Chido Onumah holds an MA in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, Canada. He was Director of Africa Programme, Panos Institute, Washington, DC, and former Assistant Editor of Third World Network's African Agenda magazine. He has worked as a journalist in Nigeria, Ghana, and Canada. email@example.com
I join millions of Nigerians in giving thanks to God for the miraculous survival of the country’s First Lady, Dame (Dr.) Patience Goodluck Jonathan. It is not every day you read such cheery news about a First Lady that rose from the dead. It is only befitting, therefore, that it should cost Nigerian taxpayers half a billion naira to celebrate her death and resurrection.
Now that the First Lady is back, hale and hearty, perhaps an apology might just be apposite; for the God of miracles is also a God that abhors lies and deception. Let’s put in perspective the whole episode of the First Lady’s disappearance, appearance, rumours and speculations about her whereabouts and her candour about going to the great beyond and returning to complete her work on earth, and maybe understand why the demand for an unreserved apology, even if not sufficient, seems to be the minimum penance acceptable.
For a visible First Lady, her noticeable absence from major public events last August was bound to stir a feeling of disquiet. After much speculation about her whereabouts, we were told she was “resting in Germany” following her hectic schedule hosting the African First Ladies Summit a month earlier. Then there was the secret visit by President Goodluck Jonathan, accompanied by the chaplain of Aso Villa Chapel, Ven. Obioma Onwuzurumba. From TV footage of the visit, aired on national television, we saw a well-dressed First Lady asking to be allowed to “take picture with my husband”. Dead people don’t take pictures, do they?
All the while, the intrepid Saharareporters.com kept updating Nigerians about the true state of things with the First Lady in Germany. Enter Reuben Abati, the Special Adviser to the President on Media, Publicity, Dissimulation, Deception and other matters. The spin and dissembling went into overdrive. Abati alerted us that, “The video clip aired by the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) was a confirmation that the President’s wife was hale and hearty contrary to what some people wanted Nigerians to believe. The video has put paid to all the lies that people who play politics with almost everything have been spreading. It was clear from that video that the scene was not a hospital scene”.
Knowing Abati, the public took his revelation with more than a pinch of salt. They wanted to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth; the madam herself, not the “boy-boy”. They waited patiently, hoping that in the end the truth would be revealed. When the First Lady returned to the country after almost two months of well-deserved rest, she was full of gratitude for those who prayed for her safe return and had nothing but curses for all those idle and godless Nigerians who wanted her dead. She thanked Almighty God for bringing her back safely to Nigeria and giving her a second chance. That was her own way of confirming what we already knew about her health. Only the initiated could have decoded the message.
For the unbelievers, the First Lady had this message: “Wherever there are good people, there are also bad ones. There are a few Nigerians that are saying whatever they like, not what God planned because God has a plan for all of us. And God has said it all that when two or three are gathered in His name, that He will be with them. And Nigerians gathered and prayed for me and God listened and heard their prayers. So, I thank God for that. God is wonderful and His mercy is forever. At the same time, I read in the media where they said I was in the hospital. God Almighty knows I have never been to that hospital. I don’t even know the hospital they mentioned. I have to explain what God has done for me. I do not have terminal illness, or any cosmetic surgery much less tummy tuck.”
That was the end of the matter. Nobody was to discuss why the First Lady spent six weeks in Germany unannounced. Anybody who dared was accused of the high crime of politicising the First Lady’s personal problems. We were reminded it shouldn’t be the case, after all the First Lady is not a public officer and is entitled to her privacy even though the public paid for her well-deserved vacation in Germany.
Fast forward to February 17, 2013. Venue: Aso Rock Chapel. The First Lady gathers thousands of people to share her tale of resurrection. She confesses to undergoing nine surgeries in one month in Germany. “I actually died. I passed out for more than a week. My intestine and tummy were opened. It was God himself in His infinite mercy that said I will return to Nigeria. God woke me up after seven days,” the First Lady announced to her captive audience who would have intoned, “Hallelujah, Praise the Lord”.
The Dame Patience Jonathan thanksgiving service was the place to be in Nigeria last weekend, not just for those who love the president and his wife, but for people that needed to endear themselves to the Presidency. The guest list included President Goodluck Jonathan; Vice President Namadi Sambo and his wife, Hajia Amina; former President of Ghana, John Agyekum Kufour; former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon; 18 state governors, and sundry VIPs.
Reports had it that several trucks bearing gifts from government officials and contractors lined the streets of the presidential villa waiting to deliver gifts to the First Lady. Clearly, anybody who didn’t answer the roll call would have been tagged not just an enemy of the First Lady and amongst those who wanted her dead while she was in Germany, but an enemy of the state. I would have loved the opportunity to partake in this lavish ceremony myself, not just for the food and drink, but to see firsthand what it looks and feels like coming face to face with a risen First Lady. Thanks to the efforts of one John Kennedy Okpara, the offering for the First Lady’s thanksgiving service was a modest N500ml ($3ml). By any standard, it was a good outing for Dame Patience’s chivalry.
Of course, this is Nigeria. The idle cynics have started wagging their tongues. They are questioning the First Lady’s credibility. They want to know what has changed between late October when she claimed she was not hospitalised and now. They say the First Lady’s case is emblematic of the credibility crisis of the Jonathan presidency. What else is the government lying about (apart from President Jonathan’s asset declaration) if it can look Nigerians in the eyes and blatantly lie about the health of the First Lady? But, aren’t we are used to our government and its agents lying to us? There is nothing new about the double-speak, arrogance and disdain for truth by public officers in Nigeria. We saw it with the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and his First Lady, Turai.
Didn’t Sullivan Chime, Governor of Enugu State, abscond for five months only to return and say he “owed nobody any apology for keeping them guessing throughout the period”. To taper his mendacity about being hospitalised, he threw up these weasel words: “I started treatment and the treatment altogether lasted for twelve weeks. Throughout the period of my treatment, I was an outpatient. I was never admitted in any hospital. All my treatments, I took as an outpatient”.
Back to the First Lady. We still don’t know what she was treated for and we may never know. One thing is certain: we are not supposed to question her miraculous comeback. Not many people have the opportunity of experiencing death and coming back to life to tell the story. It is an experience money can’t buy. Which means for the First Lady her future will be committed to “doing things that will touch the lives of the less privileged”.
Since the First Lady was sent back to Nigeria to complete her assignment in our god-forsaken nation, my only candid advice would be for her to invest the N500ml ($3ml) offering she collected during her thanksgiving in building a world-class hospital in Otuoke, Bayelsa State, so that she wouldn’t need to abscond from Nigeria the next time she requires treatment.
Nigerians are outraged, justifiably so, at the shenanigans of the country's judiciary which led to the ridiculously light sentence and eventual freedom last month of a man who pled guilty of robbing the country's police pension scheme of billions of naira.
The facts of the case speak for themselves. John Yakubu Yusuf, a former assistant director in the federal civil service, and six others are implicated in the theft of N32.8bn ($218ml) of police pension fund. They go on trial on a 20-count charge. Under a plea bargain agreement with prosecutors, Mr. Yusuf pleads guilty to three charges, including the 19th and 20th offences relating specifically to him (betraying trust and fraudulently converting N2bn ($13ml) of police pension funds to private use).
The maximum penalty for each offence is two years. Justice Abubakar Talba of the Federal High Court, Abuja, finds Yusuf guilty on three counts and orders that the sentences should run concurrently. He gives Yusuf an option of N250,000 ($1,700) fine on each of the three counts. In addition to the fine, Mr. Yusuf is ordered to forfeit to the State, 32 property, in Abuja and Gombe, and the sum of N325 ($2.1ml) in restitution.
In his plea for leniency, Yusuf's lawyer, Theodore Bala Maiyakim, claimed his client had a serious heart condition. "He has saved the time of my Lord and being a first offender, with no previous record of conviction, I urge the court to temper justice with mercy and sentence him with least possible terms," Maiyakim said. Another version of this tale noted that Maiyakim had "urged the court to be lenient on his client as he has ailing aged parents and responsibility to pay the school fees of his children".
There are conflicting reports about what transpired and the exact amount involved in this criminal enterprise. According to the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, "The prosecution and defence lawyers actually had an agreement on specific outcomes of the case which included a custodial sentence which was breached by the judge. Although no formal agreement was written or signed by any of the parties, the two sides agreed with the judge that first, the accused person would declare and forfeit all assets he acquired with proceeds of the funds he stole. Secondly, the parties agreed that he would be given custodial sentence with no option of fine".
