Archive for September 2010

Bad roads, accidents and Nigerian drivers

September 26, 2010

Casmir Igbokwe

 It was drizzling last Sunday. Some residents were scooping what looked like diesel from the ground. There was excitement in their eyes. I thought there was a burst pipeline somewhere. But I later saw a tanker lying upside down by the roadside. Its tyres were waving to the blue sky.

 This was around Ibafo/Mowe on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. A few minutes after, I saw another truck lying on its side. Its content (some say it‘s 600 bags of cement) littered the road. Rainwater had even rendered them useless.

As we entered Sagamu-Ore-Benin Road, I tried to count the number of accidents I saw. I lost count. Some of the trucks fell across the expressway. In many places, motorists had to meander through to the opposite lane, with serious traffic snarl in tow. At a point, I occupied my mind with counting the time remaining for me to get to my destination in the east. I was lucky to have got home about 8pm. I had left Lagos about 7.00am. And this is a journey that ordinarily should not take more than seven hours. Some unlucky ones had to sleep over in Benin and continued the journey the following day.

 Not only are the expressways bad, but most of the roads in the cities, be it in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Enugu, or Bauchi are death traps. Just as I was about to put this piece together, I got a text message from a reader in Lagos. He complained about the terrible state of Isheri-Egbeda, Ayobo, Abule-Egba, Iyana Ipaja roads.

A few months ago, the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency said 70 per cent of federal roads in the country were not only bad but had since expired. Even some of the roads that have recently been renovated are being washed away by the rains. In my state, Anambra, the Nnobi-Isuofia-Ekwulobia Road that was renovated less than a year ago has developed potholes here and there. It was interesting listening to commuters talk about the road. They condemned a prominent politician from the state who they said handled the contract for the repair of the road.

An ad-hoc committee of the Senate had similarly indicted some past public officials for dubious implementation of road contracts. About N1.7 trillion worth of such contracts were said to have been fraudulently awarded between 1999 and 2010. The World Bank has just given the Federal Government a credit facility of $330m for the rehabilitation of bad roads in the country. Let’s hope that the Minister of Works, Sanusi Daggash, will fulfil his pledge to rehabilitate four federal roads with this money.

 Let’s also hope that the high statistics of deaths on our roads will eventually go down. Official report puts the death toll on our roads every year to at least 5,000. The number of those who are injured is far more than this.

Our drivers should also learn to drive carefully. Though the roads are bad, accident will hardly occur if a good driver is behind the wheel. But my daily experiences on the road tell me that the majority of drivers in Nigeria know next to nothing about traffic rules. They speed excessively. They have no regard for traffic signs. And they yell at other road users like wild animals.

Truck and bus drivers are the worst culprits. To them, no other vehicle should be on the road except their own. When they try to push you out of the lane and you resist, they scratch your car and dare you to do your worst. Part of the problem is that young boys in their early 20s who should have no business driving such articulated vehicles now drive them. How they obtain their driving licences is a different thing entirely.

To obtain a driving licence in Nigeria, you only need to pay the right fee to a tout who brings the licence to you the following day. You may not have gone through any practical lessons on driving and may not even know what a zebra crossing is.

 That is why I like what the Lagos command of the Federal Road Safety Commission is doing with regard to the issuance of driving licence in Lagos. A few days ago, for instance, I needed to renew mine which just expired. I called the Lagos sector commander of the FRSC, Jonas Agwu, to help me out. He gave me a date and urged me to come at 8am.

I came at the appointed time and joined other licence applicants in a lecture hall. The lecturer was Mr. Agwu. And for over one hour, he taught us the rudiments of good driving. According to him, a good driver must have good sight, sound judgement and good reflexes. He must also anticipate or think ahead and have maximum concentration.

The question is: how many of our drivers have these attributes? As Agwu noted, some of our drivers engage in drunk-driving, especially on weekends. Some want to pose with their latest phones while driving; while some others ignore such safety rules as putting a child on the front seat of their cars.

