Category Archives: News

Updates are news. features, analyses and viewpoints about the the Coal City or for attention of City residents and visitors. Served with depth and interpretation.

That “Summons” from the House

I dismissed, as an act of mischief, the “summons” issued by the House of Representatives on President Goodluck Jonathan to appear before its members in camera to discuss the state of the nation. Thus, I was taken aback when Gov. Fashola, someone who has earned my respect by his conduct and remarks thus far on burning national issues, reportedly backed the action of the Reps.

Did I miss something …then? Ours is no longer a parliamentary system. This means that the House of Representatives is not the same as the British House of Commons which can summon a Prime Minister to appear before it and explain his or her actions. The difference is clear. The prime minister is, first of all, a parliamentarian, elected from a small, local constituency from where he is handpicked to lead a government on behalf of the party that won majority of seats in parliament. In a presidential system, the president is elected by majority of voters in the entire country to lead a government on behalf of the people. Unlike the Prime Minister that has a defined constituency before he became king, the President has the entire country and her citizens as his constituency. This is why the President is automatically bigger than his political party and every other elected official, unlike the Prime Minister who is a servant of his party and a primus inter pares among legislators in a parliamentary system.

The point seemed obvious to me when I dismissed the House “summons” as an act of mischief. The president is therefore not a member of parliament who can be “summoned” by the House. In the United States, which we are often quick to cite as a model of presidential democracy, no one – not even an opposition politician – ignores an invitation by Mr. President for a discussion, whenever there is an issue that needs to be sorted out. It is never the other way around. The President could, on his own, decide to address the nation through Congress on the state of the nation but is never “summoned” to appear and talk to the Reps and “in secret” for that matter.

I rest my case

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NUEE Leadership Can’t See Beyond Their Noses

(From the Office of the Minister of Power, Abuja, Nigeria, 5 April 2012)
The Hon. Minister of Power, Prof. Bart Nnaji, had before now publicly acknowledged the technical abilities of Engr. Uzoma Achinanya and Engr. Akinwumi Bada, the two officers that were asked to proceed on retirement. He would have wished that Joe Ajaero, the Secretary of National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) allowed them to enjoy their peaceful retirement. This is because protesting on their behalf would only go to expose issues and circumstances that would have the effect of tinting their hitherto sterling technical contributions to the nation.

Unfortunately, it is a fact that, sometimes, technical ability does not translate to managerial ability. It is ironic to note that the rabble-rousing antics of Joe Ajaero and his cohorts in NUEE was one of the issues that worked against the person that Ajaero is today shedding crocodile tears over his retirement. Or is it possible that Ajaero and the NUEE leadership have forgotten how they ceaselessly dragged this officer to various fora, complaining that he was discriminating against the distribution companies by releasing salaries that failed to harmonise the unprecedented 50% salary increase that the Unions extracted from government as one of the conditions to allow privatisation to go on? The Union’s incessant complaints about discriminatory payment of the 50% salary increase ultimately led to the officer’s poor management rating. As for the other officer,Nigerians are witnesses to two successsive explosions which led to system collapse that plunged the nation into darkness in late March. The fact that the second explosion occured within a week of the first, at the same place and time and under the same circumstances, exposes a lack of attention to detail for which someone in charge ought to be called to account.

As for the ex-HR Director, members of the general public who have ever complained about PHCN staff abuses – including extortion, embezzlement and corruption – are in the best position to judge the fidelity of the culture of staff discipline that this officer superintended. What is disheartening is that it was also not beyond this officer to keep on the payroll for 18 months, someone who was supposed to have retired – while senior staff of PHCN lamented their stagnation at one grade level for years because of “no vacancy.”

We have no intention of engaging Joe Ajaero in a street fight which he clearly relishes. It is laughable that Ajaero would suggest that majority of the officers affected by government’s retirement have nothing to do with power generation, transmission and distribution. PHCN’s sole business is power generation, transmission and distribution; any staff working for the company is engaged in any of the three, either as a core or as a support staff. Only someone like Ajaero would display this sort of ignorance about an organisation whose members he serves! This is instructive, for it exposes why Ajaero has so far not allowed the Union members to see that the privatisation of the public power supply organisation is for the good of everyone – the 160million Nigerians and the 30,000+ workers of the PHCN. It also exposes why Ajaero is unable to see that privatisation is akin to baking a bigger cake that would help this nation overcome its development challenges and at the same time increase the earning power and welfare package of PHCN workers.

Joe Ajaero is misleading PHCN workers. He will not acknowledge that the Goodluck Administration has bent over backwards to ensure excellent welfare packages for PHCN staff. He claimed, for instance, that he (Ajaero) was instrumental to the payment of monetisation benefits to PHCN – which Prof. Nnaji requested for and got from government. The healthy Superannuation Fund for PHCN workers, administered by the unions and management, has suddenly been depleted, forcing government to activate the Pension Reform Act in the PHCN and equally source for funds to be able to continue to pay PHCN retirees. Ajaero will not disclose that it was the Goodluck Administration that approved monetisation benefits denied PHCN workers since the Obasanjo regime. He has not thanked the Government for agreeing to pay an unprecedented 50% salary increase for PHCN workers across the board, and for picking up the bill for the first three months. Ajaero ignores the fact that the Government had budgeted and continues to annually budget a jumbo package for retirements, pensions, benefits and severances that may result from the privatisation of the companies.

