Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Our many crimes against children

I am worried, deeply worried about the many atrocities we daily commit against children in Nigeria. The future looks grim, ominous and unsafe unless we retrace our steps and start doing things right both as parents and as government. Nigerian children are increasingly being molested, dehumanised, traumatised, and impoverished in spite of a decade of passage of the Child Rights Act 2003 by the Federal Government while no fewer than 16 states had also adopted and ratified the law. It is a common feature to read about paedophiles who prey on young girls. Hardly would a day pass without reports of teachers allegedly raping their pupils, neighbours having a forceful carnal knowledge of their co-tenants’ female children or fathers raping their daughters. What incest!
The PUNCH of April 25, 2013 documents some incidents of rape of minors. The story was told of one 47-yea-old Amuda who allegedly raped a 12-year-old girl four times. Unfortunately, in the past six months, the girl in question has been having discharges in her private part. Another animal in human skin is 29-year-old Ijiwande who allegedly raped a nine-year-old in the school toilet where he was teaching in a primary school in Osogbo, Osun State. Yet, another named Oyeleke who teaches Mathematics and Social Studies also in another Primary School in the same town was alleged to have raped some girls in his class in the school’s toilet. The PUNCH account also regaled us with the story of another scoundrel named Ibiyemi, an employee of the Mainland Local Government Area in Lagos who was also accused of raping a nine-year-old girl. What is this world turning to?
So much for paedophiles, a different mind-boggling development is the soaring incidence of sale of children. It was said that many maternity clinics, foster homes, orphanages or shelters for homeless pregnant girls also sometimes double as baby factories and trade centres. Writing under the caption, ‘How child trafficking network operates in the South-East’, Uduma Kalu in the Vanguard of July 10, 2011 chronicles how this illegal trade works. He said inter alia, “Child trafficking in the Eastern part of Nigeria is a lucrative trade. In Nigeria, human trafficking ranks the third most common crime after financial fraud and drug trafficking. At least, 10 children are sold every day across the country, according to the United Nations. Globally, the traffickers earn $33bn yearly. In Nigeria, the traffickers are seldom caught, and even when they are, they easily buy their way out. It is rampant in Nigeria but prevalent in the Eastern part of the country, especially child trafficking.”
Kalu recounted how a desperate Yoruba lady who had been married for five years without a child left Lagos to purchase a child in Aba for N2m. According to him, “In Janet Fajemigbesin Street, in Amuwo Odofin, behind old Durbar Hotel near Festac, Lagos, teen ladies charge N150,000 and N200,000 per baby. Twins sell for N450,000. The boys who impregnate the girls are paid N10,000 to N20,000.” On May 28, 2010, policemen acting on a tip-off were said to have rescued 32 teenage expectant mothers from the clinic known as The Cross Foundation, Aba where the girls were kept until they were delivered of their babies. Police said the babies were then sold and their mothers discharged after being paid N25,000 or N30,000 depending on the sex of the baby.
In the days of yore, it was unheard of that children were offered for sale. I am not sure children were traded during the inhuman slave trade era. Among my people in Yorubaland, children are regarded as priceless hence names like Omoboriowo, which literally means children are more desirable than wealth (apology to the late deputy governor of old Ondo State, Chief Akin Omoboriowo). Unfortunately, these days, children have been reduced to a mere chattel to be traded.
Perhaps, one of such children purchased was the one Simon and Gladys Heap from Oxford attempted to smuggle out of Nigeria before eagle-eyed British law enforcement agents spotted, arrested, prosecuted and got them jailed. The story as reported in Thisday of April 24, 2013 was that, “Gladys aged 52 and her husband, 47, had entered Nigeria in July 2010 and had gone to the British High Commission in Lagos to apply for a British passport for the baby girl claiming Gladys had a baby just a few days after entering the country. According to the British High Commission in Abuja, the employees at the High Commission were however suspicious….DNA tests later confirmed that neither adult was related to the child. A birth certificate they had presented was also found to be fraudulent.” Following an investigation by a Joint Border Force and Metropolitan Police Service, the couple was arrested and charged with facilitating a breach of immigration law. They were sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, and 250 hours of community service after pleading guilty on April 16, 2013.
