Friday, December 21, 2012

‘Godfatherism’ and Nigerian Politics

More facts are emerging about the nature and character of Nigerian politics. Recently, two ‘political heavyweights’ have spoken about the godfather politics in Nigeria. At a political rally in Akure, Ondo State on October 15, 2012 former Governor of Lagos State and leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu admitted being a political godfather though of a positive genre. He was quoted as saying “Mimiko (i.e. Ondo State governor) has called me a godfather, yes, I am a positive godfather and even, god fatherism is biblical and that is why Christians refer to God as their father. I play god-fatherism in the South-West for the good of our people. My godfatherism is for progress, it is for mentoring.” The former governor apart from agreeing to being a godfather said he spent millions of pounds on the election of the Ondo State governor during his legal battle at the tribunals to retrieve his mandate after the political heist in the State during the 2007 governorship election. The questions being asked are: what was the motive of the ACN leader to give such humongous assistance to someone from the opposition party? Was Senator Tinubu’s intention altruistic and noble? Would there not have been a pay-back time? Grapevine source opined that the Action Congress of Nigeria leader had hoped that the Ondo State governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko would decamp from his party, Labour Party to ACN after his tribunal victory. But will there not be an additional financial return to the godfather? That is left to conjecture.
A news report in The Punch newspaper of December 14, 2012 also dwells on the godfather syndrome and its effects. Speaking at a retreat on capacity building for national, zonal and state officials of the Peoples Democratic Party at Uyo, Akwa Ibom State on December 13, a former chairman of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Dr Okwezilieze Nwodo was quoted as saying that: “Some governors are not performing today because they have to settle their godfathers first before settling the people of their states. When they get their monthly allocation, they first go to their godfathers, who will first take whatever they want before handing over the remaining to the governors.” He therefore counseled that his party (PDP) must imbibe the culture of internal democracy as leaders produced through this practice would have social contract with the people.
Dr Nwodo’s observation reflects what majority of political observers already know. In Anambra State, that was the trend from 1999 to 2003. It got so bad that the then governor could not pay teachers salary making them to down tools. The consequence was that a whole academic session was allegedly lost to industrial action. History nearly repeated itself in the same state between 2003 and 2004 but for the resistance put up by ex-governor, Chris Ngige against his political godfather, Chief Chris Uba. His refusal to part with the state treasury led to his abduction, purported forced ‘resignation’ and wanton destruction of Anambra government’s property.
These revelations, more than any other thing, is a validation of why politics has not transformed to good governance in Nigeria. There are no benevolent godfathers in Nigerian politics. It is basically a patronage system where political entrepreneurs hope to invest little to make a maximum gain, painfully, at the expense of the suffering masses whose hope of impactful governance get perpetually deferred.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What did you do on 12:12:12?

