Category Archives: Chido Nwakanma

As FEDSAS School Mates Gathered in Reunion

Wills and handover notes in transition planning headline discussions as FEDSAS school mates gathered in reunion, 40 years after Aba.

“Do not allow yourself to die without a will”, Olatunbosun Olanipekun, SAN, urged his mates Saturday, 23 April 2022, as they gathered for their forty-year reunion, 700 kilometres away from Aba, where they met at the Federal School of Arts and Science.

Olanipekun added, “Make a will. It is not enough to write a paper giving some things to certain children. Spell it out in the presence and signature of two witnesses.”

Enugu-based barrister, Ekeneme Ike (Kellas) and Olanipekun cautioned their classmates to commence putting their homes in order.

“Prepare inter-vivos and wills”, they repeated. Inter Vivos is a Latin phrase which means “while alive” or “between the living”. It is primarily applicable in property law and refers to various legal actions a person takes while still alive such as giving gifts, creating trusts, or conveying property.

Things to do consider in inter vivo:

  1. Establish ventures for your children.
  2. Bring them into your ventures.
  3. Make a will specifying the distribution of your assets.
  4. Create a trust for the management and distribution of incomes arising from your estate.

Double Jeopardy

The matter of wills and assets distribution affects the women particularly, the ladies stated. Women stand in double jeopardy: They cannot initiate the conversation, for one, and society places additional constraints on them as they could lose all in the name of tradition. The women asked critical questions.

Does a Marriage Under the Act (church or court) protect the woman if death occurs? Or what is the essence of a legal marriage if the woman cannot step into ownership of assets in the event of death?

The ladies subtly suggested that their classmates show good examples of care for their wives and families.

Stay away from hospital

Severe reflections on health, wellness and legacy interspersed the gathering of the former lads and lasses who met forty years ago in Aba. For most, the meeting at the Knightsbridge Hotel, Ikeja, was their first meeting since then.

The Reunion Committee put in three short talks and motivation sessions, each to last no more than 30 minutes, including Q&A. The session on “Wills, Handover Notes and Other Transition Legal Documents” excited triple its share of attention and time.

No surprise there. Participants are all over 55. Class President Johnson Onyekachi Owanta submitted that we are all in the early evening of our lives. The subjects reflected concerns appropriate for that phase of life.

Two sessions dealt with health, one on “managing your changing phases and faces” while we shared experiences on the night of arrival.

Damian Izuka, a fellow of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, asked his classmates to “stay away from the hospital” at this phase of life.

“Hospitals are pooling places for sick people. It is a high risk exercise visiting hospitals particularly for the immunosuppressed, elderly, infants, surgery patients and more.”

Three things to help stay away from hospital are diet, rest (good sleep) and exercise, he said. Eat healthy now by avoiding saturated fats contained in butter, cheese, ice cream, fried foods, beef, cookies, refined vegetable oils. Then move your body regularly through exercise and ensure adequate sleep.

It was an exciting three days away from the regular. Members came in from the United States, UK, Abuja, Umuahia, Benin City and Lagos. Others joined online.

The Intervening Years

The bios of the FEDSAS Class of 80-82 were a delight to compile for the anniversary brochure. “Our class has fulfilled the promise of our youth”, I noted. They are achievers in various fields.

The theme of the gathering was fittingly 40 Years of Transformation and Transition. Technology through WhatsApp enabled the reconnection two years ago and the reunion in April 2022. The Class of 1982 transformed their lives in forty years and are now in transition mode.

Members left with a resolve to be even more strategic in this new phase of life. To do something that approximates the highest level of the Maslow Coefficient, ensuring legacy and contributing to societal wellbeing and upbuilding.

If you are 50 and above, have you done your will or Inter Vivo?

As FEDSAS school mates gathered in reunion, 40 years after Aba.

Time for a national conversation on Nollywood

Chido Nwakanma believes it’s time for national conversation on social influences of Nollywood and its effect on the Nigerian narrative.

Please Google “Rituals in Nollywood movies”, dear reader. I did so to commence this article, and a list of YouTube movies hit me. Their titles had rituals as a staple: 2022 Royal Rituals, Back to Back Rituals, complete movies. and Journey of Rituals, Season 1 and Pant Ritual Season 1.
Other titles included The Devil’s Brotherhood 1& 2, Devil’s Minister 1&2. My Ghost Sister Came to Protect Me from Evil, Dirty Demons 1-8, Sent by Lucifer, Billionaire Sugar Daddies, and 7 Days to Die.

Nollywood and the Honourable Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, engaged in a short-lived spat in February 2022 over the growing spate of ritual killings by young people. Mohammed and officialdom point to the role of Nollywood as a promoter and instigator. Nollywood disagrees vehemently and conversely blames high government officials for the desultory state of the nation, including the practice of rituals by young people.

Then, silence followed. Both parties have gone into their shells. I urge them to please engage the matter more seriously.

A Conversation on Nollywood

Alhaji Lai Mohammed has touched on a significant issue deserving of more severe deliberation and interrogation than the exchange of brickbats in newspaper interviews. Nollywood is so critical and contributory to the Nigerian narrative that it deserves an entire conversation. It is time for the Nigerian National Conversation on Nollywood.

The minister and Nollywood players exchanged between February 21 and 24. Mohammed told the Daily Trust newspapers. “Many have also blamed Nollywood for featuring money rituals in some of its movies, saying this has negatively influenced the vulnerable youth. To mitigate this, I have directed the National Film and Video Censors Board, the body set up to regulate the film and video industry in Nigeria, to consider this issue while censoring and classifying films and videos.

“I have also directed NFVCB to engage with stakeholders in the film industry to express the concerns of the government and Nigerians on the need to eschew money ritual content in their movies.”

Players’ Riposte

Players in the industry quickly offered a comeback, as reported by Vanguard and other platforms. They declined responsibility for the growing incidence of bad manners verging on ritualism by young people. Comrade Alex Eyengho, is Board of Trustees Chairman, Association of Nollywood Core Producers (ANCOP). , said directing filmmakers to stop making films on ritual killings is akin to requiring journalists not to write about them in the print and electronic media. Eyengho urged the Federal Government to move beyond “laughable directives” and tackle ritualists, scammers (yahoo, yahoo), kidnapping, armed robbery, and corruption.

Eyengho added, “Assuming but without conceding that the government was right in this military-like directive, it is a clear admittance of failure of the National Film and Video Censors Board (NFVCB) currently under the leadership of Alhaji Adedayo Thomas. It’s not performing its statutory functions as a Federal Government agency regarding appropriate classifications and censorships of motion picture contents…

“To the best of my knowledge, filmmakers don’t make films to promote rituals. Rather, filmmakers make films to condemn the incessant ritual killings in Nigeria. Ritual killings are not the making or creation of filmmakers. We only bring the sad narrative to the front burner in a manner that makes it serve as deterrent to those bent on engaging in the heinous crime. The Federal Government and National Assembly should stop advertising their crass ignorance in the public space”.

