Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Nollywood at 20 and Nigeria’s entertainment industry

Congratulations to all Nigerian thespians, playwrights, producers, directors, costumiers, scriptwriters, musicians, set-designers, location managers, dancers, choreographers, cameramen and women, photographers, editors, marketers, financiers and all other professionals who are involved in film-making in the country.  From November 2 – 27, 2013, Nigeria’s movie industry, better known as Nollywood, is set to celebrate its two decades of existence with pomp. Lots of interesting activities have been lined up to mark the twentieth anniversary celebrations. These include a grand awards night, a charity novelty football match, special master class sessions for practitioners, coaching clinics for Nigerian youths and upcoming motion picture practitioners, special charity-support activities, among others.
I appreciate the artistry, resilience, and conscientiousness of Nollywood practitioners. From nothing, they have made the Nigerian film industry a global brand so much so that in 20 years, Nollywood is rated third best world over coming after the United States of America’s Hollywood and India’s Bollywood. I had a taste of the popularity of Nigeria’s films and artistes in Ghana in 2008 when I was a short term international election observer with The Carter Centre.   At the Bekwai constituency in the Kumasi Region where I observed the December 28, presidential run-off, it was a pleasant surprise as some of the poll officials, having noticed that I am from Nigeria, warmed up to me and told me that they love our actors and actresses. Names of screen divas such as Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Genevive Nnaji, Ini Edo and actors such as Nkem Owoh (Osuofia), Desmond Elliot and Ramsey Nouah were mentioned.
There is no gainsaying the fact that Nigeria movie professionals have contributed immensely to national development. Apart from offering employment to several thousands of people along the value chain, Nollywood has helped to foster national unity as people from different ethnic, religious and cultural background work together in making good films for our entertainment. The country’s film industry has also helped to project and promote Nigerian cultures and values. Nigerian names, food, attires, dance, tourist centres, architectural designs, music, and general lifestyles have been locally and internationally promoted via our film industry. The Nigerian movie industry has also done a lot of image laundry for the country. Our films, movies and artistes have won numerous prestigious national and international awards among which is the Africa Movie Academy Awards. Our actors and actresses have also had the opportunity to showcase their talents in other countries in Europe, America and Africa. Our films have provided an unrivalled means of relaxation. Films with comedy slants have helped to reduce stress by offering comic reliefs.
Nigerian actors and actresses have also been able to demonstrate their resourcefulness and versatility by their ability to play multiple roles in the industry. Some are artistes, masters of ceremonies, directors and producers all rolled into one. Some such as Elliot, Owoh, Jalade-Ekeinde, Tonto Dike, Segun Arinze, the late Hubert Ogunde and a host of others have also proved that they are equally good musicians.
Even though stage plays as well as television and radio dramas predate the advent of the movie industry, it is sad that stage plays have been relegated to the background. I used to go to the University of Ibadan Theatre Arts Hall, Cultural Centre at Mokola and Obisesan Hall  in Dugbe,  Ibadan to watch stage plays by the UNIBADAN Performing Company where the likes of Becky Musa, the late Sam Loco Efe and Clarion Chukwura used to hold sway. Stage plays are no longer fashionable because it is not as financially rewarding to the artistes as featuring in movies. Even when the likes of Chief Eddie Ugbomah, Adeyemi Afolayan (Ade Love), Moses Olaiya (Baba Sala), and the late Ogunde pioneered filmmaking in the early 80s, we had to go to cinemas to watch them. It was thereafter that home videos came and people could then purchase the VHS tape and later Compact Discs to watch. The advent of home videos coupled with the high level of insecurity has made the cinema culture to also go comatose.
