Archive for April 2019

Osinbajo’s crocodile tears in Kigali

April 15, 2019

By Casmir Igbokwe

This is not about Professor Yemi Osinbajo as a person. It is also not about the presumed integrity of the government he represents as Vice-President. It is about trying to remove the log in someone else’s eye even when we harbour big stones in ours. And it is about what a civil society group, Intersociety, calls “Nigerian government’s crocodile tears over Rwandan genocide.”

Recall that Osinbajo was in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, last week. He was one of the special guests at the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the genocide that punctuated the peace of that country in 1994.

To mark the event, Osinbajo was among leaders who laid wreaths and performed the lighting of the memorial flame. Speaking with journalists later, Nigeria’s Vice-President said leaders across different sections of society must caution against acts that could cause disorder. He said a lot of African countries would not want to see a repeat of what happened in Rwanda.

“If you listened to some of the speeches here today, it is very obvious that the wounds for Rwanda were very deep and they are still healing,” Osinbajo noted. 

About 800,000 people (mainly the minority Tutsi) were reportedly killed in that pogrom. Ethnic tensions worsened when, on April 6, 1994, some gunmen shot down the plane carrying the then President, Juvenal Habyarimana, and his counterpart from Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira. Everyone on board, including the two presidents, who were Hutu, died in the incident.

Hutu extremists blamed the rebel group called the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), led by Paul Kagame (the current President), as being behind the incident. They set up radio stations and newspapers, which urged people to “weed out the cockroaches,” meaning, kill the Tutsi. The situation was such that even priests and nuns joined in the killing spree. After about 100 days of the crisis, the RPF, backed by the Ugandan army, stormed Kigali, took over power, and stopped the killings. Today, Rwandans don’t identify themselves by their ethnic origin. It has been outlawed. They are first and foremost, Rwandans, not Hutu or Tutsi. They are enjoying relative peace and the country is doing better economically than many African countries, including Nigeria. Its economy now grows at 7 per cent a year.

What is the situation in Osinbajo’s Nigeria? Pathetic, is the simple answer. So far, the number of deaths in Africa’s most populous country runs into millions, as against Rwanda’s 800,000. Do we talk about the current killings in Kaduna, the massacres in Benue, Plateau, Zamfara, Borno, Yobe and many others?

A year ago, former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd), 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 2017, this same Danjuma, together with retired Generals Zamani Lekwot, Joshua Dogonyaro, and some other Christian elders, launched similar acerbic attacks 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.

However, Intersociety agrees with Danjuma and Co. In a statement last week, the civil society group said Nigeria was likely the next theatre of the second genocide on the African continent. According to the group, the circumstances or factors that led to the Rwandan genocide are very much visible under the present political dispensation.

It said over 17,850 lives had been lost since the present government came to power in mid 2015. The deaths involve alleged 2,403 government killings (Christians, Shiites and Christian/Muslim women and children); 6,250 (Christians allegedly killed by Fulani herdsmen); 4,600 mostly Muslims (killed by Zamfara bandits, including 3,526 killed in Zamfara, and over 1,000 killed along Birnin Gawari and its environs in Kaduna) and 4,600 Christians and collateral Muslim deaths by Boko Haram insurgents and allied others. Thousands of others have also been killed through armed robbery, kidnapping, murder, communal strife and so on.

Do we talk about the genocide against the Igbo between 1967 and 1970? In that singular war, over three million people lost their lives. After the war, the government of General Yakubu Gowon instituted the three R’s: Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation.

The reconciliation has largely been observed in the breach. Today, Ndigbo feel more alienated from the scheme of things in Nigeria than before. The President is from the North. The Vice-President is from the South-West. The Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives are from the North. Even in the current permutations and arrangements for the principal officers of the 9th National Assembly, the South-East is relegated and not reckoned with. The head of the judiciary is also from the North. The President consciously or unconsciously appointed almost all northerners as heads of the security agencies in the country.

A country that has this kind of lopsided arrangement despite the federal character principle as enshrined in Section 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is doomed. Ironically, Nigeria was at the forefront of the fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa some years back. But it has chosen to ignore similar discriminatory tendencies perpetrated by the powers that be in the country.    

This is why an Nnamdi Kanu commands a lot of followers in the South-East today. He tells the people what they want to hear. And some of them are ready to follow him till death do them part.

