Ikechukwu A. Ogu, a legal practitioner, writes from Central Business District, Abuja
I love reggae music, especially songs by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Lucky Dube and count myself as a reggae fan. It was in the morning of Friday October 19, 2007. I was going to work on board our staff bus when I heard the news over the radio that Lucky Dube, the South African-born reggae musician, had died the previous day Thursday October 18, 2007! I peremptorily dismissed the news as untrue, hoping that it was either a reverie or I did not hear well. But it turned out to be true, for the sad news was repeatedly aired and soon became the topic of general conversation.
Ironically, the late Lucky Dube in one of his hit tracks lamented how evil forces were “killing the prophets of reggae”. Alas! He another prophet of reggae has fallen victim to the same fate in the hands of agents of evil. When the legendary Bob Marley died of cancer in 1981, most of his fans worldwide believed and still believe that there was more to his death than met the eyes. This suspicion of foul play is heightened when viewed against Marley’s 1976 narrow escape from the assassins’ bullets. In 1987, Peter Tosh, another reggae great was shot dead by three evil emissaries, two of whom were never caught. Lucky Dube is the latest casualty on the list of reggae musicians cut short by agents of darkness.
Sequel to the above, one is forced to ask, who are killing the prophets of reggae? Over the years, reggae music has come to be associated with the fight for justice, equal rights, pan-Africanism, liberation of the oppressed, good governance, as well as the fight against apartheid, colonialism, neo-colonialism, man’s inhumanity to man and other social vices. These ideals were popularized in the lyrics of Marley, Tosh and other reggae pioneers. And succeeding reggae artistes like Lucky Dube took over from where they stopped and have maintained the tempo ever since. Once accused of fighting the whites (his father’s race), Bob Marley was reported to have answered that he was fighting the bad system and not personalities, but it happened that the bad system is ascribed to the whites.
Reggae musicians, otherwise known as Rastafarians, revere and deify the late Emperor Haile Sellasie of Ethiopia for two reasons. First, he is acclaimed to be a descendant of the Biblical King Solomon of Israel. Second, Ethiopia remains the only African country which was never colonized. They identified themselves with the cause of African irredentism, liberation, total independence and unity. In one of his songs, Marley urged Africans to unite, while Peter Tosh reminded all blacks in Diaspora of their African origin. Their commitment to the African cause is only comparable to that shown by famous pan-Africanists like Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, etc.
It is very unfortunate that both Peter Tosh and Lucky Dube were killed by fellow blacks (Africans). Were their killers acting for themselves or as agents of faceless, but powerful external forces? Is their murder the handiwork of persons who felt pricked by the messages contained in the lyrics of their songs? We may never know, except courtesy of an in-depth and thorough investigation which may throw up some startling revelations. Nevertheless, it is an irrefutable fact of history that the West has always been suspected of involvement in the overthrow or assassination of almost all genuine African leaders such as Lumumba, Sellassie, Nkrumah, Sankara, etc whose resolve to uplift Africa from neo-colonialism and dependence they loathed.
Lucky Dube, through the instrumentality of his songs, fought the repressive policy of apartheid and other societal vices, identified with the oppressed and urged that the Blackman be accorded the respect and dignity due to him. It is worrisome that the selfsame blacks he fought for turned around to kill him. He was not consumed by the forces of apartheid which he denounced through his songs. The circumstances of Dube’s death and the rising incidence of violent crime in South Africa in recent times compel one to wonder if black South Africans are not more vicious on themselves than the agents of apartheid were on them. We cannot justifiably blame whites always whenever blacks turn against fellow blacks. Could the high crime wave in South Africa be traced to high-level unemployment and the use of youths as thugs and hired assassins by politicians as obtains in Nigeria? Whatever be the case, it is high time the South African government tackled this monster of violent crime which is giving the country a bad image abroad. Else, agents of apartheid may point to it and argue that blacks are incapable of offering good governance.
