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Friday, 25 November 2011

The trouble with presidential remarks
Judging from his prefatory remarks on the subsidy removal issue to the 17th Nigerian Economic Summit (NES 17) holding in Abuja, President Goodluck Jonathan seems to think he is on the verge of an historic right. Because he often confuses the office of the president with the destiny of the country, like virtually all his predecessors, he also gave the impression at the summit that if we failed to support the timely measure, the country would be doomed sometime in the future to depending on poorer nations like Chad and Ghana for its fuel needs. However, in contradistinction to his lofty projections, many of us think Jonathan is actually not poised on the verge of an historic right, but on the verge of an historic wrong.
The president was unsparing in his criticisms, particularly during the Presidential Dialogue with Global CEOs, scoffing when he had superior argument, or misrepresenting when his mind wandered obligingly towards his old nemesis, Gen Muhammadu Buhari. For most parts, however, the president simply gave an incredibly optimistic portrayal of the Nigerian economy and how it runs. He has been accustomed to painting fanciful pictures of the interrelationships between leadership and followers since he became a visible politician, but on this day with the CEOs he soared higher with great abandonment about the economy till we were no longer sure whether he was talking economics, politics or psychology.
There was the little coruscant about foreign investors regretting their failure to invest in Nigeria on account of terrorism, but otherwise, Jonathan’s remarks were indeed blasé. Perhaps we spied a wit here and there struggling for space in his talk; and some fury and hyperbole ventilated like molten magma in other parts. Beyond these, there was nothing really extraordinary. As usual, there was no philosophical or ideological stirring, and no nugget or pearl to warm the cockles of the heart.
The occasion was magnificently present alright, what with global leaders in business as his audience, and the panjandra of economics in attendance from all nooks and corners in Nigeria. They needed a peculiar message, one suited for the cortex, not the midriff; one that was grand, not middling. But they got a message meant for a different occasion. Jonathan was not only resolute in removing subsidy, which he was ready to swear would usher in the Nigeria of his utopian dream, he described his critics as Janus-faced. In summary, his opinion that critics of fuel subsidy removal were hypocritical and subversive offered us a disconcerting window into his worldview, particularly what he thought of democracy.
This column will resist the temptation to take on Jonathan’s ideas on politics and law today. I suspect that by now he is already wearied by our criticisms, most of which he puts down to the antics of the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), a party he and his fawning aides claim suborns many of us columnists into its partisan plans against the state. If he is wearied by our criticisms, he is not alone. We are also wearied by his relentless offer of errant public policies, policies that apparently always shunned rigorous thinking and debate, or even research, reflection and discipline. As I said in this place shortly before Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala assumed office as the czarina of the government’s economic management, Jonathan is at liberty to surrender the economy to the World Bank guru and alumnus, but he is definitely not at liberty to foreclose discussions on a subject that makes him uneasy.
Some of Jonathan’s statements at NES 17 were truly shocking. It is not clear where he got the precedent, but he even attempted to draw a line between economics and politics by denouncing what he interpreted as the politicisation of the subsidy issue. Notwithstanding Jonathan’s rather unresponsive approach to governance, particularly his attempt to make Okonjo-Iweala primus inter pares among his ministers, I am not sure we can find any analyst anywhere who would argue for the separation of politics from economics. Before the president claims we misunderstood him, we must let him know that we understood the two senses in which he looked at the opposition to subsidy removal.
In one breath, it is possible the president thinks the opposition is informed by the desire to bring his government to grief. Said he: “Unfortunately, here, people play politics with all things. Now even those who were arguing for the removal of subsidy before are now speaking from both sides of the mouth. Now they want to bring the government down.” This conclusion is of course both far-fetched and embarrassing, but it did not deter the president from reaching for his enemies, for often when his passion is inflamed, he speaks with idiosyncratic boyishness.
But it is also possible that the president believes subsidy removal critics merely want to score cheap political points, to callously destroy a policy designed to lift Nigeria to great heights. Whether he sees crass politicking or subversion in his opponents’ criticisms or not, the president is still wrong on both counts to feel incommoded by the vehemence of the opposition. Was he not rather naïve to think a policy as far-reaching as subsidy removal would be passed by lawmakers or accepted without debate or opposition, no matter how rancorous? Even if he has made up his mind to drink hemlock, it is embarrassing that the president was not expecting passionate opposition. Sometimes, I suspect that Jonathan has a romantic or military or even monarchical view of government, all views that welcome the beguiling benefits of office without a corresponding acceptance of all its onerous responsibilities, views that allow all forms of enjoyments unmitigated by the gravity and complexity of ruling 167 million people.
Not only is there nothing like economics without politics, even the most incompetent president anywhere must expect that his opponents will attempt to trash his good policies, let alone the abhorrent policy of removing a subsidy no one has yet convinced us truly exists. Rather than offer us convincing facts and figures, government propaganda on the subsidy issue has relied on sentiments, name-calling and scaremongering resting on leprous, contrived statistics. At a point, Jonathan tried to confer dubious honours on Gen Muhammadu Buhari as a proponent of subsidy removal. The laconic general has denounced the effort and dismissed subsidy as a phantom.
But whether the president appreciates the politics and economics of fuel subsidy or not, he no longer seems enthusiastic about removing the so-called subsidy by January. The reason is not that he has changed his mind, or that he is suddenly persuaded to love it. The reason is that when the president compartmentalised the issue of subsidy into economics and politics, it was easier to handle. Now that Nigerians have shown the two to be intertwined, the president has lost a bit of his appetite. Worse, given the sordid revelations coming from the fuel subsidy probes in both chambers of the National Assembly, particularly the obvious fact that a few ‘fat cats’ had conspired to suck inordinate amount of money from the national treasury on account of the subsidy, everyone is beginning to see that Buhari and Professor Tam David-West might be right after all that the so-called subsidy is nothing but fantasy. Who will set Jonathan free from mistaken belief?
Perhaps the high point of Jonathan’s discussions with the CEOs is his conviction that the menace of Boko Haram is a temporary setback. I forgive the president’s starry-eyed view of economics, knowing full well that right from his acting presidency days he has never been enamoured of economics. It is a subject that makes him squirm. But to say Boko Haram is a temporary setback stretches credulity to the limit. Boko Haram is in fact a major problem, not a setback or a temporary phenomenon.
Religious extremism in Nigeria is a logical progression from decades of treating religious violence with kid gloves. Years of rampage and killings by fanatics, especially in the northern parts of the country, rarely led to prosecution, not to talk of punishment. There was little official deterrence; indeed, there appeared to be only official connivance. When religion was fully introduced into politics in Zamfara State, the Olusegun Obasanjo government described it as a temporary fad that would soon go away. Most Nigerian governments have been remarkably and irresponsibly insouciant about religious violence, the Jonathan government not excluded. Do we not recall Jonathan’s handwringing over Boko Haram, whether to fight or negotiate with it? And where has that disgraceful hesitation led us?
Jonathan may enjoy taking refuge behind the porous walls of global terrorism, but in the name of God, all right-thinking Nigerians must recognise that if our governments had not been negligent over the years in doing what is right, we would probably be immune from the deadly impact of the bloodletting we are witnessing today. That others are suffering does not mean we must suffer.


Subsidy removal subsidises unworkable 36-state structure
T is peculiarly Nigerian that with global economy teetering on the verge of deeper recession, and much stronger economies collapsing under debts, lobbyists here are still pressing on with their campaign for additional states. Recall, for instance, how our large and incongruous delegation to the last Commonwealth meeting in Australia produced great mirth for some newspapers in that country, and how they snickered behind closed doors at our egregious habits that defied economic realities. But now the same astonished world will be even more amused that the campaign for new states, with all its cost implications, seems to be receiving sympathetic hearing in high places, including our National Assembly.
I know that the seriousness of running a large, poor and unstable country escapes us. This probably explains why federal and state governments irresponsibly decided that rather than review the structure of our country, the best option is to look for more money to run the clumsy, clay-footed giant. To them, the solution is to remove what they identify as subsidy on petroleum products. Surely, there must be a limit to imprudence.
Apart from calculating the subsidy to be over a trillion naira, officials irresponsibly concluded that if that money went into government coffers rather than the pockets of nameless fat cats, we would move closer to utopia. The ongoing probes in the National Assembly, however, show that while consumption of fuel has stagnated, the cost of subsidy has more than quadrupled, far in excess of budgetary provisions. Worse, they are also discovering that in the labyrinth that is public accounts, some of our oil receipts were converted at a rate below approved Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) exchange rates before being paid into the federation account. The disclosures are so disturbing that an embarrassed federal government has eased up on its campaign for subsidy removal and pushed back the date of implementing the obnoxious policy.
If we had leaders who think deep, they would explore other options of raising money to run the country. The first question they would ask is whether we were running the country as efficiently as possible, even in this age of disingenuous outsourcing. The second step would be to look at the economies of countries selling petrol at higher prices and compare our economy with their standard of living, minimum wage, and the protection they afford citizens left in the cold?
It is annoying that at a time when the world is in the throes of revolutions, when the world is in ferment and is primed for upheavals, Nigeria’s bungling rulers have chosen the moment to sail near the wind. Why is it so difficult for them to recognise that all they need is the political will to restructure the country away from this unworkable and deceptively federal arrangement? What we need are compact regions run by premiers, and a truly federal and secular arrangement that does not disregard cultural and regional differences.
Jonathan may have been legitimately elected, but he must see his victory more as a rejection of other candidates or what they stood for than an endorsement of his competence or what he stands for. By refusing to summon the will to restructure the country, he makes his supporters and neutrals look foolish. Worse, he is now even pushing the country to the precipice and blaming the problem on his enemies

