Archive for June 2010

Searching for the father of modern Nigeria

June 20, 2010

Casmir Igbokwe

TODAY is said to be World Fathers‘ Day. For some families, it is a day to give hard-working fathers a treat. For some others, it is a day that is as ordinary as any other day; a day that may even remind them of a sad fatherhood experience.

The family of one Mr. Philip Benson falls into this category. Penultimate week, there were reports in the media alleging that the man defiled his 12-year-old daughter at Ikorodu in Lagos. The bubble burst when the girl became pregnant in spite of the drugs and hot drinks her father allegedly gave her to drink. The man admitted doing it only two times, claiming the girl lured him into the act by appearing naked before him. The daughter denied this, saying the man forced himself on her many times and warned her not to tell anybody.

If this story is horrendous, I don‘t know how to describe that of one Rashidi, who reportedly shot his two children in Oyo State because they couldn‘t produce the receipts for the school fees he had given them to pay. His suspicion was that they might have diverted the fees to some other uses. One of the children, 14-year-old Aminat, reportedly sustained serious injuries from the gunshot and was later rushed to the hospital. Realising the weight of his action, Rashidi escaped and has remained at large.

Like individuals, nations also have wayward fathers. Idi Amin of Uganda was a wayward father. Gen. Sani Abacha of Nigeria was a difficult father. Even Emperor Bokassa of the Central African Republic was also a stupid father.

But not all fathers are foolish. Some of the founding fathers of Nigeria, for instance, fought for Nigeria‘s independence and bequeathed many legacies worthy of emulation. They included Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and Sir Ahmadu Bello. In October this year, we will remember them as we mark our 50 years anniversary as an independent nation. Since they are late, the natural question is: who do we call daddy now?

The Men‘s Christian Association of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria in the Federal Capital Territory feels former President Olusegun Obasanjo fits the bill. In a statement last week, the association said it would honour Obasanjo as the father of modern Nigeria during the church‘s Father‘s Day celebration. The association will also honour certain individuals for their ”service of distinction to the nation.” Among the honourees are Gov. Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State; Senate Committee Chairman on Aviation, Anyim Ude; and Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Rules and Business, Ita Enang.

For anyone to qualify to be called the father of any nation, I believe that the person must have made a positive impact on the lives of the people of that nation. You can call Abraham Lincoln the father of the United States of America in his time because the legacy he left behind is still there for all to see. If not for his abolition of slavery, an African American, Barack Obama, might not have emerged as the president of the US today.

Another hero worth mentioning here is Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore. This first prime minister of the South-East Asian nation supervised his country‘s transformation from a poor third world nation to a wealthy one. Among his numerous reforms are the emancipation of women and industrialisation of Singapore.

You can also call Nelson Mandela the father of modern South Africa and there won‘t be any contest about that. At the risk of his personal liberty and comfort, he fought apartheid in his country to a standstill. He emerged from years of imprisonment to become the first black president of his country. He handed over power when the ovation was loudest and has remained a hero and a legend respected worldwide.

Our own Obasanjo also emerged from incarceration to become the President of this country in 1999. That was his second coming as president. He had served as a military head of state between 1976 and 1979. He handed over peacefully to a civilian government of Shehu Shagari to the admiration of many.

Thus, it was with great expectations that Nigerians welcomed him in 1999 to right the wrongs perpetrated by the successive military regimes. He did his best to keep the country, which had tottered after the annulment of June 12 elections, together.

However, by the time he reluctantly left office in 2007, many Nigerians were disappointed. The state of our infrastructure did not fare any better despite billions of naira allocated for repair works. Poverty became endemic as the rate of unemployment increased.

To add insult to injury, Nigerians were regaled with tales that the former President wanted to go for a third term in office. He and his deputy, Atiku Abubakar, who had his own ambition to become the president, became sworn enemies. Either out of frustration or anger, Obasanjo imposed the late Umaru Yar‘Adua on us as our President.

Though out of office, Obasanjo has remained as controversial as ever. He still has some influence on the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, even as some insinuate that he has some hold on the incumbent President, Goodluck Jonathan. From his antecedents, I don‘t think he qualifies to be called the father of modern Nigeria.

Unfortunately, I can‘t think of any other living Nigerian that can occupy that position. We have been so unlucky with leadership that even with a resourceful and vibrant population, Nigeria has remained a delinquent child in the comity of nations. Jonathan is relatively new in the saddle, but I have not seen much action that will inspire hope on his part.

That is why I‘m not surprised that the Mo Ibrahim Prize for leadership in Africa failed for the second time to name any winner. Former President Joaquin Chissano of Mozambique won the maiden edition of the Prize. He was followed by the former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae. This year, the prize committee chaired by the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, could not see any leader worthy of the prize.

Somehow, this shows that Africa as a whole, not just Nigeria, is seriously infected with poor leadership virus. Let‘s hope that the Ibrahim Foundation will find one of our leaders suitable next year for the prize. Then, we can clink glasses for the discovery of the father of modern Nigeria.