In terms of reconstruction, you judge for yourself how much of that has taken place in the South-East. Many of the federal roads and other infrastructure are seriously begging for attention. The Second Niger Bridge has become a major instrument for propaganda and politicking. Successive governments claimed to have allocated billions for the construction of the bridge. But so far, the bridge is not yet in place. Until it is completed and inaugurated, nobody should tell us any bogus story again about that bridge.

As for rehabilitation, it is the Igbo who have rehabilitated themselves. These are hardworking people who by nature do not depend on anybody. They move to other zones and states and do not hesitate to develop such places. Even with the ‘abandoned property’ saga in Rivers State immediately after the war, Igbo currently have massive investments in Port Harcourt, Lagos, Abuja and elsewhere across the country.

Naturally, this has brought about some form of envy and hate speech against the tribe. Igbo are usually the victims of any riot in any part of the country. At such times, hoodlums vandalise their shops and loot them. Recently, a video clip of a certain lunatic went viral on the social media. In the video, the man castigated the entire tribe and made all sorts of banal, idiotic and sweeping statements against the Igbo.

In the aftermath of the destruction of some polling units in Lagos by thugs during the February 23, 2019, presidential election, some individuals linked the near lynching of one of the thugs by an angry mob to the Igbo. The interpretation was that the Igbo have come to Yorubaland to fight the owners of the land. Some say they must leave Yorubaland because they are evil and troublesome.

This type of stigmatisation and hate speech was partly what caused the Rwandan genocide. We are very good at it in Nigeria. If youths burn down pipeline in any Niger Delta area, for instance, the general refrain will be that Ijaw youths committed the crime. Not many people bother to cross-check their information with a view to sieving the chaff from the wheat.

To show how serious the Nigerian situation is, the Washington-based Fund for Peace recently ranked Nigeria as the 14th most unstable country in the world. This is out of 178 countries assessed in the 2019 Fragile States Index. Crisis-ravaged countries such as Cameroon, Burundi and Niger Republic are said to have scored better than Nigeria. The giant of Africa is only better than such countries as Yemen (the most fragile state in 2019), South Sudan, Somalia, Syria, DR Congo, Chad, Afghanistan, Iraq and a few others. Finland is the most stable country in the world. It is closely followed by Norway, Switzerland and Denmark.

We will not get tired of calling for the restructuring of this country. That is one major thing that will bring about genuine peace. Secondly, we should acknowledge and admit that a lot of injustice has been meted out to certain groups in the country. Telling ourselves the home truth through a Truth and Reconciliation Commission may go a long way to heal the wounds of unjust killings in some parts of the country.

Above all, we should resolve as a people to do away with hate speech, stigmatisation and verbal violence that create unnecessary tension and conflicts. Establishing state police to tackle every local situation before it escalates will go a long way.

  • First published in the Daily Sun of Monday, April 15, 2019.

Mystery and miseries of being a Nigerian

April 15, 2019

By Casmir Igbokwe

Last week, a young man from Anambra State committed suicide. Alex Chukwuezie, 22, completed his senior secondary school two years ago but could not get any job. He complained to some people recently that life was becoming miserable for him. According to media reports, he tried his hands in business. But things remained tough. When he could no longer bear what life was throwing at him, he hanged himself on a mango tree. Until his death, Chukwuezie was an active youth leader in his ward in Ihiala Local Government Area of the state.

This young man followed the footsteps of many others who decided to terminate their lives to escape the existential realities of life in Nigeria. Last year, for instance, one Ahmed, said to be in his 20s, reportedly set himself ablaze at Omole Phase 1 area of Lagos. Hardship was purportedly the main cause.

Perhaps, this type of report was partly what engendered the recent ranking of Nigeria as the sixth most miserable country in the world by Steve Hanke, an Economist from John Hopkins University in Baltimore, United States. In the Misery Index 2018, Hanke noted that the high rate of unemployment in Nigeria contributed largely to its poor showing in the ranking. He noted that Misery Index is calculated using such indices as unemployment, inflation and the rates banks charge on loans. Out of the 95 countries surveyed, the least miserable countries, according to Hanke, are Thailand and Hungary which ranked 95th and 94th respectively. Venezuela is adjudged the most miserable country in the world. It is closely followed by Zimbabwe.

