Archive for May 2015

Now That Change Has Come

May 29, 2015

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in The Union, 29 May, 2015

Owelle Rochas Okorocha is an interesting character.  At social functions, you can’t but admire his swagger. When he gets up to talk, he first draws attention by chanting, “My people, my people!” And the crowd will roar, “My governor, my governor!”

As the governor of Imo State, Okorocha has made some impact – positive and negative – in the eastern heartland. Before he became governor, his house at  Umuodu Mbieri in Mbaitoli Local Government Area of Imo State, could compare to any modern palace of a first class royal father in Nigeria. But within the first three years of his tenure as governor, he reportedly built what could compare to a presidential mansion, complete with a ranch, a big estate and multiple buildings. President Muhammadu Buhari, who visited Imo recently, was said to have expressed shock at such open display of opulence.

Being a progressive governor, Okorocha had dreamt change. Many Nigerians also clamoured for it. Today, that change has come. The All Progressives Congress has taken over the mantle of leadership at the centre. Many Nigerians are happy about it. But with the white elephants in Imo and elsewhere, is there any hope that this change will not be cosmetic; that it will not be like demolishing one palace to build another?

The answer is blowing in the wind. With the current trend of events in many of the so-called progressive states, there seems to be little hope. A few days to the inauguration of this new administration, workers in Osun State embarked on an indefinite strike over six months unpaid salaries. Retirees are also being owed arrears of pensions.

In Oyo, Cross River and some other states, the scenario is the same. Many of the states are reeling in debts. Lagos, for instance, is said to be the highest debtor state in the country with an external debt stock of $1,169bn and domestic debt stock of N278, 867bn.

Why should Lagos owe this much? Why is Osun overburdened with debts? What happened to the earnings of these states from excess crude account, federation account, internally generated revenues and ecological funds? The governors of these states have a lot of explanations to make.

Anambra was similarly a debtor state until Mr. Peter Obi came on board as governor. He changed the situation of the state and handed over N75bn assets to his successor. This is in spite of the fact that the state does not collect oil derivation money.

Real change will start when we begin to manage our resources prudently. Happily, Buhari appears set to lead the way. He has rebuffed plans by the same profligate governors to nominate ministers for him. He told them that the task to appoint ministers rested with him and nobody should tell him what to do in that regard.

The President should also ignore lobbyists and appoint people of integrity into his cabinet. The idea of having 42 ministers and ministers of state or hundreds of advisers and special assistants is superfluous. He is reported to be considering 19 ministries. That is good news. After all, the United States, which is far bigger and richer than Nigeria, has a cabinet of only 23 members.

Buhari should do everything possible to put an end to fuel subsidy regime and consolidate on the liberalisation of the power and oil sectors. Nigerians are impatient. They have high expectations. He should not disappoint them.

The President had also talked of probing the immediate past administration. That is not a bad idea. But if we must solve the problems of the future, we should not waste much time on our past mistakes.

I suggest he hits the ground running and focus on real governance for which he was elected. Probe will not yield any positive outcome judging from antecedents. But if he insists on it, then he has to make it go round. You cannot, for instance, probe the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in isolation because other ministries and parastatals were not manned by saints.

Look at the Central Bank of Nigeria under Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. Recent media reports indicate that for three years running (2012 to 2014), the CBN has been operating without approved financial statement and reports. Neither has the apex bank made any submission to the National Assembly in line with the CBN Act. Financial experts described this as a major statutory infraction. This largely happened under Sanusi as Governor.

What of the Customs, the Police and the armed forces? A lot of shenanigans happen in those outfits and some other ministries, departments and agencies of government. It is either we probe them or we put machinery in motion to reform them.

President Goodluck Jonathan put it succinctly when he said any probe must go beyond his tenure. He asserted, “The Attorney General is aware of massive judgments debts. If we aggregate all of them, it’s almost going to $1 billion. How did we come to this kind of huge judgment debts? These issues should be probed. How do you allocate our oil wells, oil fields, marginal wells and all that.  Do we follow our laws? All these should be probed. And I believe all these and many more areas should be looked at.”

There is need to even reform the thinking pattern of many Nigerians. The mechanic who rips his client off needs serious reforms. The civil servant who refuses to do his job because his palms have not been greased needs to change. The emergency politician and contractor who parade the corridors of power asking for one favour or the other from public functionaries deserve to be reformed. The journalist who demands brown envelope before doing his professional duties needs total overhaul of his mind.

Above all, the self-styled progressives who inflict pains on their citizens by their actions and inactions need to go through some reorientation. The days ahead promise to be very interesting. Happy Democracy Day Nigerians!