Misplaced priorities?

On his own, gyration master and former majority leader of Anambra House of Assembly, Tony OneWeek, slammed the government. “Instead of funding the business, the federal government now wants to gag the writers.”

Famous actor and producer Paul Obazele described the directive as ‘shameful’. “How about the activities and the extravagant lifestyle of the political class? Nollywood also influenced it?”

Notable film director, Lancelot Imasuen, accused the federal government of misplaced priorities. “What are the indices that gave the government that conclusion? Why? How did we get where we are today? When did Nollywood become the problem of bad governance, bad roads and the reason for the economic downturn? The Nigerian film industry has always portrayed what is wrong with the country and proffering solutions”.
Nollywood has, since the 90s, assumed the status of cultural ambassador of Nigeria. I gained instant recognition in the market at Kampala, Uganda, for wearing my Nigerian caftan during a visit in 2004. People walked up to me to call me Okonkwo and enquire about Nigeria. A year earlier, in Cairo, Egypt, the young people remembered Austin Jay-Jay Okocha, Emmanuel Amuneke, and our other soccer stars.

A spur for growth

Nollywood is a part of the creative economy that has grown globally. Mukhisa Kitugi, Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), noted in its Creative Economy Outlook 2018.

“The creative economy is recognized as a significant sector and a meaningful contributor to national gross domestic product. It spurred innovation and knowledge transfer acros sectors of the economy and is a critical sector to foster inclusive development. The creative economy has both commercial and cultural value. Acknowledgement of this dual worth has led governments worldwide to expand and develop their creative economies as part of economic diversification strategies and efforts to stimulate economic growth, prosperity, and well-being. Within it, the creative industries generate income through trade and intellectual property rights, and create new opportunities, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises”.

In a recent report, closer home, UNESCO noted in Focus on the Film and Audiovisual industry in Africa: Structural reforms and digital transitions for diversity the growing influence of the film sector. Nollywood and Nigeria play prominently. It noted “the massive inspirational success of Nollywood as the spur for the growth.

Nigeria produces 2,500 films annually. Ghana follows with 600, Kenya and Tanzania do 500 each per annum and Uganda 200 films annually. Mo Abudu’s The Wedding Party was the box-office hit with revenues of $1.5m.

The “inspirational success of Nollywood” attracts many players and foreign direct investment. Nigerian studio FilmOne raised $1m from Huaha (China) and Empire (South Africa). AfreximBank has put down a $500M facility to support Creative Industries.

Nollywood as Mirror

Nollywood is both a creative and commercial phenomenon. Its creativity speaks to our stories, culture, values, and reputation. How do we want our people and the world to see us?

It is salutary that the Federal Ministry of Information is finally interested in jumpstarting this conversation about and with Nollywood. There are several regulatory models they can follow. They can look at the template of the National Communication Commission, the regulatory agency of the successful telecommunications revolution. NCC regularly holds sessions with industry players and consumers to discuss various aspects of the industry. Policies and frameworks are the results of stakeholder consultations and not diktats.

I urge the Information and Culture Ministry to design a framework for a Nigerian National Conversation with and about Nollywood. The stories they tell are critical and reflect on us. Informed citizens must be part of the conversation as input.

Time for a National conversation on Nollywood

After the judicial recognition for Ishi-Agu

A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has paid a back-handed compliment with a judicial recognition of Ishi-Agu. Ishi-agu is national attire with an Igbo ethnic trademark. So, when are you wearing yours and stocking up on the national dress? I wore mine again on Sunday, 20 February 2022. I need to add varieties of the design.

The honourable Justice Binta Nyako and the Department of State Security paid the Isi Agu dress a compliment as President Muhammadu Buhari did with his dot in the circle statement. Ndi Dot took up the lemons and made lemonade. It lost its sting.

After the judicial recognition of Ishi agu
President Buhari adorning Ishiagu

The background is that the DSS claimed in Justice Binta Nyako’s court that they had not allowed Mazi Nnamdi Kanu a dress change since they renditioned him from Kenya for one reason. He appears in court in the same dress as his first appearance. Asked why the DSS claimed Kanu insisted on wearing an Ishi Agu. DSS said the Isi Agu dress motif did not go down well with them.

The Igbo response

How should the Igbo respond to the back-handed judicial recognition of Isi Agu?

Ndigbo should look to their philosophy and sociology. The Igbo philosophical worldview is Egbe bere ma ugo bere, nke si ibeya eberela nku kwaaya. Let the kite perch and the eagle perch; let the wing of whoever says the other should not perch break.

With such a philosophy, the Igbo believe in striving to be the best they can be in any setting, living, and letting others live. Ndigbo should continue to seek harmonious relationships with all the people in the Nigerian space despite apparent provocations. We do not know that any court has made a similar pronouncement on any fashion item of another ethnicity in Nigeria.

The upside of the DSS and Court pronouncement is to draw attention to Isi Agu. It will promote it. Here is a call to fashion designers, from Aba to Abuja: do exciting things with Isi Agu so we can wear it even more often.

The first thing is to repay the compliment to Justice Binta Nyako. People should wear Isi Agu in various designs to attend the case’s next hearing and others in her court. It will be a deserved fashion statement of appreciation to the Justice.

Enemies hiding in plain site

No one should engage in the Lamentations of Ndigbo over this judicial pronouncement. Instead, concerned parties should celebrate it and the judge who mustered the courage to express hidden thoughts. Blessed are those whose enemies hide in plain sight and express their dislike openly.

Secondly, note that the attack on the Isi Agu directly impugns the culture of its wearers. It says that those vilifying it consider the dress and its wearers unacceptable. Please note the apologia by some folks to state that the DSS only meant their disapproval regarding Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. That may be so, but the statement resonates beyond the courtroom.

The vilification of Isi Agu attacks the cultural essence of the people. The Nigerian state furthers the cause of Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB with such inexplicable statements and actions.

Why do officials do such dumb things?

The Igbo today live amidst paradoxes. Here are people worried that their travelling tribe readily acculturate and bring home languages, fashion and sundry mannerisms so much that they fear a decline of the Igbo language and customs. Amidst that, Igbo hymns and songs appeal across the oceans. Then comes a priest in the Christian denomination foremost in Igboland so vexed by Igbo songs he changes faith to declare a fatwa against them.