Among the challenges facing Nigeria’s film industry are inadequate funding as many of the filmmakers have to depend on private individuals to finance their projects. These financiers dictate both the storyline as well as the artistes to feature; piracy (illegal or unauthorised duplication and sales of intellectual properties e.g. films. A handful of powerful individuals at the Alaba International Market in Lagos are notorious for this); lack of an umbrella structure for the industry; inadequate training  and exposure of filmmakers on how to use modern technology to perfect their acts;  advent of cable or satellite television stations which take delight in showing films produced thereby making it unnecessary for individuals to buy personal copies; substandard production aftermath of low budget; market glut as a result of too many releases at the same time; weak legal framework and enforcement by the regulators (in spite of the establishment of the National Film and Video Censors Board, some films whose contents are unethical, immoral, or culturally insensitive are found in the market when they ought to be banned.
Like the film industry, the wider entertainment industry in the country follows the same narrative.  Nigerian musicians have done the country proud both locally and internationally. Nigeria’s brand of music such as Afrobeat, Highlife, Reggae, Rap, Hip-Hop (Nigerian version) and traditional genres such as Juju, FujiApala, Awurebe, Were, Waka, Sakara, Dundun and Sekere, Bolojo, Ewi, all have international appeal with many of the exponents travelling abroad to perform at international music festivals as well as for Nigerians in the Diaspora.
Some Nigerian musicians such as Femi Anikulapo Kuti and King Sunny Ade have also been nominated for Grammy, the most influential music award in the world, though they did not win. However, Nigerian musicians in the Diaspora such as Sade Adu and Seal have won the Grammies. About seven Nigerian musicians are among the richest top 10 in Africa in the Channel O and Forbes list recently released for 2013. There are now many talent hunt shows supported by the private sector such as the MTN Project Fame, Nigerian Idol, Glo X Factor, Multina Dancehall, etc. These are no mean achievements.  The comedy sub-set of Nigeria’s entertainment industry has also grown big with many of our comedians and comediennes now organising shows both within and outside Nigeria as well as running personal television comedy shows.  It is heartwarming that Nigerian artistes have been found worthy by the Nigerian telecommunication industry as brand ambassadors.
As with the filmmakers, Nigerian musicians and comedians face similar challenges such as their intellectual properties being pirated or used without licence, sub-standard production, funding constraint, and lack of self-censorship. Some of Nigerian artistes are fond of lewd songs and jokes. Women particularly are greatly mistreated both in their songs and promotional videos. Some of our comedians and comediennes promote  stereotypes. For instance, Warri, a prominent town in Delta State usually has its inhabitants projected as lawless, careless and uncouth people. This is wrong.
About the funding challenge faced by the entertainment industry, the Federal Government has stepped in to offer a lifeline to the artistes. In 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan promised a $200m soft loan to the filmmakers. Various bureaucratic bottlenecks however hampered the disbursement of the bail-out. At a dinner held with top Nollywood practitioners in Lagos to celebrate Nollywood’s 20th anniversary on March 2, 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan announced a N3bn grant to support the motion picture industry. He also launched a programme known as “Project Nollywood,” which he said would help to support the key components of the industry’s value chain through a dedicated grant. At the same event, the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Godswill Akpabio, also endowed the “Goodluck Jonathan Prize for Best Producer, Actor and Actresses”, worth N50m. It remains to be seen if these lifelines will be accessible and put to good use by the theatre practitioners. The different unions in the industry also need to float an endowment fund to assist some of their members facing health challenges. However, 20 hearty cheers to Nollywood, do keep the flag flying.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

NCAA $1.6m toys for Nigeria's Aviation Minister

“Therefore the best fortress is to be found in the love of the people, for although you may have fortresses, they will not save you if you are hated by the people”
—Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince
Nigeria is indeed a theatre of the absurd. The frequent scandals we are treated to confirm this more than anything. Thus, when news broke out last week that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority purchased two armoured BMW 760 Li cars for the use of the Minister of Aviation, Ms Stella Oduah, I could not but hold my head in disbelief.  Am I suffering from auditory hallucination? Two bulletproof cars for a whopping $1.6m (N255m). This is our aviation empress’ priority while the sector is riddled with avoidable crisis while our public hospitals and universities have been shut down by striking doctors and lecturers!