Government is doing all of this to ensure that no worker suffers a disadvantage arising from the privatisation of public power companies. Rather than acknowledge what government has done, Ajaero and his union cohorts have stood solidly against the privatisation of the power sector, thereby putting the interest of some 30,000+ Nigerians in the power sector against the economic interest of Nigeria, and against the comfort of 160 million citizens. As we all know, this attitude has, has among other tragedies, led to the direct closure of industries and the displacement of millions of Nigerians from work, just to satisfy the whims of 30,000+ workers who see the PHCN as their birthright – after begging government to employ them in the same organisation!

What is also tragic is that Ajero is misleading the staff at PHCN headquarters to sit tight (and therefore remain unproductive), rather than progress to the various successor companies to which they have been redeployed. Ajaero knows full well that any staff that is not found in a successor company before privatization process is concluded will not be considered by any of the investors; thus they will be left stranded with option to be retired at best….

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Poor Jega

No matter how one looks at it, Prof. Attahiru Jega could not have zoomed off more poorly in the current national elections that he is driving.

What an unfortunate thing. It is not often that elections do not take place in Nigeria because the umpire was not ready: materials do arrive late; accreditation could be shoddy; fingers may wag at perpetrators of electoral fraud; there may be violence, arson, murder. No matter. Elections always take place.
All lovers of Nigeria should join in a little prayer for Jega. He needs it to regain the confidence to continue after this poor start, and to end it strongly and creditably. I am encouraged that he still has a little goodwill, judging by comments from well-meaning Nigerians who want our elections to be free and fair, and our votes counted and made to count.
Allow me to also add my goodwill from this corner, for all it is worth. Good luck to you, Prof.

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The Libyan Debacle

Am I a sissy after all?

Last night, my eyes filled with tears as I considered the timely intervention of Western allied forces that temporarily saved the people of Libya from further humiliation by their leader.

I hated the coordinated deadly attacks from US, Britain and France, for the simple reason that it could happen to any other sovereign nation, including my beloved, fumbling country; the principle of national sovereignty requires internal affairs of nations to remain their internal affairs, not subject to foreign interference. Still I kept talking to myself: “Self? Isn’t Libya a different kettle of fish? Look at the sequence of events: citizens protest peacefully, Ghadafi attacks with violence, the people rebel and defend themselves and Ghadafi up-scales it into a war. He vows to show no mercy against the same people that he is supposed to govern and protect. And he moves men and tanks to crush the last stronghold of protest against his one-man rule. Self? Don’t you think this intervention is justified on humanitarian grounds? Imagine this: If Nigerians rise up tomorrow to protest bad rule from our bunch of vicious and avaricious politicians, and “they” mobilize the army and the police to crush “us”, wouldn’t we cry out for external assistance, and joyfully welcome such assistance?”

I wiped my tears from my face and uttered a silent prayer for the success of the allied forces.

What about national sovereignty, the devil’s advocate inside me persisted. When I woke up this morning, I found my answer to the little devil. We are members of the one race created by God and we live in an interdependent world. We must recognize this and therefore act for the public good when bad people use their positions of authority within artificially constructed national boundaries to humiliate and oppress human persons within these boundaries. My people have a saying: Let us chase away the hawk after which we advise the chick against straying too far into the bush.

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Profile of a Statesman

IN my humble view, Nigeria has had only three statesmen at its highest level of governance. These are Zik, Balewa, and OBJ. A statesman is a senior male politician widely respected for integrity and an impartial concern for the common good. If we go beyond the politician, I would add the names of Ernest Shonekan and Abdulsalami Abubakar, who ruled under a military regime.

The late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe returned to Nigeria from the United States to rekindle the fire of nationalism, mobilise the youths, and ginger up the old to make a final push to end servitude to Her Majesty’s Government.

He was widely expected to take over the mantle of leadership of a post-colonial Nigeria but his vision of a united and strong nation was blurred by the dust of ethnic nationalism provoked by others who were driven by distrust, fear, and envy.

Zik was a statesman because he decided that Nigeria was greater than his personal ambition, and accepted to play a nominal role in the power equation of the emerging nation. A grateful nation conferred on him a string of firsts – first president of senate, first indigenous governor general, and first (ceremonial) president. When he retired to Nsukka, his Onuiyi Haven became a political Mecca for succeeding Nigerian rulers.

Then came 1979 when Zik was conned into identifying with a political party in order to give the Igbos an identity and place in the then evolving political order. It was a spectacle to watch the old man pummeled both within and outside the ring by the likes of late Chuba Okadigbo who equated him to an ant, and Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo who mocked him in a book as a man that fell from Olympian heights as Zik of Africa to hit rock bottom as a local chief called the Owelle of Onitsha.

Zik got his recognition as father of an independent nation largely as a result of the acknowledgment of one man – Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Although his votes would make him head of government of Nigeria in 1960, the late Sir Ahmadu Bello preferred to remain in Kaduna and complete his programme for the Northern region. He sent Balewa to rule Nigeria, who accepted to work with Zik as president, and allied with him until his death.