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Boko Haram sponsors: SSS detains senator

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sen Ndume sen Ndume
Suspect names ex-Governor Sheriff, ex-envoy as backers
SECURITY agents last night arrested a Senator who a suspect named as a Boko Haram sponsor.
Senator Ali Ndume (Borno), who is being held by the State Security Services (SSS), is likely to face trial today in Abuja.
The Nation learnt also that 13 suspects have been arrested by the Joint Task Force in connection with the recent bombings in Damaturu, Yobe State. 
Ndume will be arraigned in court with some members of the sect already in SSS custody, sources said.
A source, who pleaded not to be named for security reasons, broke to The Nation news of the senator’s arrest at about 10.20pm.
He said: “He is presently being detained in SSS custody, pending his arraignment in court.
“Based on the confession of some Boko Haram suspects in custody, we have interrogated Ndume and he has made a statement accordingly. We are going to charge him to court on Tuesday (today) with some of the suspects in our custody.
“With this development, we hope that Nigerians will appreciate that security agencies are doing our best to tackle terrorism.”
Attempts by some Senators to see Ndume last night failed.
A suspect named Ndume, former Borno State Governor Ali Modu Sheriff and Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Sao Tome and Principe, the late Saidu Pindar, as financial backers of Boko Haram.
The suspect, Ali Sauda Umar Konduga (a.k.a Usman al-Zawahiri) spoke at the State Security Service (SSS) office in Abuja during a session with reporters in the presence of SSS officials.
It was a repetition of the confessional statement he allegedly made to the SSS.
Besides its activities in the Northeast, which have caused hundreds of deaths, the group extended its operations to Abuja when its suicide bomber attacked the police headquarters.
The group also killed more than 60 people during its co-ordinated strikes in Damaturu and Potiskum in Yobe State and Maiduguri, Borno State, early this month.
Boko Haram took its operations to the international arena by attacking the United Nations (UN) building in Abuja in August, killing 24 people.
Konduga said he was trained by the late Boko Haram leader, Mohammed Yusuf, who was summarily executed in police custody in 2009. 
Konduga confessed to being a member of “ECOMOG”, political outfit allegedly sponsored by Sheriff. 
According to him, the relationship between the sect and the ex-governor flourished when Sheriff appointed one of Boko Haram’s leaders, Fuji Foi, as commissioner. But the relationship went sour after Foi was sacked and eventually killed in circumstances the sect believed were officially instigated.
The suspect, who spoke through an interpreter, said it was at this point that the late Pindar stepped in as a major backer of the sect. According to him, Pindar promised the sect N10 million and was on his way to deliver N5 million to the sect when he was killed in a road crash about two months ago.
Konduga said: “Senator Ali Ndume filled the vacuum left by Pindar. He composed threat text messages that we forwarded to prominent individuals, including Governor Sule Lamido (Jigawa State), Babangida Aliyu (Niger State), Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Dalhatu Tafida and ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo.”
“Before his death, Pindar encouraged us to send threat messages to the chairman of the Borno State Election Petition Tribunal, Justice Sambo Adamu, and the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke.” 
The Borno Election Petition Tribunal was forced to relocate from Maiduguri to Abuja by the frightening contents of the text messages.
According to the suspect, the relationship between the sect and Ndume grew tepid when the senator was named  as a member of the Galtimari Committee on Security in the Northeast.
“We questioned Ndume’s membership of the committee, but he explained to us that he had no link with ex-Governor Sheriff and that he would supply us the telephone numbers of members of the Galtimari committee. He could not fulfil the promise before I was arrested.”
The Galtimari committee has submitted its report which President Goodluck Jonathan promised to implement, saying: “perpetrators would be dealt with and that the heavens would not fall”.
Giving reasons for sending threat messages to the prominent individuals, Konduga said Ndume told them that Obasanjo was a strong backer of Sheriff and the message was meant to get the ex-President to withdraw his support for him.
The message to the tribunal chairman was to threaten him to rule in favour of the PDP in the Borno State governorship election petition. The election was won by the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
The message to the Attorney General was to make him prevail on the tribunal to rule in favour of the PDP. The message to Governors Lamido and Aliyu was to check their relentless verbal attacks on the sect.
One of the threat messages was also sent to former Senator and ex-Works Minister Sanusi Daggash. According to the suspect, Ndume told the sect that Daggash was working against the interest of the PDP in Borno State.
According to Konduga, all the messages were scripted by Ndume and forwarded to him for onward transmission to the various individuals. He also provided the telephone numbers of the individuals.
The suspect expressed the sect’s dissatisfaction with the various political figures they had contact with because, according to him, they always failed to keep their promises when the sect members needed them most.
SSS spokesperson Marilyn Ogar who addressed the press conference where the suspect was paraded before reporters, said the revelation had confirmed the position of the SSS that Boko Haram members enjoy political patronage and sponsorship.
She said the suspect was arrested on November 3 by a joint security operation at Gwange, Maiduguri. According to Ogar, Konduga claimed to be one of the spokesmen of the sect.
The SSS spokesperson said the suspect confessed that following the compulsory registration of SIM cards, he was asked to steal a SIM which he used in sending the threat messages.
Ogar revealed that the suspect had been using a pseudo name, Usman Al-Zawahiri, to conceal his identity. She confirmed that analysis of the suspect’s phone confirmed constant communication between him and the legislator (preferring not to mention his name).
She said: “Meanwhile, analysis of Al-Zawahiri’s phone has confirmed constant communication between him and the legislator”.
The SSS reiterated its commitment to addressing the security threat posed by Boko Haram and other fundamentalist groups, including the dimensions of political patronage and sponsorship of extremist and violent groups.
Ndume was the Minority Leader of the sixth House of Representatives. He was elected on the platform of the ANPP. He defected to the PDP shortly before the April elections, apparently having fallen out with ex- Governor Sheriff who is in absolute control of the ANPP in Borno State.

