Archive for January 2010

Obasanjo’s tale by moonlight

January 25, 2010

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in Sunday Punch, Jan. 24, 2010 

President Umaru Yar’Adua had challenged whoever doubted his physical abilities to a game of squash. It was in the thick of his campaign for the 2007 presidential election. Many Nigerians had expressed anxiety over his health. The then President Olusegun Obasanjo gave him his full backing. He dismissed every talk about Yar’Adua’s ill-health, threatened every opposition to the man’s candidacy and ultimately foisted him on Nigerians.

 Today, Obasanjo is singing a different tune, if you like, playing silly games with Nigerians. In a widely reported speech at the 7th Annual Daily Trust Dialogue last Thursday, the former President reportedly urged Yar’Adua to resign on health grounds. He sermonised, “If you take up an appointment, a job, elective, appointed, whatever it is, and then your health starts to fail, and you will not be able to deliver, to satisfy yourself and satisfy the people you are going to serve, then there is a path of honour and a path of morality; and if you don’t know that, then you don’t know anything.”

 According to him, he chose Yar’Adua because the man has intellectual capacity, high personal integrity and sufficient broadmindedness. He knew that Yar’Adua had gone abroad to treat kidney ailment when he was the Governor of Katsina State. But he claimed that doctors had given him a clean bill of health before the presidential election. Typical of Nigerians, he invoked God to punish him if he had picked Yar’Adua to spite Nigeria, which he claims to love so much.

 Obasanjo would always remind whoever cares to listen that that love manifested during the Nigerian Civil War. Then, he fought tirelessly to keep the nation one. Besides, when Buka Dimka assassinated the former Head of State, Murtala Mohammed, in a failed coup attempt, the mantle to rescue Nigeria’s leadership vacuum then fell on him again. In 1979, he became the first military Head of State to hand over power peacefully to civilians.

 His second journey to power in 1999 was also messianic. The gap-toothed General from Niger State, Ibrahim Babangida, had annulled what many Nigerians considered the freest and fairest election in Nigeria’s history – the June 12, 1993 election. And in order to pacify the Yoruba race who felt short-changed by the treatment meted out to Moshood Abiola, who presumably won the election, some northern power brokers allegedly brought Obasanjo out from prison and anointed him the President of Nigeria. His ascension to power somehow doused the tension in the land and ushered in another democratic dispensation.   

 But now, all these are neither here nor there. For even admitting that he selected Yar’Adua to be our President, Obasanjo deserves our sympathy. What made him think that the over 28 presidential aspirants under the Peoples Democratic Party were not as qualified as Yar’Adua? Is it for him or the majority of Nigerians to pick our president? Was it former President George Bush that picked Barack Obama to be the President of the United States of America?

 What manner of democracy encourages the rule of godfathers against the rule of the majority? The same Obasanjo, when he was the President, encouraged and supported people like the late Chief Lamidi Adedibu, the so-called strongman of Ibadan politics, to lord it over the people of Oyo State.

 In Anambra State, he tacitly supported somebody like Chris Uba in his battle with the erstwhile Governor of the state, Chris Ngige. At some points, there were attempts to kidnap and deal with Ngige, but he shut his eyes to that. There were insinuations in some quarters also that Obasanjo picked a sick man to be our President in order to punish Nigerians for opposing his third term ambition.

 The refrain of the ruling party during the campaigns was “continuity”. But when Yar’Adua became president, he discarded some of the policies of his predecessor. This did not go down well with Obasanjo. Ever since, his relationship with the President has not been as cordial as it used to be.

 So, his call on the President to resign, though noble, is anchored on selfish interests. Currently, he is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP. But he did not bother about the fact that his statement was antithetical to the wishes and stand of his party. Already, the PDP has dissociated itself from the statement, saying his views do not represent the position of the party.

 In a way, what Obasanjo said was an admission of irregularities that marred the 2007 elections. Hence, it has become absolutely necessary for Nigerians to do everything possible to prevent a recurrence. On February 6, 2010, Anambra people will go to the polls to elect whoever will be their next governor. The candidates of the various political parties are campaigning seriously at the moment. It will be a tragedy if at the end of the election, somebody who is not the popular choice of the people emerges via rigging.

 A certain media report yesterday indicated that Yar’Adua might be coming back next week. Some members of his kitchen cabinet have reportedly concluded arrangements to bring him back to defuse tension that gripped the country since he travelled to Saudi Arabia 61 days ago. We have heard that before. I’m only hoping that it is true this time around.

 By the time he comes back, he will realise that he needs even more energy to tackle the rot that has built up in his absence. The Jos crisis is one. Fuel scarcity is another. And now the Obasanjo challenge.

 The major way the President could win the heart of Nigerians and shame his detractors is to implement the electoral reforms he promised without let or hindrance. Muhammed Uwais-led electoral reform panel has shown us the way. He only needs to adopt its recommendations to move the country forward.