Tafawa Balewa was a statesman because he was respected across board for his integrity and his commitment to the common good. Today, 44 years after the first gun was fired to kill him and signal military rule in Nigeria, no one has found evidence of his having salted away public money.

The charges that instigated the first coup of 1966 would not have been sustained in court if Tafawa Balewa was arraigned as a political gangster and corrupt politician.

It took 13 years before the army produced its first statesman. The man, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, successfully ended military adventurism into Nigerian politics (for a while) in 1979 when he handed over power to a civilian regime. He thereafter retired to a farm at Ota, but what a farm it turned out to be! A grateful nation and an awed international community replaced Zik’s Onuiyi Haven with Obasanjo Farms as the political Mecca of Nigeria.

After the Abiola debacle, occasioned by arbitrary exercise of power, Nigeria saw in him a stabilizer, who could lead us once again on our journey to the Promised Land.

But did he lead us? The jury is still out on this one. What is sure is that he achieved an unflattering exit from power, with his image as a national and international statesman seriously dented. Ironically, even before he left power, it was interesting to watch the President who once derided the Owelle title quickly grab a local chieftaincy title and meddle in the affairs of the Owu palace, even as he attended to affairs of state.

OBJ is no longer a darling of the international community and, outside the PDP, has become a spent force in Nigeria.

OBJ’s second coming would not have been possible if Nigeria’s first graduate ruler, Chief Ernest Shonekan, was allowed to consolidate his power in the Interim National Government that a departing IBB hurriedly contrived.

Shonekan inherited a deeply fractured and bleeding nation, settled down to flush the political mess he inherited, only to meet an implacable opposition mounted by activists fighting to reclaim the mandate that was denied millionaire businessman, late Moshood Abiola.
The pro-democracy group was determined to throw away the dirty IBB bathwater with the new born Yoruba ruler. Shonekan would have none of it, threw in the towel, and thereafter retired to his business. Today, Shonekan is sought after by Nigerian presidents looking for sensible advice.

The army’s second statesman inherited the odiferous stable left behind by Gen. Sani Abacha, the late maximum ruler. General Abdulsalami Abubakar shunned the temptation that ruined the reputations of his uniformed predecessors Gowon, Buhari, and IBB. His predecessors went against public opinion and reneged either on their promises or the popular expectation that they would deliver democracy within a deadline date.

Gen. Abubakar, on the other hand, promised and organized reasonably credible elections, handed over power, and like Obasanjo, also retired to a farm. Unlike Obasanjo, he did not make his farm famous, and his personal house, which I am told is also grand and sits atop the same stretch of hill, is not as famous as that of his brother general who stepped aside.

But no matter: a grateful nation and an appreciative international community applauded General Abubakar who is now widely consulted and used on democratic and international peace keeping assignments worldwide. Who would not love this type of “retirement”?

To his credit, the less-famous Minna general has kept a low profile, shooting up his integrity quotient, has avoided local chieftaincy squabbles, and thus far refrained from engaging in political games. I daresay his work for the nation has not ended.

There are lessons that can be drawn from the lives and times of these statesmen.

In Nigeria, it has become clear that, by accident or design, power will not devolve to those who pursue it with single-minded commitment, their earthly resources, or indeed a robust ethnic support base. Power has always been conferred on those who do not seek it, but who at the same time are widely acknowledged for their integrity and impartial concern for the common good. In addition, those who assume office with these basic “qualifications” find it easy to retain power as long as they maintain these character traits for which they were elected.
This may not have served us well in the past, but it nevertheless exposes a common reality that every Nigerian who has been conferred with power must take into account.

It is clear that there is no substitute for hard work. To illustrate with a manager’s example: when a worker is promoted to a position of responsibility and members of his family begin to focus on how long he would stay on in that position, (rather than what to do for the company within the job contract period), the manager may find it difficult to do the things that will mark him out as a man of integrity, and to focus on things that will promote the common good.

The final lesson is that Nigerian presidents who reign, reign and go away, peacefully, buy their tickets to statesmanship, a jet setting retirement, and a chance to come back to power again another day.

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Yar’Adua’s ‘Untimely’ Death

Vanguard 12 May 2010

THERE is an aspect of the life and times of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua worth examining. This aspect holds the key to understanding the way that the late president sought to exercise power and to reshape the post-Obasanjo presidency he inherited.

When, on 29 May 2007, the late president declared the process that brought him to power as irregular, he may not have been referring only to the presidential elections. He could as well have been referring to other political maneuvers that the strongman of Nigerian politics engineered to bring him to power. Yar’Adua looked clean on the campaign rostrum, but behind the scene, he was being smeared with political dung.

He did not seek the office, a necessary qualification for the Nigerian top job. He was terminally ill, and therefore could not rule for long, or effectively, and he must have known that his tenure could become a liability to the political North, whose turn it was to produce a PDP president for eight years. To have known all this and accepted the job implies that he was hoping to last for four years, and be in a position to organize another election that would produce a Northern successor. What was important was to wrest power from the strongman.