According to the UNICEF, “The trafficking of children for the purpose of domestic service, prostitution and other forms of exploitative labour is a widespread phenomenon in Nigeria…There is yet no reliable estimate of the number of children trafficked internally and externally primarily because of the clandestine nature of the phenomenon. The causes of children and women trafficking are numerous. They include poverty, desperation to escape violence, corruption, unemployment, illiteracy and ignorance.”
The National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and other law enforcement agencies have been trying to curtail this illegal trade by clamping down on the baby factories. However, as the economic situation gets worse, more and more ladies are being lured into this criminal racket. Additional crimes daily committed against the children of this country is their lack of proper upbringing as parents engage in the rat-race of making ends meet. The children from poor families are sent on street hawking or in some worse situations to beg for alms. Over 10 million children of school age are said to have been out of school in Nigeria. They possibly never got enrolled in school or had to drop out due to the inability of their parents to give them the needed support.
Where then do we go from here? We have to go back to the basics. The Child Rights Act is in place but it has not seen much enforcement as the victims are somewhat incapacitated to enforce their rights. Parents who should do this on their behalf are actually in many instances the perpetrators of the inhuman acts. There is, however, no one-size-fits-all solution to this menace. Parents need to help in protecting their children’s rights by providing them with necessary care and support. We need to love our children and teach them good moral values. We need to earn their confidence and encourage them to trust and confide in us. The laws against rape and trafficking in children need to be strictly enforced by all those saddled with their enforcement. Given the economic downturn, it has become imperative for government to step up campaigns for child-spacing and family planning. We also need to simplify child adoption procedures and make them more attractive for couples in need of children to access. This should discourage them from opting outright to buy children. Free and compulsory basic education should also be provided by government at all levels.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Nigerian First Ladies and their Pet Projects


First ladyship has its origin in the United States of America. According to history, it originated in 1849 when US President Zachary Taylor called Dolley Madison ‘First Lady’ at her funeral while reciting her eulogy.  However, it was said to have gained wider recognition in 1877 when Mary C. Amees wrote an article in the New York City newspaper, The Independent describing the inauguration of President Rutherford B. Hayes. She was quoted as having used the term to describe his wife, Lucy Webb Hayes. The term is now used all over the world to describe the wife of president or Head of State. In Nigeria, apart from using it to designate President’s wives, it is also used for wives of governors and those of Local Government chairmen.

Much was not heard of this term in Nigeria until the administration of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (Retd.) came to power in 1985. Hitherto, wives of former Prime Minister and Heads of State just play ceremonial role of hosting dignitaries; both local and foreign to dinners and chatting with their wives while the husbands hold formal meetings. However, Mrs. Maryam Babangida changed all of that by establishing Better Life Programme for Rural Women as her pet project. BLPRW was officially launched on September 18, 1987.   By the time her husband stepped aside in 1993, she had made so much impact among Nigerian women particularly the rural folks.

According to a former Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Dr (Mrs.) Hajo Sani in her book: “First Ladyship and Empowerment Programmes in Nigeria”, “The activities of Maryam Babangida with the introduction of BLPRW turned the traditionally ceremonial post  of First Lady into a potent force for women’s rural development in Nigeria. The programme sought to empower women’s social, economic and political status in many areas.” At the end of November 1993, BLPRW had facilitated the establishment of 9,492 cooperatives, 1,435 cottage industries, 1,784 new farms and gardens, 495 new shops and markets, 1,094 multipurpose women’s centres, 135 fish and livestock farms and 163 social welfare programmmes.  It was also during the era of Mrs. Babangida’s BLPRW that the National Centre for Women Development was built in Abuja. It was commissioned on October 17, 1992.

