The Sun News » Offside Musings - Voice of The Nation Mon, 05 Oct 2015 08:07:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Why I will not write about Saraki’s trial Tue, 29 Sep 2015 02:17:42 +0000 Friends and fans have pestered me lately with one or two questions. What do you think about the trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki for alleged false declaration of assets? Why haven’t you commented on the matter? Are you going to write about it? My answers have gone along such lines as, “Saraki’s so-called trial is a non-issue.” “It’s all abracadabra.]]>

Friends and fans have pestered me lately with one or two questions. What do you think about the trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki for alleged false declaration of assets? Why haven’t you commented on the matter? Are you going to write about it?
My answers have gone along such lines as, “Saraki’s so-called trial is a non-issue.” “It’s all abracadabra.” “Quote me, the charade has merely usurped the name of anti-corruption trial, but it’s meant to achieve other ends.” “No, I am done writing about illusions.”
I realise that some Nigerians are excited, pumped up. They relish the spectacle of seeing the otherwise imperturbable, even brash, Saraki ensconced in the dock, looking rather harried and diffident. For some Nigerians, this portrait of the senator as an accused is demonstration that Nigeria has entered an era when the law has lost its sight, no longer able to respect privilege. They sing the dawn of a new Nigeria.
I wish this were the case. Demonstrably, it isn’t.
Other Nigerians, quite a few of them animated by partisan sentiments, are plying a familiar trade. They ask: “Is Saraki the only corrupt person in Nigeria?” “Why did it take all these years to bring the charges?” “Why is the war on corruption selective?”
I wish we were a country where universal objection to corruption was the norm. We are far, very far from that. On any given day, in any forum with a smattering of Nigerians, there are excellent odds of finding a few zealous apologists for the corrupt – or, at any rate, those accused of grand acts of corruption.
As I wrote in a recent column, Nigerians appear united in their outrage against petty theft, including pickpocketing. We seem to regard such crimes of desperation, often driven by hunger, as capital felonies. In Nigeria, one of the fastest paths to death is to be caught in a public place attempting petty theft.
By contrast, the big thief in Nigeria – especially, the political or bureaucratic expert in funneling billions of naira of public funds into private pockets – is guaranteed a measure of admiration, if not veneration. Flamboyant, if meaningless, chieftaincy titles, church knighthoods, gushing media profiles and front seats at secular and sacred events are only a partial list of the ways we honour those who do most harm to society and the common good. In the rare event that the EFCC calls at the palatial home of such a thief-in-chief, the eminent robber is guaranteed the vociferous, impromptu defence of an army of Nigerians.
Even though all Nigerians – the big thieves included – live out the dire consequences of our national culture of impunity, quite a few Nigerians seem to shudder at the prospect of a former governor or ex-president being jailed for betraying the public trust. So we, the victims, rush to invent reasons nobody should touch this or that Big Man or, on occasion, this or that Big Woman. We invoke religion: Why must a Muslim or born-again ex-governor be the first to be tried? We dust up ethnicity: Why is the law going after an Efik, Fulani, or Igbo when there are Kanuri or Fulfulde suspects whose sleep no police officer has disturbed? We hoist up the state defence. There are big thieves in all thirty-six states, we say, so why must the Chief Dr. Sir from our own state be the first to taste public humiliation and prosecution?
In a society that takes itself seriously, the first thing Bukola Saraki would have done, before entering that dock, was resign. And I mean not just resign from being the President of the Senate, but resign from the Senate altogether. And most of society would expect, indeed demand, that he does so.
But resignation is the last thing on Mr. Saraki’s agenda, this location being Nigeria. Why resign when there is an ample supply of praise singers to rent, when there are reporters willing to be bought, when there is the sympathy of imams and pastors and justices, retired and serving, to be tapped? At any rate, why retire from the world’s most lavishly rewarded sinecure, the top seat in a legislature whose members, by their choice, are addressed as “Distinguished Senator,” even though their proven distinction is in indolence, mischief, alienation from the deep concerns of Nigerians, and collusion in the manufacture of social misery.
The legislature’s top dog has another reason – in a way sound – for not contemplating resignation. He knows that his ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), like the recently bounced ruler, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), does not have a whiff of spirit in any serious fight against corruption. One proof: Several months after Governor Adams Oshiomhole claimed that US authorities revealed the name of a former minister, who stole more than $6 billion, Nigerians have heard nothing more about the case. It’s as if $6 billion just evaporated into air, la lala lala! Another proof: The APC recently handed its ticket for the Kogi State governorship to Prince Abubakar Audu, a former governor of the same state. Yet another proof: Former Governor Timipre Sylva is one of the top contenders to grab the party’s nomination for the governorship election in Bayelsa State.
Both governorship aspirants are defendants in active corruption cases, but the APC has chosen not to have a memory. In a country of more than a hundred and fifty million people, the self-styled party of change is apparently unable to find any governorship aspirants untouched by scandal or the appearance of it. Saraki, then, must shake his head in bemusement when he hears that his prosecution is part of a new no-nonsense stance on corruption.
The APC’s claim to solid moral funds is founded, solely, on President Muhammadu Buhari’s reputation for restraint and a near-ascetic lifestyle – compared to his peers in the armed forces and public life. But I have always argued that one man’s ethical credentials are far from an adequate foundation on which to build a case for a party’s commitment to real, positive change. There’s a new occupant in Aso Rock, but there’s hardly a new heart and modus operandi abroad.
It behooves Mr. Buhari to articulate a novel and effective approach to fighting corruption. For one, he ought to lend his presidential weight to the cause of ending the corrupt practice called security vote – a system that puts vast amounts of cash in the hands of governors and the president, with no obligation of accountability attached to the disbursement. He also ought to champion the significant scaling back of the immunity clause from the Nigerian constitution. The clause permits certain categories of office holders, including the president and governors, to live above the purview of the law even when they commit crimes.
Like former President Goodluck Jonathan, Mr. Buhari has a predicament. Many of his close political associates are possessed of inexplicable wealth. If the president is fundamentally averse to corruption and the corrupt, he’d better tell us – or show – his strategy for extending to his own political favourites an invitation to enter the dock.
You now know why I would not write about Senator Saraki’s trial. There’s a broader, deeper discussion that engages me!

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Why I’ll sue my mother Tue, 22 Sep 2015 02:11:39 +0000 MY mother has damaged my pristine image, and I am shopping for a lawyer to sue her. So, dear reader: if you happen to know a ruthless, take-no-prisoner’s lawyer, please, please send me her or his contact details.]]>

MY mother has damaged my pristine image, and I am shopping for a lawyer to sue her. So, dear reader: if you happen to know a ruthless, take-no-prisoner’s lawyer, please, please send me her or his contact details.

In case you don’t get it, let me stress the kind of lawyer I wish to hire. I want a lawyer with a long record of suing defamers for the last cent, penny or kobo they have to their name. My dream lawyer would accept no pleas. She or he would disdain half measures. In short, I desire a lawyerly equivalent of Mike Tyson in his prime. No, don’t send me any lawyer who floats like a butterfly. I’m not looking for a skelewu dancer!

I crave an expert at delivering devastating legal upper cuts, a knockout specialist who never pauses or stops until the enemy is fully, totally vanquished.

So why am I looking for such a lawyer, you ask?

I thought I told you already. Because I want to—I must—sue my mother.
What exactly am I suing her for?

You’ve not been paying attention, or you’d remember I already disclosed the rea- son. Okay, again: my mother defamed me, that’s why.

Is it possible to talk it over, to persuade me not to sue her?

The answer is no. Nothing will—and no earthly force can—stop me from pursuing the said lawsuit. Let all the bishops in the world compose an episcopal epistle garnished with a hundred and forty-four citations from the Holy Writ, I won’t be deterred in the least. If all the traditional rulers in Igboland (and the accompanying self-crowned monarchs in the diaspora) should expound on the cultural plague that awaits the son who drags his own mother to court, I will not listen.

Hear me, reader: This matter is way, way beyond the intervention of peacemakers. It’s definitely bound for the courts!

All my uncles and aunts, siblings and cousins may waste their breath, but my ears are plugged to their pleas. And to my friends, I have only this to say on the issue: Keep your counsel to yourself. I won’t listen.

From now on, I wish to hear only from those with the names and contact information of the meanest, nastiest lawyers.

I want a lawyer so hardhearted s/he makes rocks sulk in envy. If you know a lawyer whose dictionary doesn’t have the word mercy in it, pick up the phone now and call me.

You’re still not clear why I’m this incensed? Why I’m threatening a lawsuit against the woman who gave birth to me?

Phew, dear reader, I’m about to lose all patience with your impermeable mind! First, why must you use the word threatening? I’m not threatening to sue; I’m promising!

Let me break down in ABC language what my mother did to me. Perhaps, then, you would understand the gravity of her offense. And hasten to find me that Tyson-like law- yer.

You see, I am a good, tried and tested African man. That means that I worked hard to create for myself the most perfect, flawless life story. Like my blemish-free forebears, I made sure to tell this story of the perfect me to anybody who has ever met me.

I took care to feed my children this perfect narrative of their father. No day passed when I didn’t drum my story into their ears, like a daily dose of vitamins. In the end, they understood how perfect I was from the moment of conception. And they recognized I was fortunate to be born in the good, good old days of yore.

I told them how, from the moment of my birth, I instinctively learned the great virtue of obedience. As a baby, even when I was hungry and wailed to be breastfed, all my mother had to do was give me a stern look, or Father say, “Sshh!”—and I immediately fell silent. It was as automatic as that, a re- flex, in fact.

Anybody who has ever spent five minutes with me knows that I wasn’t quite a week old when I started running errands at home. By five, I was cooking five, six meals a week. As for doing dishes and laundry, ah ah, that was a responsibility I demanded as my permanent birthday gift the year I turned six.
Shall we talk about me as a student? Like every good African of my generation, I was consistently, unfailingly first in every class I took, from kindergarten to PhD. I scored A (or A-1) in every subject I took, from Eng- lish to Molecular Biology. It’s an incontrovertible fact! In fact, the records are there for anybody who has eyes to see. What do you take me for, a liar?

I realize that all my secondary school classmates have also told their children and friends that they, too, always occupied first position. But their claims do not contradict mine in any way. That there are so many simultaneous claimants to the title of “best student” simply goes to prove that I belonged to a generation of “firsters.”

As a true, adult African man, I made sure that, whenever my children looked at me, they marveled at the presence among them of the very embodiment of perfection. I inspired this sense of awe in them by telling them the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about my perfect self.

The children of nowadays are notorious experts in truancy and delinquency. Me, no! As a child, the moment I woke up, I began to do chores. At the end of the day, my parents often had to order me to leave work alone and go to bed. I always went to bed shrieking in protest, because I wanted to do more and more chores.

As a true African man, I made sure my children knew that I never once smoked a cigarette, never drank a beer or spirit, never looked at a girl in an unholy manner, never sneaked out to a party while my parents slept. All I thought, day and night, was work, work, and more work. And I dreamed, at all hours, about becoming that great law- yer, doctor, engineer or accountant.

Dear reader, I had a perfect story that fit the perfect me. Then, last December, two so-called friends from my home state of Anambra talked me into doing a literary event. “You’ve traveled all over the world giving readings, but not in Anambra,” they said. “Why are you discriminating against your own people? Did we put a monkey’s hand in your soup?” they asked.

I agreed to read in Awka, the state capital. My head swelled when they promised it would be a huge event. For starters, the whole event would be broadcast live on radio. All my hard work had paid off, I thought. I was a perfect prophet about to be honored by his own people. Kai!

The day came, the hall was crowded. Many who couldn’t make it into the venue tuned in on the radio. Then the organizers announced that a special person was going to introduce me. That person, they said, was my mother. After all, they added, she’s known me longer than anybody else.

Dear reader, that’s how my trouble start- ed. I didn’t know that these so-called friends had laid a vicious ambush for me! My mother grabbed the microphone and began to speak to the audience—those present and those listening on the radio. To say she was merciless is an understatement! She told everybody that this son of hers who had become a popular writer used to be head- strong, a rebel, a juvenile delinquent. She said her son used to shirk his studies and detested doing homework and chores. She then stated that she and her late husband had used the cane to flog sense into me.

Chai! That’s how, in one fell swoop, Mother demolished the perfect story I had sold to my children, my friends and even ac- quaintances.

Why, I want my perfect image back! I worked hard for it. And I want my mother to pay for wrecking the perfect verbal selfie I had labored, like every good African man, to create.

Now you know, dear reader, why suing my mother is a task that must be done. If you happen to know a lawyer who has scratched out the word “mercy” from her or his dictionary, please send me the lawyer’s info. And be fast!

•Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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Let pensioners eat sand Tue, 15 Sep 2015 01:52:36 +0000 One first reaction on reading some newspaper headlines out of Nigeria is one of incredulity. It simply can’t be true, one declares.]]>

One first reaction on reading some newspaper headlines out of Nigeria is one of incredulity. It simply can’t be true, one declares.
Such was my reaction last week when I saw a report in the Guardian newspaper. The report, written by Charles Ogugbuaja, was titled “Imo Pensioners Owed Over 20 Months Arrears.” For a few minutes, I just stared at the headline, unable to come to terms with the sheer absurdity of it all. Was it even possible that a government, any government, would leave pensioners in the lurch for so long, without any income? Would such a government not simply collapse under the weight of its own contradiction? Would the abused pensioners and their supporters not stake out the grounds of Government House, daring the delinquent governor to step out of his office?

Eventually, I was able to shake off the initial shock. I began to read the report. In an instant, my reaction went from disbelief to disgust to outrage

“As many pensioners and unpaid workers were groaning, the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, on Wednesday, traveled with about 100 persons to Turkey on what he called industrial fact finding trip. Industrialists and others were on the trip. It was the second time in months [that]the governor was leading such a large number to the same country,” the Guardian report disclosed.
According to the report, retired civil servants in the state were being owed arrears of eight months while retired primary school teachers claimed that they had not received any pensions for 22 months.

Even so, the state government’s share of the monthly allocation from the Federation account came to slightly more than N3.9 billion for July. In addition, the state received more than N3 billion in the name of 27 local government councils.

Going by the report, Imo State had got some significant financial breaks from the Federal Government. It said Governor Okorocha had recently revealed that the Federal Government had restructured the monthly deductions from the state’s allocations that went into debt servicing. The restructuring meant that the state now spends N480 million on debt servicing instead of N1.2 billion. Besides, the state had received bailout funds for payment of workers salaries and pensioners’ arrears.

Even though the governor had not divulged the exact amount of the bailout, figures released by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) indicated that Imo State “received about N26.806 billion,” the Guardian reported.

Apparently, Mr. Okorocha, who recently told state workers that his administration spends N1.2 billion each month to pay salaries, wants certain state-owned agencies to commercialize their activities, earning enough revenues to cover staff salaries. And apparently, the 20,000 workers employed by these agencies are opposed to the option of commercializing their operations.