Nuhu Ribadu’s EFCC splashed the first dung. Yar’Adua was initially proclaimed a thief, but the EFCC pulled his file when Baba expressed interest in him as a successor. He must have known that the file could miraculously appear and be celebrated both by the media and the National Assembly any time he carried out executive action that angers the kingmakers.
The possibility of this embarrassment becoming real was very high – as long as Ribadu remained chairman of a post-Obasanjo EFCC.

The final straw came when he was allegedly wedded to a governor who was alleged to be the biggest thief of all. This governor allegedly bankrolled his campaign, to dump the biggest political muck on the incoming presidency.

It did not matter if 1000 Bode Georges were jailed during his presidency, or whether one million ministers, federal directors and daughters of ex-presidents were caught in the act of corruption and arraigned, nothing impressed Nigerian media unless this governor was prosecuted and jailed.

Not doing so would do irreparable damage to his reputation as a man of integrity, and ginger up the governor’s numerous media foes to attack his commitment to the anti-corruption war. Attorney General Aandoaka’s bid to handle the matter as a legal brief was his undoing, and it was an albatross that hung on the president’s neck in death.

Yar’Adua apparently did not want this baggage and was determined to break free. He served notice of his intention shortly before his inauguration as President, when a Time magazine reporter suggested that he would surely become a puppet.

The president-elect laughed out loud: “Puppet? You obviously don’t know me,” he said.

Groomed by an aristocratic family that has been at ease with power through the generations, Yar’Adua knew how to break away from the iron-grip of any godfather and create a powerful counterforce, from where he would seek to recreate Nigeria in his own image. It was a long shot but, in my view, he did give it a good try.
He began his attack by acknowledging the shortcomings of the political process that brought him to power and promised to tinker with the Obasanjo electoral law that the whole world held to blame. The subsequent Uwais Report on electoral reforms has been hailed as a charter to get Nigeria out of its many election false-starts.

He then went on to depersonalize the many federal institutions where the Obasanjo tigers roamed freely in the wild, and completed the rout through the policy that pegged the tenure of directors in the federal civil service, which weeded out most of the permanent secretaries that supported the tigers. These policies received general acclamation because they assured the survival of these institutions.

He thereafter turned to security, another area where inherent lapses harmed the electoral process and depressed Nigeria’s earnings from its mono-crop economy. He initiated the reform of the Nigeria Police and was pursuing this with vigour.

The MD Yussuf report on reform of the Nigeria Police was also hailed as the document that could get Nigeria out of the security mess that she finds herself in. The deft appointment of Ogbonna Onovo, a seasoned but frequently by-passed officer, ensured unexpected outcomes in subsequent elections.

In addition, Yar’Adua began the process of bringing peace to the Niger Delta, initiating an amnesty programme that brought a ceasefire to the creeks, spared foreigners from incessant kidnappings and its damaging impact on the country’s image, and most importantly, ensured that crude oil began to once again flow uninterrupted.

It was on the political front that Mr. Yar’Adua was warming up for the final onslaught, when illness interrupted him in November 2009, and death finally halted him on May 5, 2010. He was attacking from many fronts:

One of his first actions, even before he was sworn in, was to quickly make friends with the Lagos governor and Bola Tinubu, perhaps to get the critical media leverage, even as he aligned with known Obasanjo political foes. He was committed to the restoration of Lagos, the entity that his father once presided over as a federal minister.

He then went about quietly and methodically sidelining the strongman, thereby stoking a revolution that swept like wildfire through most states of the South (he did not have to worry about the Northern states).

The reliable godfather strongholds of Enugu, Ebonyi, Uyo, and Abeokuta collapsed, as their governors emphatically rejected local godfathers aligned to Ota and quickly settled down to work for their people, in order to consolidate their political bases for future elections. Yar’Adua looked the other way as the remaining strongholds were dismantled by the judiciary at Awka, Port Harcourt, Benin, and Akure.

Through these maneuvers, Yar’Adua was able to build a strong political base with the “independent” Nigerian governors, which was fully expressed by the creation of the powerful Governors Forum. It is clear to perceptive observers that the Forum silently functions as a counterforce to the strongman’s political machine.

The “untimely” death of Mr. Yar’Adua has put a spanner in the works. The sloppy attempts to “manage” his health status were merely efforts to buy time, consolidate Yar’Adua ascendency and deal a final blow to the looming image of a strongman whose evil grin echoed distinctly in the background. It may in fact, have had nothing to do with Turai, a woman who, in my view, saw widowhood staring her in the face and sought to make the most of it to ensure that she and her children never lacked, again.

Yar’Adua’s “untimely death” gives the strongman another opportunity to quickly rally and reclaim his waned power and influence. There are two forces standing between the strongman and this ambition for power: the governors and Goodluck Jonathan, the new President.

The governors wield enormous powers to alter the results of any upcoming PDP presidential primary, and thereby complete the Yar’Adua initiative to lay the ghost of godfatherism to rest in Nigerian politics.

At the same time, Dr. Jonathan is now the top dog. He has the power (even beyond EFCC) to call out the troops, whip the governors back in line, and return the country to what she has been programmed to be for the next 50 years.

