Archive for April 2018

Lyrics Of Ambode’s Second Term Bid

April 9, 2018

By Casmir Igbokwe

Prior to the 2015 elections, the jingle that rent the air in Lagos was, Amboo oh, Ambo..! The picture of a man with folded long-sleeve shirt smiling at residents at strategic corners of the state complemented the song. Not even a strong fight from Jimi Agbaje of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) could stop Akinwunmi Ambode from winning the Lagos State governorship contest then.

Today, the lyrics have changed. It is now Ambode Lekan si (Ambode for one more term). Different groups in Lagos are struggling to be the number one producer of this we-have-endorsed-Ambode song. It is such that one wonders if there should even be any governorship election in Lagos at all next year.

The Lagos Youth Initiative (LYI) is one of the groups that have endorsed the Governor for a second term in office. Chairman of the group, Sofuwam Ogungbo, said the endorsement was borne out of the unprecedented achievements of the governor since he took over power in 2015.

The LYI claimed the governor had employed over one million people, majorly youths, as teachers, neighbourhood corps, traffic officers and cleaners across the 20 local government areas and 37 local council development areas in the state. It promised to organise a one-million-man march in support of the governor’s second term bid in Lagos.

In their own unanimous endorsement, the Chairmen of the 20 Local Government Areas and 37 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) of Lagos State said their support for Ambode was to allow him continue with what they called the massive infrastructural renewal and transformation of all parts of the State. The Chairman of Conference of LGs and LCDAs in the State, Hon Omolola Essien, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues, said the achievements of the Governor in office so far were visible to all.

Inside this endorsement train also are members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the House of Representatives from Lagos State and the three senators representing Lagos East, West and Central Senatorial Districts. Their reasons for endorsing the governor for a second term in office are his reported massive infrastructural development and giant strides in all sectors.

The Senators – Gbenga Ashafa (Lagos East); Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos Central) and Solomon Olamilekan (Lagos West) – were particularly proud of Ambode’s achievements and the renewed vigour he had brought to bear on governance since he assumed office. They also commended him for what they called his smart solutions in tackling the traffic and security challenges that initially faced his administration; his strategic partnerships with Kebbi and Kano States and prompt payment of workers’ salaries.

Last month, members of the Association of Nigerian Market Women and Men of Ajah Ultra Modern Market, Ajah, Lagos State, added their voice to this endorsement galore. The Babaoja of the market, Alhaji Rasaki T. Odunlami, said the decision to endorse the governor was taken as a result of his great achievements which were in all parts of the state.

Endorsements notwithstanding, Ambode had endeared himself to the hearts of Lagosians when he reviewed the activities of many of the agencies of the state based on complaints by people. The governor, for instance, permanently banned Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) from Lagos roads and asked the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) to restrict their activities in Lagos to the federal highways. He also warned the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) to be polite when dealing with motorists.

At the first quarter Town Hall Meeting in 2018, the 10th in the series since his assumption of office, the governor further reeled out his achievements since the inception of his administration. Some of them include a disbursement of a total of N4.5 billion to 5,500 beneficiaries of the Employment Trust Fund (ETF) as at December 2017; presentation of keys to beneficiaries of the first set of allottees of Lagos State Rent-To-Own Housing Scheme; creation of Neighbourhood Safety Corps and beautification of the state with the erection of monuments, parks and gardens.

The governor also boasted of commissioning the first state-owned DNA Forensic Centre in Nigeria and West Africa; disbursement of a total sum of N635.5 million to 8,419 students across the state tertiary institutions; and acquisition of health care equipment worth N2.5 billion.

He listed some of the key projects delivered last year to include the new Tafawa Balewa Square Bus Terminal, new Ojota Pedestrian Bridge, Aboru-Abesan link Bridge and adjoining inner roads, Ojodu Berger Slip Road and Pedestrian Bridge, Jubilee Bridges in Ajah and Abule Egba, Freedom and Admiralty Roads in Lekki, new Lands Registry, and newly upgraded Jubilee Chalet in Epe.

Some projects still under construction are Agege Pen Cinema flyover, the Oshodi transport interchange, which comprises pedestrian bridges, shopping malls, CCTVs, and Oshodi International Airport Road.
Ambode enthused that the newly commissioned Ikeja Bus Terminal was one of his administration’s flagship transport infrastructure under the State Bus Reform Initiative. According to him, the first phase of this programme will see 13 new Bus terminals introduced including major terminals at Oshodi, Yaba, Ojota, Agege and the already completed Tafawa Balewa Bus Terminal.

Late last month, President Muhammadu Buhari visited Lagos State to unveil this ultra-modern Ikeja Bus Terminal. He particularly commended Governor Ambode for his developmental strides in the last three years, saying the projects were indeed laudable. He also commended Lagos State for also developing rail infrastructure to cater for movement of its growing population.

However, not all Lagosians are happy with Ambode. The Presidential visit provided the platform for his critics to table some of their grievances. A civil society organisation, the Save Lagos Group, lamented that the State Government allegedly lost the sum of N1.28b to the visit of the President. It also pegged the total cost of the visit, which it called a jamboree, at N4.7bn.

Convener of the group, Comrade Adeniyi A. Sulaiman, wondered why “the Akinwunmi Ambode-led government would seek to advertise its non-performance by dragging the president of the country to Lagos to commission a motor park.”

He decried the untold hardship the visit subjected Lagosians to, as many people had to walk long distances to their various destinations. There were reports that some citizens were even brutalized by security operatives. This is why Sulaiman expressed the fear that “an emerging fascist style is gradually becoming the order of the day in Lagos.”

Ambode had promised to make Lagos work for everybody, irrespective of age, sex, or tribe. But he touched the raw nerves of some people when his administration recently repealed the 16-year-old Land Use Charge law. The state government enacted a new one which hiked the rates to the discomfort of many residents.

Although the governor was forced to slash the rates, the Save Lagos Group called on the state House of Assembly to commence the processes that would lead to the repeal of this law and some others. Failure to do this, the group warned, it would begin a two-month occupation of the Lagos State Secretariat in Alausa, Ikeja. Ambode should watch it because a number of people are already thinking of moving their investments to some other states, especially Ogun State, which is close to Lagos.

There are some other potholes the governor needs to fill to make his second term bid a smooth sail. One of such is cleanliness of the state. All his efforts in this area, including the Cleaner Lagos Initiative, appear not to be working. Many roads and streets are so littered with refuse that you begin to wonder what has gone wrong with the waste disposal system of the state.

Besides, while the governor has concentrated in reconstructing major roads and bridges, the inner streets are begging for attention. A lot of them are riddled with potholes and need some form of redemption. Some portions of Okota, Lawanson/Ijesha roads are typical examples. In fact, a combination of potholes and refuse heaps has made Lawanson in Surulere an eyesore. Lagos public works agency should do well to identify some of these bad portions and fix them.

His drawbacks notwithstanding, Ambode is as good as coming back to Alausa to complete his tenure. Though the endorsement singsongs are typical way of politicians, the governor appears not to have any serious opposition in the state.