The undisguised hatred creates conflicts for the middle class and educated elite who do not buy into the need to renew the Biafra movement at this time. Rather than handle the matter with decency and circumspection, the Nigerian state at every step confirms the bulk of the assertions and allegations of Mazi Kanu.

A pivotal moment

What next after this judicial recognition of ishi-agu? Once again, the Igbo stand at a pivotal moment. Snide remarks and attacks come simultaneously as the people are making significant progress across the globe. Igbo music attracts followers across genres, from the religious where their American relative Don Moen lustily sings in Igbo to culture matters with Theresa Onuoha and her egedege music. Music from Igboland is part of the narrative of the Nigerian explosion on the global stage. Ndigbo rejoices with all persons of every ethnicity, winning awards on the international stage. Why should some single our music out for accusations of domination? Some groups pretend not to recognise the imperative of a candidate from the South-East becoming president.

What should the Igbo do? Refer to your philosophy—Egbe bere. Remain humble, cautious, and persistent in pursuing the good of all the peoples and communities of Nigeria.
Remember that Ndigbo are the dot people of many dimensions. You are circumpunct: obere ntupo nwere ebube.

Before the trumpet sounds

Circumpunct is the other word for a circled dot, a circle with a point at its centre. The circumpunct applies in several areas, from the solar system to mathematics, geometry, physics and more. Among other groups and representations, Freemasons regard it “as a symbol of the phallus or nature’s generative principle” while it represents the city centre in European road signs.

For the Igbo, hear the words of the prophet Bob Marley, “There is a natural mystic blowing through the air. If you listen carefully now, you will hear. This could be the first trumpet, might as well be the last.”

Tread carefully along the lines of another pillar of Igbo philosophy being udo na ifunanya: peace and love. There are more pressing existential concerns for the Igbo concerning the security of lives and property in Ala Igbo. Our land suffers from both the Army and the IPOB-imposed security force. The guidance in Igboland now is ama ndi ana eze. Our people are between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Let peace reign as you wear your Isi Agu.

judicial recognition for Ishi-Agu

How Radio deepens our democracy

CHIDO NWAKANMA counts the benefits of liberalisation of broadcasting and shows how radio deepens our democracy in Nigeria.

Hearty congratulations to the Nigerian broadcasting community and listeners on the celebration of World Radio Day 2022 on 13 February.

UNESCO proclaimed World Radio Day in 2011 while the United Nations General Assembly adopted it in 2012. Thus, 2022 marked the 11th celebration.

The many stations of our land joined in the celebration. Nigeria deserves to join the celebration with good programming. Our country has a storied history with radio.

I have written before that we have Radioland Nigeria. Radio has played many roles in our political, sociological, and economic development. From its early days as asoro ma gba esi (the organ that speaks without getting a response), radio has been with Nigeria since 1935. Engineers of the Post and Telecommunications department rigged up a device for connecting and thus did the Rediffusion service birth in our land.

The South-East states have these numbers for radio. Abia, 13; Anambra, 24 plus two online; Ebonyi, 4; Enugu, 15; and Imo, 17.

The Babangida masterstroke

Why did the government of General Ibrahim Babangida approve the opening of the media space in 1992 by allowing private broadcasting? Initial licenses went to friends of the general who wanted to stay on as president. It also came against the run of play for a government that was giving the media a hard time with bans, shutdowns as well as arrest and detention of journalists.

The conspiracy theory on the matter of the liberalisation of the Nigerian broadcasting space at the time it happened posits that it was part of the sit-tight plan of this veteran coup plotter. Until then, radio was the primary means of communicating a successful coup plot and even of legitimising it.

Grab the studios of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, and you can make your announcement. Gideon Orkar took charge of radio as did Bukar Sukar Dimka and those who succeeded. Alternative broadcast organs would break the monopoly of the public broadcaster and provide a counter-narrative should something happen. Why did Babangida do it at the time he did?

Whatever the actual motive, the liberalisation of broadcasting has brought many benefits to citizens and the media. As a critical component of the media, broadcasting is one of the pillars of the creative industries. The economy around radio and television is vast and increasingly diversified. It is growing in several new areas in programming, distribution, and channels.

How Radio deepens our democracy

This is how radio deepens our democracy. Nigeria is now effectively Radioland. The multiplicity of channels provides an opportunity for the airing of news, sharing of information, debate, and discussion. The multitude of channels and voices should be a useful antidote to coups and dictatorship.

More significantly, radio as a grassroots medium should be at the forefront in promoting and teaching values and attitudes that support democracy. We urge managers and promoters of our radio stations to make the medium go beyond the current obsession with Free Music. Many stations have turned Frequency Modulation into Free Music. They should do much more with that medium.

Radio as the medium with the broadest reach to the masses is the one best equipped through strategic programming to nurture this system of government.

The focus should shift to accountability at local and state government levels. We are still in the first quarter of 2022. Radio should assist citizens with an understanding of the budgets prepared by states and local governments.

Promoting Accountability

Radio should join the print media in really applying the injunction of Chapter 2, Section 2, sub-section 22 of our constitution to hold government accountable to the people and ensure implementation of the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy of Nigeria.

Breaking down the budget for citizens should be granular. It should go beyond the huge headline figures and ask the questions citizens should ask. What has the 2022 budget provided for my constituency in education, healthcare, road infrastructure, and utilities? How many schools in each LG will the Local Government build, rehabilitate or equip? What will they provide?

How will the budget implementation translate to jobs in each area? Given the current unemployment rate of more than 30 per cent among young people, the job creation component of the budget at all levels needs to be spelt out and explained to citizens. Radio is best able to convey these facts and their implications to citizens. And this is how radio deepens our democracy.

How did we get here?

How radio deepens our democracy

It is interesting how we got to this point. Decree 38 of 1992 established the National Broadcasting Commission and charged it to accept and screen applications for the issuance of licenses for private participation in broadcasting in the country. Decree 38 created a significant paradigm shift. Until then, the government was the only player in broadcasting in Nigeria.

The history of broadcasting in our country also contains an interesting paradox. Broadcasting commenced with a citizen initiative by the staff of the Posts and Telecommunications (P&T) department in 1935. They provided the successful test run for a service that the Government soon appropriated. Rediffusion served the interests of the Empire.

The colonial government created the Nigerian Broadcasting Service in 1951 and turned it into the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation in 1957 as a body corporate with rights and privileges. Chief Obafemi Awolowo introduced regional radio and television in 1959 in response to the denial of airtime on national radio. In that competitive era, the other two regions soon commenced radio and television organs to inform citizens and amplify their messaging.

