Archive for July 2010

Proudly Nigerian

July 25, 2010

Casmir Igbokwe

THIS piece is informed by a mischievous joke someone sent to my phone on Friday. The fellow wrote, “When asked when Nigeria will get better, Paul the Octopus fainted.”

For those who do not know, Paul is the name given to a German octopus credited with having psychic powers. During the just-concluded World Cup in South Africa, the creature correctly predicted the outcome of all the matches it was asked to predict, including the final won by Spain. Is it proper to now use it to crack a joke about our country?

Sometimes, we need to celebrate ourselves. Everyday cannot be for crying. And so, today, I have decided to look for those things one can see and feel and proudly say, “Nigeria: Good people, great nation.”

Or is it not a great thing that a Nigerian couple made news around the world for giving birth to a white baby at Kent in the United Kingdom? Initially when I read the news, I thought the mother of the baby named Nmachi had cheated on her husband. “A white man must have fathered that baby. The husband must be naïve to believe that his wife is faithful,” a friend told me.

But Mr. Benjamin Ihegboro and his wife, Angela, have no doubt about the paternity of their baby. Even, some of the scientists who spoke about the issue did not also doubt them. They said the baby couldn’t still have been 100 per cent white if the parents were of mixed race.

It was in that same UK that two Nigerian twins, Peter and Paula Imafidon, made history by becoming the youngest kids to enter secondary school. They also passed A/Level Mathematics in 2008 when they were only seven, thus becoming the youngest pupils to do so in the UK. I will never stop celebrating these children.

You may say the Imafidons couldn‘t have achieved this feat were they to be in Nigeria. Maybe. But I know some other Nigerian children who are doing wonderfully well in their academic pursuit.

Penultimate week, I attended the annual speech and prize giving day ceremony of the Air Force Primary School 1, Ikeja, Lagos. According to the head teacher of the school, Mrs. Unanaowo Effiong, during the testimonial exams conducted for the Primary Six class in June 2010, a pupil of the school, Gideon Adebiyi, emerged the best graduating pupil and overall second best nationwide. The lad had an average score of 90.5 per cent.

Another pupil of the school, Adedoyin Idowu, reportedly came first in Maths nationwide with an average score of 98 per cent. The school recorded some other achievements I don’t need to mention here.

What makes this particularly interesting is that this AFPS1 is not a private school. Our public schools ought to be producing many firsts like this but for now, that is not happening. Most of our leaders today are products of public schools. But ours has become a case of crossing the bridge and bringing it down so that others will not cross.

I’ve not forgotten that today is not for lamentation. And so, let’s give some kudos to the Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Rufa’i, for her proposed action plans to rescue our education sector. Last Monday, she told educational development task teams she inaugurated in Abuja to work towards access to education, standards and quality assurance, technical/vocational training, as well as funding and utilisation. The minister emphasised the importance of technical and vocational education, which she said, could revolutionise the economy of any nation.

I agree with her. Currently, our educational system is structured in such a way that we have hundreds of thousands of students graduating every year to become a burden to the society. They look for white-collar jobs and when that is not forthcoming, they resort to armed robbery and kidnapping.

Though these crimes have been on the increase, attempts are being made to nip them in the bud. The Nigerian Communications Commission, for instance, has promised to employ technology in tackling kidnapping. The acting Executive Vice-Chairman, Bashir Gwandu, said the commission had plans to give telecommunications operators subsidy to install equipment on every mast and tower “that could be used for triangulating between sites in order to identify real-geographical location of both GPS and none-GPS-enabled mobile handsets.” This deserves commendation.

Also heart-warming is the plan by the Federal Capital Territory administration to generate electricity from waste. The FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed, was quoted to have said that President Goodluck Jonathan had given them the go-ahead to conduct feasibility study on the project. He reportedly claimed that the sewage and other waste in Abuja could provide electricity in the city for 10 years.