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Looting, Salary Arrears And Other Stories

May 22, 2015

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in The Union, May 22, 2015

Bipasha, an Indian belle, was an air hostess with Lufthansa.  Sometime in 2006, the young lady engaged me in a discussion about my country, Nigeria. It was in London. She presented Nigeria almost as a place where jungle justice rules. In broad daylight, she said, people could be seen moving about with guns. But that is not all.

Nigerians, according to her, are too greedy. Each time their flight touched down in Lagos, cleaners who were brought in to clean the aircraft would end up also cleaning out the remaining food items inside the flying bird.

Of course, I did try to defend my country. I told Bipasha that her name should have been spelt Bi-partial; that her assessment of Nigeria and Nigerians was incorrect and biased. I informed her that only uniformed security men could hold guns in Nigeria and that she could not speak authoritatively about a country she saw merely from the air. “Nigerian men are strong and muscular,” I added, “and their muscular arms could resemble machine guns especially if one is looking at them from the air.”

Though I quickly diverted the talk to something else, I kept thinking about the cleaners rushing after free food inside aircraft. I remembered how area boys and area girls fight over food at social functions. My mind also went to government functionaries who clear every kobo in the coffers before leaving office. And I wondered whether it is we who do not understand what is happening to us or that what is happening to us does not understand us.

As we say in this part of the world, awoof dey run belle.  A few days ago, there were media reports that Senators and House of Reps members were looting the property of the National Assembly. The report has it that the lawmakers were carting away public property inherited from their predecessors. The legislators aides also reportedly got a good chunk of the property – televisions, computer sets, rugs, tables, chairs, refrigerators and so on.

Something must be inherently wrong with our genes. Are these not the same legislators who collect jumbo salary and sundry allowances? Why still take away mundane things that they could easily afford without much stress?

Legislators are not the only culprits. In football administration, in states and local governments, in ministries and parastatals, it is the same story.  For instance, the President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick,  last Tuesday, lamented that he inherited liabilities from his predecessor in office. “We are going through difficult times. People hear all kinds of stories of money or the other, yet nobody has asked where the federation is funding the participation of almost all the 13 national teams in international competitions,” he noted.

We have heard stories of people settling themselves with unspent budget of their ministries. A few years ago, this caused some furore in the nation when some high ranking officers of the Ministry of Health were accused of being  culprits in this case.

This is probably part of the reasons some state governments are owing backlog of salaries. From Osun to Oyo, to Cross River, civil servants are agitated. They are yet to get their salaries, in some cases, up to four months. And they are threatening strike. Do you blame them?

For most of our public officers, it is loot first, then pay salaries later. About two years ago, a report of the Senate ad-hoc committee on national planning, economic affairs and poverty alleviation identified high rate of corruption such as misappropriation and misapplication of public funds as well as abuse of immunity clause by some state governors as part of our problems. The report, which was a follow-up to the labour policy report 2011 of the Nigerian Governors Forum, also decried the incapacitation of the anti-graft agencies.

What prompted the reports was the revelation that 27 states of the federation were financially incapacitated. Only a few states like Akwa Ibom, Anambra, and Abia were declared viable. Currently, the majority of the states face insolvency and bankruptcy arising from huge wage bills and declining revenues.

Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi succinctly put it this way, “The bulk of the revenue of these states is currently financing payroll of the civil service which constitutes less than four per cent of the total population in all states. If this trend continues, many of the states would become financially insolvent and increasingly handicapped to finance real sectors and drive  economic growth, jobs and improved livelihoods.”

That is what is happening now. States and the Federal Government are passing the blame game, accusing each other of being responsible for the economic downturn.

While that is going on, some breadwinners are losing their jobs. Some of those still working cannot get their salaries. Burial ceremonies have almost become the greatest money spinners in the villages. Yes, sale of coffins is booming. Undertakers are smiling to the banks. A lot of people now depend on the food they eat at funeral ceremonies for survival.

It is disheartening that despite the hardship many Nigerians are passing through, the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission has reportedly approved N200m severance package for two-term governors in Nigeria. This is not only insensitive, it is unbelievable.

There should be reduction in the cost of governance at all levels. I don’t see why we should have senior special assistants and special assistants for the same portfolio. It is also clear wastage, for instance, to have Minister of Education and Minister of State for Education. Legislators should only be paid sitting allowances. Security votes for governors and the President should be abolished.

Besides, states should diversify  their sources of revenue. Oil is not the only business we can do. Tourism is there. Agriculture and solid minerals are waiting to be tapped.

Above all, public officers should declare their assets on assumption of office. By the time they are ready to leave, we should be able to determine whether the awoof they have taken will qualify them for the prisons or community service. If we equitably distribute our national wealth, Nigerians will not have to rush remnants of food inside aircraft.