Until then, let‘s keep searching.

Eternal vigilance as election year approaches

June 13, 2010
By Casmir Igbokwe  
Sunday, 13 Jun 2010

PENULTIMATE week, I had travelled to Port Harcourt for the sixth All Nigerian Editors Conference. Thus, I hadn‘t the time to do certain things I normally do. I also couldn‘t perform some of my duties as a husband and father.

To fill this gap, I came back home early last Monday to have a chat with my family. By midnight when the kids had all gone to bed, my wife and I decided to play some husband-and-wife game. Just as I readied myself for the task, my five-year-old son, who normally sleeps with us, opened his eyes.

All efforts by his mum to lure him back to sleep failed. Disappointed, I covered myself with a wrapper, closed my eyes and dozed off. What woke me up the following morning was a fight I engaged with an unknown enemy whom I gave many machete cuts in my dream.

 Pardon my bluntness. It‘s just that I feel we can borrow a lot from this child who stayed awake and prevented his parents from playing games. We may have been shouting about corruption on the pages of newspapers; we may have labelled Ibori and some others thieves; but what have we done to follow up our protest and wipe away our tears?

Even when a radical body like the Save Nigeria Group emerges, it makes noise for one or two days and returns to sleep. Our professional politicians only laugh at us and continue their business as usual.

A few months ago, the SNG organised protest marches in Abuja and Lagos. With clenched fists, we pumped the air. With big placards, we marched to the seat of government in Alausa, Lagos, singing solidarity songs and making flowery speeches. It ended there.

 A few weeks after, some celebrities organised their own protest march in Abuja. People like Charlie Boy, Dele Momodu and Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde showed their beautiful faces at the National Assembly complex. Security operatives prevented them from completing their assignment. That too ended there.

To show that our politicians are not fazed by such protests, some members of the House of Reps the other day started agitating for an increase in their quarterly allowances. The media did their job by exposing that inordinate request. Since then, the Speaker of the House has not known peace. Some members feel he revealed the information to the press.

 A group of lawmakers have even asked him to resign. Spokesman of the group, Dino Melaye, was quoted to have said that they would soon send their petitions against the Speaker to anti-graft agencies. To him and his group, Dimeji Bankole‘s leadership style has caused disaffection, rift and disunity between the Senate and the House since 2007. They want the EFCC to release its report on the N2.3bn car scam of 2008 and prosecute those indicted.

Who is fooling whom? I won‘t hold brief for the Speaker. If he had committed any offence, he should be made to answer for such crimes. But is it not curious that our legislative activists just realised that the Speaker, who had caused disaffection in the House since 2007, is evil? Why didn‘t they shout immediately they noticed the problem?

We may never fully understand politicians. Their ways always look crooked. Now that the 2011 elections are fast approaching, stories of ritual killings, missing persons, assassinations and massive corruption are the main menu served daily by our media.

Last week, the police in Lagos arrested one Mr. Femi Ade with human parts – a severed female head, two hands, two legs, intestines and some others. The suspect claimed he was only a messenger and that he was asked to take the parts to Ojo market. So far, there is no direct link with any politician. But I won‘t be surprised if the main customers are those who either want to make easy money or win elections.

 If ritual-for-election fails, there are sundry criminals who can lend their services to desperate office seekers. At present, the South-Eastern part of the country is under siege. At Aba, armed robbers operated with audacity the other day. Banks were forced to close for some days. The police appear to be responding by sending extra men to the region. But the people have lost total confidence in the ability of security agents to protect them.

Nothing portrays this state of affairs better than the action of Benin chiefs and traditional worshippers. Last Thursday, about 60 traditional worshippers moved round some major streets in Benin, the Edo State capital. They gathered at King‘s Square, where they sacrificed some animals, poured libation and placed curses on kidnappers and other criminals.

A few months ago, Akwa Ibom women, with the support of the state government, organised prayer and fasting sessions to cast and bind kidnappers and other evil doers. In the North, there is one man called Ali Kwara. He is reputed to be an expert in catching bandits and has helped some states in the North to do just that. Perhaps, by the time the South-East and South-West seek the face of Amadioha and Ogun, there will be no hiding place for hoodlums anywhere in the country.

And we say we have a government! Thank God, the tenure of some of the state governors will soon come to an end. Most of them have nothing to show for the years they have been in the saddle. Yet they will come for our votes again. Some of them are heavily indebted. Some have gone to the capital market to raise bonds to offset such debts. Some are seeking cheap endorsement for 2011. What have we done to contain their excesses? We rant. We talk. We pontificate and go back to sleep.

Our watchword now should be eternal vigilance. Whatever we can do individually to sanitise the system, we should do it. Non-governmental organisations should go beyond seeking foreign aid. They should mobilise Nigerians to fight for their rights. Village and town unions should provide the platform for their members to question their representatives in the state and national assemblies. Those who have the wherewithal should sue whoever deserves to be sued.

If we don‘t remain awake and alert in the coming months, politicians will play games over our heads. And we will have ourselves to blame.