Archive for June 2018

Biafra: Buhari should apologise to Ndigbo

June 18, 2018

Casmir Igbokwe

“We recognise that an error has been committed. We will no longer tolerate such perversion of justice. This honour is for the grievous injustice done to the country. It is meant to assist at healing the wounds and building national reconciliation of the 25 years of wounds caused by the annulment. I earnestly urge Nigerians to accept it in good faith and bury the past of June 12.”

That was President Muhammadu Buhari’s national apology to the family of the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola. And it was for the annulment of June 12, 1993 Presidential election. Abiola was the adjudged winner of the election. Last Tuesday, the President conferred on Abiola, Nigeria’s highest honour of Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR). At the investiture ceremony in Abuja, Buhari also tendered national apologies to all those who struggled to actualise the June 12 mandate. Not only that, June 12 has now replaced May 29 as our new democracy day.

This is good. For a rigid President whose constituency did this grave injustice to the nation to have done this means there is still hope for the country. In this same spirit of June 12, Nigeria also needs to bury the ghost of May 30 for total national reconciliation and cohesion.

May 30, 1967 was the day the then Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu proclaimed the Republic of Biafra. The proclamation became inevitable after the pogrom in the North against innocent Igbo population. It was consequent upon the military coup of 1966 said to have been led by Igbo officers. Over three million Igbo lost their lives in the ensuing war that followed from July 6, 1967. Millions of Igbo children died of starvation, which the Nigerian government used as a legitimate weapon of war.

Even after the war on January 15, 1970, the starvation did not abate. The government of Nigeria gave every Igbo man 20 pounds. This is not withstanding if you had 20 billion pounds in your account. In a state like Rivers, many Ndigbo lost their properties to the so-called abandoned property saga.

In present day Nigeria, starvation has changed to marginalisation. No Igbo man, for instance, has been found good enough to become the President of Nigeria. In key political and security appointments, Igbo people are not found worthy. In admission into federal unity schools, Igbo children suffer discriminatory admission policies despite their brilliance.

Very often, millions of Ndigbo who live and invest everywhere in Nigeria, become victims of religious riots and other violent acts in different parts of the country. Their lives and properties are always targets of marauders.

These have actually fuelled the agitation for the actualisation of the sovereign state of Biafra. There are different groups championing this agitation. One of them is the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

The group became so vociferous that the Federal Government banned it and declared it a terrorist organisation. That was after it had sent soldiers to the South-East to harass and intimidate the people in what was termed Operation Python Dance. Up until today, the whereabouts of the arrowhead of the IPOB agitation, Nnamdi Kanu, are unknown. Nobody is sure whether he is alive or not.

President Buhari added insult to injury when he stated earlier in the month that the Nigerian army was soft on Biafrans during the civil war. He said the then Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, issued strict instructions to the army not to treat Biafrans as enemies but as brothers and sisters.

He noted, “I remember with nostalgia the performance of the commander-in-chief, General Yakubu Gowon. Every commander was given a copy of the commander-in-chief’s instructions that we were not fighting enemies but that we were fighting our brothers. And thus, people were constrained to show a lot of restraint.”

I don’t want to belabour this because a number of people have faulted the President on this issue. The point is, Buhari should not give the impression that the war against Ndigbo is perpetual. The Sarduana of Sokoto, the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, reportedly told his people in October 1960 to use the minorities of the North as willing tools and the South as a conquered territory. They must ruthlessly prevent a change of power and never allow the South to have control over their future.

Incidentally, Igboland today is like a conquered territory. You will feel this more when you embark on a travel to that part of the country. Police and military checkpoints along the roads give the impression that something deadlier than Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen operates in the South-East.

As if to also confirm Ahmadu Bello’s position, a Second Republic lawmaker, Dr Junaid Mohammed, was quoted to have said last October that Igbo caused the civil war and so he did not understand why they turned around to demand presidency.

He allegedly said Igbo wanted to blackmail the North to concede presidency to them, asserting, “By this means, they will never get any hope for presidency because democracy is a game of numbers. You cannot tell people to vote for you because you are being irresponsible.”

Like the Igbo, northern minorities are bitter today. They had believed in the sanctity of one North. They joined the rest of Nigeria to fight Igbo during the civil war. They have produced many gallant soldiers who have helped to keep this country together. Today, these northern minorities suffer the indignities of frequent raid and killing of their people by suspected Fulani herdsmen.

Consequently, one of their leaders who is the Chairman of the Northern Elders Forum, Paul Unongo, recently threatened that they would mobilise and train their people into an army to defend themselves if the government couldn’t protect them.

Former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd), also made a similar threat recently. He accused the Nigerian army of ethnic cleansing and urged his people to defend themselves because the military as presently constituted, would not defend them.

All these killings, threats and counter threats are hallmarks of a nation sliding into a failed state. Recently, the Global Peace Index, GPI, ranked Nigeria as the 16th least peaceful out of 163 countries surveyed in 2018. We are only better than such countries as Syria, Afghanistan and South Sudan.