Not to be at least a little superstitious is to lack generosity of the mind – De Qunicy
I did not have a peaceful rest on the night of December 11. Why? My neighbour was observing her church ordered vigil to usher in good fortune that 12:12:12 supposedly brings. My neighbour was not the only one that attached a lot of significance to that day. I did too. My son’s birthday fell on that date and I have to celebrate with him on the joy of seeing another year of his life. Many others in Nigeria and around the world believed that the day is a day of luck and fortune. Thus, a lot of people engaged in all manner of spiritual and remarkable deeds. While some organized prayer sessions and musical concerts, some others chose the day to marry while yet other people decided to forcefully gave birth to their babies on 121212. Let us take a tour of how the day was celebrated around the world.
Starting with homeland Nigeria, in a signed advertorial on Friday, December 7, Reverend (Dr) Musa Asake who is the General Secretary of Christian Association of Nigeria called on all Christians to organize prayer sessions at midday on 12:12:12. He quoted 1 Timothy 2: 1-2 which says “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” to support the clarion call. According to him “Come December 12th , 2012 at 12 noon prompt, all Christians, nationwide are enjoined to set time aside to pray for our beloved country Nigeria. This is the only country we have to call our own. Enough of all these incessant bloodshed and killings. This special day being the 12th day in the 12th month in the year 2012; is memorable and special. Therefore, it must be put to good use. Prayer is the only tool that never failed mankind. Families are enjoined to gather together to pray at exactly 12 noon. Individuals who may find it difficult to fellowship with their families, friends and loved ones should also set time aside to pray at 12 midday. At the CAN level, each State Chapter is to coordinate her members for a Special Prayer Session at noon.” To the best of my knowledge this call for prayers was observed by many. It is indeed a good thing to pray for one’s country particularly in this turbulent and insecure time. I do hope the good Lord will restore peace unto our country.
Now to other parts of the world, in order to mark the day, the 121212 concert was held at New York Madison Square Garden to raise money for victims of Superstorm Sandy. What a noble gesture! Also, my cousin in United States decided to offer a 10 per cent discount for those who will register for his bead making class scheduled for this month in Nigeria. A Nigerian national newspaper, The Guardian in its world report published on December 13 said that thousands of couples in Asia flocked to the marriage registries to tie the knot on 12/12/12, seeking good fortune for marriages begun on the century’s last repeating date. Also, by the magic of numbers, a Norwegian boy celebrated a very special occasion, feting his 12th birthday on December 12, 2012 –12/12/12 – at 12:12 pm, according to media report. The boy, Joergen Svendsen Killi, was born on December 12, 2000 at 12:12 p.m., according to his birth certificate, a picture of which was published on the site of tabloid Verdens Gang, promising him an unforgettable birthday 12 years later.
The newspaper reported further that authorities in Hong Kong and Singapore respectively said 696 and 540 couples were scheduled to attend marriage registries, continuing a trend, which has seen couples flocking to marry on 11/11/11 and 10/10/10 in both cities. News also indicated that the figure is a near-fourfold increase compared to the daily average in the self-governing Chinese city of Hong Kong, and about an eightfold spike for non-Muslim weddings in Singapore, which is three-quarters ethnic Chinese.
Wait for this, couples also queued to marry in many Mainland Chinese cities, on the basis that 12/12/12 sounded like “will love/will love/will love” in Chinese, the official news agency Xinhua was quoted. In several Indonesian cities, mothers gave birth early by Caesarian section so their offspring could have a lucky birth date.
The news-report added that the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, saw 289 couples taking part in a mass wedding at the Thean Hou Chinese Temple. The National Registration Department said another 306 couples were married at two of its offices near the capital, three times the normal number. At Yogyakarta in Indonesia’s Central Java province 12 male sugar cane workers paraded around town in 12 traditional wagons with their brides to mark the day.
In Singapore hundreds of couples and family members were reported to have trooped in batches to the marriage registry despite pouring rain. One couple in India were able to celebrate an even rarer set of special dates, having got engaged on 10/10/10, held their registered legal marriage on 11/11/11 and finally had a big white wedding in Mumbai on 12/12/12. According to French newswire, Agence France Presse, the next time the same digits will appear in the date, month and year in the same order will be in more than 88 years – on January 1, 2101, or 01/01/01.
I tried to do a little research into biblical numerology and found out that Christians believe that numeral 1 is the number of Unity; 2 is the number of  Division; 3 represents  Divine Perfection; 4 signifies Creation while 5 is the number of Grace.  6 is said to be the number of Man; 7 is the number of Spiritual Perfection; 8 is the number of New Beginnings; 9 is the number of Judgment while 10 is the number of Divine Perfection. 12 is said to be the number of Governmental Perfection while 40 stands for number of Probation or Trial. 
My friend, Obo Effanga in a facebook post, has this to say about the day:  “Face your life friends. There's NOTHING, absolutely nothing about today's date 12/12/12. God did not create the present dating system, humans did and God does not wait until any particular day to bless you. People are simply so superstitious, vain and confused. The annoying thing is when they try to cloak it under religion instead of numerology that it is.” Well, that was his opinion which he has a right to just as those who believe it carries some metaphysical significance are equally entitled to their beliefs. Whatever you did on 12:12:12, I wish you best of luck and compliments of the yuletide.

Monday, December 17, 2012

My ‘Odyssey’ as a Nigerian Writer

In my 22 years as a writer, I have faced a lot of daunting challenges ranging from self-doubt, fear, rejection of manuscript, lack of financial reward and poor reading culture in Nigeria.

I started writing commentaries in 1990 during the military regime. It was an era when there was a lot of media censorship with some print and electronic media proscribed for publishing news which the military considered inimical to its interest. News on democracy, human rights and development were highly censored. I recall that some of my critical articles were not published by government owned media then. Even the versions published by private media were sometimes watered down in order not to offend the military rulers.  OGBC 2 FM Mailbag 2084, a radio programme to which I regularly contribute between 1991 and 1993, had to be rested by the station management after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.  In essence, just like media houses did, I nursed a palpable fear in those military years. The return to civil rule changed all of that. More so with the coming into force the Freedom of Information Act in 2011.