The PDP that should have provided an alternative is sleeping. I don’t see the party doing much in the coming election in Lagos. This is notwithstanding the boast by the spokesman of the party in the state, Toafik Gani, that the PDP would defeat Governor Ambode in the 2019 poll. What the major opposition party has done so far is to call for the disqualification of Ambode for allowing his supporters to organize solidarity rallies which the party sees as violation of the Electoral Act.

One message I have for Ambode is that when he gets to his second term paradise, he should remember not to kill his people with high taxes and rates.

First published in The Sun of Monday, 09 April 2018

Buhari And The Fate Of Nigeria’s Cockroach

April 9, 2018

Casmir Igbokwe

Cockroach is a household pest. With its size, it can easily crush an army of ants. But whenever it falls on its back, tiny ants make mincemeat of it. In his play, Fate of a Cockroach, Egyptian playwright, Tewfik al-Hakim, equates human foibles and existential struggles with that of this unfortunate insect. In the play, Adil, the principal character, is captivated by the continuous struggle of the king cockroach to climb up the slippery walls of a bathtub.

Currently, Nigeria is struggling to climb out of the slippery walls of chronic corruption, nepotism, ethnicity, poverty and above all, insecurity. And if it makes the mistake of falling on its back, Rwanda and Somalia will be a child’s play.

Already, the signs are ominous. Last week, former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd), stirred up a hornets’ nest when he pointedly accused the Nigerian army of aiding Fulani herdsmen in their killing spree across the country. He urged other Nigerians to defend themselves because the military as presently constituted, would not defend them.

In July last year, this same Danjuma, together with retired Generals Zamani Lekwot, Joshua Dogonyaro, and some other Christian elders, launched similar acerbic attack on the leadership of the country. They expressed sadness that Nigeria was drifting dangerously towards another war judging from the many regional agitations in the country.

In a statement issued under the auspices of the National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF) Danjuma and Co. said the real problem with the country “is that Jihad has been launched in Nigeria and Islamists that have been interfering in the governance of the country using ‘Taqiyya’ (approved deception) as ‘Stealth/Civilization Jihad’ and Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen as violent Jihad, are relentless in their pursuit of eradicating democracy in Nigeria.”

Different political actors in Benue, Plateau and elsewhere had also accused the military, nay the Federal Government, of not doing enough to curtail the murderous activities of the herdsmen.
For instance, during the mass burial of the 73 people the herdsmen killed in Benue earlier in the year, the Chairman of the Northern Elders Forum, Paul Unongo, said enough was enough. “If the government can’t protect us,” he threatened, “we will mobilise and train our people into an army to defend us.”

A former military governor of Plateau and Katsina states, Maj. Gen. Lawrence Onoja (retd.), said he wouldn’t mind commanding such an army despite his age should the Federal Government refuse to address the killings in Benue.

To worsen matters, President Muhammadu Buhari didn’t deem it fit to visit these killing fields. It was when the drums of critics started sounding louder than usual that he recently made a shuttle visit to some of these areas.

The point is, there is mutual suspicion among the various ethnic groups in the country. This worsened when the President consciously or unconsciously appointed almost all northerners as heads of security agencies in the country. This is a breach of the federal character principle as enshrined in Section 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

Consequently, almost every move the security agencies make now is seen as another attempt to further expand the alleged hidden agenda of a certain part of the country. This is also why a lot of people believed it when a certain Sergeant David Bako surfaced on the social media to claim that the military stage-managed the abduction of Dapchi schoolgirls in Yobe State. Although the military has debunked the claim and described the so-called Sergeant Bako as fake, the suspicion still lingers.

Regrettably, the Federal Government appears to be unserious in stopping the killings in the country. What we have seen so far is a President who keeps feigning ignorance of the tragedy that has befallen his subjects. The height of it was when he said he was not aware that the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, flouted his order to be in Benue and take charge of the security situation in that state. So far, the IGP is still on his desk dishing out orders.

We can no longer continue to pretend that all is well. I had expected that northern leaders should have reined in on the herdsmen alleged to be carrying out these killings in the country. The cattle breeders have an association called Miyetti Allah. Their leaders are well known. But rather than intervening to put a stop to the crises, the northern leaders, especially the governors, busied themselves asking for cattle colonies for the herdsmen.

However, some northern stakeholders appear to be waking up now because they no longer find the situation in the country palatable. Recently, the Arewa Consultative Forum, the Northern Elders’ Forum and 16 other leading groups in the northern region, held a summit in Kaduna and passed a vote of no confidence in politicians of northern extraction including President Buhari, saying most of them had failed.

The groups felt betrayed that their leaders who have been in power since 2015 have not been able to reverse the abuse and neglect of the northern region in the previous decade. They accused the leaders of poor management of conflicts between and among northern communities.

In many other parts of the North, they said, “communities are routinely exposed to attacks from shadowy killers, while suspicion and anger against the suspected killers is pitching northerners against one other.” Their anger is such that the convener of the summit, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, even called on the North to search for a credible presidential candidate to replace President Buhari.

Northern governors appear to have heard the lamentations of these stakeholders. Hence, they have taken some bold initiatives to engender peace. At a recent meeting with the national leadership of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) in Sokoto, the Northern States Governors’ Forum (NSGF) sought to find lasting solutions to herders/farmers clashes across the country.

The NSGF Chairman, Gov. Kashim Shettima of Borno State, said they had seen enough crises in the North-East with Boko Haram and could not afford to let any other conflict linger without a solution. The governors hope to hear from all sides and finally come up with a workable plan that will restore confidence and entrench lasting peace in the region.

It is better late than never. What happened in Rwanda in 1994 should even teach us some lessons. That country is made up of two main ethnic groups – the Hutu and the Tutsi. Hutu is the majority tribe and constitutes about 85 per cent of the population. Ethnic tensions in that tiny African country worsened when on the night of April 6, 1994, some gunmen shot down the plane carrying the then President Juvenal Habyarimana, and his counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi. Everyone on board, including the two Presidents who were Hutu, died in the incident.

Hutu extremists blamed the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) a rebel group formed by Tutsi exiles. They set up radio stations and newspapers which urged people to “weed out the cockroaches”, meaning kill the Tutsi. Even priests and nuns reportedly joined in killing people, including some who sought shelter in churches. And in just 100 days, Hutu extremists slaughtered some 800,000 minority Tutsi and their political opponents. The situation stopped only when the well-organised RPF, backed by Uganda’s army, gradually marched into the capital, Kigali, and took over power.

Today, Rwanda has bounced back. Things appear to be moving more smoothly there than in Nigeria. If in doubt, travel with the country’s national airline, RwandAir, and see efficiency at work. President Paul Kagame, who sees Singapore and South Korea as models, believes that the key to reconciliation is continued economic development. Though his critics accuse him of suppressing the opposition, Kagame has transformed the economy of the tiny country. Rwanda’s economy now grows at seven per cent a year. And to prevent a recurrence of the genocide, it has become illegal to talk about ethnicity in Rwanda.

Buhari can take a cue from Kagame. I guess he is a patron of Miyetti Allah and they hold him in high esteem. He should invite them and extract commitment from them to maintain peace.

Besides, as a patriot and statesman, the President owes this country a duty to weed out the cockroaches flying around to poison us in our common kitchen. His first major step towards our redemption, and the best campaign strategy for his re-election next year, is to adhere strictly to the clamour of many Nigerians to restructure the country. That is what will guarantee that we will never fall on our backs in this huge bathtub called Nigeria.
Happy Easter!