Style and the man: Jonathan’s speech and homily

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Goodluck Jonathan Goodluck Jonathan
Two instincts are always at war in President Goodluck Jonathan’s mind. One side of him yearns to be an effective and transformational leader. This is the side he sells to us, the side we are still gingerly examining. The other side of him ensconces itself in the geniality and simplicity of his youth, an uncomplicated earthiness he grew up knowing and loving, one he is sometimes loth to disown especially when he is confronted by the complexities of ruling modern Nigeria. Judging from his sojourn in power so far, and the oscillations between firmness one day and galling hesitations another, he seems quite unenthusiastic about resolving the dilemma his personality and presidency confront daily. If my reading of him is realistic, it is unlikely the dilemma would be resolved soon or even before the expiration of his tenure.
More perplexing, in my opinion, is his refusal to determine, by books, what his understanding of leadership should be or the kind of leadership he should give his country, or even the sort of leadership his country requires at this time. Jonathan was given some moments to declaim on a topic of his interest during the 51st
 Independence Anniversary service in Abuja last Sunday. There he shocked us with an improper grasp of the topic of leadership, though he still managed to say what kind of leadership we should not expect from him, the kind he thought, by the examples he assembled from the Bible, was unacceptable to him and probably to any nation. At least now we are no longer in the dark as to what sort of leadership he detests. But, as we found out from Jonathan’s homily last Sunday, he finds it much more difficult to say what kind of leader he aspires to be.
This is not surprising. Most people face identity crisis at one point or another, and sometimes for an entire lifespan. Those who define who they are early in life may have been lucky to face what historians call defining moments, in which circumstances compel them to stand courageously for truth or principles, or to yield supinely to or accommodate the forces of the moment. Jonathan has faced political trials that offered him great moments to define himself and his presidency, a few of them during the interregnum, and others after he won the presidency. When it came to politics, he has found it quite distressing to summon the great character with which notable world leaders tackled the exigencies of the day, or to summon the great principles that ennobled the policy options of great leaders in defiance of the flatteries of their loyalists and supporters.
Jonathan has been heavily disparaged for asserting he would not gratify the wishes of Nigerian critics who he claimed wanted him to rule like a medieval king – like Egypt’s Pharaohs, like an army general, like Nebuchadnezzar, or like a lion. Perhaps because the time he was given was short, he did not tell us whether he thought all the Pharaohs who ever ruled Egypt were bad, or what part of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign he objected to. And if he were to rule like a lion, he did not also say what reservations he had about being likened to the king of the jungle. Two days after, however, he gave us an insight into what he really meant. At a lecture to mark the 51
st
 Independence Anniversary, Jonathan gave a definitive prescription for Nigeria’s greatness. Rather than leadership style or the strong personality of the leader, what a nation aspiring to greatness needed, the president said, were strong institutions.
So, if any of us expected Jonathan to offer strong Pharaoh-like leadership, we would instead, as he put it inelegantly, receive nothing from him but strong institutions, which he was erecting through the process of transformational leadership. I have written on the subject of leadership on more than four or five occasions in this place. I am tired of repeating myself to people who hardly take the pain to peruse critical views about themselves. Let Jonathan and his aides, if they are so minded, call for those articles in order to inform the president on the subject. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that he needs both style and substance as a leader. His presidency is as much about his personality and style as it is about strong institutions, whether the institutions are created through transformational programmes or improved upon. Strong institutions can always be weakened and subverted by weak or strong leaders; but strong leaders always tend to create or improve strong institutions. Our colonial and post-colonial history proves this.
I fear that Jonathan’s ambition does not exceed leaving the country much the same way he met it – a united and fairly stable country. His talk of transformation looks undoubtedly at variance with what his ambition seems to evoke. I have an enjoyable habit of annoying some of my readers by my sometimes trenchant dismissal of their pretensions and sham intellectualism. They can rail at me all they wish; I am not deterred by their menaces, uncouthness, uncultured, not to say uninformed and unprincipled, vituperations. However, I must assert with all the energies in me that Jonathan’s disavowal of style and personality is nothing but escapism. All he is doing is attempting to hide his inability to boldly confront the major problems of the day behind the advocacy of strong institutions.
Many commentators have advised Jonathan to just give effective leadership instead of generating polemics on leadership style. The issue, I believe, goes beyond that. Jonathan, thankfully, does not appear to have uncultured and abusive aides, partly, I think, because he understands that whatever they say naturally and unavoidably reflect on his presidency. Let him keep that fine attitude. But except he confronts the issues of style and personality, his presidency will disappear unremarkably at the end of his tenure as a mere footnote in the annals of our nation. The problems we face today are the worst since independence, far in excess of the disagreements that led to the civil war. The Nigerian structure is not working; Nigerians have lost faith in their country; there is a chasm between our peoples, a chasm that cannot be bridged by fair words and homilies; and we have no sense of nationhood. Against these problems, strong institutions, as desirable as they are in a polity that works, are mere palliatives.
If it is not too late, I would like to remind Jonathan once again to seek refuge in books written by great leaders, some of whom he carelessly and almost recklessly dismissed.; for surely, among the welter of egotistic drivel of the Pharaohs, he will find pearls and nuggets worth both the sleuthing and his presidency. Let him burn the midnight oil on other great biographies, against which if he measured his presidency he would discover his inadequacies. As he is configured, and with his one-dimensional appreciation of leadership, if Jonathan were in Lincoln’s shoes before the American Civil War, he would endure slavery, reconcile with the South in mistaken abhorrence of fratricidal conflict, and take a dim view of history.
Given his present attitude to the current Nigerian constitution, if Jonathan were de Gaulle, confronted in 1958 by the problematic constitution of the Fourth Republic, he would make his peace with the constitution by amending it rather than replacing it. Richard Nixon, a former United States president ascribed the stability of the French Fifth Republic to the replacement of the Fourth Republic constitution by de Gaulle, even as he put the post-war instability of Italy down to the lack of similar leadership vision and strong personality as France mustered.
If Jonathan were Churchill before World War II, he would have made peace with Hitler in order to avoid war and escape the inconveniences of sacrificing millions of lives and possibly a political career in the defence of noble and lofty principles. After all, was Jonathan not disposed to negotiating with Boko Haram until the sect proved annoyingly intransigent? Are strong institutions enough to curb the crises engendered by unstable and weak political structures? Did strong institutions produce Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus the Great, Genghis Khan, etc or the other way round? They were strong leaders for their eras. We are at new and historic junctures in human history; and our era, and Nigeria in particular, still needs strong leaders. Strong leadership is, of course, not the same as dictatorship.
Jonathan needs to do more than attack terrorism with platitudes, as he did bemusedly in his Independence Day speech. We have reconciled ourselves to the sombre reality of his uninspiring speeches. But he exceeds even his own monotony when he called on politicians to eschew partisanship while he himself yields to his ruling party. It is surprising he has not placed his finger on the real factors that discourage business in Nigeria and make insecurity to flourish. However, his speech this time gave editors catchy headlines, but there was nothing said about the issues he raised that support those brave headlines.

If Jonathan is to reposition his presidency, he will need the firmness of Obasanjo without the latter’s bucolic rage, sanctimoniousness and obscurantism. He will need Gowon’s fairness and humanism pepped up by a fiery crusade against national and intellectual slothfulness. He will need Murtala Mohammed’s impatient activism circumscribed by a deeply intellectual and reflective understanding of both narrow and national issues. But at the core of the recommended eclecticism must be a powerful self-conviction that only great books can unearth, a self-discovery that will quieten his warring instincts and smother the tendency for escapism that has dodged his every step since he was unleashed upon the nation by the scheming Obasanjo.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Depressing Tales From Nigeria.

By Jon Chikadibie Okafo
I have been in Nigeria for close to two months now, and apart from the laughable patriotism imposed on me by that “accident of birth”, I wish to maintain that this country is not fit for sane humans.
There are countless streams of mind-bending and seriously bizarre tales of occurrences that will surely get you thinking-sooner than later, your thoughts will be strangled to that point where it now becomes a constant display of depressing tales.
Make no mistake about it-there are two worlds struggling for space in the larger Nigerian picture. It doesn’t take much research for one to sniff out the identities of the two groups co-existing in Nigeria; those in government and those being “governed”. The “Berlin wall” separating the two groups remains so high, the disparity in the quality of life is staggering-while those in government are living large, the rest of Nigerians are visibly non-existent. Life in Nigeria really sucks big time, it is so because we have comedians, thugs and horrible charlatans occupying lofty government positions.
The city of Abuja is a good example of the evil sense of humour that is our government. The richest folks in Abuja are government officials who occupy all the mansions in the posh areas of Asokoro, Maitama, etc while the “every-day-man”, the regular Nigerian citizen could be found in the slums of Nyanya, Mararaba, Kado and similar shit-holes. Of course, the same arrangement is scattered all over Nigeria where the gap between the rich and the absolutely wretched keeps widening, incidentally government officials are the super-rich everywhere in Nigeria. Do we really have any functional government for the people in Nigeria?
Well, “we voted for Jonathan and not the PDP”. Suddenly, all my friends and foes alike that championed that illogical argument have for some apparent reasons, had the wind taken out of their vuvuzela-the silence emanating from their camp is really unsettling. Whatever happened to that ludicrously unintelligent talk of Jonathan being a “good man”? I argued then, and I still do so now; it makes no difference to the suffering masses of this once great nation if Mr President was a nice man. What we need here is a leader who inspires confidence, a leader who has what it takes to turn things around for the better and not “he is the first PhD holder to be president”.
You really need to be in Nigeria to be able to grasp the level of rot that is prevalent here; our past leaders ought to be sincerely ashamed. The current leadership of this country should be more ashamed-Nigerians are struggling against man-made vicissitudes of life; our people are dropping dead in thousands daily while those in Abuja and other state capitals are busy lining their pockets. Though I am not surprised at the wicked and immoral deceit of the PDP-led government, I had expected that man whose vuvuzela was loudest about “going to school without sandals” to identify with the masses by churning out people-friendly policies.
What do we have here? A federal government that is genuinely averse to alleviating the living standards of the same people that voted it in, a government that is more interested in consolidating power by expanding dangerously the throat of waste by bringing in more friends, party members, financiers, to “come and chop” [apologies to OBJ].
As I write, Power Holding Company of Nigeria [PHCN] continues to threaten fire and brimstone; as a matter of fact, power has been non-existent everywhere here for days!. As usual, there is a dispute over pay and sundry issues and the government of Nigeria peopled by leeches and kleptomaniacs continue to slumber. Why not? They are all living large on our wealth while the real owners of the wealth wallow in poverty, darkness and want. Majority of those ruling Nigeria are simply too wicked, heartless, clueless, sick and uninspiring.
These words might sound so strong except when one ponders over the type of cruel joke that was this year’s National Honours Award. Reuben Abati’s satire on this same issue in October, 2010 comes to mind, except that the gentleman have found himself as the official mouthpiece of the same group he made a career of vilifying. Alhaji Dangote was decorated with the second highest honour in our country and I ask, for what? The dumbness of this act was further exposed when Mr President had to come out to defend that decision. Mr Peter Obi of Anambra state too was decorated, and hundreds of other recipients whose only claim to such “honour” could be found in their membership cards of the PDP. To me, the whole charade was more like a Tom and Jerry show-and the Iroko himself rightly rejected it. Well done Professor Chinua Achebe.
Well, sometimes I try to dwell on the sinfully rib-cracking stories one hears here daily to sustain my whining sanity. Verily I say to you, except one resides in Nigeria, you would doubt the veracity of the strange stories you will hear here. Did anyone out there hear the one about Nigeria Customs “auctioning” the equipment imported by federal government for the power sector because they were incurring demurrage at the ports? Did any other person hear the one about the non-existent buildings for some top government officials purportedly being constructed in Abuja? I bet my last kobo that the Senate only found this out because the buildings were for their principal officers and the Vice President. I wonder who got lucky with the contract sum-billions suddenly approved through thin air vanishing through thin air.
Which brings me to the other part of the sad tale; battling with the “Nigerian mentality”. Before going into the gist proper, I would like to make my position well known-we Nigerians need a complete overhaul of our thought-process, meaning we need a re-orientation. Even though we blame our government and “witches and wizards” [story for another day] for all our woes, we must recognize the fact that we are equally guilty of killing the dreams of the founding fathers of this large map. From all observable indications, we don’t care a hoot about our neighbours and environment anymore; particularly in Lagos. In spite of the visible efforts of the state governor with his “Eko oni baje”, Lagos remains one vast stinking slum.
Little wonder the Lagos State Commissioner for Health was on air quite recently sharing the depressing “news” that there were about 2.5 million mentally challenged drivers on Lagos highways. As a Lagos resident, I cringe at the heaps and mounds of filth that assaults my eyes daily, the huge rats that stare at you at night [they are everywhere in Lagos], the horrible open gutters with smelly greenish watery waste, the regular sight of men and women peeing and defecating openly, the constant power outage and the hatching rumbles of power generating sets, the noisy parties and early morning preachers that seems to have a grudge against some devil and sin, the blare from the very loudspeaker from numerous mosques, the list goes on.
All across Nigeria, you could almost touch the level of apathy and animosity that pulsates amongst fellow citizens; probably the government has succeeded in turning Nigerians against each other. The level of mistrust and suspicion is scary; the beauty of living together with the spirit of “the brotherhood of man” has since left our clime. Our survival instinct is now upped to a very alarming level and this means that our society has turned into a “dog-eat-dog” jungle.
And again, I remembered that not so long ago, President Goodluck Jonathan [GCFR!] gleefully reassured Nigerians that the identities of Boko Haram financiers and all that were now known to government. In that same broadcast, I remember vividly that Mr President promised that “arrests” would be made soonest and there would be no sacred cows. I was pleased, genuinely pleased.
Well, the bombs are still going off and innocent citizens are still its victims. Boko Haram seems to be waxing stronger while our government has now changed its song, “terrorism is a global thing”, “government has approved the sum of N10b [ten billion Naira] for the purchase of security gadgets and toys”, etc. I am innocently scratching my head and waiting for Dr. Reuben Abati to tell us wetin dey now.
While waiting for Abati come up with another spin, I got the totally deflating news that the “Super” Eagles of Nigeria will not be at the forth coming Nations Cup, what? ” A whole “Super” Eagles”?  What about the national female football team? Ahhh, dem too no dey go anywhere bros! I have however joined the rest of Nigeria in one aspect; we easily launch a momentary escape from our myriads of problems by relocating to the nearest watering hole for a pint or two-and we sit back to chatter stupidly about the English Premier League, and how much Mr A bought his “new jeep”.
Eventually, the partying continues in Abuja and government houses all over Nigeria, our National Assembly members tuck more Ghana-Must-Go bags under their seats, Boko Haram detonate more bombs, travelers perish on the nasty Shagamu-Benin highway and similar neglected roads across Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan prances about with his “fuel subsidy” cudgel, and we, the wretched Nigerian citizens whimper home to offer prayers and tithes to God to “please take this cup away”. Amen?

