to build new residences for the Vice-President, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and their deputies. At the completion of the buildings, the four presiding officers of the National Assembly are expected to relocate to Maitama District Extension of Abuja from Apo Legislators’ Quarters. According to reports, the sum of N1.5bn has already been budgeted for the design and construction of the residences. That of the Vice-President is expected to gulp N2bn.

Apparently to convince Nigerians that he has the general interest of the country at heart, the FCT Minister, Adamu Aliero, further told the Senate Committee on FCT that invited him to defend his 2010 budget, that he would build a five-star hospital in Abuja. This is to take care of public officials who go to foreign hospitals whenever they are sick.

Ordinarily, there is no problem if, for any reason, the powers that be decide to build new palaces or state of the art hospitals to take care of their high taste. But the pertinent question is, is this the right time to do that? Just as Aliero was reportedly making his plans known, a Human Development Report released by the United Nations Development Programme in Abuja noted that the number of poor Nigerians doubled in the last 30 years. Oxfam International estimates that out of about 140 million Nigerians, over 53 million wake up every morning not knowing where the next meal will come from.

 The UNDP’s Resident Representative in Nigeria, Turhan Saleh, brought the points home when he said the country’s macroeconomic performance had improved significantly since the early 2000s but that the proportion of Nigerians categorised as poor today was twice the proportion of those who were poor in 1980. Even as the privileged leaders think of moving from one mansion to another, millions of Nigerians are without a home. Some sleep under the bridges. Some sleep by the roadside, while some others have taken over abandoned public buildings in some cities.

 Two Sundays ago, I was at the NITEL premises at Cappa, Oshodi, Lagos, for a small function. I was shocked at the rot the massive buildings on the premises have become. Lying desolate, the houses have turned out to be a blessing to some hoodlums who have converted them to their own palaces. There are many other public buildings wasting away when millions of people are looking for where to put their heads in the night. Those who cannot stand the systemic rot at home have rushed abroad to encounter more problems. Last week, Libya deported hundreds of Nigerians for various immigration offences. In some other countries, many Nigerians go through hell to survive.

This is a country planning to buy four new executive jets for the Presidential fleet. The jets, estimated to cost about N31.5bn, are to replace another four in the fleet that already has eight aircraft. I don’t begrudge servant-leaders who decide to serve themselves first. My main concern is that when leadership seems insensitive to the plight of the led, there is bound to be some eruptions.

 All over Nigeria, people are visiting their pent-up frustrations on fellow citizens in different ways. We just recovered from the Boko Haram crisis in the North. In the East, kidnappers and armed robbers are having a field day. In the West, the killing of an Assistant Commissioner of Police and the attendant killing of a number of people in Ijebu-Ife is still fresh. In the South-South, some militants who claimed to have surrendered their weapons felt like testing their libido the other day by raping innocent students of the University of Port Harcourt.

Many of us seem to have sold the kindness and the emotional bond that bind humanity together. We rape without thinking of any repercussion. We kill without looking backwards. We covet our neighbours wives and property without blinking. And we bless our atrocities and heartlessness with insincere prayers. These are signs of a nation on the edge of a precipice.

 Sincere and committed leadership will go a long way in rescuing us from a total fall. That is to say that before our public officers start any new building project for themselves, they must complete abandoned low-cost housing projects in different parts of the country; before they acquire new presidential jets, they must ensure that a good number of people can afford bikes; before they build five-star hospitals, there is need to equip the primary health care centres in rural areas; and before they embark on their capacity-building trips abroad, they need to empower the masses with good jobs and other good things of life.

 Until these things are done, we cannot sing “Abraham’s blessings are mine” with confidence.

Praying for a nation on hospital bed

December 8, 2009

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in SUNDAY PUNCH, Dec. 6, 2009 

Former Abia State Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, has become the symbol of the nation’s mood and character. Recently, he had a warm handshake with Pope Benedict XVI. He must have left Rome with a bountiful of blessings and a resolve to be a prayer warrior.

 In his column in SATURDAY SUN of December 5, 2009, Kalu said he sought God’s face and God assured him that President Umaru Yar’Adua would get well soon. He then composed a prayer for the President. “I bring him and his family and the entire nation to you for special blessing,” he urged God. “Forgive him his trespasses and heal him of this illness…We stand on the authority of your word to decree liberty for him from all satanic forces that torment him…”

 I never knew that acute pericarditis has something to do with satanic forces. Like Kalu, the National Working Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party organised a prayer session for Yar’Adua last week. There were Islamic and Christian prayers from some PDP leaders. But none came from traditional religious worshippers. Perhaps, their prayers are not efficacious.  