Regionalisation of broadcasting made Nigeria unique in Africa as the only one with a two-tier ownership structure of federal and regional, later state-government-owned, organs. We have added to that a structure of federal, state and private ownership of radio and television operations. Nigeria today is a step ahead of the African Charter on Broadcasting (Windhoek 2001), promoted by UNESCO, that prescribes a “three-tier system for broadcasting: public service, commercial and community”. Save that community broadcasting needs to transit from mere approvals of about 17 stations to actual practice.

The Military Government of Olusegun Obasanjo intervened again in 1975 and 1976 to centralise principal broadcast organs, creating the new Nigerian Television Authority and the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria.

Benefits of Radio liberalisation

More than ever, Nigeria needs to tap the benefits of liberalisation. These include broadening the public arena for discourse, enhancing the practice of the democratic ideal of freedom of expression, and broader latitude in programming.

It has also improved professionalism in broadcasting, though many in the old school doubt this. Other benefits include the expanded options available to audiences.

Then there is healthy industry competition and specialisation, with radio stations focusing on specific interests such as sports, women, and music.
The power, reach and influence of broadcasting means that it has always held the attention of citizens but also the intervention of the Government. We cannot state enough the strategic role of the media in the days ahead. Radio and broadcasting would be central and contributory. Would it be positive?

Radioland Nigeria? Yes, indeed. Nigeria has by one count 492 radio stations to date. Radio Garden online app credits Lagos alone with 72 stations, terrestrial and online. You should ordinarily be able to pick these numbers updated quarterly on the dashboard of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission but now you must count manually.

Let us discard the menace of street wisdom

Discourse in Nigeria suffers from the menace of street wisdom. Street wisdom refers to expressions and phrases commonly accepted without question because they seduce with their folk appeal. On questioning, such terms fall apart. They are now cliches or worn-out expressions.

Let us do away with them. I will mention a few of these issues that have become peeves. I hate that even our very informed revert to and repeat them. Come with me on this light-hearted take on serious problems.

The most common of these draws on the alleged wisdom of the ancients in our aphorisms. As a Lagos boy, the Yoruba saying oju l’oro wa intrigues. It translates literally to the truth is in our eyes. It means that physical interaction, eyeball-to-eyeball, is the best form of conversation. Many of our 350 ethnic groups have this saying in various forms.

“It is not a phone conversation. Let us meet to discuss in detail”. Dear reader, how often have you heard this statement? Please discard it in the age of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and even Skype. They allow the full functionality of sight and sound you experience in a physical meeting. It only lacks touch and smell.

Experience is that when eventually you hold these physical meetings, it turns out to be a Shakespearean parable “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. First, the substance of this oju l’oro wa takes all 30 minutes or less. However, getting to the meeting could take a trip by road or air, hours of commute, and so much stress.

Please!

Technology to the rescue

Technology has enabled man to bridge the distances and barriers that led to such aphorisms. There are savings in time and resources in its wake while yielding increased productivity. The only reason for oju l’oro wa in this age is physical bonding and not the heft and substance of the discourse or the associated examination of body language.

My maternal uncle, Dee John, laughs heartily but quizzically whenever I interrogate the saying, anaghi esi mgbagbu ghara ogu. It means that fear of death should not deter us from a fight! Really? I consider this call to courage misguided. It advocates nzogbu, nzogbu or struggle and power show for its sake.

Avoidance of death should be the reason to seek other options than war. Options include negotiation, détente, appeasement, bluff, and other tools in the armoury. Bravery without wisdom is folly.

Chinua Achebe captured it in Things Fall Apart, where Obierika, Okonkwo’s friend, spoke wisdom. “We often stand in the home of the coward to point to the ruins where a brave man used to live.”

People hailed the warrior for his bravery, but he is gone, and his family and clan lose.

The brave young men of the South-East listened to the wisdom of anaghi esi mgbagbu ghara ogu. The outcome has been denudation of their fatherland with economic suicide every Monday.

Courage?

Street Wisdom?

Then there are contemporary pieces of wisdom from the street. The most common concerns education quality or lack of it. Recently, a faux outrage about the supposed vast numbers of persons graduating with First Class Honours filled the media. The claim was so loud without any interrogation.

If you believe the story in most newspapers, there is a “rash of First-Class Honours” awarded by universities. Some go further to point at the private universities as the chief culprits. Private universities allegedly do so because they need to compensate students for the high fees!

There is no rash of First-Class Honours anywhere in Nigeria. We have the announcement effect and media adumbration of the seemingly high numbers. It arises from the increased number of institutions declaring their results. The output of First-Class graduates has remained at an average of under ten per cent of the graduating class. Cases where the numbers exceed this average are few. Every class result reflects a bell curve with the highest degree at the lower-left corner.

It was shocking to read a report in the “flagship” repeating this error. The reporter claimed there was “a growing army of First-Class graduates.” She could not bother with the rigour of analysis. Luckily and unintentionally, the reporter debunked the central plank of the story. She cited a source who broke down the results and showed that most universities recorded less than five per cent of the class with First Class Honours. Despite this, neither she nor her editor considered a change of direction. They chose to rehash the street wisdom.

Authority speak

My other beef concerns the statements of public officials in high offices. Often their words, even at significant events such as the convocation of universities, lack depth and rigour. A recent one struck me because I like the gentleman. This governor is an in-law to the Igbo nation.

The gentleman who has shown courage and wisdom in other matters claimed that the Nigerian university system produces graduates who lack practical application. I wondered if he realised that as he pointed, four fingers pointed right back at him as a product of the Nigerian university system. I also queried if he has been applying the prescription to the governance of the state that he superintends. What are the results of his practicality?

By the way, the states should create an enabling environment for applying theories. Has Mr Governor commissioned the state university with solving one of the challenges of his state? That is the way to generate practical knowledge. Let us discard the menace of street wisdom.

Street wisdom states boldly that the Nigerian university system produces low-quality graduates. However, the practical instances debunk this assertion. Nigerian graduates have found favour in important world markets, from medical doctors and nurses through IT specialists. They are in demand in Dubai and other parts of the Middle East, the UK, the USA, and continental Europe.  

A Nigerian start-up produced such high-quality personnel that Mark Zuckerberg came visiting. It makes you wonder if those coming to pick up our personnel do not know that the Nigerian university system trained them? It is time to do away with the menace of street wisdom and replace it with deep thinking and more precise articulation.

Let us discard the menace of street wisdom

Rotation of Abia governorship and the order of precedence

Chido Nwakanma argues why, on of rotation of Abia governorship, it’s fair and equitable to elect another Ukwa-La-Ngwa person.

The political scene in Abia State is agog with many voices speaking on the matter of which area should produce the next governor. Persons from Abia North have been the most vocal out of a sense of entitlement. Others think otherwise.