I Agree, ''It is Time to Stone those in Power''

By Adeola Aderounmu
In 2009 Reuben Abati suggested that it will soon be time to start stoning the economists in the corridor of power in Abuja. In 2011 I strongly recommend that everyone in the corridor of power and all those who are called stakeholders who have supported the removal of the subsidy on oil and oil products should be stoned.
Goodluck Jonathan has pinned the reactions of Nigerians to the proposed removal of subsidy on those who want to throw him out of office. I say that he fired the first rounds of shots on his legs. If this will mark the beginning of the end for his insensitive regime, let the occupation starts.
I want to ask the same questions that Reuben Abati asked in 2009: How? Where is this subsidy that government talks about? How was it disbursed?
Reuben Abati wrote in that headline that Nigerians will soon be trekking. Sadly enough Nigerians have actually been trekking before 2009. I remembered trekking from festac town to CMUL during the 2001/2002 fuel scarcity. I had obligations that couldn’t wait.
In 2011 Nigerians are not only willing to trek, they appeared ready to march down the Jonathan government that has come to be characterized by weakness in all its ramifications.
From one generation to another, the Nigerian government presents a constant image of a permanent aggregation of dubious elements. In my personal opinion, I have concluded that no amount of additional suggestions or written essays can solve Nigeria’s problems.
Are there problems facing Nigerians that the solutions have not been proffered here in the Nigerian Village Square or elsewhere where Nigerians display their intellectual capabilities? Do we have problems in Nigeria that we have no discussed about openly? What has happened to their implementations?
I believe so much in the solution proffered by Reuben Abati.  Even so because when it is carried out it will consume people like him. I like such solutions that will not spare the hypocrites, the pretenders, the sycophant and the famously corrupt people in government many of whom have been rewarded by meaningless national awards over several years.
I can’t imagine how people receive national awards in one of the most corrupt countries in the world. How does it feel to receive national awards in a country with one of the highest child and maternal mortalities in Africa? How does it feel to receive awards in a country where electricity is almost absent? How does it feel to receive national awards in a country where public education is almost grounded?  
If Nigerians obey Abati’s call by simply rising up and stoning the people in the corridor of power, I am convinced that the revolution we long sought will start. It might be ultimate the clean-up we have waited from since 1960.
It is sad how things have turned out for the ordinary Nigerians. On a poverty wage of USD 113/ month, a Nigerian is expected to pay his rent, bills, and sundries. There is no greater miracle on planet earth than a Nigerian living on N18 000 per month.
In a country where more than 20% of the population is unemployed, I have found it hard to find a greater tragedy against the back drop of the immense natural resources and potential human resources.
If there is any country in Africa where the government should be giving relief packages to her citizens after 51 years of misrule and leadership failure, that country is Nigeria.
In a twist of test of resiliency the ordinary masses will be insulted further. For failing the build or maintain functional refineries, for failing to fight or curb systemic corruption, for failing to deliver on the so-called dividends of democracy, the insensitive Nigerian government now headed by Goodluck Jonathan will make Nigerians suffer even more.
Rather than relief package the economic team of Goodluck Jonathan, his executive council and the so-called stakeholders will deliver loads of additional burden onto Nigeria.
The arguments are hinged on the famous textbook concepts rather than the realities on the ground. There are no arguments that the Jonathan government has put forward that is different from what Obasanjo and late Yar Adua proposed. In all the previous partial or total removal of subsidies that have been used to increase the pump price of petroleum products, there has never been a corresponding increase in the quality of lives of the Nigerian people.
There is absolutely no reason to believe or trust the Jonathan government. It represents the PDP government that has held sway since 1999. The PDP is the largest aggregation of corrupt people in Africa. Under the PDP the quality of life has declined sharply at the same time that the cost of it has continued to increase unhindered.
This, as Jonathan feared in his recent utterances that the opposition wants to bring down his government, must be the last test of resiliency for Nigerians. Any attempt to increase the burden of Nigerians should be met with the highest possible resistance. The opposition that I see is the over 90m Nigerians living below the poverty level.
The argument that the state governors are in support of the removal of fuel subsidy does not hold water. Which governors? We know they want more money from the 52% that the federal government has been looting for several years because they are all the same birds. Why should what the governors want be a benchmark for what the people want?
Why do the extremely rich but corrupt people in the corridor of power think that they know what is good for the suffering masses? When will the voices of the people start to matter democratically, if truly we are under a democracy?
I think it is sad and disappointing that Jonathan think that only the people in the middle class who have 4-5 jeeps will be affected by the subsidy removal. A lot of middle class Nigerians are even still struggling to maintain their statuses and to continue to pursue a happy life.
The dynamics of the Nigerian economy certainly reveals that the masses are the end-receivers of failed policies. When the subsidy is removed there is no doubt that the cost of transportation that is already exorbitant will increase further and the prices of dietary and other consumable products will follow the same curve.
We cannot live in denial and allow those who are shielded from the reality of everyday existence since they got to the corrupt corridor of power speak on our behalf any longer. Reuben Abati and the other advisers cannot speak for the masses. Nigeria has not improved since this administration started wasting our time. Policies or parameters that neither put food on the table nor increase the quality of life/standard of living are abstract and worthless.
The practical situation in Nigeria today is worse and even more deplorable compared to 2004. Someone, an ordinary Nigerian who knows where the shoes hurt, wrote today that Nigerians should be ready to turn sand to food. In all sincerity he was not joking and he didn’t think we should laugh about his comment. People are suffering.  
Nigerians need relief packages and they should be brought forward now.
If this virtual subsidy on oil products is removed and Nigerians remain resilient, it means our collective “suffering and smiling” will continue. It also means that People Deceiving People Party and the team of political and economic looters who are blind to the reality of a daily Nigerian life have succeeded again. Our glory is not yet come and that is so sad and disheartening.
aderounmu@gmail.com
 

The Penkelemeesi award for incompetence.

By Ayo Turton
I waited till this morning to pen this article because I wanted to give Mr. President a benefit of the doubt. I thought that by the time I will wake up this morning, heads would have started rolling, starting with the head of the office that coordinated the recently concluded National Honours Award, Mr. Ayim Pius Anyim.
 