According to the Guardian, the governor has alleged that “more than 40 per cent of those who parade as pensioners are ghost[s], adding that they had been allegedly colluding with some treasury officials to defraud [the]government.” The state government has called for “another round of verification exercise,” to separate the real pensioners from ghost leeches and imposters sucking off public resources. The pensioners are unimpressed. They told the newspaper that they “had been verified in 2011 and 2013 respectively under excruciating conditions.”

Let’s be clear: Imo State is not alone in owing workers and/or state employees arrears that run into many months. In fact, unpaid salaries are one of the gravest, if little discussed, scandals in Nigeria. And it’s not only governments that often treat salaries and other financial commitments as if they were a favor to workers, rather than the rights of men and women who have done work. The Nigerian private sector is also plagued by unpaid entitlements.

Former Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju of my home state of Anambra, a lawyer and journalist by training, gave a haughty dismissal of pensioners who showed up at his office to protest their unpaid pensions. Declaring them dead wood, he reportedly told the pensioners that they should have children abroad who should be taking care of them. My mother, who put in more than thirty years of service as a committed teacher, was one of those pensioners Mr. Mbadinuju told off.
At one point, she had not received a kobo in pension for 14 months! The same governor’s failure to pay state teachers led to a yearlong strike. It’s the kind of tragedy that’s become commonplace in Nigeria. Not only are workers dehumanized by public and private sector employers who don’t pay them; future of the youth is mortgaged when they are subjected to malnourished existence and months of receiving little, no or wretched education.

The argument is often made that too many Nigerian workers are indolent and delinquent. There’s little argument there. And there are, indeed, too many “ghosts” on payrolls, put in there by unscrupulous bureaucrats who make a killing at the expense of the collectivity. Imo State and other public sector employers deserve to find and erase these ghosts. For that matter, it is not unreasonable for the governor to insist that certain state agencies raise the revenues to meet their recurrent obligations.

Yet, allowing for the existence of “ghost” parasites and the argument for significantly beefing up internally generated revenues, there is no excuse—repeat, absolutely no excuse—for owing workers and pensioners even for one month.

It is about time Nigeria criminalized this pervasive practice. A government that shirks its responsibility to pay its workers or pensioners has lost its salt, its legitimacy. In fact, a president, governor, or local government chairperson who is unable to manage the “minimal” task of paying salaries and pensions should be deemed worse than a ghost leader. Such a person should immediately step down, and make way for those who understand the elementary principle that salaries and pensions are a statutory and moral obligation, and that to deny people such a basic entitlement is to degrade them to the level of lower animals.

When a governor doesn’t pay his workers or retired workers, he might as well be saying to them—as Mr. Mbadinuju might—“Go, eat sand!” Such a governor should not be junketing to Turkey or any other address governed by competent men and women who truly understand how to spell the word “leader.”

• Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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Buhari, CBN: First, do no harm Tue, 01 Sep 2015 01:08:47 +0000 President Muhammadu Buhari has yet to outline the direction and goals of his economic policy. Even so, major players in the country’s economy are already feeling the impact of specific policy decisions as ]]>

President Muhammadu Buhari has yet to outline the direction and goals of his economic policy. Even so, major players in the country’s economy are already feeling the impact of specific policy decisions as they are emerging. For a wide segment of these critical players, the impact is negative, even grave.

Under Mr. Buhari’s watch, the Central Bank of Nigeria has banned access to foreign exchange to certain categories of importers, including those who bring in toothpicks, rice, vegetable oil and tomato paste. The bank has also placed severe impediments on other businesses, among them manufacturers that import machinery and other goods.

The motives behind the bank’s recent monetary policies may seem sound—as former Governor Peter Obi recently told reporters in Awka, the capital of Anambra State—but Nigerians appear to be worse off for them.

With the price of crude oil showing no signs of going north soon, Nigerians are in for a long season of hard times. We just came off an electoral season in which all manner of politicians mopped up dollars for their campaigns. If you factor in the flight of capital—as many foreign and local institutional investors, scared of post-election uncertainty, pulled out of the stock market—the picture is of an economy certain to pass through a significant phase of scarcity and painful adjustment. The pressure on the naira remains enormous, and has led to a significant drop in the currency’s value.

The CBN’s response has been to use monetary policies to defend the naira. In pursuit of this defensive stance, the bank has chosen the role of an umpire determined to favor some players in the economy while rigging out other players. It has given the red card to importers of certain commodities. The bank also made it significantly more difficult for Nigerians to make transactions with their domiciliary accounts. It prohibited cash deposits into such accounts, and set new limits for cash withdrawals from accounts. During foreign trips, the daily withdrawal limit is N60, 000 or $300, a rule that defeats the gain of joining the global financial village of electronic bankcards.

Sadly, the CBN’s rules have had the effect of harming, above all, small and medium businesses and their proprietors. The Guardian of August 24 reported that former Governor Obi urged the Central Bank to reconsider its new policy on domiciliary accounts “as it was hurting the economy due to its effects on small and medium scale businesses, which formed the biggest employers of labor in the country.”

According to the Guardian, Mr. Obi suggested that “any policy not favorable to small and medium scale businesses both in short and long terms should be re-examined, especially now that one of the biggest challenges of Nigeria was unemployment.” He described such businesses as “pivotal to the fight against extreme poverty.”

The former governor’s argument is unassailable. Even before a government policy justifies itself in the positive results it brings, it must meet the test of doing no willful harm. And it’s impossible to argue that the CBN’s policies rise to the no-harm standard.

At the current stage of the Nigerian economy, some of the most dynamic players are small or medium-scale entrepreneurs. A few of them are low-level manufacturers, most merchants of imported goods. They are able to employ a handful of people. Even more crucially, they provide for members of their immediate and extended families.

In a country steeped in poverty, these players provide an invaluable safety net, ensuring that millions of Nigerians have some food on their table, are able to go to schools, and have access to roofs over their heads as well as healthcare.

Suddenly, this body of enterprising Nigerians find themselves at the receiving end of the government’s harsh, desperate, but unjustified monetary policy. Their ability to procure goods from their foreign suppliers is all-too suddenly blocked. In a rather summary manner, they are herded into a train whose terminus is a place called Despair & Destitution.

In Nigeria, the rave at the moment is President Buhari’s political appointments, especially the disparity in favor of people from the president’s geographic origin and faith. That conversation is important, and should be engaged. Nigerians of goodwill ought to remind Mr. Buhari that, regardless of the polling numbers he received from different parts of the country, he is morally and constitutionally obligated to view himself (and act) as every Nigerian’s president.

I know that economic policies are not as sexy a subject as political appointments, but I dare suggest that they are of greater—indeed graver—import. And that’s one reason I’d implore Nigerians to take a closer interest in the CBN’s questionable response to the country’s cash crunch.

I have received telephone calls from two men affected by the Central Bank’s monetary policies. “There are a lot of us in this terrible position,” one told me. “We can no longer pay for imports from China or Taiwan or Singapore. And when we try to travel through the airports with the cash on us, the Customs search us down to our underwear and seize the money. What am I going to do to maintain all the people who depend on me? Are they telling me to become an armed robber or kidnapper?”

There was a heartrending tone to the concluding questions. And they were not idle, rhetorical questions, either. To emasculate this breed of economic players—as the CBN’s recent policies have done—is to court disaster on a scale that Nigeria has not witnessed in a long time. The simple logic is that humans must eat. And when they are denied legitimate, lawful and honorable paths to feeding themselves and their loved ones, some of them would resort to self-debased, criminal options. One of the consequences of government policies that gut businesses is a sharp rise in violent crime.

Apart from the social disruption inherent in the CBN’s policies, it is doubtful that it makes economic sense. On August 28, 2015, BloombergBusiness reported “Two members of Nigeria’s Monetary Policy Committee criticized the central bank’s attempts to prop up the naira by restricting access to dollars.” One member, Chibuike Uche, stated: “The denial of foreign exchange to businesses that engage in legitimate economic activities is confounding,” Uche, a professor of banking and finance at the University of Nigeria, said in his personal statement. “I am not convinced the CBN has the legal powers to deny the allocation of foreign exchange to legitimate businesses.” Another MPC member, Doyin Salami, argued that the CBN’s policy “would slow economic growth and that foreign investors were confused by the central bank’s attempts to defend the naira since March.”

Already, according to the paper, “Nigeria’s growth fell to 2.4 percent on an annualized basis in the second quarter, compared with 6.5 percent in the same period of 2014. The central bank’s restrictions probably contributed to the slowdown by making it difficult for manufacturers to buy the imported goods they need to operate, RenCap’s Mhango said in a note on Friday.”

President Buhari ought to step in and ask the Central Bank to reverse its policies—because, first and foremost, they are doing harm. He has a presidential duty to save Nigerians from a needless disruption and the dawn of an even harsher economic climate.

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The aches and pains of explaining Nigeria Tue, 25 Aug 2015 01:58:15 +0000 One of the burdens of being a longtime commentator on issues Nigeriana is that people frequently search me out, via email, text messages, and phone calls to ask questions about Nigeria. These questions come from Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike. For me, what’s fascinating is not that so many people feel tempted to put questions to me; it is that, as a rule, they expect me ALWAYS to offer a coherent response, if not the answer. ]]>

One of the burdens of being a longtime commentator on issues Nigeriana is that people frequently search me out, via email, text messages, and phone calls to ask questions about Nigeria. These questions come from Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike. For me, what’s fascinating is not that so many people feel tempted to put questions to me; it is that, as a rule, they expect me ALWAYS to offer a coherent response, if not the answer.

Yet, the most insightful of my fellow laborers in the vocation of analyzing Nigeria would tell you that the country is one of the most impossible to have a grip on. As a friend of mine once said, with less malice than admiration, Nigeria is a place where absurdity makes sense.
I mean, how do you explain this confounding entity whose people, all too often, defy predictions? It’s a country where a famished pickpocket who steals N50 to eat is garlanded with a tyre, doused with fuel, and set on fire. If you extrapolate from this that Nigerians must be outraged by their politicians’ billion naira heists, think again. No, lots of Nigerians venerate those who steal hundreds of millions from them. They’d festoon the paunchy robber with church knighthood and flamboyant sounding chieftaincy titles.

When you hear the phrase “s, he is a major stakeholder” applied to a Nigerian, look out. Chances are that the object of such adulation has scraped all the way to the bottom of public funds entrusted in their care. If any “disgruntled element” as much as casts an angry eye at the embezzling politician, he is thoroughly dressed down. He’s accused of not being a “constructive critic.” He’s dismissed as an ethnic jingoist. Those who would not demand that public officials live up to their oath as custodians of public trust will be quick to lecture the critic on the imperative of according respect to a thief-in-chief.

In the odd event that anti-corruption agents arrest a billionaire thief, you can count on all manner of people rallying to the beleaguered thief’s cause. His pastor, imam or chief dibia would declare him a God-fearing philanthropist. A delegation of traditional rulers would plead his case, proclaiming him “a proud son of the soil.” A gang of hired writers from his ethnic group, church, state or hometown would ask whether he’s the first corrupt person, or the most. And they would point to all the drivers he’s hired to drive his fleet as proof that the man was not greedy but a creator of jobs, not parochial and self-centered but a generous apostle of trickle down economics, a deliverer of the dividends of democracy.

On a recent vacation in St. Petersburg, Florida, I had a funny exchange with an African American. Once he discovered I was Nigerian, he asked, “Didn’t you guys win the happiest people on earth survey or something?” I confirmed that, some years ago, a European pollster had indeed named Nigerians as the happiest people on planet Earth.
“But I hear there are lots of poor people in the country,” he remarked.
“Yes. And they’re some of the happiest,” I responded, inciting him to roaring laughter.
Seriously, though: How does one explain a country that has one of the world’s vastest reserves of crude oil, but whose citizens continue to wallow in levels of squalor and privation impossible to believe unless encountered? Yet, these same people, crushed to the ground by the actions and inactions of their rulers, continue to intone, “No wahala,” “God is in control,” I full ground,” “Nothing spoil”? How, in other words, do you analyze a people who (appear to) take such ludicrous delight in their impoverishment?
Nigerians fare worse than the residents of several war-ravaged countries in certain social indices. Numerous state governments and companies owe their workers months of unpaid salary at any given time. Even so, the workers dutifully report to work month after unpaid month. When they see oga, the man who quaffs and gorges while denying them their salaries, they genuflect and hail him as “Baba.” How does one explain that behavior, that cooperation with one’s oppressor?
After President Muhammadu Buhari’s official trip to the US, Governor Adams Oshiomhole, who was on the delegation, claimed that American officials had exposed a case of a former minister who pocketed $6 billion of Nigeria’s public funds. In many other countries, public fury would have been instant and sustained. Different sectors of society would demand that the government name and shame the looter—and then bring him/her before a magistrate. Not in Nigeria. So some greedy former minister allegedly stole $6 billion of Nigerians’ collective patrimony? Madam, ejor, bring another bottle of Star. And another plate of nkwobi.
In recent weeks, the trending questions for me have pertained to Boko Haram, the terrorist group that has a quarrel with western education and well nigh everybody and everything else. Why, people ask me, have we seen a resurgence of the group after Mr. Buhari’s inauguration in office? The question has come from those who believed the silly fiction that Buhari was a sponsor of the group. It has also come from those who were certain that his election would scare the insurgents into retreat.
A few days ago, one person asked a question that I had been thinking about myself. He recalled that, soon after Nigeria’s 2015 general elections were postponed for six weeks, troops went on an offensive against Boko Haram. Day after day, we were told that Boko Haram had fled another town they had captured months before. In fact, the soldiers went into the infamous Sambisa forest, routing the insurgents and rescuing hundreds of women they had seized.
So, this friend asked, if Nigerian troops had indeed dominated Boko Haram, how did the group manage to regroup to menace targets and victims in Borno State and other parts of the northeast?
As I often do, I told this questioner that I was just as mystified. I confessed to not knowing the answer.
Last Saturday, Boko Haram fighters reportedly ambushed the convoy of Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai. From the military’s account of the encounter, the terrorists were worsted, losing more men and ammunition than the army did.
But here’s what in know—or think I know, at any rate. That the Islamist fighters felt emboldened enough to take on the military’s top man tells me that the situation is dangerous, extremely so. That daring, if disastrous, attack tells me that Boko Haram is feeling more confident, not less. When you factor in news that the group had strengthened its alliance with ISIL, then you have a potentially explosive scenario.
What’s the solution? I’ll tell you, honestly: I don’t know. But here’s what I know, or think I do: the Buhari administration and the Nigerian military have their work cut out for them. They must out-think, out-strategize Boko Haram—to be able to triumph.

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Waiting on Buhari Tue, 18 Aug 2015 01:11:49 +0000 Everything in and about Nigeria is in a waiting pattern. Everybody, Nigerians and foreigners alike, are waiting on President Muhammadu Buhari. This pattern is a profoundly sobering lesson. It is also both a risk and an opportunity.]]>

Everything in and about Nigeria is in a waiting pattern. Everybody, Nigerians and foreigners alike, are waiting on President Muhammadu Buhari. This pattern is a profoundly sobering lesson. It is also both a risk and an opportunity.

