Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye, an influential commentator on public issues, is the Editor-In-Chief and Head of the Editorial Unit of a Publishing Outfit in Lagos, Nigeria. He was until recently on the Editorial Board of Daily Independent, a national newspaper published in Lagos, where he wrote a highly regarded column (SCRUPLES) on the back page of the paper every Wednesday. The column now appears on Tuesday. His articles have equally appeared in several newspapers, magazines, books and journals in Nigeria and around the world and on several internet media sites. Many of his articles are archived on his blog: www.ugowrite.blogspot.com;  He could be reached with: scruples2@hotmail.com

Friday, 02 June 2017 13:46

Lai Mohammed: An Unmanageable Mistake!

When President Muhammadu Buhari announced the people he has selected to occupy some of the most strategic positions in his regime, there was understandable uproar across the country. Nigerians looked at the profile of these fellows and wondered what could have motivated their choice, what exactly in their credentials qualified them for such sensitive positions.

Ordinarily, Buhari would have simply ignored such an outcry, but he surprised Nigerians by volunteering an explanation. These, he said, were the people who had stood by him through the stressful years of his various unsuccessful attempts to become president. As he moved from one party to another in his quest to actualise his ambition, they stuck with him, undiscouraged by his growing history of failed presidential runs. So, this was the time to "reward" them for their steadfast loyalty. (These are the people now loosely referred to as Buhari's "Kitchen Cabinet," or more recently, "the Cabal" in Aso Rock, whose activities Nigerians have learnt to monitor with considerable apprehension.)

Buhari's preference for cronyism which mostly celebrates mediocrity at the expense of merit and expertise (an odious, counterproductive practice that has sufficiently advertised its predictable dividend in his regime's very dismal performance in the last two years) is, however, not original. In the unmissed Olusegun Obasanjo regime, appointment into public office was celebrated as an invitation to "come and eat." And not a few in that wayward regime, and the ones that followed it, did really overeat and became horribly obese, as evidenced by their mysterious humongous   accumulations!

In decently-run countries, people see appointment into public offices as sacrifice to their nation. Some, driven solely by love for country, quit high-paying jobs to take these positions whose statutorily fixed salaries compel them to undertake drastic readjustments in their lifestyles by shedding some luxuries that were easily guaranteed by their former salaries. Their country men and women celebrate them as patriots and heroes, and they leave public office with their heads held high, and their names boldly engraved in their country's Hall of Fame.

But in Nigeria, the story is different. That is why it should be understood that while for many months Nigerians waited for Buhari to announce his list of ministers, thinking he was busy carefully searching for the best hands to do the very significant and urgent   reclamation job crying for attention at such a very critical period in our nation's history, the man was, no doubt, busy considering whom to "reward" with what position. When the list was eventually released, it greatly disappointed and shocked many Nigerians leaving them wondering why it took the president all those months to come up with such hope-depleting appointments. The most demoralising confirmation that little or no imaginative thinking went into the making of that list, however, was Buhari's decision to "reward" Mr. Lai Mohammed, the industrious chief propagandist of his party, with the office of the Minister of Information. Although, I had learnt very early to grossly moderate my expectations of the Buhari regime, I never in my wildest imagination expected that the president would fall so cheaply into such a brightly advertised trap.

Now, as the chief propagandist of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Mr. Mohammed worked very hard to ensure the successful execution of the APC stratagem for hoodwinking Nigerians into thinking the party had any clearly thought0ut programme for the country's reclamation.  So, I am not begrudging him his presidential "reward" for "hard work" in line with Buhari's political philosophy. But why the information ministry? It is like asking the chief propagandist of a guerilla army to head the country's information ministry after it had ousted the government in power and formed its own regime. The switch is not impossible, but always very difficult to achieve. And that has remained Mr. Mohammed's problem from his first day in office. Both offices require different approaches, languages, mindsets and even   postures and gestures. The minister of information has found it very difficult to achieve a crossover.

Hence, for several months after the APC gained power, Mr. Mohammed was still trapped in campaign mood – clearly ill-prepared, and pathetically battling to adjust to his new job. And so, while Nigerians demanded evidence that the regime he speaks for had the slightest preparation for the job that had fallen on its lap, Mohammed continued to launch vitriolic attacks on the now opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), an expired strategy that had served his party very profitably during the campaigns, but which was now exposing the party's abject lack of action-plan and focus. When it eventually dawned on him (after many months) that the PDP was no longer in power and that this option has become such an unbearable irritant, he quickly changed tactics and began to make fantastic and offensively unverifiable claims about the supposed exploits of the Buhari regime. That was when we began to hear that the Buhari regime had "changed Nigeria for good" despite the unimaginable hardship that suddenly overwhelmed Nigeria shortly after the APC assumed power which soon began to drive Nigerians to suicide and into other deadly extremities forcing several of those who had campaigned vigorously for the APC to come out to render unqualified apologies for misleading Nigerians! Or that Boko Haram which was still unleashing horror and bloodshed across the North East had been "technically defeated."

The work of an opposition propagandist does not require much imagination. In Nigeria, the PDP even made Lai Mohammed's job very easy for him by its embarrassing failure of leadership and character. So all he did was to paint the PDP in hideous colours while his party and its presidential candidate promised Nigerians juicy pies in the sky. Although, I remained skeptical after noticing that the APC was carefully avoiding every opportunity to explain how it intended to realise all those tantalising promises it was lavishly throwing at Nigerians, not a few voters, however, easily fell for their deception having already been irrecoverably seduced by the carefully erected and overwhelmingly marketed myth about Buhari's exceptional abilities and character which had gained considerable weight overtime.

But Lai Mohammed became the greatest casualty of his own strategy.  It was not hard to see that even many of those who still voted for the APC had stopped taking his words to the bank long before the elections. He had become an severely damaged brand, horribly marred by the astounding untruths and half-truths his office churned out with unbelievable "bold face" and amazing regularity.

How a thinking government, one that expects to be believed and taken seriously by rational human beings, could not have seen very clearly that Mr. Mohammed had become such an image problem himself and, therefore, should not have been allowed to touch an   image-making job with a fifty foot pole would continue to baffle any Nigerian with less-than average capacity to reason. Indeed, it sure speaks volumes and deepens our apprehension about the capacity of the regime managing our affairs to exercise sound judgment even on the simplest of matters.

Is there no other position with which he could have been "rewarded"? Is the APC in such pitiable lack of appropriate personnel to man its information ministry? Apart from obvious names like Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa and Dr. Kayode Fayemi whom, most people would easily agree, should have made tremendous difference as the New Face of APC image-making, are there no other people the APC can find within its fold whose understanding of image-making goes beyond churning out revolting lies and brazenly throwing them at Nigerians? In fact, Lai Mohammed has become such a damaged brand that even when he speaks the truth today, not a few Nigerians have difficulty believing him. For a regime that has wantonly squandered the enormous goodwill that welcomed it to power and which is presently nursing an odious image of failure and disappointment at a period of the worst form of recession in our country's history, this kind of minister of information is the worst gift it can give to and retain for itself.

Although, much of Lai's lies were easily overlooked during the campaigns by those Nigerians who had already made up their minds about the PDP, it was a disaster for the APC to unduly stretch its luck by thinking that Nigerians will, in the face of worsening economic conditions, still suspend their disbelief, and allow their eyes to be turned away from APC's crying incompetence and abysmal failure with the same cheap lies they had endured during the campaigns.

As I write now on the evening of May 29, 2017 (the so-called Democracy Day), Mr. Lai Mohammed is being reported as having said earlier today, against all evidence to the contrary, that "...despite the dwindling revenue," the Buhari regime has been "able to deliver on [its] campaign promises". Waxing more confident, he dropped the real shocker: "I am happy that we are here today to prove that this government is not a government of propaganda; this is a real government that is dealing with the real people."

The next day, May 30, as I tidied this essay, Lai Mohammed was on Channels TV painting such a rosy and delicious picture of the Buhari regime's marvelous "achievements," that one was left wondering whether those beautiful and sweet stories he was telling were actually happening in the same country one lived in. So disgusted, a senior journalist announced on his facebook page that thirty minutes into that repelling performance, he had to change to a Cartoon Network to save himself from hypertension. One wonders if Mr. Mohammed even believes himself each time he opens his mouth to drop those his imaginary "truths" and "facts." One wonders how many hearts he damages after each of his disastrous performances.

In February, Mr. Mohammed declared that he has never told Nigerians a single lie and challenged those calling him a liar to provide even a single evidence to back their submission. According to him, even from his days as opposition spokesperson, he has remained "always very factual [and] very objective..." Then he dropped the bombshell:  "...I challenge anybody to come out and say 'this is one lie you told when you were spokesperson for the opposition. I challenge these people and I say, fault me on facts, and not on emotions." Can you beat that?

Now in this same interview (published in Daily Sun, February 18, 2017), Lai Mohammed also declared. "Number one, Mr. President is not ill; he is not in the hospital. So, there would be no need for me to give a bulletin."

And after the Wednesday Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, Minister Lai told reporters: "I can say without any hesitation that Mr. President is well, is hale and hearty. No question about that...Do you think we will be conducting our business like this if Mr. president is ill? ...I was in Kwara yesterday, all our ministers are busy doing their work. Mr. President is well and is absolutely not in danger."

That was Lai speaking his "truth" when Buhari was away in London where doctors were battling to save his life. But when the president returned to the country, he came very close to dismissing Lai as a pathetic liar. He said: "I couldn't recall being so sick since I was a young man, including the military with its ups and downs...‎Blood transfusion, going to the laboratories, and so on and so forth...I couldn't recall when last I had blood transfusion, I couldn't recall honestly, I can say in my 70 years.."

The problem with Mr. Mohammed is not that his first name, 'Lai', rhymes perfectly with 'Lie' and he seems to derive peculiar animation from always going all out to emphasize how that might be influencing his astounding pronouncements. His real problem  is the extreme insensitivity that fires his stubborn resolve to continue force-feeding raw, nauseating  lies to a suffering people and expecting them to be happy and grateful to him.

The 'Change Begins With Me' campaign, a clearly fraudulent scheme seeking to transfer to the populace the guilt and responsibility for the failed 'Change Agenda' on whose back the APC rode to power is reportedly the brainchild of Mr. Lai Mohammed, even though there was also a controversy as to whose concept it was originally. Although, Mr. Mohammed denied Daily Independent's report that the campaign gulped N3.4 billion, I am not aware that he has told Nigerians how much that wasteful, exasperating, hollow propaganda which is still running on prime time TV has cost the tax payer. I doubt if there is any sincere Nigerian who is not rankled by that campaign each time it pops up on the TV screen.

It is quite clear that offering any advice to the APC government, a regime that often carries on as if it did Nigerians a huge favour by seeking and being in power, is like singing even the most enchanting ballad to the deaf. But then, what can one do with an insufferable problem like this that hurts the populace so badly? Now, I am not by any means suggesting that Lai Mohammed should be rendered jobless. No, not at all. But it should be clear by now, even to a deaf, dumb and blind leadership, that his redeployment is long overdue. A people being grievously punished by the current impossible conditions in the country do not need any callous smooth talker coming out to regularly insult them and compound their grief by attempting to discredit their very dire experiences by seeking to persuade them that their real and excruciating situation exists only in their imagination.