My self-doubt was as a result of many years of failure of O’ Level English language. I consistently had P. 8 (ordinary pass) in the subject from 1985 when I first graduated from Secondary School up until 1990 when I eventually had A 3. It was very traumatic for me. However, I have largely overcome that challenge as I read about great writers and draw inspiration from them.

In 2010, as a way of marking my 20th anniversary of commentary writing as well as commemorate Nigeria’s Golden Jubilee, I decided to publish a book of essays. I worked on the manuscript and thereafter started looking for publishers. One notable Nigerian publisher scorned my manuscript being a compilation of commentaries. She said it will not sell as she’s even having difficulty marketing creative works in her stable. Not even my offer of paying for the publication dissuaded her. Another publisher asked me for 75 per cent advanced payment on the agreed cost of publication.   This I could not afford. I was later introduced to Joe Tolalu Associates in Lagos who gave me favourable terms of payment. After the publication of the book “Nigeria, My Nigeria: Perspectives from 1990 – 2010” I have had to market the book myself as a marketing deal struck with a book seller was not profitable as I would like. I am happy to say that the book has been well received and I am in the process of printing a second edition as more people demand for copies.

Commentary writing either as a freelance or columnist has not been financially rewarding in Nigeria. Many newspapers in a bid to cut cost and because of the thought that they are doing the writer a favour do not pay for published articles.  In my 22 years of writing, it is only The Guardian who in 1996 paid me a total sum of N400 for the three of my articles published in that year. The newspaper paid N100 for two opinion pieces published on week days and N200 for the one published on Sunday. When I got the money I used it to buy belt at Oshodi market. It is therefore passion that has sustained my writing.

Poor reading culture among Nigerians has also been a disincentive to Nigerian writers. It is the joy of a writer to be read. Greater joy comes when there are feedbacks. It is very discouraging when sometimes my family and friends see me as wasting my time writing. While many say they don’t have time to spare to read hard stuffs like commentaries, others believe it will change nothing. However, I have psyched myself up to believe in my passion and continue to write for the betterment of Nigeria. 

N.B: This piece was written on demand by Bisi Daniels, Nigerian prolific novelist and journalist and was first published in his Writers World column in Thisday newspaper of Saturday, December 15, 2012.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Plight of persons with disabilities in Nigeria