A number of issues have been raised by various analysts on the NCAA Greek gifts to the minister. First, is it appropriate for an agency under a ministry to purchase cars for the use of its supervisor? Were the funds for the cars in the NCAA budget for 2013? There are six parastatals under the aviation ministry, why is it only the NCAA that single-handedly bought the cars? Were they meant to curry the minister’s favour? Couldn’t the Ministry of Aviation have purchased the cars from its own budget rather than relying on an agency under it to protect the minster with a bulletproof car? Are the cars not against the monetisation policy of government?  Was there value for money in the purchase of the cars?
Various revelations have shown that same model of cars cost far less from the manufacturers. In fact, Sunday PUNCH of October 20, 2013 said in a news report thus “Each of the two armoured BMW 760 Li cars bought for the Minister of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah, by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority is more expensive than the British Prime Minister, David Cameron’s car. While Oduah’s cars go for $800,000 (about N127.5m) each, Cameron’s armoured Jaguar XJ X351 car costs £200,000 (about N52m). ….Even at the N52m price, Cameron’s car reportedly has more sophisticated features, including special bullet and bomb-proof security armour, run-flat tyres, bulletproof glass and a self-contained oxygen supply”.
Even the justifications of the NCAA and the Special Assistant, Media to the Aviation Minister, Joe Obi, were very hollow. That the minister needs bulletproof cars because of potential threats to her life as well as to convey foreign aviation regulatory agencies dignitaries sounds unconvincing. If Oduah needs bulletproof cars, would she need a bulletproof office, official quarters, and airplane in order to work? What is the responsibility of all those security details at her beck and call? I mean what are the police and state security service agents posted to her doing? If she knows that she’s not safe performing her duties she ought to have voluntarily resigned.
It will be naive to think that only the aviation minister has abused her office by making this ludicrous demand from an agency in her ministry. Some other serving ministers may have been doing so and it is high time such was unravelled and stopped forthwith.
In 2010, I recall a similar allegation of over-invoicing or inflated purchase made by Dino Melaye against a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole. In a petition submitted to the chairperson of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Monday, June 21, 2010 and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission on Wednesday, 23 June, 2010, members of the Group of 11 (G-11) who called themselves “Progressive Minded Legislators” alleged a fraud of N9bn contract scam against Bankole.  In the words of Melaye, “We have documents to prove that some items approved by the Body of Principal Officers of whom the Speaker, Dimeji Bankole, is the chairman were inflated. A unit of 40-inch LCD TV set was purchased for N525, 000 each, contrary to the price list by the Bureau of Public Procurement and market price of N180, 000 by Samsung. While three bulletproof Mercedes Benz cars were bought for over N50m each, two Range Rovers were bought for N57m each.” The House leadership was further alleged to have bought touches, car seats, fire extinguishers and sundry items for members at inflated prices. What has come out of the investigation?
Also, we have had a scenario where the regulator asked an operator to co-fund investigation into the operator’s activities. Remember the case of the House Committee on Capital Market which had written to the Securities and Exchange Commission for a sum of N44m last year? The rejection of SEC to approve the sum and the exposure of the Director General of SEC on the inappropriate request were partly responsible for the National Assembly’s call for the removal of the DG as well as non-appropriation of any fund for SEC in the 2013 budget.
If the truth must be told, the ruling elite in Nigeria care less about the welfare of the populace. They wallow in obscene affluence while majority of the citizenry could hardly afford a decent meal in a day. In the midst of decaying infrastructure, high rate of unemployment, and other unimpressive indices of development, all our ruling elite is obsessed with is self aggrandisement. Setting the pace is the presidency with mind-blowing amount earmarked annually for feeding, and a penchant for wonders on wheel. In the air fleet of Nigerian president is about a dozen presidential jets and countless number of ‘mobile palaces’ as presidential cars.