It is really difficult to know how much Yusuf and his daredevil gang stole. We may never know how high up this fraud goes; the very senior government officials, ministers, maybe, senators and reps, bank managers and sundry other perfidious criminals involved in what clearly is a well-coordinated plot. What is not hard to see is the effect of their bare-faced thievery. We can see it in the "untimely death" of many police pensioners; the families that have been ruined and impoverished; the thousand, perhaps millions of children who couldn't go to school because the person responsible for paying their school fees is dead or has been denied his paltry income.
But all this is now academic. In a way, the Yusuf saga has become a byword for all that is wrong with our laws, criminal justice system, notion of crime and punishment and national psyche. Our mind-set is that when you steal public fund, you are stealing from nobody in particular; you are merely getting your share of the proverbial national cake. After all, those before you did the same and nothing happened. We have a warped sense of nationhood and hardly realize, or couldn't care less, if our actions bring the country to her knees. The refrain is that everyone has a price. So, when you steal, you have to steal enough to bribe or pacify everyone, including judges, prosecutors and journalists.
Since the Yusuf judgement, the media (mainstream and social) have been awash with examples of how the country's broken legal system has succeeded in shortchanging the masses. We have been reminded of the six-month imprisonment of Tafa Balogun, a former Inspector General of Police, for corruption and money laundering; the two-year imprisonment of ex-governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa State for corruption and money laundering; James Ibori, former governor of Delta State, who appeared before Justice Marcel Awokulehin on 147 charges, was set free, only for the governor to be found guilty and sentenced to 13 years in prison in Britain; the six-month imprisonment (or golden handshake) given to rogue banker, Cecelia Ibru, for defrauding her bank to the tune of $1bn; the six-month imprisonment with an option of N3.5ml ($23,000) fine for ex-governor of Edo State, Lucky Igbinedion, for corruption; and the 30-month imprisonment of Bode George, former Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority, and national vice-chairman, southwest zone, of the People's Democratic Party for contract fraud. The examples are endless.
The Tafa Balogun case is, indeed, instructive considering it involves the head of a law enforcement agency. How is it possible for the chief law enforcement officer of the country to steal so much money? I shall return to this. I raised this question in my book, Time to Reclaim Nigeria, where I documented Tafa Balogun's exploit as a criminal mastermind.
Mr. Balogun became IGP in March 2002, and oversaw security during the April 2003 national elections. By the time Tafa Balogun was convicted in late 2005, he had over N5 billion ($33 million) of money meant for the police in his private accounts. With more than ten property around the world worth over N3 billion ($20 million) — property he acquired as a police officer — you won't be wrong to think that Mr. Balogun was an estate agent.
The former IGP was forced to resign in January 2005 after allegations of bribery, corruption and dalliance with corrupt politicians and criminal elements became public. In April 2005, Mr. Balogun was put on trial on 70 charges and found guilty of embezzling about N20 billion ($133 million) of police fund. After a plea deal, he was sentenced to six months in prison, part of which he spent at the Abuja National Hospital.
We can juxtapose these sweet deal convictions with the (in)justice for ordinary citizens. About the same time that Yusuf was walking home a freeman with proceeds of his crime, someone was being sentenced to three years in prison, without an option of fine, for stealing a cell phone. In Abeokuta, Ogun State, a magistrate court headed by Idowu Olayinka sentenced 49-year-old Mustapha Adesina to two years in prison for stealing vegetables valued at N5,000 ($33) with an option of N10,000 fine ($66).
In Asaba, Delta State, a young man, Emmanuel Michael, was sentenced to five years in prison with hard labour by a Chief Magistrate Court for stealing gold earrings worth N25,000 ($166). In sentencing Michael, Presiding Chief Magistrate, Sylvester Ehikwe, stated: "He does not deserve mercy as burglary is next to armed robbery." It was reported that Michael who had earlier pled guilty to the two-count charge preferred against him wept in the dock, saying, "I was hungry". There is the gut-wrenching story of a woman in Suleja prison in Niger State who has been awaiting trial for over two years, and is forced to live in prison with her six children, for stealing a goat.
It seems our prisons are meant for and are full of petty thieves while high profile criminals strut around and wine and dine in the presidency. What happens if our goat-stealing mother is later found not guilty? How much did it cost the government to prosecute John Yakubu Yusuf? I am not a learned fellow so I have left the legalese of these matters, particularly the cases involving Justices Abubakar Talba and Sylvester Ehikwe, to legal minds.
For me, the fundamental issue is the question I raised earlier: What kind of system makes it possible for public officers to steal so much of our collective wealth with impunity? The only answer I can come up with is that it is a system that lacks leadership; one in which the leadership would commit hara-kiri rather than let the public know what it is worth.
When you have a functional government and the man in charge not only gives a damn about fighting corruption but leads by example, then the tribe of John Yakubu Yusuf would be the exception rather than the rule.
There has been a hue and cry about the collapse of public institutions and infrastructure in Nigeria, particularly since the visit to the Police College Ikeja (PCI) by President Goodluck Jonathan. Gradually, as it always happens, the pictures will soon fade from our memories, and we'll move to other matters. Those who are hoping that things will improve at PCI, or that someone would actually be held responsible, would wait in vain. The most we can expect is the "retouching" of the college and things will return to the status quo ante.
Of course, nowhere has the vicious attack by Nigeria's ruling elite against the citizens, and everything we hold sacred, impacted more than in public education. Public education in Nigeria is in free fall. I am talking about a collapse so mind-boggling that it is actually threatening the very foundation of the Nigerian state. It seems our ruling elite understand too well that the moment you deprive the citizens of education, you deprive them of everything, including their dignity, and ability to reason and defend themselves. The outcome is that they are powerless and vulnerable and therefore amenable to control.
Last December, I received a picture via an Internet group. The picture left me despondent and has etched on my mind ever since. It provided the impetus for this piece. It was a picture of a group of secondary school students in a ramshackle classroom with some of the students visible in the picture sitting on disused car tyres while taking lesson. Another row of students behind sat on what looked like a bench with their laps serving as desks. This is not an isolated case. While we have seen many state governors showcase new and modern school buildings (mostly in urban areas), the scenario above paints a vivid picture of the state of most public schools across the country, even in the so-called highbrow public schools in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
A few months ago, the minister of state for education, Nyesom Wike, inspected schools in the FCT. The minister was "shocked" that some of the schools in the FCT, including those that have the incongruous tag "Government Secondary School", didn't have chairs and desks. Some schools had converted whole classroom blocks into toilets. So, apart from not getting quality education, the students were also at risk of contracting diseases in the name of going to school. It was a good photo opportunity though for the minister and it provided the necessary sound bites. It would be interesting to go back to those schools and see what, if anything, has changed.
It is in the same FCT where the minister, Bala Mohammed, appropriated N4bn ($26m) in the 2013 budget for the building of the First Ladies Mission office. Before that, Mr. Mohammed had drawn public ire with the approval of an additional N2bn ($13m) for the ongoing construction of the residence of the vice president. Just as the debate on the appropriateness of such mindless spending of public fund was going on, the Sun newspaper carried a story titled, "In Abuja school, pupils attend classes under tree ... share 'classroom' with welder".
According to the paper, "Pupils and teachers of Wuye LA Primary School, Abuja, located just two kilometres from Utako District and six kilometres from the administrative block of the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), have been completely abandoned by the authorities. Since the government demolished the temporary structure put up by the school's Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), the pupils and their teachers have moved their 'classroom' under a dangerous locust beans tree located in the compound of the Federal Government Boys' College, Wuye".
"When the Commissioner of the FCT Public Complaints Commission (PCC), Hon. Obunike Ohaegbu, led a team of journalists and staffers of the commission to the sight, what the team met on ground was horrible. Beyond the pathetic situation of receiving classes under a tree, the 'school' also shares the little space with a welder. The artisan's work tools seemed to pose more danger to the pupils and their teachers than the tree itself. Electrical appliances used by the technician were seen scattered around with the sound of the power generator, located in the same place, disrupting the classes.
"Speaking to Daily Sun, the headmaster of the school, Mr. Muhammed Kolo, revealed that education inspectors had visited the school under the tree, lamenting that no one expressed any concern. He added that the teachers had no teaching boards to use. Some teachers, who didn't want their names mentioned, said no serious academic activity had taken place since they were displaced."