What will Mr. President do? This would depend on the briefing he received and what he agreed to do at the time he was handpicked for the VP job, and how he wants history to remember him. Will he continue the Battle of Liberation from where his departed “brother and friend” left off, by siding with the governors? Will he reach out for the big stick and create an elbow room for the strongman take charge, again? Or will he strike out on his own, in order to carry out a political surgery that could put our ailing country on the path of recovery, and give us respect in the world? Or will he play everything to his chest, waiting for the opportunity to do what he must do for history?

His decision will be known by whoever he chooses as his vice president.

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Guns Against the Journalist

Vanguard, May 5, 2010

IT was as if someone poured cold water over me the other day when I read from a friend’s posting on Facebook that Tayo Lukula, a journalist, was murdered, somewhere in Ogun State.

I do not recall ever meeting Tayo face-to-face, but I remember him with pleasure as one of the most reliable reporters during my tenure as News Editor of The Guardian.

Tayo was then a correspondent based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Like all versatile reporters, he did his best to satisfy desk editors in the newspaper group, contributing general and specialist news and features, something that is still alien to most state correspondents.

It never occurred to me that he was not from that area because, in a typical newsroom, what matters to the professional editor is the fat, juicy, distinctive copy and not the ethnic background of the by-liner. In retrospect, we did record excellent results from some of the reporters operating outside their ethnic origins – Tayo Lukula in Port Harcourt, Ransome Emenari in Kano, Saxhone Akhaine in Kaduna, and Bayo Ohu in Katsina.

Now in quick succession, two of these very good reporters that I knew and was fond of – Bayo Ohu and Tayo Lukula– have been gunned down by yet-to-be-identified assassins. I mourn with families that have been deprived of their breadwinners in such a violent, brutal, and senseless manner.

I grieve over the fact that certain of our country’s young men and women (Bayo was allegedly shot dead by a woman), are now accepting that becoming hired guns is a possible answer to the question of growing unemployment in our country.

I marvel that our country’s young men and women would accept money, for whatever reason, to train their guns on those who struggle every day, through their pens and microphones, to right the oppressive system that created the unemployment situation in the first place.

Journalism in Nigeria is currently challenged by two realities – the desire to hire those with excellent writing skills, regardless of their professional preparation, and the desire to use willing, unprepared recruits to wage the war against impunity and arbitrariness ravaging our political system. The result is that efforts to tame the monster of arbitrariness and impunity have produced excellent results, and horrible unintended consequences for the profession.

The excellent results are the many occasions when fearless practitioners, some operating underground in guerrilla-like fashion, were able to bring down cabals and powerful individuals that intermittently rise to seize and hold Nigeria hostage, bringing her to the edge of the cliff at certain points in our history.

The horrible unintended consequences are the many assault, jailing, and murder that journalists have had to suffer in the course of challenging the monster.

It is largely through the efforts of journalists that the military’s 28 years of power stranglehold over our country was broken.

The media war waged by radical journalists from the early 1980s provided the impetus and support for civil society organisations to come into being and join in this fight. The haste with which Generals Obasanjo (1979), Babangida (1993), and Abdulsalam Abubakar (1999) either stepped aside or handed over power to civilians is partly credited to the dogged efforts of the radical media, aided by the civil society groups that they encouraged and empowered.

This may in turn explain why journalists, more than the civil society groups, bore the most brutal brunt of the counter-assault from the monster. Too many journalists were creatively or crudely murdered for daring to challenge the oppressive status-quo, beginning with the letter-bombing of Dele Giwa in October 1986.

In the year 2010, the monster appears to be returning to Nigeria. It is manifested in two realities. The first is the return of the “expelled” actors into powerful political reckoning. The second is the return of the murder of journalists as a pastime in political or business gamesmanship.

I do not imply that there is a link between the two, but I believe we could use our memories of the recent past to advise ourselves, as journalists, on how to approach or challenge the new, unwelcome order. If it requires us to return to the trenches, we should approach the matter like professional editors and go beyond ethnic bylines to objectively identify, challenge, frustrate, and contain the monster (or monsters) that harm our profession and retard our nation.

I say this because certain actors in our better-forgotten era of impunity and arbitrariness appear to have made full recovery and transformation, as they now control the political establishment in agbada. Whether in the leadership of the National Assembly, the Board of Trustees of the most powerful parties, the advisory committees of an acting presidency, or jockeying for prime spot on the 2011 presidential platform of both the ruling and “mega” parties, the actors appear to be back in “respectable” mode. Still a leopard never changes its spots: only in a few instances did their ascendency conform to democratic standards.

Nigerian journalism may need to transform and renew, once again, to keep pace with the new ways of power. I do not pretend to know how this can be done, but we could start from basic, time-tested tenets of our profession. How many of our current practitioners are prepared for this job?

To be prepared means undergoing a basic training in journalism and ethics that equip them with the professional skill to handle written or spoken words with care and caution, approach every story as an independent investigator not beholden to an interested party, hold the country’s interests (especially her national security and economic stability) as sacrosanct, challenge new attempts to mount the throne of arbitrariness and impunity, and for the sake of our profession, carry out the necessary spadework to find out why our colleagues are being killed, rather than leave the job to the police alone.

All too often, we are obsessed with the “who?” whenever a colleague is murdered, even though in journalism, the meat of the story is in the “why”. I have since found out that as it is in journalism, so it is in police investigation: Any investigation that fails to solve the “why?” (motive) never progresses to the point of revealing the “who?”.