If Mohammed succeeds with this experiment in Abuja, I‘m sure other states will like to emulate him. This means that even our septic tanks may likely be a source of income. Rather than pay to evacuate human waste, you may have the Power Holding Company of Nigeria officials collecting the thing free for use in generating electricity. This may also lead to the reduction of electricity tariff, which PHCN recently increased up to 38 per cent. This increase was in spite of the poor services the company is rendering to Nigerians.

And this is despite the fact that Nigeria is said to be the number one generator-importing country in the world. Out of about $432.2m African countries reportedly spent on generator import in 2005, Nigeria was said to have accounted for $152m or 35 per cent of the figure.

You see, all this will be a thing of the past if the beautiful promises the minister made are realised. If he or any other minister with good plans fails again, the Imafidons may never come back to Nigeria. Even the bright pupils of AFPS 1 will begin to feel abandoned like some Liberian kids.

By the way, what is this one about Nigerian soldiers fathering 250, 000 children in Liberia? They went there between 1989 and 1996 to restore peace to the country torn apart then by war. The war claimed an estimated 200, 000 lives. But our soldiers gave them 250, 000 kids. Is this not wonderful?

Since the kids are not white, we do not need to consult Paul the Octopus to determine the paternity whenever we are ready to take back our children. Fellow Nigerians, relax, things will get better.

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Onovo’s ultimatum to kidnappers

July 18, 2010

Casmir Igbokwe

Our Inspector-General of Police, Ogbonna Onovo, has been talking tough. In fact, he has relocated his office to the South-East. Some other security experts have also added their angry voices. Our senators are not left out. The Senate President, David Mark, particularly wants a state of emergency declared in kidnap-prone areas. A cacophony of other voices has risen against kidnapping in the land.

This is understandable. Last Sunday, four journalists and their driver were kidnapped in a village near Aba in Abia State. Among the victims is the Lagos State Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Mr. Wahab Oba. An abnormal situation, you may say, demands an abnormal response.

But, let‘s pause and ponder over the ways of some of our security personnel. Last Wednesday, I attended the annual speech and prize-giving day ceremony of the Air Force Primary School 1 at the Sam Ethnan NAF Base, Ikeja, Lagos. On entering the base, I saw an air force officer who was passing by. I stopped him and asked for direction to the school. He directed me quite all right, but decided to exploit the situation.

”Where do you come from?” he asked.

”From Punch,” I answered.

”No, I mean what state you come from?”

”Anambra.”

On hearing this, he hailed me, saying he was my brother. He then veered into some unnecessary tales. I became uncomfortable. But as I unconsciously put my hand in my pocket and made to go back to my car, he said, ”Oh, your hand is in your pocket. Today is a good day for me because I know you want to give me something.”

Embarrassed, I gave him some money which he grabbed and thanked me profusely. He wanted my complimentary card, but I had none on me. He could have taken my number, but his phone was off because the battery was down. I promised to see him again soon as I jumped into the car and asked my driver to zoom off.

This experience set me thinking. Why will an air force officer be this beggarly? I know security men are poorly paid, but is it that bad? The average police officer who mingles more with the civilian population is even worse.

There have been suggestions that the kidnappings in the South-East will not succeed without the active involvement of some unscrupulous policemen. In Abia State, for instance, there are numerous police checkpoints. But they have not helped to curb crime in the area.

Onovo himself put it this way, ”The issue of bribery among police officers has reached an alarming level especially as the roadblocks are now being mounted for bribe collection. I will soon remove the roadblocks because the objective for which they were introduced has been defeated.”

No doubt, our policemen have failed us. The IGP gave an ultimatum to the kidnappers of the four journalists to release them within 24 hours. As at the time of going to press, that order has not been carried out. And rather than carry out their operations discreetly to apprehend the hoodlums, the police have been making one pronouncement after the other, revealing their operational methods in the process.

As the IG asked, where do we go from here and what do we do? I won‘t claim to know the correct answer. But I will hazard some guesses.

First, the Federal Government must find a way of providing the enabling environment for our industries to thrive. Aba used to be home to small and medium scale industries. These industries – be it shoe, machine tool, ceramic or textile – provided jobs for the teeming masses in the region. Businessmen and women visited from different parts of Nigeria and beyond to buy goods in Aba.

