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VIO: Your Money Or Your Vehicle

August 11, 2016

Casmir Igbokwe

The car was on reverse gear. The driver almost hit me. He was running away from the Vehicle Inspection Officers popularly called VIO at Cele bus stop, Lagos. The run-away driver’s gain was my loss. The officers flagged me down.

“Hope your papers are in order,” one of them queried. I answered in the affirmative. He checked my driving licence, fire extinguisher and vehicle particulars. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that my road worthiness paper expired in April. On that score, he booked me N20, 000. One of the officers entered my car and ordered me to drive to their office to see their oga.

The office was a beehive of activities. There were many impounded vehicles with deflated tyres. One vulcaniser was very busy deflating more tyres. I was hoping that the so-called oga would caution me and say, go and sin no more. But he took a good look at me and asked me to go to Skye Bank across the road to pay my fine. So, all I came to see oga for was to get the instruction to go and pay in Skye Bank? I wondered.

This reminded me of my experience with the Federal Road Safety Commission in April 2008 at Ikoyi, Lagos. Then, my offence was that one of my brake lights was not working. They booked me, but the fine was N3,000. One lady officer came to me to say I could pay N2,000 to them there instead of suffering myself to go to bank on the island to pay N3,000. I rejected the request and they angrily booked me. I went back to the island to pay the fine and also paid for The Revised Highway Code.

After reading my encounter with their officers in my Sunday Punch back page column then, (See Tales of encounter with marshals, Sunday, April 27, 2008) the authorities of the FRSC set up a high-powered panel to probe the affected officers. They were first of all recalled from the road to the head office at Ojodu Berger. On the appointed day for me to come and testify, the sister of the female officer who asked me to pay N2,000 to them called me and was crying on the phone. She pleaded that I should not go and testify, that her sister and her colleagues would be sacked if I should do that. According to her, the sister was the breadwinner of the family and had put in over 15 years in the service of the Commission. “How can she now end her career this way?” she pleaded. She even said they were ready to visit me at home to beg me and would not leave my house unless I pardoned the woman.

After so much pressure, I succumbed and suspended going to testify. I never heard from that woman again. The sector commander then  was not happy with me that I failed to come and testify, wondering how corruption would be eradicated in the system if we didn’t set example with such corrupt officers. He is correct, but I didn’t want anybody to say I sacked her from her job.

Now, it is the VIO. To be fair to the officers, they did not ask me for bribe. After paying the fine of N20,000 at the Skye Bank, Okota, I waited for about one hour to collect receipt. With the receipt, I went back to the VIO office to retrieve my car. They pretended to be so nice to me, even offering me executive chair to sit on. I thanked them for their generosity and paid extra N2,000 for the road worthiness certificate which they “sell” in their office there.

My worry in all this is that my car is a new Toyota Camry (latest model). There are many rickety, smoky vehicles polluting the environment, but these officers close their eyes to this anomaly. Even when I got a new road worthiness certificate, nobody tested my vehicle to ascertain how road worthy it is before issuing me with the certificate.

Meanwhile, boldly written on the certificate are these words: “I hereby certify that I have examined the vehicle described below which, in all respects, conforms with the requirements of the Road Traffic Regulations, and that it is road worthy…”

Who is fooling whom? Is the VIO an agency interested in making our vehicles road worthy or just to make money for themselves and the state government?

Of course, we need to sanitise our roads. We need to sanitise our vehicles. But more importantly, we need to sanitise VIO, LASTMA, KAI and sundry agencies terrorising Nigerians on the roads.

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Nigerians, Prepare For Revolution

July 28, 2016

Casmir Igbokwe

Many of us who read the recent story of a parent who pledged his child for a bag of rice in Kano felt scandalised. I have been searching for clues from the current government in Abuja on how the nation’s precarious economic situation will be solved. I have seen little or nothing. Rather, what comes out as news everyday frightens me the more.

A few days ago, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) gave us some bad news. According to the world body,  plunging oil revenues and weakened investor confidence will push Nigeria’s economy into recession. The IMF said it expected Africa’s largest economy to contract by 1.8 per cent this year, after having forecast a 2.3 per cent expansion in April.

Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, confirmed this recession story. But as she put it, it would be short and there was no need to panic.

Mrs. Adeosun said the Federal Government had released N247.9billion for capital expenditure in the last two months and that N60billion would be released for capital vote in a few weeks time.

Today, a lot of people are living on their reserves. Some are selling their property in order to pay school fees and house rents. Many others have been ejected from their homes by landlords. A good number of children are at home because daddy could not pay school fees. Prayer houses are booming. Simply put, people have lost hope in the government.

Our Senators, for instance, have continued to shed crocodile tears.  The other day, they reportedly acknowledged the pains many Nigerians are facing. Thus, they summoned the Finance Minister to come and brief them on the way out.

Hypocrisy. That is the name of the game. These same lawmakers take home jumbo salaries and allowances. What they give Nigerians in return are in-fighting, budget padding and inconsequential bills.

