Thursday, September 29, 2011

Nigeria: 51 years of platitudes

October 1 is here again and it is another season of ‘celebration’ of Nigeria’s independence anniversary. There will be speeches, parades, exhibitions, religious services, dinners and all manner of pageantry.

Unfortunately, it will be another vacuous celebration with the president, governors and other political as well as religious leaders issuing press statements appreciating God for keeping Nigeria together and enjoining Nigerians to patiently wait for dividends of democracy.

The religious leaders will be telling us to continue to pray for our leaders for that is what the Holy Books say. I have been hearing these platitudes since my adolescent years yet we continue to wait for Godot as we dream on for better and higher standard of living.

At the country’s golden independence anniversary in 2010, President Jonathan gave a number of sound-bites such as “I prefer to see the silver lining in the dark cloud rather than the dark cloud in the silver lining.” “We may not have overcome our challenges, but neither have our challenges overcome us.”

At the nation’s golden jubilee celebration, President Goodluck Jonathan made the following commitments: visionary and committed leadership; ensure public safety and security; improve the quality of education and to give Nigeria the edge in human capital development; rebuild our economy by continuing the implementation of the reforms in the banking and other sectors to ensure economic progress; fight corruption and demand transparency; implement a national fiscal policy that will encourage growth and development; give priority to wealth creation and employment generation; focus on addressing our infrastructure needs, especially power, as this is the biggest obstacle to our economic development and wealth creation; pay special attention to the advancement of our democracy through credible elections.

Let us assess these presidential commitments in the last one year. How has the country fared since the 2010 Independence Day? Without being uncharitable, am yet to see the president’s vision and mission beyond the rhetoric of campaign sloganeering of transforming Nigeria. If there is any sector the president is yet to grapple with, it is that of public safety and security. Even as the president was reading his speech at the Eagle Square last year’s October 1, Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta detonated two bombs killing at least 10 persons and injuring 36 persons including 11 policemen. Since that ugly incident, Boko Haram has taken over the baton of terrorism from MEND, using improvised explosive devices to kill, maim and destroy many innocent souls around the country.

Abuja has experienced series of terrorist attacks with the August 26, 2011 bombing of the United Nation’s House in Abuja being the most devastating with 23 deaths and 116 injured. Plateau State, especially Jos has also not known peace in the last ten years with sporadic wanton and wilful destruction of lives and properties. These terrorist attacks, with growing incidences of banditry and kidnappings, have made living in Nigeria, particularly in the last one year an excruciating exercise. Most unfortunately, our security agencies seem clueless about finding lasting solutions to the country’s nagging security challenges.

On the quality of education and human capital development, these have not experienced any significant improvements. Mass failure continues unabated. On Friday, September 23, National Examination Council (NECO) released the result of the 2011 internal Senior Secondary School Examination result and less than 25% of the 1,160,561 candidates that sat for the examination passed at credit level. In the May/June 2011 West African School Certificate examination conducted by West African Examination Council (WAEC), only about 31 per cent of the students who participated in the exams got up to five credits including English and Mathematics. This has been the trend in both WAEC and NECO exams in the last few years.

On economy, the banking reform has claimed three casualties as Afribank, PHB and Spring Bank were nationalised on August 5 with shareholders of these banks losing enormously from the exercise. There were claims of economic growth and reduction in inflation but these have not resulted in real development as youth unemployment rate according to Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido has hit 41.6 per cent. He said this on July 16, 2011 in Kwara State. The Statistician General of the Federation, Dr Yemi Kale on September 14, 2011 said about 32.5 million Nigerians are unemployed. N50 billion was earmarked for job creation in 2011 budget but it is yet unclear if this money had been used for the purpose meant for as government seem silent on the proposed unveiling of the National Job Creation Scheme.

On the administration’s fight against corruption Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch in the group’s 2011 report on Nigeria said: “There were high hopes for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission as Nigeria’s most promising effort to tackle corruption since the end of military rule. But its efforts have fallen short because of political interference, institutional weakness, and inefficiency in the judiciary that cannot be ignored.” Many of the politically exposed persons including the bank executives arrested and charged to court years ago are yet to have their cases decided. This is not the making of the anti-corruption agencies alone; lawyers and judges share in the blame.