First published in The Sun of April 2, 2018.

The Trouble With Nigerian Banks

April 9, 2018

By Casmir Igbokwe

Aspego is a Lagos-based businessman. In October 2016, he entered into a transaction with a leading commercial bank in Nigeria. The bank (name withheld) agreed to sell $324,560 to him at the rate of N290.5 per dollar through what it calls “Over the Counter Foreign Exchange Futures.” Under the agreement, the bank is entitled to a commission of N2.50/$1.00.

Eventually, the business did not pull through, as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) said there was no dollar. The bank returned N9,428,468 representing 10 per cent of the principal sum it bid from the CBN. But it did not return another N811,400, which it also debited Aspego as commission.

The young man cried foul. He paid several visits to the manager of the branch where the account was domiciled and to the head office to demand a return of his money. All these were to no avail. His lawyers also wrote, threatening court action. But the bank refused to budge. When I got wind of the issue late last year, I called one of the senior managers of the bank to intimate him of the problem. Apparently, fearing bad publicity, the bank quickly refunded Aspego’s money.

This is part of what a lot of people suffer in the hands of Nigerian banks today. It is such that even institutions are not spared. Recently, one Ohha Microfinance Bank Limited alleged that a money deposit bank, otherwise called commercial bank, defrauded it to the tune of N219 million. Solicitors to the microfinance bank, Keyamo Chambers, claimed their client had deposited this amount in its two fixed deposit accounts with the said commercial bank, but it unlawfully converted the money. Keyamo has threatened legal action, if the culprit failed to make a refund within specified days.

Little wonder, the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) said the other day that the number of fraud cases attributed to internal abuse by staff of banks increased from 231 in 2016 to 320 in 2017. Head, communications and public affairs of NDIC, Mohammed Ibrahim, said 286 responses received from 26 banks in 2017 cited 26,182 cases of fraud and forgeries, which is 56.30 per cent higher compared to 16,751 cases reported in 2016. He added that the amount involved in the fraudulent activities documented increased by N3.33 billion from the N8.68 billion reported in 2016 to N12.01 billion in 2017, or 38 per cent.

The problem, however, is not peculiar to Nigeria. The other day, Indian authorities seized a solar power plant and some 134 acres of land belonging to billionaire jeweller, Nirav Modi, in connection with the country’s biggest-ever bank fraud of 1.8 billion U.S. dollars.
Indian investigators have also arrested nearly 20 people. These include some senior executives of companies owned by Modi and his uncle and business partner, Mehul Choksi, as well as high-ranking officials of state-owned Punjab National Bank. Modi and Choksi are currently at large.

Beyond fraud, many people have other sad tales to tell about their experiences with Nigerian banks. If it is not one illegal deduction or the other, it will be excess charges for some transactions. They give low interest on deposits but charge high interest rates on loans. If you are a genuine businessman, relying on Nigerian banks could be suicidal. They would put you in debt that you might never recover from.

At a recent public presentation of Dr. Bode Ayorinde’s book, Banking Reforms In Nigeria: The Law, the Prospects and the Challenges, in Abuja, Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, put the issue into better perspective.

Osinbajo said, “Nigerians look around and are puzzled by a scenario in which, to cite one example, they give their hard-earned funds to banks at single digit interest rates but cannot get anything less than double digits when they seek loans for their businesses or mortgages for their homes, all of these occurring against a backdrop of what seems to be regular declarations of hefty profits by banks.
“I think it was Mark Twain who said that a banker is the man who gives you an umbrella when the sun is shining and snatches it away from you when it starts to rain. I should add that he snatches it with interest.”

In the same token, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, called for action concerning prevalent banking practices, which have adverse effects on business growth and entrepreneurship in Nigeria.

According to Dogara, the challenge is that banking creates buoyancy and development in other jurisdictions but not in Nigeria. He explained that, without assets or equipment, accessing loans to do business from Nigerian banks would be near impossible. And if you are not careful in taking such loans, you would just end up in the poverty club.

To be fair to the banks, some government policies have a direct impact on their activities. For instance, the Federal Government introduced the treasury single account to consolidate all inflows from all agencies of government into a single account at the Central Bank of Nigeria. This has forced the banks to devise other methods of breaking even, as they no longer have access to cheap money from government. Naturally, this has affected their services one way or the other.

Moreover, some dubious people make it impossible for the banks to be liberal in dispensing loans. They collect some of these facilities but fail to pay back. Many of these banks have a lot of non-performing loans hanging around their necks.

This does not in any way justify the spike in fraud cases by bank staff in recent times. The problem may have a direct relationship with the corrupt tendencies in the society. Recently, Transparency International, in its latest annual Corruption Perception Index, reported that corruption in Nigeria worsened between 2016 and 2017. The banks are part of the society. So, they flow with the crowd.
Besides, it is possible that some of these banks do not do thorough background checks on their prospective workers. What they might be after is to bring in people who would be able to meet their target of securing millions in deposits by fair or foul means.

Consequently, the image of the country is at stake. Foreign investors are watching and may not want to invest in an economy devoid of transparency.

Also, banks are losing some of their customers. In a mail to an online news publication, NewsProbe, a Lagos resident, Ms Nanma Labar, said she had since stopped depositing in the bank. She added, “I bought myself a savings box, which I use to save my money. I know many other people who do same. These banks want to entice you with interest on savings, but we’ve come to realise that the charges for services (rendered and not rendered) are like double or triple the amount they give as interest.”

Statistics from the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System indicated that the number of active bank accounts reduced by 1.5 million, dropping from 65 million to 63.5 million between 2016 and 2017. Also, Nigerian banks have lost over two million of their customers within the period. That is, from 61 million in 2016, bank customers dropped to 59 million in 2017. This was despite different financial inclusion strategies aimed at bringing more people into the formal banking system.

Some media reports, however, linked this reduction in bank customers to the fight against corruption by the Federal Government. The introduction of bank verification number (BVN), some bankers reportedly said, forced some people who used different names to open accounts to either regularize their names or close their accounts.

Whatever the case might be, it is heartening that the NDIC has indicated its readiness to ensure that banks comply with Sections 35 and 36 of the NDIC Act No. 16 of 2006 (as amended). This Act makes it compulsory for banks to submit monthly reports on fraud and forgery to the corporation.

There is a need to firm up other monitoring mechanisms and existing legal penalties for bank fraud. Recently, a former managing director of Mainstreet Bank Registrars Limited, Mr. Chester Ukandu, and a director of the company, Mr. Achi George, were remanded in custody for alleged forging of Corporate Affairs Commission documents.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had brought a three-count charge of conspiracy and forgery against the two ex-officials before Justice O.A. Williams of the Special Offences Court, Ikeja. Though they pleaded not guilty, they will remain in Ikoyi Prisons until April 10 when the judge would entertain their bail applications.

Also, Justice S.S. Ogunsanya of the Lagos High Court recently sentenced one Paul Onwughalu, a former head of operations, Union Bank Plc, head office, Marina, Lagos, to three years imprisonment for N450 million fraud.