In our environment, an investigative journalist is probably more equipped with the skills and goodwill to identify the “why” faster than the police. Therefore, part of the proposed transformation could be to use our investigative skills to assist and empower the police, especially when our colleagues become victims of political, business, or other interests.

This could be one way to unravel the identity of journalist killers and bring them to justice. At any rate, such findings would certainly educate us on what we need to do to clean house, should this be what is called for.

The Abuja Way

I sat in a popular fast-food joint the other day and listened to two friends argue over “office” matters. It was obvious that the two were close friends, and from the nicknames they shared, it was also apparent that they knew each other well, long before they came to settle in Abuja and work in the same office. Those of us seated near their table listened to the conversation, because one of the parties wanted everyone to hear and presumably drink from his book of Abuja wisdom.

The man, whom I shall call Mr. Ojionu, looked dashing, well groomed, and prosperous. His friend, whom I shall call Mr. Oyibo (because he had the affectations of an Oyinbo gentleman) looked lean and gaunt, evidence of a constant struggle to come to terms with the high cost of living in the capital city. Oyibo was also beginning to sprout grey hairs.

Everyone in our corner of the restaurant took notice of this odd couple when Ojionu hit his fist on restaurant table and shouted at his friend in exasperation:

“How many times have I told you that you don’t speak truth to power in Abuja?” he shouted.

“Many times, but this won’t stop me. You have forgotten what they say? The man dies who keeps silent in the face of tyranny? I don’t like the man’s attitude and you know it. How could I be the one to tell him who his enemies are? Do I look like someone who loves gossiping or backbiting people?”

Na you sabi,” Ojionu shot back. “The man is looking for his enemies. Why don’t you help him find them? You’ve missed a golden opportunity; the man wants you to be his confidant…”

“…His spy, damnit! Why do you change the meaning of words? This is wicked and amoral.”

“Me, wicked and amorous? And I am paying for your food and beer?”

“Not amorous; amoral – unethical, dishonourable, unscrupulous. And I don’t mean you. I mean the way you dress bad things with noble words.”

“Now you are the one using big words to confuse; not me but my way – what’s the difference? Anyway, you need to learn a few things about how to get along in this town.”

“Ok, teacher, fire on. I’m all ears.”

“I can reel out ten things that make people successful in Abuja. Never speak truth to power; help powerful people find or confirm their “enemies”; everybody is stealing from Nigeria, so always ask for something before doing anyone a favour. If you wait until after you have rendered excellent service, you will be the mumu because they will dash you peanuts. You are going around looking like Mr. Suffering himself. Put on a bold, prosperous front – drive the best car in town, leave that hamlet from where you suffer everyday to come to work; come and live in the city; put your children in elite schools here in Abuja; register with a big club…”

“All that on my salary?”

“You are thinking like a poor man, and don’t interrupt me please. Poor people like you always put the money first, rather than the dream and a plan. When you dream big, you’ll be presented with the motivation to go beyond this “holy” attitude that is keeping you in agony.”

“There’s something wrong with trying to be holy?”

“No, nothing wrong; I’m sure you’ll make it to heaven, I’m sure of that. The way things look, you might even make it sooner than you wish, because the journey has started in your body.”

“Now, you’re beginning to insult me.”

“I haven’t started yet. I may not speak truth to power, but I do to my friends. So, I’m telling you: leave your morality and fine principles at home. They will not train your children. They will not give you a life here. I am tired of listening to you moan about those who cheat you. Cheating is an Abuja way. How many have you cheated? You are a brilliant man, always full of ideas. Don’t you know that your ideas have made millionaires in this town? The people you leave documents with use the same documents to get ahead, while telling you that they were not approved, not so? Remember the day you came out of our meeting crying that the ideas you discussed with (name withheld) was what he came to present as his own? I sometimes feel guilty because I also make use of your ideas. But, in my own case, I make sure I pay you back with my friendship…

“So that’s why you buy me lunch and beer? You feel better for stealing my ideas after you make me eat your food?”

“Forget about that. You are my friend. I’m telling you that you need to learn how to get ahead. You come to work every day and dive straight to your task – you don’t remember to go greet our oga, ask how his family is doing, smile to make his day…”

“How does that fit into my job description?”

“Hahaha! I get the joke. But seriously, my friend, you need to be at the beck and call of your oga. That is why he is the oga. He expects absolute loyalty from you; you must be able to satisfy him in all respects with your committed service …”

“…speaking of which I must tell you this – since we are speaking the truth to frienship. Do you know what the latest office gossip is? It’s about you and the man. They say that he “services” you and this is why you are getting accelerated promotions and all the other perks that are making you live like a prince.”

“Be careful now. You may be my friend but in this Abuja, mugu dey go far, and you don’t cross a mugu.”

Mugu? You mean you act a fool to get what you want?”

“You are not versed in Hausa. Mugu does not mean a fool. It means something else and the nearest I can explain it to you is that a mugu is an extremely wicked and dangerous person. You may be my friend but be careful what you go about telling those who are successful in this town. I’ve paid for your food and beer; let’s go.”

“I don’t understand. You mean you could actually harm me? Is this a threat?”