We lament the demise of reggae stars at the peak of their career. We mourn the death of Lucky Dube. However, we find consolation in the stardom he achieved in his music career, the consciousness he created through the messages in his songs, especially that he helped through his music to dismantle apartheid. Again, as he sang in one of his tracks, “nobody can stop reggae/‘cos reggae is strong”. My heartfelt condolences go to his family and my fellow fans of his. But for his final wishes, Dube deserved a state burial by the South African government.
The late Jamaican Reggae musician, Peter Tosh had, in one of his songs, called for the legalization of marijuana and promised to advertize it. However, I do not think that Jamaica or any other country heeded his eccentric call. The smoking of marijuana, a common practice among Rastafarians, social wastrels and even supposedly decent men and women, is largely condemned owing to its effects on the behaviour and mental state of its consumers. Many cases of lunacy are traceable to it.
On Thursday 5th October 2011, the Nigerian press reported a very unsettling suggestion made by Senator Ike Ekweremadu on the floor of the Nigerian Senate the previous day during a debate on the scourge of human trafficking. By the reports, he suggested the legalization of prostitution because it has become impossible to stop it and some Western countries have done so, and argued that legalization will ensure its regulation through the licensing of its practitioners.
When crimes and social vices become intractable or criminals become recidivists, how should the state or society respond? Is it to throw in the towel or devise better ways of tackling them? Political and legal history informs us that states have always persisted in tackling criminality and social ills despite their recurrence and recalcitrance.
In Nigeria, there are so many crimes and vices which have defied public outcry against them, as well as efforts (sincere and sham) to contain them. They include bad governance, corruption, armed robbery, electoral fraud and thuggery, extortion by Nigerian policemen, examination malpractices, cultism, hired assassinations, kidnapping and abduction, human trafficking, drug trafficking and abuse, artificial scarcity of petroleum products, sectarian crises, terrorism, ritual killings, and traffic violations. If, by dint of Ekweremadu’s suggestion, these are also legalized merely because it has become impossible to stop them, one can only imagine the outcome.
As a lawyer and legislator, Senator Ekweremadu should be acquainted with the role of the law in society. Generally, the law is meant to regulate human behaviour, laying down principles and guidelines for good and acceptable human conduct and making provisions for the prohibition and punishment of acts of deviation. Prof Roscoe Pound’s Sociological School of Legal Thought postulates that “law is an instrument for social engineering”. Engineering ensures the production, construction and reconstruction of equipment and structures that beautify and better society, and not equipment and structures that deface the environment.
Largely, law flows from customs and traditions which are the accepted way of life of a people or community. I believe that, as an Igbo man, Senator Ekweremadu is well aware that the customs and traditions of Ndi-Igbo abhor prostitution. We should not copy from other climes practices which offend our cultural and traditional values. Furthermore, the law could also be a reflection of positive developments in society; for instance, the Nigerian Evidence Act was recently amended to allow the admissibility of electronic documents, among other innovations in the field of evidence. Can we regard the legalization of prostitution by some Western countries as worthy of emulation?
Social vices and abominable acts which are condemned by decent members of society are usually legislated against. For example, the true African culture abhors same sex marriage, sodomy, lesbianism, homosexuality and other unnatural and bestial forms of sexual relationship. They are anathema in the typical African society. Despite the negative influence of the morally debased Western culture, decent men and women of Africa still reject these depraved forms of sexual behaviour.
Prostitution is referred to as “the oldest profession”, yet it has never been regarded as a reputable practice, even though both the disreputable and supposedly reputable patronize its purveyors. In Africa, no woman (even the promiscuous) takes kindly to being addressed as a prostitute. Most prostitutes ply their trade under the cover of darkness, secretly and with false identities and loathe being identified as such. They never disclose their real business to their kith and kin, and most times claim a legitimate trade as a smokescreen. Despite the fact that Nigerian prostitutes, influenced by their Western counterparts, recently demanded some rights and respect, the profession is still a disrespectful and depraved one. Prostitutes lack manners and evince criminal and violent tendencies. The unwavering resolve of some women to practise prostitution cannot be a ground for the legalization of the disreputable trade. The law should not be used to give legitimacy to practices and trades which strike at the moral fibre of society.