That is the way to go. The CBN and other authorities should ensure regular forensic scrutiny of banks and greater enforcement of rules and regulations. There should be adequate sanctions for any infringement of the rules. Perhaps, this will restore the confidence of people like Aspego and Nanma in Nigeria’s banking system.

First published in The Sun of March 26, 2018.

Profligate Leaders, Agonising Workers And Peter Obi’s Example

April 9, 2018

Casmir Igbokwe

Engineer Umar claimed he had not received any salary for 19 months. Last week, the Lokoja-based top civil servant sent me a distressing message: “I am married with four children. My wife is sick of typhoid and malaria fever. We have not eaten since yesterday night because I don’t have kobo in my hand to take charge of anything. I ran away from my house this morning and where I went to is how I saw your number and I decided to call and appeal to you to please help me with whatever token amount you can afford to help my poor situation this afternoon. Please and please, help me sir.”

I’m not sure if this man is genuine or one of those unrepentant fraudsters. But what is certain is that it was in this same Kogi that a top civil servant in the State Civil Service, Mr Edward Soje, committed suicide over unpaid 11-month salary. This was barely 10 days after his wife of 17 years gave birth to a set of male triplets in a private hospital in Abuja. The couple had been childless before then.

Many other workers may not have committed suicide, but it’s all been tales of woe in Kogi. The Nation newspaper of November 5, 2017, reported that 30 per cent of the state’s workforce was owed 21 months salaries; 21 per cent owed between 11 and 18 months; while about 45 per cent took their salaries up till July last year.

The President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, described the situation as particularly troubling. He told The Nation, “In Kogi, which is the worst case scenario presently, you have about three categories of workers. You have those with three months’ salary arrears which constitute about 40 per cent. We have those with arrears of between five (and) 18 months which constitute another 40 per cent and then, you have about 20 per cent with liability of between five (and) 21 months. The same applies to pensioners. That is the scenario we have presently in Kogi and that is why we say it is the worst case scenario because in other states, all the workers are on the same page.”

Governor Yahaya Bello has denied this allegation though. In his New Year broadcast, he said his administration last December, paid almost all the salary arrears owed all categories of workers in the state. The few ones who were yet to be paid, he said, were those having issues with the concluded staff screening exercise.

The Governor warned civil servants “who defame government with claims of long months of unpaid salaries in order to solicit money from gullible people, or evade their own contractual or domestic obligations,” to desist from doing so.

Salary or no salary, Bello is an epitome of bad governance. The other day, the man announced the dissolution of the State Executive Council. But barely 30 minutes after, he reversed himself, asking the appointees to stay put in their respective offices.

He had also been involved in double voter registration. Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) confirmed this by sacking three of its staff. Currently, he is trying to wriggle out of the controversy surrounding his alleged involvement in the importation of some military items.

Bello is not riding alone in this poor governance train. Across many states, it is the same story. With the exception of Lagos, almost all the states marginalise their workers one way or the other. Earlier in the month, the President of the Trade Union Congress, Mr. Bobboi Kaigama, said 35 out of the 36 states owed workers salaries despite billions of Paris Club refund they received from the Federal Government.

According to Kaigama, if it is not one month’s salary, it will be 13 months of gratuities or pensions that have not been paid. Also, it’s either that contributory pension deductions are not being remitted, or that there are certain promotion arrears and death benefits that have not been paid.

Of course, most of the governors want to come back for their second term. They need money for campaign and other logistics. So, they swim in the ocean of high debt and find it difficult to meet their obligations.

According to BudgIT Nigeria, a civil society organization, the debt profile of states increased from N3.03 trillion in 2015 to N3.89 trillion in 2016. Lagos state’s total debt stock reportedly rose from the 2014 level of N500.8bn to N734.7bn in 2016 accounting for 24.2 per cent of the total debt stock of the state governments.

A dip in oil price is also a contributory factor. There is no excess money to share anymore. And since we have not expanded our revenue base, the poor masses have become the ultimate victims.

But if the governors had not been wasteful, the problem would have been minimal. Some of them find it more expedient to sponsor religious pilgrimages and employ hundreds of personal aides than pay workers or provide infrastructure. They abandon important projects but relish in donating cars and cash to cronies and less worthy causes.

Besides, some states have continued to pay huge pension entitlements to ex-governors some of who are currently serving as senators or ministers. In Lagos, Rivers, Kano, Gombe, Akwa Ibom and some others, there are laws backing up this profligacy.

For instance, the Lagos Pension Law provides that a former governor will enjoy two houses (one in Lagos and another in Abuja) for life. He is also entitled to six brand new cars every three years, furniture allowance of 300 per cent of annual salary every two years, and free medical treatment for himself and immediate family members. There are other allowances that cover utility, house/car maintenance and domestic staff. There are different variants of the same law in Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Gombe, Kano, Zamfara and so on.

The most annoying thing is that some of these ex-governors are serving senators earning stupendous salaries and allowances. Thanks to Senator Shehu Sani, we now know that each senator receives N13.5 million monthly as running cost, apart from the N750, 000 consolidated monthly salary. This translates into about N162 million per annum on each legislator in a country where the poverty level is estimated at 80 per cent and minimum wage remains N18, 000 per month. This is in addition to N200 million each Senator collects per annum under the guise of constituency projects.

Most of these so-called projects are never executed but contractors get paid for them. These are lawmakers who are inept in their duties, but very good in padding budgets to serve their selfish interests. In the heat of recession last year, they increased their budgetary allocation from N115 billion to N125 billion.

There is need for a revolution of some sort. It should start from our political office-holders. They should cut down on cost of governance, debt accumulation, and extravagant lifestyle. The former Governor of Anambra State, Mr Peter Obi, has shown clearly that this is doable.

Anambra is not an oil-producing state, but the state under Obi met its contractual obligations without accumulating any debt. Obi even went further to make huge savings for the state. He was able to do this by living a Spartan lifestyle and drastically cutting down on cost of governance.

Last Thursday, Obi was at his element when he spoke at the dialogue organized by Ripples Centre for Data and Investigative Journalism in Lagos. He said if he revealed how much a Nigerian governor earned, there would be more outrage than what trailed the N13.5 million monthly pay of senators.

Obi said, “America’s GDP is way above Nigeria’s but an American senator earns $174,000 (about N50 million) a year and you can imagine what his Nigerian counterpart earns in a month…In America, governors earn according to their state. The governor of California is the highest paid in America, and he earns $192,000. The smallest state earns $70, 000. But in Nigeria, I can tell you because I’ve been there, the cost of just keeping convoys alone is in millions. And when people ask me why am I saying these things, I tell them that even if we made mistakes yesterday, can’t we correct them today?”

Definitely, we can correct our mistakes. The Kwara State House of Assembly has shown the way. Last month, the Assembly halted the payment of pension to former governors and other political office-holders. This is commendable.

Nigerians should wake up from their slumber. They should begin to question the inanities of their leaders. The little outcry in Lagos over the recent increase in the land use charge has resulted in the reduction of the rates by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. Civil society groups should always galvanise people to do more of this.

If all our leaders could expand their revenue base and drink the Peter Obi pill, I have no doubt that Nigeria will emerge healthier and stronger. And engineer Umar will have no reason again to abandon his family.

