Archive for February 2010

So where is Yar’Adua?

February 27, 2010

Casmir Igbokwe

Published in SUNDAY PUNCH, Feb. 28, 2010

We have heard that President Umaru Yar’Adua is back in the country. We have also heard how his wife, Turai, allegedly directs affairs in the presidency; how some prominent Nigerians including the ones close to the First Family went to Saudi but failed to see him.

Presidential spokesman, Segun Adeniyi, conveyed Yar’Adua’s profound gratitude to Nigerians for their prayers shortly after his purported arrival last Wednesday.

 And this is a man who, as at press time, is reported to be marooned in a mobile ambulance. The question then arises, is he truly back? Or put differently, where is our President?

I asked a similar question in September 2008 in a piece titled, “Mr. President, where are you?” The man had gone on a medical trip to Saudi Arabia. But for 17 days he was in that kingdom, his spin doctors told us he went for lesser hajj.

The then Information Minister, John Odey, told the nation that the President was also free to take that opportunity to undertake medical check-up.

Hear Odey, “We inquired from the vice-president, who has been in touch with him, they also spoke yesterday and by the close of work today, we will also confirm his schedule when he will come back…One thing I will like to solicit from the general public and the gentlemen of the press generally is to exercise patience. I would confirm to you whenever he will be coming back but he is hale and hearty.”

Odey was not comfortable when he was making this statement. But he had to do the bidding of his paymasters.

Nigerians were still waiting for him to tell them when Yar’Adua would come back when the man arrived in the country in the early hours of Saturday, September 6, 2008 under the cover of darkness.

What is happening in the country now is a tragic repeat of the events of 2008. It shows that history keeps repeating itself here without any attempt to learn from it. In the 2008 episode, Foreign Affairs Minister, Ojo Maduekwe, played the role of a comic character.

 Recall that Yar’Adua was to visit Brazil on an official assignment. He could not make that trip because of his ill-health and medical trip to Saudi. But Maduekwe told us then that the President’s scheduled visit was adjusted or readjusted.

In the current dispensation, he has not also disappointed. As the spokesman of the six ministers who went on a jamboree to Saudi Arabia last week, Maduekwe told a bewildered nation that their mission to Saudi was to thank the King.

“We will be expressing our deep appreciation to the King of Saudi Arabia for the excellent and generous attention, both the government and people of Saudi have given to our President…We need to be on record to thank the King for that…”

This is executive foolishness! So six ministers wasted public funds on a fruitless trip not to ascertain the health of their President but to thank the Saudi King. Couldn’t two ministers have done that? And for what reason are we even thanking him? For keeping our President incommunicado for three months? For the scarce resources Nigeria spent to keep the man there? For the visa fees Nigerian officials paid in order to visit the Kingdom?

In this country, anything goes. Troops were deployed the day Yar’Adua was brought home, but the Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan, knew nothing about it.

 The State Security Service reportedly ransacked Jonathan’s office. It is still not clear who sent them and what their mission was. We have moved on as if nothing happened.

So far, it’s the South-South leaders that have threatened to pull out of Nigeria if anything happens to Jonathan. To the best of my knowledge, some northern leaders have spoken in his favour.

This is a departure from the largely expressed fear in 2008 that the North would never allow Jonathan to rule if anything had happened to Yar’Adua. 

We don’t need to bring ethnic sentiments into this issue. What we should do is to unite in our quest for truth and total adherence to the tenets of our constitution.

 I don’t see why the Acting President has not seen Yar’Adua since his return to the country. I don’t understand why he has not addressed the nation since he can now do 25-minute exercise.

 And I wonder why his aides are crediting certain statements and actions to him when he has reportedly remained in an ambulance. How are we even sure he has come back as reported? Who has sighted him?

Those hiding our President should know that the world has left such secrecy behind. Just last week, the world media reported the hospitalisation of the former Vice-President of the United States, Dick Cheney, in Washington.