It is better to imagine the unwholesome outcome of the legalization of prostitution. Licensed prostitutes, either as a group or individually, would be at liberty to advertize their trade and seek new members in the news media. Nothing will stop them from opening “schools of prostitution” and floating their own “churches” and “mosques”. Its legalization will amount to the legalization of adultery and fornication, and embolden lesbians, homosexuals and pornographers to demand a similar treatment. If prostitution is legalized, how can a decent parent dissuade a child who has shown disposition towards it or reprimand a licentious child? How effective will its regulation be, mindful that decent professions and trades are hardly ever regulated effectively in Nigeria?
Undoubtedly, Senator Ekweremadu’s bizarre suggestion cannot represent the views of members of his constituency. The mere thought of legalizing prostitution, let alone carrying it out, is repugnant to nature, natural law, divine law, ecclesiastical law, morality and good conscience. It is anathema to Christianity and Islam, and forbidden by African traditional religion. Let us not follow climes or cultures which are bereft of any moral and religious values. I want to assume that the suggestion was a slip of tongue. But Sigmund Freud in his depth psychology said that slips of tongue reveal subconscious feelings and thoughts. Therefore, I respectfully urge the learned Senator to purge himself of that revolting idea, and also advise the National Assembly to expunge the suggestion from their records and regard same as not having been made.
The following are incontrovertible facts about the Nigerian electricity sector: there is either no or epileptic electricity supply in about 90% of Nigerian homes and offices which, thus, depend on generators and spend fortunes fuelling same; Nigerians pay through the nose for electricity never supplied; the problem is more of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN)’s penchant for denying Nigerians of electricity than the non-generation of adequate megawatts of electricity; Nigeria supplies reliable electricity to some neighbouring countries while her citizens have blackout; the touted recent improvement in electricity supply by PHCN is untrue; and the periodic hike in electricity tariff by the government is regardless of these ugly facts and the plight of Nigerians.
The foregoing ugly facts are acknowledged by all well-meaning Nigerians, including foreigners who either reside in or visit Nigeria. However, some Nigerians play the ostrich by making false claims about electricity supply in the country. They do this to either create the bogus impression among outsiders that Nigeria is “working” or be branded “patriotic”. I refuse to live in such a fool’s paradise. Let us face and present the facts as they are, as therein lies the first step to the solution.
Another group of Nigerians and their foreign allies, either knowingly or unwittingly, wish or work for the shameful, recurring state of affairs in our electricity sector and the attendant blackout to persist. Here, you find PHCN management and staff, generator sellers, government officials who pay lip service to the resolution of the electricity logjam, and the sham “private sector investors” whose interest in the power sector is only selfish and fraudulent.
Additionally, the despicable activities of the institutions and personae [in the downstream sector] of Nigeria’s petroleum industry bring them under this second group. They include the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), filling stations, fuel tanker owners/drivers, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), National Union of Petroleum & Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), importers of refined petroleum products, black marketers, etc.
Poor and unfortunate Nigerians, reeling under PHCN’s incessant blackout or epileptic electricity supply, queue up daily at filling stations for petrol, diesel and kerosene to fuel their generators and lanterns, in order to have light in the night. Sadly, however, the regulators and operators in the petroleum industry are indifferent to their plight, and rub salt in their wounds.
I have observed four ways in which the petroleum industry reinforces darkness in Nigeria. First is the failure of the Ministry and its parastatals to ensure the steady supply of adequate gas to the gas turbines which are supposed to generate electricity at the power stations. This, vandalism and (until now) Niger Delta militancy are always blamed for the non-performance of the power stations, although vandalism does not seem to affect Nigeria’s exportation of liquefied natural gas.