The current altercation between the former Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, and the Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, speaks volumes about the state of affairs in the National Assembly.

Jibrin had asked Dogara, Deputy Speaker, Yusuf Lasun; Minority Leader, Leo Ogor; and Chief Whip, Ado Doguwa, to resign for allegedly padding the 2016 budget. Jibrin further alleged that these principal officers illegally inserted and allocated projects worth over N20bn to their constituencies in the budget. And that he was removed as the Chairman of the Appropriation Committee recently because he refused to inject another N30bn into the budget for the Speaker.

Dogara, though, has denied the allegations. He has threatened to sue his accuser. While we await the legal actions, may I implore the legislators to pass a law that will make national assembly membership a part-time affair.  Once they initiate the move, the executive will be forced to embark on other radical changes. This will be the beginning of our revolution.

President Muhammadu Buhari, we hear, lives a Spartan life. He frowns upon wastage and corruption. His Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has been very busy pursuing looters of our national treasury. Whether this fight against corruption is holistic or sectional is another topic entirely. For now, our major concern should be that the President and his team should give us a clear-cut direction on how to wriggle out of this economic quagmire.

All we have heard is that the Federal Government cannot finance the 2016 budget because the economy is down. The blame goes to the immediate past government and the Niger Delta Avengers.

Yes, the Niger Delta Avengers have caused some havoc. But the government at all levels have caused more havoc to our economy. Why has President Buhari not done away with large presidential fleet? Why did the President travel to London to treat an ear infection after budgeting N3.87bn for Aso Rock clinic? Why do some state governors still waste a lot of resources on mundane travels with a retinue of aides and sycophants?

Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State sums it up. He described his colleagues as lacking vision, leadership skills and creativity.

The governor recently noted, “When there are challenges, people are forced to think out of the box and they will get results. If I have my way, I don’t want oil price to rise beyond what it is so that all of us will be forced to get it right.”

Amosun is correct. Or how else can one describe the plan by the governors to embark on vocational training to Germany. About 27 of these governors find it difficult to pay salaries. So, what vocation are they going abroad to learn that will impact on the economies of their states? Soap and bead making? How to produce insecticide and germicide? What a joke!

Nigerians should wake up from their slumber. From the local government to state and to the federal level, we need to ask questions. We need to tell the governors going for vocational training that enough is enough. Civil society groups should go beyond press releases. They should organize protest marches whenever things are going wrong.

This is why I doff my hat for some civil society groups that protested alleged illegal recruitment and nepotism in some government agencies last Wednesday in Abuja. They marched to the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation where they submitted their protest letter.

We need to change our mindset. We need to be more prudent and less extravagant. We need to minimize our penchant for the consumption of foreign items. We need to patronise more made-in-Nigeria products so as to help boost our economy.

Above all, we need to learn the culture of protesting the inanities of our leaders. This is the revolution we need in Nigeria today.

 

Buhari, Nigerians Are Losing Hope

April 28, 2016

Casmir Igbokwe

When Chika decided to check out of Nigeria early this year, he never knew that he was shooting himself in the foot. Initially, it wasn’t his intention to move to the United States. But the situation of things in the country frustrated him enormously. He had a job but salaries were not forthcoming. He couldn’t pay his bills.

When he landed in the US, he didn’t find life easy either. He found no job and became stranded because a friend who promised to accommodate him disappointed him. He ended up sleeping in a church. And hardly had he got a menial job in a supermarket when a sudden illness struck.

A few days ago, this frustrated man managed to bring himself back to Nigeria. He  came to seek solution to his sickness as he believes it is a spiritual attack from his village. He spent days in the Synagogue Church of All Nations to no avail. He intends to go to some other churches and prayer groups, but there is no transport money. Now, his children are at home as he cannot pay their school fees. Even to eat is now a serious problem.

Many Nigerians are in Chika’s shoes. No money. No fuel. No electricity. No security. No salary. No market, as traders would say. Practically, the price of almost every item in the market has skyrocketed. The common refrain now even for a crayfish seller is, dollar is expensive.

To worsen matters, Fulani herdsmen are on the rampage. They have killed and continued to kill. They have maimed and continued to maim. They have raped and continued to rape. They have destroyed sources of livelihood for many people and have continued to do so. They have no sacred territory. Any town, any state is a target. Their current victims are citizens of Nimbo in  Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State. They invaded the peaceful community recently and massacred over 40 innocent people.

The best the governor of Enugu could do was to cry and call for fasting and prayers. Do you blame him? He has no full control of the security agencies. He has no support from his brother governors from the South-East. He has little or no support from the Federal Government.

It is as if we are in a state of anomie. Well, the President has belatedly ordered the Inspector-General of Police and the Chief of Defence Staff to halt the herdsmen menace.  But how serious is he? Does the blood of a South-Easterner or that of any Nigerian matter to him?

Even his ministers inspire no hope. He spent months looking for perfect Nigerians to appoint as ministers. But the lucky ones who now occupy the cabinet positions have shown that the so-called change Nigerians voted for is a ruse.