That governance has become an aberration in Nigeria is no longer news, that the level of incompetence in Nigeria is a fit and proper item for the book of heroic failures is not in doubt, but we have just recorded a scary, new and improved abysmally low feat.
If our government was competent, we will not be discussing trillions of Naira in oil subsidy because we will be refining our own oil, I mean, we would not be exporting crude oil only to buy refined oil at exorbitant prices. If we were competent, we would have a functional railway system in a country of 150 million people and other means of transportation that would make road transportation more convenient and our roads last longer, if we were competent we will not be living in darkness in a country that flares about 28.6 million cubic meters of gas daily, in a country with a huge deposit of proven coal reserves, (it is noteworthy that coal is the biggest source of electricity generation in the USA, while fossil fuel otherwise known as petroleum is the biggest source of energy generally speaking, followed by coal. We have both in abundance) in a country located where the sun never ceases shining, in the hot tropical region of Africa, in a new world of solar technology, in a country bounded by a huge body of waters. Name it, we have it all.
If we were competent our leaders would not have to travel out to foreign countries for every medical treatment including stomach upset and headaches despite several billions of dollars we make in oil sales, if we were competent we would not be sending our kids to schools in Ghana spending billions of naira while our own schools are in a state of decrepitude , if we were competent, Lagos-Ibadan-Benin expressway the busiest highway in Africa that connects the biggest city that doubles as the commercial hub of the country with the other parts would not become a death trap under our watch, if we were competent, the second Niger Bridge that would connect a huge part and economically vibrant section of the country with the other parts would have been completed, if we were competent the road that leads to the number one gateway in the country, Murtala Mohammed Airport at Ikeja Lagos would not contain such huge craters, some big enough to swallow a D10 caterpillar, while we make pretences to promoting tourism, if we were competent that same airport will not remain in a state of disrepair without a single improvement since constructed 33 years ago, if we were competent, armed robbers will not reign supreme in the land, sometimes holding a whole street hostage for hours without any presence of security officers.
If we were competent we would not eat the hide and skin that we produce in abundance as “ponmo” or “show boy” or “azuanu” and then import processed leather materials from Italy. If were competent, individual citizens would not have to dig bore holes as the standard way to supply water into their houses, if we were competent we will not be blessed with such a huge body of fertile land and still be hungry, if we were competent our judiciary the last bastion of the common man against injustice will not be in such a pathetic state where justice has become cash and carry service. Yes we are already notorious for ineptitude, everywhere you look in Nigeria incompetence stares you in the face.
But just when you thought you have seen it all about gross inefficiencies at the different levels of governance in Nigeria; at the time we are still battling the unconscionable attempt to make us pay for government inefficiencies in the oil industry, then came this bombshell, we ran out of medals at the National Honours Awards ceremony, oh my gosh! what a peculiar mess! Yoruba people call it penkelemeesi. May the soul of Adegoke Adelabu, the man who that word was attributed to rest in peace.
It is enough embarrassment that the name of the present Inspector General of Police and the rest of the Security Chiefs are included in the national award, at a time their competence has been challenged by the National Assembly by summoning them to a meeting over the state of insecurity in the country, people under whose watch some ragtag religious fundamentalists have made life unbearable for us and we are yet to find a solution. It is enough disappointment that a woman who was impeached for incompetence as a State House of Assembly Speaker and all kinds of strange characters that we have nothing worthwhile to attribute to them in national development were included in the award. When you look at the names of the Governors given awards and the name of Gov. Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State who is reputed to be the best performing Governor in Nigeria as of today is missing, when credible Nigerians like Prof. Chinua Achebe rejects the award; the credibility of the award is already in tatters.
But the real national embarrassment is that Federal Government ran out of medals to give to the awardees, they did not have enough! Some will have to wait and get their own medals later. I guess they gave out more awards than the amount of medals they could afford. Are you kidding me? This reveals the abysmally low standard by which we are governed. Now that we know that there is nobody in the Office of Secretary to the Federal Government that can count up to 350, we need to sack all of them and replace them, let us replace the Secretary with Eni-Ibukun my 4 year-old son, I swear, that guy can count up to 400. This is a monumental embarrassment to every one who is known as a Nigerian.
Now I am really, really scared because I read it somewhere in the newspapers that Nigeria is toying with the idea of building Nuclear Power Plants in the country, I say hell no! We could not maintain common government buildings, airports, railways, schools, roads, water dams, even keep proper accounts of how much we export daily in crude oil and we are talking about building Nuclear Power Plants? When countries like USA and Japan are considering closing down theirs because of the danger they may constitute? It is scarier now that we know that our Secretary to the Federal Government cannot even count 1, 2, 3 …up to 350, we yell a resounding hell no! Not in my lifetime! Not until our President is ready to commit mass murder on the citizenry, they must make sure to site one in Otuoke, one in VP Namadi Sambo’s village and another one in Senate President David Mark’s town, just not in my backyard! Nuclear plants ko, Atomic flowers ni.
Ayo Turton is a US based Lawyer.
Removing the subsidy on peace
By Femi Adesina (kulikulii@yahoo.com, 08055001928)
Friday November 18, 2011

The sword of Damocles hangs on the head of Nigerians as the Goodluck Jonathan administration is bent on removing the ‘subsidy’ on petrol from next year. The government bandies diverse figures, all running into trillions, as what it uses to subsidize petrol. It argues that such funds could be better used if ploughed into other pressing areas of national life.

But other people say subsidy is a euphemism for fraud, and that there’s no real subsidy on petrol. Eminent virologist and former Oil Minister, Prof Tam David-West, is in the vanguard of that school of thought, and like a one-man riot squad, he has been giving lectures round the country, saying there’s nothing called subsidy. He says to remove the spurious subsidy, and drive prices of petrol and other goods and services astronomically high, is to court the wrath of the populace. I agree with him.

In 2009, under the Umaru Yar’Adua’s administration, when this same issue came up, I did a piece on March 6, with the headline ‘Deregulation: Even if it rhymes, nonsense is still nonsense?.’ I reproduce the piece again, because I believe the arguments are still the same, though the figures and the personalities have changed. The new headline above, I must credit to journalist and poet, Akeem Lasisi, who wrote and sang about removing the subsidy on peace in his new work, Eleleture. It is a big question. Will this government not remove the subsidy on peace, and bite more than it can chew? The piece below:

President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is now ready to chastise us with scorpions. Yes, that is the summary of the declaration that the downstream sector of the petroleum industry has been totally deregulated. What it means in simple language is that our lives have been too easy, and we need to know that life is not really a bed of roses, that roses equally have thorns.?? The Presidential Steering Committee on the global economic crisis, at the end of its meeting in Abuja last week, announced the full deregulation, saying government had in the last one year alone spent N640 billion in subsidizing petroleum products, with the amount running into N1.6 trillion in the last three years.? These figures from the steering committee are in direct variance with what the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Odein Ajumogobia, told us last year. He had said N1.5 trillion is spent as subsidy on petroleum products in one year, with petrol alone consuming N770 billion. ??You can now see that government is recklessly contradicting itself in order to ram an unpopular policy down our throats. If the refineries are not working, and refined petrol has to be imported at prohibitive costs, is it the fault of the average Nigerian? God has blessed this land with petroleum resources, why must it turn to doom for us, simply because of irresponsible leadership over the years?

There is global economic crisis, and there is the urgent need to cut costs and make savings. Fine logic. Good economic theory. But what of the social costs? What of the havoc it will do to the social fabric? What of the carnage and damage it would visit on the lives of the ordinary people? Yes, even if it rhymes, and it gives you good rhythm, nonsense is still nonsense. A bad coin is a bad coin, whether it jingles or not.?
When Ajumogobia announced last year that full deregulation was on the cards, I did a piece entitled: ‘N1.5 trillion fuel subsidy, so what?’ I still stand by what I wrote. Let me refresh the reader’s memory: “Ajumogobia says in the past one year more than N770 billion has been spent to subsidize petrol, and when added to the figure spent on diesel, everything comes to about N1.5 trillion. And I ask: So what? Who led us into this sorry pass in the first place, is it not government? Why must the ordinary Nigerian be made to bear the brunt of the obtuseness and inefficiency of successive governments?”

Since the issue of petroleum subsidy became a national controversy, particularly under the Olusegun Obasanjo regime, I had always stood on one point. And I stand on it again today. It is one of the duties and responsibilities of government to make life easier for the people. Any government that will have relevance and acceptability, must make petroleum products available for us at the cheapest price possible, considering what we suffer in other areas of our national life. No electricity, no roads, poor healthcare facilities, comatose education, parlous security, in fact, social services are at zero level. Why then make us pay more for petroleum products, with the excuse that the savings will be diverted to other areas of development? Permit me to again recall how I put it in the July 26, 2008 piece:?

“By the way, is it not one of the responsibilities of government to make life easier for the people? If N1.5 trillion per year is what it will take to do it, so be it. It will only reduce what light-fingered officials in public offices will salt away in local and foreign banks as their own ‘Abacha loot.’ Their forebears who ran the refineries aground live in obscene splendour today, and why not have their own share? They will tell you that when subsidy is removed, they will use it to fix our roads, power, education etc. But the plain truth is this: Nigeria is endowed enough to continue with the subsidy for as long as needed, and still fix other essential sectors of national life. The Obasanjo regime attempted to remove subsidy several times for the same reasons now being advanced by Ajumogobia, yet it squandered between 10 and 18 billion dollars on the power sector. The ordinary man is just made a scapegoat for nothing. The problem with Nigeria is not poverty of purse, it is poverty of purpose.”
Kukah: Boko Haram, Symptom of Failed State

11 Sep 2011

By Mohammed Aminu

Bishop of the Catholic Church, Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah, Saturday, said the wanton violence being perpetrated by Boko Haram in the country is a manifestation of a failed state.