I had an interesting conversation over the weekend with the CEO of a mid-sized Nigerian firm. “Many businesses are at a virtual standstill,” he said. Then he added: “My company and many others are sitting on our cash, not investing much, because nobody knows where [President] Buhari is going to move and how. We don’t know the shape of his economic policy. We don’t even know whether fuel subsidy will stay or go.”

Nigerians and the world have taken a deep breath, waiting to exhale. It appears that what Mr. Buhari does next, hopefully soon, is going to determine how we all are going to exhale.

The chastening lesson is that there’s something fundamentally askew with Nigeria as a nation-space. The fate and fortunes of 170 million people should never hang on the whims of any one person.

At a symposium on Nigeria that held last March at City University of New York (CUNY), I spoke dimly about the blithe reference to Buhari as the “answer.” It was not that I sought to belittle what the eventual winner of the presidential election represented. But I was troubled, even on Buhari’s behalf, about a certain hysteria and cult of personality that was fast building around one man. The man had to have the prerogatives of divinity to be able to discharge the burden of the exaggerated expectations some were in a hurry to hang on his shoulder.+

At any rate, if Buhari were the “answer,” I asked, then what could the “question” possibly be? Certainly, if the question were the malaise of corruption, then it would take far more than Buhari to tackle it. If underdevelopment were the crux, then, again, we would need more than Buhari to address it. If the monster were nepotism, a culture of mediocrity, a wretched educational system, coarsened cultural traits, even the ravages of Boko Haram, the solution must be broader than one man, however estimable.

I saw rather clearly that when some fans characterized Buhari as the answer, they were playing an old, tiresome, ruinous game. It is a game of abdication, a consignment of responsibility to somebody else—and, often, to divinity. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s coterie used a variant of the same game to fuel their (ultimately aborted) third term game. A certified mediocrity and misanthrope like Obasanjo was proclaimed the solution to all of Nigeria’s crises. If we didn’t change our constitution to enable him to stay in power in perpetuity, then we were doomed, his hirelings declared.

Even as the late President Umaru Yar’Adua lay dying in a Saudi hospital, some profiteers from his absent government insisted that he, and he alone, could steer the ship of state. How about former President Goodluck Jonathan, the self-styled transformational leader? Even as he daily proved that the weight of the presidential office exceeded his capacity by far, those within his inner court hailed him as the last word on governance.

More often, Nigerians imply that God is responsible for their desultory condition. Obasanjo squandered something in the region of $16 billion on electric power, only to achieve the magic of a worsened power supply in Nigeria. Rather than offer a sober narrative about the anomaly, he asked Nigerians to pray to God to improve the situation. When we intone “God is in control” or “We’re trusting God” or “In God’s time,” we imagine that we are demonstrating profound piety. In reality, we are putting our infantilism, false sense of sanctimoniousness, and refusal to take responsibility on full display.

Which brings me back to Buhari. He ought to realize the grave danger of encouraging the illusion that he has all the answers to Nigeria’s crises, indeed that he is the “answer.” And the sooner he comes to this realization, the better for him and for the rest of us.

Therein lies a great opportunity. What Nigeria needs is the same mechanism that has served—and serves—every great, thriving nation: institutions. Nigerians don’t need a superman who lectures them from the rarefied heights of Mount Olympus on corruption. We will be better served to have anti-corruption laws, agents and institutions that will search out and prosecute the corrupt, even if they happened to be related to the sitting president. We need a culture that abhors corruption far more than we need a president who fumes at some of the corrupt.

So far, there has been no material difference between Buhari’s approach to fighting corruption and, say, Obasanjo’s or Jonathan’s. Nigerians have read a lot of speeches from Buhari and his associates, but have seen little action. We heard that US officials revealed that a minister in President Jonathan’s administration had stolen an astonishing $6 billion. That spectacular revelation was ill advised. It should have come in a formal indictment of the minister involved.

The government’s revelation merely created some media frenzy, even circus. And that frenzy has all but fizzled out. Perhaps it was fodder for conversation at bars, as Nigerians swilled the next Orijin beer or savored the next plate of goat meat pepper soup. Where is the enduring outrage? Where are the protests and demands for the unmasking and prosecution of the culprit?

The lesson here: statecraft is not an “amebo” affair; it does not consist in titillating the public with shocking, spectacular disclosures. My fear is that the Buhari administration has, in fact, potentially compromised its case. The depraved former minister in question, now duly forewarned, would be busy finding and shredding incriminating documents and enlisting potential witnesses in a massive cover-up.

Buhari must avoid the trap of becoming a monochrome president, daily making hay out of the coming war against corruption. He should know that Nigeria is a broken address. Nigerians and the world are waiting to hear what his educational policy looks like. They are waiting for him to define his healthcare policy. They look forward to learning about the planks of his economic policy. They’d like to know how he proposes to reform the judiciary, the police, and the civil service. They are waiting to learn what he proposes to do to enthrone ethical values in Nigeria, and to make his country one founded, truly, on the rule of law.

Above all, we’d like to see him define the contours of his broad vision, one hopefully inspiring and lofty enough to draw Nigerians and friends of Nigeria to it. If a new Nigeria is to emerge, it will take Nigerians’ collective energy, not one man’s quixotic strivings.

Buhari ought to realize that Nigerians and the world are waiting on him. That pattern should not go on interminably, else Nigerians stand to pay a stiff price. He alone is not—cannot be—the answer to the complicated question of Nigeria.


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What Somaliland taught me Tue, 11 Aug 2015 01:15:36 +0000 Whether Americans or Africans, my friends reacted in much the same way when I disclosed I was headed for Hargeysa, the capital of Somaliland, to participate in an international book festival.]]>

Whether Americans or Africans, my friends reacted in much the same way when I disclosed I was headed for Hargeysa, the capital of Somaliland, to participate in an international book festival.

“Somalia?” one friend asked, a look of deep concern on his face. “Why?”

“Somaliland,” I corrected.


“Isn’t it the same thing?”

“No but, in some respect, yes,” I said. I then explained how British Somaliland had merged with once-Italy-ruled Somalia to form a federation. And how, as a fall-out of the resistance that removed Siad Barre from power and left much of Somalia an anarchic space, the northern clans of Somaliland had opted to form a separate, self-governing republic. Even though Somaliland is bereft of official recognition as a sovereign national entity, its people have run their affairs as a de facto nation-state complete with an army, police, prime minister, parliament and ministers.

Another friend asked, “Is that not the place where pirates hijack ships?”

“No,” I replied.

Others, in anxious voices, admonished me: “stay safe,” “be extra careful,” “don’t wander.”

There was the impression I was a war correspondent about to venture into a theater of fierce fighting, a bloody war. For that matter, I, too, nursed, some sense of apprehension. Despite reassurances from two writer friends, the Somali novelist Abdi Latif and the Nigerian writer Chuma Nwokolo, I had moments infected by fear.

Despite those residual anxieties and, in some measure, owing to them Hargeysa (alternatively spelt as Hargeisa) turned out one of the most moving of the many literary festivals and cultural events I have attended.

The story of my invitation to this extraordinary festival is worth telling. A year and a half ago, Chuma Nwokolo had sent me an email wondering whether I would like to be a guest of the 2015 Hargeysa International Book Festival, the 8th edition of the event. Chuma, the author of such delightful literary romps as The Ghost of Sani Abacha and Diaries of a Dead African, had then participated once in the festival and had written alluringly about his experiences.

Imposingly tall, his mane of hair remarkable for the dark middle sandwiched by two gray sides, Chuma could easily come across as unapproachable. Instead, his exuberant manner and raconteur’s flair, wedded to a lawyer’s emphatic, methodical mode of delivery, make him an instant crowd charmer. Last year, the organizers of the festival asked him to return for his second outing. Not only was he invited back this year, his third, he was also given the task of curating Nigeria’s delegation, the organizers having decided to honor Nigeria as the “guest” country for 2015.

In the end, the wit and versatile poet, Niyi Osundare, Chuma and I made up Nigerian team. In number, the writers and participants from Kenya dwarfed us. Of course, Chuma and the organizers had invited a few other Nigerian writers. Some declined due to conflicts in their itinerary. I suspect that one or two others chose to stay away based on the misconception that Somaliland was a hotbed of sectarian terror.

What an amazing reception we got, not only from the organizers but even more remarkably from the hundreds of people who packed the capacious conference hall at Guleed Hotel where most of the events took place. Our panel discussion, which explored Nigerian literature, was a big draw.

The festival ran from August 1 till August 6. Day after day, the hall was filled. A passerby might have conjectured that the event was a music concert, instead of a cultural event centered on literature and orature.

In a telephone conversation the day I left the US for the long trip to Hargeysa, the Harlem-based Somali writer, Abdi Latif, had said to me, “You will be impressed.” He had been part of last year’s edition of the event, and spoke highly of Chuma Nwokolo and Jama Musse Jama, the initiator and founder of the Hargeysa Book International Book Festival. It transpired that Latif’s sentiment was a huge understatement.

The celebratory air began in Addis Ababa when I ran into the BBC’s Mary Harper, who was headed to the festival as a moderator. She was just telling me that Chuma was something of a “god” to the festival habitués when, casting a glance backward, I saw the self-same Chuma and Professor Osundare arriving at the departure gate.

As the Ethiopian Airline flight from Addis Ababa made its approach on Hargeysa Airport, I looked out the window on a sprawling landscape of dust, hillocks, and a city that seemed ensconced in a valley. It was a dire portrait, but one that inspired hope. I have always believed that dwellers in deserts have an inborn resiliency, a sense of enterprise and gutsiness to make much out of little. Such a people must be endowed with that can-do, inventive spirit to coax sustenance and life out of an otherwise forbidding, dour environment. That, or they perish.

My spirits soared when, after clearing immigration, we were greeted by a welcome party that had arrived in buses papered with posters of the festival. After posing for photographs, we drove in a convoy to the Mansoor Hotel in Hargeysa. From the airport, it was clear that this was an economically poor country, but one whose people were determined to husband and stretch their resources. The roads were rutted and leeched in places, and plastic bags of various colors littered the more depressed parts of Hargeysa.

Still, Hargeysa was an infectiously upbeat place. Somalilanders impressed me with their ready smiles, their generous laughter, and their habitual extension of handshakes. They came out in such number at the festival because, deep down even instinctively they recognized the tremendous reach and power of culture. They knew that culture not only gives identity but also strengthens a people as they grapple with their everyday and existential challenges.

The people I met at the 8th Hargeysa Book Festival, organizers and participants alike, exuded a passion about literature and culture that I had never seen anywhere else before. Some of the most popular panels were conducted entirely in Somali language. I envied the speakers their genius at communicating in their mother tongue, their pride in conveying difficult concepts in their own language. This much was clear: the leaders and people of Somaliland are determined to deploy the resources of their culture to press their case for recognition as a discreet, vibrant nation-state.

It was impossible to witness the Hargeysa International Book Festival without being powerfully moved and convinced. Like me, Niyi Osundare was deeply affected. At one point, he whispered to me, “These people know that culture matters. That literature matters. That memory matters.” It was evident that the awareness Professor Osundare spoke about cuts across different sectors of the society. The chief organizer of the festival, Jama Musse Jama, is a mathematician who took a sabbatical from his teaching in Italy in order to set up a cultural center whose signature program is the book festival. Two medical students spoke to me for more close to three hours about numerous literary issues, and to seek out my advice on how they could become writers. And they attended every session of the six-day festival.

Latif had told me that those who come to the festival buy a lot of books. You had to see it to believe it. In a country whose citizens have little discretionary income, the bookstands were always crowded. And I saw young women and men as well as adults of both sexes buying several books at a time.

In Somaliland I saw for the first time that the people’s reverence for a revolutionary poet named Maxamed Ibraahin Warsame Hadraawi (simply, and affectionately, called Hadraawi), surpasses the notice paid to any political figure. Hadraawi doesn’t own an oil block. He boasts no flamboyant titles save that engraved in the hearts of his people. He used his poetry and his hands to fight Somali dictator Siad Barre. He paid a great price for using his art to resist oppression. When he showed up at the festival, small in physique and even frail, the hall erupted into a carnival atmosphere. I didn’t need any translator to tell me that a hero had come in the midst of his people.


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Whispers of our president in Washington Tue, 28 Jul 2015 01:21:38 +0000 By many, if not most, accounts, President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to the United States was a major personal triumph and represented a significant turn in Nigeria-US relations. President Barack Obama, hosting Mr. Buhari at ]]>

By many, if not most, accounts, President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to the United States was a major personal triumph and represented a significant turn in Nigeria-US relations. President Barack Obama, hosting Mr. Buhari at the Oval Office, remarked on his guest’s ethical assets and political focus. “President Buhari comes into office with a reputation for integrity and a very clear agenda, and that is to make sure that he is bringing safety and security and peace to his country,” Mr. Obama said.

In the same remarks, the US president extolled Nigeria as “obviously one of the important countries in the world and one of the most important countries in the African continent. Recently, we saw an election in which a peaceful transition to a new government took place. And it was an affirmation of Nigeria’s commitment to democracy, a recognition that although Nigeria is a big country and a diverse country with many different parts, nevertheless the people of Nigeria understand that only through a peaceful political process can change take place.”

These gushing comments signaled a welcome shift in relations between the two countries. President Obama had voiced warm sentiments when he first met Nigeria’s immediate past president, Goodluck Jonathan. Yet, America’s confidence in Mr. Jonathan eroded, as he exhibited little control over the affairs of his country, permitting the country’s looting terrorists as much wrecking freedom as was claimed by Islamist zealots, Boko Haram. Given the perception, within and outside Nigeria, that corruption was the very currency of the Jonathan administration, the US was reluctant to sell weaponry to Nigeria or even to share critical intelligence. President Jonathan hardly helped matters when he proclaimed that Boko Haram was omnipresent, even embedded within his cabinet, but took little action to identify, flush and prosecute the agents of carnage.

Indeed, there were press reports of collaboration between Nigerian military officers and the henchmen of Boko Haram.

President Obama asserted that Mr. Buhari was “very concerned about the spread of Boko Haram and the violence that’s taken place there, and the atrocities that they’ve carried out, and has a very clear agenda in defeating Boko Haram and extremists of all sorts inside of his country. And he has a very clear agenda with respect to rooting out the corruption that too often has held back the economic growth and prosperity of his country.”

Despite all the encomia heaped on President Buhari, his US outing had some disturbing moments that deserve critical attention.

Even though President Obama and other American officials appeared impressed by the Nigerian president’s strategy for combating Boko Haram, there was little indication that the US was prepared to abandon its policy of not selling weaponry to Nigeria. Absent weapons and solid intelligence, the war against Boko Haram is bound to be an interminable nightmare.

On July 20, to coincide with President Buhari’s arrival in Washington, DC, an essay signed by him appeared in the Washington Post. A handy compendium of his administration’s goals, strategies and policies, the piece touched on such issues as terrorism, corruption, and the constitution of Mr. Buhari’s cabinet.