Lai Mohammed was a mistake from the beginning, the kind that cannot be managed. Like that very bad tooth whose intolerable pain can only be ended by extraction. When one looks very closely at Mr. Mohammed each time he is on stage performing, it looks as if the crushing burden of the "lie-lie" image is even beginning to weigh down heavily on him. He would obviously welcome any news of his redeployment with great happiness. The Federal Government (whichever one) should please kindly oblige him by finding him another job. Such a kind gesture will, no doubt, bring immense relief to him and many Nigerians.

*Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

June 2, 2017

A few years ago, we had a very important and urgent need to be in Kumasi very early the next day. It was already midnight (Nigerian Time, but 11pm in Ghana), and we were still in Accra, surrounded by its brilliant lights and soothing serenity (there was not the faintest hint of any generator sound anywhere), wondering what to do.

But a Ghanaian who was with us did not seem to share our worries. He simply told us to hit the road, that in the next three hours, we should be in Kumasi.

I looked at him with surprise and disbelief. Who was sure nobody had hired him to lure the three of us into a well-laid ambush by violent robbers? When I expressed my concern about armed robbers, his answer was sharp: “There are no armed robbers!”

When later I repeated the concern, he said something he quickly realised he should not have said, but which Nigerians need to continue hearing no matter how painful we find it: “I have told you… no armed robbers! This is not Nige…!” He cut himself short. It suddenly occurred to him that he had gone too far in his bid to emphasize that point.

When I called a Nigerian friend in Ghana and he reassured me that the long journey from Accra to Kumasi was safe, we hit the road. At the one or two places where very friendly policemen stopped us, they merely looked at the vehicle and waved us on with their torches, without the slightest hint that they wanted a bribe.

And so, after a long journey through a quiet expressway and vast, quiet countryside, we embraced the warmth of the clean, well-lit streets of Kumasi early that cold morning, and found our way to the serene ambience of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).

No doubt, Ghana is a very poor country. Beyond the glitter of an efficient system is poverty that is real and palpable. But Ghana has been lucky with its leaders. What nation would not prosper under the watch of transparent, patriotic and result-oriented leaders who are not afraid to live among the people (unlike Nigerian leaders who hide themselves in an impregnable fortress like Aso Rock)?

It is only thieving, failed leaders that live in perpetual fear of the citizenry. The Ghanaian president lives in a street with very little security and has neighbours just like any other Ghanaian.

Throughout my stay in Ghana, I never dialled any number twice with my Ghana MTN line, no matter the country I called! But in Nigeria, if you dial a familiar number (duly saved in your phone), what you would probably hear is: “This number does not exist on this network.” Or: “The number you have dialled is incorrect.” And so on! You may eventually get through if you exercise more patience. What a country!

Service providers in Ghana are effectively monitored and regulated. The regulatory body ensures that no service provider sells lines more than it has the capacity to manage. And so the people make calls and get through with ease.

The same thing happens virtually every other place in Africa where the same service providers we have in Nigeria also operate. But in Nigeria they act with impunity while they function effectively every other place else.

It offends me each time anyone attempts comparing Nigeria with Europe or America. From Swaziland, Botswana, Mozambique, down to Togo and BeninRepublic here, Nigeria is, perhaps, the only country in Africa that is yet to achieve some appreciable stability in its electricity supply. We are here still grappling with pitch darkness and watching our pitiably blank and groping leaders telling embarrassing, infantile stories to explain away their inexplicable failure and insufferable incompetence, while very poor countries we can easily buy up with our humungous resources have since left us behind on this issue of power supply and provision of other social amenities.

In most of these countries, one can conveniently walk to any public tap and drink water, but whoever tries that here any time some liquid manages to trickle from any public tap would be guilty of attempting suicide.

At KwameNkrumahUniversity, Americans, Britishers, Chinese and people from diverse nations of the world are proudly enrolled as students. In 1993, an American Professor of Economics proudly told me that while he studied for his Masters Degree at the UniversityCollege, Ibadan, (UCI) in 1958, he stayed at Kuti Hall. I wonder if he can advise any American child today to get near that same Kuti Hall he spoke so glowingly about, or encourage the child of his worst enemy to attend a NigerianUniversity.

While a friend and I took a walk around midnight on a Saturday, we felt so safe, despite the several trees in the well landscaped and beautified compounded that lend the school its serenity, but which could provide cover for any campus cultists to strike, like we regularly witness in Nigeria.

As we stood on a walkway, about eight American youths dashed across, chattering, laughing and feeling so much at home. I am told that children of countless Nigerian government officials are also enrolled in the school, generating huge funds to Ghana with which it now offers divers scholarships to its own citizens. Yes, Nigerian public officers would prefer paying all the money (usually stolen from the public purse) to Ghana than improving and making our own schools safer so that youths from several parts of the world can also come here (as used to be the case) to study.

Ghanaians do not have the drive and innovativeness of Nigerians. Under focused and honest leaders whose eyes and hearts are not solely glued on the treasury, what would stop Nigeria from becoming one of the greatest countries in the world?

So, while our leanly endowed neighbours are gradually laying solid foundations for greater tomorrow, Nigeria is decaying and sinking into unimaginable depths.

Laden with an equally insufferably inept and morally impaired legislators, what options are left for a country so immensely rich, but so irresponsibly managed?

Painful truths, but let's tell them to ourselves to see if they can awaken a strong resolve in us to put our house in order.

*Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

May 2017 

By Wednesday, April 1, 2015 when Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) the winner of the March 2015 presidential elections, the rainy season was already here with us. And as all keen and informed observers of Nigeria’s power sector were already fully aware, at that particular season each year, we usually witnessed some improvement in electricity supply due to the increase in the water level usually witnessed at our dams; and 2015 was certainly not going to be an exception.  

While the APC and its supporters were all over the place immersed in boundless revelling, chest-beatings and other self-congratulatory gestures, and asking anyone whose ear they were able to attract to await the wonders and miracles which the APC had so freely and loudly promised during the elections now that their “Wonder Man” has won the election, I visited a shop near my office. And there I saw a barely literate young man who was so happy with himself as he confidently told the few people who had some time to spare for his poorly coordinated lectures about what he perceived as Buhari’s pre-inauguration accomplishments:  

“You see what I have been saying? The man has not even been sworn in and we are already enjoying light [electricity supply] every day! What will happen then when he is sworn in? Just wait and see! Once he enters there, you will see how everything will change!”  

 His cocksureness was amazing. He spoke pidgin English, and so what I have attempted here is mere paraphrase of his happy outbursts.  

Now, one could easily ignore this clear advertisement of ignorance, but after listening to that fellow that bright afternoon, and thought about the matter later, I begun to have this fear lurking somewhere in me that the APC, given its antecedents and distinguishing character, might soon start reechoing this fellow.  Anyone who closely observed the party during the campaigns and elections would readily recall that, somehow, it does not easily recoil from saying just anything that can help it win a few more ears no matter how easily such claims would simply evaporate in the face of reality.  

And so, I had to quickly write an article entitled, “Electricity: Can Buhari Break The Jinx?” in which I attempted an analysis of why, in my view, former President Goodluck Jonathan could not achieve an impressive record in the power sector and urged Buhari and his people to hasten to do the right things to achieve a name for themselves since they had unduly raised the people’s expectations during the campaigns. Then I gave them the timely counsel which is contained in the following extract:  

Now, it is a known fact that during each rainy season, there is usually some improvement in electricity supply as currently being witnessed by Nigerians. But instead of deploying solid effort to increase the amount of electricity generation and distribution in the country, the government may naively choose to sit still and start announcing this development as one of its ‘great achievements.’ That would amount to repeating the folly of previous administrations which had also done that forgetting that the rains would soon go away and they would run out of lies trying to explain away the biting reality that would dawn with the sudden return of darkness.” 

Sadly, the Buhari regime ignored my widely circulated counsel, and almost immediately, the news everywhere was that the improvement in power supply was as a result of “Buhari’s Body Language.” I had also entertained the faint hope that President Buhari would be able to avoid the very visible pothole called Mr. Lai Mohammed, but soon, he proved me wrong and unleashed him on us as information minister and the “body language” thing degenerated into a sing-song and became so unduly stressed, embellished and stretched far beyond its malleable limits. The simplistic point about the whole “body language” theory is that the fear of Buhari had put every staff at the electricity companies on their toes, and so they had to wake from their slumber to ‘light up’ the country!  

But the question the APC megaphones did not bother to ask themselves was: How many megawatts of electricity can Buhari’s “body language” possibly generate? Even if the power sector workers sat up on sighting Buhari, how would they be able to achieve an improvement if there were no capacity in the available infrastructure to do so?  Many people now are using pre-paid meters so it is even in the interest of the private electricity companies to generate and distribute power, because their ability to make people pay heavily for protracted darkness has become grossly  diminished; they stand to lose each time there is a blackout as the pre-paid meters would simply not record any consumption.  

But the APC had become used to lying their way to some advantage and being obsessed with their own voice, so they continued to unduly trumpet the “body language” melody, embellishing it beyond belief until the rains began to recede, taking the “marvelous achievements” of Buhari’s “body language” away with it. Now we have returned to the status quo ante: the oppressive heat has once again unleashed its wrath on hapless Nigerians as the generators roared back into life, wreaking untold havoc on sensitive eardrums, driving sanity away from the helpless masses and emitting dark, poisonous fumes into the atmosphere, thereby, threatening to turn the country into a dangerous gas chamber. And since the APC can neither manufacture a new lie to cover the now expired one or blame former President Jonathan for the thick darkness that has now descended on the nation, they have been forced to keep quiet hoping we’ll all forget to ask questions, especially, as they have also ensured we are perpetually distracted by the headline-grabbing anti-corruption “bombshells” which they are carefully releasing with each passing day. 

 And this very effective intoxicant seems to have driven everyone into some frenzy and taken virtually all minds and eyes off the little or no governance happening in Abuja and the epileptic power supply (compounded by a worsening fuel crisis in several parts of the country) that has once again become the country’s nightmare. But the question is: how long would the intoxicating (and equally sedative) powers of this anti-corruption drug last before Nigerians recover themselves and resume their demands for actual governance? What exactly are the current policies and programmes of this regime which won an election since March and was inaugurated in May 2015, and when would their implementation commence?  

For the first time since Nigeria came into being as an independent country, the Naira is exchanging N305 to one US dollar – under a regime that promised to make One Naira equal to One US dollar? Are we now on our own road to Zimbabwe? Where is Nigeria heading to under the perilous direction of an obviously dishonest and hypocritical political party that appears so blank and perpetually groping for direction?  

Okay, now that the so-called “body language” has been exposed for what it is – a mere fabrication to deceive Nigerians – what is Buhari’s blueprint for the power sector? Or are they going to wait for another rainy season to come so they can celebrate another imaginary “body language” miracle, and that is, assuming things do not get so bad before then that even the rainy season bonus will become a distant dream?   

 The president must hasten to realize that so far he has thrived on the myth carefully erected about his person and abilities by his highly imaginative image managers which already has been unduly overstretched to its breaking point. It ought to have dawned on him by now that after these several months, a growing number of Nigerians may have already begun to discover that, shorn of all beclouding propaganda, there is really very little or even no difference between the much maligned yesterday and the over-praised today, and that even this present king is, afterall, equally unclad like all the others that had earlier passed through Aso Rock.  