First Published in The Sun of March 19, 2018.

Buhari, Nepotism And Lessons From A Town Called Isuofia

April 9, 2018

Casmir Igbokwe

There is this story about a Maths teacher and her six-year-old pupil. It is entitled “The 4th Apple.” The teacher, the story goes, asked the child, “If I give you one apple and one apple and one apple, how many apples will you have?”

After a few seconds, the boy replied confidently, four. The dismayed teacher was expecting an effortless, correct answer (three).

“Perhaps the child did not listen properly,” she thought. She repeated the question. Seeing the disappointment on his teacher’s face, the boy calculated again on his fingers and hesitantly replied, “four.”

The teacher remembered the boy loved strawberries. Maybe he doesn’t like apples and that is making him lose focus, she thought. This time with exaggerated excitement and twinkling eyes she asked, “If I give you one strawberry and one strawberry and one strawberry, how many will you have?” The young boy calculated on his fingers again. And with a hesitating smile, he replied, three? The teacher had a victorious smile. Her approach had paid off.

But one last thing remained. Once again, she asked him, “Now, if I give you one apple and one apple and one more apple, how many will you have?”

Promptly came the answer, “four.” The teacher was shocked. “How? Tell me, how?” she demanded in a little stern voice. In a low tone, the boy replied, “Because I already have one apple in my bag.”
What this means is that there are different perspectives to issues. When someone gives you an answer different from what you expect, it’s not necessarily that they are wrong. It could be that there is an angle you might not have understood at all.

Oftentimes, the inability to appreciate these different angles breeds conflict. In families, communities, states and the world at large, conflict defines human existence. Many couples are always at loggerheads with one another. Siblings fight over one thing or the other. People of the same community battle themselves over little misunderstandings.

For instance, for about 20 years, peace went on exile in a community called Isuofia. There are six villages that make up this town, which is in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State. But the head village called Umueze pulled out of the union over a leadership tussle. The other five villages felt Umueze had been lording it over them and wanted a change in the leadership of the town. Umueze people felt the other villages ganged up against them to deny them their rights. They changed their name to Isuanioma and made spirited but failed attempts to be recognised as an autonomous community.
There were different court cases. But one unique thing about this conflict was that there was no physical fight and there was no death resulting from the crisis.

Different moves to bring back peace to the community failed until August last year, when Prof. Chukwuma Soludo convened a peace summit. Soludo, a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, is from the head village, Umueze. At the summit, all the villages agreed to come together as one again. A 22-man committee was set up to examine modalities for peace. This committee came up with a blueprint to ensure an enduring peace in the town.

On February 3 this year, Isuofia citizens, in a general convention, elected an all-inclusive new executive to pilot the affairs of the community for the next three years. The new chairman, Jude Okeke, is from one of the minority villages. The positions are rotational such that nobody feels marginalised anymore. The people have been singing victory songs since then. And in the words of the traditional ruler of the town, Igwe (Col.) C.A.O. Muoghalu, “No union is perfect to the satisfaction of everybody or component parts. It behoves us to live with and operate our union and work hard from within to mould it to our taste.”

This is what is lacking in Nigeria. We have failed to work hard and mould our country to our taste. There is a sense of marginalisation in some sections of the country. But the powers that be do not seem to bother about that.

In his inaugural speech in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari said he belonged to everybody and to nobody. But, in reality, the President behaves like someone who belongs to somebody. Many Nigerians, especially from the southern part of the country, have accused him of nepotism, especially in major political appointments.

His kitchen cabinet, known in some quarters as the cabal, is made up of his close relatives and friends. These people, from Lawal Daura to Abba Kyari, wield enormous power in the Presidency. A prominent northern politician, Junaid Mohammed, in an interview with The Punch in July 2016, said nepotism in Buhari’s government was the worst in Nigeria’s history.
“In fact, in the history of Africa, let me make bold to assert that I have never seen any level of nepotism that has equalled or surpassed this in my entire life,” Mohammed asserted.

The Presidency has laboured to dispel this allegation. They say even the South East, which gave Buhari the least votes in the last election, has four senior ministers. South East has five states and constitutionally, every state must be represented in the federal cabinet. One of these so-called senior ministers is Dr Chris Ngige. His Ministry of Labour busies itself pursuing striking workers every now and then. The other one is Ogbonnaya Onu. His Ministry of Science prides itself in making giant strides to start producing pencils.

Nevertheless, in the security apparatus of the country, there is no concrete explanation yet as to why almost all heads of different security agencies come from a particular section of the country.
Here is the roll call: Minister of Defence, Mansur Mohammed Dan Ali (North); Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai (North); Chief of Air Staff, Sadique Abubakar (North); National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno (North); chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu (North); Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris (North); Director-General, State Security Service, Lawal Daura (North); Controller-General of Customs, Hameed Ali (North); Comptroller-General, Nigerian Immigration, Mohammed Babandede (North); Commandant-General, NSCDS, Abdullahi Muhammadu (North). Only the Chief of Defence Staff, Abayomi Olonishakin (South West) and Chief of Naval Staff, Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas (South South) are from the South.

This scenario has raised a lot of suspicion and acrimony in the southern part of the country. It is such that people now interpret any move by the security agencies negatively. Recently, for instance, the Inspector-General of Police directed that individuals or groups such as vigilance groups, neighbourhood watch groups, watch night men and hunters, who are currently in possession of prohibited/illegal firearms like pump-action guns, should submit their weapons to the police.

This operation, according to the police, is aimed at the full enforcement of the Firearms Act, mopping up and recovery of all prohibited firearms and illegally acquired weapons and to enable the police to deal decisively with herders and farmers’ clashes, kidnapping, armed robbery, cattle rustling, militancy and terrorism.

But many people, especially from the South, interpreted this to mean that the IGP wanted to disarm the vigilance groups from the South so that the Fulani herdsmen would not encounter much resistance while launching their invidious attacks. And people are circulating this on the social media and even calling for outright resistance to the IG’s order.

Again, when the military embarked on Operation Python Dance in the South East last year, a lot of people also misinterpreted it. They saw the military as an enemy such that when soldiers embarked on a medical outreach programme that would benefit the people, there was pandemonium. Parents rushed to schools to evacuate their children believing that the military wanted to inject them with some virus.
The same last year, the Federal Government proscribed the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and tagged it a terrorist group. This is a non-violent group whose main weapon is agitating for Biafra’s independence. Meanwhile, the herdsmen who deserve that appellation have continued to kill and terrorise innocent citizens without much hindrance. The best the government has done is to issue weak orders while the herdsmen continue with their murderous adventures.

President Buhari should restore the trust of some sections of the country by giving everybody a sense of belonging. So far, his actions and answers to nagging existential questions are incongruent with reality and the perception of many Nigerians. Perhaps, he and his acolytes have a fourth apple in their bag, which many of us are not aware of. If that is the case, I apologise.

First published in The Sun of March 12, 2018

Ambode And The Pains Of Owning Property In The City

April 9, 2018

Casmir Igbokwe

Patience Jonathan wielded a lot of power and influence. Her husband, Goodluck Jonathan, was the President of Nigeria until 2015 when he handed over to the incumbent President, Muhammadu Buhari. Now out of power, Mrs Jonathan may have to chant more than ‘there is God o!’ to retrieve her properties from the hands of government agents.