After Maryam Babangida came Mrs. Maryam Abacha. She also launched her pet project, Family Support Programme and an offshoot known as Family Economic Advancement Programme. In 1995, Mrs. Abacha through her FSP was able to influence the upgrade of National Commission for Women into a full-fledged Federal Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development. Maryam Abacha also launched Family Support Trust Fund in 1994. Through the monies realized from this Fund, Mrs. Abacha built National Women and Children Hospital in Abuja. This hospital was commissioned on May 22, 1999 by the administration of General Abdulsalami Abubakar and was renamed National Hospital in 2000.

In 1999 when Abdulsalami Abubakar assumed office after the demise of Gen. Sani Abacha, his wife Hon. Justice Fati Abubakar established a Non-Governmental Organisation known as Women’s Right Advancement and Protection Alternative. WRAPA as the organization is better known was set up for “…advocacy, mobilization, promotion and protection of women’s rights; the elimination of all forms of repugnant practices as well as violence against women and the enhancement of their living standards.” On return to civil rule in 1999, Mrs. Stella Obasanjo also set up her own project known as Child Care Trust. CCT was established to care for physically and mentally challenged children. One of the major achievements of CCT was the establishment of a Special Children Model Centre in Bwari, Abuja.  The centre was built at an estimated cost of N600m. Mrs. Titi Abubakar, wife of ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar, also started a pet project known as Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation while her husband was in office. She was able to advocate against child and women trafficking through WOTCLEF. She also was able to integrate some of the affected women back into normal life.

By the time former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua assumed power in 2007, his wife Turai also toed the line of previous First Ladies by setting up Women and Youth Empowerment Foundation.  WAYEF health sector interventions are in five broad categories. They are: The VISION project aimed at reducing cataract and childhood blindness; Maternal and New Born Health Improvement Programme; Screening programme for breast and cervical cancer; HIV/AIDS and STDs intervention programme and Diabetes awareness and education programme. WAYEF also embarked on interventions in the area of poverty reduction, drug abuse and lifelong education. Turai’s WAYEF rehabilitated Katsina’s Vesico Vaginal Vistula Centre, donated grinding machines and a bus  to Yangoji Leprosy Village in Kwaili Area of the Federal Capital Territory and equipped Suleja Prison workshop with working tools to make inmates skillful and self-reliant after serving their jail terms.

Dame Patience Jonathan started her pet project while she was in Bayelsa as wife of Governor of the state. Her NGO then was known as A. Areuera Reachout Foundation. It was established in 2006. The foundation was said to have provided training for over 2,000 women in catering, hat making, beads making, sewing and making of plantain and beans flour. Hajo Sani in her above cited book said “The pet project has taken up the challenge of providing medical support and assistance to people with heart conditions, empowering the youths and women to overcome challenges through skills acquisition and development for productivity and wealth creation as well as rehabilitation of female ex-convicts especially in the Niger Delta. Also the foundation extended its mission of reaching out to the elderly with gift items, such as foodstuffs and provision of drugs.” When her husband became the president of Nigeria at the death of President Yar’Adua, Mrs. Jonathan launched another pet project known as Women for Change Initiative.

So much for wives of presidents. It is noteworthy that at the state level, wives of governors who are first ladies in their states have also been launching different pet projects in the states. I recall that the wife of former governor of Edo State, Mrs. Eki Igbinedion launched Idia Renaissance, an NGO working through research, education and enlightenment towards the restoration of the dignity of women, youths and children in Nigeria.  The foundation was established to combat the disturbing scourge of human trafficking, prostitution, maternal mortality, drug abuse, cultism, youth restiveness, HIV/AIDS and other social and health problems prevalent especially among children, youths and women in the society. Likewise the wife of former Oyo State Governor Mrs. Mutiat Ladoja launched Idera De foundation. Wife of former Lagos governor now a serving Senator, Mrs. Oluremi Tinubu established New Era Foundation under which Spelling Bee competition were held annually across the state with the overall winner becoming a  one day governor of the state. At present, Mrs. Foluso Amosun has set up various initiatives ranging from getting children to be involved in the protection of their environment through tree planting to helping persons with disability with business starter packs for economic empowerment and support to the aged.