There you have it, apologies to Prof. Bolaji Aluko, vice chancellor of the president's hometown university in Otuoke, Bayelsa State. It is a long way from Otuoke to Abuja. It is a journey that will take weeks, if not months, on foot. Not so the journey from the presidential villa -- where we have a president whose resume includes the trauma of walking to school without shoes -- to Wuye LA Primary School.
How did we get here? Many of us went to public schools and they were functional in terms of infrastructure and learning. Most of those parading themselves as governors, ministers, honourable this and that, are products of public schools. I don't know any of them that would send his or her goat to what passes as public schools these days. What kind of learning do we really expect students to get from schools like Wuye LA Primary School?
How are the students expected to compete globally? How can the future leaders of this country – as if we really expect leaders to emerge from such schools – get valuable information and knowledge? What we end up doing is grooming delinquent citizens in the name of education rather than producing active and conscious citizens who are not only able to ask questions but are aware of their rights.
In an apparent response to criticism of the Jonathan administration's handling of the education crisis, Oronto Douglas, the president's Special Adviser on Research Documentation and Strategy, noted last September, "After Mr. President convened the National Education Summit in December of 2010 and initiated the Bring Back the Book initiative in the same month, he declared that it was his desire to return academic excellence to our citadels of learning. What followed thereafter was that the Education Sector got the highest sectoral allocation in the 2011 Appropriation Bill and the second highest allocation in the 2012 Appropriation Bill. And what has been the result? Today, the National Examination Council (NECO) has released the 2012 June/July Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (SSCE) result with over 50 percent credit and above pass levels in basic subjects as against 22 percent average pass last year".
This, basically, encapsulates the education policy of the Jonathan administration. Let's discount the fact that the over 50% percent credit and above pass level may be the effect of the ubiquitous "Miracle centres" and the money-for-marks phenomenon, we have yet to see how the huge sectoral allocation – which is way below the 26 per cent of total expenditure for education specified by UNESCO -- has translated to real changes on the ground for schools across the country. Beyond infrastructure, what is the policy on the quality of teachers, instructional materials and training?
The result of this decay, of course, like everything Nigerian, is the migration to private education with its attendant limitations as the solution. Our young men and women, the greatest resource of the country, are now at the mercy of traders posing as educationists. People who have no business running primary schools much less universities have become those pushing the education agenda of the country.
I have said this before, but it is worth mentioning again. The truth is that public education in Nigeria, just like public health, is in dire straits because those who oversee it have options. It is either their sons and daughters are in the best international schools in Nigeria or some elite school outside Nigeria.
Nigeria is courting disaster. While the efforts of old students in addressing the infrastructural decay in public schools are commendable, they can't replace the duty and responsibility of the state to citizens. I hope this neglect doesn't come back to haunt us. That is if it is not already too late.
This is for you, Olufemi Oyinade Tunde-Oladepo, as you turn 18 tomorrow. You are the best daughter any parents could wish for. As college beckons, may all your dreams come true and may education not just be a meal ticket, but an opportunity to cultivate your intellect and contribute to humanity.
I understand distinguished Senator David Mark, the President of the Senate of the Federal Republic, is a very pious man. I don't know Mr. Mark personally, but those who know him say the retired general is one person who pursues his cause with the zeal of a soldier. It was this zeal that he brought to bear as minister of communications in the regime of the "Evil Genius", General Ibrahim Babangida, by making sure that the "ordinary people" did not have access to telephone and upbraiding university students for protesting fuel price increase when many of them didn't have cars.
When Mark wanted to run for president a few years ago, he granted an interview in which he declared: "If I have my way, I will say whoever does not have a military background should not be made president," noting that "civilians don't have the requisite training". According to Mark, even journalists should undergo military training because, "It gives you the confidence that you need and makes you to be everything". He went on: "I can tell you that a staff sergeant in the army is better than a university graduate in this country. That is the truth. If you give me a graduate and a staff sergeant, I will pick the sergeant because I can train the sergeant". The point Mark was trying to make was that nobody should deny him the opportunity to rule Nigeria simply because he was once a soldier.
Mark has since made his mark (no pun intended) on our democratic landscape. He has been a senator since the return to democracy in 1999. He is in his second term as senate president, the first and only senator to achieve this feat in the 4th Republic. He was one of the senators who supported the bill that sought to give President Obasanjo a third term in office. He was one of the few officers alleged to have played a prominent role in the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election. And the way he is going, Mark may yet fulfill his ambition of being the president and commander-in-chief.
Mark's latest pet project is his crusade against gays and lesbians, that extraterrestrial, subhuman group that has descended on our great country and seeks to pervert our collective morality. Some people have argued that if Mark and his colleagues could expend a quarter of the time and energy they are expending hounding gays and lesbians, the country might be a safer and more prosperous place for her citizens. But that is beside the point. We all know the upper chamber of the National Assembly is nothing more than a retirement home for public officers who have lost their immunity.
As a devout and morally upright Christian who aspires to be a Knight of the Catholic Church someday, I can understand Mark's antipathy toward gays and lesbians. But to allow that to becloud his legislative judgment in a supposedly secular nation like ours, is to say the least, troubling. Unfortunately, that is exactly what he is doing by championing the anti-gay movement in the senate. During his latest outing at a civic reception in honour of John Cardinal Olorunfemi Onaiyekan in Abuja, Mark said "The need to nurture and preserve sanity, morality and humanity in our nation informed the decision of the Nigerian Senate to legislate against same-sex marriage and homosexuality".
It is important to read Mark's statement clearly. The issue is not just opposition to same-sex marriage, but to homosexuality as well. This clarification is important because, among other things, the criminalization of same-sex marriage which attracts 14 years imprisonment will equally be applicable to anybody that engages in homosexual acts if Mark's fantasy becomes law.
"We will not compromise on this. I want to invite you all to join the crusade of decency in our society. There are many good values we can copy from other societies but certainly not this one (same-sex marriage)," Mark implored his audience. "We have to prove to the rest of the world, who are advocates of this unnatural way that we Nigerians promote and respect sanity, morality and humanity."
It was perhaps in keeping with Mark's injunction to prove to the rest of the world that Nigerians "promote and respect sanity, morality and humanity" that a few weeks ago, as reported by Steve Aborisade of Nigeriahivinfo.com (http://www.chidoonumah.com/2013/01/homophobia-in-nigeria-3-men-in-danger.html#axzz2J2IjxYF9), anti-gay crusaders apprehended three men in Ekwe, Njaba Local Government Area of Imo State, South-east, Nigeria. Their offence? Engaging in homosexual acts! The men were paraded naked, bound like farm animals. We can only imagine the fate of these men; citizens have been lynched or burnt to death for lesser crimes.
That is the face of the new Nigeria of moral warriors that Mark envisages. But really, what haven't we compromised as a nation? We have compromised on corruption. We have compromised on probity and accountability. We have compromised on freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. Indeed, we have compromised on all the ethical standards that make a modern nation function. But those things don't concern us. We only need to weed our society of these sexual deviants who are polluting us with their foreign way of life.
There are a few issues arising from the gay bashing that has become not only fashionable, but a comfortable distraction and a uniting topic between the ruling class and a section of the people they oppress. One is that homosexuality is foreign to our culture and that it was brought to us and is being promoted by Europeans and Americans. The other is that it is against religious doctrines. But homosexuality is not a white man's "disease". Homosexuals are found in every society in the world, including ours.
One of the most insightful articles I have read on this debate is that by Wole Soyinka. In the piece, The Sexual Minority and Legislative Zealotry (http://www.chidoonumah.com/2012/12/the-sexual-minority-and-legislative.html#axzz2J2IjxYF9), the Nobel Laureate takes our legislative zealots and religious bigots to task on their fear mongering and distaste for science. It is a piece worth reading for anyone interested in understanding the anti-gay hysteria in Nigeria.
On the issue of "foreign interference", Soyinka had this to say: "The noisome emissions that surged from a handful of foreign governments last year should not be permitted to obscure the fundamental issue of the right to private choices of the free, adult citizen in any land – Asian, African, European, etc. Those external responses were of such a nature – hysterical, hypocritical and disproportionate – that, speaking for myself at least, I could only wonder if they had not been generated by a desperate need for distraction away from the economic crisis that confronted, at that very time, those parts of the world".