Nigeria, 51 years after independence is generating a paltry 4,242 megawatts of electricity. This is as at September 17, 2011, according to the Minister of Power, Prof. Barth Nnaji. Nigeria has spent billions of dollars on various power projects since 1999, yet, this is the best we can produce. How then can we improve industrialisation, reduce unemployment and poverty? Unfortunately, Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Agency is proposing to increase electricity tariff by 50 per cent by January 2012. How’s that for a new year present? Government has also said that it will remove subsidy on refined petroleum products, thus paving way for total deregulation of the downstream sector. All of these are happening while many state governments have refused to pay N18, 000 minimum wage to their workers.

As Nigerian government continue to mouth provision of social infrastructure, there was an outbreak of cholera in 15 states of the country with over 2,135 infections and 234 deaths in 2011. Polio and malaria still kill hundreds in Nigeria; our roads are still death-traps. Yet, this is a country that wants to be one of the best 20 countries in the world by 2020.

The only area, in my estimation, where government seem to have delivered in the last one year was on the promise of credible elections. Nigeria’s April/May 2011 elections were adjudged to be credible and lay a solid foundation for deepening of democracy. Even at that, the elections were conducted at a huge financial and social cost. According to President Jonathan in his September 12 media chat, about N130 billion was spent on the last general elections. Over 800 lives were also lost to post election violence according to a May 16, 2011 Human Rights Watch report.

I propose that this year’s Independence Day should be sombre and low keyed. It is not time to roll out the drums in celebration. It is time for sober reflection, a time to set measurable and achievable targets for national development. Enough of platitudes!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Let's Rebuild University of Ibadan

For many years now, geographers, climatologist and meteorologists have been warning about climate change occasioned by ozone layer depletion. We were warned about change in weather pattern and that there will be unusual rise in water levels and flash flooding. Our governments did little or nothing to prepare for the likely consequences of the climate change. Yes, we have National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) but how many states have their Emergency Management Agencies? How well-funded are our disaster management agencies especially the Federal and State Fire Services across the country? As I write this, after over 50 years of oil explorations, gas flaring continue unabated in the Niger Delta, there is growing desertification in the Northern Nigeria causing drought and threat to food security. I do hope we will not wait for Tsunami and Hurricane before taken pre-emptive actions.

Ibadan in Oyo State witnessed backlash of climate change on Friday, August 26, 2011. A seven hour torrential rain wreaked havoc on the ancient town. Houses were destroyed, roads, bridges, culverts were washed away, property worth billions of Naira were lost, thousands of people displaced and over one hundred died in the deluge. My alma-mater too was not spared in the disaster. My beloved University of Ibadan, the premier university in Nigeria, established in 1948 suffered destruction in the neighbourhood of N10 billion. The incumbent Vice Chancellor of the Ivory Tower, Professor Isaac Adewole in a statement issued to press and published by many newspapers in their edition of Wednesday, August 31, 2011 said that the loss was so much that the management had appealed to the Federal and State governments as well as individual and corporate organisations for assistance.

According to the V.C: “The major calamity suffered by the university include the washing away of the Fish Farm with different species of fish valued at about N300 million, over flooding of the Zoological Garden, leading to the death of animals, extensive damage of the Teaching and Research Farm and the destruction of books estimated to the tune of N2 billion. Besides, many gigantic buildings, laboratories and expensive equipment were destroyed by the flood which equally pulled down the university fence and 13 electricity poles, thereby compounding the hitherto poor electricity supply to the institution.” The Vice Chancellor added that the disaster also affected students living at the Obafemi Awolowo Hall, especially those in ground floor and topmost floor. Corroborating the V.C, Head of Department of Fishery, Dr Bamidele Omitoye, said that special species of fish such as claias gariepinus, heterobranchus bidorsalis, oreochromis niloticus and parachana obscura were swept away.

Ibadan is very dear to my heart. It is the land of my birth where I was also nurtured. All my schoolings were done in the ancient town with the exception of my first degree which I did at the prestigious University of Lagos. Before my admission to study for my Masters degree in the University of Ibadan, my first contacts with UI as the institution is fondly called are my family’s regular visits to the Zoological Garden during the festive period. At Easter, Christmas or New Year my family often form part of the annual pilgrimage to the Ibadan Zoo. For us, it is our primary contact with many of the wild animals and birds. If not for Ibadan Varsity Zoo, I would only have seen Lion, Elephant, Ostrich, Peacock, Monkeys, Gorilla and wide variety of snakes in films and documentaries on satellite television stations.