To prevent our further descent into Syria, many Igbo leaders, last month, gathered at Ekwueme Square, Awka to present a common position on restructuring of the Nigerian federation. It was tagged the Ekwueme Square declaration. This is in line with other nationalities and groups that have consistently called for the restructuring of the federation.

Among others, the Igbo essentially asked for a new truly federal Constitution of Nigeria; continuation of the presidential system of government at the federal level, with a bicameral legislature; the regions or states to determine the type of government to operate at that level as enshrined in their respective constitutions; and the tenure of office of the President will be a single term of six years and it will be rotational among the six regions of Nigeria.

The declaration also recommended five Vice-Presidents, one from each of the geopolitical zones or regions except the region/zone of the president, and each also to serve for a fixed term of six years. The Governor and Deputy Governor of the region/state should have a single term of six years only. The office of Governor will rotate among the senatorial districts, or among such other configurations as may be enshrined in the Constitution of a region/state.

In the spirit of reconciliation, equity and justice, Ndigbo demand an additional state for the South East Zone; fiscal federalism, which presupposes that the states will have control over all the natural resources within their territory.

On merit and federal character principle, the Ekwueme Declaration recommends that 60 per cent should be reserved for merit, and 40 per cent to ensure federal character principle or affirmative action.

It will be surprising if the present government at the centre accedes to these demands. The South-West, South-South, Middle Belt and even the North have called for the restructuring of the country. The national conference of 2014 also made some far-reaching recommendations on how the country can move forward. But so far, the powers that be have refused to initiate processes that will engender the enthronement of these recommendations. Is this a confirmation of the so-called Caliphate’s wish to have a perpetual hold on the entire country?

President Buhari is in a position to answer this question today. One major step towards achieving an enduring peace in a given society is for leaders to acknowledge past mistakes and apologise for them. President Buhari should initiate national healing and reconciliation to avoid further escalation of our dire security situation. He should tender an unreserved apology to the victims of the Fulani herdsmen massacre in the middle belt, the Boko Haram killings in the North-East and above all, the genocide in the South-East between 1967 and 1970.

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Lai Mohammed, Buhari’s factsheet and wolf-crying opposition

June 4, 2018

Casmir Igbokwe

Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila spiced up Nigeria’s democracy mood last week. He gave a befitting birthday gift of Mercedes G-Wagon to his wife, Yemisi, who turned 50 on May 27. The car is said to be selling for between N75m and N100m in Nigeria. The man, who is the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, named the gift “Assurance”.

Last Thursday, Nigerians got a better assurance from the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. Brimming with pride, Mohammed listed some of the achievements of the present administration. They include, among others, taking power generation from 2,690MW to 7,000MW; moving Nigeria closer to self-sufficiency in rice; feeding 8.2 million pupils in 45,394 schools in 24 states, and employing 87,261 cooks in the process.

Others are paying conditional cash transfer of N5, 000 monthly to 297,973 poorest and most vulnerable households; building roads, rail and power; spending an unprecedented N2.7 trillion on infrastructure alone in just two years; and raising capital expenditure in the yearly national budget to an unprecedented 30 per cent on the average. Also, Nigeria’s economy recorded 1.95 per cent growth in Q1 2018.

The Information Minister said the administration was fighting corruption like never before with the Whistle-blowing Policy yielding N13.8bn from tax evaders, as well as N7.8bn, $378million, £27,800 in recoveries from public officials. He slammed the political opposition for downplaying the achievements of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, describing them as very disdainful of the truth, crying wolf where there was none and spewing out fake information at the speed of light!

The Peoples Democratic Party had raised some issues about corruption in high places. The opposition party, for example, urged the Presidency and the ruling All Progressives Congress to immediately account for trillions of Naira they allegedly frittered away to finance their opulent lifestyles and political interests.

The PDP also asked the Presidency to address Nigerians on the leaked memo detailing alleged corrupt oil contracts to the tune of N9tn ($25bn) at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.

It also alleged looting from the Treasury Single Account as evidenced in the reported stealing of N10bn from National Health Insurance Scheme’s account in the TSA; the frittering of fresh N25bn under questionable ‘deals’; and the reported stealing of N18bn Internally Displaced Persons intervention fund. The PDP also wants answers to the source of the N671m allegedly stolen from the APC account by some of its national officers.

Like Mohammed, the APC’s response to some of the allegations is to simply say it is increasingly baffled by the PDP’s alleged new found proclivity for constantly spewing falsehood without any iota of proof in the name of opposition rhetoric and politics.

To reinforce Mohammed and the ruling party’s statements, the Federal Government just released facts and figures of Buhari’s monumental achievements in three years.  The 41-page factsheet highlights successes in economy, security and the fight against corruption.

Nevertheless, my problem with some of these facts and figures is that they usually conflict with the realities on ground and the views of some international experts. Early March this year, the International Monetary Fund reported that more Nigerians got poorer under the President Buhari government despite the country’s slow recovery from recession. It added that Nigeria needed urgent economic reforms.

