The Sun News » Sideview - Voice of The Nation Fri, 28 Aug 2015 02:50:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 From Katsina with Ibrahim Shema’s good tidings Tue, 02 Sep 2014 00:57:20 +0000 Originally, it was said the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. But nowadays, Nigerians have paraphrased that powerful scripture to the fear of Boko Haram is the beginning of wisdom. So, when the Nigerian Guild of Editors announced that this year’s All Nigeria’s Editors’ Conference, ANEC, was going to hold in Katsina, the question was, why Katsina of all places? Or anywhere in the North for that matter!

The way everyone, including this reporter, reacted, you’d think that the Guild was planning to hold the conference in Chibok town, near the evil forest of Sambisa. “Are we safe?” I had asked the Guild President, Femi Adesina. It turned out that it was the question on every lip and Femi had answered it so many times already.

“Katsina is said to be the safest part of the North,” he explained. But it was when I heard that the issue had become so contentious that the northern delegates, who had faithfully attended three or more consecutive annual conferences in the South threatened to pull out of the Guild if the venue was changed that I made up my mind to be there, perhaps, as the disciples of Jesus said at the Lord’s most harrowing hour, “let us go there and die together.”

But far from dying, Katsina offered us a beacon of hope and good things. To avoid landing in Kano and the attendant logistic challenge of travelling to Katsina from Kano, delegates from Lagos and Abuja had a chartered Boeing 737 flight to take us straight to Katsina en route Abuja.

I was last at Katsina in 1991 with a couple of other journalists that included the then NTA’s Chris Anyanwu and we had come for project inspection during the regime of Military Administrator, Col. John Madaki. Katsina, home to the famous Yar’Adua dynasty and former head of state, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (from Daura), then was a low-key urban town with limited roads and other infrastructures. Then, we inspected mostly boreholes, rural roads, schools, clinics and electrification. The contrast today is very stark. Katsina today is a very modern city, with good roads. We now drove through a new city paved with a six-lane ring road on both sides around Katsina town with made-in-Katsina solar-powered street lights. But, as we piled into buses at the airport, my eyes were alert. Where are the armed security squads to protect us in case? There were none. I’ve gone to many places in the South here where we were escorted by armed security, but not in Katsina. At the large Liyafa Palace Hotel where all the Fellows of the Guild were lodged in suites, not even a single policeman was visible – just, plain private civilian security guards, the type you have in your homes.

The first night, I was thinking, what if Boko Haram hear that editors are in Katsina, wouldn’t we be a great target of the terrorists to draw global attention? But as it turned out, Katsina is a very peaceful state, with no security concerns. Indeed, when we drove from the airport to the Government House for a brief welcome reception with the State Governor, Ibrahim Shema, and his cabinet members, we encountered minimal security. After our registration for the conference the next day, the soldier manning the conference hall suggested that we drop our conference bags with him and collect it after the opening ceremony ostensibly because the Governor, the Senate President, the Minister of Education and other top dignitaries were expected, but surprisingly, I was able to convince him easily to allow us in with our bags because it would be too difficult for each person to retrieve their bags afterwards since the bags are uniform! Such sensible ease speaks about the ambience of peace and security of Katsina.

Over 200 editors besieged Katsina town, stretching their hotel infrastructure. We had come to explore a theme, Credible Elections and Good Governance: The Role of the Editor. We were exploring the foundation of credible elections and good governance. Apart from the keynote address by Alhaji Umaru Muttallab, other papers were presented around this theme by INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, legal activist, Ms Ayo Obe, media icon, Ray Ekpu, plus an interactive executive session with host governor, Ibrahim Shema, representatives of Lagos State Governor, Tunde Fashola, and Bayelsa State Governor, Henry Dickson.

Good governance or credible elections, which drives the other? Papers and debates went back and forth. I was one of the three discussants of the keynote address by Muttallab – my co-discussants were NTA’s Director-General, Shola Omole (represented by NTA’s Executive Director of News, Shola Atere), and Professor Umar Pate. I concluded by arguing that good governance, to a great extent, should drive credible election. Since June 12, 1993, the average Nigerian voters had demonstrated time and again their willingness to deliver free and fair elections, it is the political class that is dragging the electorate backwards with election riggings and instigation of violence. But where the elected office holders perform well in office, they don’t need to induce people with “stomach infrastructure”, rig elections or resort to violence to win elections. The average Nigerian electorate would fight to return them to office.

As it turned out, the performance of Governor Shema in office became a good illustration of that point, an excellent case study in how good governance can drive credible elections. Shema shared his story both at the executive session with all the editors and at a private session with five elders of the Guild of which I was present.

When he came to power in 2007, he inherited N54 billion of awarded contracts obligations. The Nigerian tradition is usually to abandon those contracts, refuse to pay for them and then proceed to award your own contracts. But Shema, convinced that government is continuity, spent the first 18 months of his tenure, completing all the projects started by his predecessor and paying off the N54 billion. This of course, put him at odds with his supporters and powerful stakeholders, who wanted him to award fresh contracts. Some of those contracts included the Katsina airport where we landed, the completion of Katsina State University and Polytechnics, among other things.

Incidentally, it was in the area of education that Governor Shema seemed to have spectacularly excelled. On coming to power, he visited some schools and found them deserted – the pupils had been sent home because they could not pay school fees. Worried by what he saw, Shema calculated the total revenue that accrued from school fees in the state and was told they came to N450 million per annum. Shema then reckoned that if merely he saved N100 million monthly from the state’s monthly allocation of N2.8 billion then, he would save N1.2 billion a year. With that simple arithmetic, Shema then offered free education in the state from primary to tertiary level. The state government also pays for all exam fees like those of WAEC, JAMB, etc.

But it is not only that students from Katsina State are offered education free, Shema’s administration has offered scholarships to about 700 indigenes of the state to study abroad, all expenses paid. But the condition is that they must study science-based courses like medicine, pharmacy, engineering courses, especially aeronautical, environmental engineering, etc.

The story of an orphan boy from Funtua stood out. Thanks to free education by the Shema administration, the boy was able to make straight A’s in all his subjects. But then, he secured a job in the farm of a rich man where his singular duty was carrying fertilizers on a donkey. When Shema heard of his pathetic story, he offered him scholarship to the University of California to study Environmental Engineering. This year, the orphan graduated with First Class honours and won a prize, as the overall best graduating student. He is back for his youth service but before then, with tears in his eyes, he presented his prize to the governor.

In Katsina, the duty of husbands stops with impregnating their wives. After that, the state government takes over all delivery cost, even if it is caesarian section and the child enjoys free medical care until age five. All malaria treatment and dialysis or renal treatments are free while oldies enjoy fee medical care.

Governor Shema inherited a decrepit and leaky Government House from his predecessor, but today, he has built an ultra-modern Government House complex that rivals any in the country.

But the news is not the building of the Government House but how he funded it. His policy is that before he awards contracts, there must be total cash backing. He pays 40 per cent of the contract sum as mobilisation fee and invests 60 per cent in treasury bills and other financial instruments until the final execution. After three-year tenure, Shema was shocked to discover that the state had garnered a huge income of N10 billion from such investments. It was out of this income from the investments that he spent N8 billion to build and furnish the Government House complex and spent another N400 million to build official Government Lodge at Abuja. “This Government House was not built out of the state’s allocation or IGR,” he said. “It is almost free of charge to the government because there is no law that compels me to invest government money in the first place.”

How much did the six-lane ring road cost? Well, according to Governor Shema, Julius Berger quoted N37 billion for less than one-third of the ring road and declined to make any discount. Realising he could not afford to execute the entire project at that rate, Shema then got consultants, who provided him with bill of quantity and then Shema dared five of us, “Can any of you guess how much we eventually built the entire ring road?”

“May be N15 billion?” Ray Ekpu finally guessed.

Wrong. Wide off the mark! “We eventually built the whole of the six-lane ring road for N6 billion! People don’t believe me but that is the truth!”

In all his exploits, Shema wants it underscored that he has never borrowed a dime. All his projects are executed from the state’s federal allocation of N5 billion and N1 billion IGR.”

Yet, the state is not owing workers or pensioners. Yet, the state has a healthy cash balance of over N32 billion and about N20 billion in local government account. Perhaps, it is high time Shema conducted a tutorial on prudence and management of state resources to many of his colleagues, who have left a legacy of squandermania with nothing to show for it.



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Nuhu Ribadu’s metamorphosis Tue, 26 Aug 2014 02:19:40 +0000 When the radical icon, Chief Gani Fawehinmi died, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu who had been in exile for fear of his own life in the hands of an enraged President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, braved the odds to sneak into the country to pay his last respect. President Yar’Adua never hid the fact that he did not like Ribadu’s swashbuckling style that drew its oxygen more from media drama and grandstanding than substance.

To be sure, Yar’Adua was not one to contemplate any physical harm to a fellow human being, not the least, the man at the forefront of the anti-corruption war. But the president also did not hide the fact that the war against corruption should follow “due process” of the law. Due process became a new mantra which all looters and scoundrels hid behind to frustrate prosecution. With “due process” as their bullet-proof vest against the fangs of the law, many of them worked the corridors of power in obscene celebration of impunity.

But while the president did not need Ribadu’s blood, there were too many people who would be glad to see him safely tucked away six feet below the earth. It was such people that threatened Ribadu’s life, forcing him into exile. In exile though, Ribadu became a rallying point for what went wrong with Nigeria, the poster boy of Western dismay at the reversal of the gains and momentum of the anti-corruption crusade.

Those arch enemies of Ribadu ostensibly were still on the prowl when Ribadu risked his life to pay his last respect to his icon. Alive, there was no question that Ribadu deeply admired Gani’s radicalism and anti-corruption crusading. For Gani, reality was black and white, no gray areas even on social grounds. When the Lagos State Military Governor, Brigadier Buba Marwa, sent him a ram as a gesture of goodwill for Ileya festival, Gani promptly and publicly returned it. He would not partake of a ram given by agents of a heinous military junta, even though Gani secretly endorsed Marwa’s benevolent dispositions and efforts at providing social amenities in Lagos.

When it was speculated that President Ibrahim Babangida’s regime was considering appointing him as the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Gani made it known that if the government did that, he would sue them for defamation of character—for in daring to appoint him to any position, the government was vicariously associating him with their undoings!

That was a background to the celebrated public fight between Gani and his closest friend, Dr. Olu Onagoruwa, who later accepted to serve as the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice under General Sani Abacha junta. Gani was dead set against the appointment and wrote a public appeal to Onagoruwa not to accept the position. Light and darkness could not meet, he argued. But Onagoruwa was under pressure from his Odogbolu kinsman, General Oladipo Diya, the Chief of General Staff, who sold such appointments to respected Yoruba progressives like Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Ebenezer Babatope and the liberal and highly principled Publisher of the Guardian, Alex Ibru.

Onagoruwa’s acceptance of that position provoked a public fight between him and Gani, tearing their bond of friendship to shreds as they openly denounced each other in the media. It was a season of great sadness for their mutual admirers, including this reporter. (Gani was our media hero, fearless news source, friend and legal benefactor who did many celebrated cases for us pro bono while Dr. Onagoruwa taught me press law.)