Now that we have laid the incubus of "foreign interference" to rest, perhaps we can address the other issues that rile our anti-gay crusaders. Some of those who attack gays and lesbians say homosexuality is "abnormal" and "unnatural". Others have gone a step further to query why the West that opposes polygamy supports homosexuality. This, of course, is a faulty analogy. We can have the debate about same-sex marriage, just like polygamy, but to criminalize homosexuality is the height of "legislative zealotry".
The debate on polygamy and same-sex marriage would also fall within the realm of the debate on whether a 50-year old senator can marry a thirteen-year old. Of all the issues above, same-sex marriage, in my view, is the least upsetting. I have yet to see how same-sex marriage affects the rights of citizens or is a threat to society as do polygamy and paedophilia.
We all know where science stands on the issue of homosexuality. It does appear, therefore, that beyond the religious argument, there has not been any "persuasive" argument put forward by homophobes. But we can't give in to the religious argument for obvious reasons. Nigeria is a secular state. The other reason is that it is a very slippery slope. If we hound homosexuals on the basis of religion, then we create room for other religious bigots who have made our country a living hell in their purported attempt to propitiate heaven.
Caution is the word, Mr. Mark. All the balderdash that homosexuality is not in our culture, is simply that: balderdash. The bottom line is that we are dealing with a relationship between two consenting adults. What crime has been committed? The crime of falling in love?
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community does not pose a national security threat. Rather, those we need to wage a war against are bigots, whether they be religious, ethnic or sexual.
If we allow Mark and his colleagues to legislate on what adults do in their bedrooms, they may one day begin to think of legislating on what a woman, for example, does to her body.
The media buzz last week was President Jonathan’s “unscheduled” visit to the Police College Ikeja (PCI), Lagos. As a public relations stunt, it was a huge success. But beyond the razzmatazz, TV cameras and punditry lies the need for a deep national reflection on not just the collapse of infrastructure and institutions across the country, but also the absence of a reformative national ethos.
Unfortunately, this collapse and lack of a reformative national ethos finds expression even outside Nigeria. While the debate on President Jonathan’s visit to the PCI was still on, I spoke with a friend at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, U.S.A, who is organizing a colloquium on war crimes and genocide. He told me he went to the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, DC, to inform embassy officials about his event and was dispirited at the sight of the tattered Nigerian flag at the embassy flying at half-mast. To think we have an ambassador who goes into the embassy every morning and leaves at the close of work. To any curious foreigner, there couldn’t be a better glimpse of how dysfunctional the motherland is.
How much does a flag cost? How much pride and faith do we have in our nation and its institutions that would enable us protect and defend them even if means replacing something as “minor” as a flag? In response to the question on the cost of a flag, Emma Ezeazu of the Alliance for Credible Elections, offered this profound contribution: “The cost of that flag is the determination to serve. Can someone tell me the Naira/Dollar equivalent of the determination to serve? If this cost can be quantified, perhaps our people will come together, contribute through "esusu" and buy this determination for our so called leaders”.
The truth is that you really can’t quantify the cost of the determination to service. And that is why nothing works in Nigeria because our so-called leaders only think in naira and dollar – more in dollar, pound and euro, really. The decay of the PCI is emblematic of the rot in the Nigeria Police which itself is a result of the insidious corruption and abuse of office that is not only pervasive in the country but has become a national pastime. Nigeria is a country in decay and it is evident everywhere you turn to: ministries, departments, agencies, airports, hospitals, primary and secondary schools, universities, etc. There are schools around the country where pupils learn while sitting on the floor under trees. There are universities where our future leaders live like “poultry fowls” to borrow the president’s expression.
This pathetic state of infrastructure exists because our rulers have options and we the people “do not give a damn”. There are the British and American International Schools in Nigeria or their counterparts in London, Paris, and Dubai, so why would the president or governors be interested in fixing dilapidated schools in the country? The president, governors, and top government functionaries have not been barred from seeking medical services in India, Germany and London so it would be inane to expect them to be concerned about the state of our hospitals.
As long as we are not piqued by the way we live, nothing will change. I remember as an undergraduate at the University of Calabar in the late 80s, we had to embark on numerous demonstrations because the authorities refused to cut the bushes around our hostels which were breeding ground for snakes even though the school had a budget for keeping the hostels clean and safe.
Unfortunately, it has become the norm for us to live like hogs as long as our bank accounts keep swelling every other day. Rather than express concern and seek to hold our rulers to account, we would rather “work hard” to buy a Lexus or Hummer jeep that would shield us from the impact of the bad road in our neigbhourhood. It is this lack of national outrage at the way we live that explains why the commandant of the PCI, Commissioner of Police Irimiya Yerima, unashamedly told President Jonathan that his school was far better than the one in Kaduna.
I can attest to Commissioner Yerima’s forthrightness. I am familiar with the PCI. About three years ago, I had the misfortune of visiting the Police College, Kaduna, as part a research on corruption in Nigeria. What passed as a library at the college was a block with a couple of rooms with graying files in disheveled file holders and old, dusty pictures of former commandants of the college. The situation in these two institutions which rank tops in the training of policemen provide a window into why the Nigeria Police is an ineffective, unprofessional, trigger-happy force.
Policemen in Nigeria are not conditioned to serve even if they are inclined to. From the recruitment which is sold in the open market, to the training and conditions of service, what we see is a process that mistreats and dehumanizes the policeman to make him a ready tool in the hands of the powerful and a danger to himself and society at large. It is no surprise that a senior police officer once told me matter-of-factly, “The police can’t be your friend”.
This neglect explains why we have a force we all love to hate. Every Nigerian has his or her “police story”. I have mine too. I once went a police station in the capital city, Abuja, to report a minor incident bordering on extortion. After a few minutes of prayer for protection for me and my family, the desk officer asked me to see another officer who took my statement and demanded N1,000 ($6) to enable him file my complaint properly. When I asked why he wanted N1,000 ($6) for a paper file that would cost N100 (¢60) by the roadside, he told me that was the standard price. I told him it was unfair “charging” me the equivalent of 10 percent of the minimum wage for a file. He reminded me that the minimum wage had been increased.
But this shouldn’t be the story of the Nigeria Police. Its duty is to serve not to service itself. This story, of course, is by no means peculiar to the Nigeria Police. It is the same with the military, customs, immigration, prison, university lecturers, civil servants, legislators and judges. The list is endless. It appears the police is a greater menace because we come in contact with police officers everyday and everywhere we turn.
Clearly, the depressing condition of the PCI is not likely to improve anytime soon considering the official position on the issue. The president was quoted as saying the documentary by Channels TV which exposed the living condition at the PCI was a calculated attempt to damage the image of his government. In a remarkable show of indifference, the president reminded us that “The Police College, Ikeja, is not the only training institution in Nigeria”. Then came the opportunistic response of Usman Kumo, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Police Affairs, whose committee is supposed to provide oversight for the PCI, who described the president’s visit as “meaningless”, adding “Who does not know that all police colleges in Nigeria are in a dilapidated state and uninhabitable?”
Beyond the outrage, the president, if he is serious about transforming the Nigeria Police, needs to query the Inspector General of Police and the Minister of Police Affairs. From Tafa Balogun, a former Inspector General of Police, we learnt that much of the money meant for the welfare of the police ends up in private accounts or is laundered through phony companies. After that, the president should sit down and look at the reports of various groups, including the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN) that have done great work exposing the inhuman living and service conditions of policemen and women. Considering his very busy schedule, this would save the president many more trips to police installations across the country.
This is important because whether we like it or not, the state of the Nigeria Police Force would have a direct impact on the election of 2015.
By Kingsley Ogbonda
If you still manage to trawl through the myriads of our national newspapers you can’t have missed the daily exposé of billions of naira, millions of pounds and dollars being stolen by kleptomaniacs. That power is used for wanton stealing and that Nigerian officials are drowning the country in open cesspits of corruption, to these there is now a consensus. Most of the findings about Nigeria are what the country is. They include, it is a country characterised with very poor quality of leadership. A State without statesmen, completely mired in corruption which has left its people in anomie. If you care, mention the word Nigeria to a stranger and immediately you are taken to be referring to a habitat of scammers of sorts. The hustlers’ paradise.
There is hardly a metaphor that Nigeria does not pass for. It has been referred to as an African tragedy, a moral dilemma, an illogic and more. These are not mine imagination. I implore you to read most of the comments from our chattering class and any of the international and diplomatic reports on Nigeria, and you will find these words frequently used or implied in narrating the country.