 At the Vehicle Inspection Office where I obtained the form for the driving licence, I was made to pass through another round of lectures. At the end of it, every applicant is made to buy a copy of road safety manual on sale at the VIO. Though I obtained my licence that same day, I understand the processes can take up to three days.

In sane societies, obtaining a driving licence could take months. You are properly and thoroughly tested to be sure you can actually drive. And when you commit any traffic offence, the law is there to take its course.

Penultimate week, 47-year-old singer, George Michael, was found guilty of drug-driving by Highbury Corner Magistrate Court in London. The police arrested him in July for crashing his Range Rover while under the influence of cannabis. He was given an eight-week sentence and a fine of 1, 250 pounds. The court also banned him from driving for five years.

 Until our law enforcement agents stop chasing shadows and begin to critically examine the road worthiness of vehicles and their drivers, sanity may never return to our roads.

The next Nigerian president

September 18, 2010

Casmir Igbokwe

On Saturday, September 18, 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan formally declared his intention to contest the presidency of Nigeria in 2011. It was at Eagles Square in Abuja before a mammoth crowd. He had earlier offered his services to the Nigerian people on Facebook. Before his formal declaration, I got his customised text message which reads, “We are on the road to rebuild our nation. Stand with me. Stand for transformation.”

At least, seven other aspirants have made their ambition to lead the nation known. They are Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Muhammadu Buhari, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Messrs Bukola Saraki, Bashir Tofa, Nuhu Ribadu and Dele Momodu. Each of these candidates has dreams of what to do or what not to do for the country.

Some of these candidates are serious; some just want to make some noises. Since they are just aspirants, we will not devote much time to them for now. Our analysis will centre mainly on their antecedents and chances of making it through the primaries. Today, I will give you a few hints and leave the analysis to you.

Let’s start with President Jonathan. So far, he has been a very lucky man. He has undergone tremendous transformation from a poor village boy to an unknown lecturer; from a deputy governor to governor; and from vice-president to president without contesting any election. Now he wants our votes to make him a truly elected president of Nigeria.   

His major promise if elected is to always tell the truth and carry everybody along. “I know you are tired of empty promises,” he said, “so I will make only one promise to you today…to promise less and deliver more if I’m elected.” That is if his wife, Patience, will exercise enough patience and calmness throughout the campaign period. Remember her reported altercation with Governor Chibuike  Amaechi of Rivers State the other day.

As more and more candidates emerge, more groups will also come up. People are actually looking for where to butter their bread. That is what politics usually throws up in an underdeveloped country like Nigeria. One of such groups called Association for Better Nigeria placed an advertorial in THISDAY last Thursday. It made attempt to compare Jonathan and Babangida on the issue of trust.

According to the group, Jonathan promised to appoint a credible Independent National Electoral Commission Chairman. He kept his word by appointing Prof. Attahiru Jega, whom it described as a credible civil society activist. Jonathan also promised, among others, to provide every support to ensure INEC succeeds in its assignment. “He kept his word by approving the release of N87bn to INEC,” ABN enthused.

On Babangida, the ABN noted that the former dictator promised to hand over power to civilians in 1990, 1992, and 1993 but betrayed his word by dribbling the Nigerian people; that he promised chief M.K.O. Abiola that he would hand over to him if he won the election, but betrayed his word by annulling the free and fair election won by Abiola.

Good message. But is this not the same ABN that helped Babangida scuttle the June 12, 1993 elections? Headed then by Chief Arthur Nzeribe, the group did all sorts including obtaining a court injunction to stop the election. So, is it now born again? Or has it come again to put a spoke in the wheel of our electoral process?

It means the vultures have not gone to sleep. The coming days and months promise to be interesting. We will definitely see more turncoats, numerous desperadoes and chronic liars. Babangida has promised to do one term of four years. Judging from his antecedents, do you believe him? Send me your views.