Whatever the great rationale for accepting the job, Onagoruwa ultimately paid dearly for it. For one, he thought he could sing the Lord’s song in a strange land so to say, insisting on obeying court orders, rejecting decrees that were announced without his knowledge, etc. Such disagreement and Onagoruwa’s subsequent exit became unbearable affront to Abacha. Onagoruwa was soon visited by assassins who missed him but got his brilliant son, Tokumbo, whose life was untimely cut short. Gani and Onagoruwa made efforts at reconciliation but things were never the same for them again.

That then was Gani, the man whose ideals Ribadu was prepared to risk his life to honour in death. Clearly, Ribadu is a man of fervent idealism. But, it seems that his, is idealism without clearly defined borderlines. With Gani, you know where he stands all the time. You know his friends, you know his enemies, those he perceived as the agents of corruption and by implication, the enemy of the people, the anti-democratic elements. It was the convergence of Gani’s long-standing anti-corruption crusades over the years and Ribadu’s efforts to rid the nation of the same malaise at the EFCC that drew them together in the first place.

Ribadu’s decision to defect from a perceived progressive APC to arch-conservative PDP in pursuit of his governorship ambition speaks more to pragmatism than any pretention to idealism, the type that drew him to Gani in the first place. “Everyone is idealistic when you are kid,” noted Clint Eastwood. Perhaps, Ribadu’s idealism was affected more by youthful exuberance rather than conviction? Faced with a clash between his idealism and pragmatism, Ribadu simply buckled so easily to the latter.

As Aisha Tyler argues, “there is a part of everyone that is entertained by the idealistic, the fantastic.” But, if so, then William Irwin Thompson is right when he counters, “Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality, the cost becomes prohibitive.”

In Ribadu’s defection and his curious excuse for such political leap, there is indeed, a deep, wide gulf between the hero and his protégé when it comes to practice. To his astonished critics, Ribadu argued that there is really no difference between the two parties, contrary to the perception that PDP is a conservative party and APC is the progressive spectrum of our politics. In sense, while those who hold him in great esteem reel in shock, Ribadu muddles in moral gray zone.

Perhaps, Ribadu has his point if you consider the high level of traffic of members between the two parties. For instance, did the five PDP governors who defected to APC transform from conservative to progressive merely by changing to APC? Would anybody describe Ali Modu Sheriff, the man whose alleged link with Boko Haram, was the reason PDP claim that APC is linked to Boko Haram, as progressive while he was in APC and now conservative with his defection to  PDP? (By the way, whatever happens to Modu Sheriff’s alleged Boko Haram connections? Would our celebrated Femi Fani-Kayode who trumpets the APC-Boko Haram connection now exit PDP or shamelessly embrace Modu Sheriff despite the Boko Haram affair?)

Would the former Governor of Kano State, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, a man who led a populist, progressive administration, now fit as a conservative by the mere fact of his defection to PDP when he lost out in the power scheme? Is Chief Tom Ikimi, founding member of APC now warming up to defect to PDP a progressive in the first instance and a conservative when he joins PDP?

These are uncomfortable questions that speak to our culture of political harlotry devoid of ideas and ideological content. To Ribadu, the end justifies the means. But are we part of that end? From what we have seen so far, the end seems to be synonymous with the personal ambition of the politicians rather than the interest of the electorate. None of the defections is prompted by policy disagreements, but more a quarrel over personal ambitions and individual interests.

Those who think they have seen the coming political configuration for the 2015 general elections are living in fool’s paradise. We expect more defections as individual ambitions of the political gladiators clash, producing winners and sour losers.  In this respect, Bill Moyers is right: “Much of what passes for idealism is disguised hatred or disguised love of power.”

Gani Fawehnmi would be turning in his grave!


Re: IBB: the myth and the man

Thanks a lot for your piece on the man, IBB.Even though I have never met him or benefited from him, I think he is a leader of leaders. He is really “the man that saw tomorrow”.

Yes, he made mistakes like every mortal, but he did so much with little resources.
I can swear that if IBB had had even half of what we got from oil sales in the last 10 years, Nigeria would be better than South Africa and Dubai combined.

Kindly permit me to highlight some of his critical mistakes here.

His resort to using junior officers as Military Administrators affected the armed forces’ administrative order.

Then, the devaluation of our currency without some firm controls and alternatives was another flaw, although, this could be excused because of our poor production capacity. But even then, I thought he could have built on General Mohammadu Buhari’s Trade-by-Barter policy.

Another critical mistake was the ill-advised annulment of the June 12 election by those who later became major beneficiaries.
Otherwise, this man would have easily passed for the greatest African leader ever when we dispassionately and objectively ruminate over his pluses as a leader and Head of State.

Honestly, most of his ideas that were unacceptable to us then are now the cornerstone of the last three administrations.

Therefore, you will agree with me that IBB till date is the best manager of both human and material resources.

I hereby join you in wishing him long life and good health. Allahuma Ameen!
God Bless Nigeria!

Engr. Yusuf U. A, x


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IBB: The myth and the man Tue, 19 Aug 2014 00:16:37 +0000 He is many people’s favourite enemy. But he is also friends to a lot more. Those who hate him prefer to cast him as the “Evil Genius”. It was an unintended aspersion he coined himself. ]]>

He is many people’s favourite enemy. But he is also friends to a lot more. Those who hate him prefer to cast him as the “Evil Genius”. It was an unintended aspersion he coined himself. He was fielding questions from the TELL magazine editors when he noted that there were people who preferred  to ascribe every bad thing to him, that if their wives miscarried, they blamed it on him, that in the eyes of many of his critics, he is the “Evil Genius”.
Like most news media would do, TELL titled the interview, “I’M EVIL GENIUS—IBB”. The tag simply stuck, for good or ill. Bad news sells. It was a case of sarcasm that boomeranged. And, a case where the master dribbler dribbled himself into a tight spot. As any journalist would tell you, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, is the interviewer’s nightmare and delight at the same time. In the world of newspapers, some people’s faces sell newspapers, but the faces of others just don’t, unless they commit suicide.
Babangida is a newsman’s delight any day. His face sells papers. It partly has to do with a combination of his personal mystique, charm, charisma and the conflicting signals often emanating from his persona that give a slippery twist to his personality, leaving many guessing all the time. The other part is his sense of timing. He is hardly garrulous in the media, speaking only most often at his own terms and timing.
He is certainly not easy to interview. Interview for him is like warfare and he does not like to be backed into a corner. He answers what he wants to say, not necessarily what you asked him. In other words, he is a master at parrying questions, dribbling and weaving out of any corner like a Mohammed Ali floating out of blows like a butterfly.
Yet, what he has to say—when he wants to say something—is often newsworthy. For a man who had loomed so large in nearly the past four decades of the nation’s history, a man usually thronged by an army of ardent loyalists in and out of power, Babangida exemplifies the notion that “leadership is influence.” He is a leader of influence with or without the state power—something some of our leaders need to learn from. It is not a surprise that many media institutions make him their favourite editorial staple in a market where bad news sells. To his grudging credit, many media outfits like TELL, The News, Channels TV and The Sun were launched or popularised either by IBB interviews or anti-IBB stories.
In February 2003, it was a combative interview Mike Awoyinfa and I had with him that launched The Sun newspaper brand, a fact for which IBB still demands that we pay him royalty!  And there would probably not have been Channels TV today if not for a syndicated interview Duro Onabule arranged for John Momoh when Channels was still more of an independent news production company with no broadcast station of its own. The interview was so hot, John Momoh stated in our forthcoming book, WORLD EDITORS: Conversations with Journalism Masters on Trends and Best Practices, expected to arrive Nigeria in September, that “we literally ran out of Aso Rock because we weren’t too sure if we were going to be allowed to take the tapes out. And I remember that when I took those tapes to NTA to air—because they had the network power—they refused.”
In the context of IBB, his interview with New Telegraph on Sunday is quite revealing. He gave the interview to mark his 73rd birthday. He offers a more realistic insight into the Boko Haram menace than I’ve heard from government spokesmen, peeling off the noise to capture the tactical strength and weaknesses of the insurgents, even graciously rationalizing the seeming official inertia on Chibok Girls kidnap saga, President Goodluck Jonathan’s right to second term and so on.
But, obviously, it was also an interview in which IBB had something important to say. He is not in favour of using soldiers to conduct elections and he said so with grave candour. He blamed the militarization of politics and elections on the elements in the society who seemed to “accept that for things to work out well, you have to use the military.” Then he followed with a warning on the implication of such militarization. “You have compromised your police force, so the next one that has not been compromised but would soon be compromised is the military. I don’t believe that the military should be involved in the civil process…I am not sure the military likes to be involved in these civil duties.”
While IBB’s position agrees with my position on the matter in my column last week, it flies in the face of President Jonathan’s stout defense of deploying soldiers as the only way of guaranteeing free and fair election. Did I detect a note of an experienced power veteran speaking out publicly to somebody with a whiff of inexperience or naivety in military affairs?
It was a day IBB was surely in combative mood. The constant threat of war by Niger Delta militants who purports to be the defenders of President Jonathan, Babangida dismissed as mere “ranting” from men ensconced in cosy hotel suites in Abuja—men who had so fed fat on the spoils of power that they’d lost their constituencies in the first place. “Number two,” IBB said, “for the rantings of the so called ex-militants, I don’t take it as a threat…because those who are ranting only do so in posh hotels in Abuja; you don’t see them with the people.”
If Babangida were to be a boxer, he would be like a Mohammed Ali, who has incredible capacity to absorb blows. More than two decades since he “stepped aside” from power, his critics are unrelenting. He is pilloried for “institutionalization of corruption”, for introducing SAP which is blamed for ruining the economy and wiping out the middleclass of which I am a member, the unresolved mystery of Dele Giwa’s murder with a parcel bomb, the “disappearance” of the Gulf War windfall, his endless transition programme which culminated in the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election, no doubt Nigeria’s best election so far.
Well, I have always taken the position that the sin of the annulment of the June 12 election is perhaps, IBB’s greatest crime against the nation. But holding IBB alone responsible for SAP without recourse to the profligacy of the political class of the Second Republic who grounded the nation’s economy in the first place, is perhaps playing the ostrich game. Of course, the obverse side of SAP is the liberalization of the nation’s economy by IBB regime. The liberalisation of banking license for instance initially led to the explosion of rickety banks and finance houses but when the bubble cleared, we now have mega banking institutions like Zenith, the GTB, Diamond, Access Bank, IBTC, Fidelity, etc, as testament to the merit or otherwise of his regime’s legacy. It is the same liberalisation that gave birth to private broadcasting—AIT, Channels, Silverbird, etc.
Did IBB really pocket $12.8 billion Gulf War windfall as the popular myth tends to suggest, quoting an even more mysterious Dr. Pius Okigbo report? Many IBB bashers would swear that he did, despite IBB claiming that part of the money was appropriated for building the Third Mainland Bridge, among other things. In the end, it seems to me that the myth of the Gulf War windfall is not any less of dubious authenticity as the report that IBB lives in a 50-room mansion—but that is, until you actually visit his ever-crowded Hilltop Mansion in Minna and discover that the mansion does not even have half of that number of rooms!
For me, IBB’s greatest burden is not the one about corruption—I doubt, really, if the man is even nearly as rich today as some of our state governors! His burden is not so much about SAP and his endless transition programme which inadvertently forced the wisdom of two-party system down our throat, his main burden is annulling the June 12 election, a sin that can never be washed away even by the whole of River Niger.
But for the annulment, Nigeria would have been in the same place as South Africa which in the past 20 years, has achieved four seamless national elections without deploying their armed forces. I hope that at 73, IBB should continue to reflect on which way forward for Nigeria. Here is wishing a happy birthday to the General!