Buhari should, therefore, not allow this growing demystification to irrecoverably mar his legacy at his present age. And the solution is not to unleash a million more Lai Mohammeds on us or engage thousands of e-Rats to spend virtually all the hours of everyday on the social media writing mostly very revolting comments in their very feeble (and often counterproductive) efforts to “defend” and promote the current regime. Propaganda and misinformation may have served their purpose, but now, they seem to have outlived their usefulness.  

Indeed, they have virtually lost their power and appeal, and appear now to yield even the very opposites of what they were intended to achieve. What will, therefore, work more effectively on the people now are practical steps to fix the country and its many problems. Nobody is saying that Buhari should solve all of Nigeria’s problems within just a few months in office. That would be a most unreasonable expectation. But the people just want to see the slightest hint that he, at least, knows what the solutions are or even where or how to find them, and that he has, at least, taken even one step in the direction of solution.      

*Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye,  

( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , twitter: @ugowrite)    

If you are in Nigeria and you have not done this before, try and do it right away. Just open a Nigerian newspaper near you. Go through its pages to find out how many people were described in that particular edition as "credible" politicians or "honest and selfless" Nigerians. You would be shocked to see the number of people that recklessly allowed themselves to be associated with such superb qualities even when they are fully aware that by what most people know about their character and vile history, it might even be considered a generous compliment to dress them up in the very opposites of those terms.

Indeed, these are some of the words and phrases that have been so callously and horribly subjected to the worst kinds of abuses in Nigeria with hardly anyone making any attempt to intervene. I won't in the least, therefore, be surprised if I wake up tomorrow to hear that decent people in this country (or even outside the country) have begun to protest and resist any attempt to associate them with those terms any more.

In these parts, we appear to be such exceptional experts in the effective devaluation of all that ought to inspire awe and noble feelings. I can confidently predict that there are now some Nigerians who would, for instance, feel greatly insulted should their dogs be nominated for our country's "National Honours." Especially, since the Obasanjo regime, the "National Honours List" in this country has sadly distinguished itself by the ease with which people who ought to be in jail star prominently in it.

And as you look at the haggard or even dilapidated and grossly impoverished nature of a country with a long list of "illustrious" and "honest" sons and daughters annually honoured for their "selfless" and "invaluable" services to their fatherland, you cannot help wondering how indeed their so-called "immense contributions to the growth and progress of the their country" were not able to leave some bit of positive impact on the same country and its people.   Why is a country with such a long and intimidating list of "patriotic achievers" and "nation builders" still one of the most backward in the world despite being endowed with enviably abundant natural resources?

Many Nigerians, especially, politicians, do not care about the credibility of their pronouncements before they open their mouths to drop them, especially, before mammoth crowds. It is in Nigeria that a very tall man would not have the slightest hint of restraint telling everyone how incredibly short he is (because of the rich gains such a gross misrepresentation would attract to him at that time) without bothering about the evidence before everybody's eyes which brutally contradicts what he is saying. We live in a country where consequences hardly follow actions, so, people everywhere flaunt their ability to behave anyhow and make wild claims with utmost impunity.

Now, I feel very highly insulted each time I see a public officer, say a Nigerian governor, who virtually everyone seems to agree deserves to head straight to jail once he leaves office due to his mindless plunder of the country's resources, come out (before an election) to tell the world with sickening brazenness how his party would wage a successful war against corruption if elected into power! By allowing himself the revolting recklessness of uttering such an outstanding blasphemy, the person is only calling all of us fools who are incapable of using our brains. And the mere fact that this same odious fellow would automatically be rewarded with very ecstatic ovations from supposedly rational human beings who constitute his audience and who would also go ahead to give him their votes is one reason most people easily conclude that something is very horribly and disastrously wrong with Nigeria, and that we live in one of the most unserious societies on earth.

In Nigeria , anybody can suddenly become an "esteemed" and "respected "anti-corruption" crusader. Even if you have a very horrible criminal past, it would not matter. Somebody once boasted to me that the only way to effect lasting, positive change in Nigeria is to become a public officer, acquire boundless wealth by looting the treasury pale, and then with your enormous loot, seek to sanitize the system. Moreover, Nigerians are always interested in the present. The same Nigerians who had called you horrible names while you were busy criminally accumulating humongous wealth would start hailing you once you start attacking the incumbent regime. Soon, you will be crowned an "eminent statesman" or even the "conscience of the nation," celebrated by all.

Even the foreign media which will not tolerate such hideousness in their own land will join their local counterparts to decorate you. And if the current government attempts to investigate the organized banditry you effectively supervised during your tenure, you would just call a press conference and grant lengthy interviews to allege that they are persecuting you because you are exposing their corrupt acts and then promise Nigerians that you would not be deterred by any acts aimed at intimidating you into silence! I can assure you that if you act "wisely," you would get eager influential defenders in the media, among opinion moulders and even from some of your "more liberal comrades" in the human rights community.

You can also always rely on our media to never attempt to remember your past, but to continue to emphasize how you are the hope of the country. They will readily help our nice and easily forgiving and forgetting populace to quickly consign your past to the bin and embrace your new "Mr. Clean" image.

Former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), late Alao Aka-Bashorun, one of the country's most principled activists and legal luminaries, once said that if a gang of armed robbers rose in Nigeria and seized power that he knew some of his colleagues who would fall over themselves to "serve" in that regime and blame patriotism for their abominable choice. Aka-Bashorun made this statement during the heyday of military rule when coups and counter-coups were the country's worst afflictions, and military adventurists, largely motivated by selfish interests, did not seek the mandate of the people to rule them, but just seized power and imposed themselves on all of us.

I wonder what Mr. Aka-Bashorun would have said today if he were still alive to see overfed and belching thieving public officers addressing mammoth crowds and receiving deafening ovations from the same people whose commonwealth they were busy mindlessly plundering and whose future and that of their children they are zealously mortgaging. One is at loss as to how to categorise a people with such a tragic mindset.

Late Lawrence Anini was once a nationally dreaded Benin-based armed robber. But, were it possible for him to reappear today and use the polluted proceeds of his violent robbery to become a wealthy and influential politician, and is able to get very efficient "professionals" to duly "package" him, he can comfortably win an election in Nigeria .  Of course, he would very easily get some in our media to describe him as very "credible"! Indeed, I am now willing to believe that most of those who pen those flowery profiles do not really care to   understand the meaning of some of the words they carelessly throw about.

Nigeria may, perhaps, be one of the few countries where a man who once, as the head of an anti-graft agency, investigated some public officers for looting the public treasury, told the world how horribly corrupt they were, and even charged some to court (where some of the cases, however, eventually died quietly) could turn around to collaborate with the same set of people in the same party to seek power. And such a man would not even feel any shame or sense of self-diminishment as he mounts the podium to tell the same audience (that once heard him call those men thieves) that the men were our new messiahs, the most "credible" (that word again!) politicians in town. How human beings are able to do this without doing untold damage to themselves remains a horrendous mystery? And because this is able to continue to happening is the core reason Nigeria goes nowhere and might remain stuck at a place for a long time to come.

Now, to say that politics in Nigeria is largely about crude self-interests is merely to state (or rather restate) something that has since become all too obvious even to the worst hare-brained fellow out there. It is difficult to see today a Nigerian who is seeking public office whose eyes are not solely glued to the amount of money he is intending to cart away and the influence he is itching to peddle once he assumes office. But what is most heart-shattering is that there's hardly any adult Nigerian who is yet to come to a full realization of this brazen fact; yet this same Nigerians still willingly and eagerly submit themselves as very cheap preys to  the crude, unintelligent lies by these politicians that they are in politics to seek their welfare. Rather than look them directly in the face and dismissively call them shameless liars, Nigerians, most pathetically, still largely prefer to loudly demonstrate that they believe them (even when they may not) and troop out en masse to hail them as the new set of messiahs just arrived in town.

Now the matter would not have been so hideous if our elected public officers were content to make do with their already outrageously inflated salaries and allowances. No! They will also massively and heartlessly loot the public treasury under their watch and cart away millions and billions of naira with utmost impunity to ensure that long after they have left office and become professional idlers, they would continue to wallow in limitless luxury serviced with mounds and pyramids of unearned wealth.

But instead of the people from whom they brazenly stole all this money to feel outraged and rejoice at any opportunity to make them face the consequences of their crude thievery, they would go out of their ways and take additional pains to defend and offer them support in their well-earned travails. Not a few would engage in verbal and even physical combats and might end up even wasting their lives to defend and support the right of these public officers to loot the treasury pale. Yet, deep down their hearts, they are fully aware that many of these officers are no better than common thieves out there.

An event that took place a few weeks before the 2015 general elections helped to solidify my doubts about the willingness and ability of the perennially deprived and impoverished Nigerians to participate in the urgent reclamation work this country requires – to rescue it from the hands of resilient leeches who are bent on sucking the very life out of it.

I was in one of the state capitals and what were on virtually everybody's lips at that period were the media reports on some choice structures and juicy investments allegedly belonging to a former governor which were believed to have been acquired with the proceeds of his mindless looting of the state treasury. Opinions were divided on the mind-blowing report. Although some people rose in stout defense of the fellow, what I thought was unimaginable was that some others could go to the sickening extent of openly boasting that what the man was alleged to have stolen was "their" money, so, why should it be the business of anyone who was not from the state!

One evening, I went to a nearby kiosk to make a purchase, and there, I saw two young men who, judging by their haggard appearance, should belong to the lowest wrung of the country's social and economic setting – the worst victims of the programme of impoverishment that successive thieving politicians have unleashed on this country. As one of the young men expressed outrage at such mindless stealing by the former governor, the other one barked at him: "go back to your state and talk about the stealing taking place there and leave our state alone. It is our money that was stolen and it does not concern you! Just shut your mouth, we are okay with that."

It was difficult to comprehend what I had just heard, but the fellow was dead serious repeating the same words to the other young man, becoming angrier as he spoke and showing clearly that he could initiate a physical combat if the other fellow continued to discuss the matter that "did not concern" him. With people who reason like this fellow abundantly existing across our country, why should any thieving public officer ever think of exercising any restraint?

Now, when Nigerian leaders advertise their resolve to fight corruption, they usually have in mind some particular corrupt people they are targeting. And while they go all out with undue fanfare to arrest and prosecute them (or just rubbish them with elaborate media trials and sentencing), they surround themselves with even more horribly corrupt fellows – unrepentant criminals who are still neck-deep in their vile but very lucrative career of criminal accumulation, even under the "anti-corruption" regime.

And what about us – the perennially exploited Nigerians? What is our attitude towards   corruption? Indeed, what is very difficult to deny is that when we shout against corruption and the need to punish those involved in it, we, like our leaders, always have a set of people in our minds. And so, when the anti-corruption effort now goes beyond our expectations and starts straying into the camp of our sacred cows, we would immediately discard our loudly advertised revulsion against corruption and rise in solidarity with the looters. We will try to dig up reasons why we think they are rather being persecuted. And politicians always take full advantage of this to shield themselves from the just consequences of their shameless thievery by igniting some fire among us with two prominent inflammable substances, namely, Religion and Ethnicity. But when they gather to steal the nation blind, they do not consider these two intoxicants.

Before I sign off, let's narrow this discussion to the present situation in our country. There are Nigerians today who would eagerly go to any length and might even lay down their lives to defend the Buhari administration, despite the fact that it is becoming obvious that, perhaps, the only difference between the former regime and the current one is, like somebody said recently, the broom, and maybe, a more effective propaganda machinery deployed by the latter. The undisguisable truth is that they are all members of the same decadent and ultra-greedy political class which has held this country down for several decades sucking it to death like unrelenting leeches.