Even our state governors have started acquiring private jets for their incessant but mostly frivolous travels. At the same time, they pay themselves humongous amount as security votes. Our federal parliamentarians were recently declared as one of the highest paid in the world yet they only sit for 181 days in a year! (Section 63 of 1999 Constitution, as amended). Even if they work every day of the year, the amount of salaries and allowances these lawmakers pay themselves will still be unjustifiable.  This definitely is not how to serve the people. What Nigerian taxpayers spent maintaining the handful of ruling elite would have made many of the borrowing sprees embarked upon by the various levels of government unnecessary. Our leaders should show some empathy for the poor and the vulnerable and drastically reduce their huge appetite for vain-glorious and ostentatious living. Not even their bulletproof cars and aircraft will be able to shield them from people’s revolt when the time comes. I do hope they draw inspiration from the eternal words of Niccolo Machiavelli cited in the opening statement of this piece.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

National conference: The right thing at the wrong time

Expectedly, the most discussed issue since October 1, 2013 is the proposed national conference consented to by President Goodluck Jonathan in his Independence Day broadcast.  Since then, the President has gone ahead to inaugurate the Femi Okurounmu-led National Advisory Committee on National Dialogue. My take on this whole issue is that it is a right thing being done at the wrong time. Yes, it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war. However, convoking a national dialogue on the eve of an election year is ominous. The quick succession in which the opponents of the idea became the proponents is suspect. First, Senate President David Mark welcomed the idea on resumption from the National Assembly’s recess in September before the President established a 13-member committee on October 1. The nation’s No. 1 and 3 citizens are known antagonists of the idea before now.
My main bother about the timing of the conference is that it may affect the proper planning for the 2015 elections. Election needs a painstaking planning and enormous funding; with all the energy, time and resources being channelled towards a national dialogue, inadequate resources may be made available to the Independent National Electoral Commission to prepare for the 2015 polls. Given that the Okurounmu’s committee has been given six weeks to plan for the conference, all points to the fact that the main conference will take place in 2014.
The Obafemi Awolowo Foundation held a colloquium on October 7 where it tried to do agenda setting by asking for a nine-month conference of 400 delegates 90 per cent of whom will emerge by electoral colleges from wards, local governments, states and zonal levels on a non-partisan basis. The remaining 10 per cent, it was suggested, would be nominees of professional bodies, trade unions, civil society organisations, which of course should include youths, children and women as well as pan Nigerian religious bodies. My concern is that instead of INEC to focus on preparations for 2015 polls, it might end up being saddled with organising or supervising election of persons to attend the national conference and the proposed referendum on the outcome.
Is there really a way we can have the dialogue without the 2015 elections being hampered or are we going to have the conference and still allow INEC to go on with the preparation for the polls? What if the conference resolves to alter the current political structures and systems? For instance, what if it resolves that we go back to parliamentary system of government as some have said that the cost of running a presidential system is too prohibitive? What if we decide to try out unicameral legislature as against the current bicameral structure? What if we agree to reduce or increase the number of states, local government, federal constituencies, state constituencies, etc?  Some people have also suggested going back to the First Republic regional structure. Others have called for the scrapping of the State Independent Electoral Commission and its functions being taken over by INEC. What if the conference approves the proposition of a single term of six or seven years? Will it take effect immediately or post 2015 polls? Will there be a new constitution to be drafted after the national dialogue? The implication of all these posers is that the conference may very likely impact negatively on the plans for 2015 elections. If there is no election in 2015, what then happens? The current political office holders get to stay on? Will that not confirm the suspicion that the motive for acceding to the national dialogue is self-serving rather than altruistic? Or, will there be an interim government?
I would have preferred a situation where the conference would have held last year (2012) so that the implementation of the resolutions would not hamper the preparations for the next polls. What that would also have done for us was to save the nation the enormous resources already spent on constitution amendment currently being pushed through the national assembly. As it were, both chambers embarked on nationwide public hearings with the House of Representatives holding historic peoples public sessions in the 360 federal constituencies. At present, the National Assembly is expected to set up a conference committee to hamonise the positions of the two chambers, vote on the proposals and send sections that get two-thirds majority approval to the state Houses of Assembly for possible concurrence. If the National Assembly had not been tardy with its constitution amendment timeline and had met the June 2013 proposed end-date, that exercise would have been concluded before this scheduled conference. Is our country so rich to afford all these exercises?