He also stated that the level of insecurity in the country was a consequence of the inability of the Federal Government to manage the post-election violence in some parts of the country.

Speaking to THISDAY in Sokoto Saturday, Kukah maintained that Boko Haram had gone beyond its late leader, Mohammed Yusuf and ordinary people that were associated with the North East group.

According to him, it is unthinkable that poor people in Maiduguri, who are angry with the police, would have contemplated going to bomb the United Nations building in Abuja.

Kukah pointed out that Boko Haram was a manifestation of corruption, saying the violence is about the corruption that has entered into the bloodstream of the Nigerian society.

He declared that the violence being witnessed in the country at the moment was a manifestation of state failure and poverty and added that from the point of view of major indices, Nigeria is literally at best a failed state, since the signs are there for all to see.

"Tell me which other country in the world can live with enormous resources and yet poverty is sitting side by side. We don't need the United Nations to tell us about the failure of the country, the indices are there for all to see,” he said.

"Scientifically and from the point of view of social science and politics of transition, if a country is going through transition, there are minimum economic indices.”
Father Kukah and the Pentecostals

    By Festus Eriye
    Published 23/05/2010
    Opinion
    Unrated

says Catholic cleric, Mathew Kukah should not engage in mud-slinging against other christians

Catholic cleric, Monsignor Matthew Kukah, would ordinarily be described as a perceptive contributor to our on-going national discourse. Some would even go a step further to say he is controversial based on a couple of curious positions he has taken over the years. But certain statements attributed to him this week suggest that while he may be brilliant, he is far from infallible.

In a lecture titled: "Nigeria at 50: Challenges and Prospects" delivered at the sixth Annual General Meeting and Conference of the Institute of Strategic Management Nigeria (ISMN) held in Calabar mid week, Kukah drew the following conclusions about our national journey.

In its 50 years, he said Nigeria has been bedevilled with "politics without principles, pleasure without conscience, wealth without work, knowledge without character, business without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice".

It is hard to quarrel with that. But after taking pot-shots at everyone in sight he rounded on the religious – Pentecostals in particular - whom he accused of preying on the fears of the people. "One of the greatest problems facing the country is criminality masquerading as religion. Pentecostalists are preying on the peoples fear. A man sees ‘vision’ and promises you the ‘cure’. No wonder today we have so many ‘prayer warriors’.

It is not difficult to see why someone like Kukah who is a notable representative of religious orthodoxy in Nigeria would have a problem with people whose choose a path of worship that deviates from the canons of Rome or Canterbury. Over the years people like him from the Christian religious establishment have sought to deride and dismiss the Pentecostal movement as nothing more than an exotic fad that would soon disappear.

But rather than succumb to the vain hopes of the orthodoxy, the movement has gone from strength to strength – to the extent that today – were Nigerian Christians to be polled, a majority are likely to describe themselves as Evangelicals or Pentecostals.

Kukah has diagnosed "criminality masquerading as religion" as a major threat to Nigeria today; what he has not done is point the finger in the right direction. What are the criminal dimensions to the practice of Pentecostalism in Nigeria that he has discovered? They are not going about slaughtering people in the thousands in other to convert them. All they offer is a belief template which people are free to accept without compulsion whatsoever.

Among notable issues that the Catholic hierarchy has had with Pentecostals is their dynamic interpretation of The Scripture. But when you examine their core beliefs in the light of what is written in The Bible, it is impossible to reproach them. Teachings about healings and prosperity are all there in the word of God for all who would approach them with an open mind.

But whether the likes of Kukah believe it or not, miracles are still happening in today’s world. No genuine teacher of God’s principles for prosperity would offer you some pie-in-the-sky doctrine. They would always emphasise holiness as well as the hard work ethic.

Unfortunately, some of the harshest critics of Pentecostalism in Nigeria have never really taken trouble to examine the doctrine. Where you base your conclusions on the excesses of one or two televangelists; or a couple of false prophets, it is hard not to come away prejudiced.

The truth of the matter is that a man with an argument can never win against one who has an experience. I would suggest that respected priests and commentators like Kukah should sheath their swords and take time to study this move of God in Nigeria. It is not wise to denounce Pentecostals as ‘criminals’ just because they think differently.

One would have expected someone of Kukah’s standing in the Catholic establishment to keep his head under the parapet rather than engage in wild generalisations and mud-slinging against other Christians – knowing the trials that his own church is passing through at this period.

All over Europe and America Catholic clergy are under attack because of the child abuse scandals. But we all know that these are the actions of just a few deviants. There are thousands of hardworking priests and nuns who live a holy life and are in no way involved in the mess. Do we now denounce the Catholic hierarchy – ignoring the good the church has done over the years – just because a handful missed it?

Rather than sneering at the efforts of Nigeria’s many ‘prayer warriors’, Kukah should be thanking God for them. It may seem like the rapid spread of Pentecostal churches has not changed their adherents much. But let’s not forget that ours is to pray: it is God that can change a man. We might also add that without the prayers it could have been worse.

The trouble with Nigeria is not flamboyant Pentecostals. The triple demons of ethnicity, religious intolerance and corruption existed long before Pentecostalism became fashionable. Let’s focus on those evils rather than take on scapegoats who don’t deserve the tag.

Two-party by force

Nigerians tend to rally along two broad-based political tendencies. It is that thinking that informed President Ibrahim Babangida’s experiment when he unilaterally set up the National Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP).

His political factory even manufactured manifestoes, logos and slogans for the two artificial parties. In the end, shocked at the progress his illegitimate children were making, IBB strangled them with his own hands.

On Thursday, members of Nigeria’s House of Representatives – in a throw back to the military days - discussed a proposal to institutionalise a two-party system by legislative fiat. Thankfully, the motion was defeated after a rancorous debate.

Nigerians love short cuts and in our bid to catch up with the rest of the world we embark on the most ludicrous of endeavours. I cannot recall anywhere in the democratic world where the number of political parties was fixed by parliament.

In the US and UK where until now there have been two dominant parties, there is room for others to co-exist and compete. It is that provision of a democratic alternative that allowed the British Liberal Democrats to break up the Labour-Tory power rotation arrangement that had existed for decades.

Choice is at the heart of democratic culture. If Nigerians are inclined to a two-party system then let it evolve. Throwing in independent candidacy is not enough. We should not be hemmed into any fake arrangement simply because we have too much choice. I do agree, though, that the state must withdraw from funding parties. When it does the real number of parties Nigeria can support would emerge magically.

The trouble with the Electoral Act is not the fact that we have 54 political parties on the books. At issue is the determination of politicians to subvert even the most cleverly crafted anti-rigging legislation ever known to man.

If our office seekers would renounce violence and fraud there would be no need for all the superfluous reviews of existing laws. What we have on the books are enough deterrent. Unfortunately, no one ever gets prosecuted and punished for electoral offences and no one is deterred. That is why we keep going round and round in circles.
Nigeria: How Far, So Far? By Matthew Hassan Kukah
Posted: June 4, 2011 - 00:32
By Dr Matthew Hassan Kukah is

The key to good decision-making is not knowledge. It is understanding….…Malcolm Gladwell

In my essay marking Nigeria’s 50th anniversary last year, I tried to make some projections as to what Nigeria might look like in the next 50 years. I played around with the theme of what I called, Nigeria’s coming power elite, that is, the millions of our children who are in the Diaspora. I was rather enthused by the reactions I got from that piece. Only last week, I had the honour of speaking at the Nigerian Governors Forum in Abuja. In that short presentation, my concern was with posing the question: How did we get here? For a good part of that day, I received several text messages from people. What I sense is that by some inadvertent collusion, we have ended up with no intellectual content to our politics.

When I posed a similar question at one of our monthly Roundtables which I organize in Kaduna, my good friend, Dr Hakeem Baba Ahmed asked what I thought then was a strange question. Its import only hit me later on. He had asked me rather poignantly, Father, where is here? It is doubtful that Dr Ahmed understood how deep that question was. For, it forced me to think about my own assumptions. Yes, indeed, where is here, or to put it differently, what is here? In other words, like travelers lost, or tired from travel, or at sea, where indeed, is here?  The question as to where is here, can be answered by the sheer ubiquity of our chaos, failure and decay.

My interest in this essay is to highlight some of the issues that I raised very briefly in my presentation at the Governors’ Forum. I believe that we are at a momentous period now in our national history. I believe that more than ever before, we now require a robust intellectual input to steer our democracy on a path that can best reposition Nigeria to face the future with hope and confidence. To do this, I will address ten key issues.

First, Nigeria has to come to terms with why our journey has been so very slow. The corrosive impact of military rule, with its tradition of unaccountability and the corrupt influence of money have left a legacy that the political class has continued to exploit, seeing power as merely an opportunity for theft and self enrichment. Someone wrote of the Congo that given the predatory foundation laid by King Leopold and his Belgian exploiters, it was natural that the only one who qualified to succeed him had to be a Mobutu. Mobutu’s historic despoliation and ruination was a natural progression of the dungeon that Belgian colonialism left behind.