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Keep off, military zone! Tue, 12 Aug 2014 00:44:30 +0000 Now that the Osun State governorship election is concluded, it seems the right time to venture into where we started: the increasing militarization of our electoral process. Before the Osun State election, it was a difficult argument, even an emotive one,]]>

Now that the Osun State governorship election is concluded, it seems the right time to venture into where we started: the increasing militarization of our electoral process. Before the Osun State election, it was a difficult argument, even an emotive one, to point out that deploying soldiers to perform what should have been mainly the work of the police and other security arms, is wrong-headed.

Because of our truncated democratic evolution since independence with the preponderance of military involvement in governance, the presence of the military in our democratic processes seems normal to some people. In the spirit of Machiavelli, the end, it seems, justifies the means. That simply means that if it works, then it is good, even if it is an aberration.

Well, these days, among media commentators, the fear of saying the wrong words against President Jonathan is the beginning of wisdom. Out there exists an army of emotional pro-Jonathan mob who frame every argument in terms of the President’s second term contest. If what you have to say does not praise-sing Jonathan, then it is only because you are member of APC or have been bribed by Bola Tinubu to write anti-Jonathan nonsense. In this poisonously partisan and emotive plain, there is no middle ground.

On the other hand, the APC partisans are not faring better. Their comments are dripping with heavy, intemperate scorn for the president and his party.

Indeed, some religious leaders have even concocted a spiritual spin to it. Jonathan is God’s agenda for Nigeria for 2015. But then, assuming God has no other business than plotting Jonathan’s next electoral victory, what happens to Nigeria after he would have served out his second term? What I do know is that neither Jesus nor the Apostles were as interested in partisan affairs as today’s political prelates!

That is why that despite such a partisan affray, we must continue to insist on our right to defend Nigeria, a position that is distinct from the agenda of either PDP or APC. Part of that right imposes upon us the responsibility to defend democracy, a form of government relatively adjudged to be better than most of the others. Our tragedy is that many of the key players in our current political stage were either military apologists of yesteryears during the battle for democracy or people who never lifted a finger then. But today, they are the great gladiators of our political theatre. In the spirit of democracy, even such quislings then are welcome to join the gravy train of Nigerian democracy.

When therefore we complain about undue militarization of our democratic process, it is borne out of genuine concern that the best way to preserve a fish is not to give it to a rat to store for you! In 1999 when President Olusegun Obasanjo was elected as president, he decided that the military was so politicized and exposed to the lures of political office that the best way to heal the military institution was to purge it of those who had held political appointments. The advertised goal of Obasanjo’s purge was the need to retain a highly professional military that is alive to its primary calling of defending the nation against internal and external aggression—not political opposition!

Nothing best illustrates the import of military professionalism better than a comparison of the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) insurgents in Iraq where about twenty thousand highly motivated fighters are putting to flee the Iraqi army of several hundred thousand troops trained and well-armed by the United States. In fact, ISIS became extremely well-equipped simply by capturing the multibillion dollar military equipment provided by the Americans to the Iraqi army. What happened to the formerly dreaded Iraqi army? They’ve succumbed to corruption, religious bigotry, partisanship, nepotism and other unprofessional trappings. Today, the American air force is now faced with the odd responsibility of destroying its own military hardware abandoned to ISIS by an incompetent Iraqi army. This is a grave pitfall our military must not be allowed to sink into just to score political advantage.

With the Boko Haram onslaught in the country unremitting, how come we deem it in our best interest to distract the same military with electoral duties rather than plotting how to secure the nation from the insurgents threatening our sovereignty?

For a start, the military dented its own democratic credential on June 12, 1993 when it actually conducted Nigeria’s best presidential election and then, annulled it! Why? Some elements within the military found power too irresistible to relinquish to idle civilians. Now, here again come the bloody civilians inviting the same military to preside over electoral contest of power for us? Are we really crazy people after all? Why do we maintain a massive police force, State Security Services and other paramilitary services if we can’t depend on them to perform their duties, including electoral duties?  In other places, the military comes in under emergency situation when all other things have failed, but in our case, we start with the military. You then are left wondering what will be our last resort if the political class also corrupts the military as they had messed up the police and pocketed them.

This anomaly started in Edo State, moved to Anambra, landed in Ekiti and was then transferred to Osun State. In Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, seemingly profited from the process to coast to victory on the platform of the then opposition ACN. The party looked the other way. At that time, everyone hailed the commander-in-chief, President Goodluck Jonathan, for being an impartial arbiter of sorts. It was a case of acute myopia. Then, Anambra governorship election followed and it was a straight fight between APGA and ACN since as usual, Anambra PDP was fractious and Labour Party and PPA could not muster strong competition.

When Governor Willy Obiano of APGA carried the day, only ACN candidate was left to gripe. It was then an open secret that President Jonathan did not really mind conceding the state to a loyal opposition Governor Peter Obi who had been most supportive of the president. And so, only ACN complained about security harassment, with a party stormy petrel like Nasir El-Rufai sent by the party’s hierarchy to monitor the election, forcefully restricted to his hotel room in Awka.

But, perhaps, we didn’t cry hard enough. So, in Ekiti election, the military came in full force, interdicting opposition leaders, arresting some and generally looming around menacingly. PDP won the election and we are yet to agree today, whether that was down to such intimidatory tactics or the winning candidate’s popularity.

In Osun, despite their party’s victory, APC leaders are still bitter at the sheer intimidation, arrest, and detention of “hundreds of leaders, supporters, sympathizers and agents” of APC by the security agencies, as winner, Rauf Aregbesola, alleged. If those who supposedly went to Osun to maintain peace and security managed to arrest so many APC members as alleged, could it be that only APC harbours trouble makers worthy of arrests or merely a case of dragging the security agencies into craven partisanship? In the end, Aregbesola came out of the election feeling he had won a “virtual war” with the Federal Government and that our “democracy is gravely endangered” while Tinubu declared that Aregbesola had “bruised the head of tyranny.” These are strong words which would have been needless.

If we have to amass  alleged 73,000 security forces in order to conduct a state governorship election, what do we do when general election comes up in 2015? Of course, it may be easy to overrun a small state like Osun with such a large number of security forces just to maintain peace and order, but when the general election comes in 2015 when we have to cover the whole country, do we then need deployment of troops from the United States of America or the United Nations?

Electoral system is the interplay of the relationship and conduct of the electoral body, the security agencies, the parties and the electorate. In a democratic setting, the electoral system evolves not through the coercive brinkmanship of soldiers but rather through the dynamic interplay of the four elements of the electoral system to produce results that reflect the people’s will.

In effect, it can then be legitimately argued that such excessive brinkmanship has also robbed us of the actual learning opportunity to develop our total electoral system in our way—something we seemingly attained over two decades ago on June 12. In my view, those who are already sending flowers of felicitation to INEC and—even the president!—for conducting free and fair elections, are rather hasty. Anyone can behave well when you are under the gun. For now, the jury on INEC’s performance and capacity to conduct free and fair election without the soldiers breathing down our necks, is simply still out. It seems that what we still have now is the familiar case of, Keep Off, Military Zone!

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Cletus Ibeto, the man who spurned Saddam’s money Tue, 05 Aug 2014 02:05:17 +0000 On January 22, 1966, the 13-year-old Cletus Madubugwu Ibeto, was in high mood. He was going to Crusader Secondary School, Isingwu Amachala, Umuahia, following in the footsteps of his two elder brothers, Cyril and Louis Ibeto. ]]>

On January 22, 1966, the 13-year-old Cletus Madubugwu Ibeto, was in high mood. He was going to Crusader Secondary School, Isingwu Amachala, Umuahia, following in the footsteps of his two elder brothers, Cyril and Louis Ibeto. His box of new clothes and provision were all packed and his friends gathered to bid him farewell.

His elder sibling, Cyril, arrived and went to have a discussion with his father for over 30 minutes. He came with a message from their maternal uncle. Soon after Cyril left, Ibeto’s world crashed. His father had made a decision: Ibeto would not be going to secondary school again! A man should not put all his eggs in one basket. His two sons were already in secondary schools, his last son should chart a different course—not academics!

Shocked, deflated and traumatized, Ibeto resorted to all the tricks in the world, refusing to eat for days, climbing trees as if he would jump to his death, crying, begging, inconsolable, but his father has made his decision. Young Ibeto’s fate was sealed behind the close doors and he was helpless to do anything about it.

In those days, the young Ibeto felt his future was over, but today, if you count ten of Nigeria’s richest men, Ibeto’s name would be found somewhere in the middle of the list. How did this come about? It was to find answers to this question that took Mike Awoyinfa and I to Bundu Ama Creek, in the outskirts of Port Harcourt, where Ibeto had reclaimed 30 hectares of land from the sea to build one of Africa’s largest cement bagging terminals. But the interview was finally shifted to his exquisite Ibeto Hotels, Abuja, where as the “chairman’s guests”, we were treated to a bit of luxury the place has to offer.

Ibeto is being featured in the elite category of our book titled, Nigeria’s Corporate Caesars, featuring Nigeria’s topmost business founders. Ibeto Group, made up of over eight major companies, is employing above 5,000 workers and still counting. The companies include Ibeto Industries Limited, a photographic processing chain spread all over the former Eastern Region; Kings Palace Hotel which was the forerunner of the current Ibeto Hotels Limited, a hotel chain that include a 100-room five-star hotel in Abuja, with ongoing construction of branches in Port Harcourt, Lagos and Nnewi where a 250-room hotel is under works.

Others are Odoh Holdings Limited, a property company that manages Ibeto’s large property holdings; the Union Auto Parts Industry, makers of Union Battery brand, that started with the manufacturing of automotive batteries for Nigerian market to exporting batteries to all of the West African countries, United States, India, South Korea and Indonesia. “China is our only competitor now,” Ibeto asserts.

At the time Ibeto came into manufacturing of automotive batteries, there were about a dozen local and foreign auto battery manufacturers in the country, but today, only Ibeto’s company is still in business, waxing strong. Indeed, Union Auto has added a subsidiary, Union Recycling Plant which extracts the lead from used batteries and refines “them to international purity standard.”

Apart from manufacturing of automotive batteries and their recycling arm, Union Auto is also manufacturing motor accessories including auto light covers, reflectors, fan belts, front grilles, wheel covers, break pads, break linings, clutch linings, break shoe kits and PVC materials.