It would seem most of the Nigerian political, business and religious elites and opinion moulders have bought the idea of national conference and  are willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt, but let it be on record that I warned the nation that it is a right idea being implemented at a very wrong time. When Kenya did her own in 2010, the elections were some three years ahead (the elections held in March 2013). I would rather we give INEC the needed support and resources to organise a better election in 2015 than spending 2014 discussing Nigeria and putting the election management body in a state of suspended animation or uncertainty.

Air crashes and Regulators’ Dilemma

The October 3, 2013 crash of Associated Airline plane in Lagos which claimed about 15 lives out of the 20 on board has diminished the great works the regulatory agencies have been doing to make Nigeria’s airspace safe. If the truth must be told, the Federal Ministry of Aviation has been trying to do the needful to ensure international best practices in the sector. Since the ill-fated Dana plane crash of June 3, 2012 in Lagos, the aviation ministry and agencies under it have been intensifying effort to enforce compliance with policies and procedures guiding the operations of the airlines. Not only that, many of the airports dotting the Nigerian landscape has been receiving facelift with the Akanu Ibiam Airport in Enugu recently upgraded to international status.

Aviation experts are wont to saying that the sector is the most regulated of all the means of transportation. Unfortunately, in spite of the perceived strict regulations, air crashes is gradually becoming a perennial event in Nigeria. What is missing? From what has been in the public domain since the latest mishap, it would seem some of the airlines have been cooking the books and doctoring their certifications. Everything looks good on paper – maintenance done as at when due, pilots well trained, etc. However, in reality, those documentations may have been forged. There is insinuation that the crashed Associated Airplane may not have valid insurance. Last Friday, a Commissioner with the Accident Investigation Bureau, Capt. Muktar Usman revealed that information gotten from the black box retrieved from the crashed plane showed that the pilots ignored the automated warning from the onboard computer voice, alerting them of a possible problem with the aircraft flaps and right engine. Should this claim be true, the competence of the pilots who flew the plane is in doubt.

There are allegations that pilots and engineers in some airlines are being owned salaries and allowances and as such may not be in good frame of mind to perform their delicate duties. This is aside the accusation that some spare parts used in the repair of some planes may be obsolete. I am really amazed that airlines are still cutting corners despite the multi-billion Naira aviation intervention fund made available to bailout airlines operating in Nigeria. The regulatory authorities need to do more to sanitise the ailing sector.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The many travails of Nigerian judiciary

Amidst the cacophony of the roforofo fight between the “Old Peoples Democratic Party and the “New PDP”; the distraction called the national conference and the tragic Associated Airline plane crash of Thursday, October 3, I have chosen to beam my searchlight and lend a voice to the clarion call for the rescue of the Nigerian judiciary from an imminent collapse.  Nigeria on October 1 marked its 53rd independence anniversary while the Supreme Court also marked its 50th anniversary.  How has the judiciary fared in the last five decades?
There is no doubt that the judicial arm of government plays a pivotal role in nation building. The courts interpret the law and adjudicate disputes among parties, be they individuals, persons and the states, different levels of government as well as different legal entities. It is often said that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man. This is true. But for the judiciary, many crimes would have gone unpunished.  If not  for the judiciary, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar would not have been able to contest the 2007 presidential election;  Peter Obi, Rauf Aregbesola, Adams Oshiomhole,  Kayode Fayemi  and Olusegun Mimiko would probably  not have been governor of  Anambra, Osun, Edo, Ekiti and Ondo states respectively after their mandates were initially stolen by the  Peoples Democratic Party candidates;   Chibuike Amaechi would not have been governor of Rivers State in his first term as his victory at the party primary was annulled by the powers-that-be in his party until the Supreme Court installed him as the winner of the 2007 PDP governorship election;  some governors would have spent six to seven years  as one term instead of four  because of the spurious claim that their first election was annulled and their tenure started to count from when they won their re-run. The judiciary helps to redress injustices and maintain law and order in the country.