 While we continue with these supplications for Yar’Adua, it is important to note that the nation he leads is also sick. A cursory look at the state of health of the nation reveals something familiar and disturbing.

 For instance, Nigeria has reportedly earned $520bn between 1970 and now. The question remains, what have we achieved with this huge sum of money? Past administrations were able to construct network of roads. But we lack the maintenance culture to keep these roads in top shape. It is as if we have not had any government in the past 10 years.

 Realising that no nation can claim to be developed when its power sector is comatose, Yar’Adua made power a cardinal part of his seven-point agenda. Even former President Olusegun Obasanjo took the issue of power seriously. His administration initiated different power projects that gulped billions of naira without much success.

 The Yar’Adua administration promised 6000MW by December this year. We are already in December, but the new song now is 4000MW.

 We may not even realise the 4000MW, what with the planned importation of generating sets by the Energy Commission of Nigeria. The Director-General of the ECN, Prof. Abubakar Sambo, was quoted to have said that the generators would provide about 2,320MW to augment the supply from the national grid. This will cost N182bn.

 Similarly, there is an increase in the 2010 budgetary allocation for the purchase and maintenance of generating sets in the Presidency. In 2009, the sum of N42m was budgeted for the generators, but the figure jumped to N82m in the 2010 budget. And it runs contrary to the recent assurance of the Vice-President, Goodluck Jonathan, that Nigeria would not be using generators next year.

 The tragedy of our situation is that even the diesel that will power the generators will be imported. We import generators, estimated now to be over 60 million for private use. We import diesel. We import the technicians that will repair the gen. sets. 

 In terms of health, Nigerians are dying everyday from preventable diseases. Cholera is wreaking havoc in some states. Infant mortality is on the average of 217 deaths per 1000 births. Roadside chemists and mobile medicine hawkers have taken over the roles of doctors as the majority of the people do not even have the money to seek proper medical attention from the hospitals. For these, we cry and curse our leaders. And what solution have we got – prayers.

 We have taken this prayer thing to a ridiculous level. Even when we knew we were cheating our way to the finals of the last U-17 World Cup, we were praying to God to see us through. Our senior national team, the Super Eagles, qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa by dint of luck. We have also attributed that to prayers.

 The Eagles coach, Shaibu Amodu, reportedly said the intervention of Prophet T.B. Joshua of the Synagogue of All Nations church ensured their qualification. Before he went to Joshua, he had marvelled at the way the prophet engineered the early qualification of the Black Stars of Ghana for the same World Cup. Since Nigeria’s God is superior to all other gods, I’m hoping and praying that Joshua’s intervention will see us winning the World Cup in South Africa.   

 The consequences of our actions and inactions are the increase in the rate of kidnapping, armed robbery, prostitution, advance fee fraud, corruption, cultism and other crimes. Even these, as Kalu would want us to believe, “are all products of evil possession.”

 So how do we exorcise these evils? Some believe an understanding of astrology will go a long way in solving our problems. One Dr. Olabisi Okunaiya came to my office last Friday. He couldn’t see me but he dropped a book he wrote on Nigeria and cosmic symbols for me. I have not had the time to go through the entire book. But the author in the book asks why Nigeria experiences identical political problems or events every 29 years. “Why do we have military coup det’at in every nine years? Why do the Northern and Southern sections of the country see the same thing in different ways? Why is the relationship between the North and the East a cat and mouse affair…?” he asked. He believes astrology has the answers.

 Were Okunaiya to be a Thai citizen, he would have been a hero. Royal astrologers in Thailand, two years ago, reportedly decreed that what was auspicious for their king’s well-being was the colour pink. The king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, has been ill for sometime now. In mid-September, he was admitted in the hospital for respiratory problems and loss of appetite. To mark his 82nd birthday, he left the hospital to have audience with his people, many of whom are said to have heeded the directive of astrologers by wearing bright pink shirts.

 How I wish delusion can transform into reality. But since it cannot, let us discharge our nation from the hospital by emulating the advanced Western democracies that solved and continue to solve their problems via honest scientific methods.

 May our President recover fast to attend to the myriads of the national problems facing him. And afterwards, may he summon the courage to retire in 2011 to attend properly to his health.