Archive for May 2013

When a woman is hungry

May 23, 2013

Casmir Igbokwe

Ms Esther Odozi reportedly lay half-naked on the premises of Ikeja Magistrates’ Court last Monday. She was shouting, “Hunger! Hunger! Government must do something today. I have not received anything from the plenty crude oil money government is spending in our state. Nigerians are wicked.”

This 21-year-old mother left her five children in Agbor Owanta, Delta State, to look for fortunes in Lagos. What she got instead were misfortunes. As she rolled on the ground with her bare breasts, she told curious passersby that she would not leave the area until Governor Tunde Fashola of Lagos State gave her N200, 000 to start business of garri and melon.

I’m not sure if Fashola eventually attended to the woman. What is certain, though, is that the country is drifting. There is hunger in the land; and there is anger as well. Many able-bodied youths roam the streets without jobs, without future. Danger is lurking all around us. The legendary musician, Sonny Okosun, in his song, Which Way Nigeria, regretted that we still found it hard to start after many years of our independence. He asked, “How long shall we be patient before we reach the Promised Land?”

I have been asking a senior colleague and Managing Editor of Hallmark Newspaper, Mr. Bala Dan Abu, the same question. Almost on a daily basis, we ruminate over the problems of Nigeria. We wonder why we have remained backward in spite of petro-dollars, in spite of the human and natural resources God has blessed this country with.

For me, the rain started beating us from the top. An Igbo adage says when a man on top of a palm tree pollutes the air, the flies get confused. Our so-called leaders from the local to the central government have fouled the air, and Nigerians are confused.

The economy is in a shambles. Despite the assurances being given about macro- economic gains by the managers of the economy, the reality is that over 70 per cent of Nigerians live from hand to mouth. There is no serious attempt to diversify the economy. The tragedy is that industrialised nations are looking for ways of doing away with oil, which is the mainstay of our economy. In some western countries like the United States, there are many electric cars and buses now plying the roads.

We are not an industrialised nation but God gave us arable land and clement weather. We have failed to utilise this nature’s gift to our advantage. We no longer reckon with agriculture which sustained us before and soon after independence. Almost everybody wants oil money.

The quest for this money has made our politics a very dangerous one. People know that the easiest way to make money is to be in government. That is why even when the nation is burning, all that matters to most of our politicians these days are 2015 elections. That is why the leader of the  defunct Niger Delta Peoples Volunteers Force, Mujahid Asari Dokubo, and Co. will threaten that as far as 2015 presidential election is concerned, no Goodluck Jonathan, no Nigeria! And that explains why corruption has thrived and continues to thrive in Nigeria.

Those who cannot easily steal from the national coffers engage in other forms of crimes to get back at the society. Today in Nigeria, armed robbery has a cousin called kidnapping. Together, these twin evils have combined to bring fear into the homes of many Nigerians.         

Besides, unemployed youths have formed street gangs in many parts of the country. Some have become willing tools in the hands of terrorists who promise them paradise when they kill innocent people in churches or die in suicide bombing of other public places.

The women who don’t have the heart to go into kidnapping or suicide bombing profession end up as prostitutes, strip dancers and child traffickers. In Abia, Imo and some other states, there are baby factories where girls get paid to have babies for their proprietors. Some of them masquerade as motherless babies home, but all they do is to trade in babies.

Many Nigerians are wondering why Nigeria is not part of the itinerary of President Barack Obama of the US who is visiting Africa again. He had similarly visited our neighbour, Ghana, a few years back and also ignored our country. The fact is that you cannot force people to respect you. Respect is earned, and as far as the US is concerned, we have not earned the respect of President Obama.

The time has come to save Nigeria so the country will not die. Happily, President Jonathan just woke up to the reality of the threat posed to this country by the Boko Haram Islamist sect. The state of emergency imposed on the three Northern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa appears to be working as the terrorists are in disarray at the moment.    

That’s what leadership is all about – taking the bull by the horns and frontally facing whatever problems the country is confronted with. Nigerians expect the leadership of the country at all levels to declare a state of emergency in education, health, economy, corruption and poverty.

If care is not taken, Odozi may not just be the only half-naked woman to confront us; soon millions of others may march to the seat of power in different states totally naked. The sight may not be as pleasant as some men are already imagining.

First published in Hallmark on Wednesday, May 22, 2013.

