Archive for March 2010

Celibacy, sexual abuse and other stories

March 29, 2010

Casmir Igbokwe

Published in SUNDAY PUNCH, March 28, 2010

PENULTIMATE Sunday, worshippers at Saint Francis Catholic Church, Idimu, Lagos, heard what many considered a funny story. According to the story, a parishioner took another man‘s wife to a hotel to catch some fun. No sooner had they settled down at their rendezvous than some kidnappers struck. They took the man away and demanded N5m ransom.

The culprit‘s wife does not have this kind of money. Though shocked, she still summoned courage to meet and plead with the husband of her man‘s concubine to release her husband. Obviously, she thought the man engineered her hubby‘s abduction. That one denied any knowledge of the incident. Not knowing where else to go, this woman decided to approach the church for help.

Hence, a church official made an important announcement. Those who wished to help the woman, he reportedly said, should come forward with their freewill donation. Some hissed. Some giggled.

However, the following Sunday, the tale bearer returned to the parish to announce that the story was fabricated.

Of recent, there has been an increase in the number of sexually-related stories in the Catholic Church. Some of these stories revolve around priests. For instance, a few weeks ago, this newspaper carried a report about the liaison between the erstwhile parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, Coker, Lagos, and a young lady, who is now married.

The relationship, which was not known to anybody then, produced a child. Somehow, the lady, with the help of another senior priest, gave out the child for adoption. The scandal broke when, a few years after marriage, this young lady and her husband decided to look for their ‘son‘.

In 2008 and 2009, two separate reports detailed cases of child abuse by priests in Ireland. The church was accused of not responding appropriately to the abuse claims. For this, the bishop in charge of Cloyne Diocese, where the incidents largely took place, John Magee, resigned. Last week, the Pope accepted his resignation.

In many other parts of Europe, priests also stand accused of sexual misconduct. In the United States, the church had spent about $2bn to settle similar cases of sexual abuse against priests a few years ago.

The frequency of these occurrences has put to question the relevance of the celibacy rule of the Catholic Church. Some ordained priests had actually renounced their priesthood just because they needed a woman beside them. As some Nigerians are wont to say, bodi no be wood.

It is pertinent to note that marriage may still not stop a man with high libido from ogling or dating other women. There are many cases to buttress this fact. The alleged affair between former US President, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky nearly marred Clinton‘s Presidency. Golf star, Tiger Woods, is just recovering from the disgrace that trailed his extramarital affairs.

When this type of scandal breaks, the tendency is to cast stones at the victim. But in apportioning blame, we forget that as humans, nobody is above that type of temptation. It is worse if you are a successful or famous man. Women will continue to come in different ways and for different purposes.

These days, it is no longer news that some of these women walk the streets half naked. I see all sorts anytime I decide to take an evening stroll along Allen/Opebi Road in Lagos. What remains is for some of them to showcase their G-strings on the roads. Some will ask you ”how far” as if you have any business relationship with them.

It is this same Opebi that plays host to some popular strip clubs in Lagos. In November last year, men of the Lagos State Task Force on Environment and Special Offences raided these clubs and forced them to close down. Now, they are said to be back in business. The patrons are even said to be happy to pay higher to satisfy their urge. TheNEWS magazine of March 22, 2010, reported that a lap or table dance attracted a fee of N3000. There is no need describing what a lap dance means here.

To prevent me from falling to the temptation of the opposite sex, my wife decided to do a special prayer for me a few days ago. It‘s the type of prayer some Christians call massaging. She asked me to lie naked on the bed. Like a baby, I obliged since I needed the massage anyway. While she prayed and massaged me with olive oil, I kept changing positions for maximum effect. ”I will never share my body with any woman,” she prayed, concentrating her action on my nether regions.

This invigorated me as it came after a stressful production. Even as I said amen to her prayers, I had to reassure her that all was well. Women need such reassurance from time to time. Men and children also need to be reassured from time to time.

On a larger scale, our leaders need to reassure us that they mean well for this country. A situation where some renegades slaughter our women and children like rams does not give assurance. A situation where many people do not know where the next meal will come from does not inspire confidence and patriotism in the people. And a situation where even Sudan has started deporting Nigerians calls for sober reflection.