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Yar’Adua and dilemma of a gatekeeper

January 17, 2010

 

Casmir Igbokwe

THE brief interview President Umaru Yar‘Adua granted the British Broadcasting Corporation is metaphoric. Just as the President struggled to speak during the interview, his listeners struggled to understand what he was saying. The voice was weak and petered out like droplets of water running into a tiny hole.

The nation Yar‘Adua claims to be ruling is also struggling to find its voice and bearing. Outside the country, there is disdain; there is contempt for the name Nigeria. Within the country, there is confusion.

Somehow, this confusion appears to be permeating the newsrooms across the country. Rumour and lies have taken over as the cardinal principle of state policies. Nobody is sure what to believe and who to trust. Even the now famous ”reliable sources” may not be too reliable anymore.

For some information gatekeepers, the situation is dicey. They receive all manner of information. The dilemma is how to strike a balance between falsehood and facts and present the readers with the accurate information they need to live their lives.

Some two decades ago, some of the nation‘s media reported that the late Owelle of Onitsha and former Nigerian President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, was dead. Even Zik‘s closest allies came on national TV to confirm the death. Zik was to later debunk the death story himself and said those who announced his obituary would die before him.

For some time now, the rumour mill has been agog with the tale of Yar‘Adua‘s death. The rumour was strong during his campaign for the presidential election of 2007 when he was on admission to a German hospital. The then President Olusegun Obasanjo put a call to him asking his now famous question, ”Umoru, are you dead?”

Last week, the American Chronicle again reported the death of Yar‘Adua. According to the report, Yar‘Adua died on Dec. 10, 2009. Some anxious friends and readers called me to verify the information. How do I tell those who believe I must have the correct information that I‘m as confused as they are?

My simple answer was that in Nigeria, anything could happen. But that it might not be true because as a Muslim, his death would not be kept secret for long. Besides, Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan; Senate President, David Mark; and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, claimed to have spoken with him on the phone. Could these principal officers of the state be lying?

In Nigeria, anything is possible. For 55 days now that Yar‘Adua has been in a Saudi hospital, my eardrum has been saturated with fantastic tales. In November last year, the month Yar‘Adua travelled, some governors claimed to have seen him in his hospital bed. Very reliable sources told me then that those governors were lying; that apart from the man‘s wife, Turai, and his aide-de-camp, nobody had been allowed to see him.

Rumour thrives in a society where truth is a scarce commodity. We have heard that Yar‘Adua would return very soon; that Nigeria‘s President is missing; that he is dead; that he is brain-damaged; that he is an expert telephone conversationalist, and so on. Where lies the truth in all this?

The truth is that we don‘t have an open society. Our government operates like a secret cult. We have an executive that speaks from both sides of the mouth. We have a legislature whose activities are defined by selfish interest. We have a judiciary that dispenses, in some cases, fraud than justice.

If not, how can a chief law officer of the federation, Michael Aondoakaa, gloat over the recent confusing ruling of the Abuja Federal High Court? The judgement says Jonathan can perform the functions of the President, but not as an acting president. And how can the House of Representatives consider it wise to send a delegation of seven persons to Saudi Arabia to see Yar‘Adua when it is obvious that the exercise will not yield any positive result?

Is it not ironical that the same House that has refused to pass the Freedom of Information Bill now wants to fly to Saudi Arabia to get first-hand information on the President‘s ailment? Last Thursday, the Reps again stepped down the FOI Bill as against their promise to discuss it. Since 1999 when civilians took over power from the military, our lawmakers have been playing hide-and-seek with that bill.

The way out is for Nigerians to take control of their destiny. Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, and some other notable Nigerians have taken the lead. Last Tuesday, they marched on the streets of Abuja to protest the vacuum created by the long absence of Yar‘Adua from his duty post without properly handing over to his deputy.

We need to sustain the tempo of this mass protest. We need to tell whoever brought Zakari Biu back to the police force that the ignoble role he played during the reign of Sani Abacha is still fresh in our memories. We need to let Chief Olusegun Obasanjo know that he partly created the problems we are passing through now by foisting an unwilling and sick man on us in May 2007.

We have to continue to demand that the FOI Bill be passed as a first step towards enthroning openness in Nigeria. We demand that the Federal Executive Council gives us authentic information on the current state of health of Yar‘Adua. As a private individual, Yar‘Adua could stay one year in any hospital he likes anywhere in the world. Nigerians will not bother. But as the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, what happens to him is of public interest.

As for Aondoakaa and Co., the day of reckoning will soon come. History has taught us that whoever presents selfish interest above public interest ends up crashing into the pit of irrelevance. In Yar‘Adua‘s 2008 medical journey, the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, played some roles which did not go down well with Mr. President. He came back from that trip and sacked him.