A critical look at the various pet projects of first ladies both at the state and national levels will reveal that the interventions are in six major areas. These are: Economic empowerment; Educational empowerment; Skills acquisition; Political empowerment; Health and Social welfare and Social justice for women. In fairness to these amazons, their pet projects, as highlighted above, have made a lot of impacts in the society especially in bettering the lives of women and children. However, the major challenge they face is lack of continuity immediately the tenure of their husbands end. Even for those who registered theirs as NGO they also face funding challenge once their husband is out of power. Many of the government contractors and political appointees who willingly dole out money to support their initiatives turn their back once they know that ‘oga and madam’ no longer wield influence in government. Many of these pet projects also lack professional staff to drive them as appointees are mostly cronies of madam first lady who may not have what it takes to run NGOs successfully.  Another minus to these pet projects is lack of accountability and transparency in their finances. When fund-raisers are held, the public don’t get to know how much was donated and by whom. There is no gainsaying that state and administrative resources are deployed illegally to the Office of the First Lady by their husbands.
Whether we like it or not, the institution of First Lady has become part and parcel of our national life. I hereby suggest amendment to the constitution for proper recognition and assignment of role to this Office. That way, their activities can be subjected to public scrutiny. Better still, it wouldn’t be a bad idea if first ladies are made Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development at the federal level or Commissioner for Women Affairs at the State level. Why? Because that will enhance their interest which is to better the lot of women and children.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Metamorphosis of Ibadan

Oyo State is made up of many big towns and cities among which are Ogbomoso, Oyo, Iseyin, Saki, Ibarapa, and Eruwa. However, none of these is comparable to the state capital, Ibadan, a prominent Yoruba town. I am proud of my identity with Ibadan having been born and bred in the ancient city. I have done all but one of my schooling in the city. The only exception being my first degree which I am privileged to have acquired at the University of Lagos. At Nigeria’s independence, Ibadan was the largest and most populous city in the country and the third in Africa after Cairo and Johannesburg. Ibadan is a city surrounded by hills hence names of areas such as Oke-Padi (Padre), Oke-Ado, Oke-Bola, Oke-Are, while the famous Mapo Hall built in 1929 is situated on a hill (Mapo Hill) as well. Ibadan people are generally very hospitable, tolerant and selfless. When compared to Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt, the cost of living in Ibadan is cheap.
Ibadan is the political and administrative headquarters of the old Western Region and has remained so even after creation of many states. First was the carving out of Ondo and Ogun states from the region leaving the remains as Oyo State. Later, Osun State was cut out of what remained as the old Oyo State.  Right now, agitations are on to make Ibadan a state.
The beginning of the end of the First Republic was signalled in Ibadan when the violent protest against the fraudulent 1964/65 General Elections (known as Operation wetie) in the Western Region eventually led to the first military coup of January 15, 1966.
Oyo State is called the Pacesetter State having derived that from the cliché “Ajise bi Oyo laari, Oyo i se bi eni kookan”, literarily meaning “Oyo people are pacesetters and are to be copied rather than they emulating others”. However, Ibadan, which is the heart and soul of Oyo State actually won that ‘trophy’ for the state. How do I mean? Ibadan hosts a number of institutions and monuments which are first of their kind in the country, sub-region or on the continent. The first television station in Africa –Western Nigerian Television /Western Nigerian Broadcasting Service, now Nigerian Television Authority established in 1959-is in Ibadan.  The first tallest building in the whole of West Africa – Cocoa House (25 stories) is also in the Dugbe area of Ibadan. The first university in Nigeria – the University of Ibadan, established in 1948 is in Ibadan while its teaching hospital (University College Hospital popularly known as UCH is the first in Nigeria.) The oldest surviving newspaper in the country, Nigerian Tribune, established by Pa Obafemi Awolowo in 1949 is also based in Imalefalafia area of Ibadan.