Between amnesty and state of emergency

May 23, 2013

Casmir Igbokwe

Delusion should have been Nigeria’s other name. The colonial masters deluded us to believe that we are one country with one destiny. We have continued to live in that delusion. And to worsen it all, we have almost made delusion the cardinal principle of our state policy.

Nothing typifies this more than the proposed amnesty for Boko Haram members. A number of Nigerians have expressed their support for the amnesty. To them, dialogue is better than the use of force. They argued that force had never achieved peace in any society. They gave example with the amnesty granted Niger Delta militants to justify their support for dialogue with the Boko Haram members.

Under normal circumstances, they are correct. But things are not normal in Nigeria. And any abnormal situation demands abnormal response. I had argued here that members of the Boko Haram Islamist sect do not want our amnesty. Their clear objectives are to Islamise Nigeria and entrench Sharia as the Constitution or penal code of the country. They also do not want anything called western education in Nigeria.

Apparently to defer to those who want amnesty, especially prominent people like the Sultan of Sokoto, the Federal Government decided that amnesty is the right way to go. Hence, it constituted the amnesty committee the other day to hold dialogue with Boko Haram members.

But so far, it has been dialogue of the deaf. Which means that amnesty or no amnesty, Nigeria deserves more than mere platitudes to bring it out of the woods. First, the killings and other terror acts have not abated. In less than one week, hundreds of people have perished in the crossfire between soldiers and terrorists in Borno and Yobe States. The terrorists have even graduated to abducting women and children for reasons best known to them.

Besides Boko Haram, other terrorist groups have emerged to kill and maim and, perhaps, ask for their own amnesty. In Nasarawa State, a cult group called Ombatse, ambushed and killed scores of policemen who were sent to dislodge them. Some of the policemen are still missing up until now. Last Sunday, gunmen reportedly killed no fewer than 47 mourners who gathered to carry out burial rites for two of the murdered police officers in Agatu Local Government Area of Benue State. They also burnt houses.

Down South, kidnappers are on the prowl. Their latest victims are the wife of a Supreme Court Justice, Mrs Bode Rhodes-Vivour, his daughter and driver. These unfortunate people were travelling to Edo State from Lagos for the wedding ceremony of the Justice’s daughter when the incident happened near Okada in Edo State. So far, they are still in custody.

Anarchy is gradually taking over our land. Asari Dokubo is threatening fire and brimstone if Jonathan is not returned to power in 2015. Different cult and terrorist groups have emerged as alternative government. Not even in Somalia, the number one failed state in the world, do we have this kind of criminality. There is danger everywhere and all our rulers say is, “We are on top of the situation.”

But as the Catholic Bishop of Ekiti , Felix Ajakaye, reportedly said, President Goodluck Jonathan must learn to be “on top of the action” instead of always being “on top of the situation”.  

This is why the state of emergency the President declared yesterday in three states is welcome. Already, there are conflicting signals indicating that the so-called amnesty is doomed to fail. The committee said it had visited the suspected bomber of the St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla, Niger State, Kabiru Sokoto. Mr. Sokoto said the committee was lying; that nobody visited him.

As if to pooh-pooh this amnesty thing, a group of illegal refinery operators have urged the Federal Government to legalise their operations and grant them amnesty. After a major stakeholders meeting in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State, the group urged President Jonathan to halt ongoing military clampdown, which, to them, would precipitate bigger crisis than the government could handle.

What this means is that terrorists, oil pipeline vandals, kidnappers and sundry criminals now dictate how the country should be governed. I have never seen a country that rewards criminality except Nigeria. The United States of America did not have to reward or grant amnesty to Osama Bin Ladin and his group for bombing the World Trade Centre in September 2001. Neither has the country done so for the two brothers who masterminded the recent explosion in Boston. In such countries, the rule of law prevails and there is no question of giving preferential treatment to a certain group of criminals. Whoever commits any crime must be made to pay for it.

The principal function of a government is to ensure the security of lives and properties. Once a government fails in this responsibility, it has no moral right to continue to be in power.

The onus is on President Jonathan to take the bull by the horns and tackle the insecurity challenges facing this country. The President must show that he has the situation under control. He has taken the first step by declaring a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States. But this alone may not provide the necessary relief if the security agents fail to do their duties with utmost sense of patriotism and professionalism. He needs to go the extra mile to ensure that our security men adhere strictly to the modern method of counterinsurgency. 

          First published in Hallmark on Wednesday, May 15, 2013.