As I opened my laptop bag a few minutes ago, I saw again a copy of theNigerian Observer of March 23, 2015, which a friend in Benin had helped me to obtain when we learnt that it had republished one of my articles entitled, "Is Robert Mugabe's Fall Symbolic?" As I leafed through the good oldObserver, I wondered how such a paper with the enviable history of having helped to groom several reputable journalists in this country since it debuted on May 29, 1968 could have been allowed to so badly depreciate in quality, even under the very watch of the "People's Comrade," the fire-spitting Governor Adams Oshiomole.

Well, on page 3 of the paper, I saw a full-page advert placed by an association that called itself "Change Advocates of Nigeria (CAN)" asking us to give our votes to General Muhammadu Buhari, then presidential candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC). The association gave four really tantalizing reasons why we should give our votes to Buhari. Permit me to reproduce three:

1.    "Vote for a leader who will not appoint any corrupt person in his    government."

2.      "Vote for a leader who will give social welfare package to the unemployed monthly in our nation Nigeria "

3.      Vote for a leader who matches his words with action for the overall benefit of the people of Nigeria ."

That sounded so nice, didn't it? But why am I suddenly having this feeling that these statements sound even more hollow now than they did when they were first uttered? Indeed, how many people who had eagerly swallowed those sweet promises which the APC, its candidates and agents were recklessly throwing about during the campaigns would still be able to view them with even the tiniest bit of seriousness today, given the very demoralizing starting signals the APC regime has already served Nigerians these past few months?

Now, is it possible to find any reasonable person in Nigeria today (even among die-hard APC warriors) who still believes in all sincerity, I mean, deep down his "heart of hearts," that President Buhari "will not appoint any corrupt person in his government" as boldly proclaimed in the Observer advert?

Again, how many APC chieftains would still be able to repeat today the (now clearly fraudulent) assurance Buhari gave Nigerians during the campaigns that he would "give social welfare package to the unemployed monthly in our nation Nigeria ?" And with what we have already seen in the past couple of months since this regime took over in Abuja, who in Nigeria today can confidently say that we now have a leader who "matches his words with action for the overall benefit of the people of Nigeria," except, perhaps, the APC megaphone, Mr. Lai Mohammed, and some others of identical mindset.

But these are the very attractive but empty packets the APC boldly waved before Nigerians in order to obtain their votes. Today, the party's "credible" leaders and the regime they installed are not only by their words and 'body language' distancing themselves from those very marvelous promises which they had clearly made, stressed and repeated on countless forums during the electoral campaigns, they are equally showing that those who believed any of them did so at their own risks. And to thoroughly erase any lingering doubts about their exact intentions and completely remove any further pressure on them to fulfill their campaign promises, the Buhari presidency and the APC came out recently to disown in an unambiguous language the very documents that contained those mouth-watering promises with which they persuaded Nigerians to give them their votes – after the votes had put them in power! Can you beat that?

No doubt, President Buhari and the APC are yet to realize that Nigerians are already feeling that they were deluded into pouring their water into a leaking vessel. Mostly on the social media, the APC foot soldiers are always quick to ask "what about Jonathan" any time anyone pointed to any of the howling failings of the current regime. Much as former President Goodluck Jonathan deserves to take his fair share of blame for the dilapidated state of this country, the truth is that his regime is now history. Rather than bore us daily with drab tales of the sins of the previous regime, Buhari should motivate the various anti-corruption agencies to go after those who had abused their offices and ensure they are duly prosecuted.

Corruption is not combated with countless front-page-grabbing pronouncements which sometimes sound as if they are merely targeted at removing our attention from the obvious lack of clear direction of the current regime. Nigerians want to see concrete actions. Let the looters (in the PDP and APC, the North and South) be thoroughly investigated, tried and jailed if found guilty by duly constituted courts. The APC-led regime should, therefore, shake off its campaign mood (since the elections are over), roll up its sleeves and start fixing the rot it met on ground instead wasting a lot time and resources in endless and debilitating lamentations.

By the way, one had thought that the current regime had announced itself as a healthy alternative to the previous one, so why is this penchant to use the failure of the last regime to justify its own failures? Are we to take it then that the "change" the APC promised is nothing but the amplification of all the failings of the Jonathan regime? If that is the case (as it is gradually appearing to be), then, indeed, Nigeria has moved from disaster to more, unmitigated disaster. And the fact that many Nigerians are still trapped in the false feelings created by the tantalizing campaign promises the APC was dropping like overripe fruits during the elections (and which the party has long disowned) and so are unable to see through the fog of the continuing propaganda to read the very clear, ominous handwriting on the wall is the real tragedy.

*Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye,

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November 4, 2015

Wednesday, 30 September 2015 15:27

A Problem Like Fulani Herdsmen

The brutal abduction early last week of Chief Olu Falae, a former secretary to the government of the federation (SGF) and former finance minister, by a band of suspected Fulani herdsmen has once again brought to the fore the often tragic excesses of these cattle herders whose distorted and unwholesome understanding of their place as co-inhabitants in their host communities appears to have led them into the erroneous and dangerous belief that they are, perhaps, incapable of being restrained by any law.

On Monday, September 21, 2015, the day Falae turned 77, armed Fulani herdsmen reportedly stormed his farm at Ilado in Akure North council of OndoState, attacked his workers and violently took him away. This is how his personal assistant (PA), Capt Moshood Raji (retd), explained what happened while speaking with newsmen in Akure on Thursday, September 24, the day Falae regained his freedom, as reported by Vanguard newspaper on Friday:

"About a month ago, there was a clash between the herdsmen and Chief when some cows destroyed maize on the farm. I was the one that led the policemen to arrest them. We arrested some and detained them for about four days. Chief Falae said he has no problem with them that they have to sign an undertaking that they will not go there again. They signed an agreement that they will not go there again. The Fulani Secretary signed for them. The secretary then said I should caution Oga (Falae) that he should go and fence his farm. He said if he dared harm any cow or kill any of their cows, there would be trouble. He said that before the officer in charge of SARS. They have [now] carried out the threat. What they destroyed was about N500,000.00 but N120,000 was paid and the chief distributed the money to all his workers when it was brought to him."

After his abductors set him free, Falae reportedly told Governor Olusegun Mimiko of OndoState who visited him that during his four days in captivity, he was made to sleep on bare floor and trek several kilometers from his farm in Ilado, where he was kidnapped, to about 10 kilometers near Owo, where he was eventually set free. And when Gen Alani Akinrinade visited him on Monday September 28, he explained further:

"When the hoodlums came, they slashed me with their cutlasses, they said I was not cooperating. And they dragged me barefooted into the bush. After dragging me around for about two hours, they stopped somewhere for us to rest ... It was about 2.30pm on Monday that we started walking with very few stops until 2am the following morning. I suspect that I must have covered a minimum of 15km. That morning I did not take anything. So all day, I had no food, no water and I walked close to 15km. How I survived I cannot really remember. I had no food in my stomach, I had no shoes, my clothes were torn to shreds ... In that place, we all slept on bare ground, unfortunately, the rain came in the night and I was thoroughly drenched where I was lying down .... They offered me bread, but I told them I cannot eat it. I demanded for a bottle of coke, which was what I drank everyday to have the strength to survive and to continue the march, because they were permanently moving. There were six of them with three or four guns and every half an hour or so, they will say, 'Baba we are going to kill you if you don't give us money. We are going to kill you.'"(Vanguard 29 September 2015)

It was reported that Falae had returned with a wound on his left hand. His abductors had asked for N100 million as ransom, which they later reduced to N90 million. Although Falae has confirmed that his family eventually paid the kidnappers some money before they released him, he did not say how much. But Vanguard newspaper of September 29 quoted a "dependable source" as disclosing that the family parted with N5 million to secure Falae's release.

Given the tone and contents of the statements of those who had condemned Falae's abduction, it ought to be clear to the federal government that the activities of these Fulani herdsmen have unduly tested the patience of a growing number of Nigerians, and now pose a serious threat to peace and unity in this country. Afenifere, the Pan-Yoruba Socio-Political and Cultural group, for instance, is insisting on an immediate end to the Fulani cattle rearing business "in every state of Yorubaland." Rising from a six-hour meeting in Akure on Monday, September 28, the organization condemned in very strong terms Falae's abduction and called for the arrest of the kidnappers without any further delay. Given the tension this incident has triggered which might be unduly compounded by any reoccurrence, a lasting solution must immediately be found to the menace of these herdsmen before they plunge this country into an avoidable crisis.

Falae's ordeal had attracted such a significant attention, including a presidential order to the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) to immediately secure his release, because of the caliber of his person. Some other victims who had even lost their lives only managed to attract just a brief or no mention in the papers. Their families are in their quiet, obscure corners mourning their loss.

In March 2015, for instance, an 85 year-old community leader in Oma Eke village in Udi Local Government Area of Enugu State, Pa Tagbuo Oguejiofor, was murdered in cold blood by some Fulani herdsmen rearing their cattle in his community. According to PUNCH newspaper of March 19, 2015, the late octogenarian's offense was that he had the temerity to drive away these herdsmen who had unleashed their cattle on his farm which promptly devoured his crops and polluted his water well. Later, they armed themselves, returned to the farm, murdered him and went their way.

How these herdsmen are able to retain the conviction that farms that people had invested labour and resources to raise would continue to serve as food for their cattle remains very difficult to comprehend. And the deprived farmers are expected to go home quietly (and probably thank the herdsmen and their cattle for helping them to destroy the farms they may have raised with their life-savings or even loans), or else they would lose their lives, or (if they are lucky) be kidnapped so that their families would pay huge sums to secure their release. Not even during the colonial era, with all the several inhuman and degrading treatments suffered by the conquered and colonized natives, were human beings brazenly subjected to such extreme indignities. So, those who are seeking to entrench such a callous and oppressive enterprise should better know that they are planting a time bomb in the country by unduly provoking an otherwise peace-loving people who would rather go about their normal lawful activities without any molestation.

When you do an internet search on the phrase "Fulani Herdsmen," you will be shocked at the incredibly humongous harvest of tragedies these fellows have accumulated with utmost impunity across Nigeria. You will be further benumbed by the lamentation everywhere that they always manage to get away with whatever they do. Even when they are arrested after any of their crimson exploits, they would always find their ways out of custody soon, further emboldened to wreak more devastations. When they invaded a village in Benue State around 4 a.m. in March this year, for instance, more than 90 lives (including those of women and children) were callously wasted before their bloodlust could be assuaged (Vanguard of March 16, 2015).

It must, however, be pointed out that these herdsmen are doing an important work which they are sadly discrediting with their brazen disregard for the rights of others, including the right to live and undertake lawful activity with any disruption. Their product serves as a source of protein to many across Nigeria. Their activities must therefore be regulated for it to continue to enjoy accommodation and acceptability in the places where they operate. They must be made to realize that there are laws governing civilized existence and that Nigeria is not their conquered and lawless jungle.

In most cases, these itinerant herdsmen are not the owners of the cattle they are rearing. The owners who sit in their comfortable homes and watch them kill, maim and abduct innocent people with alarming regularity must now be compelled to realize that there is a limit to impunity in a society governed by law. Even when people are provoked, they should learn to restrain themselves from taking laws into their hands and report their grievances to lawful authorities.