For all the marvelous plans laid out in the essay – in fact, owing to them – Nigerians should be worried. It is wonderful that President Buhari wants Americans and the world to know that he’s serious about changing the way business was done in his country. But Nigerians, not Americans, elected him into office. It is to Nigerians, not Americans, that he must first sell his agenda. There’s something awry in Nigerians hearing whispers from the American or other foreign media about what their president intends to do, and how.

In a piece titled “Who Does Obasanjo Work For?” and published on December 22, 2005, I made the following observations: “There ought to be no question whatsoever about the ultimate source of the proper yardsticks for measuring a leader’s stature and achievements. It is the citizens of a nation, not outside watchers, who in the end must act as arbiters of their president’s legacy. It is they, not foreign observers, who possess the sovereign mandate for evaluating the proficiency and power of a leader. It is on citizens, not foreigners, that devolves the onerous task of weighing a leader’s impact on the affairs of his nation.”

Why was it meet for Mr. Buhari to take to the pages of an American newspaper to explain why he’s not yet chosen a cabinet – and to reveal that he has set a September deadline to do so? Why didn’t he consider offering the information to a Nigerian newspaper, radio or TV – to signify a recognition that he is, first and foremost, a steward to Nigerians?

Since Buhari’s inauguration on May 29, Boko Haram has stepped up its attacks, most of them on civilian targets, including markets, mosques and churches. If the Presidency had a strategy for halting these attacks, it hardly told Nigerians. Yet, Mr. Buhari’s Post article explained, “we are beginning to see a degrading of Boko Haram’s capabilities as a fighting force. In recent weeks, it appears to have shifted away from confronting the military directly to an increase in attacks on civilian areas, as we saw only last week when an elderly woman and 10-year-old girl blew themselves up at a Muslim prayer gathering in northeastern Nigeria.”

Since his swearing in, President Buhari has not deemed fit to clarify his anti-corruption policy to Nigerians. Yet, he seemed more comfortable accounting to the readers of the Washington Post: “So, the path we must take is simple, even if it is not easy: First, instill rules and good governance; second, install officials who are experienced and capable of managing state agencies and ministries; and third, seek to recover funds stolen under previous regimes so that this money can be invested in Nigeria for the benefit of all our citizens.”

As strategies go, the plan outlined by the president is sound. But why were Nigerians not the primary audience for the message?

Besides, the reference to “funds stolen under previous regimes” represents either a shuffle or waffle on the president’s part. Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, had stated about the same time that Mr. Buhari would limit his anti-corruption efforts to the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, his immediate predecessor. If Mr. Adesina’s claim is true, then one foresees the certain collapse of Buhari administration’s anti-corruption policy.

In a country where recourse to ethnic, religious and “zonal” sentiments is seductive, any policy that singles out Mr. Jonathan and his officials for graft would be perceived, one, as a witch hunt, and, two, as a corrupt gimmick to offer blanket forgiveness to the men and women who stole Nigeria blind under previous military and civilian administrations. I’ve argued before that Mr. Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) has enough corrupt people to rival the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). To declare a moratorium on the investigation of corrupt deeds by administrations that preceded Mr. Jonathan’s smells of a scheme to shield Mr. Buhari’s APC cohorts. Nigerians will see through any such charade, and may not stand for it.


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Let’s have part time legislators Tue, 14 Jul 2015 01:32:02 +0000 I recall a testy exchange in 2009 at the Westin Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island between a ranking member of the Nigerian House of Representatives and a US-based, Nigerian-born attorney.]]>

I recall a testy exchange in 2009 at the Westin Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island between a ranking member of the Nigerian House of Representatives and a US-based, Nigerian-born attorney. Both men were attending the inaugural edition of the Chinua Achebe Colloquium on Africa. During a break in the proceedings, this US-based attorney as well as two other Nigerians cornered the representative.

“How much do you make as salary in a year?” the lawyer asked with the kind of directions that Americans display when face-to-face with public officials.

The lawmaker was in no haste to divulge the information. Instead, he asked, “Why do you want to know?”

“Because I am a Nigerian. And you’re supposed to be stewards of the Nigerian people. You owe it to us to be open about how much you get paid for the job you do—or don’t do.”

It was clear the legislator would not be tempted into openness and transparency. In Nigeria, few would have dared accosting him on his pay. His police orderly (poorly paid, by the way) would have used the butt of a gun to crack open the skull of his oga’s interlocutor. And then the rude “challenger” would be dragged away to an overcrowded, feculent, mosquito-infested police detention cell.

Thank God the encounter was on American grounds, the legislator without the accustomed police detail that, in Nigeria, would have built a human buffer between oga and any hostile citizen.

“Our salary is not a secret. Anybody can have access to the information,” the lawmaker said. He made the assertion in a fiery vein, his manner impatient and bellicose. Despite his claim about the availability of the information, he would not provide a straightforward answer about his pay.

The lawyer happened to be a stubborn man. He would not accept the legislator’s demurral. “You say the information is not a secret, yet you’re not providing it to me.” Using his hand to do a sweep of the circle of spectators, he added: “Everybody here is a Nigerian. And you are not just a member of the Nigerian House of Representatives; you are, in fact, a top official of the lawmaking body. If the information is as open as you suggest, why not go ahead and tell us?”

“Why should I give you information that you can find by yourself?” the legislator asked.

“Now, sir, if you’re uncomfortable telling us how much you make, why not state what an average member of the House makes?”

“But I have already told you the information is not secret.”

“Okay,” the lawyer said, indicating a change of tactics. “How do you justify members of the National Assembly being the highest paid legislators in the world?”

The lawyer gave a short, amused laugh. “You see, people like you just make up things. It’s not true that we’re the highest paid in the world.”

 The lawyer’s next move was devastating. “I am a successful lawyer in America,” he told the lawmaker. “Where did you get the money to buy a thirty thousand dollar wristwatch?”

All eyes darted to the legislator’s wrist, adorned with a glitzy watch.

“Who told you my watch cost $30,000?”

“Sir,” the lawyer said, “I know a few things about wristwatches.”

The legislator was visibly upset. He fell silent for a moment, like a boxer stunned by an opponent with a surprise uppercut. When he found his voice, he stated, rather imperiously, that he had made good money long before he was elected into the House.

Several years later, the remuneration of Nigerian lawmakers remains a subject shrouded in some mystery, a matter of considerable “guess-timation.” From time to time, one medium or another would release the supposed package of our lawmakers. The figures are consistently astonishing and shocking.

A civic initiative called BudgIT is challenging Nigerian legislators to embrace the ideals of transparency and accountability in their affairs, beginning with the basic issue of what they make. A recent report by Quartz Africa indicated that Nigerian lawmakers are the second highest paid in the world, behind only their American colleagues—and significantly ahead of lawmakers in the UK and every single country in Europe and Asia.

Quartz reported: “Nigerian legislators, among the world’s top paid, receive annual salaries of between $150,000 to $190,000 per annum depending on exchange rates. At current exchange rates Nigerian lawmakers, would earn around $160,000 more than British MPs who make around $105,000 according to data from The Economist. In fact, until plunging oil prices started putting pressure on the Nigerian naira earlier this year, the Nigerian lawmakers were the second highest paid lawmakers in the world.

“The average legislators’ pay is more than 50 times Nigeria‘s GDP per capita. In a country where millions live on less than two dollars daily and minimum wage is set at $90 a month, the legislator’s bumper pay has been described as outrageous. The campaign for a cut in the National Assembly’s funds as a new government comes in is fitting as President Buhari, who will earn less than the lawmakers, has a reputation for being modest and austere.”

That Nigeria should be in the conversation about the highest paid legislators in the world is anomalous enough, given the depths of poverty in the country. What makes the situation even less tenable is the fact that, on a performance index, Nigerian legislatures (at the state and federal levels) have epitomized ineptitude, incompetence and mediocrity.

Even if you take the most basic task of screening candidates for cabinet posts at state and federal levels, Nigerian lawmakers have brought a mixture of laziness and ethical hollowness to the task. Often, when asked to screen a nominee with grave ethical baggage, our lawmakers resort to declaring the nominee “a statesman,” followed by the formula, “Take a bow and go”!

I am not aware of any occasion when the National Assembly had subjected the executive arm’s budgetary management to serious scrutiny. Such scrutiny would routinely expose gaps between projected expenditures on projects and actual spending.

Clearly, Nigerians can’t afford a situation where their legislators take such a huge chunk of the country’s resources and put in little or no work in return. The price tag for the country’s legislative sector is simply unsustainable.

I’d suggest a constitutional amendment that would establish part time legislatures at all levels of governance in Nigeria. This is done in several states in the US. Lawmaking should not be a full-time job in a country like Nigeria. Instead, lawmakers should gather periodically to look at a number of bills and to carry out oversight functions. Rather than get paid for snoozing in Abuja, they should earn sitting allowances for the times they are in session. By removing the financial incentives draw mediocrities to the legislative chambers, we are likely to get legislatures peopled by men and women of better learning, ethical quality, and vision whose goal is to use the instrument of lawmaking to serve their society.


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Boko Haram isn’t waiting; Why should our government? Tue, 07 Jul 2015 01:15:06 +0000 Last week was a particularly dispiriting time for forlorn Nigerians who continue to look to their government to deliver them from their woes.]]>

Last week was a particularly dispiriting time for forlorn Nigerians who continue to look to their government to deliver them from their woes. One of the reasons Nigerians dumped former President Goodluck Jonathan and hired Muhammadu Buhari was the expectation that the latter would have a firmer handle on how best to respond to the plague of violence sweeping through Nigeria’s northeast states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.

In fact, in a last-ditch effort to snatch the issue from Buhari, former President Jonathan had mobilized the Nigerian military to launch an offensive that took the fight to Boko Haram insurgents. In a five or so week span, we saw Nigerian troops recapture town after town that the insurgents had seized over the past year. We saw soldiers advancing into the once dreaded Sambisa forest, one of the fortresses of the dreaded sect. There were videotapes of routed insurgents fleeing higgledy-piggledy. With their swagger back, Nigerian troops rescued hundreds of women who had been held captive, sometimes for more than a year.

For many Nigerians, the impressive military feat came just too late. In some ways, in fact, it magnified the Jonathan administration’s delinquency. Why did it take so long before the government acted? Why, after the misery of hundreds of abducted girls, after the avoidable death of thousands of victims, after insurgents had torched entire towns and rendered hundreds of thousands homeless, did the government facing certain electoral defeat finally see fit to take on Boko Haram?

The conventional wisdom was that President Buhari had the incentive, motivation and wherewithal to do a much better job than his predecessor. One presumed incentive was the political price Buhari had paid in being mentioned by malicious partisan whisperers as a sponsor of Boko Haram. A populist figure among Northern masses, Buhari was expected to bring a renewed impetus to the campaign to rid the northeast of its most virulent crisis ever. Besides, Buhari’s pride and training as a military officer were seen as conferring him with strategic advantage.

Paradoxically, the election of Buhari has (so far) failed to strike fear into the hearts of Boko Haram insurgents. Almost from the day of the new president’s inauguration, the insurgents have carried out daring, deadly assaults in various parts of the northeast. In his inaugural speech, the president had stated, “The most immediate is Boko Haram’s insurgency. Progress has been made in recent weeks by our security forces but victory cannot be achieved by basing the Command and Control Center in Abuja. The command center will be relocated to Maiduguri and remain until Boko Haram is completely subdued.”

That buoyant announcement has all but fizzled into insignificance, considering the bloody facts. Last week, Boko Haram fighters massacred more than 200 Nigerians in coordinated attacks on worshipers inside mosques. They also invaded several communities where they carried out their trademark orgy of killing and burning.

In short, the members of the Islamist group appear to have seized back the initiative in the war against everybody else. It’s either that they have not received a memo that there was a new sheriff in town, or they are in a haste to register their disdain for the new Commander-in-Chief.

It’s remarkable that Boko Haram has launched more attacks in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, since President Buhari announced the relocation of the military’s tactical command to that city. It’s as if the insurgents were saying to the president and the armed forces, “Bring it on!”

Unless the Buhari administration meets that challenge head on, it runs the risk of dispiriting Nigerians and demoralizing the soldiers.

To begin with, the government ought to explain to Nigerians what, exactly, is going on. How, why has the military suddenly lost the mojo it displayed in February and March when it put Boko Haram on the run? What accounts for the resurgence of insurgent assaults? What has emboldened Boko Haram to escalate its offensive, when going by Buhari’s military credentials, the group should be on the retreat?

Not only has the government failed to inspire confidence that it has answers, last week it gave conflicting signals about its strategy in the anti-terror war. In an interview, Buhari’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, told the BBC that the administration was open to negotiations with Boko Haram. That policy position drew flak from many Nigerian social media commentators. To some, it sounded like a mild form of capitulation. Many had expected that Buhari to start out with a muscular military offensive.

Adesina soon issued a written statement aimed less at providing solid answers to Nigerians’ anxious questions than controlling the damage of the BBC interview. The full statement bears reproduction here: “Most wars, however furious or vicious, often end around the negotiation table. So, if Boko Haram opts for negotiation, the government will not be averse to it. Government will, however, not be negotiating from a position of weakness, but that of strength. The machinery put in place, and which will be set in motion soon, can only devastate and decapitate insurgency. It is multinational in nature, and relief is on the way for Nigeria and her neighbors. President Muhammadu Buhari is resolute. He has battled and won insurgency before, he is poised to win again. It is a promise he made to Nigerians, and he is a promise keeper.

“But I say again, if the insurgents want to negotiate, no decent government will be averse to such. Didn’t the Taliban and Americans also negotiate in Afghanistan?”

It was far from a reassuring statement. In fact, its passive tone seemed calculated to underscore a government taken unawares, unsure of how to respond to a terrorist group’s stepped up detonations. “So, if Boko Haram opts for negotiation, the government will not be averse to it.”

What are the odds that a bully that’s currently having its way with its prey, and a bully animated by a sanctimonious, terror-justifying theology, would push the pause button in the heat of its killing mission and say, “May we please talk over our differences?”

Adesina’s statement claimed that the government was putting some “machinery” in place, and that this “will be set in motion soon” to “devastate and decapitate insurgency.” It described this machinery as “multinational in nature,” assuring that “relief is on the way for Nigeria and her neighbors.” Such verbal platitudes are hardly a substitute for action.

Boko Haram did not issue a pedantic statement before proceeding to inflict horror on Nigerians resident in the northeast. Day after day, the group wreaks havoc on their hapless victims. Buhari must rise to the occasion by taking action, instead of releasing statements that urge Nigerians to remain patient while he cobbles together a “multinational” strategy.

There’s an immediate, urgent challenge before Buhari and Nigerians. The president owes it to Nigerians to exhibit leadership on the spread of terrorism. That duty of governance is owed today, not tomorrow. Boko Haram is not in a waiting mode. Nor should our government.

Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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APC, start governing, not whining Tue, 30 Jun 2015 01:47:08 +0000 Last week, I suggested that President Muhammadu Buhari has squandered a full month of his presidential tenure doing little. ]]>

Last week, I suggested that President Muhammadu Buhari has squandered a full month of his presidential tenure doing little. Many readers understood the spirit of the piece, which is, quite simply, that Nigerians deserve nothing short of engaged, stellar leadership from Mr. Buhari. And that sort of leadership should start – should have started – on May 29. It should not be triggered two months after the president’s inauguration.