Cheney, who has a history of heart problems, has had quadruple bypass surgery. Immediately he experienced chest pains last week, his office made it public.

 This is somebody who left power in January last year and is not in the public arena as such anymore.

The cabal who brought Yar’Adua home have put a foot wrong. Rather than douse tension, that singular action has worsened the situation.

Many Nigerians will want to see their president physically. There will be renewed clamour for him to address the nation on national television.

That is the only time we will know how well his body has responded to the exercises he has been doing of recent.

 That is when we will know how nourishing the food he eats is to his body. And that is when we will know if the President actually signed the 2010 appropriation bill or not.

In the next few days, the question that will be on the lips of many Nigerians will be where is our President?

 If there is no satisfactory answer to that, then the Federal Executive Council should declare him incapacitated.

 And the National Assembly should take it up from there.

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Before the ministers rush for Saudi visa

February 20, 2010

Casmir Igbokwe

Published in SUNDAY PUNCH Feb 21, 2010

Forty-five-year-old Noelia Serna seems to be wearing the cloak of President Umaru Yar’Adua. Doctors reportedly pronounced this Colombian woman dead,  but like a cat with nine lives, she returned to life. ITN News reported last Friday that Serna was hospitalised after she suffered a heart attack and was on life support before doctors declared her dead. It was a shocked funeral worker, Jaime Aullon, who later discovered that the hitherto deceased woman is still alive.

On at least three occasions, rumour mongers had pronounced Yar’Adua dead. An American news portal even published his ‘death’ on its website last January. It turned out that it was all false.  Now, some tale bearers say he can exercise for 35 minutes and will soon be heading home.

It’s possible that the six ministers who will be in Saudi Arabia shortly to see him will join him in this exercise. The Federal Executive Council last Wednesday mandated these ministers to visit Yar’Adua and ascertain the state of his health. They will also pray with his family and convey the gratitude of the government and people of Nigeria to the king of Saudi Arabia. The king has graciously kept our President in his prestigious hospital for almost three months now.

Thank God there is no woman among the ministers billed to travel to Saudi Arabia. This means that all the ministers will likely get their visas. Remember that the House of Representatives asked six members to visit Mr. President. Five of them got their visas and travelled. The sixth person, Ms Nnenna Ukeje, could not get her visa. Part of the speculations was that the Saudi authorities are not usually comfortable with single ladies visiting their kingdom. Ms Ukeje complained bitterly against this marginalisation. But the deed had been done.

The Reps team stayed for about six days in the oil kingdom without seeing Yar’Adua. They only saw the wife, Turai. After some sight seeing, they returned home last Saturday with basketful of prayers for the ailing President.

Some other prominent Nigerians had made attempts to see Yar’Adua. His in-law, Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi, as well as Governors Gabriel Suswam of Benue, Ibrahim Shema of Katsina, Bukola Saraki of Kwara State had reportedly gone to see him without success. The President’s Principal Private Secretary, David Edevbie and his powerful acolyte, Taminu Yakubu, also went but failed to see him.  

Just last week, it was reported that the National Chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, Vincent Ogbulafor, and members of the National Working Committee of the party made spirited but failed attempts to see Yar’Adua. They only succeeded in seeing Turai. Perhaps, they also prayed with the woman for the quick recovery of her sick husband.

It is intriguing that these failed attempts to see the President did not deter the FEC from angling for another visit. How are we sure that these Yar’Adua appointees will give us accurate report of the man’s state of health? These are the same people who had proclaimed him fit when every indication pointed to the fact that the man was seriously ill. 

 Maybe they will succeed where others failed considering that they represent Nigeria’s highest decision making body. Perhaps, the beefy face of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Adetokunbo Kayode, or the grey hairs of the Petroleum Minister, Rilwanu Lukman, will make a way where there has been no way.