I give kudos to the magistrates, judges and justices as well as all those who work in our temples of justice, the courts. They have done well in spite of the daunting challenges and the inclement work environment in which they operate. These ladies and gentlemen at the bench have been working assiduously with the police and other security agencies as well as the Nigerian Prison Service to dispense justice and sanitise the society of crimes and criminality.
On Monday, September 23, 2013, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mariam  Aloma Mukthar inaugurated the 2013/2014 Legal Year which also coincided with  the swearing in of 17 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria. The CJN at the event laid bare the plethora of challenges currently facing the country’s judiciary. Among the lot mentioned are untoward attitude of litigants, lawyers and judicial officers alike (some of whom are corrupt and indolent); ill equipped court rooms (some courts lacked basic facilities like furniture, well lit and ventilated environment, library); inability of judges to embrace ICT (most judges still write their reports, rulings and judgments in long hand while relying on court clerks to type them. This practice does not guarantee confidentiality and also lead to delay of justice).
Mukthar described some of our laws as being archaic and culturally irrelevant and condemned the unwholesome practice of some security agents involved in the criminal justice administration system.  According to her, “It is common knowledge that our security agencies usually rush to the courts with suspects, before looking for evidence to prosecute them. The persistent use of the ‘’Holden charge’’ by these agencies to detain awaiting trial suspects, is a major contributor to the high number of cases pending in our courts”. The CJN opined that, “An extreme consequence of these glaring lapses may lie in the loss of confidence in our domestic justice administration system which rubbishes our often brandished favourable investment climate and translate to a huge disincentive to potential foreign investors in Nigeria”
She expressed dissatisfaction with our civil and criminal procedures. According to her, “By our criminal procedure, I believe we have a variety of unnecessary dichotomies – felony and misdemeanour, indictable and non – indictable offences, etc. This has made commencement of criminal proceedings complicated. Jurisdiction is very paramount in a case and often times, a lot of time is expended on jurisdiction on account of this dichotomy before the proper commencement of the case”. She added that “In civil procedure, the situation is scandalous to our notion of justice. To exhaust the complete remedy in a case, i.e. from trial court to Supreme Court, could take up to 20 years with the original litigants dead and substituted and in some cases the substitutes also dead and substituted. The process of interlocutory appeals aggravates the situation to the extent that by the time the Supreme Court decides that they be continued in trial court, most of the witnesses might have died or are alive but senile, with documents no longer traceable”. Isn’t it a settled legal dictum that justice delayed is justice denied?
Most worrisome of all the concerns raised by the CJN is the recurring dwindling subvention to the judiciary. In her words: “Statistics have shown that funding from the Federal Government has witnessed a steady decline since 2010, from N95bn in that year to N85bn  in 2011, then N75bn  in 2012 and dropped again in the 2013 budget to N67bn. Indeed, with this, if the amount allocated to the extrajudicial organisations within the judiciary is deducted, the courts are left with a paltry sum to operate”. There is no doubt that the judiciary is being treated unfairly among the three arms of government just because it has no say in appropriation matters. While the executive prepares the appropriation bill in terms of budget estimates, the legislative arm does the actual appropriation as the executive is duty bound to implement what the parliament passes. Unfortunately, the judiciary is at a receiving end, having to make do with the little envelope handed to it by the other two arms. The National Assembly has been taking N150bn in the last two or three appropriation years, the executive has equally being taking good care of itself with more jets being added to the presidential fleet and humongous amount in the neighbourhood of a billion naira appropriated for meals and incidentals, yet the fortunes of Nigeria’s judiciary dwindles. This is preposterous!