I’m willing to attempt again to capture my argument – as an act of generosity towards those who, out of mischief or self-interest, chose to misread me. In both body language and substance, President Buhari gave the impression of being overwhelmed by the demands of governance and statecraft.

Let me restate a point I made last week. The problem is not only that, a month into his tenure, the president hasn’t figured out his cabinet. That’s bad enough. But an even larger crisis was the president’s failure to make a single significant policy pronouncement in one month.

If a man sought the highest political office in his country a record four times, I’d hope that it’s because that man is in possession of some viable, perhaps, even tested, ideas for moving his society from point A to point B. It doesn’t make sense to seek political power, sans ideas, and then start groping about for what to do only after being entrusted with power.

That’s a recipe for disaster. Some critics of my column reminded me that one or two past presidents took longer than a month to name their cabinet. It is a particularly exasperating argument. If a delinquent child flunks an exam, is it much comfort to remind the child’s parents that another child, who similarly failed to prepare, had also failed the exam a year or two before?

Why don’t we hold our leaders, and ourselves, to higher standards of performance and conduct? Why don’t we encourage President Buhari to hit the ground running, rather than adopting the snail style and mediocre performance of his predecessors?

In a personal email, one reader cautioned that my criticism of the young Presidency could help shape a skeptical national mood about Mr. Buhari. The email was both misconceived and ascribed too much power to me. I can only describe what I observe, not create or sweep aside reality. If Mr. Buhari’s first month in office was a model of diligent, focused leadership, and I wrote a column to argue otherwise, I would be making a fool of myself – for the facts would be there to contradict me.

In other words, President Buhari remains (largely) the master of his presidential fate. If he’s doing a terrific job, Nigerians will see, touch, hear and taste it. In that event, the naysaying of a malicious critic would be seen by all for what it is – an effete hatchet job.

Writing has its place in shaping perception, but that writing has to stay close to verifiable facts.

And one of the bizarre facts of our current politics is that Mr. Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) looks less like a party that won an historic election three months ago than a choleric bazaar of strange bedfellows, who detest one another.

Nigeria is in dire straits, the economy in the doldrums, oil revenues significantly down. It is a time that demands that men and women of mettle stand up to be counted. And what does Nigeria’s new ruling party offer us? A squalid, fractious political mess, I’m afraid.  Several factions have emerged, and they appear determined to work at cross-purposes. In the National Assembly, the APC has staged a brawl-fest worthy of American professional wrestlers. With the exception that the legislators, unlike the superstars of American wrestling, were not playing to a script.

And here’s what is deeply consternating about the APC’s whole implosive affair. There’s no hint of a positive redeeming value at the heart of it. It’s not a debate about how to provide Nigerians with shelter, jobs, healthcare, sound education, how to lower Nigeria’s misery index. No! There’s no sense that a search for the best path to Nigerians’ well being is a factor in the numerous squabbles. There’s not a tad of evidence that the APC’s various factions are animated by a humanistic vision.

Instead, what appears to be at stake is the usual scramble for lucre – or an inelegant race for power that can be constantly traded in for cash.

Nigerians have little to show for all the billions of dollars that have propped up an edifice that first announced itself as a nascent democracy – and then turned plain nasty. The APC rode to power on the mantra of change. Yet, the only change the party has so far demonstrated is the swiftness of its recourse to balkanisation. It doesn’t seem as if President Buhari talks much to Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who owes his post to an alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party.

I’d be at ease if the schisms were dictated by intra-party ideological differences. But one’s hunch is that this is all about power, and power in its rawest, rudest, basest form.

When APC officials take a break from fighting their internal wars, it is to whine to Nigerians that the Goodluck Jonathan administration vacuumed up all the money in the treasury. I’ve just about reached the edge of patience with that repeated line. How about a little bit of action?

Guess what? Nigerian voters sent President Jonathan packing precisely because of their conviction that he was not a good husband of their resources. I was one of the former president’s staunchest critics. Rather than regale us daily with complaints about how the Jonathanians looted, the Buhari team should tell us what they intend to do about it. They should take action. Mr. Jonathan and those who worked with him should be rigorously questioned about their stewardship. And, if implicated in acts of corruption, they should be prosecuted. But – and Mr. Jonathan himself made this point – the Buhari team should also investigate and prosecute Nigeria’s other former heads of government and their circles.

In the meantime, the reclamation of Nigeria’s stolen funds is no excuse for the suspension of governance. For me, the frequent disclosure that Nigeria is near broke serves to underline the nature of the challenge, facing the Buhari Presidency. That challenge is three-fold. One is to find creative ways of sourcing or attracting the funds he needs for the work he must do for Nigerians. Another is to spell out how he intends to wrest looted funds, including those in the hands of APC officials. Finally, he should move to block the holes deliberately designed into the Nigerian system in order to enable public officials to steal with impunity.

If President Buhari and the APC are not up to the task, then they ought to be served notice that whining alone does not translate into leadership.


• Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe 

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Unfueled, at time of transition Tue, 26 May 2015 01:30:16 +0000 I don’t know what’s going through President-elect Muhammadu Buhari’s mind at the moment, but his job daunting to begin with just got tougher. Nigeria is beset by one of the worst fuel shortages in its history. ]]>

I don’t know what’s going through President-elect Muhammadu Buhari’s mind at the moment, but his job daunting to begin with just got tougher. Nigeria is beset by one of the worst fuel shortages in its history. And in a country where something as basic as refined fuel frequently becomes scarcer than gold, the current crisis is Olympian in scale.

I had recently suggested that the incoming president’s mettle would be tested early by Nigerians’ high (some would say excessive) expectations. Add to the pile of expectations the volatile issue of fuel scarcity, and you have a recipe for real trouble.

All week, each call I placed to or received from Nigeria had the fuel shortage at its front and center. Each person described the direness of the situation, its unrivaled hardship. One relative said he had missed work numerous times. His car ran out of fuel nearly two weeks ago, and he was tired of carrying about jerry cans, searching for fuel. “Am I supposed to walk to work every day?” One caller, a company executive, spoke about the disruption of flights. “Aviation fuel for domestic airlines is becoming impossible to come by,” he said. He added: “The scene at the Abuja Airport is absolute chaos. When an airline has a flight, there’s a fierce scramble for it. In fact, you see people fighting for a seat on commercial flights as if they were jostling to get on a molue [bus].”

For rejected President Goodluck Jonathan, the mess is both ironic and an accentuation of his disastrous tenure. The irony lies in the fact that he began his presidential term by promising to make fuel scarcity a thing of the past and seeming to make good on his word. Early in his Presidency, I had an interesting mini-debate with one of his hawkish fans. The man had written to scold me for a column that was critical of Mr. Jonathan. “He’s the best president Nigeria has ever had,” the man wrote, invoking a typical absurd argument. Then he spelt out the basis of his assessment. “Here in the [south]East, we used to have fuel scarcity all the time. But since Jonathan took over, we now have fuel everywhere.”

I wrote, in a testy response, that only a people with pathologically low expectations would declare somebody a champion president on such flimsy grounds. In other polities, where expectations are high, great leaders are measured, a, by their ability to ennoble citizens, b, to deepen or strengthen the sense of optimism and community, and, c, by policies that lead to jobs creation, the expansion of the middle class, and dramatic improvements in a variety of sectors, including infrastructure, education, healthcare.

Yet, if Mr. Jonathan became Nigeria’s “best president” because he supposedly fixed the fuel snafu, what does it mean that his presidency is ending on a note of one of the worst fuel crises in years? Is it a metaphor, then, of a promising presidency nurtured into abject failure?

Some of President Jonathan’s fans blame the fuel imbroglio on the APC’s irresponsible partisan rhetoric. They contend that fuel marketers, discouraged by the APC’s hostility to fuel subsidies, simply suspended imports, hence the current crisis.

Not true, APC folks declare. The root of the problem, they insist, is the criminal collusion between the Jonathan administration and fuel marketers to use fuel subsidies as a ruse to launder funds. According to the APC’s narrative, in preparation for the 2015 elections, the PDP and the Presidency permitted fuel marketers to over-inflate their invoices. Much of the excess funds were then funneled into the PDP’s war chest.

For us, “ordinary” Nigerians, the only consolation is that the truth, sooner than later, will be out. For now, however, Nigerians have a crisis on their hands. For the next couple of days, that crisis belongs to President Jonathan. From May 29, 2015, regardless of who or what caused it, the crisis becomes Mr. Buhari’s headache.

At the very least, the fuel crisis should remind the incoming president in case he forgot of the urgency of leadership. When Nigerians hailed Mr. Buhari as the answer, they implied the answer to known and unknown, present and lurking problems. Nigeria is an idea founded on problems. It is a problem that keeps giving. The president-elect better arrive in Aso Rock without any illusions. He better insist on hiring the best, trustworthy, tested hands out there. He better buckle up, for it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

And how he handles the fuel crisis will go a long way to set the tone and terms of his relationship with Nigerians. Part of Mr. Jonathan’s deficits was not only his failure of statecraft. He was, also, an inept, delinquent communicator. His wretchedness as a communicator was writ large in the aftermath of the April 14, 2014 abduction of schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State. First, a day after the tragedy (compounded by an earlier suicide bomb attack that killed scores at an Abuja bus station), Mr. Jonathan went dancing at a campaign event in Kano. It was one of the defining moments of levity in his presidency.

As a military ruler, Buhari was not exactly big on communication. But he must learn to speak to Nigerians, as frequently as the occasion demands, and as honestly as possible. Some supporters of his still believe that he has a magic wand, a sure-fire abracadabra that would erase the demon of corruption from the Nigerian space, jail all corrupt politicians (including those who financed his campaign), build new roads and rehabilitate the old ones, deliver regular, uninterrupted electric power, create millions of new jobs, revamp the educational sector and give Nigerians a robust healthcare system. He should be the first to dispel this superstition.

In the lingering fuel crisis, Mr. Buhari has a perfect challenge and opportunity. The challenge lies in proving himself as a true leader, a problem-solver. It won’t be enough to adopt an episodic approach to a problem that is awfully recurrent. Yes, he must find an answer for this current crippling crisis, but he ought to, also, show that he understands how to spare Nigeria the shame of being a major oil-producing country that often can’t find fuel.

The opportunity here is to take Nigerians into confidence about the factors that triggered this fuel shortage crisis. If as we found out in 2012 oil marketers have continued to fleece Nigerians through illicit multiple-tripping schemes, Mr. Buhari should have the courage to expose it. And he should propose policies to stop the drain of public funds through fraudulent fuel subsidy claims and to recover as much of the stash of stolen funds as possible.


Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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Further thoughts on Buhari and a corruption strategy Tue, 19 May 2015 01:32:57 +0000 My column last week, entitled “Corruption and Buhari’s Perfect Storm,” provoked vigorous debate on social media. In addition, I received numerous emails from readers who wished to weigh in on my central ]]>

My column last week, entitled “Corruption and Buhari’s Perfect Storm,” provoked vigorous debate on social media. In addition, I received numerous emails from readers who wished to weigh in on my central prescription, that incoming President Muhammadu Buhari ought to consider setting up a restitution commission that would offer corrupt officials amnesty from prosecution if they would voluntarily confess their acts of graft, and return a portion of their loot.

I heard from those who relished that central argument, those who strongly disagreed, those who agreed with the broad spirit of my stipulation, but found some bones to pick with aspects of the letter of it, and those who demanded some amplification or clarification.

It’s all evidence that Nigerians are particularly attentive to the subject of corruption, and to strategies for exorcizing that particular ghost that has haunted their dreams of development.

I must apologize that, given the breadth and complexity of the subject, the constraints of space, and the sheer number of reactions, this response is bound to be incomplete, even fragmentary. Indeed, my ambition is to provide some context, to touch on a few salient points raised by my interlocutors, and to offer a sense of the evolution of my thinking over the last week as I reflected on the considerable correspondence triggered by my column.

I have been frustrated by what has passed, over the last 16 years, as Nigeria’s war on corruption. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo oversaw the inauguration of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offenses Commission (ICPC), Nigeria’s main anti-corruption agencies. During his Presidency, the EFCC, then headed by Nuhu Ribadu, gave the impression of hounding corrupt officials in the public and private sectors.

In reality, that much vaunted and promised war was more flash and theater than substance and sting. Rather frequently, the EFCC titillated Nigerians by declaring its compilation of mountains of evidence against numerous corrupt officials, including governors and ministers. On occasion, the agency staged dramatic arrests of government officials. Yet, juxtaposed with the loudness of its claims, the EFCC’s anti-corruption record has been unimpressive.

Under Obasanjo’s reign, the agency arm-twisted a handful of state legislators to impeach Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa State and Joshua Dariye of Plateau State after British authorities had accused both governors of money laundering in the UK. Mr. Dariye subsequently convinced Nigeria’s Supreme Court to overturn his impeachment. And, once done with being governor, he won a seat as one of Nigeria’s “distinguished” senators. The commission secured a conviction in the case of Mr. Alamieyeseigha, the former governor sentenced to several counts of two-year sentences that ran concurrently. He was released hours after his sentencing based on “time served.” The EFCC also prosecuted former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun, but his six-month sentence was a joke.

Under Presidents Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, the EFCC and ICPC and hence the ostensible crusade against corruption were impeded by presidential meddlesomeness. It was no secret that Mr. Obasanjo used the anti-corruption agencies as part of a vindictive machine against his political foes. His political allies could stink to high heavens with corruption, the anti-corruption czars knew better than to trouble them. To one degree or another, Mr. Obasanjo’s successors adopted the same policy.

Apart from remote presidential control, Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies are also encumbered by a cultural conundrum. It is this: that Nigeria, as a country, is rigged for the biggest, baddest, most politically exalted and connected thieves. One example: the clause in the Nigerian constitution granting immunity to certain officials, including the president and governors, is one of the most grotesquely expansive such clauses in the world.

In the US, for example, the immunity clause only shields designated officials from lawsuits arising from the exercise of the legitimate duties of their office. If they commit crimes, they are exposed to prosecution—as happened when former President Bill Clinton lied on oath about the nature of his relationship with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Another American example: the FBI arrested then Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois for seeking to sell the Senate seat that fell vacant after then Senator Barack Obama’s election as US president. Mr. Blagojevich had not received a cent, but his mere attempt to shop for a buyer of Mr. Obama’s seat earned him a 14-year sentence in jail.

By contrast, Nigerian government officials are protected even when they squander or pocket vast amounts of public funds, or commit other crimes that betray their oath of office and the public trust indeed, especially then.

Given this context, it is clear that a viable war against corruption must begin by giving strengthening Nigeria’s law enforcement apparatuses, including the police, the EFCC and the ICPC. These agencies, along with the country’s judiciary, should be inoculated against executive interference and transformed into institutions that have muscle, integrity and fierce independence.