Ibeto said that during the Gulf War II, his company received a lot of pressure from Saddam Hussien’s officials who badly wanted Union Recycling Plant to export the lead products refined by his company at very lucrative terms, but the company turned down the tempting offer because Ibeto believed that such leads would go into production of dangerous weapons of war by Saddam. This was far more ethical than a business decision, but Ibeto argued to his astonished management that even though the group desperately needed the fund to inject into the construction of the cement terminals at Bunda Ama Creek, they also had a responsibility not to escalate the war and perhaps, in future attract international sanctions.

Another money-spinner in the group is Ibeto Petrochemical Industries Limited which started with the Expresso Oil brand of lubricant, but has now diversified into establishment of a tank farm that at the time in 2000, boasts of the largest storage facility in Apapa, Lagos with 36 tanks with storage capacity for 1.3 million litres. Today, the company’s capacity has expanded with massive tanks with combined storage capacity of over 20 million litres.

The ever restive Ibeto is also a big player in commodity trading through his company, Palmex Agencies Limited. Since he won the battle for the re-opening of his cement terminals in Port Harcourt, closed by draconian and intemperate President Olusegun Obasanjo regime, Ibeto has truly joined the league of cement kings, especially with his acquisition of Eastern Bulkcem Company Limited and Nigerian Cement Company Limited, (Nigercem) Nkalagu.

The irony of Ibeto’s battles with the Obasanjo regime was that it was Obasanjo who banned the importation of bagged cement and in a bid to create jobs in Nigeria, asked stakeholders to build bagging terminals as well as invest in Greenfield production—total manufacturing of cement from limestones. But four months after commissioning the N12 billion bagging terminals, with patronage booming, Obasanjo closed the company. It took the coming of President Shehu Yar’Adua administration to reopen Ibeto’s factory and by so doing, his financial floodgate.

“Of course, cement is one of the best businesses in the world,” enthused Ibeto. “It is better than crude oil. If you are talking about the development of infrastructure, you need cement. I don’t know any other business that is better than cement. And the competitors are not many because it is a big budget issue.”

But then, if you want to be rooted in solid wealth, Ibeto says it is a great folly to close your eyes to investing widely in property. “The white man calls the money you have in your bank “liquid cash” and property is called, “real estate”.”

Once his eyes opened to this wisdom in 1987, Ibeto says he has gone haywire in investing in prime property in all the prime areas of Nigeria. “You cannot believe what I have in real estate,” he told us. “And that is between 1987 and now. And any one I have would be choice property. I found out that money is coming out of these real estate investments. Plenty money! Nigeria is indeed a land of opportunities. Real estate is one thing that would outlive you.”

But every rosy story came with it thorns. Ibeto has waded through many thorns. Go back to his beginnings. Once his parents determined that Cletus should be groomed as a trader, his father parceled him out as an apprentice to one John Akamelu, at Onitsha. He arrived at his new station still wearing his school uniforms and becoming the butt of jokes. “School boy,” became a new name they gave him in a market where people looked at going to school as the refuge of weaklings who could not brave the competitive world of trading.

Probably to whip out school sentiments from him, his master did not spare the rod. Today, Ibeto still has as a trophy the mark of his master’s whip lashes on his laps. But Ibeto was a brilliant trader and competitor, before his apprenticeship was cut short by the civil war. At 17, Ibeto was conscripted into the Biafran army, becoming a batsman to a Biafran captain who died at the first battle, betrayed by a saboteur. Ibeto survived the enemy’s ambush only because he had been sent to go and get food.

At another battlefront, Ibeto was shot, but he survived after months in hospital, although the bullet is still lodged in his lungs. After the war, Ibeto’s trading dexterity came to the rescue. To raise trading capital which ultimately became the foundation of the multibillion dollar octopus Ibeto Group has become, his elder brother, Louis gave him a leather handbag and a Biafran round neck suit which he sold along with a packet of APC tablet he picked at an evacuated hospital.

The magic of translating a few pounds in 1970 into today’s multi-billion corporate empire is the secret of what defines Cletus Ibeto as one of Nigeria’s Corporate Caesars. In the narrative of his life’s odyssey, Ibeto seems to have crossed a decisive rubicon in business when he profited from a policy change during President Shehu Shagari regime. Under the liberal regime of President Shehu Shagari, goods could be imported without import license. But as Nigeria’s external reserve dwindled the government introduced import license.

While other importers stalled at the fence, monitoring the state of things, Ibeto moved to secure N3m import license at a time a dollar sold for 68 kobo. He sub- sequently imported 65 containers of vital motor spare parts. By the time other im- porters went for import license, the gov- ernment has tightened the screw and it was virtually impossible to get import license. To worsen matters, Shagari’s government was toppled and the borders were closed, but by then, while nobody could import anything, Ibeto’s containers were already in the Nigerian ports.

Ibeto became a virtual monopolist for motor spare parts. “That was the turning point for me,” he declared. “Come and see the line-up of people who wanted the spare parts. I was packing money with cartons. There was no armed robbery then, no kid- napping. ..It was a seller’s market. And the mark up was almost 500% but people were buying! In fact, within two days of the ar- rival of the containers, I made four million pounds!”

Ibeto still has to fight a final battle. After a painful betrayal by a friend he partnered with to open a bank, owing to his limited education, Ibeto fought to sit for a WAEC examination at 48 and subsequently grad- uated from University of Nigeria with a degree in Accountancy, at age 54! And, all these while, he was already a billionaire!

But he is not just a billionaire, Ibeto is today the godfather of billionaires. Ask Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, Chairman of Innoson Group, Nigeria’s first vehicle manufacturing, (not assembling) compa- ny who points to Ibeto as his mentor and the mentor of many other Nnewi billion- aires. “If you run into financial problem and go to him to help, he would help you out. Ask any of the big business persons from Nnewi and they would tell you the same thing. He has helped me too.”

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Buhari, El-Zakzaky and the ticking bomb Tue, 29 Jul 2014 01:23:30 +0000 Mohammadu Buhari, Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi and Sheikh El-Zakzaky. The three names are linked by some basic common denominators.]]>

Mohammadu Buhari, Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi and Sheikh El-Zakzaky. The three names are linked by some basic common denominators. They are all passionate Muslims. They command the loyalty of large followers, millions of followers. But, by the warped standard of Islamic extremism, they are moderates. And, in the last one week, they had all been bound in a grisly chord of blood and affliction.

Freaking moderates! In the eyes of the extremists, this is a cloak of infamy rather than a badge of honour. In the tortured mindset of extremism, moderates and infidels are hatched in the same womb of religious harlotry. Extremism is a version of Islamic purism and purism is by the book of those who interprets it, armed with guns, rockets, bombs and sundry explosive devices.

In the early years of Boko Haram for instance, Buhari seemed to be in the good book of the Boko Haram insurgents. Those were the days Buhari was still the leader of CPC and President Goodluck Jonathan was still grappling with power, trying to stabilise his hold on the presidency. Jonathan wanted to negotiate with the extremists. When they were asked to name people to represent them for a talk with the Federal Government, they nominated Buhari, as one of the leaders they could trust.

But, Buhari, quickly rejected the Greek gift! To be named as speaking for such an erratic bunch of bloody lunatics would have been the ultimate political poisoned chalice. For then, how could he ever convince anybody that he was not directly or vicariously part of the murderous group? After all, Buhari was yet to live down his grave incendiary slip of May 2012 in Kaduna when he warned that, “If what happened in 2011 should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood.”

Despite all that, in the book of the Boko Haram insurgents, the three leaders are not likely to receive red carpet treatment. For a simple reason. Rather than merely keep silent, each of them had either expressed quiet reservation at the bloody carnage of the Boko Haram insurgents or totally condemned them. If any evidence was needed to confirm the perfidy of the three leaders as infidels, their open condemnation of the blood-curdling carnage of the insurgents was more than enough proof.

For if the three of them were true to the holy book, why wouldn’t they recognise that the blood of infidels (Christians or Moslems, notwithstanding) counts for nothing in the eyes of Allah; that democracy, liberty, secularism and human rights, which many prate about, are the ideology of Western Satanism that must be exterminated to enthrone pure religion – their version of Islamism?

Buhari seems to have totally sealed his fate in the books of the insurgents when he denounced the bloody doctrine of Boko Haram as the “ideology of satan” and declared: “There is no justification for this wanton disregard for the sanctity and dignity of human life. Any ideology that trafficks in terror and violence is a devilish ideology that has no place in a civilised society.”

On Wednesday, Buhari and Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi escaped two separate bomb attacks in Kaduna that left nearly hundred people dead. Going by Buhari’s description of the attack, an apparent suicide bomber in a Sienna car broke into his convoy and exploded beside Buhari’s SUV but he survived only because he was riding in a bullet proof car. Over 50 in the vicinity were not so lucky. For the record, crazy warlord, Asari Dokubo claimed that Buhari staged the attack, otherwise why was he riding in a bullet-proof car? The sorry part is that a fellow with such a warped mind has regular access to our president!

But unlike Dokubo, the president put his finger right on the mark when he declared that if the attackers had succeeded, the nation would have been in grave turmoil.

The bomb targeted at Sheikh Bauchi came two hours earlier but he too escaped. Sheikh Bauchi had escaped another explosion three weeks earlier near his home. Like Buhari, he too had been condemning Boko Haram’s mindless killings, as a perversion of Islam. But with such effrontery, Boko Haram usually reserve cruel death sentence. By disagreeing with their evil ways, Buhari and Bauchi have departed from the truth, drank from the seductive brew of secularism, democracy, human rights and religious liberalism and, therefore, deserve the fate reserved for all infidels.

But, Buhari and Bauchi are luckier. In the case of El-Zakzaky, leader of the Shiites movement in the country, his loss is heart-rending. He too is acknowledged as a fiery anti-Boko Haram preacher. But then, he found the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza unacceptable. You see, the Hamas fighters are Shiites armed by Iran, a predominantly Shiites country.

In the view of Israel, America and much of the West, Hamas is a terrorist organisation that has overpowered the putative Palestinian Authority, who were supposed to be legitimate political authority in Gaza, the home of the Palestinian people. But right from the days of wily politician, Yasser Arafat, the PA merely reigned while Hamas really ruled. Hamas is the real power behind the throne and had in any case, subsequently won elections to the Palestinian Authority through their proxy.

Neither Israel, America nor much of the West likes this but it wouldn’t have mattered much if the Hamas was not in the habit of firing rockets into Israeli cities. To stop these rockets from coming into Israel, successive Israeli regimes would respond with brute military force, seeking to hammer the Hamas military capabilities out of action. Even when Israel opted to occupy the Gaza Strip, this did succeed in crippling Hamas, veterans of asymmetrical warfare.

Each of the cycles of war between Israel and Hamas usually leaves the hapless Palestinian civil population at the receiving end of massacre, injuries and destruction of their homes. Perhaps, for every 1,000 Palestinians killed by Israeli war machine, Hamas would celebrate victory if they succeed in killing a dozen or two Israelis. This leaves me sick and perplexed. Are the Palestinian lives worth so little or nothing in the eyes of Hamas compared with the Jewish lives? Why waste the lives of your own people in such a reckless manner if you really lack the capability to do more than drawing so much deaths, miseries and destruction upon your own people, who merely want to put their lives together whichever way they can?