But let‘s not deviate. We have cried over the killings in Jos. We have spoken against the disappearance of our President, Umaru Yar‘Adua, for months now. We have been reaping dead bodies from accident scenes with curses on those who collected money to repair our roads but failed to do so.

Today, we must relax our muscles and make ourselves happy. If you have a wife, please ask her to give you a massage. Believe me, it relaxes the nerves. If you don‘t have, discipline yourself so that nobody will ever think of kidnapping you from a hotel room.

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Gaddafi’s call for splitting of Nigeria

March 22, 2010

Casmir Igbokwe

Published in SUNDAY PUNCH, March 21, 2010

Last Thursday, a certain chief in Lagos called me. He was furious that the Senate President, David Mark, called Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, a mad man. He wanted Punch to run an opinion poll on what Gaddafi said and see if the majority of Nigerians would not side the Libyan gadfly.

Shortly after this conversation, I got text messages from some concerned Nigerians. One Smollett in Victoria Island, Lagos, wondered why some people were trying to rubbish Gaddafi; a man who, he said, had put plenty of food on the table of his subjects, and who had surmounted many economic sanctions by the international community.

To Mr. Wale Ogunkua, it is really pathetic and totally unacceptable for a top level political office holder of our country to call a country’s leader a madman. He said the view Gaddafi expressed was very popular among Nigerians. 

Last week, Gaddafi stirred up a hornet’s nest by suggesting the splitting of Nigeria into two countries – North for Muslims and South for Christians. According to him, splitting Nigeria will put an end to the bloodshed and burning of places of worship between Muslims and Christians. He reportedly drew an example with India and Pakistan which had serious religious crises until 1947 when Pakistan was excised from India. India is populated mainly by Hindus while Pakistan is largely a Muslim country.

To him, the problems in such places as Plateau State are religious in nature. They were also caused, he said, by the nature of the Nigerian federation, which had been imposed by the British despite people’s resistance to it.

This comment drew the ire of some Nigerian leaders. Mark described him as a madman who said the same thing about Switzerland, England and some other countries. As far as Mark was concerned, Gaddafi did not deserve the attention of the Senate.

The Arewa Consultative Forum spoke in the same vein. According to the organisation, which represents the interests of the North, Gaddafi knows nothing about Nigeria. It said though the Jos crises brought Nigeria a bad name, the situation was not beyond redemption.

In a further show of anger, the Federal Government recalled the country’s ambassador to Libya, Alhaji Isa Mohammed. A statement by the Foreign Affairs Ministry described Gaddafi’s utterances as irresponsible. His theatrics and grandstanding, the statement added, had become too numerous to recount. The House of Representatives even called for the severance of diplomatic ties between Nigeria and Libya.

These outbursts are understandable. Nigerians are a proud people. We say we are the giant of Africa; that out of every five Blackman in the world, one is a Nigerian. We take pride in reminding whoever cares to listen that Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. We are the land of the Wole Soyinkas, the Chinua Achebes, and the Philip Emeagwalis. We like to boast that though we have had crises that seemed to threaten our existence, we remain one indivisible nation. As the slogan in the Second Republic goes, “One nation, one destiny!”

So, whenever any foreign leader tells us some home truths about ourselves, we tend to overreact. The other day, the American Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, made some negative remarks about our democracy. Some of us told her to mind her business. Some reports in the same US had predicted that Nigeria could disintegrate by 2015. We dismissed it with a wave of the hand. Even when the US categorised us as a terrorist nation on account of last year’s failed Christmas bomb attempt by a Nigerian on a US-bound plane, we shouted blue murder. Our Senate even asked America to rescind that decision or else…

True, Gaddafi may not have shown a deep understanding of the complexities of Nigeria. In the North, for instance, there are many Christians as there are many Muslims. If the country is divided on religious boundaries, where will the millions of northern Christians go? And where will the equal number of Muslims in the South go?