Today, the reverse is the case. Cheaper goods from China have taken over. Many industrialists in Aba are lamenting. The roads are bad. Electricity is comatose. The industries are dying one after the other. I know many young men who were into shoe making in Aba. Before now, they were doing well. Not anymore. Some of them beg for money to feed their families. Some have relocated to Lagos and some other cities with the hope that things will get better. But things are getting worse. A man with loose morals who finds himself in this kind of situation is a potential recruit for kidnappers.

A policeman who is poorly paid and who finds in roadblocks a veritable source of income, is a big recruit for kidnappers. He can provide logistics and intelligence support for them. One of the kidnappers of the journalists in Abia was said to be holding a gun painted in police colours. Was the gun snatched from the police or what?

The Federal Government needs to take another look at our police force. Are our police and other security agencies well paid? Will dismantling of roadblocks as the IG has threatened solve the problem? Are we recruiting the right calibre of people into the force?

An honest answer to these questions will give us the clue to what to do. I pity the IG because this heat of insecurity is more on him. He has already appealed to the emotions of his Igbo brethren, wondering why they should be the ones causing him much headache.

Of course the impression is created that kidnapping is an Igbo problem. It started in the South-South but the South-East has made a commercial success of it. People are being kidnapped for N10, 000 or even as low as N5, 000 in Aba. They have even exported the business outside the shores of this country. In Malaysia, for instance, some Nigerian students allegedly kidnap fellow Nigerians and demand as much as $10, 000 as ransom.

Unemployment, corruption and poor leadership have been the major causes of these crimes. But shall we fold our arms and lament every day? To save Onovo this perennial embarrassment, there is a need to decentralise our police force. Community policing will take care of crimes in the hinterland. The IG will not need to relocate to contain such crimes. He does not need to issue a 24-hour ultimatum that will not yield any result. The criminals will be laughing at him now.

PDP, zoning, and doublespeak

July 11, 2010

 Casmir Igbokwe

 Speaking from both sides of the mouth has become some Nigerian public officials‘ pastime. Acting before thinking is another trait we are well known for. No doubt, a people must be known for something. But must we be known for the wrong reasons?

Last Wednesday, the national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, told newsmen that his party had jettisoned zoning. He was quoted to have said, ”Yes, I said to BBC and I repeat to you again that zoning in PDP has been jettisoned. There is no zoning on ground right now. Absolutely, there is no zoning.”

He did also say that the PDP could revisit zoning. ”We have jettisoned it but we can revisit it. I‘m not afraid about revisiting it. If we think that we need to revisit zoning today, let us revisit zoning. But the one we did in 1999, no, no, no, no. It has been jettisoned by PDP itself.”

 Newspapers came out the following day with different headlines of the story. Some said that zoning in PDP was dead. As expected, some northern leaders slammed Nwodo over his stance. The former Senate President, Iyorchia Ayu, was reported to have said that the PDP machinery reaffirmed the principle of zoning in 2002. He then wondered why anybody, including the national chairman of the party, would say that the arrangement had been jettisoned. This, he said, was irresponsible and unbecoming of leaders.

This type of statement might have propelled Nwodo to change gear on his earlier comment on zoning. His spokesman, Ike Abonyi, said the PDP chairman never said zoning was dead, but that most of the editors picked their headlines from outside the body of their stories. What Nwodo said, Abonyi noted, was that the PDP would revisit zoning because it had operated in breach since 2003.

It is not my intention here to pander to semantics or interpret Nwodo‘s definition of sensational or non-sensational headlines. My understanding of the word ‘jettison‘ is to discard or throw away something that is not useful or needed anymore. Of course a headline could be interpretative.

 Moreover, from different media reports, Nwodo didn‘t say the PDP would revisit zoning. He only said the party could revisit it if it so wished. This is not a statement of certainty. We are talking of the current situation in the PDP, not what may happen in future. We know that the party can still change its stand tomorrow. That is its business because nothing in this world is constant except change.