Second is the recurring artificial scarcity of petroleum products in Nigeria. This ugly incidence is caused by corrupt and greedy filling station owners, fuel tanker owners/drivers, PENGASSAN, NUPENG, importers of refined petroleum products, and officials of the Petroleum Ministry, DPR and NNPC. Unfortunately, the NNPC mega/leased filling stations, supposedly established to “rescue” Nigerians from the malady of artificial fuel scarcity, are now part of the game. Related to the above is their failure to make cooking gas affordably available to Nigerians.
Except in the NNPC mega station at Wuse Zone 1, one hardly finds kerosene sold at any of the filling stations operated by NNPC, Agip, Texaco, Total, Mobil, Conoil and Oando within Abuja. For a commodity that is very essential to more than 90% of Nigerians, this failure cannot be justified. And it is amusing that NNPC filling stations which are prided as “mega” each have only a single pump to dispense kerosene! Yet, NNPC is the sole importer of kerosene in Nigeria!
Thirdly, officials of the Petroleum Ministry, DPR and NNPC are guilty of dereliction of their duty to monitor and regulate filling stations. Even when they do so, it is rather perfunctory. Allegations are rife that they are easily compromised and turn a blind eye as greedy filling station proprietors rip poor Nigerians off through fraudulently adjusted meter readings and other underhand practices. Again, acting under the assumption that the NNPC mega/leased filling stations play by the rules, the said officials do not monitor them. Unfortunately, however, so much underhand practices go on there.
A visit to the NNPC mega station in Wuse Zone 1, Abuja reveals the inhuman treatment that is meted out to Nigerians by soldiers, mobile policemen and the station’s personnel. Men and women who go there to buy kerosene are often flogged, beaten, dehumanized and even driven away. Many of them sleep there overnight to buy kerosene, only to be so heartlessly treated by the operators and security men. Yet, it is alleged that in the night vehicles with drums are driven in and filled to the brim with petroleum products.
The fourth way is the agonizing refusal by most filling stations, especially the ones owned by NNPC, Texaco, Total, Agip, Mobil, Oando and Conoil to dispense petrol and diesel in jericans and generators to Nigerians. They claim that there is a directive to that effect by NNPC and DPR, and that defaulters are heavily penalized. What an unjust and anti-people directive! It is lame to argue that it is meant to check black marketers, mindful that filling stations usually arrange with black marketers to come in the night to make their illicit purchases. How does one who comes to buy 10 litres of petrol/diesel become a black marketer? Why should a man who comes to a filling station with his generator or its tank be refused fuel/diesel?
Furthermore, some filling stations dispense petrol/diesel to persons with generators but refuse same for persons with jericans. Is it reasonable to expect every body to move his generator from the house/office to the filling station? How does one move heavy-duty generators to filling stations to buy petrol/diesel? For instance, how do I move my 12-litre generator to a filling station when my car’s boot cannot take it? How does a poor Nigerian who owns a 4-litre generator (“I Pass My Neighbour”) move it, say from Nyanya to Mpape, in order to buy fuel, mindful of the great inconvenience and cost? Often, Nigerians cover long distances in search of petroleum products, owing to their recurring artificial scarcity.
The result has been that the filling stations which sell fuel in jericans charge consumers extra money for doing so, depending on the size of the jerican. Should this be the case? Are NNPC, DPR officials and filling station proprietors unaware of the seemingly intractable electricity problem in Nigeria? Faced with this problem, how else will common Nigerians fuel their lanterns and generators to light their houses/offices if filling stations refuse to sell kerosene, petrol and diesel to them? What is wrong with us? Why do some Nigerians derive pleasure from making life difficult for their compatriots?
The Petroleum Ministry, DPR and NNPC should urgently rescind the wicked directive against the sale by filling stations of petrol and diesel in jericans and generators. Again, the inhuman treatment meted out to Nigerians at NNPC mega/leased filling stations across the country should stop. The NNPC mega/leased filling stations should have adequate supply of all petroleum products (including kerosene) at all times, and provide more pumps to dispense kerosene to poor Nigerians.