Who knows, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Ojo Maduekwe; Agric Minister, Sayyadi Abba-Ruma; Health Minister, Babatunde Osotimehin; and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Yayale Ahmed may use their influence in the Presidency to make impossibility possible.

I must say that the Acting President Goodluck Jonathan has a large heart for accepting that Lukman should be on that trip. Recall that he ordered Lukman last December not to go on Christmas vacation until they found a solution to the fuel crisis ravaging the country then. Lukman defied that order; travelled abroad to relax and nothing has happened ever since.

 But before the ministers embark on their trip or even before they acquire their visa, they need to bear certain things in mind.

One, Nigerians expect to get a comprehensive update on the state of health of their President. Not the he-is-eating-well-and-sleeping-well type of report, but a report that will show the seriousness of the illness, the treatment so far given and when he will likely be discharged.

Two, the ministers should know that their trip will only be meaningful if it serves the purpose of fulfilling Section 144 of the constitution. In other words, if the President’s predicament is irredeemable, they should say so and transmit the necessary information to the National Assembly, which will in turn follow constitutional provisions to deal with the issue.

Section 144(1) stipulates that the President or his deputy shall cease to hold office if by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all the members of the executive council of the federation it is declared that the President or Vice-President is incapable of discharging the functions of his office. Of course, the declaration is followed by a medical examination, which will be made available to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives for necessary action.

There is no more room for cock and bull stories. The ministers should be ready to account for every kobo spent on that trip if they come back without seeing the President. They should be prepared to refund the hotel bills, the feeding allowances, the visa fees, and the air tickets collected for the journey.

All things being equal, I am hoping that the President’s illness is not making us embark on another executive foolishness.

Doctrine of delusion

February 13, 2010

Casmir Igbokwe

Published in SUNDAY PUNCH, Feb.14, 2010

Nigerians are good at making fun of a difficult situation. The joke circulating on the Internet now is that whoever is offered any position in any organisation should decline if the person’s deputy is named Goodluck.

As the joke goes, the acting President Goodluck Jonathan was said to be assistant head boy in primary school. The head boy got expelled and Goodluck took over. In secondary school, he was said to be assistant senior prefect. The senior prefect died, he allegedly took over.

The story adds, “Goodluck was deputy local government chairman, the chairman got implicated in corruption and got removed from office, Goodluck took over. Goodluck was deputy governor to Alamieyeseigha, we all know that story. Goodluck was vice (sic) to Yar’Adua: PERICADIATIS! You may say it’s coincidence… A friend of mine just called off his church wedding, why? His best man was named Goodluck..!”

Nigeria has become a huge theatre for circus shows. So far, what has happened in the country since President Umaru Yar’Adua became admitted in a Saudi hospital for acute pericadiatis amounts to taking our lies, delusion and gullibility to a ridiculous level.

Or how else does one explain the antics of people like the Nigeria’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Alhaji Abdullah Aminchi. Since December last year, the man has been telling us that the President would soon return. We believed him. Many newspapers quoted him extensively. He became the man of the moment. At a point, he told us that Yar’Adua was eating well, drinking well and sleeping well. The only thing he didn’t tell us was how well he was meeting his conjugal obligations to Turai.

It was the same Aminchi who reportedly drew up the itinerary of the lawmakers who went on a jolly good ride to Saudi Arabia on the guise of going to see the ailing President. What a good host he is, but he still couldn’t use his connections to the Yar’Adua’s family to let the lawmakers see him.

For four days, these lawmakers reportedly could not see the President. They were only allowed to see the wife, Turai. Media reports indicated that the legislators would make the report of their visit public on Tuesday. If it is true that they didn’t see the President, what report are they going to give us? That Yar’Adua is eating well and sleeping well? Or that doctors will soon discharge him? The best report Nigerians expect to get is how much of taxpayers’ money they wasted on that trip and when they will refund it to the treasury.