Ibadan also plays host to other great institutions such as the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria, Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria, Nigeria Horticultural Research Institute, Nigeria Institute of Socio Economic Research and Institute of Agricultural Research and Training, among others. Ibadan is the home of the defunct IICC Shooting Stars Football Club now Shooting Stars Sports Club or 3SC. IICC became  the first Nigerian clubside to win an international trophy when it won the African Cup Winners Cup in 1976.
The succession order to the throne of Ibadan monarchy, the Olubadan of Ibadanland, is the most peaceful and therefore exemplary. It is a regimented process and the next king when the incumbent joins his ancestors is already known. The Ibadan kinship does not need any oracular pronouncement while the endorsement of kingmakers is a formality as longevity is the only thing a prince or chief representing his lineage or clan on the succession chain needs to become a king. The incumbent, Oba Samuel Odulana Odugade,   just celebrated his 99th birthday. He became king in 2007 at the age of 93.
Ibadan is home to many great Nigerian musicians particularly in the traditional music genre. Among them are Odolaye Aremu, Tatalo Alamu, Dauda Epo-Akara (the awurebe exponent) and Sikiru Ayinde Barrister (Fuji king), all deceased. With the demise of ‘Barrister’ the mantle has been passed to other acts from Ibadan such as Abass Akande Obesere and Rasheed Ayinde.  Most notable masqueraders of Ibadan are the dreaded ‘Oloolu’ and ‘Alapansanpa’.
Oyo State has had about 17 military administrators and governors. They were Col. David Medayese Jemibewon (now a retired Major-General), Col. Paul Tarfa,  Chief Bola Ige who was the first Executive Governor of the State, Dr. Victor Omololu Olunloyo, Lt. Col. Oladayo Popoola (now a retired Major General), Col. Adetunji Idowu Olurin, Col. Sasaenia Adedeji Oresanya, Col. Abdulkareem Adisa (now deceased), Chief Kolapo Olawuyi Ishola, Navy Captain Adetoye Sode, Col. Ike Chinyere Nwosu, Col. Ahmed Usman, Commissioner of Police Amen Edore Oyakhire, Alhaji Lam Adesina, Rashidi Adewolu Ladoja, Chief Christopher Adebayo Alao-Akala and the incumbent, Isiaka Abiola Ajimobi. Out of the seven civilian governors that have ruled Oyo State, five of them are Ibadan indigenes. They are Olunloyo, Ishola, Adesina, Ladoja and the incumbent, Ajimobi. One interesting thing about the politics of Oyo State, however, is that its administrators are never twice lucky. None of those civilian governors has ever won a second term. Is this jinx as a result of non-performance? Not necessarily. Even those who performed creditably well during their term never got a second term. I think it is a manifestation of the political savvy trait of Oyo State voters.
Recently, I was in the ancient city on holiday and decided to go round the town on a sight-seeing as one of the jingles on the state radio, (Radio O-Y-O) has enjoined. I must say that I am impressed with the modest achievements of the incumbent governor in his urban renewal bid. Ibadan may have been a town of many positive firsts, it is, however, very disheartening that it ranks high among filthy cities and wears the toga of being an urban slum. This is because the core or interior Ibadan areas where the indigenes have their family houses are largely unplanned. Some of these areas include Beere, Mapo, Oje, Nalende, Orita-Merin, Foko, Ayeye, Sango, Yemetu, Ogunpa, Monatan, Ojoo, Kudeti, Odinjo, and Ijokodo.
 My visit to the city took me to some of these unplanned areas and I am happy to see the effort of the current administration to redress the defects by pulling down some of the structures either with a view to building roads or dualising the existing narrow ones. I saw the effort to resolve the traffic gridlock that usually happens at Mokola Roundabout by the construction of an overhead bridge there. I saw the transformation of the old aerodrome at Samonda to a beautiful housing estate. I saw the sanitation of Iwo Road Roundabout which used to be a den of urchins, pick-pockets and touts. Ibadan motor parks have been properly designated with stricter enforcement of road transport rules by law enforcement agents. Hawking and street trading which used to be the hallmark of Ibadan merchants have given way to orderly display of wares behind barriers built to restrict traders to delineated commercial areas.