 So, Nwodo should stand by his opinion. Many people will support him. Come to think of it, what have we even gained from the zoning arrangement we had in the past. Proponents of that system say it‘s good for a complex nation like Nigeria. If one section of the country dominates in leadership position, they reason, it will engender bad blood in the polity. They argue that for equity and for the sake of the minorities who may feel short-changed, rotation of power is inevitable.

And so you find people like Atiku Abubakar, Ibrahim Babangida and some other northerners insisting that zoning must be respected. It is the turn of the North to rule, they maintain.

But their agitation, I suspect, is not borne out of genuine love for their people. It‘s all for their selfish interests. Some of them are afraid to confront the incumbent president in an electoral contest. They prefer to be handed over the presidency on a silver platter. I remember that in 2003, Abubakar, Babangida and Abubakar Rimi wanted to contest against former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The first two backed out when they saw that the coast was not clear. But Rimi did not. He contested the primaries and lost.

 Now let‘s ask ourselves, what did the Southwest gain from the Obasanjo presidency? What benefits accrued to the northern masses for the length of time their elite were in power?

Zoning, rotation and similar words thrive in an environment enveloped in poverty and ignorance. The elite who want to benefit from zoning confuse their people by telling them that rotation would guarantee them a place and a say in government. They buy their masses over with peanuts but abandon them when they get to power.

The question is, can rotation truly guarantee peace and unity? It won‘t. Rather, it fuels sectionalism – the ‘they‘ and ‘us‘ phenomenon. In this case, what you hear often is, ”it is our turn.” Nobody reckons with merit anymore.

We are supposed to be one nation bound in one destiny. But does zoning, which emphasises our differences, encourage that? In Plateau State, people are killing themselves because they feel they are not the same people. Some are said to be natives while others are said to be settlers.

In some other states, local governments and even town or village meetings, people want their own person to be at the helm. Sometimes, religion comes to play. Being a Christian or a Muslim can either make one win or lose an election. I agree that our country is complex, but it is not the only complex country in the world. We will do ourselves a lot of good if we behave like brothers and sisters and stop this discriminatory tendency in us.

And let the PDP stop disturbing the entire country with this zoning noise. It is its internal affair. If another party that does not have zoning wins the presidential election, will the PDP stop it from taking over the government?

We should strive to join the league of civilised nations that deemphasise where one comes from. The PDP should emulate its Calabar South chapter which conducted aptitude test for aspirants into its council offices recently. It was to assess the mental ability of the aspirants.

The test became imperative because an informal screening of councillorship aspirants in 2007 reportedly recorded an interesting episode. Two aspirants were asked to mention three arms of government. They purportedly told their interviewers that the three arms of government included Mark IV, AK 47 and Pump Action. These are different brands of guns.

What we need are people who have sound intellect and leadership skills, where they come from notwithstanding.

Car thieves, Representathieves and other thieves

July 4, 2010

Casmir Igbokwe

A NUMBER of things distracted me from discussing with you on this page last week. I had planned to write about our ouster from the World Cup; the kung fu show at the House of Representatives and some other interesting Nigerian shows. But as we say in this part of the world, man proposes, God disposes.

Penultimate Thursday, I came back from work about 10.30 pm. As I entered my compound, I saw that my wife had parked her Honda Accord where I thought was safe. By Friday morning when I came out of the house, I noticed that the Honda was no more where I saw it the previous night.

I looked round the vicinity. I even scanned through the gutters thinking there might have been an overnight landslide that sank the car. But there was no sight of it anywhere. This was a mystery to me because my street in Ikeja is like a close with two security gates.

When nobody could give any clue as to what happened, I immediately informed the Lagos Police Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba. When I went to the Ikeja Police Station to report, some of the officers on duty exclaimed, ”Again!” This is to say that they might have recorded many cases of this type of theft in recent times.

The police later came with me to the scene of the crime and asked if I was suspecting anybody so that they could effect some arrests. I answered in the negative. They eventually left, telling me they were going to radio the information. So far, I have not seen the outcome of the radio.