The monitoring and regulation of filling stations should be taken seriously by the Ministry, DPR and NNPC, while close attention should be paid to the NNPC mega/leased filling stations. Routine visits should be made to filling stations at nighttimes and weekends, in order to check illicit sale of petroleum products to black marketers. Efforts must be doubled to ensure that all filling stations, at all times, have and dispense all petroleum products to all Nigerians at approved prices. Moreover, the Ministry and its parastatals should sit up and check policies and practices in the petroleum industry which are against the welfare of poor Nigerians.
Finally, I cautiously commend the recent NNPC/Capital Oil Kero-Direct initiative whereof kerosene is sold directly to consumers at N50 per litre. The scheme must not be a flash in the pan, but should be honestly sustained, intensified and spread to all nooks and crannies in Nigeria. It confirms the failure of NNPC and its mega/leased stations in this regard. Why has the NNPC – the sole importer of kerosene in Nigeria - which supplies adequate kerosene to Capital Oil for the Kero-Direct scheme been unable to do the same to its mega/leased filling stations?
It is very unfortunate that, without much reflection, the House of Representatives, on Thursday 21st July 2011, reportedly swallowed hook, line and sinker all that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, fed it as the rationales for the introduction in Nigeria of Islamic banking and daily cash withdrawal limits. Yet, the House has denied approving Islamic banking and summoned Sanusi to re-appear before it to give further clarifications on same. Although I have my grouse with the introduction of Islamic banking in Nigeria, I leave that for now, and face the daily cash withdrawal limits.
CBNAccording to the CBN, effective June1, 2012, the maximum amount of cash withdrawable daily across the counter shall be N150,000 for an individual customer, and N1,000,000 for a corporate customer. Any cash withdrawals above the stated limits shall attract a penalty of N100 per every N1,000 and N200 per every N1,000 for individual and corporate customers, respectively.
One expected Sanusi to humbly enlighten Nigerians on whatever informed the policy. Sadly, however, he arrogantly and combatively challenged any aggrieved Nigerian(s) to go to court! Such a high horse is unacceptable from a public officer whose office is a public trust. Should a public officer feel justified in deliberately initiating an unpopular policy only to dare aggrieved persons to go to court? Notwithstanding his credentials and awards, Sanusi owes Nigerians a duty to respectfully explain and justify his official pronouncements and CBN's policies while he is in charge. He has no right to force his views down our throats; such intellectual arrogance is insulting to the sensibilities of average Nigerians. Let us watch it, for haughty postures by public officers would constitute stumbling blocks to the realization of the spirit of the hard-won Freedom of Information Act.
Among the reasons glibly advanced by the CBN for this policy include reducing the cost of cash management, making the Nigerian economy cashless, checking money laundering and the insecurity of cash in transit. I intend, in the next paragraphs, to join many Nigerians to fault these rationalisations and condemn the daily cash withdrawal limits.
First, the elementary role of banks is to take deposits and make same available to depositors on demand, and intermediate between economic sectors having excess funds and those lacking enough funds by mobilizing funds for the latter. Where a bank fails to pay depositors on demand, it is a sign that it has liquidity problems and calls for the intervention of the regulators. Thus, the obligation of a bank to honour a depositor's demand for payment is legally binding, provided the depositor has enough credit balance in his account and the cheque/withdrawal slip is in order.
Again, banks traditionally charge commissions on transactions (COTs) on lodgements into and withdrawals from current accounts. And Nigerian banks have, with CBN's tacit approval, been imposing on their customers similar COTs for withdrawals from savings accounts, "cash handling charges" for withdrawals of N1m and above, and other inexplicable and unjust charges. So, what "cost of cash management" does the CBN refer to? Nigerian banks, arbitrarily and amidst regulatory inertia, do handsomely reward themselves for cash management and "cash handling". It is even outlandish that a bank whose core duty is to handle cash imposes "cash handling charges" on its customers. But this is Nigeria. Thus, the reason of "cost of cash management" offered by the CBN is not convincing.