Though the governor has been accused of being reckless with his urban renewal programme, it is to be noted that such major rehabilitation and restructuring work cannot be done without condemnation from the victims and their sympathisers. I would only enjoin the state government to fulfil all its promises by ensuring that those affected by the urban renewal project are adequately compensated. The governor should also ensure that all pro-poor projects embarked on are not starved of funds and are completed on schedule. I am happy by the way the governor has handled the menace of members of the feuding National Union of Road Transport Workers in the state. However, commercial vehicles plying Ibadan roads are too rickety and are environmentally risky. Many of them cannot stand the impartial checks of Vehicle Inspection Officers and Road Safety Marshals. It would be most appreciated if the governor could assist the transport unions in the state with a bail-out to enable them to replace their jalopies with roadworthy vehicles.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Deputy Governors and their ‘Oga at the top’

My intervention this week is on the importance, role, and intrigues surrounding the office of the deputy governor. Before launching into it, I wish to offer my condolences to the government and good people of Ekiti State on the death of their deputy governor, Mrs. Olufunmilayo Adunni Olayinka, which sad event took place on Saturday, April 6, 2013. May the good Lord comfort the family of the departed.
Alhaji B.B Faruk of Kano State; Abdullahi Argungu of Kebbi State; John Okpa of Cross River; Mrs. Kofoworola Bucknor Akerele and Mr. Femi Pedro both of Lagos State; Alhaji Sani Abubakar Danladi of Taraba State; Alhaji Garba Gadi of Bauchi State; Iyiola Omisore of Osun State; Mr. Enyinnaya Abaribe (now a senator) of Abia State; Obong Chris Ekpenyong of Akwa Ibom State; Peremobowei Ebebi of Bayelsa; Alhaji Ibrahim Hassan Hadejia of Jigawa; and now, Sir Jude Agbaso of Imo State, all have something in common: They were all former deputy governors who got removed. Since the impeachment and removal of the deputy governor of Imo State on Thursday, March 28, I have read a lot of reactions to the charade which the revered Dr. Tonnie Iredia, former Director-General of the Nigerian Television Authority, referred to as a fake impeachment in his column in Sunday Vanguard of April 7.
There is another category of deputy governors who though were not removed but were given a soft-landing of being allowed to “voluntarily resign”. Three ready examples that come to mind in this regard are those of Chief Akin Omoboriowo of Ondo State during the Second Republic; Alhaji Aliyu Wammako of Sokoto State; and the purported resignation of the immediate past deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Nsima Ekere on October 31, 2012. Yet, there is another category of deputy governors who though were not impeached but were embroiled in a bitter feud with their “Oga at the top”. Among them were Dame Virgy Etiaba of Anambra State; Micheal Botmang and Mrs. Pauline Tallen of Plateau State during this Fourth Republic.
A lot of commentators have queried the rationale behind the ordeal of Agbaso. They opine that there is more to the impeachment saga than the bribery issue on which the state House of Assembly based its action. This may be true or may be a mere hearsay. Impeachments are by their very nature a political rather than moral or legal action. That is why more often than not, court rulings are ignored when impeachment proceedings are initiated. A critical examination of all the previous impeachment exercises will reveal that they were largely politically motivated. The ostensible reasons mostly given for carrying out impeachment range from gross incompetence, corruption to abuse of office among others, as if they were calling the shots in the absence of their bosses. However, the real reasons always border on distrust, over-ambition, particularly for those who may want to succeed the governor, and disloyalty to the governor among others. Though the same procedures were stipulated for the removal of governor and the deputy, it is however easier to remove the deputies because they do not have political favours to dispense. They do not directly control the budget of the state like the governors nor do they have appointive powers and thus have little or no influence.