It would be a tragic mistake to put the burden of fighting corruption on Mr. Buhari’s shoulder—or that of any man, for that matter. President-elect Buhari has friends who are awfully corrupt. Unless we have anti-corruption agencies that strike fear in the hearts of all corrupt people, including those who dine with the president, the so-called war against corruption would remain little more than a farce. And those who believe that the president-elect is going to haul every suspect before the EFCC, even his closest associates, must have an inflated sense of the man’s eccentricity.

This context informed my prescription for a restitution commission. It is not the first time I mulled this idea. In June, 2011, shortly after President Jonathan’s inauguration, I wrote a column titled “Time for a New Anti-Corruption Manual.” In it, I stated, “One proposal is for (President Jonathan) to champion a truth and restitution option. The import would be to offer public officials the opportunity to confess to their participation in graft or money laundering, and then to return their loot in exchange for the offer of no jail time.

“There should be certain elements to this proposed method of addressing the nation’s Number One blight. One, participation in the program should be voluntary to serving and former government officials. Those who choose to enlist in the program would agree to submit themselves to thorough asset verification by the EFCC or other agencies. The idea is to have an independent agency corroborate the veracity of each official’s account of the size of his loot. The recovered funds or physical assets should then be placed in state or federal accounts that are periodically audited, devoted to massive infrastructural development.

“Public officials who refuse to take advantage of this amnesty should then be subjected to scrutiny and if found to have pocketed public funds compelled to face prosecution and certain imprisonment.”

Many who reacted to my column last week objected to the idea of demanding that corrupt officials return only a percentage of what they stole. I sympathize with those who have such profound misgivings. In 2011, my position was, in fact, for a full restitution. I revised that because, a, the recovery of 40 or 50 percent of what’s been stolen from Nigerians would represent unprecedented progress and yield a substantial amount to invest, say, in infrastructure;  because Nigeria doesn’t have enough courts, judges, prosecutors, investigators and funds to undertake a rigorous investigation and prosecution of all corrupt officials. Therefore, if a commission could persuade some of these suspects to make voluntary confessions of their graft, followed by the return of a sizeable portion of their loot that strikes me as a promising and pragmatic step.

Still, I’m not against insisting that every stolen kobo be returned, if we can find a way of enforcing it. As I indicated in 2011, I also envisage that the EFCC (or some other agency) will verify all declarations of loot, so that we don’t presume on the honesty of those who stole from us.

Some corrupt politicians may choose to flee Nigeria while Mr. Buhari remains the sheriff-in-chief, returning once a more permissive president takes over. If that happens, Nigeria should file extradition requests with the countries harboring the fugitives. And if we cannot get them back, why, we should try them in absentia.

A friend wrote to me and urged that those who volunteer information about their graft as well as those who are found out through investigation must face additional punishment, in addition to forfeiting their loot. He specifically suggested that they be barred, for life, from holding public office. I say a resounding yes to that proposal!


Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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Corruption and Buhari’s perfect storm Tue, 12 May 2015 02:33:22 +0000 President-elect Muhammadu Buhari will inherit something of a perfect political storm when he takes office in a few weeks. He ran a well-orchestrated campaign as an outsider, an agent of “change” and the “answer” to everything that ails Nigeria. ]]>

President-elect Muhammadu Buhari will inherit something of a perfect political storm when he takes office in a few weeks. He ran a well-orchestrated campaign as an outsider, an agent of “change” and the “answer” to everything that ails Nigeria.

Well, it happens that Nigeria is in deep, deep doo-doo. And, come May 29, every Nigerian will look to Mr. Buhari to start fixing things.

Buhari, I predict, will have the shortest honeymoon of any recent Nigerian leader. His political acts will be closely scrutinised, right from the outset. His ministerial list better be beyond reproach, or he’s going to hear about it. Let him nominate a man or woman with an odoriferous past, and Nigerians are bound to cry betrayal!

We have already seen a glimpse of what awaits his presidency. When Mr. Buhari’s aides made the disastrous decision to exclude AIT Television from covering the president-elect, that ill-advised move provoked great outrage. “It’s not the change we asked/voted for,” became the refrain on social media. As president, Buhari’s every misstep is bound to attract such similar censure.

He better gird himself, then, for a bumpy ride. He will become Nigeria’s first citizen at a time when too many things are out off synch, and he has little – very little – margin of error.

Come May 29, Nigerians will look to the “Answer” to answer about corruption. They will look for evidence that their new president has plans to jail those who, through acts of corruption, have contributed to wrecking Nigeria. They will look to him to neutralise Boko Haram. They will demand a roadmap to reliable electric power. They will want to see movement on fixing their country’s dilapidated infrastructure.

Nigerians’ great expectations are going to test Mr. Buhari’s mettle, as a politician and his measure as a leader. How is he going to balance the business of fighting corruption against the duty of addressing Nigeria’s developmental woes?

This question is of the utmost import. After all, many Nigerians desperately want to see the incoming president battle the monster of corruption. But some of them may not have reckoned with two salient facts. One is that any war against corruption would, for one, demand time and other resources. The second one is that the very nature of political realities that shaped Mr. Buhari’s election is likely to constitute an impediment to his full prosecution of an anti-corruption policy.

The incoming president will not have enough time to uproot corruption, which is too deeply rooted. Nor does he have the political wherewithal to launch an all-out assault on corruption.

Let me contextualise my assertions. An effective war on corruption cannot be a flash in the pan, or a mere exhibition game. Many Nigerians tend to talk about corruption in the limited sense of the egregious acts of presidents, governors, ministers, commissioners and legislators. But the malaise is entrenched in every sector of the Nigerian society.

Sometimes, it’s civil servants who perpetrate the more devastating acts of corruption. Too many customs officers receive bribes to enable importers to evade the payment of duties to the government. Rather than focus on fighting crimes, many Nigerian police officers prefer to set up checkpoints that are, simply, bribe-collection points. How about bureaucrats, who sell civil service jobs to the highest bidder, regardless of credentials? How about lecturers who award grades to their students in exchange for cash or sex?

Yet, when many Nigerians expound on a war against corruption, all they want to see is the jailing of people with high-profile political offices. Mr. Buhari cannot ignore this dimension of the fight. That’s why it’s encouraging that he has vowed to revisit the whole controversy of the billions of dollars in crude oil revenues that were not accounted for. The unmasking and humiliation of men and women, who betrayed their high political offices is utterly important. For one, it can serve as a deterrent to those in less visible positions.

In a perfect world, Mr. Buhari should go after and jail every political office holder, who has fiddled with public funds. The reality is that he will NOT. And he will not because, among other reasons, he CANNOT.

For all his pretention to being an outsider, the president-elect is, first and foremost, a politician – and a seasoned one at that. He made a calculated decision to run on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), a party that – in character and personnel- closely resembles the much-despised Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Let’s not delude ourselves: The APC is far from a party of saints. It has an ample contingent of crooks to give the PDP a run for its money any day. But many of these crooks worked hard, spent tons of ill-gotten funds, to champion Mr. Buhari’s presidential run. Unless he’s more eccentric than we ever suspected, the president-elect is not going to throw his corrupt political sponsors into jail. And if he doesn’t, then where would he find the political capital and moral authority to shame corrupt men and women, who belong to other political camps?

This does not suggest that he should do nothing – or little – about corruption. In fact, his peculiar predicament presents an opportunity for an approach to fighting corruption that can be at once comprehensive and effective, even if it is not to the public’s appetite for drama.

Here, then, is an outline of a modest proposal for combatting corruption. First, Mr. Buhari ought to take steps to place institutions, rather than persons, at the centre of any war against corruption. His greatest legacy would lie in taking steps to strengthen and professionalise institutions like the police and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The EFCC and the police should be empowered to go after any criminal, regardless of position or status, without first seeking the president’s permission. In the same spirit, the president-elect should initiate measures to ensure that the Nigerian judiciary is fiercely independent, and that only persons of proven ethical disposition and sound knowledge are nominated for judgeships.

That’s in the long term.

In the short term, he should set up a commission on restitution of proceeds of corruption. He should offer a grace period of six months to all public officials, past or incumbent, to approach the commission and make full confessions about their acts of corruption, including revealing the size of their illicit accumulation. The law setting up the commission should stipulate an offer of immunity from prosecution to all self-confessed looters, on condition that they return a certain percentage (anything between 30 and 50 per cent would make sense) of what they stole.

Such a commission meets the demand of equity, enabling Mr. Buhari to treat all corrupt politicians, including his foes and friends, with fairness. The incoming president should warn all, including his political friends, that they risk investigation and prosecution should they fail to take advantage of the mercies offered by the commission.

Of course, if President Buhari is serious about curtailing corruption, he should also specify that, going forward, all who betray the public trust, whether political friend or opponent, should be prepared to pay the price.

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Tamas Aczel: A writer who inspired me Tue, 05 May 2015 01:09:40 +0000 One of the special joys of my time in the MFA programme at the University of Massachusetts was taking a fiction workshop with Tamas Aczel. It was during the spring semester of 1993.]]>

One of the special joys of my time in the MFA programme at the University of Massachusetts was taking a fiction workshop with Tamas Aczel. It was during the spring semester of 1993.

Aczel’s teaching style in academic lingo, his pedagogy was the first thing that got me hooked. At the professor’s behest, our class met at a restaurant, specifically the Lord Jeffery Inn, a regal establishment that had long been a fixture of the centre of Amherst, Massachusetts.

There were twelve of us in Aczel’s fiction workshop, men and women of different ages and just as many styles and tempers. Yet, as the semester progressed, we began to evolve into a vibrant community, forming a strong bond.

One reason for this was our shared passion. We were all deeply invested in the business of reading and writing. I’d suggest, however, that a far more important reason was Aczel himself. He was an understated but quietly magnetic presence, and he acted as the glue for our small creative community. There was an avuncular gravitas about the man. That gift enabled him to hold our idiosyncrasies in check and beseeched us to coalesce into a close-knit, cohesive tribe, a republic forged by letters.

I’d hazard that the ambience of the Lord Jeffery shaped the dynamics of the workshop. At each weekly workshop, Aczel picked up the bill for our drinks: beers, wine, spirits, juices and sodas. Sometimes, when his generosity was on an expansive scale, he also paid for hors d’oeuvres. We’d eat and drink as we responded to our peers’ short stories or excerpts from novels, or grappled with some question of craft or broad issue of literary practice provoked by Aczel’s comment.

The experience of being in Aczel’s workshop was inspiring. It fed my intuition that few other sensations triggered imaginative flights and disposed the mind to creative contemplation than the sight and fragrance of food. It also gave me a new appreciation of the seductive power of beverage on the tongue.

Aczel was a remarkable man in many ways. In physique he was rather smallish in stature, but managed to project a patrician carriage. He had the kind of facial features that would be a portrait artist’s delight, a face that suggested erudition and aristocratic bearing. To me, he looked older than his seventy years. Yet, time did not mar him; it decorated him, lent him an aura of power. An impressionist rendition of his face would include a pipe hanging from his lips, a wisp of smoke curved upward, slightly obscuring sharp, lively eyes, narrowed.

By the time I met him in 1993, Aczel was seventy-one – and a year away from his death on April 18, 1994. He was hunched over, often walked with a stick, his gait slow. Sometimes he seemed lost in his long, dark winter coat. Yet, there was nothing deathly about his appearance or manners. He had a commanding presence, one that filled any space he entered.

He spoke an urbane English, in a deliberate, cultivated vein. His voice, clear and resonant, belied his age. And there was a faintly Oxonian quality to his enunciation. His speech seemed shaped by the years he had spent in the UK after breaking with the communist rulers of his native Hungary in the late 1950s.

At our workshops, he spoke sparingly, as if words were the most dear of commodities, the over-use of which he considered unconscionable. Sometimes he offered broad comments on the story or novel excerpt we were critiquing. Sometimes he zeroed in on some technical detail. Sometimes he asked a question or a series of questions, nudging us to think about some aspect of a work. A man of prodigious intellect, he often mentioned some familiar or remote author or unknown or known text that a work under critique recalled for him.

I hung on to his every word. Despite his parsimoniousness—or, in fact, owing to it—whatever he had to say seemed to me to have a weight to it, precious as heck.

I was curious about the man. So I scavenged for bits and pieces of his biography, his past. What I found was, I believe, a concatenation of facts and fiction, but it transformed the man for me. In my eyes, at least, he was a legend.

Once upon a time, Aczel had been a towering figure among the literary figures of communist Hungary. He’d won the highest state-sponsored accolades. In the end, he had become despondent about the Hungarian communist regime, particularly the predations of its apparatchiks whose fealty was to their Soviet masters. He’d risked life and limb for a while as a dissident. He ultimately fled to London. In the UK, he had found both love and a space that empowered the flowering of his imagination. Then, fed up with an intellectual atmosphere in Europe that sometimes flirted with or romanticized communism, he had made another flight, this time across the waters to the US.

A year or two before I became his student, Aczel had published what proved to be his last novel, The Hunt. The work had appeared after a hiatus of close to a decade since the writer’s previous novel, Illuminations.

Even without reading his books, I took it on faith – and felt – that I was in the presence of a writer of immense consequence.

At any rate, I admired Aczel’s courage in forsaking all the preferment he stood to receive had he stayed back in Hungary, had he ingratiated himself with the communist machinery. Instead, he’d elected to renounce the system; he had chosen not to remain a complacent producer of ideologically rigid, formulaic verse and fiction. That act of defiance appealed to me.

As a writer, I desperately wanted to earn Aczel’s approval, especially to impress him with the seed of what became my first novel, Arrows of Rain. One day, at the very end of the first round of the workshop, I offered two consecutive chapters of Arrows for the workshop.

I arrived at the Lord Jeffery in a mood split between mild excitement and anxiety. I took ample gulps of my glass of Guinness, to steel myself. As was the custom, I read a few paragraphs from my work. My classmates responded to it. Most liked it, others made suggestions for revisions, and one or two were no fans. It was a typical kind of day at a workshop. Except for one awfully odd development: Aczel had not uttered a word about my work. Not one. His silence unnerved me.

Class ended, and I fully intended to make a swift escape, confused as hell.

“Okey,” the professor called out. His magisterial voice stopped me in my tracks. “I’d like you to come see me in my office.”

“Okay,” I managed, a lump caught in my throat.

A day or two later, I mustered the courage to knock on his door at Bartlett Hall, the English Department.

“Come in,” he beckoned in a strong, commanding voice.

His head was set down when I walked in. He was reading something, the bridge of his pair of glasses at the very tip of his nose. Without much raising his head, he lifted his eyes and gave me a quick wash of a look. Then, raising a hand, he gestured to a chair. I sat down, at the edge of the seat. He read for another two or three minutes, then scribbled a note in longhand. Finally, he looked up at me, removed his glasses, and regarded me with those piercing eyes.

“Do you know why I asked you to come see me?”

I wasn’t about to confess it. Yet, I felt certain that my writing had so thoroughly disappointed him that he couldn’t find a gentle way to voice it. He must have called me to his office to break it to me, delicately but firmly: “You’re not cut out for writing. Quit.” I wasn’t about to tell him I knew I had failed. So, I said, “No.”