The language of the Abia North proponents is stentorian, dictatorial and entitled. As I began to write on Saturday 29 January 2022, The Sun reported one of the canvassers, a man described as “the President of Mben Political Assembly, Chief Eme Uche Onuh.” The Sun as the organ for the Abia North Must Rule in 2023 campaign reported Onuh as stating that “Abia North Senatorial Zone must produce the next governor of Abia State”.

A sense of Entitlement

Please note the language of MUST. Chief Onuh also threatens to upturn the peace of the state. See: “Chief Onuh called on serving Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe from Abia South, who has indicated an interest in the governorship race, to halt such ambition for peace to always hold sway in the state.”

On another front, “Concerned Stakeholders of Ikwuano/Umuahia Federal Constituency” rose on Wednesday 26 January 2022 from a stakeholders consultative meeting in Umuahia. They affirmed that politicians from the Constituency would contest the 2023 governorship election as the race is open to all Abians since the governorship seat has rotated equally amongst the three senatorial blocks of Abia state, ‘Oke-Ezuola-Abia.’

“The Stakeholders maintained that they believe in the constitutional sacrosanctity of the three senatorial districts of Abia – Abia South, Abia Central and Abia North Senatorial districts; thus their stand on the issue.

“We wish to use this medium to express that the people of Ikwuano/Umuahia in Abia Central are interested in the number one seat of Abia state”, the stakeholders stated in a Communique read on their behalf by Hon. Ikechukwu Martin Apugo.

“The Communique continues thus: ‘We urge anyone from Ikwuano/Umuahia who has an interest in running for the governorship position to make his intention known and are sure to receive our support.

“We also urge all political parties to give a level playing ground to all candidates from all parties of Abia State who have interest in contesting the gubernatorial election as this ideology is encouraged democratically”, the communique submitted.

Debunking Assertions

The position of the Ikwuano/Umuahia politicians debunks the assertions of those from Abia North to a right to the governorship in 2023 allegedly based on the Abia Charter of Equity. Ikwuano/Umuahia is in Abia Central. The loud protestations of one side of Abia North are forcing many others to look at that document, the antecedents as well as the history of political contests in Abia State.

One of those claims came in the detailed report in The Guardian of 13 January 2022 that discussed the matter of the options for the next governor of Abia State on the planks of rotation and the Abia Charter of Equity. It made the case for Abia North rather than presenting the issues around the rotation of the governorship seat in Abia State dispassionately.

Here are some other issues for consideration. The three senatorial zones have now had a chance to rule the state. Having done so, other issues arise. These are the matters of the order of the rotation or who is next, and that of equity.

Abia state neatly divides into Bende and Aba Division. They held sway as our fathers struggled for state creation. Persons from Bende Division have held the office of governor for 16 years. They are Orji Uzor Kalu and Theodore Orji. Okezie Victor Ikpeazu from Aba Division will complete eight years in 2023.

Rotation of Abia Governorship
Senator Orji
Rotation of Abia Governorship
Senator Kalu

Note that Okezie Victor Ikpeazu became governor not necessarily because of the Abia Charter of Equity. At least two Bende sons gave him a hot chase. Indeed, but for the courts, a Bende son would have assumed the office of governor despite the Abia Charter of Equity. He contested and claimed victory until the courts rubbished his claim!

Making the case

Bende sons did not respect the Abia Charter of Equity. It is strange to hear them now making a song and dance of the arrangement. I join those who view their volubility as masquerading greed and insatiability.

Abia Central zone comprises LGs that fit into Aba Division and Bende Division. My senator is former Governor Theodore Orji who is from the old Bende Division while my Isiala Ngwa North is of the old Aba Division. With Theodore Orji’s eight years, Bende Division held the Office of Governor for a cumulative 16 years.

Aba Division contends that for equity persons from therein should similarly hold office for 16 years. I quote our spokesmen such as the Okwubunka of Asa Sir Don Ubani. It means that after Ikpeazu someone from Aba Division should be the next to complete the remaining eight years for Aba Division.

The response to Sir Don Ubani has been to hush him with insults and intimidation. It will turn out counterproductive.

Abia North positions as if it is their right to present the next governor. They come at the issue of rotation of Abia governorship with bluster and threats. I have news for them.

The governorship is not a given for any zone. It is a matter of the art of the possible, involving negotiation and persuasion. It is not a given. There is no first son in the matter. And no one has appointed any zone as Abia First Son.
Now that everyone has had a shot, it should start afresh but not in any order of precedence. It was fortuitous that Abia North went first in 1999. Nothing says they should go first now. Before then, however, the matter of equity.

Aba Division deserves the chance

The equity argument of the Aba Division is persuasive. Fair is fair.

I suspect that the Abia North gladiators imagine that they can bully the rest of the state to submit and allow them an undeserved turn. Or force the alternative of throwing the race open to merit-based selection or the survival of the fittest. They have always done so, despite the Charter.

The Ukwa La Ngwa branch of the old Aba Division should hold on to the diadem to complete 16 years. That is equitable.

On the Rotation of Abia governorship

Beyond quota in presidency quest by the Southeast

Chido Nwakanma outlines various routes that presidential aspirants may travel, beyond asking for quota in the quest for the presidency.

Initial results of the INEC Continuous Voter Registration exercise in the SouthEast are disturbing. It should particularly bother those of its brethren positioning as candidates for the Office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. As feared, the region registered the lowest number of new prospective voters.

The results show S/West (1,078,232), South East (302,595), South-South (1, 276, 201), North West (832,402);), North East (670,901), North Central (678,275) and FCT (186,598). INEC conducted that exercise between June and August 2021.

The Public Sphere column proposed on 4 July 2021 that the region’s political class mobilise citizens for voter registration. I said they should provide buses and other transport to and fro for citizens willing to come home for the exercise. The South-East had poor numbers before now.

Nothing happened. Neither the South-East Governors Forum, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, nor the aspirants did anything to ensure that Igbos registered to vote. They could not bother.

Add the disturbances of Unknown Gunmen and the unrest that the region suffered. Still, it does not excuse the failure. Nothing excuses it.

With baleful numbers, you would seriously expect the growing crowd of presidential aspirants and wanna-be aspirants from the South East to canvass preference in all the parties. Perish the thought. One aspirant still writes essays from abroad and has no physical presence in Nigeria.

SE aspirants emerge

Last week, we asserted that Ndigbo have come out forcefully to declare their interest in engaging the race for the highest office. It was satisfying and significant because of the growing blackmail that the people were unwilling or incapable of engaging.