It was a former governor of Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, who was said to have referred to deputy governors as spare tyres. It is indeed very much so as the position of the Secretary to the State Government is weightier and more recognisable than that of the Deputy Governor. This is spot on as Section 193 of the constitution equates the office with those of the commissioners. It says in subsection 1, “The Governor of a state may, in his discretion, assign to the Deputy Governor or any Commissioner of the Government of the state responsibility for any business of the Government of that state, including the administration of any department of Government.” Thus, it is not surprising that while some lucky few among the rank of the deputy governors are assigned a ministry to superintend as a commissioner in addition to their role as deputy governor; the not-so-favoured ones are impeached or rendered redundant in office.
It should be noted that a similar scenario as playing out in some states also did happen during the President Olusegun Obasanjo and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar presidency. It will be recalled that former President Obasanjo was said to have done everything to frustrate his Vice-President particularly during their second tenure. But for the judiciary which ruled in favour of Atiku Abubakar, his office was practically declared vacant when an impeachment move against him could not sail through.
The frosty relationship between governors and their deputies is borne out of the fact that the two are often strange political bedfellows. Deputies are most times foisted on the governors by their political parties or godfathers. Thus, they operate under a climate of distrust. Any wonder constitutional provisions are jettisoned on the altar of political expediency particularly in terms of transmission of executive power to deputy governors when the governors are unavailable to govern? In the entire history of the Fourth Republic, it was only a former Zamfara State governor, now Senator Sani Yerima, who courageously endorsed his former deputy, Mahmuda Aliyu Shinkafi, to succeed him in 2007. Irreconcilable differences with his former boss however led Shinkafi to defect to the Peoples Democratic Party from the All Nigeria Peoples Party. This angered Yerima so much that he pulled all the strings to ensure that Shinkafi did not succeed in his second term ambition.
The position of the deputy governor is too shallow and only holds value to the extent that its holders enjoy immunity like the governor and have the prospect of becoming Acting Governors or substantive chief state executives depending on what happens to the elected governor. Section 186 of the 1999 Constitution as amended which establishes the position merely says, “There shall be for each state a deputy governor.” Section 187 that follows makes nomination of a deputy governor by the governor a mere ritual to fulfil all righteousness. Again, the constitutional provision in Section 188 (2) (b) which makes gross misconduct in the performance of office an impeachable offence is uncharitable and open to abuse. Even though subsection 11 states thus, “Gross misconduct” means a grave violation or breach of the provisions of this Constitution or a misconduct of such nature as amounts in the opinion in the House of Assembly to gross misconduct.”
This explanation gives too much discretionary powers to the members of the state legislature. It would be most helpful if what constitutes gross misconduct can be specifically mentioned in the constitution. Also, if the deputy governor stands election independent of the governor in which case they are not mere nominee of the governor, perhaps they will cease to be treated as filthy rags or appendages of the governors. Yet, even if the legal provisions remain as they are and we have men of character and integrity in place, all these “black market” impeachments and fractious relationship within and among the three arms of government will cease. I say this because the provisions for removing a governor or deputy governor as stipulated in Section 188 are very thorough and rigorous involving both the legislative and the judicial arms of government. Unfortunately, we hardly follow due process especially in political matters.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Policing Nigerian porous borders

“Since I assumed office, we have taken deliberate steps in conjunction with the National Boundaries Commission to identify our borders and the routes that lead to Nigeria from other countries, and in the process, we have been able to identify 84 regular borders and over 1,487 irregular routes to the country.”
–Abba Moro, Minister of Interior
When I read this information in the February 6, 2013 edition of The PUNCH, it dawned on me that Nigeria, my dear native land, is indeed in trouble. There is no doubt that the country is a huge land mass covering a total area of 923,768sq. km (land: 910,768 sq. km and water: 13,000 sq. km). Given this magnitude of irregular entry points, any wonder the country is faced with huge population of illegal aliens? It is true that there is ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and Goods. However, such persons have to be well-documented by the Immigration Service. The activities of illegal immigrants have constituted a great security risk to Nigeria. Some of those arrested recently in Lagos by men of the State Security Services, Police and Nigerian Army were caught with some arms and ammunition. In fact, some of these aliens are involved in banditry while there are insinuations that some of them have links with some international terrorist organisations.