Last Month, the World Bank gave its own verdict, saying unemployment and poverty rates increased in Nigeria despite an exit from recession in 2017. The apex global financial institution, in its report, added that the decline in the non-oil and non-agriculture sectors continued as aggregate demand remained weak and private sector credit low.

Besides, the Co-Chair of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, recently admonished the Federal Government not to concentrate on physical infrastructure to the detriment of human capital development.

As if to downplay the reported progress in our economy, Gates said Nigeria was one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth, with the fourth worst maternal mortality rate in the world. We are ahead of only Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad. Also, one in three Nigerian children is chronically malnourished.

Obviously, the FG needs to redouble its efforts. Its N5, 000 monthly conditional cash transfer and school feeding programmes are a drop in the ocean. Rather than waste billions of Naira in the name of feeding pupils, the government should find ways of empowering parents of these children to provide better food for them at home.

With regard to the fight against corruption, Transparency International has become a spoilsport. The other day, it said in its latest annual Corruption Perception Index, that corruption in our country worsened between 2016 and 2017. Last Monday, this same Transparency International released a report which revealed that federal and state governments spend N241bn on security votes annually. It is from these security votes that politicians siphon a lot of money to fund campaigns and other extravagant lifestyles.

The report titled, “Camouflaged Cash: How security votes fuel corruption in Nigeria,” was unveiled in Abuja by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre. It said the security votes were more than the annual budget of the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Air Force and the Nigerian Navy combined. The federal-level total spending on items identified as security votes reportedly increased by 43 per cent in 2018’s budget from 2017.

The National Assembly that should act as a check on the executive is even worse. There, money has become a non-stop smooth-flowing river. Just last week, the former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof. Attahiru Jega, alleged that the members of the National Assembly, especially committees, were in the habit of demanding bribes with impunity. A good example is the alleged pressure many vice chancellors go through during budget defence and so-called oversight assignments. He suggested that the fight against corruption should be intensified in all its ramifications.

Though the Senate has denied Jega’s allegation, it is yet to effectively respond to allegations of budget padding that has been levelled against it. Last week, a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos ordered President Buhari to “urgently instruct security and anti-corruption agencies to forward to him reports of their investigations into allegations of padding and stealing of some N481 billion from the 2016 budget by some principal officers of the National Assembly.”

The Court also ordered President Buhari to “direct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN, and/or appropriate anti-corruption agencies to without delay commence prosecution of indicted lawmakers.” The judgment was delivered by Justice Mohammed Idris following a mandamus suit brought by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

Also padded are the lawmakers’ salaries and allowances which have been variously described as being the highest in the world. Every member of the Senate, for instance, receives N13.1million monthly as running cost and a consolidated salary of N750, 000 per month. Each Senator is also given the opportunity to execute constituency projects to the tune of N200 million per annum.

As Senator Shehu Sani put it recently, “The National Assembly is one of the most non-transparent organs of government.”

State governments are not left out in this wastage of the national resources. Many of them, for instance, spend billions of Naira to settle pension entitlements of former governors many of who are serving ministers or lawmakers. Lagos, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Gombe, Kano and Zamfara states are some of the culprits here.

In his Democracy Day speech, Buhari boasted that tackling corruption was one of his major achievements. He vowed to win the war against it, and appealed to all well-meaning Nigerians to continue to support his government in this fight.

My own little support is to advise the President to start the anti-corruption fight by eliminating wasteful expenditures from the budget. A civil society group, the Centre for Social Justice, CENSOJ, recently said about N467.4 billion, or 5.43 per cent of the expenditure proposed in the 2018 Appropriation Bill of N8.612trn was frivolous, inappropriate, unclear or wasteful. Some of the wasteful expenditures include maintenance of office building and residential rent as well as computer software acquisition. Must government buy computers and software every year?

Worthy of emulation here is the shining example of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). Since the inception of the leadership of Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, JAMB has not been receiving capital votes from the government. Yet, it remits billions of Naira regularly to government coffers. In 2017 alone, the agency generated N12bn and remitted N7.8bn to the Federal Government after deducting expenses. Before Oloyede came, the total amount JAMB reportedly remitted to the government coffers between 2010 and 2016 was N50million.

Hopefully, we shall get it right some day. Only last week, a Federal Capital Territory High Court, Guru, sentenced a former governor of Taraba State and clergyman, Jolly Nyame, to 14 years in prison for criminal breach of public trust. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, had charged Nyame, whose trial began on July 13, 2007, with 41 counts for criminal misappropriation, diversion of public funds, and breach of public trust.

While handing out the sentence, an outraged Justice Adebukola Banjoko, said: “There’s no moral justification for the level of outright theft, and the Court must therefore, impose a statement, hopefully as a deterrent to other public officers, who may be similarly inclined.”

There is nothing more to add.