The former First Lady, through her lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, had claimed that the Federal Capital Territory Administration demolished her property in Abuja. But the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) denied this claim, saying the FCT authorities only demolished a chalet on the premises because there was no approval for the structure. Truth will eventually smile, as the matter is already in court.

In Lagos and many other cosmopolitan areas, government’s demolition of properties is a routine thing. And there are different reasons for doing so. Currently, the Lagos State Government has demolished some buildings at Oshodi to make way for the reconstruction of the Oshodi end of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway.

Demolition or not, if you have not got land in the city, you will feel incomplete. That is why the struggle to acquire it is strenuous. Even when you have the money, you still have to contend with different forces including the original inhabitants of the land called Omo-oniles and government agents. If you buy land, you must settle them. When you start building, you must also settle them, from foundation to roofing.

An ugly scenario happened in October 2015. Then, Ibeju-Lekki villagers reportedly went on demonstration against what they called the forceful takeover of their land by the Lagos State Government. The police were called in. There was a clash. And the then managing director of the Lekki Free Zone Limited, Mr. Tajudeen Disu, was killed.

To curtail the unwholesome acts of the Omo-Oniles, the Lagos State Government, in 2016, signed the Lagos State Property Protection Law and also set up a special task force on land grabbers. But this has not deterred them as they still operate in different parts of the state.

This is partly why some people choose to buy land directly from government. But, even government schemes, sometimes, develop some hiccups. For instance, in 2011, the Lagos State Government sold some parcels of land under different schemes. One of these schemes is Oko-Orisan Scheme. The state sold it as prime land because of its location. While the Ikorodu scheme, for instance, was going for about N700,000 then, the Oko-Orisan scheme went for about N3.5milion. Capital development levy alone was N2.8 million.

About seven years after, Oko-Orisan scheme subscribers are yet to take physical possession of their land. Having made all the payments and processed all that needed to be processed, some of the buyers, rather than get Certificate of Occupancy, started hearing rumour that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has placed embargo on the scheme.

What could have happened? The Special Adviser to the Governor on Urban Development through the immediate past Commissioner for Information in Lagos, Steve Ayorinde, offered some explanations. Ambode’s aide said, “The Governor did not place an embargo. What we explained is that we are reassessing the scheme in order to put in infrastructure. The amount they paid for the scheme cannot provide the required infrastructure.”

After seven years, the value of a land is supposed to have appreciated greatly. But here, the reverse appears to be the case. From the government’s body language, the subscribers should gear up to make more payments even when they have met all the contractual agreements. It’s like buying and obtaining receipt for a commodity at a stipulated price, only for the seller to come back later to ask you to pay more because the goods have appreciated.

Talking about appreciation, a land does not always appreciate in value. A typical example is an estate called New Dawn, marketed by the defunct Afribank Estate in 2009. It was at a place called Magboro in Ogun State. The Punch newspaper’s head office is actually located in that area.
The name, New Dawn, was so alluring that many people rushed to buy without even going to physically see the land. After some years, when Afribank started going under, it handed over to a committee to manage the estate.

So far, it is not yet dawn for New Dawn Estate as there is no sign of development in the area.
Last year, I made moves to sell my own portion of the New Dawn, which I bought then at about N1.5m. I contacted a potential buyer. During inspection, the man massaged my feelings by saying some nice things about the estate. According to him, it is a place for the future and that the government would soon construct a road that would link it straight to the Kara Market side of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. I was happy to have seen a good buyer. But subsequent calls and messages to the man entered voice mail.
In spite of the problems associated with buying land in Nigeria, people can’t do without it. Of course, you need land to build a house. You need it to build factory or any structure for that matter. It’s a money spinner any day.

That is why people are ready to kill or sacrifice their lives to either acquire or defend their landed property. Land has pitched one community against the other. It has engendered serious enmity among friends and siblings.

Recently, the Deputy Governors of Anambra and Enugu States, Dr. Nkem Okeke and Mrs Cecilia Ezeilo, respectively, attended a reconciliatory meeting between Owba Ofemmili in Awka North Local Government Area of Anambra State and a community in Ezeagu, Enugu State. Of course, land dispute was the topic. At the meeting, Dr Okeke advised Ndigbo to stop giving undue attention to land.

But the problem is not domiciled in Igboland alone. The other day, a police team from Zone Two, Lagos, invaded one Peace Estate in the Ago area of the state. They arrested people indiscriminately, including some executive members of the estate, and took them away. On enquiry, the police told the leadership of the estate that their action was based on a petition from Madam Efunroye Tinubu, who claimed ownership of the land where the estate is located.

On hearing this, the Onitire Chieftaincy family of Itire, through their solicitor, Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN) issued a public notice, claiming ownership of the said property. In the statement, the Onitire family quoted different court judgements confirming that the family has title to the parcels of land in question.

According to the Onitire Family, based on the court judgements, Ijeshatedo, Aguda, Itire, Ori Okiti, Idi-Apa, Abule BabaEgun, Abule Goroso, Odo-Asumowu and other surrounding areas belong to Onitire Family. They advised the general public to report any form of extortion, hooliganism or criminal trespass on their land to the nearest police station. They also appealed to the Lagos State Government to call the agents, trustees and/representatives of the Efunroye Tinubu Family to order so as not to throw the residents of the state into chaos, panic and confusion.

Many other individuals have had to buy land, fence it and then come back later to behold another person building on the same land. In 2015, I made part payment for a duplex in Ikeja. I consummated the transaction with the lawyer to the landlord, one Barrister Chris Chinwuko. Unfortunately, the landlord died that same year. Soon after, I got a bank alert which was a refund of the money I paid.

That was how I got wind of the fact that the property had been resold. In October of that same year, agents of the new landlord came to pull down the roof of the building and the fence without notice. I was living in the house then with my family. Ironically, when I called the then Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, he told me that the police would not intervene because it was a civil matter and that the police would only come in if there was a breach of peace.

This experience actually facilitated my movement into my own house. Though acquiring a property in Lagos and other major cities is not easy, it is still better than being a tenant. Governor Ambode has tried by coming up with laws against land grabbing and has substantially made the process of issuing land titles easier in the state.

Sometime last year, for instance, he signed cumulatively, a total of 4,445 Electronic Certificates of Occupancy (E- C of O). The only snag is that it appears he is always looking for where to increase rate and make more money for the state.

In all, it is better for every landlord to strive to get his C of O. When you are able to perfect your titles, you have peace of mind. And if any government or its agent tries to give you any Madam Patience treatment, you confidently give them a sucker punch.

First published in The Sun of March 5, 2018.

2019 And Buhari-Must-Contest Fever

April 9, 2018

Casmir Igbokwe

Does President Muhammadu Buhari know that some Nigerians associate his name with hardship? Trending on the social media is a recommendation that the Oxford dictionary should consider adding the word ‘Buhari’ to its lexicon. The suggested meanings are: hard, hardship, difficult, harsh, and tough. An adjectival example of the word goes thus: “How was your exam?” “It was Buharific!”