Well, what do you know? First, more candidates have emerged. They include the Anioma, Delta State-born Chukwuka Monye and a former Anambra State Attorney General. Then there is the Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba. He has not announced, but there is a ground game afoot for him in Northern Nigeria!

Many factors count for and against the South East or Igbo quest. First is 50 years of hate and anger by the North, the SouthWest and even the South South, their nearest and closest neighbours. The consensus is fear of what the Igbo could do with power.

The confusion in the South East is another deterrent. This column has chronicled since 2018 The Igbo Wars over culture, strategy and political choice. Should it be rebellion and secession? A restructuring of Nigeria? Should someone from the South East contest for the presidency, given this background.

That confusion has affected the region’s numbers in voter registration, census and other counts. The insecurity of the incessant IPOB sit-at-home is causing an outward migration of persons and businesses.
Ohaneze proclaims that the elite consensus in the region is to fight for the presidency as other areas have done and canvass restructuring. Well, the presidential candidates vote for this consensus.

Serious aspirants

Unfortunately, they are not doing the practical things to bring it about or convince the South East electorate about their seriousness and the viability of the prescription. The first chance came in 2021 to mobilise the South East to register to vote given the low numbers of the region. Not one of the candidates or the socio-cultural groups did anything. The results are in, and they are unpleasant.

So what have the Igbo candidates done? At this point, you would expect movements, support groups, publicity and drumming for their candidacy. Those within the two dominant parties are not doing much that we can see publicly.

Anyim Pius Anyim has moved to a few locations outside the South East. He has granted interviews. However, we are yet to see a mass mobilisation effort. He has one or two persons pushing on social media.

After making his Aso Rock announcement, Governor Dave Umahi has no structures in the North, SouthWest or SouthSouth, and not even in his home region of South East. The Commissioner for Information in Ebonyi State spearheads his campaign on social media.

Anyim Pius Anyim and Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa granted interviews that showed profundity in their appreciation of the issues and how to approach it. Supporters are flaunting the resume of Peter Obi. Obi earlier claimed that the presidency of Nigeria is unattractive because the country is akin to a vehicle without a brain box. It needs a brainbox and not just a driver!

Scaling up

The trajectory is the same. Dear South East presidential aspirant, please scale up your campaign and visibility. Where is your positioning statement and manifesto? What will you do differently?

What is your route to the presidency? The first step is winning your primaries. Are you planning the ground game? Should we ignore the market noise of those from the South West confidently walking away from a seeming agreement on zoning? What is your game plan?

Various Igbo groups are contemplating the issue. I think they need to be clear about this matter. The task is primarily that of the aspirants. They need to do the groundwork to become candidates. There is no South East or Igbo candidate. It is unhelpful to even position them as such. They should fight, as Archimedes recommended: “Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough, and I will move the world.”

One of them can move Nigeria. Show us. Prove it.

Now that Ndigbo have stepped out for the presidency

Chido Nwakanma on the credentials of Southeasterners jostling for nominations, now that Ndigbo have stepped out for the presidency

The anticipated entry of Central Bank Governor Godwin Ifeanyi Emefiele into the presidential race beginning in the second quarter of 2022 will add gravitas, broaden the range of candidates on offer from Igboland and yet complicate matters. As of 12 January, five Igbos have declared interest in the presidential race contrary to whispers that Ndigbo do not want to contest, want the presidency on a platter or lack the nerve to run. The numbers and calibre of persons show audacity.

Ebonyi State Governor Engineer David Nweze Umahi, Senate Whip and one-time Abia State Governor Orji Uzor Kalu in the APC are in the race. Posting a bid in the PDP is former Senate President and Secretary to the Government of the Federation Anyim Pius Anyim.

Then there are Prof Kingsley Moghalu, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank on the platform of the African Democratic Congress and Mazi Samuel Iheanyichukwu Ohuabunwa, former President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria and convener of the New Nigeria Group.

Expect more declarations from Saturday, 15 January, when a young entrepreneur and social innovator from Onicha Ugbo proclaims his interest, as will a former commissioner in Imo State. The entrepreneur’s pitch will be capacity and youth untainted by participation in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic politics.

The declarations confirm the availability, readiness, and willingness of Ndigbo to jostle for the Number 1 position in Nigeria. It should disprove the growing blackmail that the people are unwilling to compete.

It is worthwhile to interrogate what is on offer. There are several angles and complications. They are such that the people would require the wisdom of Queen Serpent to navigate.

The Igbo canvassed the presidency’s to go to the South-East region. The advocacy drew on the evidence that it is the only one of the six geopolitical zones yet to hold the highest position. Ohanaeze argues that the job should also come to the region for equity among the ethnic pillars of Nigeria in the Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba, Ijaw, and Igbo. The central plank of the advocacy was geopolitical rather than ethnic.

Now that Ndigbo stepped out
Umahi

David Nweze Umahi brings to the race a record of outstanding performance as Governor of Ebonyi State. When his party speaks of infrastructure delivery as a winning card, they can showcase Umahi. The Governor has transformed Ebonyi State from the poor cousin of the South-East to a worthy sibling of equal standing and regard in the family. His value proposition is the HR mantra of past performance as a potential predictor. He is also young compared to some geriatrics that are canvassing for the post.

Umahi faces considerable antagonism from the South-East, though. Many acknowledge his feats in building new Abakaliki and Ebonyi towns but decry his seeming nonchalance to Igbo causes. Umahi has played active roles in the politics of the Fourth Republic since 1999.

Orji Uzor Kalu is a politician dyed in the wool of that class. His declaration has the ring of deniability with a disclaimer. He issued a conditional proclamation that he would enter fully if the APC cedes the position to the South-East. Yet he has been the most verbose of the lot in making his case. Citizens are to draw their conclusions: is he in or not?

Kalu, the first governor of Abia State in the Fourth Republic, is wealthy, and his network is vast. He has good links with Northern Nigeria. His brand visibility and top-of-the-mind awareness are high. He is media savvy, epitomised in owning two newspapers, Daily Sun and New Telegraph. He is also a formidable fighter for his causes and has promised Bola Ahmed Tinubu a keen fight for the APC ticket. However, he has the albatross of his performance in Abia State and the unfinished matter of a court case seeking recovery of N7b of Abia State funds.

Emefiele

Godwin Emefiele has not declared formally any interest in running for the office of the President on any platform. The only inkling is a report online. However, he has yet to disclaim the speculation more than 24 hours later. The rule in the social media age is to respond within 24 hours to any untrue report. The Americans even recommend eight hours (an entire workday), or citizens are free to assume the news is accurate.

Godwin Ifeanyi Emefiele from Agbor in Delta State is Igbo from the South-South zone. President Goodluck Jonathan recently occupied the office and represented the South-South. If you go by the geopolitical representation, Emefiele will not qualify in the view of Ohanaeze.