It is admirable that most of our commentators are now making the necessary link between official stealing and the lack of basic infrastructure in the country. Owing to them, we are now aware that our bare schools, poor hospitals, bad roads, insecurity, high rate of unemployment, high maternal mortality, breakdown of law and order, and yes, Boko Haram are due to unrelenting stealing of public money. Some may consider its members as nihilists, without clear objectives only bent on starting a sectarian war. I differ. If we ever spare a minute to consider other societies similarly existing in moral vacuum, like Somalia, DR Congo, Afghanistan, Pakistan, we will quickly find that Boko Haram and their variants are the by-products of miserable existence. If there have been a responsible government responding to the basic needs of all Nigerians, Boko Haram would not have existed
The questions many ask are: why is it that despite all the shouting noises from the press and sundry about our national decay there have not been an improvement in governance? Why are those in power so assured of their power that they fail to heed all the free advice on what should be done, frequently offered? Why are they so contemptuous of every other Nigerian except those within the corridors of power? Why does a country with abundance of natural resources remain one of the poorest in the world? All these are concerns that ought to send us all into deep thinking. While we ponder on the above questions, the ultimate question however, is, what can we do to get ourselves out of our depths of despair?
I believe there are many things we can do with the “urgency of now’’ as Chido Onumah echoing Martin Luther King calls it. Before getting on what we can do, let me say what we should not continue to do. Let no Nigerian continue to be under the illusion that President Jonathan can or will slay the ogre of corruption. He can’t. Not now, or in the next six years, if he is minded to go for a second term. Jonathan’s brief is not to fight the monster scotching the Nigerian landscape.
If there was any sniff of Jonathan willing to fight corruption, he would have been kept away from the Presidency. Ironically, I have some sympathy for President Jonathan. The forces around him with some justification see Nigerians as a conquered people. This is why he is doing their bidding rather than fight for us – the plebs. Think about it, what reasons have we provided Jonathan to fight for us instead of standing cheek-by-jowl with those who stole to pay for his presidency? This is the main reason for appointing Chief Anthony Anenih, the Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority without regard to our sensibility. Anenih should be answering serious questions connected with his past public offices and not being elevated to another high public office.
We perpetually bemoan our national misfortune rather than act as free citizens. We must change the language of our conversation to – what can we do to improve our collective lives. We have complained and cried enough. It’s now boring. If we want a decent nation then we must work for that nation.
How are we then to build a great nation? Our friends in Europe, America and Asia have suggested that we should be bold to ask our leaders questions, build strong institutions and actively engage in the democratic process to ensure that our votes determine who governs – that is government by consent and not by plutocrats. I shall return to the advice. Briefly, let me talk about one of our preoccupation – revolution, a subject I have briefly commented on in the past. Some of us believe that it is the sure way of changing Nigeria for the better.
Again, I recognise its obvious attraction to those who support it. It is quick in dispensing justice. It evokes shock and awe in the minds of power abusers. For Nigeria, I remain unconvinced about revolution. Are Nigerians of revolutionary disposition? Secondly, after revolution - what? How do you ensure that revolutionary leaders do not become the new oppressors or, the characters in George Orwell’s - Animal Farm, (the higher Animals)?
I am unsure about violent revolution, but absolutely committed to non-violent revolution. I believe that there are not many political progress achieved with the former, that have not been matched by the latter through protests, pressure, demonstrations, civil disobedience, persuasions, debates and political engagement. They are all legitimate democratic processes. It is for this reason that I find it bewildering how we continue to ignore the advice of the world.
You may rightly argue that we do not have to follow the very best of the democratic actions of the Western world. If that is your view, then consider these – is it right that we are happy to outsource the functions of our law enforcement agencies to Britain, where James Ibori is held at Her Majesty’s pleasure for stealing our money. Is it right for us to expect the West to arrest and imprison those who have stolen our country blind, in the absence of evidence that the West coerced them into carrying out their nefarious acts? Is it justified that our officials and their families regularly fly to Europe and America for medical treatments, while the rest of the population are left to meet certain death in our bare hospitals? These are relevant questions to reflect on. The functioning judiciary, good roads, better economy, good hospitals, good schools in Europe and America exit because their citizens fought for them and will not settle for less. That is why only those genuinely committed to public service get into politics.
If we want to improve our living conditions we must quickly learn how to organise for change. We must stop relying on individual acts of courageous Nigerians. This will not get us to the Promised Land. But collective acts of individuals through organisation will. Others doubt if we can achieve acts of collective courage, as summed up in the report of the last British Parliamentary Group visit to Nigeria. If we are honest we can see why they expressed their doubt, ‘‘- - - the ongoing and emerging challenges Nigerians and those engaged from outside are seeking to overcome outweigh the energy, resources and commitment dedicated to tackling them.’’ Underline the words – energy, resources, commitment and dedication. They are our obstacles to freedom.
Lack of commitment and dedication has deprived us a lot of lasting political gains. For example, if after the Save Nigeria Group and other Nigerians wrested power from the late Musa Yar’Adua’s cabal and handed it over to then Vice President Jonathan he was made aware of where power lies, a President Jonathan would seriously be fighting corruption now. If also, after the January 2012 fuel subsidy demonstrations, we had through commitment and dedication kept a vigil on the fuel debates and demanded the prosecution of the subsidy scammers, that actions be taken to reduce the cost of governance, we would not be witnessing the shenanigans surrounding the subsidy reports and the bourgeoning cost of governance.
Any cynic opposed to suggestions from Nigerians outside on Nigerian democracy, needs reminding that, in the late 1990s many Nigerians in London stood with NADECO-Abroad against Abacha. In January 2011 and in January 2012, during the demand for Jonathan’s installation and the fuel subsidy demonstrations respectively, some Nigerians stood in front of the Nigerian Embassy in London in solidarity with those at home. Nigerians everywhere are concerned about Nigeria? If you are persuaded that for democratic gains, there needs to be organisation, and for the gains to be sustained, they require the vigilance of dedicated and committed citizens; then you have accepted that real men in Nigeria must stand.
Kingsley Ogbonda writes from London
By Ajong Mbapndah L
Its size, abundant natural and human resources, its huge population and more should make Nigeria the envy of everyone but what the world sees now seems the contrary. Attacks from Boko Haram with surprising ease, corruption that does not seem to be receding and a President who has so far failed to live up to expectations. Offering a lucid appraisal of the situation in Nigeria, Journalist Chido Onumah Coordinator of the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), in Abuja, says the confidence placed on President Jonathan two years ago was misplaced. Onumah, a former Director of Africa programmes at the Panos Institute in Washington, DC, says using the military to fight Boko Haram is not a lasting solution and quotes public officials who see the destructive politics of the ruling PDP as part of the security problem facing the country.
Nigerians need to rise up and take destiny into their own hands says Onumah who has won several Journalism awards and worked in several parts of the world. It is unfortunate that at this age, the North/South cleavage should trump more important criteria like competence and moral rectitude in the discourse among politicians on who leads Nigeria. Onumah who was also the pioneer coordinator of the crime prevention unit (Fix Nigeria Initiative) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Nigeria, has harsh words for President Jonathan who has failed to lead by example in the fight against corruption. “He should not because he has done absolutely nothing to develop the country and improve the quality of lives of its people since he became president,” Onumah says of President Jonathan in response to a question on whether or not he should run for office in 2015.
It has been a year of security challenges with the Boko Haram causing unbridled chaos with what sometimes looks like surprising ease, is that group holding the country hostage?
Of course Boko Haram is holding the country hostage. The Nigerian security forces have not been able to neutralise their capacity to launch attacks at will. As we speak, the man who claims to be the leader, Mallam Abubakar Shekau, who many believe still lives in the country, has not been found and arrested. So, it’s a very very worrying phenomenon especially as the economy of Northern Nigeria has been totally destroyed and Nigeria as a whole is considered a risky destination for business as a result of rising insecurity of lives and property which has been made worse by the activities of the religious group.
The largest country in Africa in terms of population ,with one of the largest armies, if Nigeria is unable to handle its security challenges how can it address those of other countries in the region or beef up its case for a permanent seat on the UN Security council should Africa ever get one?
The Nigerian army is large for nothing. There is nothing to show in terms of military hardware, capacity, training and discipline. The military is extremely corrupted. A Nigerian Army General once described the Nigerian Army as “an army of anything goes”. That captures the Nigerian military. They may be large in terms of numbers but the fighting capacity is not something to cheer about. Eighty percent or more of the equipment is obsolete. A military whose aircrafts fall from the skies very often cannot be trusted to provide meaningful security for Nigerians or the West African sub-region. To that extent, it’s safe to conclude that Nigeria’s request for a permanent seat in the security council of the UN is nothing but laughable.