In the absence of a clear cut negotiated settlement to end its rule such as in South Africa, or outright defeat of an older order, such as in Afghanistan, Nigeria’s so called transition to democracy in 1999 was at most a muted fraudulent strategic repositioning by a ruling class that had run out of moral options. The late General Abacha’s denouement had turned out to be an exposition of the last dregs of a stale wine of military rule which had been exposed to hostile elements of corruption. Leaving no tradition of accountability or a blue print for organizing for the Common Good, Nigerian politicians have simply come to see their role as merely the continuation of the same exploitation of their people in a semi legal environment protected by the architecture of a weak state. Beyond planning for its own survival, the Nigerian political class has simply no serious blueprint for a national project. The late Professor Claude Ake in a 1996 essay titled,
Is Africa Democratising, drew attention to this sharp distinction when he argued that: Military rule is not so much the aberration we often call it as the negation of what is uniquely human in the way we relate. The military can never engender Democracy because it is the antithesis of democracy as regards norms, values, purposes and structure. The military addresses the extreme and the extraordinary, while Democracy addresses the routine, the Military values discipline and hierarchy, Democracy values freedom and equality, the method of the Military is violent aggression that of Democracy, persuasion, negotiation and consensus building. After many years of discrediting politics, aggressing and humiliating politicians, virtually everyone is discouraged from politics except those with a neurotic attachment to power, no other means of livelihood or self esteem

The principal challenge that the nation faces therefore is how to open up the political space to allow the energy of ordinary Nigerians to become the creative force for growth and genuine development. Politics and political processes were slowed down because the transition to democracy in Nigeria was already concluded before it started. Whereas the Afrikaners had decided that they would give power to Mr. Nelson Mandela, the black  South Africans were lucky that they had a disciplined organization, the African National Congress, founded way back in 1917. The ANC had institutionalized ideology and discipline which to which the great Nelson Mandela had to submit to in totality. In our case here in Nigeria, although a cabal made up of retired and serving military officers, retired technocrats and politicians of northern extraction had struck a deal to give power to General Obasanjo while he was still in prison, there was no party platform on which he would
land. Factions, fractions and cliques of different and divergent ideological leanings or none at all, responded to this emergency return to civilian rule.

What emerged as the Peoples’ Democratic Party was at best a menu hurriedly designed well after the meal had been served! A motley crowd of men and women brought together with the mission to perpetuate the ravaging and exploitation of the resources of state, saw President Obasanjo’s earlier commitment to transformation suffer severe strain as the old order sought to claim back what it had not really surrendered. The contortions and distortions of 2003 elections bear no repetition but they showed the strain. Bloodied from that fight, President Obasanjo soon began a process that would reverse some of the gains he had already made. He decided to shed his moral claims, took off the gloves and bang, the rofo rofo fight started. The third term agenda sowed the seeds of the national humiliation that was the 2007 elections.  These failures were not evidence of a diseased political elite. They were merely symptoms of a cancer that had not been properly
diagnosed not to talk of recommending a regime of chemotherapy.

Second, what we have as here, is really the evidence of our failure to have a real transition to democracy. We had missed the basic theoretical philosophy of transitions and forgotten that not all transitions from authoritarianism lead necessarily to transitions to democracy unless the old order has suffered defeat or surrendered to a superior moral high ground gained through negotiation as in South Africa. The squalor, the impact of the pervasive and invidious culture of corruption, the collapse and rut of all physical and social infrastructure, the culture of violence are all before us of evidence that the old order was still stalking us.

In a way, we have all become victims of a weak, gasping and collapsing state, preying on its citizens. In a rather strange kind of way, governance has been about the dog returning to its vomit. Fancy the contradiction expressed in the fact that the failure of policy has become the cure. Let me explain. Does it make sense that all those areas where we have the greatest failures are the areas into which huge resources are being sunk?  Think of the billions of dollars sunk into generating power which we cannot see. Yet, rather than face this failure, we are told constantly that billions are going to be sunk on railways, power and so on.  The lack of roads has become the justification for the perpetuation of the myth that road construction is the excuse for sinking billions of dollars into nonexistent roads. Ditto Education, Health and range illusory options created to justify the persistence of theft as an article of faith. National extortion has become a
tool of governance. The politicians along with their Ministers constantly dip their fingers into the coffers while recycling the proceeds of theft into their pockets and fuelling the Party machinery. It is the cumulative impact of this frustration that found expression in the violence that followed the elections. This is why holding public office is the prelude to political ambitions (Councilor wants to become the Chairman, Chairman of the Council wants to become the Governor, the Governor wants to become the next President and the President decides he does not want to go!) Why should public office not be the prelude to stealing of state resources?

Third, is it likely that we have reached a defining moment, one of the quality of which Malcolm Gladwell, the writer and New Yorker columnist calls, the Tipping point? In the little book by the same title, he says: The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.

Clearly, we can attempt this luxury against the backdrop of two rather superficially plausible propositions. First, we might convince ourselves that we have put military rule behind us. This illusion can be sustained against the backdrop of other realities. One was the decisive and incisive decision in 1999 by Generals Obasanjo and Danjuma to cut off  from the ranks of the military, an elite segment whose appetite for power had been wetted by public office. That singular decision many would argue, has severely constrained the military’s ability to threaten the polity.

Evidence of the fact that we have crossed the Rubicon might be gleaned from the fact that since in many respects, the military has historically been the fighting wing of the northern ruling classes, under normal circumstances, the clouds and fumes around Yar’adua’s health in the last days of his regime would have offered a perfect excuse for a coup. Happily, Nigeria survived.

Again, even the violence that attended the last elections would also have provided a perfect excuse for the military to argue that the civilian government had lost its capacity to contain the violence. But, happily, the circumstances were different. Of course, at a theoretical level, we can argue that the nature of the beneficiaries of a coup or no coup would have also had a say in determining the behaviour of the military and their civilian sponsors, many of who might probably have drowned in the process.
Can we argue that our ability to successfully organize four elections back to back is also indicative of the fact that we have indeed reached a decisive point in which the military now appreciates that its interests are now subordinate to those of the political establishment? If this argument is found to be sufficiently plausible, then it does appear that Nigeria is on the threshold of a new dawn. But, of course, that depends on other factors. The key concern here is the quality of the political actors on the ground and whether indeed, we have a crop of politicians who can turn away from the predatory politics of the last eleven or so years.

In another biting critique of the Nigerian political ruling class, the late Professor Claude Ake, in a 1993 lecture, summed up the characteristics of the political classes by concluding that: The Nigerian ruling elite survives against all odds. There is no legitimacy to draw on. It has run out of ideas, even bad ones. We are always looking up to someone else, forever searching for good leaders to see us through. The Nigerian state is a negative unity of takers in which collective enterprise is all but impossible. The challenge is for a new crop of  well-informed, modern and patriotic politicians to commence a process of severing this ugly, opportunistic, parasitic virus which encourages a visionless gang who see politics or military rule as business by other names.

Fifth, what are the building blocks that Nigeria needs? The real challenge is how the President and the political class decide on team selection. Here, I do not mean just political office holders and the ruling Party. Clearly, there are two institutions whose roles the President needs to think more clearly. These are traditional rulers and religious bodies. These institutions have become very visible in the political process. As we can see from the persistence of violence, there is need for clarification of the roles that these two key institutions have to play in a democracy. Indeed, the so-called eruption of post elections violence was indicative of the need for a clearer role for the two institutions who should be less visible in a democracy.

There is of course a slight conceptual difficulty. Whereas Muslim traditional rulers collapse the two identities of traditional and religious rulers into one, the same cannot be said of the Christian religious leaders. Within Christianity itself, whereas the Catholic Church maintains a legal and critical distance from partisan party political processes, many Protestant bodies have a slightly different disposition. Some within the ranks of the Pentecostals, especially the one-man Churches, believe that the altar can be transformed or co-opted into a partisan political soapbox. The result is the increasing high profile roles that we have seen recently shown either in direct participation by some Pastors or the enthusiastic and direct embrace of Caesar by which some pastors want to become official Chaplains while their Churches become the Political Party at prayer!
The need to extricate these threads of confusion is important. We saw very clearly in the last elections some worrying trends which, if not properly handled could pose problems for both the government and the religious bodies. Seduced by material benefits, many religious leaders seem ready to play roles that show outright partisanship. Government patronage has the tendency to create further problems especially given that adherents to different faiths hold different political views or no views at all. To be sure, unlike traditional rulers, religious leaders do not get their staff of office from the state. Therefore, they have every opportunity to play a more critical and prophetic role of speaking truth to power and standing up for the weak in society. It is understandable that in our convoluted environment, this role is complex. However, if traditional and religious leaders must play their roles and protect their people from the excesses and temptations
of political manipulation, they must try hard to steer clear of partisanship. The politicians have everything to gain and nothing to lose but the religious or traditional rulers have almost everything to lose and nothing (except the material) to gain. The reader might wonder, since yours sincerely is often accused of being a politician. Well, I consider myself a public intellectual with a duty to interrogate politics and political behaviour as part of the process of nation building. I am political because I am human, but not a politician because I am a Catholic priest!
Sixth, what are the present obstacles to Nigeria’s democratization agenda? I think the first is the Constitution. Clearly, the Constitution as we have it runs the risk of becoming an incubus to national development and integration. It is unfortunate that too many factors have combined to make its necessary amendments so difficult. First and foremost, the members of the National Assembly have shown such a gargantuan appetite for self-interest that most commentators would argue that their primary entry into those hollowed chambers was to become major partners in accessing the loot. From the first set of legislators in 1999 right through to the last session, corruption more than anything else trailed this otherwise august body. The legislators did not fool anyone when they tried to brag their way through the stunning revelations of their bad ways by Mallam Lamido Sanusi, the Central Bank Governor. Indeed, no less a newspaper than Business Day reported
last week that on balance, it has cost the Nigerian people over one billion naira to get a single bill passed in the National Assembly.
Perhaps our real problem is the quality and caliber of men and women who found their way into that Chamber. Or, it might also have to do with the fact that the Party to which they belonged and which was the Party in power had become notoriously blind to charges of corruption in the polity. In responding to the charges contained in the report of the Presidential Advisory Council over the issues of the size of the Cabinet, the President was reported as claiming that his hands were tied by the Constitution. The point here is that the Constitution requires some really surgical operation in areas that can free it to serve our country effectively.  It is hoped that the next Assembly will have the courage to place national interests above those of the members of the Chambers.