“You are my friend; at least for now. Let’s leave here.”

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Memo to Bala Mohammed Kaura

I feel a sense of urgency in writing this letter to you, Alhaji Bala, regarding your recent appointment and confirmation as Minister of Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory.

I wish to draw your attention to the fact that the FCT Administration supervises a territory that is oppressive and wicked to the poor. It is a matter of regret that, although FCT is positioned as Nigeria’s centre of unity, many of your predecessors carried on as if it is only the rich that are being united and welcomed, forgetting that they would still need the same poor people to minister to their domestic needs. They also forgot that hundreds of thousands of workers living in the most dehumanizing settlements outside the city, who commute to and from the city centre each day, enduring traffic snarls, are human beings whose sweat and blood developed Abuja to what it is today.

For eight years now, since I came to Abuja, I have reflected on this sad trend, manifested in the Big-Man Approach to Abuja development, and have come up with two possible explanations for this continuing unfortunate state of affairs.

First of all, although it was originally designated a federal territory, FCT’s status has since been seriously tampered with. This enabled your predecessors embark on arbitrary governance, fashioning the Territory in their own image while swearing by a secret, sacred book called “Abuja Master plan.”

The truth is that many of us residents suspect that this “Master plan” may not be an FCT Development Project Plan but merely an architectural drawing or map, which an incoming administrator such as your good self could interpret in one way, and your successor in 2011 is sure to interpret in another way.

FCT was originally designed as a Federal Territory with a Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA)) charged with responsibility for its development and control. The original master plan divided the territory into districts; consequently, development of the territory began from a set of districts that were grouped together into what was then known as Phase I.

The 1979 constitution further fuddled the issue by creating area councils and positioning Abuja as if it is a state. President Shehu Shagari, through a gazette, jumped in with a gazette which effectively converted the territory into a Ministry, complete with Minister, Permanent Secretary and directors, and consigned the professional developer (FCDA) into a parastatal of the Ministry. With the FCDA downgraded and powerless, politicians took over the development of Abuja – from the Ministry whose Minister was given the status of a state governor, and from the area councils whose chairmen are accorded the status of local government chair – by both the 1979 and 1999 constitutions.

Secondly, and as a consequence, we no longer hear about the phased development of Abuja, which was the key part of the secret master plan. We have, instead, concentrated on the Abuja Municipal/Abuja City and developed it for the rich, while banishing the poor to hamlets inside the Territory.

Although this banishment could be directly traced to the administration of Malam Nasiru el-Rufai, it has also been said that the minister made attempts to ameliorate the suffering of the Abuja masses. I have heard Abuja property and real estate professionals swear that el Rufai knew what he was about. They tell me that even though he banished the poor people from the city centre, the man had the good sense to create satellite towns where these could settle, and that he gave the land to some of the people who were displaced at give-away rates. I visited one of those settlements (at Orozo) and saw that many buildings have sprouted there, but the area was not inhabited because the houses were being built inside a thick forest. There were no infrastructures – roads, water, and electricity.

Many property developers I met there told me that they were confident that Malam el Rufai would have completed the five Satellite villages and made life easy for the Abuja poor who are today being forced to commute to work in the city centre from their hamlets. They continue to endure the most agonizing traffic snarls, because I am also told that feeder roads from those satellite towns to Abuja have been budgeted for but no one knows what has happened to the disbursements.

The way that I see it, honourable Minister, there is a practical and policy-making approach that you might wish to consider.

It is possible to make a mark in one year by taking a second look at those satellite towns, complete the infrastructure works on them, and link one of them up with a superb road networks to the city centre. Even if it is only one that you are able to finish, you would have the sort of positive Abuja legacy that the late Gen. Sani Abacha currently has over his development of the Gwarimpa Estate.

A second way is to reflect deeply on the following three realities that made it difficult for your predecessors to leave enduring legacy in the FCT:

One: Shouldn’t the FCT return to its original conception as a federal territory, and relinquish the heavy apparatuses of LG/state/federal ministry which it is finding economically difficult to shoulder at the moment?

Two: How long should we continue to have a Minister-Governor in the FCT? In order to give the FCT a chance to survive as a federal territory, we may not need a Minister for the FCT because it is a political position that is at once corruption-prone; we do not need swaths of land designated as area councils because they are attracting rabid politicians and obnoxious politics, including from those who currently position themselves as “indigenes,” and violently confront “outsiders” who wish to contest elections in this centre of unity.

Three: Is it possible for the FEC to vote to spread federal ministries and parastatals in far-flung districts (perhaps among the current area councils), in order to immediately decongest Abuja City, make for even development, bring down the scandalous cost of living in the city-centre, and give workers an opportunity to find decent accommodation close to their places of work?

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Second Guessing Jesus

On the Easter period just ended, I reflected on the mindless quest for materialism by Nigerian Christians, especially our pastors and priests. It is worrisome what this tendency is doing to our collective sense of values.

Christians are united in the person of Jesus Christ. The Christian faithful is called upon to model their lives after the life and example of Christ, and thereby act in accordance with the greatest of the commandments – to love God, and to love our neighbour.