Still on the security challenges does the fact that President Jonathan is from the Southern part of the country a factor in the onslaught of the Boko Haram?
Oh yes. The circumstances of Mr. Jonathan’s emergence as the presidential candidate of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and how he won the 2011 presidential election is a contributory factor to the security challenge facing Nigeria today. Many groups in the North, and even some individuals in the South are of the view that Jonathan should not have contested the election.
Some Northerners, based on an internal PDP arrangement which advocates for rotation of the presidency between the North and the South, believe it was their turn to produce the country’s president in 2011 after the death of President Umaru Yar’Adua, a Northerner, three years into his four-year tenure in 2010. Therefore, they felt betrayed when Jonathan insisted he had a right to be in the race. For them, the only way to register a strong objection to the perceived betrayal is to use the demons created by some Northern governors for the purpose of winning elections to make the country uncomfortable for Jonathan.
Having said that, it is important to emphasize that the Nigerian constitution does not recognize the rotation arrangement. To that extent, it is not justifiable for anybody or group to promote violence based on the fact that the president is from a particular section of the country.
Is using the military to fight the Boko Haram a winning option as opposed to dialogue?
Using the military to fight Boko Haram is definitely not a lasting option. The problem is harder to solve because the military is dealing with people who are in the main “faceless” and ready to die. Therefore, as you apply the stick, you have to find a way to bring them to the table. Boko Haram has divided the country not just along ethnic lines, but also along religious lines. All this is because the country has a president who is not tactful in the way he manages the country’s complex problems. Recall that the late former National Security Adviser, General Owoye Azazi, once said that the insecurity facing Nigeria today was partly as a result of the destructive politics played by the ruling PDP. Many Nigerians agreed with him when he made that statement.
Elections are not due till 2015 and there seems to be debate as to whether President Goodluck Jonathan should run or not, is the debate worth the trouble with so many pressing problems begging for attention now?
Has he failed or where the expectations from Nigerians too high? The challenges for President Jonathan have been many
Well, this is typical of the style of the ruling party. The party is not about providing direction and development for Nigeria. It’s about grabbing power. The PDP is now thinking about 2015 in terms of how to rig itself into office again. It is not interested in how to provide quality leadership.
As for the opposition parties, they are justified if they begin now to plan to take over in 2015, given the fact that nothing is happening in terms of governance and the incumbent president is giving out different signals suggesting he would run in 2015.
I think the most pressing problem in Nigeria now is how to get credible people elected into leadership positions. Once we do that, every other thing will fall in place. So, to answer your question, the debate is certainly worth it.
How would you size up the Jonathan Presidency two years to the expiration of his term, what have been some achievements and what would you consider big failures?
There is no doubt that Jonathan is a failure. There is nothing any honest Nigerian or observer of Nigerian political scene will consider as an achievement. For me, it’s not even about the Jonathan administration. It’s about the failure of the ruling PDP, a collection of strange bedfellows, since it took over the reins of governance in 1999. The country has been going down, steadily, since then.
You may not be a politician but in your opinion, should he run for elections in 2015?
No. He should not run. He should not because he has done absolutely nothing to develop the country and improve the quality of lives of its people since he became president. For goodness’ sake, in a country where corruption is seen by many people, including foreigners, as the major problem, this president says he does not “give a damn” about publicly declaring his assets. So, why should such a man run for election again in this country?
President Jonathan has not justified the confidence Nigerians placed in him. A lot of people gave him the benefit of the doubt two years ago because of his education. He holds a Ph.D. in zoology. It is clear that confidence was misplaced.
Is it just mind boggling to external observers or it bothers Nigerians too that in the 21st century rather than dwelling on competence, patriotism, moral probity and other positive traits, in the choice of a leader, the focus is whether you hail from the North or the South.
This is the tragedy of the Nigerian condition. There are a good number of Nigerians who worry that the thinking in some circles is that the person who leads the country should be Hausa, Ibo, Yoruba or someone from any of the over 200 ethnic groups in the country. This is unfortunate. It is high time we focused on the quality of leadership, not which part of the country or ethnic group the leader comes from.
This is what corruption and many years of bad leadership have reduced us to. Until we imbibe and make competence, patriotism and moral probity a permanent feature of our national life, we would not make any headway as a nation.
The press is full of reports about corruption, is the government of President Jonathan consistent in its fight against this canker worm especially when there are reports that those who have profited from scams in the petroleum sector are either high profile Nigerians or influential members of his party?
I just mentioned earlier that the man says he does not “give a damn” about publicly declaring his assets. What President Jonathan is saying in effect is that he is not ready to lead by example in fighting corruption. And he has further demonstrated this by the lukewarm manner this government is prosecuting the big oil thieves, many of whom are his supporters and friends of politicians in government.
You can see that corruption is part and parcel of this government and President Jonathan only pays lip service to checking it. His appointments, pronouncements, and actions do not show someone interested in fighting corruption. There is a history to this, of course. We shouldn’t forget that in 2006 when he was governor of Bayelsa State in south-south Nigeria, he was indicted for false declaration of assets and for acquiring expensive cars and extensive real estate outside his legitimate income. He was subsequently recommended for prosecution by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). A year later, he became vice-president. That is Nigeria for you!
There was this big fight in the course of 2012 about deregulation and the government caved, is that the kind of pressure needed to force through reforms and policies that will make Nigeria live up to its potential and expectations?
I believe so. I think that all kinds of activism have to be energised to fight the injustices in the system. Nigerians must rise and take their destiny in their own hands.
We saw the examples of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and so on. Nigerians must be ready to toe similar lines for them to experience real transformation.
You are the Coordinator, African Centre for Media & Information, may we know more about the Centre and what is the state of the media in Nigeria today?
The African Centre for Media and Information Literacy was set up based on the conviction that Africa’s children and youth could benefit from a global phenomenon that is creating opportunities for active engagement and participation of children and youth in voicing their views on matters of concern to them. The Centre leads the effort to introduce media and information literacy into the school curriculum across the continent.
With the support of organizations like UNESCO, UN Alliance of Civilizations and their partners, the Centre works with media and information literacy experts, teachers and researchers to engage students and youth using a “hands on” approach to teaching media, information, and advocacy skills in an engaging way.
Much of this is of course depends on the state of the media in the country. Nigeria has been described as having one of the most robust media in Africa. Since the return of the country to democracy in 1999, quite a lot has changed in terms of freedom for journalists. In the last decade, with the expansion of ICT, the Nigerian media has blossomed. But in terms of safety of journalists, there hasn’t really been any marked departure from the past. The only difference being that journalists are now more prone to die in crisis/conflict zone or killed by what I would describe as “freelance assassins” unlike during the military era when they were directly targeted by the state.
Of course, you can’t talk about the media in Nigeria without talking about corruption. Unfortunately, the media that ought to be in the forefront of the campaign against corruption is mired in corruption. This can be attributed to many reason, ownership and the general climate of corruption in Nigeria. A lot of the media outfits in Nigeria are owned by politicians or those close to them. It is difficult for journalists not to pander to the whims of their employers.
Pan African Visions is very grateful for the time taken to answer these questions, Sir.
You are most welcome. And congratulations on the great job you are doing.
How many times have we heard the expression “Nigeria won’t break up”? This clichéd expression has become the chorus of Nigeria’s ruling elite; an elite that will not raise a finger to defend the territorial integrity of Nigeria if it becomes necessary to do so.
Like every bankrupt ruling class, ours never ceases to find an opportunity to proclaim its commitment to the country and her unity. One such opportunity offered itself a few days ago during the Inter-Denominational Church Service to mark the 2013 Armed Forces Remembrance Day Celebrations at the National Christian Centre in Abuja.
The Armed Forces Remembrance Day, also known as Remembrance Day, was celebrated on November 11 to coincide with the Remembrance Day for veterans of World War II in the British Commonwealth of Nations. The date was changed to January 15, in commemoration of the surrender of Biafran troops to the Federal troops on 15 January, 1970, an action that brought the Nigerian Civil War to an end. January 15 is also remembered for another important event in Nigeria’s tortuous road to democratic governance and nationhood. It was on that day, 47 years ago, that the first of many military coups took place, ending Nigeria’s First Republic.