The only way, however, to halt these reckless and callous killings is for those who perpetrate them to be duly dealt with according to the law. So long as people enact tragedies and go scot free, so long will others be emboldened and even derive animation from doing more. And the helpless victims, when stretched beyond their malleable limits, might be compelled to resort to self-help to protect themselves, and we can all guess what this will spell for the country.

A lasting solution to these constant clashes would be for the government to muster the political will to confine the activities of these herdsmen by mandating cattle owners to raise ranches and grazing grounds for their cattle. Given the amount of blood-curdling tragedies the constant clashes between herdsmen and farmers have already accumulated across the country, this measure and more should be treated with the urgency they deserve.

*Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye,

September 2-15

Wednesday, 16 September 2015 08:55

Governor Masari’s Eleven Billion Naira Lie

It is more than one week now since Premium Times carried a very shocking story in which the Katsina State Governor and one of the leading lights of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Aminu Bello Masari, was accused of brazenly deploying a false claim to get his state included on the list of the 27 insolvent states that would require the federal bailout approved by President Muhammadu Buhari for the payment of arrears of salary owed to workers in those states. The governor had claimed that by the time he assumed office, workers in his state were being owed two months' salary and due to the almost empty treasury he met on ground, he would not be able to settle the salary arrears unless he got the federal bailout.

 

The truth, however, as discovered by Premium Times, is that KatsinaState "had no business being among the group of insolvent states in need of federal bailout to pay workers salary arrears. KatsinaState civil servants as well as workers in the state's 34 local governments received their full salaries and allowances up to May when Mr. Masari became governor."

 

Now, in the absence of any form of refutation from Mr. Masari's office to such a credibility-shattering report, one can safely assume that the governor had, indeed, told that horrendous lie and that he is only deploying the weapon of silence to allow the revolting scandal to quietly go away. What should even be more worrisome now is: if Governor Masari could unleash such a bare-faced lie to deceive the federal government into giving him an N11 billion bailout, how can anyone be sure that the money would not simply disappear into a black hole and he would quickly manufacture an even bigger lie to explain away its disappearance?

 

To qualify for the bailout, the Central Bank requires each governor to show evidence that he obtained the approval of the state house of assembly before filing a request. And to get this, Governor Masari wrote to the speaker of the Katsina State House of Assembly requesting the consent of the state lawmakers "for the State government to collaborate with the Central Bank of Nigeria for a Bail Out of outstanding workers' salary in the State and Local governments."

 

In the letter dated August 26, 2015 (Ref: S/SGKT/154/3) entitled, "Bailout on Outstanding Salary for Workers of the State and Local Governments," Governor Masari wrote:

 

"Mr Speaker may wish to know that at the time of the take-off of this administration, the State and Local Governments in the State owed workers two months' salary to the tune of N11,086,632,741.32 broken down as follows: Katsina State: N3,646,943,099.80; 34 local government councils:  N7,439,689,641.32; Total: N11,086,632,741,.32 ... It is in the view of the need for the State Government and Local Governments to meet their obligation in the payment of outstanding workers' salary, considering the lean resources inherited from the former administration, that it has become necessary for the State Government to apply for the bail out on behalf of the State and Local Governments."

 

It becomes even more shocking when one notes that such a benumbing lie is coming from the governor of the home state of Nigeria's anti-corruption president and one of the prime movers of the so-called "change" agenda. And as if to further expose Masari's fraudulent agenda, both his own press secretary, Mr. Abdul Labaran, and the media aide to former Governor Ibrahim Shema, Mr. Oluwabusola Olawale, have confirmed that KatsinaState was not owing any arrears of salary. Said Mr. Olawale:

 

"Throughout the tenure of Ibrahim Shema, workers' salaries were paid latest on the 25th of every month. As at May both the state and local government salaries were paid on the 25th. So [Shema] left office without owing any worker any salary. So this news is strange to us. We don't know what could have necessitated this letter...There is definitely no justification to ask for a bailout of two months' salary."

 

Now, is this a primitive conspiracy between the governor and the members of the Katsina State House of Assembly, or would the lawmakers also tell us that they were not aware that Masari had told them an atrocious lie? What exactly are these fellows planning to do with this eleven billion naira and why was it necessary to obtain the money through shameless deception? Are they planning to share the money among themselves, and tomorrow, when most people may have forgotten the finer details of what transpired, they can always claim (after, perhaps, destroying every evidence capable of contradicting their claim) that indeed two months' salary were owed workers in Katsina and that the N11 billion was used to defray it? Now, what does this say about the genuineness of the APC mob which insults our intelligence daily with infantile claims about theirs being a party of angels who are in town to clear the huge mess created by their predecessors? In what language really do Mr. Aminu Bello Masari and his co-travellers understand the "change" being unceasingly chorused by their party?

 

Anyone familiar with Masari's history of unwholesome controversies would, however, not be surprised at this latest development. He was the Speaker of the House of Representatives from 2003 to 2007 when he handed over to Patricia Foluke Etteh. As Ms. Etteh prepared to move into the speaker's official residence vacated by Masari, she got herself embroiled in a N628 million house renovation contract scandal. The Idoko Panel constituted by the federal lawmakers to probe the scandal soon discovered that this same house was renovated twice during Masari's tenure – N2.5 million was used to give it a facelift in 2003 while in 2006, a year before he left office, N16 million was spent for another renovation of the same house. It would be recalled that in 1999, four years before Masari assumed office, N5.28 million was spent on the renovation of the house, and there was no record of any further expenses on the house until Masari took over and renovated it twice in four years. The cost of these renovations may appear little by today's standard, but we must hasten to remember that at the time Masari was speaker, N2.5 million or even much less (depending on who was building) would be quite sufficient to build and even furnish a beautiful three-bedroom bungalow.

 

The worst part of the story soon emerged when Etteh told the country that she required N238 million to renovate the house because it was horribly vandalized. Expectations were that Masari would have risen to challenge such a damaging insinuation, but his silence was louder than the din provoked in the House by Etteh's scandal.

 

But that's not the end of the Masari story. Late last year, after he emerged as the APC governorship candidate for KatsinaState, Lagos lawyer, Mr. Festus Keyamo, wrote a petition on behalf of some APC stalwarts in the state to the national leadership of the party dated December 17, 2014. The letter contained the  allegation that Masari had presented a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). According to the petitioners, Masari's claim that he obtained a postgraduate diploma in Water Quality Control and Management from Middlesex Polytechnic in the UK was false because the polytechnic, following some inquiries, had stated that no such course was offered by the institution in the year Masari claimed to have attended the school.

 

"We need not emphasise the need for your party that prides itself on the mantra of 'change' to depart from the tradition of other parties that have fielded questionable characters in the past. We are, therefore, calling on you to urgently substitute the said Aminu Bello Masari or conduct fresh primaries to fill the position," the petitioners said through their lawyer.

 

Perhaps, because this particular case grew quickly and rose to become a potent threat to his ambition to rule Katsina, Masari decided to break what had all the while looked like his tradition of silence. In the Leadership newspaper of January 10, 2015, Masari put up the following defense:

 

"I was then a senior officer on Grade Level 10 and I was given the opportunity to go to Middlesex Polytechnic in London and study water quality control and management. So, for God's sake, how come in 1982 that I had no idea that I would contest the governorship election after 32 years, I forged a certificate waiting for that day or even forged a certificate to contest the election in 1999, 17 years after?"

 

A clever answer indeed! But it is certainly not enough to bury this matter which somehow could not eventually stop him from emerging as the governor of KatsinaState. Now, how can a British polytechnic award Masari a certificate without having any record of it in their archives and at a time the course he claimed to have studied was not even being offered by the school? Who said that it was only for election purposes that people forge certificates? What if someone had refused to attend a course approved for him by his employers but used some other means to procure an admission letter and a certificate bearing the name and logo of a particular institution to prove that he actually attended the course in order to claim all the benefits that go with the course? Exactly the same way Masari had allegedly written a letter claiming that his state owed salaries when the opposite was the case, in order to get a whopping N11 billion bailout which would most likely be mismanaged, because as the saying goes, "Whoever can lie to you can also steal from you"?

 

Of course, the APC had risen in stout defense of Masari on the certificate forgery matter. In a December 29, 2014, letter, the party's National Legal Adviser, Mr. Muiz Banire, told Keyamo that the party's National Working Committee has considered the allegations against Masari and could not find them "meritorious." While thanking Keyamo for his effort, the party said that Masari's nomination would not be reversed, that he remained their governorship candidate in KatsinaState.

 

Now these questions remain: what was APC's finding in the course of its own investigations? Did the UK institution eventually confirm to the party that Masari was once their student and that the course he claimed to have undertaken at the school in 1982 was actually offered there at that time? Or did they just hush the matter and pacified their outraged members to enable them treat the whole sordid matter as a "family affair" in the spirit of "change" and "anti-corruption"?

 

Unfortunately, the bailout scandal appears to be unwilling to die quietly like the others before it. The social media is awash with unmitigated outrage from Nigerians. And an anti-corruption group, the Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), has taken the bold step to demand a thorough probe of Masari's alleged fraudulent claim. As the controversy rages, decent Nigerians are waiting to see the outcome, whether the APC will muster the moral courage to use this particular case to rehabilitate its already badly battered image before Nigerians.

 

"From the foregoing, this is an alleged case of attempted fraud and corruption which the administration of President Buhari is working tirelessly to stem the tide.  This action by a Governor of the president's home state tends to cast a serious aspersion on the President's anti-corruption drive," CSNAC said in their letter to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) which they urged to thoroughly investigate the claims presented by states to qualify for the bailout and do all within their powers to recover any fund already fraudulently obtained by any state.

 

In a decent democracy, the Masari affair should constitute a monumental embarrassment to any responsible political party which has laboured so hard to present itself as the new face of "change" and "integrity. But, sadly, since this sickening drama began to play out, nothing has been heard from the propaganda machine of the "most righteous" political party in the world.  May be, they may have, once again, investigated Masari's revolting lie, and as would be expected from a "party of saints," found it overly "meritorious."

 

*Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

 

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September 2015

 

Thursday, 10 September 2015 15:27

Is Autumn Finally Here For Robert Mugabe?

Robert Mugabe, the 91-year old president of Zimbabwe – that beautiful but horribly impoverished country tucked away in the Southern part of Africa – has always managed to emerge colourful in his endless battle of wits with the West. He has over the years been able to retain the admiration and support of a sizable percentage of his people (despite the biting economic hardship in his country) and remained the toast of quite a number of African intellectuals.
 
Even his worst enemies would admit that he is very intelligent, well-informed and articulate. At 91, he is yet to show any convincing signs that age is eating into his well-cultivated intellect and psychological bearing. Always impeccably turned out in well-tailored suits, Mugabe remains many people’s pleasant idea of ageing gracefully and a delight to watch at press conferences or interviews.
  

 
 
*President Mugabe and his wife, Grace 
 
Although, the recent decision of the European Union (EU) to relax sanctions on Mugabe’s country might represent a grudging admission by the West that, perhaps, it is gradually losing the argument over Zimbabwe , it remains a glaring fact that Mugabe presides over a very sick country. The United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) said two weeks ago that 16% of Zimbabwe ’s population “are projected to be food insecure at the peak of the 2015-16 lean season, the period following harvest when food is especially scarce.” According to the WFP, this situation “represents a 164% increase in food insecurity compared to the previous season.”
 