“Well,” he said, “of the stories we’ve looked at so far in class, yours strikes me as the one with the greatest potential of becoming a book. So, I’ve called you here to make me a promise. Promise me you’ll continue to work on it until it becomes a book.”

He regarded me with intense, curious eyes. I beamed a big smile, my body still shaking slightly from my doleful scenario.

“Do you promise?” he asked, like a strident judgem asking a parolee if he would promise to resist the lure of recidivism.

“I do,” I said, still beaming.

“Of course you would! Otherwise I’d kick your ass!”

He roared with laughter. Infected, I laughed too, out of relief.

I can’t imagine that any writer anywhere has quite taken the threat to kick his or her ass with the giddy delight I felt that day. That encounter boosted my confidence. It was one of the greatest gifts I received in my days as a fledging, uncertain writer prone to bouts of diffidence.

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Is Africa fated to be a metaphor of disaster? Tue, 28 Apr 2015 02:33:30 +0000 In May 2000, the British Broadcasting Corporation asked me to contribute an online opinion piece that would x-ray the prospects for socio-economic progress on the African continent. ]]>

In May 2000, the British Broadcasting Corporation asked me to contribute an online opinion piece that would x-ray the prospects for socio-economic progress on the African continent. The BBC’s commission was triggered by a series of articles in major British, US and European publications that portrayed Africa as bereft of hope, mired in crises and disasters, and bound to failure.

My task was to puncture these (almost giddy) projections of a whole continent’s imminent – or inevitable – collapse. On some level, mine seemed a simple task. Africa, I felt, had been through bleaker crises and had survived. The horrendous enslavement of millions of its vibrant young men and women had shaken up the continent, but had not torpedoed it. The phase of profit-minded imperialist exploitation had fazed and dazed the continent, but had not erased its people or its promise.

I wrote for the BBC: “Confronted with a dismal tableau of war, corruption and natural disaster, many voices in Europe and North America have reached for morbid metaphors. Africa is pronounced dead or dying.

“But anybody remotely familiar with the complexity of Africa’s experience would recognise these facile judgments for what they are. Africa’s seemingly terminal symptoms have confounded the certitudes of casual observers and obituary writers before.”

Despite that upbeat tone, I freely confess that the BBC assignment was also daunting. The reason owed in large measure to the African continent’s seemingly inexhaustible menu of misery. To follow the news of African countries, whether in the foreign or African mass media, is to be overwhelmed with the sense of an unremitting, incessant and irreversible march towards perdition. How uphold and project hope about a continent that too often inspires fatigue?

Lately, I have been thinking about that 2000 opinion piece I wrote for the BBC. I have been reminiscing because, once again, the African continent has caught the world’s attention for the worst possible reasons.

The spree of callous, xenophobic killings of black African immigrants by black South African “natives” caught me utterly by surprise. In my desperation, I wished that this outbreak of black-native on black-immigrant violence would prove a short-lived, isolated skirmish. Instead, the horrific attacks have lasted several weeks, pointing to cruel orchestration, a widespread and deep-seated animus, and methodical execution.

During the long, violent struggle against apartheid, it seemed that all conscientious Africans became South Africans. The racist humiliation of our brethren in that enclave of apartheid was our humiliation. We died along with our South African brothers and sisters when they were massacred in Soweto. The apartheid regime’s slaughter of black resisters in Sharpeville was every African’s holocaust as well. Regardless of our location in the world, we felt the bruises inflicted on our “racial” kind in South Africa. We knew the laceration of the lashes, the vicious bites by apartheid police dogs, the maddening fever of hot bullets cooking, deadening the body.

When Nelson Mandela walked out of prison in 1990, after a 27-year incarceration in several apartheid prisons, he was not just a South African hero—no, he embodied the resilient, unbowed spirit of an entire continent.

Why then did our South African (black) brothers turn against the rest of us with such homicidal fury, such murderous gall? Why did the South African authorities fail to anticipate killings on such a scale, or to protect the African victims from their African predators? How, ever, are Africans immigrants going to look into the eyes of native South Africans and reconnect as comrades, as kin?

As if the tragedy of xenophobia wasn’t disturbing enough, the news came last week that some 800 African refugees packed like canned sardines had perished on the Mediterranean Sea when their boat sank. It was the single largest number of drowning deaths in that sea. What’s worse: since January of this year, more than 1500 Africans have perished in the Mediterranean.

Why are so many Africans so desperate to escape from their homeland that they would countenance any risk, even savage death in turbulent waters? What has made Africa such hell on earth that thousands of Africans are hungry to flee as one would run from some pestilence? Why are thousands of African lives feeding the fish of the Mediterranean deeps?

These drowning deaths are tragic enough. But they are compounded by the humiliating response to them. The European Union’s response has focused on ensuring that the African desperadoes never make it to the shores of Europe. There’s little attention paid to the fact that many of the fleeing refugees are direct victims of the anarchy unleashed by the US and EU-led operation to topple former Libyan strongman Muamar Gaddafi.

If the EU’s policy has been anal, the African Union has, simply, slumbered through the tragedy. It is a case of African abdication, African silence on an issue that is profoundly African. Again, it is a deeply disconcerting experience, this absence of Africa’s voice on an issue that is thoroughly African in location and implication.

All of this speaks to a profound dislocation. In terms of natural resources, Africa is one of the richest addresses on earth. Yet, Africa’s resources – whether it’s crude oil, diamond, gold, copper, bauxite, or uranium – have brought little more than curses to Africans. The great competition between Euro-American and Chinese corporations for Africa’s resources has often created tectonic tension on the continent, rendering parts of Africa too unsettled and violent for Africans. The concomitant is the rising exodus of Africans to Europe, Asia and elsewhere.

Add to this picture the reprehensible ravages of the Islamist groups ISIL, Boko Haram and Al Shabaab – and what emerges is a sobering portrait of a continent ripe for re-colonization, if not in the throes of it. Unfortunately, the African Union appears blissfully ignorant of the dire, far-reaching implications of developments on the continent. Else, why is the so-called AU silent on the African tragedy playing out in the perilous Mediterranean? Why is the organization silent on the food crisis in the Sudan and other parts of Africa?

Why is Africa perennially announced to the world as a problem, but African voices hardly feature in analyzing their continent, in charting the path out of crises? Why is the EU meeting, speaking and setting the agenda on Africa’s latest graveyard in the Mediterranean, but the AU remains staunchly taciturn? Why are Brussels, London, Rome and Paris pronouncing on the hordes of African desperadoes staking everything to reach Europe while the tongues of Abuja, Pretoria, and N’Djamena remain cold, stilled?

In 2000, I had concluded the BBC piece by touching on Africans’ gift for laughter. I wrote: “It is, also, the laughter of those who have a stubborn pact with hope. It is laughter that speaks about a long view of life, a faith that, however impenetrable the darkness, light comes. Whatever the strife, the true African spirit never ceases to strive.

“It is a shame that many in the West, ignorant about their complicity in this tragedy-in-progress, seem ready to declare Africa a hopeless case. The good news is that this kind of prognosis is hardly new.

“The prediction of Africa’s imminent collapse is a long-founded cottage industry. Africans will once again outlive the current frenzy of dour prophecies and gloomy forecasts.”

These days, watching events in South Africa, watching images of Africans flailing and drowning in the Mediterranean in their thousands, one isn’t so certain about the sense of confidence.

Please, follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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What we all owe Buhari Tue, 21 Apr 2015 01:34:03 +0000 Muhammadu Buhari’s triumph over Goodluck Jonathan in the March 28, 2015 presidential election has unleashed a fever of hope in Nigeria. Everywhere I turn, I ]]>

Muhammadu Buhari’s triumph over Goodluck Jonathan in the March 28, 2015 presidential election has unleashed a fever of hope in Nigeria. Everywhere I turn, I encounter among Nigerians the sense that our country is on the cusp of redemption, about to achieve a veritable renaissance.

Nigerians’ expectations are not just great; they are also, I am afraid, ominous. Some of us believe, for instance, that there won’t be a single Boko Haram terror attack anywhere in Nigeria the moment Mr. Buhari takes the oath of office. Abubakar Shekau and his ragtag bunch know better than to provoke Buhari’s ire, some contend. Some think the ugly guy called Corruption will buy a one-way ticket and fly out of Nigeria the day the retired general moves into Aso Rock. What about Nigeria’s electric power woes? Some Nigerians appear convinced that the incoming president will flip some switch and inaugurate a season of uninterrupted electric power.

Well, the president-elect asked for it, didn’t he? He has been more tenacious than most in seeking the presidential office. In fact, four times he asked Nigerians to entrust him with their number one job. The first three times, they declined; the fourth time, they said a resounding yes!

Can you blame Nigerians for coming to think that the man has been so persistent exactly because he is the answer, the secret elixir to put right our misshapen condition?

Some of Mr. Buhari’s close associates have assured me, a, that the man understands the gravity of the task before him and, b, that he’s determined to give it his best, honest shot. I find that inspiring. Still, it appears that many Nigerians are looking not merely for a president who would try but for a problem-fixing wizard, a leader with the magic touch.

But sobering reality stands, stubbornly, in the way. It took Nigerians more than five decades to accumulate their album of crises, from a receptivity to obscene graft to deep ethnic divisions, deepening sectarian intolerance to a coarsening moral atmosphere. There isn’t enough fibre in Buhari’s body to subdue problems that have been five and a half decades in the making. But even if the man possessed the energy, the job requires cash, a lot of cash, in fact. And the reality is that there isn’t enough cash in the treasury to do the job. And even if there were the money, there aren’t the solid institutions to midwife the process of turning a long dysfunctional country into a tip-top society.

The sooner we all reckoned that the ‘M’ in Mr. Buhari’s first name does not stand for Magician, the better for him and for us. Too many Nigerians believe it’s up to God to clear the mess in their country. But one of the great lessons of history is that people, applying their human intelligence, ingenuity and lofty vision, shape their societies. Even if God were in the business of righting countries, why take on Nigeria – a country whose man-made folly has mocked its rich endowment of natural and human resources? I don’t know of any country in history that merely prayed and fasted its way out of a jam.

In a variant of the divine path to Nigeria’s regeneration, too many of us speak about God “using” So-and-So to fix our country. Again, this attitude speaks to a profound misconception. It suggests that the arduous business of reviving Nigeria can be consigned to some superhuman. It would be up to this Gilgamesh-sized fellow to pick up after the rest of us, to stay awake and alert, ensuring that our lives are in order – whilst the rest of us make merry, have a jolly time.

For years, many Nigerians have nursed what I call a Rawlings fantasy. As a young military officer in Ghana, Jerry Rawlings had inspired some soldiers to spring him from jail, as he awaited execution for plotting a failed coup d’état. Shortly after being installed as military leader, Mr. Rawlings approved the execution of General Ignatius Kuku Acheampong, a former military ruler, and other generals. While Rawlings remains a divisive figure among Ghanaians, in some quarters reviled as passionately as he is venerated in other quarters, he is an altogether heroic, even messianic character among Nigerians. Ask Nigerians what must be done to combat the scourge of corruption in their country, and one of the top answers would be, “We need Jerry Rawlings here.”

For some Nigerians, then, Mr. Buhari is the nearest thing, our Rawlingsian approximation, our made-in-Nigeria facsimile of the real deal. Some Nigerians are convinced that, on Mr. Buhari’s inauguration, there won’t be enough room in prisons for all the doomed agents of corruption.

Mr. Buhari’s body language, so far, has been impressive. He has refrained from encouraging the notion that he is a “fixer-aller,” that he has a wand that would take care of Nigeria’s broken education, its non-existent healthcare, its antiquated infrastructure, and its numerous schisms.

What Buhari owes Nigerians is to invest his time and energy everyday to turning Nigeria around. But – even at his best – he can only get us so far. Nigeria’s fortune is in the hands of all of us – all one hundred and seventy million of us. If we want a different country, a healthier, more robust Nigeria, we better realise that it’s up to us, not to one man.

Let’s take one example: Corruption. Jailing a few corrupt politicians, or even a lot of them, won’t make corruption disappear from the Nigerian space. The police, customs officials, or reporters cannot, with one hand, demand and receive illicit gratification, and, with the other, declare that they want a clime free of corruption.

If Nigeria must be rid of this malaise, then Nigerians must face up to their culpability in fertilising this unwholesome practice. Every Okeke, Segun, Okon and Musa should resolve neither to offer a bribe nor demand one. We should abandon the habit of excusing or defending corruption when the accused perpetrators happen to belong to our ethnic or religious group.

The message is simple: There isn’t one man or woman who alone has what it takes to beat Nigeria into shape. That job belongs, not to one man, but to all of us. If we lull ourselves to sleep, convinced that Magician Buhari is going to slay the monster, we will wake up to the nightmare that the monster has grown bigger, steelier and more vicious.

If Mr. Buhari is to succeed, he must define his agenda and stay the course. But – of even more critical import – he’d need Nigerians’ collective commitment and eternal vigilance.