One common denominator in these miserable countries is economic problems. Inflation rate in Venezuela, for instance, is said to be over 6,000 per cent. In Nigeria, the rate of unemployment more than doubled from 10.4 per cent in January 2016 to 23.1 per cent as at July 2018. Inflation rate is as high as 12 per cent.   

The African Development Bank also estimates that 80 per cent of Nigerians live below the United Nations poverty threshold of $2 per day. The number of newly unemployed rose from 8.03 million in 2015 to 15.99 million by the third quarter of 2017. In 2016, the country went into a recession with a negative 1.6 per cent growth rate. Although the growth rate slightly increased to 2 per cent in 2018, the International Monetary Fund forecasts a miserable annual average growth rate of about 1.9 per cent from 2019 to 2023. 

To make matters worse, Nigeria currently has the largest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world. According to a report by the Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organisation in the United States, extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute. This is the highest number in the world. The survey showed that at the end of May 2018, Nigeria had an estimated 87 million people in extreme poverty.

Even some people you think are relatively comfortable may be dying in silence. Last year, the Head, Department of Internal Medicine at the Kogi State Specialist Hospital in Lokoja, Dr. Chukwudibe Rosemary, suddenly died in agony. Doctor Rosemary and many others were owed arrears of salaries. Her case was so bad that she could not even pay for some of the tests that were to be run on her.

The worrisome thing now is that Nigeria ranks low in almost every human development index. Last week, the Global Report on Food Crisis 2019, indicated that no fewer than 113 million people experienced high levels of food insecurity in the world in 2018. Eight countries reportedly constituted almost two-thirds of those facing acute hunger. They are Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Large segments of populations in most of these countries reportedly risk falling into emergency levels of acute food insecurity.

President Muhammadu Buhari recently told us that the days ahead would be tough. Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, last week, gave some hope. He said in the past three years, Nigeria had implemented more than 140 reforms to make doing business in Nigeria easier. This year, the Buhari government has reportedly set a goal to move Nigeria into the top 100 on the 2020 World Bank Doing Business Index. Tall ambition you may say.

As we await Osinbajo and his economic team, it is pertinent to point out that economic misery begets political and social miseries. It may interest the Prof to know that part of the problems is the humongous amount of money they waste on politicians as salaries and allowances. Some of the ex-governors who are now senators take double pay. This is outside some allowances, cars and houses they corner to themselves as former governors. Some of the poor masses are left with nothing but N10, 000 loans called Tradermoni.

The big politicians corner much of this money not to develop their areas but to engage in brazen electoral robbery. They buy votes and sometimes hire thugs and security agents to rig elections for them. Until we reform our electoral system such that the people’s will shall always prevail, we will continue to undergo political miseries.

From political miseries, social upheavals emanate. In this case, people no more have faith in the government. They take laws into their hands. This is the case in such states as Benue, Borno, Kaduna, and many other states in the North. In these states, life is short and brutish. A lunatic entered a mosque in New Zealand recently and shot up to 50 people dead. The whole world rose in condemnation. Many more people have lost their lives in these northern Nigerian states. Yet, not much noise is heard across the world. In Nigeria, mass killings have become a normal thing.

In the Southern part of the country, armed robbery and kidnapping hold sway. Benin-Ore Expressway, especially between Ofosu in Ondo State and Okada in Edo State, is a major crisis point. A number of innocent Nigerians have fallen victims to heartless marauders there. The lucky ones part with huge sums of money as ransom. The unlucky ones get killed. I know somebody who narrowly escaped the kidnappers recently. The luck he had was that he was able to speak Hausa. His assailants, suspected to be Fulani herdsmen, miraculously let him off the hook after some days in their custody.

This same Ofosu to Okada is where luxury bus drivers protested last year over incessant deadly robberies. After the drivers’ protest last year, the Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, and the police authorities visited the area and promised to tackle the menace. So, why do we keep having reports of kidnapping and robberies on that axis of evil? What does it take to station a crack team of security men there?

To be fair to the police authorities, I passed through that road last week. I saw some operatives of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad at Okada. What I wonder about is how the herdsmen still strike in spite of the presence of these security agents. Or do they strike when the security men are on break?  It will be good if the police hierarchy withdraw some policemen at the numerous checkpoints in the East and deploy them at Ofosu – Okada where they are most needed.