In the same token, I suspect that the 2019 general elections are going to be Buharific! To the die-hard Buharists, the President must go for a second term. This is because, as Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State put it, the 24 All Progressives Congress governors were ready to support his re-election.

Apparently to show the seriousness of this re-election project, Bello bellowed some inanities against the Catholic bishops for daring to tell the President that things were hard for many Nigerians. He reportedly told the bishops that those who opposed Buhari were corrupt Christian leaders who were unhappy because looters were no longer able to pay tithes to them. He has since recanted and apologized to the bishops.

Many other people and groups have also vowed to compel the President to seek re-election. In expressing its support, the Buhari Campaign Organisation (BCO) said the President had fulfilled most of his campaign promises, particularly in the areas of security, war against corruption and revamping of the economy.

Let’s examine these three broad areas the BCO has identified. The first is security. On this score, there are some improvements. For instance, the government claims that the nation’s major security threat, Boko Haram, has largely been decimated. To an extent, this is true.

However, the terrorist organization still carries out pockets of raids in different parts of the North. Last Monday, for instance, they abducted scores of young school girls from the Government Girls Science Secondary School in Dapchi, Yobe state. The number of kidnapped girls is not certain but some reports indicate that they are over 100.

This is outside the almost daily menace of the Fulani herdsmen. They have struck in Benue, Taraba, Nasarawa, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti, Enugu and many other parts of the country, killing and maiming. Their activities are capable of engendering a civil war, but nothing much has been done to stop them.

The rising rate of other criminal activities, some of which arose as a result of the hardship in the country, is also worrisome. Ritual killings, kidnappings and armed robberies are typical examples. On some occasions last year, luxury bus drivers had to block the Benin-Ore expressway to protest incessant robberies on that road.

The second plank upon which many people support Buhari is his assumed war against corruption. Yes, he may be upright as a person, but a lot of water has passed under his anti-corruption bridge. Today, Nigerians use snake as a metaphor to describe the level of corruption in the country. Remember that a sales clerk in the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board office in Makurdi, one Mrs Philomena Chieshe, revealed recently that a mysterious snake swallowed N36 million left in the vault of the board in Makurdi.

Many prominent government officials have also swallowed huge sums of our money and nothing serious has happened. Last year, some whistleblowers discovered some N13 billion inside a flat at Ikoyi, Lagos. So far, nobody has been arrested or prosecuted for that.

More pathetic is the National Health Insurance Scheme case. The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, suspended Prof. Usman Yusuf, who happens to be the executive secretary of the NHIS on account of alleged fraud, for which he is being investigated by the anti-graft agencies. Pronto, President Buhari reinstated him.

Even the Social Investment Programmes (SIP) of the present regime has been marred by fraud as revealed recently by the Special Adviser to the President on Social Investment Programmes, Mrs. Maryam Uwais. Lopsided appointments are a story for another day.

To cap it all, Transparency International, in its latest annual Corruption Perception Index, noted that corruption in Nigeria worsened between 2016 and 2017. The country ranked 148 out of 180 countries assessed in 2017. The index showed that out of 100 points, Nigeria scored only 27. In 2016, Nigeria scored 28 points and ranked 136th in the ranking of countries.

On the third plank, which is economy, Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, believes there are improvements. He said the Buhari-led administration had given more support to state governments than any other government since 1999. This support runs into about N1.91 trillion as at September 2017.
Prof. Osinbajo added that despite 60 per cent less revenue, the Buhari government had made the highest capital spend in the history of the country in the sum of about N1.3 trillion. The Federal Government, for instance, is building the Lagos-Kano standard gauge rail and has signed up for the Lagos-Calabar rail project. Work on the Second Niger Bridge is said to be ongoing.

The Federal Government has also claimed to be doing close to 15 million metric tons of paddy yearly. It cut rice importation by about 80 per cent; and boasted about its Social Investment Programmes.

Part of the sing-song is that under the immediate past administration, Nigeria generated a lot of oil revenue; but that under Buhari, the revenue declined. They will tell you how the previous governments frittered away external reserves and savings; how our direct foreign investment declined and so forth.
Today, sympathisers of the government will tell you that Foreign Direct Investments have picked up, external reserves boosted, and savings increased. Besides, there is agricultural revolution. Treasury Single Account (TSA) has plugged financial loopholes. And trillions of looted funds have been recovered. The President is said to have liberated the country from an impending economic doom, and that he has succeeded in repositioning the economy from dependency on oil to other sources of revenue such as agriculture.

But the question is, how have all these impacted on the lives of the ordinary citizens? As the Director-General of the International Labour Organisation, Guy Ryder, put it, access to decent work opportunities for all is the best way to lift people out of poverty, reduce inequality and drive economic growth.

So, how many Nigerians have this access to decent work opportunities? The statistics are not salutary. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s unemployment rate rose from 14.2 per cent to 18.8 per cent in 2017. The labour population, the NBS said, increased from 83.9 million in the second quarter to 85.1 million in the third quarter of 2017. In simple terms, many people have lost their jobs.

Recently, Osinbajo enthused about rising foreign investment flows. But what he failed to mention is that the bulk of the inflow is portfolio or short term equity investments by hedge funds and other institutional global fund managers. As my friend and economist, Teslim Shitta-Bey, put it, most of this fresh investment flows represent ‘hot’ money and adds little if any long term value to the economy by way of infrastructure and employment.

I may not be an economist. But I know that many Nigerians are going through excruciating times today. Personally, I receive a lot of calls from people whose children are at home because school fees have not been paid. For some, even to get food to eat is a big problem.

The NBS, in its poverty report published late 2016, says about 112 million Nigerians live below poverty level. This represents 67.1 per cent of the country’s total population of about 167 million. Poverty has actually robbed many Nigerians of their dignity. Physical and mental illnesses have become the order of the day.

Last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) came out with a damning report about depression in Nigeria. Depression is a mood disorder which causes persistent feeling of sadness.

According to WHO figures, 7,079,815 Nigerians suffer depression. That is 3.9 per cent of the population. And these are people who were once rated the happiest on earth. About 4,894,557 others suffer anxiety disorders.

This is why suicide has climbed to an alarming rate in the country. Recently, a lecturer with the Kwara State University and a 300 level student of the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Bauchi committed suicide. Last October, a 54-year-old Director in the Kogi State Civil Service, Mr. Edward Soje, killed himself. He was owed 11 months’ salary arrears.

According to the WHO suicide ranking, with 15.1 suicides per 100,000 population in a year, Nigeria is the 30th most suicide-prone (out of 183 nations) in the world and the 10th in Africa.

Unfortunately, this government has been playing the blame game. Nigerians knew there were problems. They elected Buhari to solve those problems; not to give excuses; not to commit further errors.

As Professor Wole Soyinka said recently, Buhari appears to be in a trance and has committed so many unforced errors. Some other prominent Nigerians like former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida have pointed out some of these errors.

I know the President means well for Nigeria. But his age, health and poor understanding of the economy have hindered him from offering his best. In the interest of the nation, he should shame those who say his name means hardship by bowing out honourably. He should not listen to those who, largely for selfish reasons, say he must re-contest. We are in a digital age and we need a digital President.