All we hear from major functionaries of this government are rhetoric, excuses and buck-passing: “Oh, there is no gas to power electricity; greedy marketers are diverting fuel to hinterlands and neighbouring countries; the previous government is responsible for our current woes.” They left Abuja and came to Lagos the other day to feed Nigerians with their usual excuses in the name of town-hall meeting.

Everyday, we are regaled with anti-corruption exploits of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. The agency has reportedly recovered huge sums of money from past government officials. This is good. But Buhari will soon discover that Nigerians will begin to ask why these probes and recovered loot are yet to put food on their table.

These days, religion and superstition thrive most in Nigeria. A young man I called the other day to do some work for me in my compound gazed at the scorching sun that day and declared: “This Buhari has ill-luck. It’s because he is in power that we have this kind of hot weather.” Another fellow sincerely believes Buhari belongs to a satanic cult and that’s why we are buffeted by variegated crises.

Faced with hopelessness, many Nigerians have made prayer houses their home. Ask a typical Nigerian about solutions to our problems and he will tell you, only God will save us in this country.

Time is ticking for Mr. President. The All Progressives Congress-led government had promised to pay N5,000 monthly to unemployed Nigerians. This is cosmetic and will not work. Some politicians will simply feed fat from that policy.

What the President should do is to deliberately fashion out policies that will broaden the economy, create jobs  and stimulate entrepreneurship.

Somehow, some Nigerians have devised ways of making themselves happy despite the odds. Last Tuesday, a Catholic priest told his congregation to sing Hakuna Matata at a prayer session. According to him, this means don’t worry, be happy. As the congregation sang, danced and prayed, the priest kept telling them to forget their worries and parcel their problems to God.

It came as some form of relief to many. But for how long do you think people like Chika will shout Hakuna Matata if the APC’s promised change fails to materialise?

 

 

 

Wike’s Victory Holiday

February 3, 2016

Casmir Igbokwe

I am happy for Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State. On January 27, 2016, the Supreme Court upheld his victory at last year’s governorship election. The governor has been singing victory songs. He deserves it. But he has to choose his dance steps carefully, else he may be like the antelope that dances its legs to pieces even when the dance is yet to begin.

A few days ago, the governor, as part of his victory dance, declared 27 January of every year as public holiday in Rivers State to celebrate the Supreme Court victory. He enthused, “Every January 27 will be observed as a public holiday in this state because that is the day God came down to save Rivers State. What people must understand is that power comes from God. We know God speaks last and he has spoken.”

I find this curious and disturbing. Granted, the election itself was war. There were pockets of violence here and there. There were reports of rigging in some areas. The opposition was formidable. It was led by no other person than the then governor, Chibuike Amaechi. Even, there were enemies  within Wike’s Peoples Democratic Party who did not want him to emerge as governor.

The real battle started after the Independent National Electoral Commission declared Wike the winner. His main challenger, Dakuku Peterside of the All Progressives Congress, went to court to seek a nullification of his victory.

Stories started flying that the governor was going about secretly to bribe the judges who were billed to handle the case. The more he denied the rumour, the more it manifested like a festering sore. To cut a long story short, the matter went through the election petition tribunal to the Appeal Court and finally to the Supreme Court.

Given the suspense, trepidation and tension that trailed the court sessions, the celebrations in different parts of Rivers State become understandable. The governor himself led in most of those celebrations.

But then, declaring an annual holiday to mark the day, to say the least, is frivolous.  We already have too many holidays in this country: New Year Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Worker’s Day, Democracy Day, Id-el-Fitri, Independence Day, Id-el-Kabir, Id-el-Malud, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. Outside these fixed holidays, there are some notable dates when some people decide to give themselves some form of a holiday. Valentine’s Day is one of such. That day, a lot of people work half day and close to have some fun. Most times, their idea of a Val’s Day is having wild sex with concubines.

Also, some states declare public holiday to observe one event or the order. Sometimes, it is to mourn a departed citizen or to celebrate one festival or the other. The same Rivers State also declared a public holiday for Friday, February 5, 2016, to enable all Rivers people to prepare for rerun elections earlier scheduled for February 6. INEC has just rescheduled the elections for March 19.

The fact is, if all the states whose governors won in the Supreme Court declare such days as public holiday, then we may be unwittingly telling the whole world that we are a nation of unserious-minded fellows. Remember that the Supreme Court also upheld the elections of Oyo, Delta and Yobe governors. Will these governors also declare public holiday every February 2 to mark their victories?

That will amount to one chasing rats while one’s house is on fire. Wike and other governors should think more of how to salvage their states and the country from the looming economic crisis.

Many states are not able to pay salaries. Our oil fortune is dwindling. Companies are laying off staff. Nigerians are dying of hunger and deprivations. Perhaps, the only group not suffering as such are the politicians, especially the governors. As former President Olusegun Obasanjo put it, the governors are living like emperors.