New reports indicate that Babangida, Atiku, Mohammed Gusau and Saraki have resolved to present a common candidate. If the report is true, I wonder who will step down for the other. Atiku, for instance, had left the PDP for the Action Congress of Nigeria on whose platform he contested the 2007 presidential election. He failed. He has since jumped back to the PDP, with hope that he will still actualise his dreams. Considering the former vice-president’s desperation to go back to Aso Rock, will he agree to step down? Gusau and Saraki? Forget them. They are nothing but also-rans.

I hear Alhaji Bashir Tofa also wants to be the standard-bearer of the crisis-ridden All Nigeria Peoples Party. Remember that this man contested with Abiola in 1993 on the platform of the National Republican Convention. He could not even win in his own state, Kano. So what has he come out to do again? Nigerians are watching with keen interest.

“I have a dream for a new Nigeria. I have the dream of a changed Nigeria. I want to see if there is a possibility of opening a new chapter for the country.” That was Nuhu Ribadu. He spoke to journalists a few days ago about his ambition. As a former anti-corruption czar, he did his best to stamp out corruption in our country. He has boasted that he will put a full stop to corruption if elected president. Will you vote for him? Please let me know.

Buhari? As a military ruler, he ruled with iron fist. But he was disciplined. So far, nobody can link him to any fraud when he was in power. However, he has been contesting for the presidency since 1999 to no avail. I pity him. He left the ANPP for the CPC, but will his new party make a way for him?

 Ah, I almost forgot Bashorun Dele Momodu. He submitted his letter of intent to run for the presidency on the platform of the Labour Party last week. As a member of my constituency, I have a soft spot for him. I am sure you know he is the publisher of Ovation Magazine. But his party doesn’t strike me as the one that could win the presidency. Anyway, miracles do happen.

In all, many Nigerians would want someone who will recognise what some citizens call their PhD certificate. That is Poverty, Hunger and Diseases. Of all the candidates, who do you think will collect this certificate and replace it with good jobs, three square meals, and other good things of life?

Jonathan and the INEC timetable

September 12, 2010

Casmir Igbokwe

 That Attahiru Jega is the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission is common knowledge. What may not be known yet to every Nigerian is the fact that some mischievous fellows say President Goodluck Jonathan is actually the INEC Chairman. How? Jonathan Ebele Goodluck Azikiwe (JEGA).

 Trust Nigerians. They are very ingenious when it comes to politics. Some already believe that Jonathan will connive with Jega to manipulate the electoral process. Due to our past experiences, not a few Nigerians will be thinking now that the forthcoming elections in 2011 will not be free and fair. Ask them why and you will hear such answers as ‘the Peoples Democratic Party will rig the election’; ‘some prophets have predicted doom if Jonathan runs,’ etc.

These notwithstanding, INEC, last week, released the timetable for the elections. Conduct of party primaries will hold between September 11 and October 30, 2010. Parties commence their campaigns on October 17, while voters’ registration runs between November 1 and 14, 2010. The elections proper start with the National Assembly elections on January 15, 2011. This is followed by the presidential election on January 22 and governorship/state assembly elections on January 29, 2011.

Looking at the time available, it appears the election is already doomed to fail. The time, as some politicians have observed, is short. Nothing is in place, yet it is just about four months to the elections.

Besides, there are other signs that the elections may be scuttled by those who feel they will not be favoured by the outcome. From the North, Mallam Adamu Ciroma and Co. have threatened fire and brimstone should Jonathan decide to run. To them, it is the turn of the North to produce the President. Somebody like Prof. Ango Abdullahi, from media reports, is sure that Jonathan will fail if he runs. How he arrived at this conclusion is not necessary here.

On the other side of the divide are prophets who have made predictions according to what their own gods told them. For instance, Primate Theophilus Olabayo says calamity awaits the land if Jonathan runs. There will be bloodshed which, he reportedly adds, will spread uncontrollably and jeopardise Nigeria‘s democracy. Jonathan, he advises, must listen to God and rule himself out of the contest.

 A near similar prediction was made for former President Olusegun Obasanjo before he ascended the presidential throne in 1999. He was said not to be the messiah Nigerians had been waiting for. He not only ruled for eight years but also wanted to go for a third term. Perhaps, Jonathan’s God will also protect him against the wishes of Olabayo’s God.