Even when they are not involved in terrorism, some of these illegal immigrants constitute nuisance by taking to street begging. Most of them who beg are women and children and could be found in traffic and major urban street junctions using sign language to plead for alms since many of them are illiterate. They are a pest. I must add that not all of them are nonentities or parasites. Some of them actually engage in legitimate trade and also offer needful services. Some of them, known in northern Nigeria as ‘’buzus’’, are engaged as private security guards. They are believed to be armed with charms and amulets which make their territories a no-go area for armed robbers and other criminal elements. Some others sell groceries, while some engage in barbing, hair-plaiting, shoe-mending, retailing of water (mai-ruwa) and offer other sundry services for a fee.
On Tuesday, March 26, 2013, about 57 of such irregular aliens who are mainly from Niger Republic were deported by the officers of the Nigerian Immigration Service. One of them named Amadu was quoted as saying: “I am from the Republic of Niger. I came in through Kebbi State. I came on my own. I always pass through there because no one will stop you. I do not have the passport. I will still find my way back when they throw me out.” Recently in Kano, the Interior Minister, while emphasising the concern of the Federal Government over the porous nature of Nigeria’s borders, said over 20,000 of illegal aliens had been deported so far. The point being made here is that our spongy borders make it easy for these non-Nigerians to come in without proper authorisation and documentation. Sometimes, some of these illegal foreign nationals acquire Nigerian passports and perpetrate all manner of atrocities in the name of the country. These range from smuggling of narcotics to gun-running.
The other side of Nigeria’s porous borders is that they aid economic crimes. Here, I am not talking of crimes by illegal aliens. I am concerned about those perpetrated by my compatriots. We must call a spade by its proper name; some Nigerians take advantage of our porous borders to smuggle in cars, and other items like frozen chickens, turkey, rice, cars, narcotics, wines, clothing materials, shoes, and alcoholic drinks, among others. Some of these illegal imports are outright banned products while some attract high tariffs. In a bid to evade paying the correct duties, the smugglers use any of the over 1,000 irregular entry routes. In the process of carrying out their nefarious activities, these smugglers have maimed and killed officers and men of some of the security agencies such as the Nigerian Customs Service, Nigerian Immigration Service, that operate at the border posts.
We have been told several times that the reason why government must deregulate the downstream petroleum sector is to make the smuggling out of petroleum products unattractive to the perpetrators. Thousands of litres of premium motor spirit (petrol) and kerosene are said to be smuggled out of the country on a daily basis because government’s subsidy on the products has made them cheaper inside Nigeria than they are in neighbouring countries.
Even though the leaky borders contribute to smuggling, the illegal business also thrives due to the connivance of some unscrupulous government officials (particularly men of the security agencies that man the border posts) with the smugglers. One of what is considered as ‘juicy posting’ in the Nigerian Customs Service, Nigerian Immigration Service and others is to be on border duty post. This post affords the corrupt ones among the officials an opportunity to enrich themselves by negotiating bribes with smugglers and illegal aliens.
Now that the minister had discovered all the regular and irregular entry points into Nigeria, he needs to roll up his sleeves to mount the necessary surveillance and build the needed structures that will enable his ministry to monitor and control entries and exits in and out of the country. Moro said that plans were underway to use the Public Private Partnership model to demarcate further Nigeria’s border posts with her neighbouring countries to ensure better management. His words, “We are contemplating using the Public Private Partnership model to see how we can construct graders around our borders. As it is today, if you go to many of our land borders, you hardly can define when you are in Nigeria and when you are out of it, and that is because of the lack of physical structure that can separate Nigeria from the other countries.”
Moro must know that this is of utmost national importance and as such, his ministry needs to expedite action on this venture. While the PPP arrangement is being worked out, the minister must liaise with other ministries such as that of Defence and Police Affairs to deploy adequate armed and civil personnel to ensure effective border management. These personnel should work with border communities to gather intelligence and check activities of smugglers and other notorious groups. As the saying goes, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.