Leaders need to be more careful with their actions and pronouncements. No productive economy thrives on holidays. A time like this, when many people do not know when the next food will come from, demands that we devise ingenious ways of making money to feed our people. It demands that we look beyond oil if we must survive the financial crunch ravaging the country now. It demands that we become more serious with our lives and cut off any frivolity that will present us as being a bunch of clowns.

While Wike is savouring his victory, he should occupy his mind more with enduring legacies he needs to bequeath to his people. At the end of his tenure, people will assess him not based on the number of holidays he declared but on how many kilometres of roads he built, the schools and hospitals he equipped and how many people he was able to gainfully employ.

Buhari’s 100-Day Honeymoon

July 31, 2015

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in The Union, July 31, 2015

In the heat of the recent noise about gay rights and related issues in some Western countries, Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, proposed to marry the United States President, Barack Obama. If Obama had accepted, perhaps, the two presidents would have ended up enjoying a fantastic honeymoon now.

When our own President, Muhammadu Buhari, visited the US recently, the issue of gay marriage also came up. Of course, our President rejected the idea. If he had accepted, perhaps, Obama might have asked him to extend his stay in the US. And that would have been honeymoon made in heaven.

This was the scenario playing in my mind when I read what Bola Ahmed Tinubu said about Buhari being on honeymoon for 100 days. The former Lagos State Governor and national leader of the All Progressives Congress reportedly said, “May 29th was when this president was sworn in. It is an international norm all over the world; there is honeymoon period, at least minimum of 100 days honeymoon. ..The time it takes you to plan, examine, rejig, re-evaluate is more important than the time you just rush into taking action because you are either being sentimental, being emotional and being driven by other forces that are not expected.”

In a way, Tinubu is correct. As the saying goes, he who fails to plan, plans to fail. There is no successful enterprise that is not anchored on adequate planning. Highly successful entrepreneurs build their businesses on a solid foundation called business plan, which encompasses feasibility study, cash-flow analysis, sources of funding, revenue projections and many others.

Those who rush into business they know nothing about crash like a dilapidated aircraft. I experienced it myself after my youth service in 1993/94. I said I was not going to work for anybody and thus dabbled in a business I knew next to nothing about. By the time I realised my follies, my song had changed from “Abraham’s blessings are mine” to “abide with me, o Lord”.

Likewise, the business of governance is not a tea party. It demands rigorous and painstaking plans and strategies. That is why before anybody presents himself for elections, he must have done some form of feasibility studies about the role he aspires to occupy. He must have studied the problems of the society and how to tackle them. This could come in form of a manifesto.

Buhari is not a novice in the business of governance.  He had been there before. For three consecutive times, he contested elections to rule Nigeria. Now, he was elected in March and sworn in on May 29, 2015.  Honeymoons usually last for about one month. We have spent two months already and the ruling party is still giving excuses and engineering fights in the National Assembly.

This is unacceptable. Nigerians are not asking their president to clear the systemic rot that has afflicted the country for ages in just two months. They are not asking him to complete the Second Niger Bridge within 100 days in office. They are not protesting against the non-completion of the Benin-Ore Expressway. They are not angry that we don’t yet have electricity 24 hours a day.

But they are wondering why the spate of insecurity has worsened in the last two months. The coming of Buhari  gave hope that Boko Haram would soon be a thing of the past. In fact, the ruling party promised that it would root out the monster in two months of assuming power. But what have we seen so far?

A monster that has made life a nightmare for Nigerians, especially in the North-East. Not only has the spate of suicide bombings increased, but also the number of deaths arising from the activities of the terrorists has risen astronomically.

Our president had met with his Chadian and Nigerien counterparts. Last Wednesday, he met with President Paul Biya of Cameroon and is billed to meet with President Boni Yayi of Benin Republic tomorrow to round off diplomatic shuttles aimed at clipping the wings of the terrorists. The president’s visit to the US also featured discussions on Boko Haram. So far, these shuttles have not yielded much dividend but we have been assured that they soon will. For many compatriots, the honeymoon is getting too long.

And that is why many Nigerians have continued to wonder why there is much delay in the appointment of ministers.  It does not require rocket science to make such appointments. But the president has made us understand that he is still searching for the right people and that the list will not be ready until September. This has put the ministries in a state of uncertainty. Will it also take three months to appoint the Secretary to the Government of the Federation? This is hoping that this particular honeymoon will end in September as promised.

If it takes us this long to appoint ministers, how long will it now take to realise the N5000 monthly upkeep the ruling party promised unemployed Nigerians? What of the one million jobs in the first one year in office and the free food for students? How long will we wait to begin to reap these benefits?

Remember that the president had earlier expressed some reservations about celebrating hundred days in office. He too feels the period is too short to judge him. I agree. But Nigerians are dying. They demand faster approach to solving their problems. I only hope we will celebrate this year’s 100 days with more  smiles than excuses.

Buhari In America

July 24, 2015

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in The Union, July 24, 2015

The lamentation of Tony Onyima on his Facebook wall, that the local American media didn’t attach much importance to the recent visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to the United States, made me laugh.