On ethnicity, Emefiele qualifies. Sociologists recognise two of the core criteria in identifying origins: language and names. Ifeanyi is an Igbo name. Emefiele is at home with Ika as he is with the Igbo language.
Emefiele would bring into the APC contest the element of surprise. A vast network draws from his unprecedented two terms as Governor of the Central Bank and his years as chief executive of a leading bank. As CBN Governor, he has led from the front on many policy matters.

However, Emefiele would also complicate the argument for the Igbo. He is not from the South-East, but he is undeniably Igbo. A conundrum.

Emefiele was not known for any political interests until September 2021, when some groups convened to draw up a plan for his possible run quietly. The grapevine claims he is a favourite of several influencers among those who claim the ownership of Nigeria. IF he enters, it will make the race in APC even more dramatic. Will Emefiele run? Whose interest does he represent?

Anyim Pius Anyim probably has the most qualified resume of the lot concerning the federal political experience. He managed the Senate well as President. He mixed well with persons from all the zones. He then capped it with years as Secretary to the Government of the Federation, a significant position in policy and execution.

Anyim is usually understated. He is not loud. Not surprisingly, many even in his region dismiss his entry and do not reckon with his experience, exposure, and education. Anyim probably enjoys how friend and foe alike underrate him until he shows up with the prize.

Prof Kingsley Moghalu and Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa are two very good men. They are presidential candidates any day. However, they have not shown their capacity to build an independent platform to run against the two dominant parties in the past two years. How will they hack it?

Another critical question. Where is Peter Obi headed in all this? Obi bears the hopes of many of his kin and countrymen. Is the knife not sharp or does the wielder lacks will, as the Igbo say?

The candidates need to raise their visibility. They also need to play the ground game with skill, commitment, and passion. Interesting days ahead. It is critical for them and their kin to ignore the noise of the marketplace as they press the case for a president of South-East extraction or from Igboland.

Magodo GRA-2 case shows injustice is a Nigerian Goliath

Columnist Chido Nwakama examines the evidence and concludes that the Magodo GRA-2 case puts to shame our grasping elite class.


It took 28 years for the rightful owners to win the legal battle and a further nine years to come close to accessing justice. And they had to do it by the threat of force. The saga of the ownership of the land at Magodo GRA-2 between the Shangisha Landlords Association, now called judgment creditors, and the Lagos State Government through homeowners at Magodo 2 exemplifies the character of the Nigerian state.

Injustice walks boldly over this land like a giant.

Beyond the drama and the rhetoric is this simple fact. The state and its agents committed robbery. It was brazened. State agents used their offices to sustain the heist and debauchery.

The matter has brought out many other issues. The primary one is executive malfeasance, the greed of the Nigerian elite, and how our big men lack social conscience and responsibility. Senior civil servants who later became senators and representatives or assemblymen, governors, and high-level bureaucrats believed in this theft and sustained the heist.

They disobeyed court orders. They defied the instructions of a former governor, gentleman Chief Michael Otedola. They ensured that the relevant files disappeared! They cursed the rightful owners with death as the reward for reclaiming their land. Such vile outbursts are based on nothing but the arrogance of power. They even disfigured the brave chairman of the landlords’ association, throwing him down his building in a pique for insulting their high and mighty by claiming their rights!

Magodo-2 and the drama around it have highlighted constitutional issues such as the control of the Nigerian Police. We should all engage in the debate to benefit our country. Should we have state police that Governors will push around? Why should we have federal police that the President and lower officers also move around and deploy to achieve aims other than justice?

In the process, we learnt of the seeming hollowness of the appellation Chief Security Officer of the state conferred on governors by the 1999 Constitution. That same constitution took away those powers in other sections.

Then there is the matter of illegality. The Magodo Residents Association accused the Shangisha Landlords Association of illegality, a claim that the Attorney General of Lagos State endorsed. They stated: “The Attorney General of the Federation is destabilising Lagos State by using his office to back this illegality as a meddlesome interloper and the instrumentality of state – the Nigerian Police Force and their illegal Court Bailiffs, to scuttle ongoing settlement between the Lagos State Government, Magodo GRA-2 Residents and the Judgement Creditors.”

But whose illegality is worse? Lagos State government acted ab initio illegally and refused to do the right thing for nine years. Who practised illegality? The most that one can say about it is that two wrongs maketh not one right.

Pay attention to media framing. Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Abubakar Malami, SAN, appeared in initial reports to be the aggressor. In a statement, the South-West Governors Forum accused him of encouraging impunity and trespass. Malami found his voice on the matter with a pointed rebuttal.

He stated: “It is a common knowledge that execution of the judgment and orders of Courts of competent jurisdiction, and the Court of last resort in the circumstances remains a cardinal component of the rule of law and the office of the Attorney General wonders how maintenance of law and order in the course of execution of the judgment of the Supreme can be adjudged by the imagination of the governors to be unruly.”

Magodo GRA-2 case
Malami

Malami also fired some darts. Why he asked, has the Lagos State government failed to obey the judgment of the Supreme Court since 2012? “The Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice would appreciate if the coalition of the Governors will help to unravel the circumstances preventing the Lagos State Government from enforcing the court order despite several attempts from 2012- 2015 and so-called settlement initiative started in 2016. “

Above all, however, beneath the drama is the injustice of 37 years.

The story is sad. It is even worse, realising that it has happened repeatedly in Lagos and other states. There’s also another right there in Lagos South boldly stares citizens in the face, in place of a planned general hospital. The hospital ruse was also what they used for the people of Shangisa. Listening to excerpts of the story from Alhaji Adebayo Onayiga, chairman of the Landlords Association and arrowhead of the fight for justice, is depressing.

This heist started under the military with its impunity. However, the records show that it continued under civilian governments for cumulatively 24 years. It is not the complexion or apparel of the regime. It is about the persons satirized in the British comedy, Yes, Prime Minister. They pull the strings.

The showdown forced Lagos State Government to the table nine years later. The meeting of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu with all the parties on 5 January 2021 resolved that the state should find land in the Magodo Scheme to accommodate the judgement creditors or as much of them as it can. LASG would make such lands habitable. The only land left in Magodo are in Oko Filling, the swamp facing the Ketu canal and, in the Valley, facing Olowora.

“The Surveyor- General of Lagos State, Permanent Secretary Lands Bureau and Hon. Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development should immediately identify available plots of land within the Shangisha village scheme. Upon identification of available and accessible land, the State Government is to allocate the land to the 549 Judgment Creditors immediately,” the statement read.