It is understandable, therefore, if presidential emotions run high on Remembrance Day. While lauding the Armed Forces and other security service for their efforts to “keep the nation one and in peace” the president assured Nigerians that the country would not break up. “Some people talk about disintegration of Nigeria, now even at political levels some people take it as a weapon … when they want to discuss politics. But my conviction and I believe that of most people here and those listening to us, is that Nigeria will continue to remain a united nation,” the president averred.
Two months ago, at the height of the debate about another petrol price increase, the president had likened the pains Nigerians were experiencing to a boil on the face of a five-year-old girl. Then, he had suggested surgery for the little girl with an assurance that “if she bears the pain and does the incision and treats it, after some days or weeks, the child will grow up to be a beautiful lady”. The president was saying in essence that Nigerians should be ready to bear the pain of his government’s agonizing policies.
This time around, President Jonathan likened Nigeria to a 100-year-old marriage which, in his wisdom, is indissoluble. “Nigeria will not disintegrate… I know Nigeria will remain one”, the president assured his audience. “In 2014 we will celebrate our centenary, 100 years in existence. It will only take two mad people to stay in marriage for 100 years and say that is the time you will divorce and we are not mad. If there are issues that have been brewing over the period and we have been managing, we will continue to manage.”
I wonder why the president keeps coming up with this crude comparisons. First, there are not many people in the world who live up to 100 years and there are even fewer who are married for that long. Even if we assume that the president was speaking metaphorically, there is no law that says people who have been married for so long can’t go their separate ways. You don’t have to be mad to divorce after being married for a long time. Sacrifice, yes, but marriages survive based on trust, love and respect, not because of how long. No marriage can survive for too long if it is based on abuse, neglect and deprivation.
Mr. President, we can’t continue to manage after over five decades of independence and almost a century of amalgamation and billions of dollars in earnings. Every Nigerian, including those whose actions have brought the country to its knees, has become a professional manager. No country can survive that continues to patch rather than fix once and for all the long-term structural problems that continue to hold down its progress.
Waxing patriotic, President Jonathan had this to say about the motherland: “I always say that Nigeria is great not because of our oil, because we have people that produce more oil than us but we are appreciated and still reckoned with because of our size and diversity both for human beings and environment. These are areas we should exploit for unity and development”.
Mr. President, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the reality is that Nigeria is only great in our imaginations. Nigeria is big for nothing! We are not respected in the comity of nations; our citizens are mistreated around the world, sometimes because of their actions, and other times simply because they have a green passport. What is there to respect? Even with the abundance of human and natural resources, we have one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. We are ranked amongst the most corrupt nations in the world and we are in competition with Afghanistan, Chad, Angola, DR Congo and Pakistan, for countries with persistent polio transmission. To our eternal shame, while Afghanistan’s polio programme has been described as “consistently performing at a reasonable level”, Nigeria’s “has slipped back in a quite alarming way”.
That President Jonathan – like those before him – has to use every opportunity to proclaim that “Nigeria won’t break up” is reflective of the state of our union. Forty three years after the civil war ended, we have a virtual war on our hand. The same issues that existed before the civil war began are still with us, except that today they have grown worse. The president is unable to visit certain parts of the country; fiends are murdering at will in the name of religion; militancy has become profitable; armed robbers and “freelance assassins” prowl the country while kidnapping has become a lucrative profession; poverty, anger and disillusionment are rife; and our corrupt public officials have graduated from 10% to 150% kickback. What this means is that our rulers, and their collaborators in the private sector, have become so brazen that contractors are guaranteed to receive full payment for a contract that was never started, much less completed. And they are entitled to an additional half of the total contract sum after a review of the contract in line with the rate of inflation.
Indeed, we are witnessing a scenario worse than the country breaking up. The real fear shouldn’t be the country breaking up because that is a harder and much longer route to travel. The real fear is the possibility that anarchy will envelop the country and we will go the route of Somalia, the poster child of failed states.
The president admonishes “us all (to) stand up and condemn those who say otherwise about our unity. Those who call for our disintegration or who make similar statements should be condemned by all Nigerians”. I agree with the president. Now also is the time for all Nigerians, including the president, to rise up in one voice and condemn those ills that breed terrorism, anger, disillusionment, poverty and threaten the unity of the country. Ills like corruption, abuse of power and suppression of the rule of law.
Ultimately, Nigerians would have to take control of their destiny and decide the shape of things to come. If in the end the country survives the doomsday prophesy, it won’t be because the present administration has done anything to stem the slide.
If there was any lingering doubt that campaigns for the 2015 presidential election have started in earnest, that doubt was erased with the emergence last week of the Jonathan 2015 campaign posters. The audaciousness of that action and the feeble response from the Presidency to the effect that the president is “pre-occupied with working to fix Nigeria and did not want to be distracted by undue politicking about 2015”, are all too typical of the People’s Democratic Party’s brand of democracy.
For those who cringed and raged about the appointment a few weeks ago of octogenarian, Tony Anenih, a man who ordinarily should be in an old people’s home, as chairman of the board of the Nigeria Ports Authority, that selection is beginning to make sense.
President Jonathan has said publicly that he will not think about 2015 until next year. This disclaimer comes even as his aides keep reassuring us that “the wonderful performance of Jonathan at the end of the tenure would make most Nigerians to compel him to run in 2015”. That is the clincher. It doesn’t matter whether the president thinks about it now or in 2014, “Nigerians are going to applaud him and even if he does not want to run for election, Nigerians are going to force him to run again because of the level of performance”. That’s according to Doyin Okupe, the Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs.
In the last few months, President Jonathan has had occasions to trumpet his democratic credentials, all with an eye to the 2015 election. After the governorship election in Ondo State on October 20, 2012, Reuben Abati, the president’s spokesman, reminded us that “the President would naturally have wanted his party, the PDP, to win the governorship election in the state, the fact that he has never abused the enormous powers of the Presidency to influence the outcome of elections shows that he is a man of his words, a committed democrat and a President who believes in the rule of law and the supremacy of the will of the people”.
Shortly before the US presidential election on November 6, 2012, Abati wrote: “This should mean something to us in Nigeria, and in the larger African community, for it is at the centre of President Goodluck Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda. It is the same electoral ethic that President Jonathan has insisted upon since his assumption of office as President. Nigerians, long used to a political situation in which the privilege of incumbency confers all powers have seen under President Jonathan’s watch, a completely different arrangement. It used to be the case in this land, that all that was required of an incumbent in the position of a President or Governor was to sit back and assume that incumbency will confer automatic re-election, and if the incumbent managed to stir at all, he did so with so much arrogance. Most of the time, this worked. The incumbent bullied and forced his way through to a second term”.
Beyond this rhetoric, however, there is nothing the Jonathan administration has done to advance the integrity of the electoral process in Nigeria. Recall that after the 2007 presidential election that saw the selection of Umaru Yar’Adua as president (and Goodluck Jonathan as vice president), President Yar’Adua was humble enough to acknowledge the electoral heist and travesty that brought him and his deputy to power. Three months after he was sworn in, on August 28, 2007, he set-up a 22-member Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) headed by retired Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais, to “examine the entire electoral process with a view to ensuring that we raise the quality and standard of our general elections and thereby deepen our democracy”.
The ERC made far-reaching recommendations aimed at guaranteeing the independence of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and safeguarding the electoral process. Rather than addressing the salient issues raised by the ERC, as a first step toward deepening our democracy, President Jonathan has conveniently discarded the report and left the electoral process to run on autopilot.
Shortly after the 2011 presidential election, in an article titled “When Democracy Insults”, I took Jonathan’s INEC to task on its avowed commitment to free and fair elections. I wrote: “When a court ruled that INEC was the only body with the authority to fix the order of election, after President Jonathan had colluded with the National Assembly to subvert that power, why did INEC appear helpless? The lame excuse the commission offered was that ballot papers had been printed, as if that had any bearing on the date the election would take place.”
That action which amounted to holding the electoral process to ransom -- and the massive infusion of fund, way beyond anything Nigerians could have imagined -- led to “victory” for President Jonathan and the PDP. It is the same confidence of their ability to manipulate the electoral process that President Jonathan and the PDP will ride on to contest the 2015 election. The scenario above, minus the money factor, may not be the trump card this time around, but rest assured they have their plan well laid out.