Another disturbing development capable of destroying the judiciary are the acts of blackmail, intimidation and terrorism being visited on members of the bench. In the last couple of years, a lot of stories have been weaved on some judicial officers by the political class in the main as well as other categories of litigants. Many of the judges were accused of corruption and miscarriage of justice unfairly. No doubt, there are corrupt judges (some have actually been suspended or compulsorily retired on the recommendation of the National Judicial Council) but I am of the opinion that that they are in the minority. The unfolding trend of kidnapping of judges, justices or members of their families is an ill-wind that blows no good. If our judicial officers are being harassed and molested with impunity, in due course, we may not have courageous judges to deliver justice anymore. We may be left with supine judges who will only give judgments. Inadequate staffing is already a phenomenon in our judicial sector. The Supreme Court ought to have a maximum of 21 justices but currently has 15, the CJN inclusive. The Court of Appeal should have 70 with amendments recently made to increase the number to 100; the appellate court does not at present have full complement of justices. Same goes for our high courts, magistrate and customary courts.
All the highlighted malaise needs to be urgently addressed in order to save Nigerian judiciary from an imminent collapse. I heard the Nigerian Law Reform Commission has reviewed some of our archaic laws but the process of reform has yet to be consummated by the National Assembly which needs to legislate on these proposals. As the constitution amendment progresses to its final stage, that’s if the process has not already been scuttled by the proposed national conference, it is important for our lawmaker to take another look at Section 285 of the 1999 Constitution in order to allow 60 days earmarked for appeals in election cases to start from the day appellants filed their appeals and not from the date of the judgment of the trial court as currently obtained.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Nigeria, a crippled giant at 53

That Nigeria celebrated her 53rd independence anniversary on Tuesday is no longer news. That preparations are in top gear to commemorate, with pomp and ceremony, our centennial anniversary of amalgamation in January 2014 is a fact. Many opinions have been expressed about our level of achievements in our socio-economic and political life as a nation. While those in government would want the masses to believe that we have made giant strides in many areas, the people, think and know otherwise. Both sides of the divide – government and masses – wait for the verdict of history.
I will never claim ignorant of the baby step successes this country has achieved in her over five decades of nationhood. Far from it. However, one question that begs for answer is, are we where our contemporaries are? Has the labour of our heroes past paid off? Given the enormity of human capital and natural endowment the country has, can Nigeria be said to have lived up to her full potential?
Among the success stories Nigerian leaders parrot are our sustained unity in diversity; observance of rule of law namely supremacy of the law, equality before the law and fundamental human rights particularly since the 1999 return to civil rule; improvement in the conduct of elections, particularly the widely acclaimed 2011 elections and subsequent state-level polls; expansion of social infrastructure such as schools (primary to tertiary institutions), hospitals, roads, stadia, etc. These are irrefragable facts.
There is no gainsaying those assertions because the most critical censor of government will admit that things have not been stagnant whether from the 1914 amalgamation or 1960 independence. The world is dynamic and things are bound to change. We started off with a parliamentary system of government at Independence but that experiment was short-lived, barely six years, before the military coup of January 15, 1966.   By the commencement of the Second Republic on October 1, 1979, we changed to a presidential system of government. At Independence, we had a handful of tertiary institutions – a few colleges of education, polytechnics and universities. Today, we have about 125 universities (federal, state and private).
At Independence, we had only a few theatre groups doing stage plays and television drama, perhaps about 100 musical groups and a couple of renowned visual artists and fashion designers nationwide. Today, the entertainment industry alone is a multi-billion dollar sector.  Nigeria’s cinema and movie industry which birthed in 1980 has transformed into Nollywood which is ranked the third best in the world after America’s Hollywood and India’s Bollywood. Our music artistes are of international brand with many of them winning national, regional, continental and global musical competitions and helping to burnish the country’s image. In a recently released Forbes 2013 top 10 wealthiest artistes in Africa, Nigerian musicians occupied eight of the 10 slots. A Nigerian, Ms. Agbani Darego, even won the Miss World Beauty Pageant some years ago.