Those hiding the President and pretending to love him more than he loves himself may soon discover that though fawning loyalty may go undetected for some time, it does not last forever. Soon, the real truth will manifest.

Terrorism and the dwindling influence of a giant

January 12, 2010

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in Sunday Punch, Jan. 10, 2010 

Alhaja Folake, 70, just returned from Dubai where she went for a medical check-up. Saturday Sun of January 9, 2010 quoted her as saying that a white lady stripped her while conducting a search on her at the airport in Dubai. She knelt down on her arrival in Lagos and thanked God for seeing her through the ordeal.

 Elsewhere in the world, Nigerians go through hell in the hands of immigration officers. The same Saturday Sun reported that Canadian officials turned back some Nigerians who live in that country and who had returned after celebrating the Yuletide in their home country.

 The major cause of this latest insult on Nigerians is the failed attempt by a Nigerian, Farouk Abdulmutallab, to blow up a United States bound Northwest Airline plane on December 25, 2009. Last Friday, the suspect pleaded not guilty to the six-count charge brought against him before a US court.

 US authorities had earlier listed Nigeria among the “countries of interest” group. This means that travellers flying into the US from Nigeria will face thorough screening such as body scans and pat-downs. Other countries that belong to this group include Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan and Somalia. The other category known as “state sponsors of terrorism” has such countries as Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria on the list.

 As expected, many Nigerians have condemned the US action. The Senate has threatened fire and brimstone. The Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, described the move as discriminatory. Nigerians, she said, were peace-loving and happiest people on earth.

 The action of the US government appears to be too severe. A few Nigerians may have put us on the map of advance fee fraudsters. But we are not known to be suicide bombers. Mutallab’s is an isolated case just as that of the British citizen, Richard Reid, otherwise known as the shoe bomber; or the case of the American, Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted and executed for the Oklahoma bombings in the US. Britain and the US were not branded terrorist nations on account of the actions of a few of their misguided citizens.

 However, we miss the point when we base our argument on this premise alone. The fact is that presently, Nigeria is like a widow buffeted by selfish and troublesome in-laws. It has no central figure, no rallying point, or if you like, no husband to give some form of direction and protection.

 For 48 days now, our President, Umaru Yar’Adua, has been in a Saudi hospital without handing over to his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan. Some government functionaries keep telling us he is in charge. Some say he will return very soon. How soon, nobody knows. The other day, Senate President, David Mark; Speaker House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole; and Jonathan expressed immense delight that Yar’Adua spoke with them on the phone.

 We are not serious. We lack leadership. We lack direction. We keep making noise about our large population; about our roles in peace-keeping operations around the world and such other mundane things. The truth is that the world is leaving us behind.

 Former American ambassador to Nigeria, Princeton Lyman, put it succinctly when he noted recently that Nigeria was not making a major impact either on the region or on the continent as it was making before. As he put it, “The point is that Nigeria can become less relevant to the United States. We have already seen evidence of it. When President Obama went to Ghana and not to Nigeria, he was sending a message that Ghana symbolised more of the significant trends, issues and importance that one wants to put on Africa than Nigeria.”

 Currently, Nigeria does not have a substantive ambassador to the US. Ambassador Oluwole Rotimi was recalled after an altercation with the Foreign Affairs Minister, Ojo Maduekwe. The US rejected his replacement, Tunde Adeniran, on the allegation that his son gang-raped three women in Baltimore, US. We have not also been participating fully at the highest level in many international engagements. Late last year, our President preferred to attend the opening of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia to a United Nations function in New York.

 In any case, suicide bombing is not the only form of terrorism. We have religious killings, electoral violence, ethnic cleansing and so on. The dust is yet to fully settle over the Boko Haram religious killings in the North when Kala Kato uprising erupted in Bauchi. Thousands of innocent people perished in those disturbances. So far, nobody has been adequately punished for these crimes.

 While we cry over our fate in the hands of US and other foreign immigration officials, we need to also look into our tendency to discriminate against one another. An Itsekiri man does not see eye to eye with an Ijaw man; a Hausa man has little or no trust in a Yoruba man; the Igbo man believes he is marginalised and places his hopes in the illusory Federal Republic of Biafra.

 Rather than threaten and poke our little fingers at the US, we should strive to put our house in order first. It’s good the House of Representatives will be debating the absence of the President for over a month now on Tuesday. I only hope the debate will be devoid of unnecessary sentiments and focus more on how to rescue Nigeria from the problems at hand.

 There is no need playing the ostrich like the Nigeria’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Abdullah Aminchi, and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Michael Aondoakaa, have been doing. Sometime in December last year, Aminchi told us that Yar’Adua would soon return to the country. Forty-eight days after, he is still telling us that Yar’Adua is sound and fit and would soon return.