As Enterprising And Humble As Innoson

May 15, 2015

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in The Union of May 15, 2015

Kosi, currently in Basic Six, is always asking me to help her do some of these assignments that require doing some research on the internet. If you have a child in primary school, you may have been passing through a similar experience. If it is not to print out the names of ministers and their portfolios, it is to give a list of state governors and their deputies. There was a time they were even asked to write on the impact of missionary education in Nigeria.

Sometimes, the homework could be on animals and their sounds; or what we call simile in dramatic literature – something like, as fast as a cheetah; as dirty as a pig; as slow as a snail or tortoise.

Last week, this homework flashed through my mind as I travelled down to Enugu from Nnewi with Chief Innocent Chukwuma in his car. I told myself that next time such an assignment would come my way, I would urge my daughter to add, “as enterprising and humble as Chief Innocent Chukwuma.”

Chukwuma, the Executive Chairman of Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Group, is well known to many Nigerians. The first thing that strikes you when you enter his office in Enugu is the array of awards that hugs your sight. And the awards have not ceased coming.

Recently, he won the Silverbird Television Extraordinary Achievement Award 2015. He is among those who will be conferred with the 2014 Zik’s prize for leadership later this month. Among the numerous honours and awards he has garnered is the Nigeria Centenary Honours Award by President Goodluck Jonathan. It was in recognition of his role as the first indigenous vehicle manufacturer in Nigeria.

Some other awards include Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR), National Productivity Order of Merit, Hall of Fame Award by Bank of Industry, Most Outstanding Indigenous Entrepreneur by Enugu Chamber of Commerce, Entrepreneurial Award by Institute of Directors and many others.

Beyond the awards, he is a philanthropist. He provided a 500KVA Transformer to Emene Community in Enugu; offered 50 indigent Nigerians scholarships to study in Nigeria and abroad; funded erosion control project and provided electricity and pipe borne water to Nnewi people. He has also donated vehicles and funded projects in some academic institutions in Nigeria.

Chief Chukwuma is the last born of six children. After his primary education, he joined his elder brother, (Gabros International Limited) in his business. He later started his own and in 1981, he established Innoson Nigeria Limited, which traded in motorcycle business. In 2002, he established Innoson Tech & Ind. Co. Ltd. in Emene, Enugu, to manufacture different plastic products. Two years after, Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Co. Ltd was born at Nnewi, Anambra State. Thus, Chief Chukwuma became the first Nigerian to produce different brands of a truly made in Nigeria vehicles. He is into many other business concerns.

The business acumen of this great Nigerian is legendary. He is the first Nigerian to introduce Complete Knock Down motorcycles into the market. He pioneered the local production of PVC plumbing hoses, motorcycle covers, crash helmets and so on. He has on his employ about 7500 workers.

Despite his numerous accomplishments, Innoson, as he is fondly called, is humility personified. He relates equally with everybody who comes across him. He picks all his calls except if the phone is not with him.

On our way back to Enugu from Nnewi, he received many calls both serious and unserious ones. One of those who called happens to be a student of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. The young man was speaking on behalf of a group which wanted one favour or the other from the man. He complained that he was not allowed to see Innoson when he visited in Enugu. Politely, Innoson apologised to the man and asked him to repeat the visit.

He drove himself from Nnewi to Enugu late evening of the day in question. As we chatted, he made me understand that he had driven the Range Rover we travelled in for 12 years.

As I wondered how this astute businessman was able to go this far without university certificates, he let me into the way his mind works. He said, “Before I went into motorcycle manufacturing, I was a spare parts dealer for both motorcycles and vehicles. That was when I noticed that it was expensive to buy motorcycles in the country. I decided to find out why and I observed that there were only four companies that were importing motorcycles into the country. .. The way they brought them in was by shipping about 40 motorcycles in one 40-feet container and the freight charge would take about 40 per cent of the cost and this was the main reason why motorcycles were being sold for about N150,000 in Nigeria.

“So when I travelled abroad, I discussed with them and they gave me the motorcycles in spare parts; so I brought them here, assembled them and sold them for N70,000 which is half the market price. Based on my selling price, people started buying new motorcycles again, foregoing the fairly used ones.

“After a while, I looked at it again and noticed that motorcycles had a lot of plastic components on its body. This made me to set up a plastic plant in Enugu to support the motorcycle plant. Having set up the plastic plant which now enabled me to produce the plastic parts, I further slashed the price to N60,000 which is the selling price of motorcycles in the Nigerian market today. I am the one responsible for that.”

What more do I add. Rather than asking pupils to keep cramming the names of governors or ministers who are always being changed, they should be made to study such great entrepreneurs like Innoson. At this critical point in our nation’s history, we need more of industrialists and entrepreneurs who will provide employment for our people. Politicians produce nothing but take the large chunk of our national wealth.  So sad.