Nigeria as a big territory for refugees

May 23, 2013

 Casmir Igbokwe

The giant of Africa is gradually turning out to be a giant refugee territory. Like Pharaoh, who held Israelites captive for years, Nigerian rulers have held their citizens hostage. As the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Aloma Mukhtar, said last Monday, Nigerians are now refugees in their own country.

Our citizens, Mukhtar regretted, “Are forced to flee their homes, ancestral places of abode and places of business due to no fault of theirs.”

Almost on a daily basis, there is one crisis or the other that will precipitate destruction of lives and properties. Just last Friday, citizens of Wukari town in Taraba State went for one another’s jugular. The violence reportedly started during a funeral procession for a third-class chief of the Jukun Traditional Council. The mourners were said to have passed through a section of the town chanting slogans that angered the residents of the area. By the time they finished, the clash had claimed about 39 lives and 30 houses.

Last year, similar crisis in Plateau State led to the death and displacement of many people. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Nigerian Red Cross estimated that over 5,500 people were displaced after the attacks in Barkin Ladi and Riyom Local Government Areas. The victims became refugees in their homeland.

A few weeks ago, the Boko Haram insurgents and members of the Joint Task Force had a clash in Baga, Borno State. Some reports put the number of deaths at over 100. Many houses were reportedly burnt.   

Those who escape being killed by terrorists or security agents may not escape armed robbers and kidnappers. The latest public figure to fall victim to the kidnappers is an elder statesman and former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Dr Shettima Ali Monguno. The old man, though, was released after three days in captivity. Not even during the civil war did Nigerians live with this type of trauma.

A lot of people have attributed this sorry state of affairs to bad leadership. To a large extent, this is correct. The country has not been lucky to have men of character and vision at the helm of affairs. The man who showed some bit of leadership, Murtala Mohammed, did not live long to actualise his dreams for the country.

The country’s current leadership does not have any focus or direction. We boast of some macro-economic gains, yet this does not trickle down to the majority of the citizens. At a time when Nigerians are dying in their thousands from variegated crises; at a period when youth unemployment is at an all-time high; and at a time when the unity of the country is seriously threatened, the leadership at the centre is mainly concerned with building such things as a befitting banquet hall at the seat of power.

For many state governments, what matters is building palaces for traditional rulers, doing some patchwork on gully-prone roads and sponsoring religious pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem. They even gloat over such ‘achievements’ and engineer a sponsored crowd to clap and sing praise songs for them. What else do we say except, father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing; they are ignorant of what constitutes the indices of development.

The danger staring at us is made more manifest when you gauge our performance on key areas of life. For instance, the country is 14th out of 177 countries surveyed in the 2012 Failed States Index. The country is only ahead of such conflict-torn countries as Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan and Congo D.R. Besides, the 2012 Global Peace Index ranked Nigeria as the sixth most dangerous African country to live in. And in Where-to-be-born index released late last year by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Nigeria was ranked 80 out of 80 countries to emerge the worst country for a baby to be born in 2013.

Rather than pause and ponder over our predicaments and find ways of solving them, we continue to live in denial. Like a below-average student who is wont to say, “They gave me 10 per cent,” instead of saying, “I scored 10 per cent,” our rulers had at one time or the other, dismissed these scorecards as inconsequential.     

This is why the Federal Government will be talking of centenary celebration of our forced amalgamation early next year without qualms. And that was why the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, went on a good governance tour the other day to showcase what, to them, are the beautiful things the state governors are doing. 

But this grand delusion can only subsist for a while. Soviet Union was once a united indivisible country. Today, it has been fragmented into four different countries. Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia are some other countries that decided to go their separate ways.

Now is the time for Nigerians to discuss how they want to either live together as one country or go their separate ways. Every human union or relationship is by mutual consent defined essentially by love or compatibility. When it is forced, there is bound to be grudges, deep-seated animosity, fighting and untimely deaths.

This is what Nigeria is going through at the moment. One major thing that can cushion the bad feelings is good governance. But not the type Labaran Maku went in search of in the states.  

Just as Lee Kuan Yew turned the fortunes of Singapore around; just as former Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave the British people the inspiration to confront Adolf Hitler of Germany during the Second World War, it will only take purposeful, honest, incorruptible and dynamic leadership to rescue Nigeria. It is either we do this now or we find ourselves as refugees in Somalia sooner than later.

First published in Hallmark on Wednesday, May 8, 2013. 

Time to deport all corrupt occupants of Nigeria

May 2, 2013

Casmir Igbokwe

A few days ago, there were reports that religious officers in Saudi Arabia deported three men for being too handsome. The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vices feared that women would fall for these sexy men from the United Arab Emirates.  