In the field of sports, we have not been without honour as Nigeria has won three African Cup of Nations championships in 1980, 1994 and 2013. We won Olympic Gold medal both in football and long jump at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. We have also won several editions of junior football championships as well as several Olympic medals. The telecommunications revolution of 2001 which brought mobile telephony cannot be ignored as this has made life a lot easier for people. All these are facts; what is the truth?
The truth of our existence, however, is that Nigeria has grossly underachieved given her enormous resources – human and material. What we consider and celebrate as major achievements are what should be routine successes because we have enormous capacity to do better than we are currently doing. The reality today is that we have more destitute people now than we had since independence. There is simply no pro-poor policy in place. Everything appeared to have been done by successive governments both at the federal, state and local government levels, to further impoverish the majority poor. It started under the military with rights and privileges of the masses flagrantly denied them. Public schools and hospitals were left to decay to the point of non-redemption. While there might have been more academic institutions established since 1960, poor funding, policy inconsistency, corruption and bad management have conspired to rob these institutions of quality outputs. Thus, today, Nigerian public educational institutions are notorious for churning out educated illiterates who are mostly unemployable and unproductive. Unfortunately, those are the institutions affordable to the poor as the tuitions of private schools are far beyond their reach.
The truth is that approximately 70 per cent of Nigerians are living below poverty line without any form of social safety nets to cushion their misery. They lack access to basic things of life such as food, clothing and shelter. The undeniable truth is that there is high dependency ratio for the few lucky Nigerians who are gainfully employed while a majority of my compatriots experience high cost of living than high standard of living.
Another patent reality is that Nigerians are more insecure now than we were at Independence. Acts of terrorism and criminality are now very pervasive so much so that human lives have lost their sacred essence. Criminal gangs are having a field day running rings around our security operatives. Nigeria remains the world capital of kidnapping while insurgent groups of various hues are operating with impunity. Oil theft may not be limited to Nigeria but the racket has become one of the most lucrative business deals in the country. Unfortunately, our economy is monoculture, heavily dependent on oil. Every entreaty to our leaders to genuinely diversify the nation’s revenue base to agriculture and solid minerals has been met with rhetoric.  Yet, we have Ministries of Agriculture and solid minerals. We even have a Federal Ministry of Power and Steel but all these non-oil sectors have yet to receive prime attention from government.
We hear that the fertiliser syndicate has been smashed by the incumbent Minister of Agriculture. Good news, no doubt, but has a similar gesture been done at the state and local government levels? So many sloganeering in the agriculture sector.  In the 1970s, we had Operation Feed the Nation; in the 80s, we had the Green Revolution of President Shehu Shagari‘s administration; at another point, we had Back to the Farm. All this notwithstanding, Nigeria has yet to attain food security with billions of naira still spent importing staple food annually.
Virtually everything including water has been either commercialised or privatised.   Sadly, the gains of these business models have yet to be fully experienced. Even in the much touted telecommunications sector, though there is no longer accessibility issue as most people can afford to own a mobile phone, however, the quality of service still remains a nagging issue with the regulatory agencies not doing enough oversight. With the gradual conclusion of the privatisation of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria with the handing over of succession power generation and distribution companies on Monday, September 30, 2013, it is hoped that sustainable improvement in power generation, transmission and distribution would be witnessed to give Nigerians a cause to cheer.
What then is my verdict on Nigeria at 53? We are a crippled giant. A perpetual underachiever with potent ability to do a lot better than we are currently doing. We need to forge a common resolve to overcome our current numerous national challenges. Each arm of government (executive, legislature and judiciary) as well as each level of government, (federal, state and local) has a role to play in the redemptive effort. Individual Nigerians who manage these institutions and tiers of government all have a part to play too. Our current disability is not a permanent ailment, our challenges not insurmountable.