The Zimbabwean dollar is long dead and dressed for burial – brutally murdered by hyperinflation that hit an unprecedented 500 billion per cent in 2008 according to several reports (mostly in the Western media) and 231,000,000% according to the official account. A couple of years ago, a Zambian friend showed me a 40 billion Zimbabwean dollar bill which he said could not buy a loaf of bread. Looking back now, one can even refer to that period as the finest hour for the Zimbabwean currency. In January 2009, Zimbabwe introduced a One Trillion Dollar (Z$1000 tr) note whose worth was placed at about US$30 (£20). Since then, the currency has received even more devastating battering and living in Zimbabwe , according to reports, has been one bit of a hell, with the hapless citizens being regularly referred to as poor, starving billionaires.
 
In June this year (2015), the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (the country’s Central Bank) intent on formally removing the worthless Zimbabwean dollars from the banking system asked the citizens to start exchanging the billions, trillions and quadrillions of the local currency in their bank accounts or hoarded at home for just a few US dollars or cents, as the case may be. In a statement in Harare , the Reserve Bank governor, John Mangudya, advised the “banking public [to] visit their banks to establish the balances which were in their accounts.” He explained that officials of the apex bank “have interacted with the banks and they still have all the information, which we as the Reserve Bank also authenticated," so, they were not envisaging any difficulties in the exchange process.   
 
It will be recalled that since 2009, Mugabe has adopted the American dollar and the South African Rand as his country’s alternative currencies. A BBC reporthad warned at that time that “the dollarisation of the economy” would mean that only few items sold in Zimbabwe would be “available in the local currency.” But had Zimbabwe any choice?  
 
The June directive by the Zimbabwean Reserve Bank commenced the full dollarisation of the Zimbabwean economy and the demonetisation of the local currency. And the Zimbabweans have been trooping to the banks to make the exchanges. According to the TheGuardian (London) “Zimbabweans have until September to turn in their old banknotes, which some people sell as souvenirs to tourists. Bank accounts with balances of up to 175 quadrillion Zimbabwean dollars will be paid $5. Those with balances above 175 quadrillion dollars will be paid at an exchange rate of $1 for 35 quadrillion Zimbabwean dollars. The highest – and last – banknote to be printed by the bank in 2008 was 100tn Zimbabwean dollars. It was not enough to ride a public bus to work for a week. The bank said customers who still had stashes of old Zimbabwean notes could walk into any bank and get $1 for every 250tn they hold. That means a holder of a 100tn banknote will get 40 cents. The bank has set aside $20m to pay Zimbabwean dollar currency holders.”
 
Now, despite widespread reports about the very grim situation in Zimbabwe , the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was still able to issue an encouraging report on the country. On November 8, 2010, the IMF announced that Zimbabwe was "completing its second year of buoyant economic growth.” President Mugabe, too, has been telling anyone who cared to listen that the Zimbabwean economy was showing very encouraging signs of recovery and was not as bad as was being portrayed by opposition and the independent and foreign media. Despite these somewhat reassuring testimonies, what is, however, difficult to deny is that life in Zimbabwe has remained largely painful and hellish for many citizens and most of those who admire and applaud Mugabe from a safe distance have neither lived in Harare, Bulawayo or anywhere in Zimbabwe nor would they wish to relocate there.  
In February Mugabe rolled out the drums to celebrate his 91st birthday with an expensive party at Elephant Hills, a choice hotel and resort perching gently on a small hill in Victoria Falls overlooking the Zambezi River . Mugabe’s bash was said to have cost about US$1 million.
 
<b>Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye </b>
 
*Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye 
 
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) accused him of organizing an “obscene jamboree” in a country where majority of the citizenry were starving horribly due to an unbearable economic hardship. In a statement in Harare , MDC spokesman, Obert Chaurura Gutu, was unsparing of such insufferable profligacy:
 
As the MDC, we are greatly perturbed to learn that instead of focusing on more serious and pressing national issues such as rehabilitating the country’s collapsed public health delivery system as well as the renovation of the nation’s dilapidated road and rail infrastructure, Zanu-PF has seen it fit to squeeze the sum of US$I million from the country’s ailing business sector in order to bankroll the nonagenarian’s birthday jamboree in the resort town of Victoria Falls…The majority of the people of Zimbabwe are living in penury, squalor and destitution, and thus, it would be grossly offensive for Robert Mugabe and a few of his hangers-on to wine and dine [lavishly] on Saturday, February 28, 2015,”   
 
Although, the government denied that Mugabe’s birthday party was as expensive as the opposition sought to portray it, it however refused to be specific about the cost of the feast.  
 
In other African countries where Mugabe used to be celebrated each time he visited, disaffection for him has begun to gradually spring up as news of the sorry state of the Zimbabwean economy and the attendant hardship in the country continues to spread and attract widespread sympathy. Late last year, for instance, when he was in neighboring Zambia for the funeral of the country’s late president, Michael Sata, Zambians cheered and celebrated him. But later in January when he returned to Lusaka to witness the inauguration of Edgar Lungu, the new Zambian President, demonstrators besieged the luxurious Radisson Blu Hotel in Lusaka where Mugabe had lodged demanding his retirement from office. Also, when he came to Nigeria in May to witness President Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration, he was accosted and thoroughly embarrassed by a bubbly online TV presenter who demanded to know when there would also be a change of government in Zimbabwe as Nigeria was witnessing.
 
And like they usually do each time they witness any incident they perceive as representing a setback for Mugabe, the Western media poured into the square to celebrate the Nigerian incident and also the recent booing and heckling of Mugabe by opposition MPs during his state of the nation address in Parliament in Harare two weeks ago.  These incidents may be signaling the kind of reception that may now await Mugabe even in those African countries where he had hitherto been hailed as a hero and, equally, in his country where large crowds usually troop out to receive and hail him anywhere he goes.
 
But these may not be the main issues presently taking sleep away from Mugabe’s eyes. He must have realized by now that his sack last year of his deputy, Joice Mujuru whom he accused of trying to topple and possibly assassinate him was a very costly political gamble. The widespread belief that his wife, Grace, engineered Mrs. Mujuru’s ouster because her rising profile was perceived as a threat to Mrs. Mugabe’s widely rumoured ambition to succeed her husband has not helped the image of the party. Since Mrs. Mujuru left the ruling ZANU-PF and began to make utterances and undertake actions that appeared to suggest that she might be putting together an opposition political platform, she has received considerable support from several formerly loyal ZANU-PF members. This week, she published a two-page action plan which sounds like a party manifesto entitled, Blueprint to Unlock Investment and Leverage for Development (BUILD).” In it, 60 year-old Mujuru wrote: “We have been hard at work and I wish to share with you, in brief, how we propose to translate our vision for a better Zimbabwe into reality."
 
Reuters reported on Tuesday (September 08, 2015), a few hours after Mrs. Mujuru released the policy document in Harare, that she was  promising to review the “Black Empowerment Law, which forces foreign-owned firms to sell majority shares to locals,” in order to “attract investment and help build infrastructure.” According to the news agency, “foreign investors often cite the empowerment law as a barrier to investing in the mineral-rich southern African nation, which is struggling to emerge from a catastrophic recession that was marked by hyperinflation and food shortages.”
Indeed, given the kind of excitement Mrs. Mujuru’s political “body language” is provoking, there is considerable reason to believe that if she eventually takes the plunge, she may prove to be the formidable candidate Zimbabweans are waiting for to uproot Mugabe and his party in the 2018 elections.
 
Already serious cracks developing in the ruling party are proving very difficult to mend or conceal. Now, highly factionalized, ZANU-PF may find it very difficult to present a strong, united front against the formidable opposition it is sure to face in 2018.   
 
Two weeks ago, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) called on Zimbabweans to start looking beyond what it termed the “Mugabe Must Go” hype since (according to it) Mugabe was already on his way out. But the party would need to reinvent itself in order to convincingly demonstrate to Zimbabweans that it indeed represents the reliable alternative they are yearning for if it hopes to record an impressive outing in the 2018 general elections. It would certainly be most damaging if Mugabe who would be 94 in 2018 is able to repair the cracks in ZANU-PF and defeat the MDC candidate once again in the election.
 
Maybe, the MDC may need to find a more appealing alternative to its longtime leader and presidential candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, who appears to have been badly damaged by continuous defeat and the now widely held impression (although largely fueled by the ruling party) that he is a Western stooge who must have assured his Western “masters” that he would reverse the land redistribution exercise once he becomes president. Interestingly, the meeting in London recently which the MDC claimed was between its leaders and their UK/Ireland chapter has been widely portrayed by state-run media as a fund-raising drive and Mugabe’s spokesman, George Charamba, is threatening the scrapping of government funding for political parties if the MDC continues to be funded by the West.
 
Although the ruling party has been variously accused of rigging the elections, there are still compelling reasons to expect the MDC to ask itself why it has not been able to persuade more Zimbabweans to buy into its vision and why many of them are still easily enchanted by Mugabe’s rhetoric. Is it not demoralizing that despite many years of functioning as the major opposition party and the massive support it has received from Western nations and their very influential media, the MDC under Mr. Tsvangirai  has only managed to become the weaker party in a power-sharing arrangement brokered for Zimbabwe by South Africa after the disputed 2008 elections?
 
If the MDC continues to endorse and advertise the impression that it is incapable of sourcing another presidential material in the party other than Mr. Tsvangirai, and so would be perennially stuck with him, the party would only be underlining the damaging conclusion that the party seriously lacks internal democracy – in fact, that it is a personal property of Tsvangirai. What then is the guarantee that if he becomes president that he will not end up as another sit-tight ruler like Mugabe?      
 
Mugabe has been insisting that what destroyed the Zimbabwean economy is not mismanagement or his continued stay in office.  In a 2012 article entitled, “Is The West Lusting For Mugabe Again,” I made the following observation:
 
“When Zimbabwe won independence from Britain in 1980, Mugabe was a darling of the West especially, the UK , which promptly awarded him an honorary knighthood. He made enchanting reconciliatory speeches and gestures at the end of the bitter liberation war from which Britain was able to reassure itself that Mugabe would always be trusted to remain a “good boy,” and would never undertake any measures that would affect British interests in Zimbabwe where a tiny minority of white settlers controlled a greater portion of farmlands to the great disadvantage of the vast majority of black Zimbabweans. (This was despite Mugabe’s claims that at the Lancaster House discussions, they had agreed with the British that there would be “land reforms.”) And for the next ten years, while Mugabe undertook policies that ushered the country into prosperity in manufacturing, mining, agriculture etc., he was celebrated by the global media and feted in Western capitals from where glowing tributes always flooded his doorsteps.
 
“It is widely believed that Mugabe’s land reforms which largely contributed to his present troubles with the Western world were not totally informed by patriotic motives – to let black Zimbabweans benefit from equitable redistribution of the lands. Those who hold this view point to the fact that the recovered lands ended up mostly in the hands of his cronies and fellow war veterans. The belief was that the land reform policy was a desperate political move to consolidate his hold on power at a time it appeared to be slipping from his hands. And this has proved a very costly decision for him and his country. Indeed, Zimbabwe has practically passed through the valley of the shadow of death.”
 