Even before Messrs Baba Shehu Agai, Mohammed Ndume, Jibrin Adamu, Patrick Ikhariahle and Fatai Moruf embarked on that trip on behalf of the House of Representatives, many Nigerians were of the opinion that they were on a wild goose chase. Now, that has apparently been confirmed.

To show you that the legislators’ trip goes beyond seeking out our ill-President, the only female member of the group, Mrs. Nnenna Ukeje, complained when she was dropped from the trip as if going to see a sick man has become a treasure. They even adopted the federal character principle in choosing those who went to Saudi. This, perhaps, was to ensure that no region would feel marginalized. It is as if going to see a sick president is a booty every region must take part in sharing.

I can almost bet that even the little the National Assembly did by way of asking Jonathan to take over as acting President was dictated by selfish considerations. They must have felt that the power vacuum created by the absence of the President might eventually turn against them. There were even debates about the propriety or otherwise of a military takeover. This must have frightened them and the governors who initially pussyfooted but later resolved to support Jonathan.

Hence, the lawmakers manufactured some solution to the logjam and labelled it doctrine of necessity. Pronto, the questionable interview the President granted the BBC became the letter Yar’Adua transmitted to the National Assembly upon which they based their resolution to ask Jonathan to become acting President.

And in our euphoria that a solution has been found, nobody remembered that Yar’Adua’s adviser on National Assembly matters, Muhammad Abba Ajji, promised to bring a letter from the President informing the lawmakers of his vacation.

In the spirit of the doctrine of necessity or delusion if you like, the National Assembly must also investigate who actually signed our appropriation bill. The President’s principal private secretary, David Edevbie, reportedly took the bill to Saudi Arabia for the President’s assent. The answer to why the same Edevbie could not get the President to sign his vacation letter lies in the same grand delusion that has punctuated our life and arrested our development as a nation.

As I had noted on this page sometime ago, Nigeria is a nation in search of truth. Yar’Adua’s absence and the lies trailing it have brought to the fore, the urgent need to locate that truth. Though the processes throwing up Jonathan as the acting President might be imperfect, Nigerians should still rally round him to see if he could rescue the ship that is already sinking.

The acting President has made the first move by redeploying Michael Aondoakaa from Justice Ministry to the Ministry of Special Duties. No doubt, the hawks controlling the Presidency will not like this. They will want to fight back to reclaim their positions. Though Aondoakaa has pledged his loyalty to Jonathan, his reference to him as Vice-President makes that loyalty suspicious.

Jonathan needs to be very careful. He should remove any minister who is not ready to cooperate with him. Like those who are afraid to associate with anybody bearing the name Goodluck, let all the liars and turncoats in our midst tremble at the mention of Goodluck Jonathan.

Unrepentant fraudsters

Despite the efforts of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to curb corruption and advance fee fraud in our country, a few criminally-minded individuals still indulge in the act. Last Sunday, I got complaints from readers of this column who contribute their views on the Readers’ Court page that swindlers sent messages to them to the effect that PUNCH is rewarding loyal readers with cash and other gifts. They were urged to send their account numbers and some other details. Please note that THE PUNCH is not giving out any award or reward and always be wary of responding to messages that sound too good to be true. You do not need to claim any prize when you have not played any jackpot.

Biafra, Anambra election and other stories

February 7, 2010

Casmir Igbokwe

Last Sunday, Ekwu (full name withheld) approached me at a burial ceremony in my village. He whispered that he would like to see me for an important discussion. I prayed that this discussion would have nothing to do with money. I had already spent a lot just for the two days I visited to accord my maternal uncle, Chief Andrew Onyeguili, a befitting burial.

”Biafra is going to be a reality this March,” Ekwu said when I finally spoke with him. ”United Nations is going to divide six countries this year. Nigeria is one of those countries. And in Nigeria, no other nationality is asking for independence except Biafra.” He wanted me to be part of the Radio Biafra team which, he said, would soon hit the airwaves in Nigeria. I promised to get back to him.