Onyima, my friend and senior colleague, expressed worry about what he called the arrogance of the Western media. He lamented, “Most of the local and national broadcast networks, from ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC to CNN have not considered it newsworthy the visit of the President of the most populous black nation…I know if it were in Nigeria the visit will be broadcast live by NTA and other channels. So, what’s going on here?”

What’s going on is that America and indeed, the Western world, don’t consider us very important. Many of them must have heard about Nigeria through the exploits of Boko Haram and advance fee fraudsters. The visit of our President means little or nothing to them. The question is, outside oil and crime, what do we have to offer them? Even, they also produce oil such that they have drastically reduced oil imports from Nigeria.

Mutual relationships are built and sustained on the solid exchange of values. The United States citizens made their country what it is today. And so, they have some values to offer. That is why almost every Nigerian President wants to go to America first. That is why many Nigerian citizens want to go to the US.

And that is why President Barack Obama can afford to ignore visiting us  after over seven years of being in power while our own President, soon after assuming office, rushed to America with a bagful of requests which include begging Obama to visit us.

The US President may not easily agree to visit us because his country has a low estimation of Nigeria. They had denied our country weapons to prosecute the Boko Haram war because of human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by our forces.

Our president put it this way, “In the face of abduction of innocent schoolgirls from their hostels, indiscriminate bombings of civilians in the markets and places of worship, our forces have remained largely impotent because they do not possess the appropriate  weapons and technology which they could have had, had the so-called human rights violations not been an obstacle.”

You see what I mean? We have tied our fate to America, and Obama can afford to dictate to us to legalise gay marriage, which is against our constitution, or no weapons for us. Our president may have rejected the same-sex marriage proposal from Obama but do we have the muscles to stand by that decision if the US seriously insists on having her way?

The truth is that we need to enhance our value so as to become relevant in the world. The Western world massages our ego by calling us the most populous black nation on earth. But big population alone will get us nowhere.

Our destiny lies in our hands. President Buhari sums it up, “The international community can only assist, but the hard work belongs to Nigerians and their government. I will as President, lead from the front, but all Nigerians, including the opposition parties, civil society, business and religious leaders, public servants, labour unions, the youth and professional associations all have important roles to play to get our country back on a sound economic footing.”

I completely agree.

Ambode And Ndigbo In Lagos

July 17, 2015

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in The Union, July 17, 2015

Akinwunmi Ambode went through some storms to emerge the current Governor of Lagos State. The last April governorship election threw up a big challenger in the person of Mr Jimi Agbaje of the Peoples Democratic Party. The contest was so fierce that no supporter of the All Progressives Congress (APC)was sure of victory until the final announcement of the result .

The group that made this fierce contest possible was the Igbo. The majority of them campaigned vigorously for Agbaje and the PDP. The tension was so high that the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, reportedly threatened that Igbo would perish in the lagoon if they didn’t vote for the APC candidate.

Fortunately, Ambode won the election and has since assumed office. But barely one month after assuming office, there are rumours and political undercurrents that give room for concern. Some Igbo people are wondering if Ambode is trying to punish Ndigbo for largely voting for the PDP in the last elections.

Let’s examine some scenarios here. First, an Igbo woman, Ruth Uche, gave birth to twins a few weeks ago. The woman had had two other sets of twins previously. Apparently incapable of taking care of his wife and six children, the father of the twins absconded, abandoning his family to their fate. It was Ambode who took over the welfare of this woman and his children. The state government had been pleading with the runaway husband and father to come and take back his family. Could Ambode have done this if he is an Igbo hater?

Secondly, the governor, the other day, appointed an Igbo, Mr. Peter Okonji, as the new General Manager of Lagos Electricity Board. Some of his compatriots criticised him for doing so. As far as they are concerned, such appointments should be reserved only for Lagosians. To the best of my knowledge, Ambode has not reversed the appointment. He simply followed the tradition of his predecessors like Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Raji Fashola who appointed Igbo sons into their cabinet.

On the other side of the coin are some actions which tend to portray Ambode as being anti-Igbo. The demolition of the Ladipo auto spare parts market comes to mind here. A good number of Igbo people have interpreted the demolition to mean punishment against Igbo for not voting the APC. The authorities concerned allegedly did not give adequate notice to the traders before taking the action. This has caused a lot of trauma to the affected people.

Even the Founder/President of the Yoruba Socio-cultural group, Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), Dr. Frederick Fasehun, condemned the action. In an advertorial published recently, Fasehun said, “The ongoing demolition of the Ladipo Auto Spare Markets has all the trappings of political oppression and MUST be stopped forthwith. The largely Igbo businessmen in the complex are even being prevented from accessing and transferring their goods. This step by the APC government in Lagos is vindictive, infantile and malicious. The Igbo people voted according to their conscience during the governorship and legislative polls and they should not be subjected to political victimisation.”