Danger Signals From Incoming Buhari Government

May 1, 2015

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in The Union of May 1, 2015

Prometheus Bound is an ancient Greek tragedy written by Aeschylus. The protagonist, Prometheus, is a Titan, who, against the wishes of the gods, gives fire to humanity. For this rebellious act, Prometheus is chained and condemned to perpetual punishment.

Prometheus Unbound, a lyrical drama by Percy Bysshe Shelley, concerns itself with the torments this Greek mythological figure is going through. Hence, the supportive elements of Zeus, the god who is instrumental to the plight of Prometheus, abandoned him. He falls from power, necessitating the release of Prometheus.

It looks like this Greek tragedy is about replicating itself in Nigeria. Earlier in the week, the media fed Nigerians with the story of the banning and unbanning of African Independent Television from covering the activities of the President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari .

According to the story, the President-elect would not want AIT around him because of security and family concerns. The station aired some documentaries that appeared to be in bad taste and against Buhari during the 2015 presidential campaign.

The President-elect’s spokesman, Garuba Shehu, asserted, “The Buharis have decided that they would have to resolve some issues relating to issues of standard and ethics. We will be talking with them to try and resolve the matter but for now, the station has been asked to stay aside.”

My first reaction to this was, who determines the issue of ethics and standards for the broadcast media? Is it Garba Shehu? Is it Buhari? Definitely not. If AIT has infringed on the right of any individual, there are established bodies that should call the station to order. There are other legal ways of seeking redress.

But some Buhari supporters would hear none of this. As far as they are concerned, AIT committed sacrilege by airing the documentaries against Buhari. They went to the social media to lampoon those who condemned the so-called ban.

Of course everybody is entitled to their opinion. Buhari’s supporters have also aired their views denigrating critics of their principal. Some even called for the crucifixion of  AIT and whoever is supporting them. If we have to follow their parameters, it then means that they too should be crucified.

To show that the action against AIT is repulsive, Buhari’s party, the All Progressives Congress, spoke against it. The party’s spokesman, Lai Mohammed, noted, “There must be repercussions, within the realms of the law, for media organisations which have wantonly breached the code of ethics of the journalism profession and turned themselves to partisans instead of professionals. But such repercussions will not include barring any accredited media organisation from covering the activities of the President-elect.”

Truth is, Nigeria has gone beyond jackboot democracy. Buhari could do what he was accused of doing now when he was the military Head of State. Then he promulgated Decree 4 which he used to hound and harass journalists.

Not anymore. Today, he is a democrat and should truly remain so. Happily, he appears to be listening to wise counsel now. His denial that he didn’t authorise the ‘fatwa’ on AIT is a testimony to this fact. The President-elect was reported on Wednesday to have said that he was not consulted before the ban on AIT was placed. He reportedly instructed his staff to steer clear of the media and allow his media team to handle all press affairs.

Before the AIT saga, he had said he would order a probe into the $20bn said to be missing from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation account. Is the President-elect saying he does not believe in the audit report by the respected PriceWaterhouseCoopers? Or are there other things to this NNPC accounts that we do not know?

The way the APC and the incoming government are going prompted the Federal Executive Council to accuse them of attempting to force Jonathan and his cabinet to abdicate office before the May 29th handover date. They warned that the magnanimity of the President should not be taken for cowardice.

It is good to hear that the President-elect said he was not on a mission to witch-hunt anybody.  He should maintain his words and endeavour to remain focused on the task of delivering dividends of democracy to Nigerians. He should strengthen our public institutions and refrain from personal vendetta.

When he assumes office, he should remain the father of all and the President of all. If he does not, he will see agitation greater than what happened in the Niger Delta when the late Umaru Yar’Adua was the President. Already, the old Eastern region has begun fresh agitation for resource control. In a meeting in Port Harcourt last Monday, the group known as the Lower Niger Congress demanded the restoration of the 1885 map of Nigeria with emphasis on the right of the people to own their land and resources.

At the gathering, a prominent Ijaw activist, Ankio Briggs, said, “Nigeria is oppressive in outlook and repressive in words. I do not believe that God created Nigeria, because Nigeria is confused. We are too educated to be oppressed. We are not a conquered people. They have done us a great favour by pushing (Goodluck) Jonathan out.”

The APC doesn’t seem to realise the dangers ahead. Now, they squabble over sharing of juicy offices. Some groups want the Senate presidency. Some want to have the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Some want petroleum ministry. In all these, nobody reckons with the South-East and the South-South.

It serves these two zones right you might say. They voted massively for President Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party. Now, the PDP is the opposition party. But it will be a grave mistake if the APC thinks it can do it without the South-East and the South-South.

Ultimately, it will appear as if the media and other oppressed of the society are in for a rough time, but the truth is that no one can bind Prometheus forever. One day, the superior gods will untie him from his seeming perennial shackles.