First published in The Sun of February 26, 2018

Hiring Pastors To Fight Criminals

April 9, 2018

Casmir Igbokwe

Mr. Konbowei Benson is worried, seriously worried. Each day he wakes up, he sees or hears the exploits of kidnappers in his constituency. Armed robbers operate with impunity. Pirates, ritual killers and rapists are on the prowl. The worst is that the youths of the region struggle to acquire powers of
invincibility. They have transported many idols, evil deities from other parts of Nigeria to their region and covenanted with them. The ‘devil’, so to say, has established his kingdom in this unfortunate area.

“Owing to this unholy marriage with the devil,” Benson regretted, “destinies have been shifted/destroyed. Darkness now is hovering all over the region, respect for constituted authorities is relegated to the background and these criminal activities have continued unabated.”

In case you don’t know, Benson is the Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly. His constituency is Southern Ijaw Constituency 4, comprising 29 communities.

To root out these evils from his place, the lawmaker discovered a master strategy. He has hired a powerful man of God called Dr Uma Ukpai to prepare for a battle with the criminals. The major instrument for this war is a three-day crusade. This, he believes, will put a stop to all the criminal activities in the region by divine intervention.

Benson is not alone in his belief. When you talk to five Nigerians, at least three will tell you that prayer is the only solution to our problems. “This country needs divine intervention,” is the usual cliché.

Numerous religious bodies in Nigeria are living up to this expectation. For years now, the Catholic Church has been saying prayer for Nigeria in distress. The chant of Holy Ghost fire by Pentecostal churches can bring down a roof. Every year, government sponsors some individuals to Mecca and Rome or Jerusalem for pilgrimages. All these are to seek divine intervention in our affairs.

Amidst these prayers is the usual call for tithe and seed sowing. And the pastors are smiling to the banks. It is such that Nigerian pastors are among the richest in the world.
Even the Catholic Church, which used to emphasise on salvation of souls over tithe/seed sowing, has joined the fray. In almost every parish now, the authorities devote some Sundays for tithe offerings and seed sowing. There is a new one now. They call it first fruit offering.

In my parish the other day, some representatives of the Charismatic society of the church came to the altar to sensitise us about the importance of first fruit offering which we have not been observing in the Catholic Church. First fruit means your first income of the year. Quoting some portions of the Old Testament, they told us that offering our first fruit would usher in prosperity and bountiful blessings from God.

Every month, some churches ask those marking their birthdays to come to the altar for prayers. After the prayers, the priest will ask them to “cut cake for the Lord.”
A lot of people give this cake to the Lord not because they so much love to do so, but because they believe that when they do that, God will multiply their income. This belief in divine intervention is such that some people, who don’t do any work at all, go to prayer houses every day, hoping and expecting some manna to fall from heaven.

This is one strong indication that government has failed in its major responsibilities. There is a lot of fear and anxiety in the land. Almost everywhere you go, you see terror; you witness hardship/acute poverty; you encounter poor leadership.

Currently, the menace of herdsmen in different parts of the country has dominated discourse. They are on a killing spree. Sometimes, even pregnant women and their foetuses are not spared. There is no need recounting other gory incidents of terror and crime Nigerians contend with everyday. So far, the best President Muhammadu Buhari has offered is a tepid response.

In the area of economy, Nigerians don’t fare better. Millions of people have lost their jobs. Many of those who are working are either underpaid or owed arrears of salary. Some are so dejected that they either commit suicide or attempt to sell their children to survive.

In October last year, a 54-year-old Director in the Kogi State Civil Service, Mr Edward Soje, committed suicide. The man decided to take his life barely 10 days after his wife of 17 years gave birth to a set of male triplets in a private hospital in Abuja. A Grade Level 16 Officer in the Kogi State Teaching Service Commission, Soje was being owed 11 months’ salary arrears as at the time he took his life.
Recently, former President Olusegun Obasanjo spoke the minds of many Nigerians when he lambasted President Buhari for not living up to expectation. Obasanjo capped his assessment of the present regime by asking Buhari not to seek re-election in 2019.

What we must cast out from our system is negative thinking, laziness, clannishness, self-centredness and illiteracy. We need to seek practical solutions to practical/physical problems and leave the ‘men of God’ to handle the race for heaven.

Advanced nations of this world seek solutions to their problems by engaging in scientific research and innovations. Already, they are gradually replacing fuel cars with electric ones. Research is at an advanced stage to build flying cars. And we are here casting and binding imaginary witches and wizards.
Religion should be a personal thing. As a Catholic, I go to church on Sundays and any other day I so desire to pray to my God to crown my efforts with success. I also go to bed and wake up praying to God to give me His divine protection and blessings. The dialogue is between me and my God.

Speaker Benson and other lawmakers were elected to enact laws that will bring order in the society. The executive arm of government is there to execute these laws. If the chants of Holy Ghost fire were to solve our problems, by now the so-called devil would have since gone extinct in Nigeria.

My happiness is that the Bayelsa State Governor is not thinking like Benson. He is doing his best to bring practical solutions to the problems of his people. For instance, he has transformed education in his state such that Bayelsa now has the best of public schools in the country.

The Governor believes that a refined and educated mind will hardly think of heinous crimes to commit.
During a recent inter-ministerial/agencies briefing to mark his six years in office, Governor Seriake Dickson said his administration placed much premium on security. He noted that in the absence of good security architecture, all segments of the economy would suffer a devastating blow.

After establishing the state security outfit, Operation Doo Akpo, the state government went to Doo Akpo Marine and conceptualised security boats. Most of these boats are currently being used by security forces in the state.

As presently structured, the security agencies in the country will not find it easy containing criminal activities in some of our localities. For instance, Bayelsa State has only 4000 policemen to police the state. Out of this number, only about 20 per cent are active and working.

As the Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Zone 5, Mr. Rasheed Akintunde, put it recently, a study by the police headquarters indicated that only 20 per cent of policemen in Nigeria were active and working. Every ‘big man’ wants his own security. “Even religious leaders want personal security. So after all that, we find that it’s only 20 per cent remaining to guard other places,” Akintunde regretted.

Besides, the Federal Government is in charge of the police, the army and all the other major security agencies in the country. This shouldn’t be so.

The Federal Government should facilitate the establishment of state police in the country. This will go a long way in curbing incidents of crime in the communities. It is improper for a governor to wait for the Inspector-General of Police to tackle crimes in his state. Imagine if Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has control over the security apparatus in his state, by now, the terrorists masquerading as herdsmen would have learnt a lesson or two on how not to invade innocent people in their domain.
Policing should be brought down to the grassroots. I’m happy the Presidency is thinking in this direction now. Recently, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo spoke in favour of state police.

Even the new Commissioner of Police in Bayelsa, Mr. Don Awunah, understands the importance of community policing. Speaking after assuming office in Yenagoa recently, Awunah vowed to deploy community policing strategy to reduce crime in the state.

Let the honourable Speaker remember that it is not prayer that made China and Singapore what they are today. It is good leadership. Crime is not a spiritual thing. So, we must seek physical solutions to physical things and leave spiritual matters for the spiritualists. Besides, no matter how many times we chant Holy Ghost fire, spirits don’t die.

First published in The Sun of February 19, 2018. Also visit: for more.