The President’s recent actions indicate that he may not brood any nonsense. Those who think he is lily-livered may be thinking twice now with the sudden removal of service chiefs last Wednesday. To replace them are Air Marshal Oluseye Petinrin as Chief of Defence Staff; Air Vice Marshal M.D. Umar as Chief of Air Staff; Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika as the Chief of Army Staff; Rear Admiral O.S. Ibrahim as the Chief of Naval Staff; Mr. Hafiz Ringim as the acting Inspector-General of Police; and Mr. Ita Ekpeyong as the Director General of the State Security Service.

Of all the appointments, that of Ihejirika is particularly interesting. It is the first since the end of the civil war over 40 years ago, that an Igbo man will be appointed to that position. Already, some Igbo groups have hailed the appointment. President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Ambassador Ralph Uwechue, reportedly said it signalled the healing of the wounds of Ndigbo.

However, what is more urgent now is the healing of the varied political and electoral wounds in the country. Many people are governors today by rigging. Some senators and Rep members found themselves in the legislative chambers without adequate preparation; without knowing the needs and problems of their constituencies. Many local government chairmen think that their only duty is paying salaries and sharing of local government allocations. There have been no conscious efforts to train or enlighten the political office-seekers and the electorate on their duties, rights and obligations.

 We blamed the immediate past chairman of INEC, Prof. Maurice Iwu, for the problems associated with our electoral system during his tenure. We also hailed the appointment of Jega. The hope of every Nigerian is that the new INEC man will conduct an election worthy of emulation. But I’m afraid we may soon turn around to vilify Jega if we do not amend the anomalies inherent in our electoral and political system.

We could start by organising training programmes for all those involved with the process of selecting our leaders. We can take a cue from what the police authorities in Rivers State are doing currently. The command has reportedly set aside every Tuesday for the training of officers and men on the conduct of elections. The Commissioner of Police for the state, Suleiman Abba, was quoted to have said that the personnel were being trained on their responsibilities during campaigns, the public order act, and duties during and after elections.

Similarly, the Centre for Management Development has indicated interest to partner with INEC on training and guidance on how to effectively manage resources allocated to it. Advanced democracies embark on such trainings to sensitise their people and make way for peaceful and free elections. Between March 2002 and October 2003, for instance, the Centre for Campaign Leadership trained young professionals who aspired to run for office in the United States on campaign fundraising and grass root mobilisation, among others.

 In their book, Win the Right Way, Christine Trost & Matt Grossmann said, ”Winning candidates combine ethical campaign practices with effective planning, skilful organising, and a clear message. They learn about the concerns of their community, the nuts and bolts of organising, and the intricate rules of financing…”

We need to also think of winning elections the right way. As I write this, I have just been invited to join the group “Jonathan for President” on Facebook. Soon, Atiku or IBB’s group may invite me too. The contest is hotting up. But my main interest is not joining Jonathan or Atiku or Buhari, but in having my name on the voter register. That is one major way you and I can determine who rules us. That is if the two ‘Jegas’ – Goodluck and Attahiru – smoothen the rough edges of the electoral system.

Celebrating cholera at 50

September 5, 2010

Casmir Igbokwe

In less than a month now, Nigeria will celebrate its golden jubilee. Initially, N10bn was reportedly earmarked for the celebration. Though the Federal Government has reduced the amount, it has resorted to begging some corporate organisations for donations towards the anniversary cause. This will ensure that we have enough money to bake the biggest cake in the world.

For some reasons, some Nigerians will not be part of this celebration on October 1. While we clink our glasses, these unfortunate citizens will be on hospital beds. The majority who cannot afford hospital bills will make do with agbo and other local herbs.

In the past few weeks, cholera alone has dispatched at least 571 people to their graves in about 11 states of the federation. This figure does not include the seven deaths recorded in Zamfara State last week. As at August 26, about 10, 134 cholera cases had been recorded in the country.