Though the state government has assured traders that it has no plans to demolish the market, there is another disturbing issue concerning the welfare of the Igbo in Lagos. It is called land revalidation in the Okota area of Lagos. Unconfirmed reports have it that the land authorities in Lagos, having discovered that the majority of the inhabitants of Okota are Igbo, allegedly decided to milk the landlords of the area.

What the authorities purportedly do is that if you own a land at Okota, you go for revalidation by paying extra N5m. But what will be written on your receipt is N2m. Whoever fails to do so may lose his property.

Igbo residents of this area also believe government is further punishing them by neglecting their roads. True, most of the roads at Okota are horrible. The Ago Palace Way is a motorist’s nightmare. Fashola’s government started reconstruction of the road, but the work stopped at the Century Bus Stop area because of some legal issues.

Residents heaved a sigh of relief when it appeared that work had resumed there. But now, the new government has stopped the work again. Media reports indicated that the government suspended the work to re-evaluate the contract because the amount of money spent does not equate the volume of work done. While that is being done, the residents continue to groan in agony.

Igbo people are largely migrants who leave their ancestral homes to develop other areas. That is why they are the worst hit whenever there is any crisis in any part of the country. They have lost billions of Naira worth of property in the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency in the north. After the civil war, a lot of Igbo lost their property in Rivers State in the so-called abandoned property saga. It is high time Igbo began to think home.

By and large, I don’t believe Ambode hates Igbo. Neither do I believe that the Yoruba hate Igbo. A great number of my friends are Yoruba. Many Igbo are married to Yoruba and vice versa. Even the so-called abandoned property saga did not affect Igbo as such in Lagos.

Ultimately, we are all Nigerians condemned to live together as one. The hate campaign that reared its head in some quarters during  electioneering and immediately after elections is unfortunate. Agbaje is a Lagosian like Ambode. So, even if Igbo voted for Agbaje, it does not make him an Igbo. He remains a Yoruba. Politicians are the ones fanning the embers of hatred to achieve their selfish ambitions.

Ambode is a gentleman. He has no reason to hate the Igbo in Lagos. But he should look into the fears and concerns of the people so as to reassure them that he is the governor of all.

Fake Pastors, Doctors And Gullible Nigerians

July 10, 2015

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in The Union, July 10, 1015

I was listening to a phone-in radio programme anchored by a popular Lagos pastor the other day. A lot of people called to pour out their problems for which the pastor  proffered solutions. There was this particular young lady who called. Immediately the pastor heard her voice, and without trying to find out what the woman’s headache was, he diagnosed lack of husband as the problem.

He assured the lady that it would be well, and that soon, the man meant for her would locate her. When the woman finally spoke, it wasn’t husband that made her to call in the first place. But of course, she was happy that a revered man of God spoke to her. She was asked to sow a seed as a first step towards solving her problems.

In many parts of Nigeria, fake men of God are everywhere. They see vision. They predict the future. They tell people what they want to hear. They are not after the salvation of souls. All they are after is to persuade people to submit their little earnings to them in the name of tithe.

‘Men of God’ are not the only culprits. Earlier this week, there were reports that a certain Martins Ugwu Okpeh from Ogbadibo Local Government Area of Benue State paraded himself as a medical doctor.  For nine years, he worked in the Federal Ministry of Health and even became the branch chairman of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) in 2008.  He also participated as Ebola volunteer, saying, “Severally, there were biometrics verification, but I survived them. ..The ministry is porous.”

What of fake police, fake soldiers, fake journalists and so on? Just the other day, the Police in Lagos arrested one Godwin Akhenamen for parading himself as a policeman. He did this for 12 years without detection. And many people fell for his antics. He was always entering public transport without paying any fare.

In Lagos, once you are in uniform, you choose to pay or not to pay transport fare. Some conductors like it because when they get to a police checkpoint, all they need to do is to shout ‘staff’ and they will be allowed to go without paying the usual bribes.

When asked if he knew Solomon Arase, Akhenamen displayed his true colours. “Who is Arase? I don’t know him. Did the man accuse me of anything because that name sounds like my village people? I am the only one who knows that I am a fake policeman,” he said.

We find this type of character in many professions. Among lawyers, journalists, engineers and many others, they are there. A lot of the people who claim to be engineers are not. They collect building contracts and do sub-standard work. Sometimes they succeed. Sometimes, their buildings collapse. The fake journalists gatecrash at events and begin to ask for brown envelope before the event ends. They have no shame, no reputation and bring bad image to the profession they are faking.

The tragedy of this is that many Nigerians don’t ask questions. They don’t subject most claims to rational reasoning or logic. Some of them rationalise any action as the will of God. And because we are the most religious country in the world, most of us believe without question once God is mentioned.

That is why as early as 8am, some people congregate at a warehouse to disturb God in the name of prayers. Things are hard these days. But some people believe the solution is not in looking for what to do to earn a living but in praying, casting and binding imaginary enemies. They believe the cause of their problem is in the village. Spiritual attack is the word they mostly deploy.