I was heartbroken when I saw the recent video of a young girl crying and lamenting the alleged killing of her father by kidnappers. According to the girl, the kidnappers operated Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday of the week they kidnapped her father unchallenged. Unfortunately, her father did not survive the ordeal. After many searches, they discovered his corpse somewhere in the bush. Can this girl and many others in her shoes easily overcome the trauma they were forced to go through in life?      

The ironical and mysterious aspect of life in Nigeria is that we keep suffering and smiling as the legendary Fela would sing. In 2011, a Gallup Poll classified Nigeria as the happiest place in the world. In 2018, the World Happiness Report classified the country as the 91st happiest in the world. What this means is that gloom is gradually replacing happiness from our faces. Things continue to go wrong yet no concrete action is taken to put those things right.

Our common refrain is, “Only prayer will save this country.” But we forget that God created us and urged us to conquer our environment. God will not come down to tackle our problems for us. We need to take the bull by the horns and face our problems squarely.

President Buhari should lead the way by taking full charge of reforming our rotten system. So far, Osinbajo has been the one largely on the driving seat of our economy. He is a brilliant lawyer, no doubt. But he lacks the economic management acumen required to stimulate a comatose economy. Buhari should do away with nepotism and engage sound economists to take us out of the woods. He should also sack the security chiefs who have not been able to tackle the spate of insecurity in the country. It is only after these have been done that God will begin to listen to other prayer requests of ours.  

  • First published in the Daily Sun of Monday, April 8, 2019        

Agenda for Nigeria’s next President

April 3, 2019

By Casmir Igbokwe

One Igboman resident in Kano called to mock me recently. The man calls from time to time to lecture me on why Ndigbo, including me, must support President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress. In his view, Buhari would never lose the 2019 presidential election and the Igbo should support him to make their journey towards the Presidency in 2023 smooth. From my writings, it was obvious I did not heed his advice. And Buhari was said to have won the election.

The man pooh-poohed me, “Your man (Atiku Abubakar) has failed. When I told you that Buhari would win, you didn’t listen. I thought that learned people like you were wise … Now, you people have failed. Ntooor!”

I laughed. What my unsolicited adviser and his ilk fail to understand is that it is not about supporting or not supporting Buhari. It is about the survival and general wellbeing of Nigeria. Clearly, Buhari did not do well in his first term. And I cannot see a pit and fall into it because of some pecuniary gains. Such selfishness is partly what has kept Nigeria in limbo since independence.

At his inauguration on May 29, 2015, President Buhari told Nigerians that he belonged to nobody and he belonged to everybody. We clapped for him. We said, now we have a good President. Events of the past four years were to prove eventually that we still have a long way to go. May 29, 2019, will soon be here. We will go through the ritual of another inauguration. Flowery speeches and promises will be made again. Some people will hail and shout “Next Level”!

That is if Buhari and his APC succeed at the election petitions tribunal. The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, is currently challenging the outcome of the election at the tribunal. Whether it is Buhari or Atiku, the task ahead is enormous.

First, there is urgent need to galvanise every segment of Nigeria. Since after the civil war, never in the history of the country have we been as fragmented and divided as today. Some groups like the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) have been agitating for self-determination. The new president should douse this type of tension by initiating the restructuring of the country. Such restructuring should be done in such a way that no segment of the country feels cheated in the scheme of things. There should be equal opportunities for every citizen and regions or states should be allowed to develop at their own pace.

This restructuring could even start with the appointment of ministers and heads of security and other government agencies. Nepotism clearly defined the last dispensation. Almost all heads of security agencies come from a particular section of the country. This negates the federal character principle and should be corrected immediately.

Besides, there is too much concentration of power in the centre. That is why the struggle to occupy the Aso Villa in Abuja is usually very fierce. There is need to devolve this power to the regions or states, as the case may be. Let the centre concentrate more on defence of the country from external and major internal aggression.

The Federal Government should set an example with Benue, Borno, Kaduna, Plateau, Taraba, Zamfara and some other states in the North. In fact, protection of life and property is the major duty of a government. The Buhari administration failed in this main task. Never again should there be such senseless killings of innocent citizens as had been witnessed in places earlier mentioned.