It was the answer to such a question that led the son of the seven men that founded Hamas, Mosab Hassan Yousef, to write a devastating book titled, Sons of Hamas, a gripping account of how Hamas trade the lives of Palestinian populace for political gains and to attract donations, running into hundreds of millions of dollars from the Arab world and Western peace makers. It’s a heart-breaking insider’s account that would change your perspective on the battle of Gaza, leaving you with the conclusion that as long as Hamas need the dollars, they would always continue to fire rockets into Israel, as a bait to provoke brutal Israeli retaliation and high civilian casualties that generate bloody global TV footage, which in turn brings in the dollars – millions of dollars. This is cruel, bloody corruption! With Israel’s iron dome so effective in deflecting the rockets in the air anyway, why didn’t Iran or anybody see the brutal futility of firing those rockets that would never destroy Israel?

But, back home, El-Zakzaky’s members in Zaria were demonstrating against the massacre of Palestinians when they ran into a confrontation that left his three sons and 32 others dead. With the unrelenting blood-letting of insurgents nationwide, it is easy to become inured to reports of death. Yet, the death of the three promising sons of one man is most tragic not just because they are children of one man but also because their profiles point to promising young men, who are to be the future of the nation.

One of them, Mahmud, is a student of Al-Mustapha University, Beruit. The second son, Ahmad, is a chemical engineering student of Shenyang University, China, while the third son, Hamid, is studying aeronautical engineering at Xian University, China. Put in such visceral context, the tragedy hits home.

Why would a “peaceful demonstration” by El-Zakzaky’s followers turn so violent and tragic? The first explanation is that the nation is so on edge that even soldiers seemed unnerved by the slightest provocation. In Lagos, soldiers descended on the populace when a bus driver killed a soldier, riding a motorcycle. The rule of law is on retreat and people easily resort to self-help. It is a recipe for a descent into a Hobbesan state where only the fittest survive.

Even the festival of impeachments, raging now in the land is another manifestation of this culture at play. It is not about the abuse of power by the Jonathan administration per se, it is about a political culture, which even the opposition leaders would have embraced if they had the same power.

Here is my worry. We all recalled that the culture of impunity that led to the execution of the leader of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, by the police, ultimately gave birth to the monstrous Abubakar Shekau, who now daily mocks our impotence in the face of all his bloody outrages. Might Boko Haram have so metastasised if Yusuf was tried rather than executed without trial?

How do we assuage El-Zakzaky’s tragic loss? That should be the test of President Jonathan’s capacity as a leader. For if nothing is done, and quickly too, I see a time bomb ticking away? May God help us.

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The billion dollar debate Tue, 22 Jul 2014 00:35:06 +0000 The other day, I drifted to snatches of a Nollywood movie. In the movie, a kingpin kidnaps a man and a woman and demands huge ransom for them. ]]>

The other day, I drifted to snatches of a Nollywood movie. In the movie, a kingpin kidnaps a man and a woman and demands huge ransom for them.

But while the kingpin is out of sight, the smart kidnap victims persuade the man deployed to guard them that rather than just do the kingpin’s dirty job for him, why not cut a deal for himself with the victims and release them?
“After all, how much is he (the kingpin) paying you to watch over us, as a guard?” the captives argued. “Whatever he is paying you, we can pay you more if you release us.”
Before you know it, the guard buys the argument, turned on the kingpin and clobbered him into coma and releases the captors at a handsome price to himself. The moral of this narrative brings us back to the danger of riding on a tiger’s back.
But, even if the moral of this script is lost on our political class, an easy prospect in the face of their blinding ambition, the debate raging over President Goodluck Jonathan’s request of the National Assembly to approve $1 billion loan to procure vital military equipment to fight the rampaging Boko Haram insurgents, should be instructive enough. For, instead of approval, the request is drawing fire from opposing voices mostly championed by the APC leaders and legislators.
In most countries of the world, fighting terrorism, such requests from the president would have had an easy sail. President George Bush had an expeditious approval of fund that ultimately ran into trillions of dollars to fight the war against terrorism in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In normal societies, nobody wants to be seen to be stalling the budget meant to fight against terror. It’s politically suicidal to be seen not to support your military. As you know, most countries treat their military, as a sacred institution that should not be politicised.
Sadly, Nigeria is not a normal society. The military risks politicisation and attendant loss of trust from all when you deploy soldiers to perform tasks that should have been handled by the regular security agencies. Unless you are in Iraq or Afghanistan, countries in perpetual state of war, it is most abnormal to drag soldiers out during normal elections. But, in Nigeria, we are in our season of anomie. Only the other day, the military were searching for Boko Haram arms in the distribution vans of newspapers and pages of newspapers. Newspapers copies were confiscated, ostensibly in search of terrorist arms!
Next, the military were deployed against some of the opposition leaders in Ekiti State, Adamawa State and still counting. The election in Ekiti State got so militarised that the APC leaders now blame it for their loss of the governorship election to the favoured PDP candidate, Ayo Fayose. You may dispute their claim but the fact that soldiers, rather than the regular security forces – police and SSS personnel – manned the state provided enough fodder for APC’s claim that their supporters were scared away from the polls.
By dragging the military into electoral duties, President Goodluck Jonathan’s regime has drawn them into partisan waters. The fruit of such partisanship is what is playing out in the National Assembly over the $1 billion debate. APC leaders are doing their best to truncate the loan request. They believe the loan is PDP’s pretext to increase their campaign war chest for 2015.
As APC leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu trenchantly puts it, “In reality, this loan will be used to buy the election and pay for the intimidation of the opposition and the electorate. Most of it will go into PDP coffers…The loan will not be to fight terrorism. It will be to fight legitimate dissent. ..He (the President) seeks the money to build a casket for democracy.”
If we take the government’s words for it, the money would help the government to fight the war on terror. Straddled in the middle of the extreme positions of the government and the opposition is the military whose genuine needs stand the risk of being suffocated by partisan politics. Obviously, things would not have sunk to this depth of mistrust if the government had not so regularly misused the military to its partisan end.
In the circumstance, we are now left in a situation where it is easier to believe the worse than trust the government’s genuine intentions. In the zero-sum game of our current politics, it may be that the ruling party is merely amused by the bickering of the opposition, which they see more as the sour grape of a party on the losing side.
It is easy to be amused by the antics of the victims when you are on the winning side.  Right now, the wind is sailing on the side of the ruling party. I don’t mind who wins in the short or long run. What bothers me is whether the ruling party’s victory songs would be sung at the expense of a military we can all trust, as the Nigerian Armed Forces or whether in the end, we would just be left with the armed forces of the Peoples Democratic Party – the type of absurdity they have in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

RE: Germans, tithing and Chicason

Oga Dimgba, I just read your article on the Germans and tithes. Does that mean that those years that they did not win World Cup, it was because they did not pay tithe?
Eze Style, 0901175213

The Germans, Tithes and Chicason. Wow, Sir! This is a masterpiece, a powerful write up. Sir, you are trailblazer. May God continue to oil your pen. Amen!
Blessing Ibeka, 08035905432

Dimgba, I never so much believed in tithing. Having read about Dr. Okafor and German government’s tithing, I will now take it seriously. Thanks for your revelation.
Ambrose Abosi, Abakaliki, 08063027506

Thanks, Dimgba. Not only do the Germans and their government pay tithes, the German national anthem is sung as Ancient and Modern hymn number 251 of the Anglican hymnal. As an Anglican, who loves the hymns, I sing along with them each time they play.
Emma Okoukwu, 08036742467

Thank you, dear Dimgba, for giving me Chicason’s spiritual therapy. As rich as he is, he still spends minimum of four hours with God in a day when me, as young and poor as I am, don’t spend up to one hour. Thanks, Dimgba.  08103197334

Pastor Igwe, thanks for your write-up. This is a nation that their government respects and obeys the the things of God and the church. If you listen, their national anthem sounds like the first song in the hymn book. Thanks and remain blessed in Christ’s name. Amen.
Simeon George. 08033097331

My brother, Dimgba Igwe, you have really taught me through your write-up on the Germans, tithes and Chicason. Great write-up. Deacon Christian Ufomadu. Umuahia, 07034931259

Oga Dimgba, come to think of it, how many Chicasons do we have compared to our population? But in Germany they abound in every city or countryside. The government doesn’t put impediment for hardworking local investors, rather they block foreigners more. In Nigeria, any white skinned man is the Lord of the Manor. So, their buoyant economy has nothing to do with tithing. Iam quite sure you would not find it funny to have 80 per cent of your members to pay their tithes to the state and then decide to stay at home. That is the true picture of the so-called tithe-paying Germans.
Dr. Nwulu 08033531767

Mr. Dimgba, I thank you and your colleague for the good work you are doing on the 50 most successful entrepreneurs in recent times. I just read your encounter with Dr. Okafor on the back page of Daily Sun. I’m inspired to work harder and be celebrated one day. I really admire clean wealth.
Sanusi in Zaria 08035842969

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The Germans, tithes and Chicason Mon, 14 Jul 2014 23:57:09 +0000 Soccer lovers all over the world were looking forward to the epic final match, pitting the all-conquering Germans against Argentina on Sunday. But it was also the same day Mike Awoyinfa and I had appointment for a lengthy interview with Dr. Alex Chika Okafor,]]>

Soccer lovers all over the world were looking forward to the epic final match, pitting the all-conquering Germans against Argentina on Sunday. But it was also the same day Mike Awoyinfa and I had appointment for a lengthy interview with Dr. Alex Chika Okafor, Chairman of Chicason Group of Companies, a conglomerate of eight companies and still counting. Our appointment was for 4pm but the interview didn’t take off until 5pm.

Naturally, it was an inconvenient timing by Mike’s reckoning but it was a choice between business and pleasure, between getting the vital interview material for our book, 50 Nigeria’s Entrepreneurial Success, and dissipating excitement for the glory of other nations, who, by the way, not only knocked us out but sincerely never reckoned with us.

Even within the radiance of Ikoyi neighbourhood, Okafor’s mansion named, Praise Court, stood out in majestic presence. Inside the expansive compound, you need no further telling that the man of the house is a lover of exotic automobiles but that, in itself, is no news in the world of Nigeria’s super billionaires. We are ushered into a tastefully furnished living room, then later into another and until finally, into a third where the numerous guests, waiting in the main living room would not disturb us.

While waiting to kick off with the main business, Mike started with small talks about the match. Okafor seemingly had no doubt that the Germans would win. It was not just that they are better organised and parade a strong team, it was rather to do with something rather arcane – tithing.

Tithing? I wanted to be sure I heard him correctly. What has tithing got to do with national performance? The Germans, Okafor noted, are the only nation that pays tithe to the church, as a national policy. “That is why their economy is so strong in Europe while the economy of other nations in Europe are down,” he declared. “Can you compare the German economy with that of any European nation?”