Elsewhere in the town, there were hot debates about the governorship election of Feb. 6 and the candidate that could clinch the seat. In churches, priests urged their faithful to vote wisely and not to mortgage their conscience. Although there were rumours that the Catholic Church endorsed Mr. Peter Obi, there was no official indication to that effect.

For the candidates, it was a potpourri of campaign slogans. The candidate of the Action Congress, Dr. Chris Ngige, said he did it before, he would do it again. According to him, onwa ga-eti ozo (the moon will shine again). The candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, said he would make Anambra the African, Dubai, Taiwan of Nigeria.

The incumbent governor, Peter Obi, flew to the patronage of Dim Chukwuemeka Odimegwu-Ojukwu. And Ojukwu‘s last wish was for the people of the state to vote his beloved son, Obi, again. Progressive Peoples Alliance standard-bearer, Mrs. Uche Ekwunife; Andy Uba of the Labour Party and over 20 others made their own mouth-watering promises. Campaign billboards and posters were all over the state.

One good thing about the campaigns was that people made some money in different ways. Transporters had a field day as politicians hired their buses to take supporters from one campaign trip to the other. Some youths pasted posters for money. Some were hired to disrupt rallies of some candidates.

As you read this, the winner of the election may have emerged. The intrigues, the fighting and the usual manipulations associated with elections in Nigeria may have manifested. We now wait to see how many people the casket the Anambra Revolutionary Movement placed in front of the office of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Awka will deal with. The casket was a warning that danger awaited any INEC official, who would involve themselves in the rigging of the election.

If the casket spares the incoming governor, then Anambrarians await the fulfilment of his promises. He must swear to do away with anything that will bring back the rule of godfathers. During the time of Chinwoke Mbadinuju, Chief Emeka Offor was the king. The then governor owed much allegiance to him. For about one year, he could not pay civil servants. Anambra became a theatre of the absurd.

Ngige came with his own godfather, Chris Uba. Somehow, the relationship between the two turned sour. There were violent but unsuccessful attempts to remove Ngige from office. At a point, he was abducted from his home with the connivance of the police and the tacit support of the then President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.

There are many criminal gangs operating in the state. In the last one year or so, the spate of kidnappings in the state became so alarming that citizens of the state started avoiding visiting home. The kidnappers spared nobody. Those who summoned courage to visit home moved with trepidation. I thought the phenomenon has died down because I didn‘t hear much about it during the Christmas celebration.

But a good friend of mine, Dr. Chidi Okpaluba, told me last Friday how the marauders kidnapped his wife‘s uncle during the festivities. For four days, the kidnappers reportedly did not give the man food. Initially, they asked for N300m, but later they collected N10m as ransom. And with confidence, they were said to have told their victim to fear no more as he had paid his own dues and would never be touched again. It behoves the incoming governor to eradicate this problem completely.

Another major issue the new government needs to give adequate attention to is erosion. If something urgent is not done now or in the immediate future, some villages in towns like Nanka, Agulu and Oko may cease to exist. Many buildings have caved in and many people rendered homeless by erosion. The state government will not do it alone. But it needs to constantly pressurise the Federal Government to do something.

There was a time boys from Anambra preferred trading to education. Today, I believe there is an improvement in boy-child education. But the snag now is that there is even no job for those who graduate from higher institutions. That is why some of them have found a niche in agitating for the sovereign state of Biafra. Though government is not a good employer of labour, it must create the enabling environment that will foster the growth of private business.

The administrations of Ngige and Obi did their best to construct and repair roads in the state. But there is need to do more. Some portions of Upper Iweka Road and some other roads in the state are very bad. Such bad spots should have no place in a modern society. And the fact that the people provide boreholes and underground tanks for themselves does not mean that the government should ignore providing potable water for the citizenry.

I congratulate the new governor and wish him well. That is if there is no Biafra to put a stop to his reign. And if the ARM casket does not engender catastrophes in the state.