He may also have some sinister motives. Here is a man who had once called for a United States of Africa. If he truly wanted a united Africa, why is he now interested in Nigeria’s dismemberment? His past activities and utterances do not help matters. On a few occasions when the North African leader visited the country, his female security details had altercations with our security forces. The man is pompous, abrasive and controversial.

But while we condemn him for his presumed reckless comments on Nigeria, we need not throw the baby out with the bath water. We should discard our pride and emotions and draw some lessons from his remarks.

First, Gaddafi could not have made that comment if we had put our house in order. As has been observed by some readers of this column, Gaddafi utilised his country’s resources to better the lives of his people. Today, Nigerians flock to Libya in search of the proverbial greener pastures. Thousands of these fellow countrymen have been deported in recent times.

What have our own leaders done to better the lots of their people and stop unnecessary migration to foreign lands? We have an executive that is not executing anything. What has the Ministry of Works achieved with the billions of naira allocated to it every year? How many roads have been built and repaired? I understand that the Yar’Adua government has spent more money on power than the Obasanjo administration. How has that improved the power situation in the country?

The sorry state of our existence has encouraged the proliferation of ethnic militias. We have the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, Odua Peoples Congress, Ijaw National Congress, Arewa Consultative Assembly and so forth. Can we pretend that all is well when these groups exist to champion parochial interests? Can we pretend that all is well when thousands of innocent people have been dispatched to their graves on account of their religion or tribe? Can we pretend that all is well when the amount of arms and ammunition in circulation in Nigeria today are probably more than what we had during the civil war?

Nigerians need to sit down and talk. Many of us want a united Nigeria. But we need to discuss the basis and conditions for that coexistence. We need to discuss how to share the resources of this country without any group feeling cheated.

The foundation for conflict is laid when one group feels cheated and marginalised. Yugoslavia under Marshal Tito enjoyed inter-ethnic peace, security and relative prosperity. The astute and non-discriminatory policies of Tito made this possible. But when the man died in 1980, subsequent leaders toyed with balancing the ethnic diversities of the country. Today, Yugoslavia is a disintegrated country.

For Nigeria to move forward, we must have a strong and purposeful leadership that will galvanise our people. We need strong institutions, impartial judiciary, effective legislature that represents the interest of the people.

Above all, we must stop the culture of impunity and allow the rule of law to prevail. Whoever kills in the name of God must face the full wrath of the law. If we don’t face these realities, many more Gaddafis will continue to haunt us.

Life is worthless in Nigeria

March 13, 2010

Casmir Igbokwe

Published in SUNDAY PUNCH, March 14, 2010

In the United Kingdom, a certain abusive father recently got a life jail for raping his two daughters. This reportedly resulted in 18 pregnancies. Nine of the children were born. But two of them died on the day of their birth. The other pregnancies were either miscarried or aborted. For over three decades, this strange father from Sheffield abused his daughters and would badly beat them if they failed to comply.

This case attracted my attention because the authorities that failed to protect these children apologised profusely for their neglect. The chair of Sheffield Safeguarding Children Board, Sue Fiennes, put it this way, “We want to apologise to the family at the heart of this case. It will be clear that we have failed this family.”

An apology to one family? Hundreds of thousands of people have perished in recent times in Nigeria due mainly to the neglect of those paid to protect us. The question is, how many times have our governments at different levels apologised for the collective rape of the citizens of this country? How many government officials apologised to the victims of the latest senseless killings in Plateau State?

What we usually witness in this part of the world is unnecessary trading of blame. Soon after the March 7 carnage in three villages in Plateau State, the state governor, Jonah Jang, accused the General Officer Commanding 3rd Armoured Division of the Nigerian Army, Saleh Maina, of negligence.

The governor said, “I received reports about 9 pm that movements of people with arms were noticed around those villages, and I reported to the commander of the army and he told me he was going to move some troops there…Three hours or so later, I was woken by a call that they had started burning the villages and people were being hacked to death. I started trying to locate the commanders, but I couldn’t get any of them on the telephone.”

The commander has denied this charge, saying, “No government official called me prior to the mayhem at Dogo Na Hauwa and other surrounding villages. They all have my numbers. Some of the text messages we received gave us wrong direction.”