Seventh and as a corollary, key issues like the question of Land ownership and citizenship rights require immediate attention. Clearly, the Governors seem to have continued with the bad ways they inherited from the military since the promulgation of the Land Use Decree in 1976. The allocation of choice lands to cronies, friends and associates continues to remain a major ingredient of political patronage. In the peripheries of urban cities, Local Chiefs have climbed into this bandwagon of corruption and, in collusion with government officials, are busy selling lands that do not belong to them. In the process, land speculators and racketeers are constantly swindling innocent citizens. There is need for a radical review and harmonization of Land laws across the country if we are to avoid the dangers of most of our cities becoming glorified ghettos in the future. Again, the crisis over land is closely related to citizenship rights and the rights of Nigerians
to move around in their own country. The problems of the Plateau should have offered us a good opportunity to address these issues, but clearly, the politicians are prepared to continue to play with human lives. These two issues should occupy the attention of both the national and state the Legislatures. But, sadly, since the politicians are the major beneficiaries, it is difficult to see who enough enthusiasm can be injected into this issue. Another area of concern is the overwhelming dependence on the sharing of loot from Abuja especially given that there are no mechanisms for control or transparency in how these resources are used. To facilitate their control, some Governors simply hand pick Speakers and Local Government Chairmen who simply continue to grovel for morsels. The result is a lack of debate or application of resources to the needs of ordinary citizens since the Chairmen are replicating the same tyrannical tendencies.

Eight, there is the issue of national security. Since violence and the insecurity it induced was often the greatest threat to the state, it is not unexpected that political violence became the major excuse for soldiers, the manufacturers and exporters of violence to step in and take over its deployment when it discovered civilians were toying with it. Under the military, security of the Head of State and his government was the major preoccupation and indeed the basis for legitimation. This is why, those within the military who were suspected of threatening the government were often lined up and violently shot as coup plotters. Gradually, the cost of protecting the Head of state became a license for unlimited access to resources.  This is what led to the emergence of various security outfits and Operations which have now become an industry. The culture of security vote emerged and it is now part of our political culture. Today, in our so called democracy,
no citizens are allowed to question or know how much of their budgets go into this security vote. If this is not licensed stealing, I do not know what it is.

But, perhaps what is even worse is that although the culture of security vote has been democratized across the levels of government, we see that while more and more Nigerians are dying by the day from violence, the state Nigerian state is losing its capacity to ensure security of its citizens. Armed bandits, armed youths, and so on are constantly intimidating the Nigerian security agencies. More Nigerians have died in our democracy than at any period in our history outside the civil war. Tragically, both citizens and government have shown an unbelievable degree of apathy with the loss of lives. The circles continue and the state and federal governments simply set up Committees, an exercise in mutual hypocrisy since both the members of the Committee and the government know that nothing will become of their report. If this were not a matter of life and death, perhaps one might be less angry. But, the fact that Nigeria remains one of the most unsecured
parts of the world while billions or naira and millions of dollars are being stolen in the name of security is totally unacceptable. Governments should feel free to vote money for security, but there is no reason why this should be a secret.

Ninth, there is the challenge of values in our society. The failure of our electoral processes is a symptom of the moral rut that has taken over our country and the entire fabric of our national life. What can one get now in this country that can be called a right as a citizen? Is it Justice, Jobs, personal safety, access to social services covering health and education among others? The fact is that today, the inability of the state to offer services is tied to the deep corruption that has eaten into the Bureaucracy where, over time, bureaucrats decided to abandon their sacred duty to serve and simply decided that the politicians and the soldiers should not be allowed to chop alone. Of course, it is hard to blame individual citizens in an environment where the failure of government has meant that every citizen now has to bloom where they are planted. Those in power have lost the moral right to impose the will of the state since they are the first fault
lines.

Nigerians complain daily that money is being turned into a god. This may be the case, but we need a context for it. For, really, what else is there to do when you do not have a state that can look after you and your family? This is not an excuse but simply to state that the failure of the state has severe implications for everything in the life of our nation. This is why, restoring a moral balance in our society is a matter of great urgency.

In his seminal essay titled, The Talented Tenth, the great Marcus Garvey presented a masterly argument to the effect that like, Abraham and the debate over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, only the Talented Tenth could reverse the ugly and sad black condition in the United States of America. Among other things, Dr. Garvey argued:  If we make money the object of man-training, we shall develop money-makers but not necessarily men; if we make technical skill the object of education, we may possess artisans but not, in nature, men. Men we shall have only as we make manhood the object of the work of the schools intelligence, broad sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and of the relation of men to it this is the curriculum of that Higher Education which must underlie true life. On this foundation we may build bread winning, skill of hand and quickness of brain, with never a fear lest the child and man mistake the means of living for the
object of life. Today, genuine religion, teaching values and morals has lost grounds to preachers who have fashioned religion to fit the moulds of blind materialism of the moment.

Tenth and finally, we must return to where we started, namely, what is the future for Nigeria? In his little book, The Education of a British Protected Child, Chinua Achebe restates the Igbo proverb which says: If you do not know where the rain began to beat you, you will not know where you began to dry. How apt.

To be sure, we have and we must make much out of the successful elections especially as  the world has commended. However, it will be deceitful for anyone to claim that these elections did not have problem nor can the result be indicative of the fact that we have seen the end of the bad ways of the political class. Their imprimatur is commendable, but in the final analysis, it is what Nigerians feel and how they perceive changes in their lives that is most important. If for the sake of argument, we accept the congratulations for the conduct of the elections, will the political class rise up to the challenge of rebuilding a severely fractured nation like Nigeria?

Dr Jonathan has great challenges ahead, but they are also opportunities for statesmanship and patriotism. He has to simply have a sense of history and what greed has done to his predecessors. Like the Brazilian monkey, many a statesman has held on to the nut of power until the forces of darkness caught up with him. This was what happened to General Abacha.  Some of his predecessors had a chance to make history but allowed blind ambition, poor reading of the direction of the moral wind vane. The result is a tattered legacy (as in President Obasanjo). For a man who has come from nowhere, President Jonathan must decide whether, as I mentioned in my lecture at the Governors’ Forum, he wants to be an orphan or take his place as a prince.

If he wears the toga of an orphan, then, he can reverse the ruination that has made Nigerians vulnerable orphans and set in motion a machinery for creating an inclusive society based on justice and fairness to all. This will help us make up lost time.  If on the other hand, he prefers to function as a prince, then, the footsteps of those who presided over the political funeral of his predecessor will not be far away. You have a four-year mandate. Live by it in case tomorrow does not come.

The President has a chance, but there are too few good men and women left, men and women with enough courage and moral fibre who are willing to sacrifice everything including their political ambitions to do the right thing for Nigeria. There are men and women within and outside the PDP who have destroyed this country and those who have tried to build this country. The President must rein in some of the bad eggs in his Party.  The mad violence was merely a channel for pent up anger and frustration against a system that has remained blatantly unfair especially to the weakest.

There is no doubt that in its present shape and form, the Nigerian state is an anti thesis to development and progress. Held down by ethnic entrepreneurs, there are no winners, only losers. If the President does not free himself from their clutches, they will sink him. They have manipulated the levers of this corrupt contraption called Nigeria and that is why we have come to grief and are living in the shame that is characterized by darkness, squalor and death in the twenty first century. Whether they come wearing the agbada of regionalism, the cap of ethnicity or the beads of religion, the President must look back and see if he can find anything that these shameless chauvinists have done for anyone outside their immediate family and fixers while posing as praetorian guards. If we can build on these elections, we can inspire confidence in the system among our people.

In doing so, we shall end the tragic culture of voting without choosing. Congratulations, Nigeria.

Dr Matthew Hassan Kukah is Monsignor,Parish Priest, St Andrews and Vicar General of Catholic Archdiocese of Kaduna