 The majority of Nigerians are no longer interested in this he-will-return-soon template. Since the President could sign the budget from his hospital bed in Saudi Arabia, he should not find it difficult signing a letter mandating his deputy to act as the President pending his return to the country.               

 What the country needs now is dynamic leadership. Things should be done properly to regain the confidence of the international community; and to save citizen Folake the embarrassment of being stripped at any airport in the world.

New Year prophecies and promises

January 4, 2010

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in Sunday Punch, Jan. 3, 2010 

It’s the time of the year again when we make predictions, promises and projections. As has become my tradition every New Year, I will take a cursory look at some of these prophesies and leave you to draw your conclusions.

 First, let’s examine the predictions of the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye. In his cross-over night service at the Redeemed Camp on the New Year, Adeboye reportedly urged Nigerians to pray fervently against suspension of the Constitution this year. He also solicited intensive prayers against backward sliding for the country in 2010.

 The RCCG GO urged Christians to pray against outbreak of diseases and natural disasters in the world. Last year, he similarly predicted that floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes would come globally. But only concentrated prayers, he said, would reduce their frequency and intensity.

 On the positive side, however, he enthused that some people would experience miraculous deliverances, unexpected promotions and open doors this year. I’m sure some are claiming these goodies already.

 Last year, the President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, also prophesied that the year 2009 would be very fruitful. He had said, “Number nine signifies fruitfulness. A good Bible student would discover that God does a lot with numbers. The number nine is the number of fruitfulness. For example, we have nine gifts and fruits of the spirit. A woman carries pregnancy for nine months; so, that number in the calendar and programme of God speaks of fruitfulness.”

 Fellow Nigerians, we all are witnesses to the lot of the majority of our people last year. Some fell into the traps of kidnappers and armed robbers. Economic meltdown melted the spirit of many who invested in the capital market. Some banks’ phoney buoyancy crumbled. Thousands of workers became jobless as their companies laid them off. Millions of others died of preventable diseases. Hunger and other deprivations took hold of many citizens. About 70 per cent of Nigerians are classified as being poor. Are these the look and feel of fruitfulness?

 Keep your answer to yourself first. To the General Overseer of Inri Evangelical Spiritual Church, Lagos, not all the senators and House of Representatives members would finish their term in 2009. According to Primate Babatunde Ayodele, there would be a coup against the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2009. Five Speakers of state Houses of Assembly, some state governors and three Secretaries to state governments would be removed last year. How many of these things happened?

 Early last year, President Umaru Yar’Adua promised that with the systematic planning process his administration had put in place, “we will forge ahead with our agenda for rapid improvements in critical areas with greater vigour and total dedication…”

 Which critical areas received these rapid improvements in 2009? Health? Education? Roads? Power sector? Even the 6000 megawatts the Federal Government promised to deliver to Nigerians by December 2009 failed woefully.

 This year, the Vice-President, on behalf of the ailing President, has come with more promises. “As we enter the New Year,” he said, “spirited efforts and resources will be mobilised to address the challenge of power supply and ensure higher generation as well as more effective transmission and distribution.”

 He also promised far reaching measures to curb rising youth unemployment, improve infrastructure, reform electoral process, protect lives and property and stem the pain and stress Nigerians suffer at fuel queues.

 Just as the VP was promising to reduce unemployment, more employees of some banks are being relieved of their jobs. Media reports indicated that Finbank sacked about 700 workers on New Year’s Eve. A total of 4,000 workers have reportedly lost their jobs since the Central Bank started reforms in the banking sector. Another report noted that the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria planned to lay off over 1,000 workers in the first weeks of 2010.

 As if to put a lie to the promised protection of lives and property, a police corporal, Ismaila Mohammed, allegedly killed a 25-year-old accountancy student of Osun State Polytechnic, Adewunmi Adelowo, on New Year’s Eve. The student was reportedly riding his motorbike to Osogbo to collect a gift from somebody when the policeman allegedly shot him at a checkpoint.

 To be fair to the police, they tried this festive season to maintain law and order. I drove down to the East last Sunday and was impressed by the large number of policemen on the road. This apparently scared away robbers who usually waylay travellers on the road. The only snag was that at each checkpoint, the police asked me to “do New Year for us.”

 Since we are a prayerful nation, one of our prayer points this year should be to have a police force that is well taken care of such that it will protect citizens without asking for anything.

 Other prayer points are as follows:

  • To have an end to all manner of fuel crisis in the country.
  • To end Boko Haram, Bauchi Haram and all other religious harams harassing our lives in Nigeria.
  • To have a free and fair elections in Anambra State in February and in Nigeria generally in 2011.
  • To have a strike-free academic sessions and a crisis-free health system this year.
  • To have improved infrastructure.
  • Above all, to have the wisdom to be able to decipher truth from falsehood, and to take most of the prophecies and promises of the New Year with a pinch of salt.