No doubt, truth is on sale here. Either the governor or the GOC is lying. But it won’t take much to detect who the liar is. Both of them should make their phones available to an independent investigator who will check their call logs to determine the veracity or otherwise of their claims. Whoever is found guilty should be severely dealt with no matter how highly placed.

In any case, did the governor need to call Maina to do his job? Where were the military intelligence officers when the Fulani marauders were moving into the villages with arms and ammunition? How did these herdsmen circumvent the curfew in place without detection? Maina and his men have many questions to answer.   

We cannot continue to lose human lives this way. We have already lost thousands of lives to sectarian crises in Nigeria, especially in the North. The Jos crises have claimed over 3,000 lives since 2001. The pogrom against the Igbo in the North, which later resulted in the Civil War that raged between 1967 and 1970, consumed millions of lives.

Whether it is Mataisine or Boko Haram or whatever, these incidents reduce us to wild animals and call our humanity to question.

Everywhere you turn to in this country, life looks too cheap. The other day, it took the online circulation of the pictures of the armed robbery incident which took place last July on the Sagamu-Benin Expressway to bring this reality home to our senators. I remember that SUNDAY PUNCH and some other newspapers reported the incident when it happened. We all took it then as one of those things.

Eight months after that tragedy, we have not graduated from apportioning blame and passing the buck. For instance, early this month, the Police Affairs Minister, Ibrahim Lame, lambasted the police hierarchy in the country. He condemned the current security situation in Nigeria and urged the police authorities to review their strategies in crime fighting.

Of course the Inspector-General of Police, Ogbonna Onovo, put up a spirited defence. According to him, it’s not quite long he took over as the IG of Police. He listed the well-known constraints of the police and attributed the upsurge in crime to unemployment. Clearly, security forces have failed the Nigerian nation. They have not justified the huge investment the nation has made in them.

The international community must be jeering at us now and wondering if we are truly human beings. In civilised societies, the loss of even one life in a non-war situation is a national emergency. But here, it has become a normal thing. This is why some people ask if truly we deserve to be in the same country.

Our old national anthem says though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand. But can a Fulani man claim the same brotherhood with the Berom man? Can an Ijaw man call an Itsekiri man his brother? And will an Ibibio man easily allow an Efik man to be his governor?

We have been lying to ourselves that we are one indivisible nation. Distrust among the ethnic groups has been the kernel of our relationship as a people. Today, the women of Jos are moaning and mourning. Suddenly, some of their beloved children are no more. Some of their husbands are gone, slaughtered and buried in mass graves. Who knows whose turn it will be tomorrow? I weep for my country Nigeria.

We are a confirmation of the existentialist view that the world is permanently unorganised and permanently unorganisable. Until we begin to hold life sacred; until we begin to adhere strictly to the rule of law, we are heading for our doom. And since the government appears incapacitated, the citizens are losing hope.

The acting president, Goodluck Jonathan, needs to act decisively here. This has gone beyond merely setting up a probe panel whose report will end up in a trash can. The perpetrators of this heinous crime and their sponsors must be fished out and punished according to the laws of the land.

We demand an apology from our rulers, a commitment to punish offenders and a pledge that never again will we allow this type of nonsense to happen in Nigeria.

Yar’Adua and the underdevelopment of a nation

March 8, 2010

 

 Casmir Igbokwe

First published in SUNDAY PUNCH, March 7, 2010

Nigeria is blessed. We have abundant natural resources. We also have the human talents. Let’s not talk about the Wole Soyinkas, the Chinua Achebes, and the Philip Emeagwalis. These are accomplished Nigerians all right. But there are millions of others who are doing great jobs in different parts of the world. Many of them are unsung. They do their thing silently.

Last week, two young Nigerian twins were in the world media. The nine-year-old lads, Peter and Paula Imafidon, made history as the youngest kids to enter secondary school in the United Kingdom. I remember that in late 2008, SUNDAY PUNCH reported that these same kids became the youngest pupils in the UK to pass A/Level Mathematics. Then they were only seven. They were also reported to have passed Advanced Mathematics set for them by the University of Cambridge in 2009. And you know what; they attended the normal state primary school.