It is in this context that we should view the mysterious appearance of the Jonathan 2015 posters described as the work of “mischief makers who want to deceive Nigerians”. That statement actually fits the PDP because that is exactly what the party has done since 1999. I have brought this up to show that Jonathan and the PDP will do anything to remain in power, not minding what Nigerians want. But it also comes as a warning to the opposition. It is with this in mind that the opposition should approach 2015 knowing full well that they are not fighting against “flesh and blood”.
As I write, there is a suit at the Federal High Court, Abuja, presided by Justice Adamu Bello, where President Jonathan through his counsel, Mr. Ade Okeaya-Inneh, has made a case that he has the right to run in 2015. The question is no longer why or whether President Jonathan will run in 2015. He will. As a layman, legally speaking, I believe he has the right to run. Does he deserve re-election? The answer, of course, is a resounding no.
The question, therefore, is how do we defeat President Jonathan and the PDP in 2015? The opposition should stop behaving like the kid whose toy was taken away by the unruly neighbourhood bully. If they truly share a common vision for Nigeria, and if that vision is altruistic, then it shouldn’t be difficult for them to unite in this urgent task of national reclamation.
So, I say, let the race begin. Now is the time for those outside the PDP who have expressed interest in the 2015 race or have been linked with it one way or another to come out and present their agenda on what is to be done. A lot of names have been bandied about. Here is a shortlist, in no particular order: Muhammadu Buhari, Nuhu Ribadu, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Pat Utomi, Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, Nasir el Rufai, Babatunde Fashola, Adams Oshiomhole, Olisa Agbakoba, Ibrahim Shekarau Mathew Hassan Kukah, and Jubrin Ibrahim.
The issue shouldn’t be where you come from or “it is the turn of this region or ethnic group”. As we have seen, to our eternal regret, the politics of “it is our turn” has failed us repeatedly. President Jonathan says we should wait until 2014 for his position – a position we already know. That shouldn’t be the standard for an opposition that seeks an alternative, a new Nigeria.
It is never too early to prepare for victory. The opposition needs to stop watching President Jonathan’s body language and concentrate on its most urgent task: rally behind a nationally acceptable and credible candidate.
The public presentation of ''2015 Manifesto of Nigerian Opposition Politics'' in Abuja on Tuesday, January 15, 2013, is a great platform to kick-start this agenda.
One of the most frightening things about the Jonathan administration is the president’s palpable lack of appreciation of the problems that confront us and “the fierce urgency of Now”. This phenomenon rears its head at every opportunity the president has to reassure Nigerians that he has the capacity to lead the country out of its current morass.
It is clichéd now to refer to the president’s response when asked last June why he was unwilling to declare his asset publicly as a mark of his commitment to fighting corruption. The president told a bewildered nation that he didn’t “give a damn” about Nigerians not knowing what he is worth. That comment reverberated and still reverberates around the country, particularly whenever the words fighting corruption and Jonathan administration are used in a sentence.
Those who thought that was one presidential gaffe too many were surely mistaken. The president upped the ante during the 2012 Christmas service in Abuja when he said his government appeared to be slow because it did not want to make mistakes. “By human thinking our administration is slow; I won’t say we are slow, but we need to think through things properly if we are to make lasting impact,” the president said in his homily. “If we rush, we will make mistakes and sometimes it is more difficult to correct those mistakes.”
Slow is an understatement. The president is simply telling us he doesn’t know what he is doing. The truth is that there is no governance going on in the country. We all know the president is not circumspect or afraid of taking decisions, particularly when such decisions will benefit his friends in the oil industry. We witnessed that a year ago when, to the chagrin of the mass of our people, the president increased the price of petrol even when negotiations were on-going with the Nigeria Labour Congress and civil society. Since then, the president has followed that insensate decision with numerous anti-people actions like spending N22.6bn of our collective wealth to offset bank loans owed by 84 rogue stock broking firms.
The major headline of the preceding week was not the hardship Nigerians had to endure during the holidays or the death and destruction that stalk the land. It was the pronouncement of President Jonathan in what appeared as an official endorsement of corruption during the funeral service of General Owoye Azazi in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. Presidential aide, Reuben Abati, has admonished us not to take the president literally when he speaks. But this is one time we have no option but to pay close attention to the president for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh”.
Bishop of Bomadi Catholic Diocese, Vicarage Hyacinth Egbebor, probably didn’t know he was stirring up a hornet’s nest when he blamed the December 15 helicopter crash at Okoroba in Nembe Local Government Area, Bayelsa State, that killed the former National Security Adviser, Andrew Azazi, former Kaduna State Governor, Patrick Yakowa, and four others, on corruption. “Corruption is the only underlying evil that is responsible for the air mishaps. If the military cannot guarantee the safety and security of their own, who else can they protect?” Vicarage Egbebor noted in his sermon. “If there is anywhere one looks for excellent performance, it is the military. Now we have compromised excellence for money. Money has taken over.”
An obviously peeved President Jonathan remarked in response to Vicarage Egbebor, “But most of these things we talk about corruption are not even corruption. It is true that most cases we talk about corruption as if corruption is the cause of most of our problems. No. Yes, we have corruption in this country, no doubt about that. The government is also fighting corruption.” The president reminded us that “Nigeria has more institutions that fight corruption than most other countries”. His solution: attitudinal change on the part of Nigerians and concerted effort by at least half of the population to follow in the footsteps of the late Gen. Azazi.
It’s a good thing that President Jonathan, while rejecting corruption as the problem, returned to the theme of attitude as the bane of Nigeria’s development. As a result, the president apparently demonstrated the logic of rational analysis in locating corruption in the wider cosmic of attitude. In that context he is right to call for a change of attitude. But Nigerians would expect the change of attitude he preaches to begin with him. The only way to do this is for him to lead by example; to practice what he preaches.
President Jonathan should not expect the man on the street to heed the call to imbibe new ways of doing things when he himself is not demonstrating it. Unfortunately, he has refused to drive the process by, amongst other things, arrogantly failing to publicly declare his assets, apportioning over a N1bn to the Presidency for feeding and expanding the presidential fleet while saner countries are reducing theirs.
Unfortunately, the president failed to mention that the attitudinal change we need most is one that de-prioritises corruption as an ingrained culture of the Nigerian people. By so doing, he ignored the consensus among not just the dispossessed majority, but also in the circle of elites of which he is one, that corruption, contrary to what he believes, is the number one problem facing Nigeria today.
All the negative indices routinely ascribed to virtually every sector of Nigerian life are the consequence of widespread sleaze perpetrated by government officials and their collaborators outside government. As long as the status quo continues to endure in the midst of rapid degeneration in the quality of life and infrastructure, corruption will continue to get the pride of place as the major cause of Nigeria’s problem.
Though he never misses any opportunity to dish out rhetoric about his government’s anti-corruption credentials, the president’s mindset is one that places corruption at the lower rung of the socio-economic evils bedevilling the country. Thus, the will to confront it headlong does not exist. What exists is the impulse to nurture it in order to continue to sustain the plutocracy which he and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have dishonestly sold to the people as democracy.
Evidence of this intent is the recent appointment of Tony Anenih, alias “Mr. Fix It”, as the chairman of Nigeria Ports Authority, the cash cow which produces a large chunk of the money the ruling party uses to fund its political campaigns. The president disregarded the mountain of allegations of corruption sitting on Chief Anenih’s head to make the appointment. It is a mark of a president who is not only out of touch with the people, but one that doesn’t give a damn about corruption and its deleterious impact on our society.
In a sense, I agree with President Jonathan. It is time to disband our anti-corruption agencies and set up an agency for attitudinal change, that is, if we can’t revive the National Orientation Agency (NOA). The first task of the new agency -- the National Agency for Attitudinal and Behavioural Change -- will be to get President Jonathan to change his attitude toward corruption. And the reason is simple. Corruption, regardless of the president’s stance, is Nigeria’s number one problem and it manifests itself in different ways whether the president sees it or not.
Martin Luther King, Jr. clergyman, activist, and prominent leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement, once reminded Americans about the “fierce urgency of Now”. In his “I Have a Dream” speech delivered almost fifty years ago on 28 August, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C., he noted: “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy”.
I think President Jonathan should read that speech if he hasn’t done so. Even though its focus was race relations, its unifying idea was a warning for every people to frontally confront their national “demon” and “make justice a reality for all of God's children”.
Corruption is Nigeria’s “demon” and unless the president wants us to believe he is granting a national amnesty to corruption, now is the time to end the platitudes and confront it head on.