This is not limited to Lagos. I have heard of similar cases in places like Enugu and Onitsha. You can park your car to attend a function. By the time you come out to go, the car will have developed wings and disappeared.

Recovering such cars is usually very difficult. In my own case, sympathisers keep telling me that God will still find the car. Some say God knows why it was stolen and would provide a better one. I laugh.

What has God got to do with someone losing his car? Was it God that asked the bandits to do what they did? I‘m almost sure the people who stole that car would have prayed and beckoned on God to give them divine protection.

We are wont to mention God in all our affairs, yet we are not godly. Our Super Eagles who crashed out of the World Cup without winning a match always circle round to call on God before any match as if their well-prepared opponents are devil‘s children.

Just as I was putting this piece together, I got an email message from a certain Prophet Timothy Ibe. He attached two press releases. One of the releases entitled, ‘Eagles 2010 W/Cup disgraceful outing: Reward for mocking God (Part 1)‘, noted that Nigeria lost two of its three matches because the country disobeyed God‘s command through his prophet, Ibe.

In the 7,305-word article, Ibe said Nigeria would have won the World Cup if the Nigeria Football Federation had engaged Clemens Westerhof as he advised. Even Sani Kaita‘s kung fu, which earned him a red card in our game with Greece, Ibe added, was the anger of God at play. I didn‘t bother to open the second release entitled, ‘Why God cursed Super Eagles‘, which contains 3, 477 words.

Somehow, this insincere resort to God in every little thing we do indicates that we have completely lost hope in human authorities. Some may ask, which authorities? Is it the legislature that has converted its chambers to a boxing ring? The House of Representatives has become the House of Representathieves. If they are not bickering over a multibillion naira car contract, they are fighting over juicy committees. If they are not agitating for an increase in their bloated allowances, they are pursuing Federal Government contracts here and there. Shame!

While people in high places steal the nation dry, some of those in low places are doing their own in a bloody and traumatic way. A few weeks ago, armed robbers terrorised the citizens of Aba in Abia State. For some days, banks and other businesses closed shop in the city. In Okigwe, Imo State, bank workers went on a five-day warning strike over attacks by robbers. A few days ago, bandits wrote to notify bankers of their intention to visit them in Nsukka, Enugu State. The bankers panicked and reportedly shut down operations. In different parts of the country, it is the same story.

Yet the Federal Government appears to lack direction on what to do. So far, what we have seen are foreign tours to push up the country‘s image. Internally, much of what we hear these days is whether Jonathan should contest for the presidency in 2011 or not.

We continue to play scrabble while the nation goes down the precipice. A new report released last month by the Fund for Peace ranked Nigeria 14th in its 2010 Failed States Index. In 2008, we occupied the 19th position. In 2009, we were 15th in the table. We performed woefully in every index used in measuring development. The report summed up our fate thus, ”Nearly 70 per cent of Nigerians live below the poverty line, while many government officials have become wealthy by taking bribes and embezzling funds.”

We need to take our destinies in our hands. Penultimate week, Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana, sued the Federal Government for the poor state of Lagos-Ibadan and Lagos-Benin Expressways. He wants the court to compel the Minister of Works to repair and maintain the roads, and the Federal Road Safety Commission to remove all obstructions on the highway.

Falana has done his part. We should all do our part if we cherish our lives and property. For instance, if you park your car in church premises, on the street or anywhere at all, endeavour to lock your pedals or steering. You may think your ignition key is coded, but with these sophisticated thieves, anything can happen. If possible, also insure your car so that in case of any theft, the insurance company will mitigate the loss.

We can also take a cue from the Oba of Benin and his traditional worshippers. Some three weeks ago, they invoked the spirit of their gods and placed curses on armed robbers and kidnappers in their kingdom. So far, this seems to be working as some of the robbers have reportedly gone to some Bini chiefs to plead for forgiveness.

Although my bishop, Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, warned us to be mindful of the way we invoke the Holy Ghost fire, I want to crave his indulgence to invoke it on those who stole my car. They should bring it back immediately. Otherwise, Holy Ghooost…!