Let’s not talk about public schools in Nigeria because I don’t know how many parents still send their kids to such institutions. Private schools with high fees are the in-thing now.

My own children are in a private school in Lagos. As I was leaving house for the office on Friday morning, my wife was asking me for lesson fees for the three of them. Each pupil pays N5, 000 a month. I complained that I just paid N15, 000 for their lesson. That was when she told me that that money was for their private lesson teacher. The one she just asked for was for the lesson teacher in school.

I was livid. But what do you do when your child cries to you to pay her lesson fee so that she won’t be the odd one in school?  Even, teachers reportedly devote more time to such lessons than to their main school work.

Consequently, our kids grow up paying high for education and getting little in return. It was not this bad before. Some of us attended public schools without extra lessons, yet we came out in flying colours. Many of the scientists, literary icons, technocrats and political leaders we have in Nigeria attended public schools.

The rot in the school system is a parable of the systemic decay in almost all the facets of our national life. Instead of making progress like other nations, we are retrogressing. At 50, what we have to show the world are dilapidated infrastructure, dwindling electric power supply and inability to rule ourselves.

Sometimes, I imagine what could have happened if we had been prone to such natural disasters as tsunami and earthquake. In the past few weeks, Haiti, Chile and Taiwan have been struck by earthquake. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. Perhaps, Mother Nature knows that poor leadership is enough punishment for us. Inflicting us with such disasters will be overkill.

Look at this small matter about the sickness of President Umaru Yar’Adua. Ordinarily, the tension it has generated in the country should not have arisen. But we are so warped in our thinking that a simple matter that requires a simple solution now wears a complicated dress. The next thing is to try to undress that complication with phoney prayers.

What we need and demand is the truth and nothing but the truth. There is no need trying to cover pregnancy as the leadership of the National Assembly is doing at the moment. Senate President, David Mark, for instance, wants us to support the acting president and close our eyes to the problems arising from the secrecy surrounding Yar’Adua’s ill-health.

No doubt, Nigerians have given their full support to the acting president. That is why they can overlook the appointment of a person like Theophilus Danjuma as the Chairman of the recently-inaugurated Presidential Advisory Council. That man has been around the corridors of power for too long. He confessed recently to have made $500m as profit from the sale of oil blocks. It’s time for him to rest and leave the stage for others.

Unfortunately, that rest may not come for him and those in power if this Yar’Adua debacle is not tackled once and for all. Some people have been insulting our collective intelligence on account of the President’s illness. Even though nobody has seen him since he purportedly returned from Saudi Arabia, a certain cousin of his claimed he drank tea with him. Some say he eats well and exercises well. If he can do all this but still has not deemed it necessary to address Nigerians or even see the acting president, then it means he does not have any regard for his subjects.

Karl Maier in his book, This House Has Fallen, captures the problems of Nigeria vividly. He said, “Nigeria, like so many countries in Africa, is patently not a developing nation. It is underdeveloping. Its people are worse off now than they were at independence… In Nigeria the blame for its lost generation falls squarely on the shoulders of its people’s leaders – corrupt military dictators and their civilian accomplices – who over the past quarter of a century have humbled a once proud nation through outright incompetence and greed.”

We are a nation where those who say the truth are crucified. And blessed are those who tell lies and defraud the nation for they shall inherit the corridors of power. This is why a Dora Akunyili would be asked to shut up or resign for voicing her frustrations against secrecy and lies prevalent in high places. That is why certain elements would threaten to eliminate a Diezani Alison-Madueke for apparently having a contrary view to that of the ones Nigerians have come to regard as a cabal.

I’m still optimistic in spite of all these. If each of us play the roles expected of us, Nigeria will get better. As the father of Peter and Paula Imafidon reportedly said, the extraordinary achievement of his children was because of their being nurtured.

As he put it, “Every child (read Nigerian) is a genius. Once you identify the talent of a child and put them in the environment that will nurture that talent then the sky is the limit.”

From the ashes of this perfidy, Nigeria will emerge a greater nation. It is only a hope.