When I read about the calamity that befell UI, I could not resist the urge to canvass for the support of the Greatest UItes both at home and in Diaspora on the planned restoration of the destroyed assets. University of Ibadan is in its 63rd year of existence and has graduated hundreds of thousands of students from its various programmes spanning certificate, diploma and degree courses. I believe the Federal and State governments will assist the University to rebuild damaged infrastructure but considering the enormity of the loss, University of Ibadan Alumni Association has a lot to do as well. The Alumni Association both at the national and State level need to partner with the University of Ibadan authority to reach out to graduates of the school to come to the aid of their alma mater.

The school management also has to organise a fundraiser to rebuild the school. That apart, all the blue chip companies in Nigeria, both foreign and local should be formally written to donate generously to the rebuilding project of the premier varsity. The donation should not be limited to cash but also inclusive of materials. For instance, if the books that were lost could be identified in a database, UI authorities could write to their publishers to donate such books to the institution. Philanthropic organisations and individuals could also be formally contacted to help rebuild some of the destroyed hostels, auditoriums and laboratories. Corporate entities and public spirited individuals could also donate laboratory equipments, animals and fishes that need to be replaced.

Staff and students of the university are also not left out of the restoration agenda.
Staffs could donate 5 -10 per cent of their salary in a month to the rebuilding project. This could be deducted at source for easy accountability. The University management should therefore reach out to Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU), Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and other labour unions on campus to agree to the salary deduction for the sole purpose of restoring lost facilities. As regards students, UI authorities should partner with the student unions on campus to get their buy in for the compulsory development levy. The levy could be as little as N1, 000 for certificate, diploma and degree students, N2, 000 for Masters Degree students and N5, 000 for doctoral students. All these could be done over a six month period. However, all financial and kind gestures must be made public and accounted for. The N10 million donation from Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN who is the University’s Pro-Chancellor is exemplary and laudable. More help is still desired. I will do mine in due course, what about you, other greatest of the greatest UItes?

Bravo, Team Nigeria!

Congratulations are in order for our heroines and heroes of Team Nigeria to the 10th All African Games in Maputo, Mozambique. After 16 days of stiff competitions which took place from September 3 – 18, 2011, Nigeria’s sports ambassadors placed third on overall medals table. They were only bettered by perpetual rivals, South Africa and Egypt out of about 50 participating countries and at least 5,000 athletes that vied for honours at the quadrennial games. Very painful is the loss of the second position to Egypt on the final day of the competition as the North African country was one gold medal better than Nigeria. Hence in spite of our 98 medals to Egypt’s 66, the athletes from the land of Pharaohs still came second.

Nigeria was represented at the sports fiesta by contingents of 459 persons made up of 324 athletes and 135 officials. The country participated in about 18 out of 20 sports being competed for. The breakdown of the representatives in each sport is as follows: athletes - 36, badminton – 12, Basketball - 24, Beach Volleyball - 8, Boxing - 9 and Canoeing - 12. Others include Chess - 12, Cycling - 12, and Handball - 36. Judo has 14, Karate - 22, Para-athletics - 44, Para-Swimming – 9, Swimming - 10 and Table Tennis - 10. There were 16 in Taekwondo, 8 in Tennis, 6 in Triathlon while Volleyball has 24. Of all the sports, Nigeria did not compete in Football, Netball and Sailing. These athletes won a total of 31 Gold, 28 Silver and 39 Bronze to place third on the list of 36 countries on the final medals table. Games statistics showed that a total of 808 medals were won, comprising 248 gold, 246 silver and 314 bronze.

On a positive note, Nigerian athletes were not involved in any drug scandal. None of them failed the dope test unlike what happened at Delhi in India during last year’s Commonwealth Games. Our male basketball team D’Tigers, for the first time since the commencement of AAG in 1965 in Congo Brazzaville, won gold by beating the host nation, Mozambique 62-57 in the final. Nigeria had in the semi-final defeated her arch-rival Angola to make it to the final. Nigeria also confirmed and maintained her superiority in track and field events especially in sprints (100m, 200m, 400m, 4 x 100m and 4 x 400m relays). We also did well in long jump, high jump, hurdles and triple jump. Nigeria indeed dominated in athletics, picking a total of 42 medals comprising 18 gold, 13 silver and 11 bronze. The country also did fairly well in Canoeing where we won a silver and a bronze medal in our first outing in the sport at the AAG.