On Monday, December 3, 2012, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities was observed across the world. The annual ritual was celebrated in Nigeria, not unexpectedly, with speeches and glib promises by government to improve the lot of the physically challenged persons in our society. It is estimated that over 15 per cent of Nigerians are PWD. However, this should be persons with bodily disabilities.  In truth, however, all human beings are disabled one way or the other as no human has infinite ability. In Nigeria, the community of persons with bodily disabilities is growing at a geometric rate. Every act of terrorism, road and domestic accidents, medical misdiagnosis, parents refusal to  immunise their children against polio and other killer diseases, collapsed buildings and many others leave victims as potential temporary or permanent members of the PWD.
But it must be noted that Nigeria’s persons with disabilities are vulnerable and marginalised lot. The enabling environment is lacking for these persons to realise their full potential. We always view them from the prism of invalids and dependants. Our mindset is that they are beggars and never-do-wells. How wrong we are! Many members of this community are well read, informed and cultured. In fact, the President of the Joint Association of Persons with Disabilities, Danlami Basharu, is a lawyer with a Master’s degree from a top university in the United Kingdom. Our revered Prof. Chinua Achebe; talented and award-winning music producer, Cobhams Asuquo; and ace gospel musician, Yinka Ayefele; are some of the persons with disabilities but who are doing the nation proud in their chosen professions.  For instance, while Nigeria’s able-bodied athletes went to the 2012 London Summer Olympics and came back without any medal, their Paralympian counterparts not only broke four world records in power-lifting but also did the country proud by winning a total of 13 medals; six gold, five silver and two bronze.
However, a majority of persons with disabilities in Nigeria almost always have a raw deal in terms of acceptance, access and respect for their rights.  Our society has yet to come to terms with the fact that there is ability in disability. In Nigeria, many families discriminate against members who are physically or mentally challenged. They are hardly shown any love and care. Instead, they are cursed, insulted and tormented for bringing ‘bad luck’ to the family. Many who are not born with their disabilities could either not get a good spouse to marry or if married, are deserted by their spouses. This is inhuman. In terms of access, persons with disabilities lack adequate access to education, health, recreational facilities and public institutions generally. For instance, there are only few schools for PWD. In Oyo State, I know of Cheshire School and School for the Deaf in Ijokodo area of Ibadan. There is also the famous Pacelli School for the Blind in Surulere, Lagos. However, more schools are needed for children with disabilities. Not only that, education should be made free for these special people. Same for health. Medicare should be free for the PWD. Many of our public and private offices are not accessible to persons on wheelchair and crutches. Many of them cannot enter banks, hotels and high rise buildings because of the security doors, malfunctioning elevators and absence of ramps.
In terms of employment opportunities, many PWD, though brilliant and with good academic certificates, are discriminated against at job interviews. Employers see them as a burden as they may not be as agile as their able-bodied counterparts while some may also need regular medical attention. In politics, political party leaders will hardly give them tickets to fly flag of the party at any election; be it local, state or national. This is because of the wrong notion that they are unelectable. They forgot that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd American President who was elected an unprecedented four times into office, was for most part of his political career confined to a wheelchair due to polio attack he suffered when he was young. Even the election management bodies do not have special provisions for them either in the area of voter education or special ballot paper, especially for the blind. In the just-concluded Ghanaian election held on December 7, special ballot papers were designed for the blind to enable them vote unaided.   In Nigeria, the best is that blind voters are allowed to come to the polling unit with a trusted aide who should guide them during voting.
In Nigeria, the rights of persons with disabilities are hardly respected. Many state governments and the Federal Capital Territory Administration have been harassing and arresting those who engage in street begging to earn a living. While street begging is dehumanising and condemnable, I am sure many of these PWD would not resort to begging to live if presented with a better choice. It is not out of place for government to design a scheme that will give opportunities to persons with disabilities who want to acquire vocational skills to do so free of charge.
For many years now, persons with disabilities through the Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities have been demanding the passage of the National Disability Bill. Twice, this bill had been passed into law by the National Assembly. Unfortunately, the bill has been denied presidential assent on the two occasions.  Yet, Nigeria is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which under Article 4 mandates member states to pass national legislation on disability. It is hoped that the Seventh National Assembly will re-introduce the bill and grant it expeditious passage and that  President Goodluck Jonathan will champion the cause of the oppressed by assenting to the disability bill when passed. JONAPWD has also called on the President to appoint a Special Assistant on Disability Matters who will be able to articulate the issues of this vulnerable and marginalised group before the President and his cabinet. It would be great to have disability issues mainstreamed into Nigerian budget the way Jonathan did with women issue in the 2013 budget. Persons with disabilities need an affirmative action that will guarantee their full participation in governance. They also need love, care and support. This Yuletide season, let us spare a thought for these less privileged compatriots.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sense and nonsense of Sanusi’s economic recovery advocacy