Laughable as this action seems, there is a lot to learn from it. Even, the scriptures implored us to cut off any part of our body that would cause us to sin. Looking at the current happenings in Nigeria today, one can’t but conclude that the nation needs to adopt the Saudi treatment for many ills plaguing her.

Last Monday, a prosecution witness in the case involving the murder of a former Peoples Democratic Party governorship aspirant in Lagos State, Funsho Williams, told a Lagos High Court that some vital exhibits, such as blood samples, had been destroyed. The exhibits, he reportedly said, went bad because of poor refrigerating occasioned by epileptic power supply. Thus, the case has dragged on for about seven years now without any hope of justice for the bereaved family.

Is it not surprising that in this age when some countries have made the moon their second home; when cars are being primed to run on electricity instead of fuel; and when technology has gone beyond some mundane inventions, the self-styled giant of Africa cannot preserve vital blood samples because of epileptic power supply? We gloat and make noises when we attain 4000MW of electricity whereas our neighbours that are less endowed have gone far beyond that.

Mr. William’s family is not alone in this type of judicial tragedy in Nigeria. Many other similar politically-motivated killings are yet to be resolved. The case of the killing of the prominent politician in Rivers State, Marshal Harry, is one of them. Another one is the unresolved killing of the erstwhile Chieftain of the PDP, Aminasoari Dikibo. The family of the late Bola Ige, who was assassinated even as a serving minister during the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo, may be wondering now if justice will ever come their way.

Besides murder cases, our judiciary is known to have bungled a number of cases bearing mainly on corruption. It is either the case drags on for ages or the judge passes a ridiculous sentence that tends to make criminality a rewarding venture. In 2009, Justice Marcel Awokulehin of the then Federal High Court in Asaba, absolved the former Governor of Delta State, James Ibori, of all the charges levelled against him. The same Ibori is currently serving his jail term in London.

The other day, Justice Abubakar Talba of the Federal Capital Territory High Court in Abuja convicted and sentenced an assistant director in the Police Pension Office, Mr. John Yusuf, to two years imprisonment or a fine of N750, 000 for embezzling the police pension fund worth N32.8bn. Nigerians were outraged. Happily, the National Judicial Council saw through this gimmick and has suspended the judge for 12 months without pay. Some years back, the NJC had dismissed Justices Stanley Nnaji and Wilson Egbo-Egbo for some dishonourable conducts while in office.

Ironically, our judiciary appears to be on top of its game whenever there is a case involving a petty thief. Last Monday, Justice Oyejide Falola of Osogbo High Court sentenced a 31-year-old man, Kelvin Igha Ighodalo, to 45 years imprisonment without an option of fine for stealing a Sony Ericson phone belonging to Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State during the swearing-in ceremony of the governor on November 27, 2010. The phone is valued at N50, 000.

How I wish the ex-governors who stole billions of naira from their states get half of the sentence given to Mr Ighodalo. Ex-governors who were convicted of corrupt enrichment like Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and Lucky Igbinedion got a slap on the wrist. The Federal Government has even pardoned Alamieyeseigha just as it has pardoned the ex-Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari. Today, Buhari is a member of the governing council of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Tomorrow, Alamieyeseigha could be appointed the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt.

Acute corruption is at the heart of the problem of the judiciary in Nigeria. Some judges sell injunctions at will against the dictates of the code of conduct for judicial officers. Sometime last year, the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Dahiru Musdapher, wondered, “How do we explain a court of law restraining a university by an order of ex parte injunction from holding a convocation to award degrees to over 1000 graduating students just because two students who failed their examination had applied to a court for a declaration that they too were entitled to be awarded degrees?”

That is why I’m as alarmed as the Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, that a compromised judiciary will spell doom for this country. Commenting on the Rivers State PDP crisis last Monday, Soyinka had implored Nigerians not to manipulate the judiciary, “because when you do, you have chaos, you have total anarchy and you reduce the nation to a space of complete breakdown of law and order…”

This is what we need to avoid. Anarchy rules in any country that does not respect the rule of law. Somalia, Afghanistan, and Sudan are typical examples. Even if other sectors fail Nigeria, the judiciary, being the last hope of Nigerians, cannot afford to fail.

So, conscientious lawyers, judges, and all men and women of goodwill should join the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Aloma Mukhtar, to reform our criminal justice administration. We must deport judges and all the other spokes in the wheels of justice from the shores of Nigeria.