 
*Surrounded by family and friends, Mugabe cuts
his 91st Birthday Cake
 
Now, another question that has been variously asked is: would the West be isolating, punishing and attempting to hound Mugabe out of power today if he did not undertake the land redistribution exercise? Why is the same attention not being extended to some other leaders some of whom have been in power longer than him and reportedly equally, if not more, repressive? Is Mugabe right then in his often repeated claim that the West is only interested in effecting a “regime change” in Zimbabwe and not the installation of “genuine democracy”? Indeed, these are some of the points Mugabe has made so eloquently over the years that have earned him the support he has so far enjoyed from several Africans since his troubles commenced, but which appear now to be gradually losing their appeal. Indeed, what seems to have become obvious now is that no matter how compelling Mugabe’s arguments are, a growing number of Zimbabweans and other Africans would want to witness a new face in the leadership of Zimbabwe . Even in Mugabe’s own party, resentment against him is growing and creating widening cracks in a once very formidable party.    
 
Signs that he and his wife are deeply worried about the serious factionalism in ZANU-PF became very glaring two weeks ago when Grace Mugabe warned those clamouring for the end of Mugabe’s rule that they would sorely miss him when he leaves office.
 
There will come a day when Mugabe will not be there and people will regret and miss his leadership… Not many people are able to make the sacrifices he makes. He puts his all to represent his people. He is someone who wants the best for the present and future generations,” Mrs. Mugabe told a gathering in Murombedzi Growth Point in Zvimba two weeks ago.         
 
But one cannot help asking: why is Mugabe bent on remaining in office and eventually becoming Zimbabwe ’s president-for-life? Even though, life is gradually returning to the Zimbabwean economy, especially, since he opened the doors to China and other East Asian countries (following his rejection by the West), and adopted the US dollar and the South African Rand as his country’s currencies, Zimbabwe still has a long way to travel to its reclamation.  What most people are no longer able to fully appreciate is why it appears very difficult for Mugabe to stand down, or even why he appears to have convinced himself that without him, Zimbabwe may cease to exist. Or is the presidency now merely functioning as a protective shield for him? No doubt, he is a man ruled and driven by immense fear – fear of tomorrow and life after the presidential office. Obviously, he trusts no one except himself and, maybe, his wife. Although he scornfully dismissed this in a 2009 interview with Christiane Amanpour of the CNN, it is difficult not to see through the tough exterior he usually wears the tormenting thoughts consuming him about the possibility of ending up at The Hague and getting the Charles Taylor treatment if he quits power?
 
This fear often leads him into hasty suspicions and pushes him to deal ruthlessly with his real or imagined enemies. So far, he has been able to sustain a repressive regime, but it does seem that he would soon be faced with a fait accompli, not from the West this time, but from the Zimbabweans themselves. The proverbial cat with nine lives who has (often blasphemously) celebrated a number of “resurrections,” it does appear that autumn is fast closing in on the man some people fondly call Uncle Bob and his ninth life appears to be already cowing before the worst threat it has faced since its existence. The period between now and 2018 might prove to be the most momentous in Zimbabwean post-independence history.   
 
*Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye,
twitter:@ugowrite)
September 10, 2015

AT the recent Strategic School Management and Outstanding Private Schools Merit Awards organised by the House of Representatives Committee on Education in conjunction with Family Affairs Consultancy Limited, Logos International Secondary School (LOGISS), a mission school located in Awo-Omamma, Imo State, whose motto is “Academic Excellence and Godliness of the Youth” stood out among the other honorees selected from among the countless private schools scattered across Nigeria.  

*The Director of Logos International Schools, Pastor Bede Ogu (left), and the Principal, Pastor Precious Ahiaogu, displaying the award to LOGISS at the International Conference Centre, Garki, Abuja

 The event which took place at the International Conference Centre, Garki, Abuja, saw the Director of Logos International Secondary Schools, Pastor Bede Ogu, singled out and invited to the podium to tell the various representatives of other private secondary schools selected for the award the story of LOGISS – how it has grown from a dream to its present enviable state.  

Addressing the audience, Pastor Ogu traced how the journey to what is today known as LOGISS started in 1994 “with a mandate that was truly divine” which was given to the General Superintendent of the Watchman Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement (WCCRM), Pastor A.C. Ohanebo, “to start a secondary school to help to restore the quality of education in Nigeria and to bring the youths to discipline once again in the school system.”  

 He announced that the WCCRM plans to set up at least one secondary school in every state of the federation.  

“It took off in October 1994 … [and we] have been able by the grace of God to train and send out students that have represented this nation in various nations of the world. Our students are noted for academic excellence and godly character. Indeed they have excelled and have been able to distinguish themselves in various fields in various nations. I have had the opportunity to visit them in the various nations where they have been and their testimonies have always been the same,” Pastor Oguh told the gathering which reacted with an applause.  

 *Pastor Bede Ogu addressing the audience 

Speaking on the impact made across the world by former students of LOGISS, Pastor Ogu said: “we have students in almost all the continents of the world that have graduated from our school and have had very good and wonderful recommendations from the various places. One of those institutions wrote to our school and called our students ‘legendary Nigerians’. We sent some students to India and the number one private university there turned them down saying that they had closed admissions to Nigerians (that they have blacklisted Nigerians) because of what some students from Nigeria did in that school. I was sent to go to the head of the school and insist that we are bringing a different brand of students. Eventually, they gave admissions to those students. Today the Nigerian students from us are the people they are using to advertise the school in Western nations. In fact, last year that university (SRMUniversity) came to Nigeria for a drive for students because of what the students we sent there have represented Nigeria for.”  

Speaking on how LOGISS has maintained zero-tolerance for malpractices, Pastor Ogu said: “We intend also to bring to the knowledge of fellow participants here today our fight against examination malpractice. This is what we are noted for. All the examination bodies know LOGISS as a zero-tolerance institution as far as examination malpractice is concerned. Today, we are proud to say that our students, when they finish answering the questions they know in the examination hall, bend over their seats and sleep instead of walking out or ‘giraffing’ or doing one thing or the other. The people that came from Minna for NECO and from Lagos for WAEC testified to this. At a point the registrar of NECO after reading the reports concerning the state of exam conduct in the school sent three people particularly to monitor the school that year to ensure that there was no manipulation in the reports. By the time they finished observing our examinations for that year, the report they went away with was better than what they came to investigate.”

Pastor Ogu thanked the organizers for the recognition accorded LOGISS.

 FROM LEFT: Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye, Ogu and Ahiaogu 

 “I am particularly happy to be part of this occasion. We didn't dream that we would get to this point. We only wanted to contribute our little quota with the best we could with the available resources to the reformation of education in Nigeria. I remember when graduates from American universities were rated lower than the people that graduated from Nigerian universities. I talked with somebody in the US who was placed on grade level seven while I was placed on grade level eight as the starting point because I studied in Nigeria. Graduates from India were not recognized at all. But, today the reverse is the case. I believe that as we team up with the government and do our best, this trend will gradually be reversed and Nigeria will come up again to take its rightful position in the comity of nations,” he said, as the participants clapped again.    

The programme had kicked off about 8.00 am that day with what the organizers termed a one-day “National Merit Award Summit” where several papers dwelling on the requirements for raising and sustaining private schools of high standards were presented. At the end of it all, participants from the various private schools were presented with Certificates of Participation. 

In an address distributed to the participants before the presentation of the awards that evening, the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Education, Mr. Aminu Suleiman,  described the occasion as “the greatest evidence” of his committee's “resolve to reposition the educational sector” which he said “is the key element to a sustainable global competitiveness.” The House Education Committee, he said “unreservedly identifies with this meritorious award majorly because it radiates excellence and also because it is long overdue.”  

 *Cross Section of participants 

  “This sector remains a key driver and critical enabler of sustainable growth… Let me register the determination and commitment of the Committee and by extension the whole National Assembly to bring transformation to the sector through quality legislation and through other means within the committee's legislative capacity,” he said. 

In an interview after the event, the principal of LOGISS, Pastor Precious Ahiaogu, said that when the assessment committee visited his school during the process of selecting winners for the award, they had greatly marvelled at the structures and facilities they saw at the school. “So, we were not surprised when we got the letter informing us that we have been chosen for the award,” he said.  

*Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

@ugowrite; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.     

On May 31, 2015, 'World No Tobacco Day' (WNTD) was once again marked across the world. The theme for this year’s campaign is: “Stop Illicit Trade Of Tobacco Products.”

First observed in 1987 following a motion passed by a cabinet of the World Health Assembly (WHA) which received the tacit support of the World Health Organisation (WHO), May 31 has since then been devoted to global campaigns and efforts to significantly reduce (which, I believe, will eventually lead to the total elimination of) the production, distribution and consumption of tobacco which not only ruins the health of its users, but also exposes every other person to serious harm by polluting the air we all breathe.

This is most worrisome given, for instance, a recent study published in the British medical journal, Lancet, which contains the chilling discovery that second-hand smoking (that is, passive smoking by people who are in the same environment with smokers) claims about 600,000 lives annually. More disturbing is the revelation that a third of these unfortunate victims are hapless children who inhale poisonous cigarette fumes from their parents or other family members who are smokers. Even much more disturbing is the discovery that as much as six million people die every year from what is regarded as the “global tobacco epidemic.”

Every year, when the World No Tobacco Day  is observed across the world, some definite objectives are targeted. This year’s campaign focused on achieving the following:

“Raise awareness on the harm to people’s health caused by the illicit trade in tobacco products, especially the youth and low-income groups, due to the increased accessibility and affordability of these products due to their lower costs.

“Show how health care gains and programmes, tobacco control policies, like increased tax and prices, pictorial health warnings and other measures are undermined by the illicit trade in tobacco products.

“Demonstrate how the tobacco industry has been involved in the illicit trade of tobacco products.

“Highlight how the illicit trade of tobacco products is a means of amassing great wealth for criminal groups to finance other organised crime activities, including drugs, human and arms trafficking, as well as terrorism.

“Promote the ratification of, accession to and use of the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products by all Parties to the WHO Framework “Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) and its early entry into force through the active involvement of all relevant stakeholders.”

In statement issued on April 15, 2015 to sensitize the world on the significance of WNTD 2015, the WHO observed that “one in every 10 cigarettes, and many other tobacco products, consumed worldwide are illegal, making the illicit trade  of tobacco products a major global concern from many perspectives, including health, legal, economic, governance and corruption.” 

According to the health body, “the tobacco industry and criminal groups are among those who profit from the illegal trade, leaving the public to pay the health and security costs. Ratification by governments of the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products is necessary to respond to the financial, legal and health impacts of the illicit trade of tobacco products.”

It then urged the members of the “public, academia and other sectors[to] take action by urging their lawmakers to make their countries Parties to the Protocol.”

The WHO stated that it would require only 40 countries to “ratify or accede to the Illicit Trade Protocol for it to become international law,” adding that the Protocol “is a supplementary treaty to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.”

As I allow my mind today to endure the oppressive thought that tobacco still remains the silent, ruthless killer next door, what, if I may dare ask, can anyone safely call its producers and distributors without being accused of being unfair? To my mind, the answer can only be simple and straightforward: They are people who prosper at the expense of other people's lives because they rake in billions of dollars from the production and distribution of products that only ruin other people's health, and eventually terminate their lives. So, in very plain language: they are unrepentant killers of their fellow human beings!

In a release to mark World No Tobacco Day 2012, the European Commission scared many people with the benumbing disclosure that “Tobacco is the single largest cause of avoidable death in the EU. It accounts for around 700,000 premature deaths each year in the EU.”