The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, on Tuesday, November 27 again stirred the hornet’s nest when he condemned the astronomic cost of servicing the nation’s civil service. To redress this, he called on the Federal Government to sack at least 50 per cent of its entire workforce. Sanusi, in his presentation at the Second Annual Capital Market Committee Retreat in Warri, Delta State, said the country spends 70 per cent of its earnings on salaries and entitlements of civil servants. He argued that having the Federal Government’s staff strength reduced by half would free up capital for infrastructure development in the country and prop up the economy.
Not done yet, the CBN governor added that the country does not need the 109 senators, and 360 members of the House of Representatives to make laws. He also decried the huge cost of running local government administration which he termed ‘wastage’ of funds. The Kano-born banker equally called for the total removal of petrol subsidy even as he wants those who have stolen fuel subsidy fund to be punished.  The CBN governor further advised the Federal Government to stop investments in infrastructure that could be handed over to the private sector.
No sooner had the CBN governor made these submissions than vitriolic attacks started pouring on him. Organised labour called Sanusi a “hollow economist”. According to the Nigeria Labour Congress President, Abdulwaheed Omar, “Since assumption of office as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, all Sanusi’s major pronouncements have been either directly anti-people or ruinous to the Nigerian economy.” The NLC, therefore, called for his sack.
A member of the House of Representatives has also reacted harshly to the pronouncement of the CBN Governor. The Deputy Chairman of the House on Media and Public Affairs, Victor Ogene, likened Sanusi’s action to that of a physician who would want to treat others but himself. He asked him to first prune the workforce of the apex bank. According to Ogene, the staff strength of the CBN when Sanusi took over in 2009 was 5,022 but that he had raised the apex bank’s staff strength to 6,015. “Instead of pruning down the staff strength, he has employed about 1,000 more people. The CBN has over 20 directors…”, the lawmaker added. Ogene said the National Assembly had a total budget of N150bn in 2012 to cater for 109 senators, 360 House members, thousands of civil servants and political aides but that the CBN had over N300bn to play with all alone.
It is pertinent to note that I agree with the underlying principles that informed the CBN governor’s submission but do not approve of his strategy of implementation. Yes, we need to reform the civil service! Yes, we need to cut down on our recurrent expenditure in order to pave way for more capital vote! Yes, we need to engage the private sector to handle industrialisation and manage businesses! However, I do not subscribe to 50 per cent reduction of the workforce be it at the federal, state or local government level. I do not believe that a unicameral legislature or scrapping of local government is the be-all solution to our economic woes. These measures will be counterproductive and cause social dislocation.
To my own mind, Nigeria needs to slaughter the monster called corruption and engage in fiscal prudence fast! The corruption statistics in the country are enormous, debilitating and appalling. Trillions are annually lost to corrupt practices. Countless probes have unveiled monumental frauds. The International Energy Agency said in a November 13, 2012 report that Nigeria loses a whopping $7bn to oil theft annually!  A November 25, 2012 news story in the Sunday PUNCH also revealed that “Over N5tn in government funds have been stolen through fraud, embezzlement and theft since President Goodluck Jonathan assumed office on May 6, 2010.” If these colossal sums of money could be lost to corruption in less than three years of this administration, then it is best imagined how much we have lost to the ogre since independence 52 years ago.
While presenting a paper titled, ‘Corruption, National Development, The Bar and The Judiciary’, at the 52nd Annual General Meeting of the Nigerian Bar Association in Abuja in August, a former Vice-President for Africa at the World Bank, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, was quoted as saying that, “Over $400bn of the nation’s oil revenue has either been stolen or misappropriated since Nigeria gained independence in 1960.” If these monies were to be deployed to the provision of critical social infrastructure such as good roads, health facilities, quality education, among others, we would not need to go aborrowing to fix our critical infrastructure as we are in the habit of doing currently.
The Nigerian political elite’s penchant for waste is legendary. We have a Presidency which has fleet of aircraft and cars servicing only a handful while the nation has no national carrier. In spite of the monetisation policy, different arms of government still annually budget and purchase official cars. Billions are earmarked for food and travels while a whopping N2.2bn was recently approved for another presidential banquet hall despite an existing one built less than a decade ago. What profligacy! The state governors do not fare any better on prudence.
What is more, we need to fix the energy sector in order to meaningfully revive Nigeria’s economy otherwise we would continue to have growth without development. What kind of economy can survive on generators? Nigeria is the largest consumer of generators on the African continent, if not in the world. This trend has to be reversed so that people who engage in small and medium scale enterprises will be able to survive on their private businesses. We need to also make agricultural and solid mineral sectors attractive to investors in order to stimulate the economy. This is a way to ‘disincentivise’ the civil service. Our civil service is bloated because it is only government that is employing while the private sector is shrinking because of the outrageous cost of doing business in Nigeria. By the time these reforms are in place, any rightsizing and downsizing of the civil service will be meaningful as those affected in the purge, if paid their benefits on time,  will be able to engage in private enterprise.
It essentially bears repeating that President Jonathan should emulate the examples of the Malawian and Uruguayan presidents,  Joyce Banda and Jose Mujica, in his taste in office. Mrs. Banda of Malawi decided to sell off the country’s only Presidential aircraft and a fleet of 60 Mercedes Limousines on assumption of office. She also recently announced 30 per cent cut in her salary.  Her Uruguayan counterpart, Mujica, not only drives a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle, but also stays at his wife’s farmhouse. Besides, he donates 90 per cent of his monthly salary to charity. This is an exemplary conduct worth emulating by Nigeria’s political class. Unfortunately, this is one expectation the outcome is certain: An outstanding disappointment.