Few drawbacks for Nigeria at the games are the non-inclusion of Wrestling, Weightlifting and Power-lifting among the sports for competition at the 10th All African Games. Mozambique had pleaded lack of fund to provide facilities that would have enabled her to offer the sports for competition. Indeed, Mozambique offered to host the games when Zambia which won the hosting bid in 2007 pulled out a couple of years back, citing lack of finance. Information has it that Mozambique spent $250 million to host the games. With the benefit of hindsight, Nigeria could have assisted the host nation to provide facilities for these sports in which we have comparative advantage in order to shore up our medal haul to be able to win the competition. After all, South Africa was said to have been the one that built the swimming pool for Mozambique knowing full well that there lies the strength of her athletes. The investment paid off handsomely as the country dominated the Maputo 2011 swimming event clearing 33 gold, 24 silver, 18 bronze. This shows that almost half of South Africa’s total of 155 medals was won in swimming alone!

There were complaints by officials and sports journalists that covered the 10th All African Games about logistic challenge in terms of securing visa in Maputo, accreditation and information about when and where events are taking place. In the words of veteran sports journalists, Fabio Lanipekun, who also covered the Maputo Games “the dearth of information concerning the Games was sickening. You do not know what will take place where and when, and as much as the official delegations were victims, so also were sports journalists....... Some journalists were not accredited till the sixth day into the Games.” Fabio also observed that “apart from some of the hotels which flew some national flags, the entire Maputo city wore the look of gloom as there were no buntings or decorations celebrating the presence of the entire African continent, made up of 54 countries.” (See his column “Grandmaster” in the Sunday Tribune of September 18, 2011)

The stripping of Otonye Iworima of her triple jump gold medal and the order of re-run which made her come third as well as the in-fighting that led to the decampment of Nigeria’s boxing head coach, Obisia Nwankpa from Maputo Games were unfavourable to Nigeria’s quest to win the 10th All African Games. Now the games are over, what next for Nigeria?

I recommend that Nigerian government should properly reward the medallist athletes who did the nation proud in Maputo. They should be hosted by the president and financially motivated. Those in school among them should be given automatic scholarship to enhance their academic excellence, national honours for the worthy sports ambassadors will also be a morale booster for the athletes. Preparation for the July 2012 London Olympics should start in earnest. There is no short cut to success. If we fail to prepare, then, we are preparing to fail.

I am happy Nigeria has decided to participate in only six sports in London. Team Nigeria Chef de Mission, Alhassan Yakmut was quoted as saying that the National Sports Commission has decided to participate in only athletics, wrestling, weightlifting, taekwondo and para-athletics. This is good thinking. Simultaneously, preparation for the 11th All African Games in 2015 to be hosted by Congo Brazzaville should commence in earnest. One way of going about this is for the National Sports Commission to commence scouting for young athletes that can be groomed to take over from the ageing elite athletes. Our grassroots sport development must therefore be taken very serious.

I fully endorse the decision of Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA) at its extraordinary general assembly in Maputo that henceforth it would take over the organisation of the All Africa Games from 2015 and that the quadrennial competition will begin to serve as qualifier for the Olympic Games.

Friday, September 9, 2011

August 26, 2011: Nigeria’s Black Friday

Nigeria for the umpteenth time grabbed the world news headlines for the wrong reasons on Friday, August 26, 2011. It was a day of two significant and tragic incidences. While one was manmade; the other was a natural catastrophe. The unprecedented happened in Abuja when a suicide bomber rammed his car into the United Nations House. The impact of the collision coupled with the detonation of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) or perhaps a bomb had led to the death of at least 23 persons with scores of others injured. Part of the sprawling UN building which provides office for about 400 staff and 26 UN Agencies was badly damaged.

It was the first time UN building will be attacked in Nigeria even though similar incidences had occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan. Investigations have since commenced into the unprovoked and unwarranted disaster with local and international security agencies cooperating to unravel the causes and effect of the blast. Many Nigerians have rightly condemned the attack which the dreaded Islamist fundamentalist group, Boko Haram, has claimed responsibility for. In fact, Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III while denouncing the attack during the Eid-el-Fitr Sallah message to Nigerians described it as “an abominable act in Islam, especially in the blessed month of Ramadan.” I couldn’t agree with him more.