Government should also make every effort to rein in the Boko Haram terrorists. The best way to do this is to motivate soldiers fighting the insurgency and equip them with modern weaponry. Military authorities should upgrade the intelligence arm of the armed forces. They should be able to detect clandestine moves among the terrorists and even some soldiers to sabotage the efforts of those fighting in the war front.

They should also be able to detect any move to kidnap our young girls from their schools. The Chibok and Dapchi experiences should never happen again. So far, the terrorists are still holding one of the Dapchi schoolgirls kidnapped last year. Leah Sharibu is still in captivity because she is a Christian and refused to denounce her faith as Boko Haram wished. The Federal Government should intensify efforts to secure her release.

Authorities in the Villa should also enforce basic education for our children. Over 13 million Nigerian children are out of school. This is not salutary. Government should understudy how the government of Peter Obi transformed education in Anambra State such that the state rose from number 26 to number one in West African School Certificate examinations in the country. The Anambra magic should be replicated nationally. And it is not just by increasing allocation to education but by also monitoring to ensure that such allocations are well utilised.

After school, our children should be able to find decent jobs. Those who have entrepreneurial skills should be encouraged to establish businesses of their own. What the government should do in this circumstance is to provide the enabling environment for businesses to thrive.

Nigeria should study what China, India and Singapore did to transform their economies. Current policies have stifled businesses and led to the closure of many of them. We must revive such companies and even strive to create new ones.

If we must borrow, it must be for capital expenditure. And we must say capital NO to profligacy in government. Again, Peter Obi’s model comes handy here. We must block many ways through which government functionaries fritter money away.

We must also diversify the economy by developing different sources of generating revenue for the country. Oil is a depleting resource and may soon become an insignificant commodity in international trade. Already, developed countries are seriously developing alternative sources of energy. Electric cars, for instance, are here with us. Government must encourage small-scale industries that can produce and export goods. This will yield us the much-needed foreign exchange.

Our health system also needs an overhaul. For every little ailment, our politicians and wealthy individuals travel abroad to seek treatment. The United Kingdom, United States, Canada and India are the biggest beneficiaries of our medical tourism. It is shameful that part of Buhari’s four years as President was spent in a London hospital. This was despite billions of naira allocated to Aso Rock clinic. The question is, how many heads of state or presidents come to our hospitals for treatment?

Also deserving of treatment is the unhealthy and flagrant disregard for the rule of law. Nigeria is no more under military dictatorship. Hence, on no account should any person, no matter how highly placed, trample on the fundamental rights of the citizens. The last dispensation witnessed undue flouting of court orders. For instance, former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, and the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, have remained in detention despite court orders to have them released. Also, the circumstances surrounding the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, by the President remain fishy. We must collectively say no to this type of impunity.

We must also reject the politicisation of anti-graft agencies. The fight against corruption should not be selective. It should not be a witch-hunt. The government should help in the fight by blocking the major loopholes through which public office holders siphon money.

Security vote is one of such major loopholes. The President and governors collect humungous amounts of money every month in the name of security vote. They do not account for it. This must stop. It is either we send the money directly to security agencies that need it or we make the governors account for how they spend it.

By and large, we have had this civilian rule for about 20 years without military interruption. No doubt, there are hiccups here and there but our prayer is that our democracy should continue to improve. The only choice we have now is to either rescue Nigeria or go our separate ways.

Re: Manipulated elections and Nigerian judiciary

Dear Cas, God bless you for your script on manipulated elections. How can this country make progress? No way. The impunity and zeal to do the wrong thing, instead of good things, are mind-boggling. Look at the presidential election, even the blind knows the ills and manipulations inherent in it. The military should be out of politics, out of road and should not be commonly seen in society. Now the military has been used and accused of snatching ballot boxes, rigging elections and intimidating voters. Too bad!

– Ali Hofnar, +2348059576140

With the manipulation and other vices that happened in the just-ended general election, the judiciary should do their job very well by removing desperate politicians who won election through manipulation and other vices. The judiciary is the last hope of the common man and I believe that judges should work under the ambit of the law to sack some politicians that won elections through rigging and ballot box snatching. The judiciary should not compromise because of money but do the needful by delivering good judgement.

– Gordon Chika Nnorom, Umukabia, +2348062887535

  • First published in The Sun of Monday, April 1, 2019