Christians are divided on the third dimension – the self: If we are told to love God and to love our neighbor, what about ourselves? The traditional church provides a clear, unequivocal answer: we are to deny ourselves, because there is nothing in this world that follows us to the grave; the things of the world are ephemeral, transient, and vainglorious. Although the new movement understands this truism about the transience of possessions, it is often noted that the Almighty carried our cross and the same Almighty gave man the earth and all of its fullness for his possession; so what can be wrong with a man attempting to possess his possessions and live a better life?

Both explanations may be right, but there is more to this, in my view. The Christian world is divided into pastors and laity, and each has been given clear instructions on how to fulfill their various mandates. Here’s how I see it:

The world that existed when Christ assumed flesh was a world of injustice. The Roman Empire had conquered and ruled Palestine; the people were subjugated and made unwilling citizens of Rome. Within the country, the people further subdivided into a class society, with influential elite groups seeking to control thought, politics, and religion. Among these elite groups were the wealthy tax collectors representing the colonisers, an educated class that represented the state and served the interests of two sets of aristocrats – the puritanical Pharisees and the aristocratic Sadducees. These elite groups used the instruments of state to deal with commoners that did not obey laws and conventions that they extracted from existing religious and secular sources and often distorted for their own ends.

This was not how it was in the beginning, when the Israelites returned from self-imposed exile in Egypt. In sharing the possessions they found in their Promised Land, one Israeli tribe was dispossessed. This priestly tribe was created and set apart, stripped of all material possessions including landed property, and made to be the responsibility of the people for their daily upkeep and other material sustenance. The people did not want this tribe to be distracted by the search for material possessions in fulfilling their pastoral mission.

Nevertheless, the Bible records how, within this class, sons of priests later sought to escape this mandate by helping themselves to the temple offerings, and how God reacted to this sacrilege. It was not as if the sons of priests did not understand the rules – they sought a different interpretation of how to possess their possessions, just as the Pharisees and Sadducees were doing at the time that Christ took human flesh and waged His Battle of Salvation.

The Battle of Salvation sought to throw away old discredited ideas propagated by the religious aristocrats, without distorting the original Laws of Moses. One of the ways that this was eventually accomplished was the installation of a new type of priesthood that fulfilled the original plan. Most of those that Christ chose for pastoral missions were commoners, and his instructions to them left no room for ambiguity: In their journeys of evangelization, they were to travel light, shun material possessions, and depend for their sustenance solely on the goodwill of the people to whom they preached this Good News. For this group, there would be nothing like material demands from parents, brothers, sisters, relations, or neighbours; all such demands would be filtered through their willingness to listen to and subscribe to the Faith.

How did Christ’s chosen ones, our founding fathers in the pastoral mandate, the apostles, discharge their mandate? Virtually all suffered their master’s fate for daring to speak truth to power and insist on justice for the poor. Peter was martyred in Rome, Andrew and Philip were crucified on a cross, King Herod put James to death by the sword, Bartholomew was whipped to death, and John the Evangelist miraculously survived after he was immersed in burning oil. And so on.

What about the followers? They were also given clear and elaborate instructions on how to ensure that, in the search to possess possessions, justice and fair-play prevailed. Christ also had words of consolation for those unable to make it, asking them not to worry because the Almighty knows and would supply their basic needs. He also warned of the injustices and evils that accompany inordinate attempts to acquire wealth.

Christ could have been speaking to our countrymen today. In our search for wealth and power, we literally sacrifice fellow mortals, shoot enemies and competitors to death, poison, disable, or tear reputations of office colleagues to shreds, and subject the poor faithful to unimaginable indignities and injustices. Are these not the lot of Nigeria’s avaricious politicians, grasping entrepreneurs, ambitious civil servants, and prosperity preachers who align with the god of wealth? In Nigeria, our latter-day apostles are divided between those consistently pleading the cause of the poor by decrying injustices in economic and social order created by mindless scramble for our national patrimony, and those who side with politicians and captains of industry to accumulate vast wealth, milk their poor congregation dry through tithing and seed sowing, and use the proceeds to live ostentatious lifestyles exemplified by opulent mansions, exotic cars, and private jets.

These latter-day apostles have transformed into a jet-setting elite with flourishing businesses, educational institutions, and other commercial ventures that put them far and above wealthy members of their congregations. Their tendencies have contributed to the devastation of our sense of values.

Will these last? I remember Gamaliel. I am also mindful of history. In the Americas, from where material Christianity originated, great congregations, often husband-wife partnerships, have collapsed from scandals bordering on infidelity, financial fraud, and fake miracles. In Europe, the Anglican Church has almost collapsed from its approval of Sodomy and the decision to allow gays as heads of congregations. It would appear that the Catholic Church, the last bastion of rigid biblical theology, is going to be caught up in this embarrassment, judging from unhappy stories of its priests exposed as pedophiles and sex maniacs.
These are unhappy reflections on Christendom for the Easter period just ended. Mind you, I have not set out to judge priests and pastors. I do know, however, that the life and example of Christ indicate that wealth is often the first temptation for pastors on the journey of evangelisation. Wealth is attractive and magnetic, for it symbolizes prestige, power, luxury and authority and, as shown in Matthew 4:9, is one of the three powerful tools that Satan uses to draw pastors away from this mission.

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