The second calamity that befell Nigeria on that unforgettable black Friday was the ‘Tsunami’ that took place in Ibadan, Oyo State when a seven hour torrential rain resulted into loss of lives and property in the ancient city. Death toll in the Ibadan flood has been put by Red Cross at over 100 while properties worth billions of Naira were also lost to the deluge. University of Ibadan alone claimed to have lost over N10 billion worth of assets.

News reports on Wednesday, August 31, 2011 quoted the Vice Chancellor of University of Ibadan, Professor Isaac Adewole, as having said that the loss was so much that the management had appealed to the Federal and State governments as well as individual and corporate organisations for assistance. According to the University don: “The major calamity suffered by the university include the washing away of the Fish Farm with different species of fish valued at about N300 million, over flooding of the Zoological Garden, leading to the death of animals, extensive damage of the Teaching and Research Farm and the destruction of books estimated to the tune of N2 billion. Besides, many gigantic buildings, laboratories and expensive equipment were destroyed by the flood which equally pulled down the university fence and 13 electricity poles, thereby compounding the hitherto poor electricity supply to the institution.” The Vice Chancellor added that disaster also affected students living at the Obafemi Awolowo Hall, especially those in ground floor and topmost floor. Corroborating the V.C, Head of Department of Fishery, Dr Bamidele Omitoye, said that special species of fish such as claias gariepinus, heterobranchus bidorsalis, oreochromis niloticus and parachana obscura were swept away.

In his official reaction to the havoc wrecked on the State capital by the flood, Oyo State Governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi said “If what happened in 1980 was called omiyale, what we experienced in this state last week should be appropriately tagged omibaluje.”(Meaning, if what happened in Ibadan in 1980 was a flood, what took place on August 26, 2011 can be likened to a tsunami). What happened in Ibadan was not totally an Act of God as many commentators will make us believe. I was born and bred in Ibadan and am quite familiar with my people’s penchant for reckless waste disposal. Many households have converted streams and rivers in the town to dump-site. Some people have also built houses and other structures on water ways. The town itself is largely unplanned with exceptions of Government Reservation Areas like Oluyole Estate, Jericho, Old and New Bodija, Agodi, Iyaganku, Ikolaba, and Idi-Isin. This is not ideal. It is hoped that what happened will serve as a wakeup call to both the State and Local Governments in Oyo State. Government need to carry out more enduring remedial actions, inclusive of stiff environmental sanitation measures and establishment of Oyo State Emergency Management Agency

Back to the UN House bombing, rather than the acclaimed perpetrators showing remorse and tendering unreserved apology for causing the death of innocent souls, many of them carrying out humanitarian services and development work in Nigeria, the Group vowed to launch more attacks after the Ramadan. Spokesman of the group, Sheik Azzawahiri said in a radio interview that: “We take full responsibility for the attack on the United Nation building in Abuja, because the Nigerian government is corrupt, insensitive and deceitful. They have held our members and treated them very badly. The government does not honour its promises and has closed all avenues of dialogue. We declared ceasefire because of the Ramadan but we have to break it because our members and sympathisers are killed and tortured. This is just the tip of the iceberg, immediately after fasting we will start full scale offensive against the Nigerian state including President Jonathan for ordering extra judicial killings of our members in Kano and Abuja.” I abhor injustice and deplore extra judicial killings. I have in 2009 condemned the extra judicial murder of the leaders of the sect who were captured in Maiduguri by soldiers and handed over to the police for prosecution. However, two wrongs do not make a right. The murder of innocent souls cannot atone for whatever sins might have been committed by the Nigerian state against the Boko Haram sect.

If you must blame the hawk for wickedness, first scold mother hen for exposing her children to danger, so says an African proverb. Yes, what the Boko Haram Group did is reprehensible. However, had it been that the government at all levels had taken a pre-emptive and precautionary measures, this might not have happened. This sect had in the last two years been terrorising the North Eastern Nigeria and had claimed responsibility for the bombing of Police Force Headquarters in Abuja on June 16 and subsequent bombing of a church in Suleja on July 10. The recurring attack of this group on public and private institutions and persons is a pointer to failure of intelligence. Nigerian security agencies need to buckle up as compatriots are tired of their mega excuses. A country that wants to attain Millennium Development Goals by 2015 ought to adequately protect agencies working to help her achieve it. With this high level of insecurity, no wise investor will want to come in while those already in may be thinking of divesting to go to saner climes. Thank God we have stopped wasting our scarce resources on the Rebranding Project.