Of course, there is no doubt that the German economy is the strongest in Europe. “Even the Americans are turning against God and things are not working well for them anymore,” he added. “Their constitution started with God but today, God has been outlawed in American public space. Prayers in schools have been banned and Christian symbols are no longer allowed in public offices. This is a country whose currency and symbol says, ‘In God we Trust.’”

But is it true that the German government pays tithe to church/es? Even as a pastor, who had waged a pro-tithe public debate, and a journalist at that, I did not know that. I am used to the fact that in Western democracies, spanning from Europe to America, there is a strict separation between the state and church.

But, a little online research proved Okafor’s assertion right. Reports by BBC and other media confirmed that it was the policy of German government to remit 8-9 per cent of people’s income tax, as tithes to Catholics Protestant churches and Jewish synagogues. A report in the online publication, of October 2012 noted that in 2011, the Catholic Church received five billion Euros (about $6.4 billion) from German tax payers remitted by the government. For German tax payers, the tithing is compulsory, except for those who officially register themselves, as atheists.

To raise the tithe fund, each tax-payer’s income tax is raised by 8-9 per cent by the government, who then transmits the same to the churches! In September 2012, “the German Catholic Bishops Conference issued a decree, warning that those Germans, who opted out of paying the country’s church tax would no longer be entitled to sacraments, religious burial or any part of parish life.”

I hope that the anti-tithe lynch-mob in Nigeria, including the members of the national confab, who want Nigerian religious bodies to be paying taxes are listening!

In 1977, a little boy, Chika Okafor, had just finished his five-year apprenticeship with his master in Onitsha  Market, selling fishing materials and was due to be set up on his own. But owing to complicated circumstances, the settlement was not forthcoming. But after intense prayers, his mother put a sum of N1,300 in his palm, scooped sand from the ground and prophetically pronounced: “If the sand would ever finish from the ground then the money in your hand would finish! Go and trade with it and God would prosper you.”

That seed of faith had, over the years, given birth to a multinational conglomerate, spanning eight companies in manufacturing, oil and gas, mining, commodity trading and property, with over 4,000 employees in Nigeria. It is not only that Chicason Group is leading the consortium that signed the $2.7 billion contract with the Federal Capital Territory, for the famous Abuja downtown city project, which involves massive property development with many skyscrapers included, it is also working on a 100,000 housing project nationwide.

Through one of its companies, A-Z Petroleum, the group is involved in upstream and downtown petroleum sector with three major tank farms in Nigeria, and oil blocs and mining licences in seven African countries, including Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal, Congo and others. “I am a friend to eight African heads of state,” he said, describing his job, as mainly that of a “political image maker” of his companies.

Until Okafor mentioned it, you would never guess that the man, who sits at the head of Chicason Board of Directors, made up of top professionals that included professors, doctorate degree holders, engineers and others, didn’t even finish secondary school because his mother could not raise the fund. Dr. Okafor is humble, accessible, hard working, very articulate and brilliant with nothing to betray a man of limited education.

Above all, he is a deeply religious man whose business strategy is Bible-based. Like the Germans, his companies pay tithes, not just to his Anglican denomination but also to churches across Nigeria, based on the leading of the Holy Spirit. It is said you cannot combine God and mammon but Chika has successfully navigated that slippery terrain with great ease.

The core of his strategy is to start his day with two hours of praise in the morning. “If you call my phone before 10am, you cannot get me because I am still with my Master,” he said, referring to God. “He is the one that tells me what to do.”

It was God, for instance, that directed him to go into oil and gas, directing him to Isaiah 1:19: “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land.” Once Okafor caught that revelation, the next question for him was, “What is the best from the land?” His answer to that question is oil and gas and mining, including gold mining. And that was how he plunged into that field through his company, A-Z Petroluem, where he had since become one of the big players in Nigeria and other African countries.

He rounds off his day with another two hours of praise and worship, Bible studies and meditation from 12 to 2 am every day, unfailingly. Part of the credit for his deep spiritual inclination is being married to Favour Chibuogwu Chika-Okafor, a deeply spiritual woman, who holds a masters degree in chemical engineering and is the author of a dozen Christian books. Okafor credits her with helping to deepen his faith in God and providing him a lot of spiritual support.

In 2005, however, Okafor was in financial trouble, with huge debts owed to banks. “Everything I tried to do failed,” he said, leaving him heartbroken. At such low moment, his wife came with a counsel, “Assume the worst so that you would live,” she told him.

In the end, Okafor embarked on one- year fasting and prayer from January 4, 2005 to January 5, 2006. After that fast, Okafor said he saw a vision of Jesus, who patted his back and told him everything was going to be alright. “From that moment, I had 360-degree turnaround,” he said.

Since then, it has been success all the way. “At times, I used to wonder if God has no other thing to do other than just blessing me all the time! That is why I spend so much time, praising God all the time. He is my Master, who brings all the strategies, my own is just to follow where He leads me.”

When you finish with Okafor, you are left, wondering whether you have just come out of business strategy encounter or a spiritual revival session. We’ve been talking for nearly three hours. Time to rush out to go so that Mike can watch the World Cup final but Okafor would not let us go until we had joined him in a dinner. “It is a tradition in this house that nobody comes here without joining us in a fellowship of sharing meal together.”

We were ushered to a thirteen-seater dining table where we had sumptuous meal fit for kings. But what do you expect from the home of a man whose asset base would rank in billions of dollars, not naira?

The World Cup final had kicked off and Mike’s body, twitching in early onset of soccer-addiction-withdrawal-syndrome, was the signal that we must rush out of the dinner table to enable him to catch up with the second half. Was I surprised that after a grueling 120-minute encounter, the tithe-paying Germans clinched the coveted trophy?














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State creation vaudeville Tue, 08 Jul 2014 00:29:25 +0000 The National Confab delegates descended from the serious to intense vaudeville when they recommended the creation of additional 18 states! It was simply ]]>

The National Confab delegates descended from the serious to intense vaudeville when they recommended the creation of additional 18 states! It was simply unbelievable, coming from a confab that included some very well respected thinkers and statesmen.  Haba!

Their recommendation of an additional state for the South-east zone to bring the zone at par with the other major ethnic zones was a rare demonstration of fair-mindedness that is not common in our clime these days. Their words captured it all: “In the spirit of reconciliation, equity and justice there shall be created an additional state for the South-east geopolitical zone.”

Their choice of words, “in the spirit of reconciliation, equity and justice” would evoke deep emotion in any patriot, not the least the Igbo on whom this grand national gesture would not be lost. At a time like this when this nation is trapped in seismic vortex of extremist Islamic insurgency, daily bloodbath, acute political acrimony, unruly militarisation of the polity in the jostling for political advantages and sundry acts of impunity, those three words are sorely needed healing balms, not just for the South-east zone but for the nation.

On the point of creating an additional state for the South-east, there was a seeming unanimity from all the three powerful ethnic tripod that made up the nation. While former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Umar Na’Abba wants the National Assembly to take prompt action to get the state created, Afenifere chieftain, Chief Olu Falae, added a touch of humour to it. “We should be our brother’s keeper,” he said. “You and I know that the military dashed states to all of us and forgot to dash South-east. So, what is wrong in the conference, dashing one to Southeast?”

Falae’s barb is a reference to the arbitrary manner the military created states, local governments and constituency delimitation. It has remained a mystery why Kano and Jigawa States, which used to be one state before the military carved out Jigawa, should now have 71 local governments while Lagos State, which used to be at par with Kano State, has only 20 local governments.

This military sleight of hand dealt to the Southern part of the country is no accident. It is a shrewd political strategy to channel more federal revenue allocation to the North through the local governments – well, that is, until the Niger Delta States won their battle for 13 per cent derivation, which now changed the numbers. But in all this, the Southeast had borne their loss with equanimity. If, as Falae put it, the military “forgot to dash the South-east” what was their fair due, it took Jonathan’s confab to redress that more than 20 years later. But let it be known by all that this is still mere “recommendation”, not execution. We eagerly await the latter.

But then, the confab now fouled up the air when they proceeded to recommend the creation of 18 additional states, which add up to 54 states in Nigeria. If you add the additional state to South-east, then you are looking at a Nigeria of 55 states. Are you kidding me?

While some sensible folks recoiled in horror at the very idea, the confab members excited themselves in self-congratulations. Perhaps, they had their eyes not only on the prize of new political offices to aspire to in the new states but also on the boasting rights that they made it happen, as confab members. But if only they would calm down a bit, perhaps, somebody less inebriated may need to tell them that they’ve just foisted a veritable monstrosity on the nation.

If this joke comes to pass, it means that Nigeria, with half a trillion dollar GDP and a 170 million population, will have more states than the United States of America, which, with a GDP of 16.8 trillion and 315 million population, has only 50 states. And talking about states, note that the state of California boasts of a GDP that is more than three times bigger than Nigeria’s GDP while the states of Texas and New York  each has a GDP that is twice bigger than Nigeria’s GDP.

Already, with 36 states, approximately 80 per cent of budgets in state and national level go into servicing recurrent cost. A substantial part of the cost is political office holders, with the implication that additional 18 states would come with exponential surge in the gross recurrent cost nationwide. There are many, who are prepared to swear that the last major developments we recorded in the country came when we had the regions rather than now that we had multiple bureaucracies in 36 states.

It was always conveniently forgotten that we were once running the country effectively with three regions before 1963 when the Mid-West Region was created. When on May 27, 1967, General Yakubu Gowon created 12 states, it was not so much of a well-thought economic initiative as a war strategy to break the ranks of ethnic minorities that were part of Biafra. On February 3, 1976, ten days before his assassination, General Murtala Muhammed increased the number of states to 19; on September 23, 1987, General Ibrahim Babangida added two more states and on August 27, 1991 increased the tally to 30 states. If Babangida could create states, so could his successor, General Sani Abacha, who, on October 1, 1996, created six more states to bring up the figure to 36.

As can be discerned from all these exercises, the state creation appears to be more of an emotive response either to political expediency or job-for-boys rather than any well-thought development imperatives. When you create states, you have lucrative military posting for pesky, ambitious officers, who would otherwise be causing trouble in the barracks. That way, our military became highly politicised, a menace, which Obasanjo tried to curb in 1999 by retiring all military officers, who had held political appointments – a bold move, which was hailed by many but abhorred by those whose career were cut short.

The argument of the supporters of endless state creation is that it brings development closer to the people. In reality, it merely creates more political offices for political elite, who then build more government houses and offices for themselves. Such white elephant infrastructure are usually mistaken for development not only because we seem to have forgotten that the ultimate end of any development is its impact on human capacity development but also because we do not weigh the opportunity cost of deploying such revenue in providing basic infrastructure for the people.

The way we are going, every local government in Nigeria may soon turn into a state that would come with the burden of its own governor, deputy governor, commissioners, special advisers and assistants, state assemblies, state judiciary and a multiplication of the arms of political infrastructure. But ironically, the same confab members, who may inadvertently be triggering such state creation catastrophe, also voted down a recommendation that would have removed local government, as the third tier of federal revenue allocation so that the creation of local governments would be left to the states. In other words, we are to multiply the number of states while retaining the local governments.