Although the disease is particularly prevalent in the North, the South is not immune from it. Media reports last Wednesday indicated that street sweepers and refuse truck drivers were on strike in Ekiti State. Traders were reportedly selling foodstuffs beside overfilled refuse bins in Ado-Ekiti, the state capital. The bins also serve as dumps for faeces, as some residents have no toilets.

Cholera is caused by a bacterium transmitted largely through contaminated water or food. Poor sanitary conditions help to spread the disease. And you ask, why is this disease wreaking havoc in Nigeria in this 21st century? The last major outbreak of cholera in the United Kingdom was reportedly recorded in 1854. In other advanced nations, it is a long forgotten scourge.

In our dear nation, we may still be talking about the epidemic in the next century. Forget about the so-called Millennium Development Goals or Vision 20: 2020. There is nothing yet to indicate that we have any good vision for the future. Our main source of water is still sachet water popularly called pure water. Some drink borehole without any form of treatment. Only a negligible few drink treated water.

 In a recent report, the United States State Department says 82.8 per cent of Nigerians have no access to potable water. According to the report, water supply is unreliable though all the 36 states in the country have state water boards that focus on municipal supply.

To the Nigerian Medical Association, the problem is bad governance. The President of the group, Dr. Omede Idris, was quoted to have said that the epidemic was avoidable and preventable if there were measurable level of emergency preparedness, response to emergencies and surveillance under good leadership.

I agree. Our response to medical emergencies is appalling. Last Sunday, I wrote that death was cheap in Nigeria. A friend, Mike Nzeagwu, reacted, saying it’s even cheaper than I imagined. He drew my attention to the death of the former sports editor of THISDAY, Emeka Enechi, who died last week of tetanus infection. Enechi sustained a minor injury from an auto accident he had some two weeks ago. The man died in a public hospital in Asaba. What this means is that the hospital either does not have anti-tetanus injections, or the doctors were negligent.

Saying that our health care system is too poor will be stating the obvious. My dad was recently treated of typhoid and malaria in a private hospital in Enugu. Right now, he finds it difficult to walk. While at the hospital, a physiotherapist attended to him. But the problem did not go away. Some friends say it could be prostrate. Some say it could be arthritis. Some  others have diagnosed witchcraft attacks.

We thought of doing a Computed Tomography scan to know exactly what the problem is. I have been made to understand that the CT scan equipment at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, is faulty. My younger sister in Port Harcourt made a quick check in the Garden City. Her findings? The equipment at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital is also not working. She could not confirm the current state of the one at the Braithwaite Memorial Hospital before this piece went to bed.

Part of the immediate response of the Federal Government to the cholera crisis was a Facebook posting of President Goodluck Jonathan. The President reportedly said he had ordered the Ministry of Water Resources to provide potable water to the affected communities. Such communities will also be provided with toilets by the Ministry of Health.

These are remedial measures. Governments at all levels need to do more. Local governments can contribute by providing treated borehole water especially in rural areas. The state water boards should justify their existence, or be scrapped. The Ministry of Water Resources should commit the resources at its disposal to useful purpose. And no purpose in that ministry can be more useful than the provision of potable water. If it cannot do this, then workers of the ministry have no reason to collect salaries every month.

In my area in Ikeja, I learnt that government water runs occasionally. The Lagos State Water Board, I understand, has circulated some leaflets advising residents to patronise its water. If this board is serious, it should intensify this campaign and also assure consumers of the safety of the pipe-borne water. I say this because some of the pipes have rusted and may not really be a good passage way for drinking water.

In the interim, Nigerians should help themselves to prevent water-borne diseases. This they can do by boiling their water and food thoroughly. Some use water treatment substance called WaterGuard to treat their water but I can’t say how efficacious it is. As for those who drink “pure” water, be sure of the source or the company that packages the water.

While we prepare to celebrate our independence, it will be worthwhile to reserve some portions of our anniversary cake for those who may still be passing watery stool in the hospitals by October 1.