“If there is no available and accessible land within the Shangisha Village Scheme to allocate to all the 549 Judgment Creditors, the State Government, in agreement with the Judgment Creditors, will provide alternative plots of land.”

Sanwo-Olu

The resolution should relieve legitimate landlords in Magodo-2 of the accusation of being receivers of stolen goods. Many of them were unaware of the shenanigans that predated their land acquisition in the estate!
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu deserves commendation for pivoting away from the ruinous path of the Lagos State Government all these years. His courage to intervene on 4 January to avoid a breakdown is outstanding.

However, the real heroes are the landlords and original owners of the land and their chairman, Alhaji Adebayo Onayiga. They showed that citizens could muster the courage and tenacity to fight against the injustices bureaucrats perpetuate. It takes time and staying power.

Renowned sociologist Barrington Moore Jr captured in his book, Injustice: The Social Bases of Obedience and Revolt, the phenomenon that unfolded in Magodo-2. It was a revolt against injustice. The Nigerian elite should hide their faces in shame over Shangisa Landlords versus Lagos State Government and Magodo Residents.

      

On the fuel subsidy matter, again

Chido Nwakanma re-examines the credibility of fantastic tales our public officials intermittently weave to deceive on the fuel subsidy matter.

On the fuel subsidy matter

The Federal Government is preparing to “remove the subsidy” on the prices of petroleum products. Note that the message is no longer about “deregulation of the downstream oil and gas sector”, as was the mantra some months ago. The PMB administration no longer waffles about punishing citizens of Nigeria.

So, I looked at the matter again. This column addressed it two years ago. The facts have not changed. Okay, there have been some changes.

The federal government has taken more loans of doubtful applications. What did they do with so much money in loans?

Ten years after the national uproar over hikes in the price of an essential item, Nigerians are back to the same spot and preparing to repeat. Citizens agitate over the double whammy of increases in the pump price of petroleum products and the electricity tariff. More significantly, there is a communication challenge.

Unlike ten years ago, the Federal Government is sparse with information. Checking the feedback on various channels will take a while for that message to communicate.

It is currently a tangled web. “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice deceiving!”. (Sir Walter Scott, 1808). Many citizens are disbelieving of the numerous reasons that supposedly informed these actions. The government itself skirts around it.
The truth will bring clarity and make the messaging more credible. The fuel price increment is a tax! It was a tax in 2012 and led to the establishment of SURE-P. It was a tax in 2015 when the new Buhari government raised fuel prices. It took the admission of Lai Mohammed then that the government needed more money to douse the tension.

The energy tariff increments come five years late. The Federal Government is now under pressure from its poor handling of finances and external funders to do what the Jonathan and Buhari governments failed to do since 2015. Why are they not admitting and saying so? The truth will set the nation free, cause some anger, and change the narrative positively to a solution orientation.

Déjà vu. The rest of this article recalls the scenario in January 2012 when I wrote on the matter. The title was “Carving on rotten wood in fuel subsidy communication.”

“The uproar over the increase in fuel price imposed on Nigerian citizens by the Federal Government has raised questions about what communication took place or its effectiveness. While the Federal Government has released much information, communication has yet to happen, hence the breakdown and descent into riots and strikes.

Reform efforts come under change communication. The United Nations and its agencies call them development communication; they emphasise integrating strategic communication in development efforts. All communication seeks to influence the behaviour of target audiences, but it is even more imperative in communicating change or reform, such as the removal of fuel subsidies.

Because change communication aims to achieve stakeholder buy-in through strategic engagement, experts assert that it is not enough to disseminate information, educate or raise awareness about an issue. It requires understanding the perceived or actual barriers the people see to adopting the change, listening to their feedback and responding appropriately.

Managers of the communication effort on subsidy removal face many challenges in the message, the platforms for message delivery and the choice of delivery. These have been the areas where they have also made mistakes.

The message concerning the removal of subsidies is garbled. Government officials speak of removing subsidies and deregulation in the same breath as if they are the same thing. There is also talk of increasing revenue for the government to enable infrastructure provision. There is yet another message about fighting corruption. What is the real news?

Beyond the content is the question of message delivery. This message has no owner. Sundry groups have taken over the newspapers and airwaves, supposedly selling the notice of removal of oil subsidy as part of the Jonathan Transformation Agenda. The President himself took responsibility for the message that forms a key plank of his reform only after generating negative responses. There is no central spokesperson for the government, and no main message, with up to five spokespersons: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Diezani Alison-Madueke, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, and Labaran Maku. Atedo Peterside weighs in on behalf of a committee. Reuben Abati has advisedly stayed off messaging on the matter given his anti-removal advocacy in his earlier capacity as an ordinary citizen.

Then there is the matter of messaging platforms. The government and its agencies are losing out on the social media platform, and this has turned out to be one of the main playing fields for stakeholder engagement on the fuel subsidy matter. Active publics on the issue are utilising these platforms to devastating effect. Note that the social media platform is a double-edged sword. In the absence of regulation, users deploy it to both excellent and obnoxious ends, thus requiring active monitoring and engagement.

All of which leads to the matter of message credibility. Unfortunately for the government, what it did on January 1 reinforced citizens’ scepticism about deregulation. History shows that deregulation for Nigerian governments has always meant only one thing: fuel price increase, with promises of benefits but no delivery of the securities. The Federal Government made no effort whatsoever to show any difference in its approach or objective, even when government officials admit its lack of credibility. They followed the same script. The government thus played into the existing mass sentiment or general social consensus that sees only price increase and hardship in deregulation.

The Christopher Kolade Committee, for instance, reprises the Petroleum Trust Fund, save that in the case of PTF General Sani Abacha admitted that the price increase was nothing but a fuel tax from which government would make additional income. In the period between broaching the issue of removal of subsidy and actual implementation, also, opponents have successfully cast doubt on the integrity of the government’s claim as to the actual cost of Nigeria’s PMS and justification for an increase. No one has addressed those doubts at all!

Communication scholars identify various publics concerning any issue: non-publics, latent, aware and active publics. Non-publics are those for whom the issue at hand has virtually no effect. Latent publics have no awareness of their connection; aware publics understand the importance of the case to them but have not acted, while active publics are doing something about it.

Therefore, the critical issue is that communication of the subsidy removal lacks credibility with stakeholders other than the government. It has the challenge of ensuring that government opponents do not convert all the different publics to active publics against the government’s stance on the issue.

The government’s communication managers need to go back to the drawing board to clarify the message, messenger, delivery mechanisms, and platforms. As the Chinese say, it is an incredibly tricky challenge because you cannot carve on rotten wood. The fuel subsidy matter in Nigeria has taken the form of rotten wood.

First published on September 20, 2020