As the confab winds up, it seems that the hopes and expectations that have been invested in it on the possibility of effecting radical structuring of our polity have been largely misplaced. For instance, contrary to creation of more states, we were actually expecting less number of states to reduce the wastages of our bloated recurrent cost. We were expecting the confab to strike a patriotic blow at the current revenue allocation formula, which leaves approximately 54 per cent of the national revenue to the federal arm of government, which remains far from the people and incapable of actual development of the nation, but what did we get? More of the same!

In the circumstance, it would be tragic if the confab ends up like the ones before it – more of winds and gas than substance. Unfortunately, that seems to be where we are headed, if not even worse than where we started from.

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Poly Emenike’s success secrets Tue, 01 Jul 2014 00:56:57 +0000 In Ken Saro-Wiwa’s popular comedy series, Basi and Company, that ruled the national television waves in the ‘80s, the constant refrain of the main character, Basi, was, “If you want to be a millionaire, think like a millionaire!” So saying, Basi would ]]>

In Ken Saro-Wiwa’s popular comedy series, Basi and Company, that ruled the national television waves in the ‘80s, the constant refrain of the main character, Basi, was, “If you want to be a millionaire, think like a millionaire!” So saying, Basi would then spin fantastic money-making schemes but because none of them was anchored on reality, the cookies would always come crumbling.

But spin the coin and you have Dr. Poly Emenike, Chairman of Neros Pharmaceuticals Limited, who plotted his way from a few pennies to a multibillion naira business empire in over three decades, mainly by strict adherence to the intellectual drill of Dr. Napoleon Hill’s classic book, Think and Grow Rich.

In the rag-to-riches world of Emenike, “If you want to be a billionaire, think like a billionaire.” In that world, you have many self-made apprentice traders from Onitsha market, who clawed their way from poverty to stupendous wealth, from petty trading to corporate empires, employing from hundreds to thousands of people apiece.

Like Basi in Saro Wiwa’s series, Emenike started with virtually nothing other than a perennial large dream. But that is where the comparison ended. The two characters are men of gargantuan dreams and vision. Basi’s dreams led him to bombastic schemes that crumbled even before they’d started. In contrast, Emenike’s claim to greatness is the story of a man, who, in a life of shrewd entrepreneurship, turned a N300 (about $2) start-up capital into over $50 million (about N8 billion) income. A man whose wildest fantasy was to own a Volvo car in his lifetime but now has Rolls Royce Phantom, as one of the items in his automobile fleet.

Magic? Emenike’s story is far more empirically demonstrated than magical. How he did it is grippingly captured in a newly minted autobiography, Entrepreneurial Spirits: Through The Seventeen Success Principles of Napoleon Hill, published under aegis of Dr.Napoleon Hill Foundation, USA.  We stumbled upon Emenike’s story in the course of interviews for our ongoing book, NIGERIA’S 50 ENTREPRENEURIAL SUCCESS STORIES, which Mike Awoyinfa and I are working on. Emenike is one of those to be featured in a segment of the book, looking at the kings of Igbo entrepreneurs, many of whom graduated from Onitsha Market School of Business, into corporate giants.

Emenike’s book, Entrepreneurial Spirits: Through the Seventeen Success Principles of Napoleon Hill, which is being slated as a teaching manual in some American universities, is a captivating blend of personal memoirs and deep exploration of success principles espoused by Napoleon Hill. But it is, perhaps, the riveting narrative of how those principles enabled Emenike to rise from grass to extraordinary success that is at the heart of the book. A reader is taken into a journey from Dr. Hill’s precepts to how Emenike successfully translated those principles into lived out success secrets, which had turned him not only from poverty to stupendous wealth but ultimately into a poster boy of Dr. Hill’s success philosophy.

As Emenike himself puts it, 95 per cent of the wealth he has made came out of practising the principles and precepts of Dr. Hill’s writings, especially in Think and Grow Rich. In Emenike’s book, you are told how he grew a meagre capital of N300 to multi-billions; how, as a father of five children, Emenike went to Ansar Ud Deen Secondary School, Surulere, wearing school uniforms like other students and now ended up with a first and a second degree from the University of Lagos, a doctorate degree from a prestigious Business School as well as an alumnus of Harvard University and Lagos Business School.

His book enjoys generous endorsements, both from Professor Pat Utomi, who wrote the foreword and many international authors, including Dennis Kimbro, author of The Wealth Choice, Sharon Lechter, co-author of the global bestsellers, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Three Feet From Gold, among others,  who noted that “Poly truly walks the talk…Napoleon Hill would be proud!” Even Napoleon Hill’s grandson, Dr. J.B. Hill, gushed that Emenike’s book “is a must-read for thinking men and women, who strive for success.”

Reading those endorsements, I felt pleased to have received advance copy of the book, hoping earnestly that thunder can strike twice in my favour, for who knows, it is never too late for a determined one!

But what is Emenike’s story that is generating so much interest? Like many Igbo of his generation, Emenike lost out on early education to the ravages of the Nigerian Civil War. In 1971, Emenike was one of those whose admission to secondary school was published in the Renaissance newspaper but to his utter “astonishment”, his parents could not just sponsor him. Instead, they shipped him off to a maternal uncle at Onitsha, a lawyer whom he served for two years, more as a house boy cum office boy.

With his accumulated two-year salary that came to N300 paid by his uncle, plus the benefit of a year’s apprenticeship to a shoe seller, Emenike took off on his own in 1975, selling slippers – the big-sized ones for customers from the North and small-sized ones favoured by those from the old Cross River area. His capital was too small to buy normal shoes, otherwise the entire capital would have been wiped out with one or two pairs of shoes! He got his stock from a Lagos-based dealer, Alhaji  A. K. Kadiri, and his younger brother, who owned Ikolaba Industries, and retailed at Onitsha market.

Then, one day, Emenike saw two brand new Volvo cars acquired by the Kadiri brothers and suddenly loathed his own life. “Would I ever be able to buy a Volvo car like this in my lifetime from selling slippers?” The frank answer to that question left him distressed.

That distress paved way for his own epiphany in 1978 when a voice he considers to be the Holy Spirit urged him to visit a particular bookshop called Anabere Bookshop located at New Market Road, Onitsha. It was in the bookshop he first encountered Dr. Hill through one of his books entitled, Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude. With his primary six education, the content of the book gave him headache rather than knowledge but the urge to read it remained unabated. He finished the book in two years and then bought the life-changing Think and Grow Rich in 1980.

It took several reading before he resolved to practise the seventeen principles of success espoused by Hill in Think and Grow Rich. Of course, millions have read Think and Grow Rich and remained the same but for Emenike, “an ounce of practice is better than tons of theory.” From then on, Emenike’s life went on a roller-coaster of success and failures, as well as breath-taking business adventures through many countries of the world until, finally, he seems to achieve mastery of his game. The result is geometric progression of wealth, which brought him both highs and lows.

With Emenike’s book, for instance, I can, perhaps, now understand why people like us are down the ladder of financial success and the few like him are up there in the financial ladder, making billions of naira while we are straining to stretch our funds to cover our basic bills. Number one reason, according to Emenike, echoing his grandmaster Hill, is lack of “Definiteness of Purpose.”

“Dream comes true when desire transforms them into concrete action,” Emenike writes.

Unfortunately, many of us are too vague about our goals and purposes, lacking specific agenda, action plan and timelines, not to talk of confessing such goals, purposes and timelines until they seep into our subconscious mind. Emenike compares the life of people, who live without definite purpose, specific agenda, action plan and timelines to soccer teams, playing without goal posts!

When Henry Ford wanted to produce the now famous eight-valve engine, his engineers told him it was impossible. “Produce it anyway,” Ford said.

“But it’s impossible!”

“Go ahead!” Ford commanded. “Go ahead until you succeed, no matter how much time is required…”

Of course, they did it…With time! Definiteness of purpose!

Another of those 17 principles is taking risk. Success comes only if you are prepared to risk failure in order to succeed! After many years in international trade, Emenike’s container of pharmaceuticals was seized in Brazil. Another loss of money in China and Emenike’s entire capital was reduced to $150 in 2001, after over 25 years of business.

With only $150, he travelled to Vietnam, en route China. It was a near suicide mission but Emenike asked, “With a wife, five children and some apprentices in my shop, what am I supposed to do? If I didn’t make the trip, the alternative is to pack up and return to my village.”

Instead of air ticket from China to Vietnam, which would’ve wiped off his few dollars, he studied the train route and made it to Vietnam in 56 hours! But it was on that suicide trip to Vietnam that he found the manufacturers of artesunate brand of anti-malaria, became the agent of the manufacturers in Nigeria, the home of mosquitoes and malaria. It is this singular break that turned him into a billionaire! Risking failure to succeed!

Today, his company is the biggest importer of artesunate anti-malaria into Nigeria and is completing a multi-billion naira factory at Sango Ota where drugs would be locally manufactured according to WHO specifications. But the practice of Dr. Hill’s principles also came at a huge personal cost. His wife found his lifestyle odd, especially when she discovered his “Plan Books” where she read outlandish details of what he wanted to achieve, millions of dollars he wanted acquire, big projects he wanted to execute with time frames. For a man who had no such money in sight, his wife concluded that he must be an occultist and her pastors confirmed it. Trouble had started.

While she made the rounds of different prayer houses for Emenike’s “deliverance”, her own health gave way. She was praying in one of such prayer houses when she slumped and died in 2007 but some felt that Emenike’s growing wealth must be an indication that he used his wife for occult sacrifice!

“We are the biggest importer of artesunate in Nigeria,” Emenike counters. “Even if I am selling akara to a market of 170 million people, why would I not make money?”

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Fayose victory, Fayemi kudos Tue, 24 Jun 2014 01:19:01 +0000 I woke up early morning of Sunday to receive two breaking news—one good, one disappointing. The good one is the news that our embattled Super Eagles had managed to beat hard-fighting Bosnia and Herzegovina against all expectations by emotionally frazzled Nigerians.]]>

I woke up early morning of Sunday to receive two breaking news—one good, one disappointing. The good one is the news that our embattled Super Eagles had managed to beat hard-fighting Bosnia and Herzegovina against all expectations by emotionally frazzled Nigerians. The second news was that my friend, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the Governor of Ekiti had been beaten by grassroots man, Ayo Fayose.  At the campaigns period, I had stuck out my neck on Governor Fayemi’s side and still do so even much more now.

First, the good news. Once the Super Eagles could not overrun a determined Iranian team, ending up with a goalless draw, the naysayers went to town. They took potshots at their favourite target—Coach Stephen Keshi. (It is Coach Keshi today but it could have been Christian Chukwu, Amodu Shuaibu, Samson Siasia or any other indigenous coach!) Did they not say it that he was not a world-class coach? How could he not have beaten Iran, a mere Iran! If he were a world-class coach, would he not have read the match well and devised a tactical magic to dismantle Iran’s determined negative soccer?