• Please, follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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Goodluck’s notes to Buhari Tue, 07 Apr 2015 00:41:52 +0000 Dear General, On behalf of “Mama Peace” and myself, I would like to congratulate you again on your historic victory in the March 28 presidential election. Why do I call it historic?]]>

Dear General,
On behalf of “Mama Peace” and myself, I would like to congratulate you again on your historic victory in the March 28 presidential election. Why do I call it historic?
It’s not only because it became the first time in our country’s history that an opposition candidate would defeat an incumbent president; that’s an unquestionably historic feat. But there’s even more impressive history elsewhere. There is the fact, for example, that you finally triumphed in a presidential election on your fourth try. There is also the fact that, for the first time in our country’s history, a political party with roots in Nigeria’s southwest aligned with politicians from different parts of the northern half of our country to win power at the center.
Your victory was also historic in that it aborted the goal of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Africa’s largest political party to rule Nigeria for sixty unbroken years. However, our consolation is that many of our great party’s original founders are now members of your soon-to-be ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In a sense, then, the PDP has purchased shares in the PDP, ensuring that our interests will continue to be served in the forthcoming dispensation.
As your immediate predecessor in office, and your dubious partner in the making of political history, I feel duty bound to offer you these parting notes about the lessons I have learned as a politician, president and commander-in-chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The most important lesson I would like to share is the last I learned as president. It is this: money can buy you endorsement, but hardly brings you votes.
As you well know, the moment the presidential election was postponed for six weeks, my campaign team and I hit the road, loaded with cash. By cash I do not mean naira, which has become as commonplace as tree leaves and now serves as the currency only of Nigerian commoners. No, by cash I mean Nigeria’s official political currency, the American dollar.
Before the election was postponed, my team and I had ensured that you and your team had run out of money. And to be without money whilst running a political campaign in Nigeria is tantamount to a car without fuel but set on a marathon trip. That car, like a cashless political campaign, is supposed to get nowhere. That’s why I was surprised, indeed shocked, that you somehow found the momentum to win.
My campaign and I had done our best to press our dollar advantage. I visited numerous royal fathers in all the political zones of this country. At each stop, I dropped bags and bags of dollars. Trust me, it was a dollar bonanza, a bazaar of huge cash gifts. I netted numerous endorsements; I knelt down before many a traditional ruler and received their royal blessings. I also received a deluge of endorsements from the men and women who call themselves “political chieftains” or “stakeholders.”
Having spent dollars as if the currency was going out of style, I was confident that the election was clinched, my victory guaranteed. It never occurred to me that most of the so-called royal fathers I wasted dollars on did not even have PVCs. And, even if they had their voter’s card, that they have only one vote.
I never reckoned too that those who call themselves stakeholders are widely loathed in their communities, that they are men and women of shady reputation who would be tied to the stake and executed if their people had a say in their fate. On collecting dollars from me, the first thing some of these so-called stakeholders did was to buy first class tickets to jet off to London, New York or Dubai before the election.
So let me warn you: the time when money can buy an election in Nigeria may be over. Over, I suspect, for good. I wish somebody had forewarned me before I squandered all that cash on PVC-less obas, obis, emirs, “chieftains” and “stakeholders.” All that cash would have brought me hundreds of thousands of votes—perhaps millions, even had I spent it on projects that improved the lives of all Nigerians. So I learned the hard way, when it was too late, that the only endorsement that REALLY counts is that of registered voters, not that of wretched “royal highnesses” and fly-by-night stakeholders who relish to reap where they do not sow. I now know, when it was too late, that those who arrogate to themselves the name of “stakeholders” are often impostors. Every Nigerian, all 170 million of us, is an equal stakeholder in Nigeria.
My dear General, trust me, some of your political associates will come to you a minute or two after your swearing-in and begin to spell out what you must do to win reelection in four years. They will advise you to start stashing away billions of dollars for deployment in 2019. They will tell you need the cash to purchase media affection and to line up endorsements by “royal fathers” and all manner of “chieftains.”
I implore you: pay these advisors no heed. If mustering a huge chest of campaign cash were an effective strategy, I would have blown you out in a landslide on March 28. You know that I had enough dollars to drown you and all your supporters in a sea of cash. Yet, what good did all that money do me? Did I not still come out more than two million votes short? Mama Peace and I are packing up to vacate the Villa for your wife and you.
My counsel to you is this: Use every dollar of Nigeria’s revenue to work for the Nigerian people. I know: I did not follow my own advice. But I assure you I would have easily secured another four-year term if I had not listened to those who convinced me that the presidency would always belong to the person with the fattest, dollar-rest wallet. I wish now that I had spent all that hoard of dollars fixing Nigeria.
Another important lesson: in making appointments, always go for the people you trust, not the people thrust upon you. Again, I allowed different political interests to decide who became a member of my cabinet and who received other major appointments in my administration. The result was that I had many appointees whose loyalty was to the interests that foisted them on me, not to me. Sadly, when I figured out that some of these appointees were sabotaging the country and undermining me, I was remiss to fire them. I have paid for that failure.
Let me forewarn you, General Buhari, about flattery and other forms of inflation that, if you don’t take care, will be your doom. As a Nigerian president, you are condemned to living in a virtual “virtual” reality space. You are a stranger to the people you’re supposed to govern and lead (or, as we prefer to say and do, rule). Your advisors, ministers, aides, party “stakeholders,” prayer warriors, and contractor-friends work round the clock to keep you thoroughly blinded to the harsh reality of conditions in Nigeria. The first thing they do is to pump your vanity up.
Do you know that, after a while, I came to believe what my advisors, ministers and associates said about me? I believed I was a transformational leader. I believed I was the one who made Nigeria’s economy the largest, by GDP, in Africa. I believed I was a political icon and genius, an economic wizard, and that God had declared there was no vacancy in Aso Rock. I believed them when they said First Lady Patience was the most popular woman in African history. I believed them when they said you were the guiding spirit and financier of Boko Haram, and that the best policy was to ignore you by ignoring Boko Haram.
In 2011, Nigerians said they hated the PDP but loved me. Today, they’re saying they adore you, even though they have misgivings about some of the crowd around you. Start from Day One to work for the Nigerian people, or you may find that their fury is even quicker than their affection. The pastors and imams and other lucre-seeking minions will admonish you to relax; they will declare you a savior of the Nigerian people even before you’ve lifted a hand to do one thing. Don’t let them fool you. There’s a lot of work to do for the Nigerian people. Our country’s educational system is so broken (the reason we ship our children abroad); there’s no healthcare (which is why our medical tourism dollars are enriching several foreign countries); our power sector continues to deteriorate, killing off industries and forcing Nigerians to buy more and more generators from Japan and elsewhere; and too many of our citizens, including graduates, now find jobs as armed robbers, kidnappers or political thugs.
Unless you wake up every day determined to roll up your sleeves and serve the Nigerian people, be assured they will turn against you and your party in four years—just as they did me.
I wish you—yes—Goodluck!

Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe

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Early winners, losers of elections 2015 Tue, 31 Mar 2015 01:31:49 +0000 By the time you read this, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would have announced the outcome of last weekend’s presidential and National ]]>

By the time you read this, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would have announced the outcome of last weekend’s presidential and National Assembly elections. But I’m writing without the benefit of that information, with only a few results that have trickled out, some of them yet to be authenticated by INEC.

Even so, I feel equipped with enough information to speak about some early winners and losers in the first round of voting.

Nigerian voters strike me as the biggest winners. Last week, an impressive number of voters went to the polls. Defying rain, the scorching sun, Boko Haram and sundry forms of official and unofficial violence and threats of violence, these men and women went to polling units across Nigeria to cast their votes. In some places, these determined voters met police and military roadblocks, but they refused to turn back. In some places, thugs beat them with sticks, stole ballot boxes, and even shot at them, but their spirits were not cowed. In many polling centres, INEC officials seemed to have decided on sleeping late, arriving at their posts hours after voters had been standing around, waiting, but these voters would not shirk their civic responsibility. In some voting centres, the novel card reader technology for accrediting voters malfunctioned, but the voters were ever patient, ever ready to do whatever it took in order to vote.

For that, I offer my admiration for the Nigerian winner.

I’m sure many of them were driven by clannish or ethnic sentiments – a desire to vote for the candidate from their small corner of the world, the son or daughter of their soil, the speaker of the same tongue, whether s/he’s the right candidate or not. I hazard that many were fueled by religious considerations. Perhaps, out of excessive and misplaced sectarian zealousness, or an excessive fear of another religion, some voters went out to ensure that the candidate who avows the same faith won. I’d speculate that some of the voters out last weekend were induced with a few hundred crumpled naira notes or a few cups of rice (or salt) – or, even, the mere promise of these.

In time, the clannish voter and the ethnic champion and the voter energised by religious fanaticism and the one moved by a miserable bribe may yet see the light, reform their ways, and become more informed voters. For now, I celebrate all the voters, who made it their business, for one reason or another, to go out and vote, despite the (sometimes) forbidding odds.

The next winner, I hope, are Nigerians’ individual and collective nerves. I have lived through several elections, none with the decibel level of this one. It was as if too many Nigerians lost their minds at once. Friends poured scorn on friends, some family members stopped talking to one another, fanatical supporters of one party or another aimed stones across various divides at those vending a different party. I know that the campaigns led to the abrogation of many friendships. I won’t be surprised if the partisan bickering sundered some marriages, created or widened gulfs between siblings, spiked some people’s blood pressures to dangerous levels and even sent a few to their (untimely) graves.

So, I’d propose to all of us: Take a deep breath, hold it, and then exhale. You ought to give your nerves the reprieve they desperately need. Pick up the phone and call that friend or family member you’d excised from your life because s/he was impervious to the partisan case you made for this or that party, this or that candidate. Go ahead: Take the initiative to reconnect, renew relationships you renounced after some incendiary verbal exchange with a friend, a colleague, a brother or even a virtual pal on social media. There is life after the PDP and APC and KOWA and UPP.

Another winner: President Goodluck Jonathan, Muhammadu Buhari and other political candidates, who drummed the message that partisan jousting need not spell death. True, many of their supporters went ahead to inflict bodily harm – and even death – on supporters of opposing candidates. It was as if these hawkers of violence never received the memo on civility and non-violence. Even so, the menace of violence would have been far worse had the candidates not displayed verbal restraint.

Now, let’s look at some of the losers. It’s important to indicate that some of the entries in this category are composted, partial successes mixed with inexcusable failures.

With the exception of a few smaller political parties, some of them barely visible in the political firmament, the political campaigns were devoid of issues. In the main, both the PDP and APC ran uninspiring campaigns, content to hurl brickbats at each other. In sum, then, they neglected to be strong on message, failed to articulate and sell a vision of a reinvigorated Nigeria and to define the path to that goal. The two main parties’ campaigns substituted facile, one-word mantras -“continuity” and “change”- for rigorous programmes.

On the whole, Nigeria’s security agencies earned a pass mark. Yet, in certain politically volatile states, Rivers and Edo being prime examples, security agents seemed to view themselves, as the armed wing of the ruling PDP. The level of violence, injuries and deaths, should be unacceptable. It doesn’t make sense that armed thugs were able to raid some polling booths and flee with ballot boxes. One of the urgent challenges for Nigeria is to recreate its military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies into professionally sound and non-partisan groups. It should never be the case that an incumbent president can summon these agencies to advance his or her parochial political agenda.

Finally: INEC. One thing that became clear last weekend is that the electoral commission could not have possibly been in any shape to conduct the presidential and legislative elections on February 14. In too many parts of the country, INEC officials arrived several hours late at polling booths. It was also sad to see so many card readers fail to work. Their rate of malfunction suggests a measure of sloppy preparation. Worse, INEC staff seemed ill-equipped to troubleshoot the card readers. One of the saddest images from the elections was President Jonathan, standing at a polling booth for more than thirty minutes because the card readers, literally, failed to recognise him.

For all the praise INEC has received for the first round of this year’s elections, the whimsical performance of card readers represents a serious dent. Attahiru Jega, who is undertaking his last assignment as INEC chairman, now has two weeks to fix the system before the next round of elections come up on April 11. He should want to exit as a winner, ending his run at INEC on a high, near-flawless note.


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The victory goes to… Tue, 24 Mar 2015 01:05:58 +0000 Finally, the week has arrived when Nigeria will face the oddest and staunchest test for its electoral experimentation.]]>

Finally, the week has arrived when Nigeria will face the oddest and staunchest test for its electoral experimentation.

Odd because, as I have argued for some time, the two acknowledged top contending political parties are ideological twins, united by a shared predatory vision of governance. And if my hunch is right, then Nigerians stand to see, at best, cosmetic and fleeting benefits should the opposition APC win – and the certain continuation of a ruinous order should the ruling PDP retain power.

Staunch because the stakes are even much higher than the 2007 elections when outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo declared a do-or-die battle, or the 2011 elections when many Nigerians, in full sobriety, insisted that they would vote for Goodluck Jonathan, whom they declared congenial and committed to the common good, whilst proclaiming their distaste for his political party, the PDP.

I warned then, hardly heeded, that it was nonsensical to embrace the man and claim to abjure the party that both produced and defined him. I was also at pains to point out the pitfalls of falling for Mr. Jonathan’s narrative of growing up poor and shoeless. It wasn’t so much that one disbelieved the story as much as that, true or false, it was self-evident that the narrative had clearly failed to shape Mr. Jonathan’s political career. It was not as if he was coming out as a political cipher, devoid of a track record. No: He had a well-known middling record. He’d been a deputy governor, a governor, a vice president and an acting president. And, since there was little in his political past to demonstrate a deep awareness of and affinity with the downtrodden, I was doubtful that he would suddenly develop a humanistic instinct or activate a broad social acumen once elected president.

The substance and style of Mr. Jonathan’s administration bore out my skepticism. Under his watch, the few continued to thrive, squandering the country’s resources, at the detriment of the majority. Confronted with the prospect of utter defeat on February 14, it’s no wonder that he and his associates sought a six-week postponement of the polls. He has used the extra time, not to defend his record – of which there’s little to defend – but to literally buy up affection.

The debate is no longer whether he ran a corrupt shop, but whether he outstripped Mr. Obasanjo’s record in that regard. There’s little argument about his ineptitude; the debate is whether he raised the bar so high that no predecessor would be able to compete in that dubious department.

Given the ruling party’s record, not just under Mr. Jonathan but since 1999, one would have expected Nigerians to be anxious to break in a radical and decisive way with the reigning order. I insist that the All Progressives Congress (APC) hardly fits the bill. The party’s best and worst weapon is Muhammadu Buhari. I respect the man’s uncommon example of self-restraint when it comes to illicit accumulation of riches. He served as a petroleum minister and a military head of state, but – unlike many a retired general – has little material possession to show for it. That’s admirable. But a little sense of history ought to instruct us that personal example is hardly enough. For have we forgotten that former President Shehu Shagari was also, by most accounts, allergic to looting? Yet, his government incubated corruption on a vast, monumental scale. Ironically, it fell to Mr. Buhari to dethrone the Shagari administration in 1983.

One feels a profound disquiet that Mr. Buhari and the APC are saddled together. The party is filled with men and women whose dominant reputation, well earned, is one of moral bankruptcy and absence of wholesome vision. Their presence, indeed dominance, in the APC; the party’s failure to develop an identity significantly separate from that of the PDP and its inability to outline a bold set of prescriptions for Nigeria’s malaise – all these expose the APC as little more than a patchwork, a hodgepodge of strange interests and bedfellows driven by a craze for power.

After “capturing” power, then what? The APC seemed reluctant to share. It and its candidate refused to debate the PDP and Mr. Jonathan. That struck me as rather bizarre, for any serious party and candidate should be able to demolish the PDP and their presidential candidate in a debate. I chalked it all up to the party’s reluctance to expose its own barrenness to Nigerians.

Mr. Buhari may be a good man, but is he prepared for the physical, mental and other demands of running a complex, riven country in the 21st century? He’s many Nigerians’ idea of a mini-Rawlings, but there’s no space in a democratic setting for a Rawlings, lite or at full dose. The question, then, is whether Mr. Buhari possesses the energy to be a hands-on, driven president, one able to make his presence felt in the various sectors of our troubled country’s life? And, even more fundamentally, whether he has the capacity and courage to envision and push for a restructured Nigeria, one in which institutions, rather than individuals, are the engine, and accountability as well as transparency serve as watchwords.

The PDP has contended that Mr. Buhari is physically enfeebled, and that he’s lost a step or two mentally. The APC presidential candidate’s unwillingness to present himself for a debate with Mr. Jonathan has fertilized the perception that he may not be up to the grade. That, in turn, has fed speculation that he’s a tool in the hands of interests whose agenda is, at bottom, questionable.

I believe that the APC’s defeat of the PDP is bound to give Nigerians a great emotional lift. The PDP’s threat to rule Nigeria for sixty years frightens the hell out of many Nigerians, me included. But I don’t see a way around the sneaking suspicion that we’re faced, this week, with a choice between two factions of the same ideological camp.

Still, if on March 28 and April 11 the results of the elections reflect the wishes of the majority of Nigerian voters, rather than a fraudulently manufactured outcome, then it might be said that the victory, for what it is, has gone to all of us and our undoubted commitment to a deepening democratic culture.


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