But even the bible tells us that people perish for lack of knowledge. The point is, most Nigerians are perishing for lack of knowledge. Some people say if you want to hide anything from Nigerians, you put it in a book. We don’t read. We don’t show any interest to acquire knowledge. That is why we swallow whatever so-called men of God tell us as gospel truth.

No doubt, there are genuine men of God. When you see such people, you know. They radiate honesty, humility and selflessness. They are not much after prosperity and the things of this world. To them, vanity upon vanity, all is vanity.

Let us begin to ask questions in this country because asking questions leads us to getting answers. If Thomas Edison did not ask questions, he would not have invented electric light bulb. Bill Gates founded Microsoft because he broke with tradition and asked questions. Aeroplanes, cars, phones and many other inventions were products of questions and research.

We are too docile, too fetish and too backward. When somebody comes to tell you that God told him certain things about you, why not interrogate the person to tell you how and when God spoke to him? When a job seeker comes with all manner of certificates, why not try to authenticate the originality of those certificates?

A former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salihu Buhari, presented fake certificates and became the number four citizen of this country for many months before he was exposed.

The day we will learn to ask questions, and probe every claim from anybody, that day will be our liberation day.

Exporting Boko Haram To Anambra

July 3, 2015

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in The Union, July 3, 2015

Donatus was a Maiduguri-based businessman. All through his adult life, he knew no other lucrative location for business than the Borno state capital. He spoke Hausa fluently, made friends with many Northerners and imbibed a lot of their way of life.

In 2012, Dona, as he was fondly called, was preparing to leave the North for good. Not that he didn’t like the people anymore. But the murderous activities of Boko Haram terrorists prompted his bid to relocate to the East. That really never happened.

In March 2012, some gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram members struck in his area. People started running helter-skelter. But before he realised what was amiss, he had been gunned down. Rather than come back alive as he planned, it was his corpse we received with tears. Dona, my uncle, left behind a wife and five children.

Prior to this personal loss, many Anambrarians, nay South-Easterners, had lost many of their loved ones to the dreaded terrorists. In one moment of madness, they invaded a place where some Anambra people were holding town union meeting and slaughtered them like fowls. Some have had their shops looted. Some had lost their houses. Some had lost their entire means of livelihood. Many others had since relocated to other places outside the North.

It is in this context that one can appreciate the massive protests that trailed the alleged transfer of some Boko Haram captives to Aguata prison in Anambra. The first protest took place across the state last Saturday. Traders trooped out in their thousands, chanting Igbo solidarity songs and waving anti-Boko Haram placards. Then, last Tuesday, similar protests rocked Ekwulobia, the headquarters of Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra.

The President General of the South-East Markets Amalgamated Traders Association (SEMATAS), Okwudili Ezenwankwo, was quoted to have confirmed that Boko Haram detainees were moved into Ekwulobia last Sunday night. The concern of the people of the state is that bringing Boko Haram detainees to their prisons poses some dangers. Knowing the antecedents of the group, they can invade the prisons to free their members. They can begin to pay visits to the areas where their members are in detention and start plotting how to plant bombs in strategic places.

The fear of the people is not misplaced. There is no need recalling the atrocities of the terrorists in the North. Be it in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe or Kano, Boko Haram has done and continues to do a lot of havoc in the society. They have killed many innocent people. Last year, they kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls from a community called Chibok and up until date, the girls are yet to be found.

Latest reports indicate that the girls may have been co-opted into fighting for the militants. One of the women who recently escaped from the Sambisa forest stronghold of the group, told the British Broadcasting Corporation that “people were tied and laid down and …the Chibok girls slit their throats.”

People of the South-East have seen war and do not want to see it anymore. They suffered untold hardship and deprivation during the 30-month civil war and do not want Boko Haram to bring another round of humanitarian crisis to them.

Even the exit of former President Goodluck Jonathan and the emergence of President Muhammadu Buhari have not brought any respite in the murderous tendencies of the blood-thirsty group. It is as if the coming of Buhari has propelled them to launch more attacks.

The annoying thing about the whole episode is the attempt to politicise the situation. For instance, the Anambra State chapter of the All Progressives Congress, APC, accused the state government of sponsoring the traders’ protest. The state chairman of the party, Emeka Ibeh, reportedly advised all APC members in the state to “take reasonable step to protect the party, themselves and their properties against any premeditated hate campaign or attendant actions masterminded by the APGA-led government in Anambra State.”

I don’t see why anybody will want to politicise this kind of issue. We are talking of a major threat to the security of a group and someone is talking of APGA-led government trying to undermine the APC-led Federal Government. On what basis is this allegation being made?

Is APC saying that Governor Willie Obiano fabricated the story? The governor had urged his people to remain calm. In a statement by the state Commissioner for Information,  Culture and Tourism, Dr (Mrs) Uju Nwogu, Obiano noted that extensive consultations were going on and that all relevant authorities were being reached.

“Chief Willie Obiano as the Governor of Anambra State, remains the most concerned and disturbed always, over any issue bothering his people. Ndi Anambra are therefore requested to be calm, remain law abiding and go about their normal businesses as His Excellency would explore all means to resolve the issue as quickly as possible,” the statement noted.