The CBN's rhetoric of making the Nigerian economy cashless may be melodious. But that is placing the cart before the horse, an undue haste to run without first crawling. What foundations exist in Nigeria for the take-off of a cashless economy? What is the level of literacy and acquaintance with information communication technology (ICT) among Nigerians? How many Nigerians can use electronic banking services? How many Igbo traders, Fulani herdsmen, market women, farmers, etc are knowledgeable in ICT? What infrastructures are there to support electronic banking, assuming most Nigerians are educated and ICT-compliant? Is it enough to flood nooks and crannies with ATMs, with their vulnerability to fraud unresolved?
Why do our public officials waste so much energy, scarce public resources and time theorizing on how an unprepared Nigeria can outstrip the advanced economies overnight? Why do we always transplant policies and programmes from other climes unto an unripe Nigerian environment? Is the World Bank's approval of the policy enough reason for us to jump on the bandwagon? Tell me, how did Nigeria fare under the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) prescribed by the World Bank and IMF?
Very importantly, beyond platitudes, how will the hyped "cashless economy", in real terms, benefit poor Nigerians or transform Nigeria into an El Dorado? Will Nigeria actualize its Vision 20-20-20 and join the league of First World countries by merely operating a "cashless economy"? For God's sake, Nigerians are in dire need of basic amenities, and not rhetorics on the vague "international best practices".
The issue of reducing the incidence of insecurity of cash in transit sounds good, but is equally unconvincing. Is it not the same CBN which earlier disapproved of banks opening ATM machines outside their branches for security reasons that suddenly did a volte-face on that? What directives has it given to banks on how to ensure security at their ATMs sites? Has the CBN solved the persistent fraud associated with ATM transactions? Nigerians have been taking care of the security challenges regarding cash in transit, and should be allowed to deposit and withdraw cash as they deem fit.
I consider as very improper the use of regulatory or legislative fiat to limit daily cash withdrawals by bank customers. Whose money are depositors withdrawing? Worse still, it is unpardonable to penalize them for withdrawing above a particular limit. By that, the CBN has given a fillip to our banks' predatory charges against which Nigerians have complained on end without any regulatory action. Perhaps, the CBN may soon limit the daily amount to be deposited in banks owing to "cost of cash management".
I do not see the connection between the amount of cash withdrawn from banks by customers and the incidence of money laundering. As much as I know, much of money laundering is done electronically through banks. Let somebody tell me how our corrupt politicians transfer looted funds to overseas bank accounts.
It is doubtful that the CBN weighed the implications of this policy before resolving to impose it on Nigerians. People patronize banks to avoid theft and other risks when money is hoarded at home and offices, as happened to the gold coins of the protagonist in George Elliot's novel Silas Marner. However, by this new policy, the CBN is throwing many Nigerians back to the ugly practice of hoarding money.
There are so many transactions involving huge sums of money whereof the average Nigerian cannot accept deferred payment, either by cheque or lodgement into his account. The recurring incidence of dishonoured cheques has made the average Nigerian very suspicious of payment by negotiable instruments. Again, the high level of illiteracy among Nigerians makes the use of cheques and electronic payments unsuitable in some cases. Tell me, how else does one pay an illiterate Fulani herdsman for cow(s) bought except in cash? How would Nigerians in the rural areas handle cash payments involving huge sums of money? How convenient is it for one to spread his withdrawals in order to meet a transaction whereof time is of the essence? What of the cost of visiting the bank/ATM daily to withdraw N150,000 for such transaction? Why should one be penalized for making a huge withdrawal to attend to one's needs? Depositors withdrawing huge sums should not be forced to incur additional cost by using cash-in-transit (CIT) companies.
I am unable to see any benefits this policy portends for the Nigerian economy and citizenry. If any, they are outweighed by its demerits. The reported plan by some Nigerian banks to lay off bulk tellers – and boost the unemployment market - may not be unconnected with this condemnable policy. The CBN should rather tackle the recurring incidence of unjust, inexplicable charges and sharp practices for which Nigerian banks are now notorious. It should equally solve the seemingly intractable fraud associated with ATM and other electronic banking transactions. The government should direct the CBN to urgently retrace its steps and reverse this objectionable policy.