Indeed, how tobacco manufacturers are able to deaden their conscience to go on prospering and sustaining their own lives with the huge profits accruing to them from the production and marketing of a scientifically confirmed poisonous product whose only known benefit is its ability to cruelly terminate the lives of fellow human beings beats me hollow?  Tobacco never adds even the tiniest bit of value to life; it only destroys it completely and without mercy. This is a fact nobody has even attempted to deny.

Happily, Nigeria 's Federal Ministry of Health has been screaming the warning that TOBACCO SMOKERS ARE LIABLE TO DIE YOUNG?

What the Health Ministry here is saying is very simple: Anyone offering you a cigarette is only wishing you an untimely death! In fact, he is just saying to you: May you die young! And that is exactly what tobacco companies, including the government that issued them the licenses to operate are wishing those that patronize them.

Before now, tobacco companies used to put up at strategic points in our city centres very beautiful and alluring billboards, and fill several newspaper and magazine pages with very appealing, glossy adverts. Unfortunately, that option is no longer available to them in many countries, because of the widespread ban on outdoor advertising of tobacco products. 

It is, however, so saddening that while in several countries of the world, tobacco companies and their owners are being isolated, hounded and choked with harsh laws, they are still being allowed to invade Nigeria and other African countries with their filthy billions because we have incompetent and insensitive governments that have no qualms welcoming smiling, gentle, urbane, but ruthless producers of poisonous products as "foreign investors."

In Ibadan , South-West Nigeria , for instance, there is a tobacco giant sitting quietly in a magnificent edifice along Ibadan-Lagos Expressway. Only God knows how many unfortunate lives its products have eagerly terminated and how many cancer patients it has proudly produced since the early 2000 when President Olusegun Obasanjo and Gov Lam Adesina of Oyo State collaborated to bring it into Nigeria as a “foreign investor.”

In a stirring article entitled, How Do You Sell Death? The Tangled World Of Illicit Tobacco,” published on May 31, 2015 on the website of CANCER RESEARCH UK to mark World No Tobacco Day 2015Stephanie McClellan noted that “Tobacco companies make more profit every year than Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Google, and Disney combined – staggering £30 billion.

According to her, “That vast amount of money is difficult to comprehend, and even more so if you think about how those profits are made:  divide those billions by the 6 million tobacco-linked deaths worldwide each year, and it turns out that the tobacco industry makes about £6,000 from each death. So how do they get away with it, and still make billions? Clearly, it helps if you use whatever means necessary to keep people addicted to your deadly product.”

Ms McClellan then urged everyone marking this year’s World No Tobacco Day, to devote some time to “delve into the tangled history of the illicit tobacco trade, where corporate words fail to match corporate actions – and public health loses out.”

The argument that smokers ought to be dissuaded from smoking by the warnings put out on cigarette packets, and that people are merely being allowed to exercise their right and freedom to make choices, is akin to endorsing suicide as a lawful expression of freedom? Why allow a killer-poison to circulate among humans in the first place? Do all humans possess equal capacity to discern and resist the allurement of this clear and present danger?

No matter how we look at it, we must be willing to admit that every society has a responsibility to defend its unwary, weak and ignorant members from the ruinous wiles of their ill-intentioned neighbours. So, the only way to STOP the mass death that tobacco and its producers are carefully and religiously prosecuting in our world today is to totally and unambiguously outlaw all its products.

It is even widely known that many tobacco producers are non-smokers because they know too well how deadly their products are! In court and in several enquiries, tobacco producers have admitted that their product contains very harmful substances. So why should the government not protect its citizens from these products whose manufacturers have admitted contain harmful substances?

That is one question that ought to continue engaging our minds as the message of 'World No Tobacco Day 2015' continues to resonate across the globe. Indeed, it has become necessary and urgent for us to agree that we as a people can no longer continue to postpone the decision to rise as one man and reject and resist the continued existence of this cannibal in our midst.

I will never be tired of referring to an interesting development that occurred in the United States on June 7, 2001 where a Los Angeles Superior Court slapped an unprecedented $3 billion in damages on Phillip Morris, a tobacco giant company, in response to a suit by a tobacco casualty, Richard Boeken, who had developed incurable cancer of the brain and lungs after smoking two packs of Marlboro cigarettes every day for 40 years.

This should serve as eye opener to Africans that with several class suits from victims of tobacco, these merchants of death can easily be run out of town. According to the New York Post editorial of June 9, 2001, 56-year-old Boeken who began smoking as a teenager in 1957 claimed that "he continued smoking because … he believed claims by tobacco companies that smoking was safe." He told reporters in a post-trial interview: “I didn't believe they would lie about the facts that they were putting out on television and radio." 
Now, that is exactly the issue. Tobacco companies deploy beautifully packaged lies to lure people into taking their fatally poisoned wraps called cigarettes. They do not advertise the unfortunate and pitiable cancer patients treading the cold, dark, lonely path to a most painful, slow death.

We have been regaled with tales of how tobacco companies pay huge taxes to government, award scholarships to indigent students and embark upon several projects to better the lot of the common man in several communities. But how many people have their lethal product sent to their early graves? How many widows, widowers and orphans are they producing with alarming rapidity?  How many cancer, TB and lung disease patients do they produce in a year? How many among their hapless employees are gradually ruined daily because of the insidious fumes they inhale during production of cigarettes?

These are the questions the global community should be asking as they resolve to defeat this menace callously unleashed on humanity.

 

*Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye,

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ;

www.ugowrite.blogspot.com;

twitter:@ugowrite).

September 2015

The title of this essay is not original. The credit for its invention should go to one of the military governors during the Babangida or Abacha military era. He was at an event organized by his wife in the state and when it was time for him to make a speech, he began by saying something like this: "I want to thank Her Excellency, my wife, for organizing this programme and inviting me to be part of it." 

When I saw the headline in a national newspaper last weekend indicating that the federal government had "abolished the office of First Lady," I hastened to read the report thinking that President Muhammadu Buhari has finally gratified the wishes of many Nigerians by terminating the overly wasteful, distractive and illegal position usually assumed by the spouses of our rulers.  Anyone familiar with my writings would easily recall that I have remained unrepentantly opposed to that illegal "office" behind which many spouses of Nigerian presidents, governors and even council chairmen hide to squander public resources, wield obscene influence and almost run a parallel administration. You could, therefore, imagine my excitement on seeing a headline that seemed to suggest that an end has finally been put to the whole revolting glamorization of illegality and frivolity. 

But I was brutally disappointed. What Buhari did was merely to "abolish" Six and replace it with Half-Dozen. His wife will now assume the "Office of the Wife of the President" instead of that of the "First Lady." It is, however, doubtful if a mere name-change would introduce the slightest hint of departure from the notorious preoccupations that have over the years distinguished the contraption referred to as "First Ladyship" in Nigeria.  Perhaps, we were all expected to applaud this new chapter in the book of "Change," but if you ask me, I think that somebody is merely trying to imply that we are a country of numbskulls, quite incapable of realizing when we have been fooled. 

As we left the airport in Owerri on that sombre Friday evening the previous week, I saw extraordinarily large banners welcoming the president's wife, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, to what they called "August Meeting" in the ImoState capital. As we got into Owerri proper, it became clear that Mrs. Buhari's "August Meeting" had unleashed a gridlock in the city and we had some difficulty passing through. 

Maybe, because the nuisance was created by the "Wife of the President" instead of the "First Lady," the media chose to ignore the additional stress imposed on an already unduly stretched populace by Mrs. Nneoma Okorocha and her guest in Owerri.  There were crowds of obviously weary women clad in diverse uniforms (probably, mostly poor women lured to the event with paltry sums) milling around or leaving the venue of the event, which I suspected was over by the time we got there. 

In saner climes, the people would be interested to know how much this obviously useless jamboree may have cost the government of Mr. Rochas Okorocha in a state where civil servants have embarked on an indefinite strike due to non-payment of arrears of salaries and allowances.

Image result for Buhari

 *President Buhari 

Announcing the new title for the president's wife last week, presidential spokesman, Mr. Garba Shehu said: "President Buhari [had] promised that there would be a clear difference between the role played by his wife during his tenure and that played by many previous First Ladies. All that ostentation, ubiquitousness and arrogance we have come to expect from the office are over and done with.  Change has come. The ideal platform from which she will be useful to Nigeria's women and children is still being thought out.  Once this has been concluded on, Mrs. Buhari's role will become clearer to all Nigerians. There will be nothing shady or hidden about it. There will be no access to public funds. It will be purely private and voluntary." 

The problem, however, is that there is nothing new in Mr. Shehu's beautifully-crafted rhetoric, even though he also fell into the same error of according recognition to an "office" that is totally alien to our laws. He should have recalled that even more tantalizingly-crafted texts have been articulated about the roles of previous presidential spouses, yet, what we ended up seeing were even more atrocious displays, extreme profligacy and sundry perpetration of illegalities. 

Mr. Shehu is promising Nigerians a clean break from the hideous past, but how exactly would he explain and situate Mrs. Buhari's disruptive outing in Owerri on that Friday, more of which we should expect to see soon from the president's obviously ambitious and restless young wife? 

When asked the role his spouse would play when he was elected president some years ago, a former president had replied: She would just be my wife! But at the end of the day, his wife became in the opinion of many the very epitome of all the revolting extremities we have ever associated with presidential spouses. So, why is Shehu expecting us to believe him, even when one of the basic promises of his boss, namely, that he will publicly declare his assets and compel all those working in his administration to do so appears to have been scornfully waved aside and swept under? 

It does seem that in this part of the world, we are most adept at creating grotesque legitimacy for the totally absurd which we go on to advertise with indecent fanfare, even to our own hurt.  Indeed, I would certainly not be bothered one bit if I never got to see the wife or concubines of any governor or president until the expiration of his tenure. I do not edit a society tabloid whose passion it usually is to discover the brand or colour of the lipstick that currently adorns Madam First Lady's lips or the latest revealing blouse with a plunging neckline she wore to the last bacchanalian revel. 

My candid opinion is that we can do with one ruler at a time. Let the wives of our rulers spare us their clearly unappetizing presence and retreat to their houses and be good wives to their husbands and good mothers to their children. For the umpteenth time, they should please remove their mostly over-bleached, over-made-up and over-dressed selves before our faces so we can find the presence of mind and equanimity to bear the pain and anguish their husbands callously and unceasingly unleash on us by their mindless looting of our commonwealth, unspeakable directionlessness, in short, their abysmal failure of leadership and character.

*Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye 

We are almost forgetting that the Constitution has no provisions for the so-called "Office of the First Lady" or the newly created "Office of the Wife of the President," or any other name some other president may choose to come up with tomorrow.

Now, I am not bothered, for instance, if the president's wife is swamped by a battery of special assistants, senior special advisers, and even press secretaries attached to her "office," so long as their salaries and allowances are paid from the private purse of her spouse. The state can pay for her security, we can afford to overlook that, even though her "office" is not backed by any law. Any time she is with her husband, the state can also bear her transport expenses and take care of her refreshments. I have not read the constitution thoroughly, but I guess Nigeria, too, feeds the president and his family. Those are about the only privileges that should accrue to presidential families.

So, no matter the name it is called, a presidential spouse does not have any statutorily established office. If Buhari is serious about giving Nigerians a breath of fresh air, he should tame his young, bubbly wife who appears desperate to have her own day in the sun. Indeed, taking very good care of the president should be enough, ennobling and fulfilling job for a presidential spouse.

*Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye,

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August 2015 

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