Ndigbo may not have voted for the APC in the last general elections, but is that why the ruling party wants to punish them by exporting Boko Haram terrorists to their small prisons? It is bad enough that the terrorists are ravaging the North. It will be worse if government deliberately escalates the problem to other parts of the country.

The spirit of Donatus and all those who lost their lives to the crisis will not allow that to happen.

APC’s Change Has Come

June 26, 2015

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in The Union, June 26, 2015

The ferocity with which the All Progressives Congress chanted “change” in the last electioneering drew out the mischief in some Nigerians. The social media was agog with a cartoon of two rural girls laughing and saying, “Buhari Change, Buhari Change, is Buhari a conductor?”

In Nigeria, commuters usually demand the balance of their transport fare, which they call change, from bus conductors. But the promised change from President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC goes beyond the bus conductors’ type of change. It is supposed to be fundamental and a drastic turnaround from the way we do things.

Many Nigerians joined their voices with the APC to chant this change! They accused the immediate past regime of Goodluck Jonathan of being clueless and directionless. They yearned for a departure from the previous ways of doing things and wanted an end to profligacy, high cost of governance, abject poverty and want. They hoped for a serious fight against corruption. They wished for constant electricity, good roads, qualitative education and health care. They needed a president who will hit the ground running, and then voted for a party that promised to bring progress and change. But are they seeing this change?

Some initial steps of the president appear to give some hope. He has held meetings with leaders of the neighbouring countries on how to tackle Boko Haram terrorists. He also ordered the military to relocate operational headquarters from Abuja to Maiduguri, the hotbed of insurgency. If his plans sail through, insurgency in the north may fizzle out in no distant time, the current killings and bombings notwithstanding.

Nevertheless, certain happenings in the country give cause for concern. We have seen a president who has spent almost a month in office and three months after he won election without a cabinet. We are currently witnessing a ruling party which has been embroiled in one leadership crisis or the other. We are uncomfortably watching a government labouring to give excuses for leaving certain things undone.

President Buhari started singing the excuses songs last week in South Africa where he regretted that he didn’t become president in his youth. At 72, he  stressed, there was a limit to what he could do. Was he not fully aware of this limitation before he opted for the job?

The next excuse was that Jonathan left empty treasury for the new regime. Some reports even quoted Buhari as saying that Jonathan’s government was worse than the second republic government of Shehu Shagari.

The question is, what is the president really afraid of? At a meeting with the State House Press Corps last Monday, Buhari said, “This culture of 100 days in office is bringing so much pressure with treasury virtually empty, with debts in millions of dollars, with state workers and even federal workers not paid their salaries; it’s such a disgrace for Nigeria…we really need your help to protect us from people before they march on us.”

The president does not need to fear. Once he does the needful, Nigerians will hail him and will never contemplate marching on him. He should start by curbing the profligacy in government which, from all indications, is not about to abate. Just as many states of the federation are battling to pay salaries, the legislative arm of government is washing hands with money. They just got N9bn as wardrobe allowance. Each of the 360 members of the House of Representatives will collect N17.5m while each senator will take home N21.5m to sew dresses. Other allowances are not less mouth-watering.

All these don’t even satisfy them. They still fight over juicy committee positions. For many of them, intrigue is the name of the game. Some plot against the president. Some plot to unseat the leadership of the National Assembly. Some plot against some leaders of the party.

That’s why the hallowed chamber of the National Assembly remains the training ground for martial arts and kung-fu. Last Tuesday, APC Senators reportedly exchanged blows over leadership positions. Their counterparts in the House of Representatives did the same thing yesterday. From the way the APC is going, more blows will likely follow.

The question remains, is this the change the ruling party promised Nigerians? Judging from the systemic rot in the country, nobody expects the president or his party to perform magic overnight. But there are basic actions the citizens need to see to be reassured that a great change is in the offing.

For instance, the president promised to tackle corruption. But so far, there is no concrete roadmap on how to do that. It’s all been motion without movement.

Besides, what is the president doing with all the jets in the presidential fleet? He could sell off nine of the aircraft to start with. There were initial reports that some of the aircraft had been sold. But the presidency quickly denied that report. Does the presidency run a commercial airline?

When the erstwhile President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, came to power in 2012, she decided to jettison her predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika’s lavish lifestyle. Part of what she did was to sell off the country’s 8.4m pounds presidential jet  and 60 Mercedes limousines.

Similarly, the immediate past President of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, abandoned a state palace to live in a farmhouse. He also donated the bulk of his salary to social projects even as he drove an old Volkswagen Beetle and flew economy class. As Mujica put it, “All I do is live like the majority of my people, not the minority…If we lived within our means – by being prudent – the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should move in that direction.”

So, what is our President, known for his frugality, still waiting for? He should go beyond cutting down on salary, which really amounts to nothing when compared to security votes at his  disposal.

As for the APC’s brand of change, Mujica said it all, “Despite all this lip service, the world is not going to change.”