And the players—oh, the players! Lacklustre, benchwarmers, lackadaisical, unserious, uncreative and wasting goal chances! Even the coach’s selection and substitutions are defective.

In matters of soccer, every Nigerian, even if he is a carpenter or a dignified palm wine tapper, is an expert, a soccer analyst, a great tactician all rolled into one. So, watch out, this is the season of 170 million soccer experts!

Keshi-bashing became a national sport. In an article titled, “Keshi Is the Wrong Coach for the World Cup”, a respected scholar, Dr. Femi Aribisala, declared flatly that, “Keshi is tactically deficient coach.”

He added, “The assumption that because Keshi managed the Super Eagles to World Cup qualification he is the right man to lead us to the World Cup itself is wrong. In 2006, Keshi led the Togolese team to World Cup qualification. However, realizing what Nigeria has failed to realize, they dropped him for the World Cup itself and chose a far more experienced world-class coach, Otto Pfister of Germany to replace him.”

Aribisala didn’t push the argument further. For the inevitable question should be, how far did the “far more experienced world-class coach, Otto Pfister of Germany” who replaced Keshi push the Togolese at the World Cup? Where was this famous coach during African Cup of Nations which Keshi won and World Cup qualifying series after Keshi left Togo? How come Togo is not at the World Cup this year? Perhaps, no more Keshi to qualify them and a foreign coach to take them to the World Cup?

I don’t know where this anti-indigenous coach syndrome is coming from. Is it a case of black man’s congenital inferiority complex or what? If a coach who won the African Cup of Nations and qualified your team to the World Cup  is not good enough to take you to the World Cup tournament, what then would qualify such a coach for the job? Perhaps, if he wore a white skin, speak through his nose and is called a tongue-twisting name, then a World Cup coach would have arrived on our shores.

How would Aribisala feel if somebody were to suggest to him that though he holds a doctorate degree, he certainly lacks the intellectual depth to hold down a job in his field merely by the simple fact that he is black, from Nigeria and should be replaced by a white counterpart from the Western world? If that would be unacceptable to him, why is it only in soccer matters that our local products become inferior compared to global benchmark? What is World Cup glory if we can only win it with imported manpower?

Even before Keshi’s victory over Bosnia, it took one of the world’s soccer superpowers, Argentina, who battled Iran for 90 minutes without a goal to prove that Iran is no pushover after all. Perhaps, without the extraordinary ingenuity of the world’s greatest soccer player, Lionel Messi, who scored a classic goal in the injury time for Argentina, Iran would have ran away with another goalless draw despite the Argentine’s world-class coaches with all their tactical dexterity!

And need I point out now that despite the anti-Keshi’s mob and Aribisala’s prediction that Nigeria’s cookies would come crumbling at the World Cup and that Nigeria won’t win a match, Nigeria is still running while great soccer nations like Spain and Britain boasting of the world’s costliest and whitest coaches are on their way home! Meanwhile, Bosnia is out and by the grace of God, it will be Nigeria, not Iran, that would move to the next round with “inferior” Coach Keshi at the helm. You can quarrel with anything, but only a fool quarrels with the result.

It is precisely because I do not fancy myself as a fool that I am commenting on the Ekiti State governorship election won by Fayose. I lost interest in the election when the federal government unleashed soldiers and police on the state in a needless of show of power that was a shame to democracy.

Planes carrying opposition governors coming to round off campaign support with Fayemi were barred from landing. Governor Chibuike Amaechi whose plane had been so repeatedly grounded on political grounds, opted to drive into the state by road, but then he too was ambushed by soldiers who ordered him to turn back. Meanwhile, the same security forces had conveniently or brazenly turned a blind eye when PDP leaders including the Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musliu Obanikoro, now an ubiquitous player in such power games whether in Lagos or other states, Minister for Police Affairs Alhaji Abduljelili Adesiyan and grandee of political underhand games, Chris Uba, among others, moved into the state.

I can’t recall when shutting the airspace against the opposition elements or preventing even governors from moving into a state has ever been deployed as a tool of political power game as we have it now. However, the expectation that with such massive show of power and abuses might be prelude to a massive rigging of the election has turned out groundless.

The election results published by the newspapers with the Sun and Punch doing exceptional job of scooping out details of the result on Sunday showed a pattern that do not suggest any rigging. In other words, to President Goodluck Jonathan’s credit, despite the pointless abuse of the rights of opposition leaders, the security forces had not interfered with the voting process. This meant that Jonathan had sustained his “one man, one vote” philosophy.

I had written in my column that Fayemi, rather than Fayose, was the right man for the job. I felt that from my interaction with Fayemi, he had the right intellectual and moral gravitas for the job. Fayemi had invested substantially in developing the human capital in Ekiti. But such investments often turn into abstraction when people need concrete things to see. As it were, the Ekiti people preferred Fayose, rather than Fayemi. The people have spoken and loudly too. Their voice was reflected in the widespread superior electoral showing of Fayose over the incumbent and the third contender, Opeyemi Bamidele who may now turn out, from the perspective of the Fayemi camp, to have played more of a spoiler’s role.

But then, Fayemi did something extraordinary. He called to congratulate Fayose for his victory. “I have spoken to my brother, Mr. Peter Ayodele Fayose, congratulating him on his victory,” he broadcast to the state. “In a few hours from now, I would be meeting the governor-elect to discuss the future of our dear state and how we would work together to institute a smooth transition programme.”

This is a historic departure from our rancorous ways of politicking. Didn’t somebody say that the way you exit an office is even more important than the way you entered into it? On this score, Fayemi has scored high on statesmanship. Then, he added, “Despite our diverse party affiliations and regardless of which way we voted on Saturday, we must remember that we are all sons and daughters of Ekiti State. Ekiti is ours to build together.”

Reading those lines moved me to my bones. Am I dreaming? This is the Nigeria of our dream unfolding before our very eyes. This is the basic decency and moral principle for which I extolled Fayemi in the past and still do now.

In our recent history, I can’t quite recall where an incumbent governor so promptly and willingly conceded victory to the winner rather than threaten fire and brimstone and then spent the rest of the years in court contesting the people’s verdict. OK, now I remember that former Governor Ikedi Ohakim extended similar gesture to Rochas Okorocha who defeated him at the polls. Ohakim had decided that he would not contest Okorocha’s victory at the tribunals in order not to distract the incoming governor in the manner he (Ohakim) who spent much of his tenure in the courts fighting battles against those contesting his victory, was distracted from focusing on delivering the goods.

Of course, Ohakim’s gesture didn’t last long before he and the new governor were stalking each other. That is to say that even though Fayose has promised to work with Fayemi, we should not put so much stock on it.

What Fayose’s broad-based landslide victory shows is that he is a popular grassroots man who would have won decently without the gratuitous military braggadocio displayed by the federal government. In other words, harassing the opposition leaders in the manner the federal authorities did was not only pointless, it was also an avoidable dent on our journey to democratic best practices.

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Personal notes on Dora Akunyili Tue, 17 Jun 2014 01:56:38 +0000 My elder brother, Prince Hanson Madukwe Igwe, was rushing out of his inner room with special drinks for his important guests when he bumped into a woman in the narrow passage. “Where is Dimgba?” the woman demanded. His breath cut as he ]]>

My elder brother, Prince Hanson Madukwe Igwe, was rushing out of his inner room with special drinks for his important guests when he bumped into a woman in the narrow passage. “Where is Dimgba?” the woman demanded. His breath cut as he recognized that it was the Federal Minister of Information, Professor Dora Akunyili.

That was at the burial of my mother on September 19, 2009, at Igbere. We had just finished the internment. Special guests had been asked to go to my brother’s compound for entertainment. Dora, her amiable husband, Dr. Chike Akunyili and aides also went there but she didn’t see me because I was also hosting guests in my compound. She had mistaken my elder brother’s compound for mine. As usual in such occasions, the crowd was much and things were a bit rowdy. Some other dignitary of her status as a federal minister would send aides to sort out things for her, but that was not for her, a practical down-to-earth woman. She went herself to fish me out. My flabbergasted brother dispatched his civil defence officials to take her to my home.

But the encounter left a strong impression in my brother’s heart about her. As a former security adviser to Governor Orji Kalu, Madukwe is used to the world of protocols, but the woman he met that day was of a different package—humane and so natural with no airs at all.

A week before Dora’s shocking, glorious and painful passage, Madukwe called me to ask after her health, if I had gone to see her. I would dearly have loved to visit her at the Indian hospital, I told him, but as I am not so buoyant, I would rather do so when she returns. But prayers, I offered aplenty. Of course, the question of her dying never really crossed my mind. Why should Dora of all persons die? In Nigeria, the tribe of good persons are diminishing by the day and it would have been only fair that Dora lived on literally rather than metaphorically.

It should have been obvious even to his worst critics that in the past few years, the death of iconic Chief Gani Fawehinmi had diminished Nigeria so greatly that we can only now in the realm of nostalgia, conjecture what the nation’s political architecture would have been like today if Gani were still around. For one, the multi-trillion fuel subsidy scam would not be swept under carpet so easily. In retrospect, it seems now evident that one iconic great tree can indeed make a forest, after all! And Dora, like Gani, was from the same rare stock!

Today, in the pantheon of national heroes, Dora has joined the list of these rare iconic personalities whose thankless labour for our motherland had changed our national paradigms in so many areas, with their death leaving our land and humanity the poorer for it.

Yet, I am jumping ahead of myself. For, indeed, this is just a personal note between me and a beloved sister. Yes, I consider them as sisters those beloved Igbo women who are doing great things—starting from Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala whom I have not even met to Dora Akunyili and Dr. Oby Ezekwesili whom I’ve had encounters with and had come to admire as my heroines. Despite their startling intellect and the height they had attained, it is their basic humanity that strikes me the most.

In the case of Dr. Ezekwesili, for instance, she left an indelible impression in my mind the day she was visiting The Sun newspapers as the minister of education. She got stuck in a traffic gridlock at Berger Bridge, Kirikiri, Apapa. Her options were limited to be sure, but one of them was to use her security escort to secure a passage to turn back—or sit in the comfy safety of her car until the traffic is cleared for her at the expense of others. But she did the unthinkable. She decided to step out of the car and walk, trekking across the bridge, over muddy puddles along the “roads” in Kirikiri, dodging her steps from slipping into the gutter or being pushed into one by the ubiquitous Okada riders. With her entourage in tow, she trekked until she crossed the worst part of the logjam and we were able to rescue the minister with a car which carried her and four others squeezed in. I realized then that despite her high post, she is one of us!

From our days with Bashorun M. K. O. Abiola, I realized that one of the most important attributes of great personalities is their infinite capacity to create unique personal relationships with individuals, at times, to such an extent that each of the individuals out there feels a sense of unique personal connection. Abiola had the rare capacity not just to make you feel like a special person to him, he also would remember to ask about your family members, remembering the names of your wife and children!

Dora belongs to this rare class of compassionate individuals who remain very human, connected with people in real personal ways with a common touch that is not affected by her high personal attainments. For me, the highpoint of greatness is defined by this direct personal touch to the individual, a fact which explains why my tribute here is not in terms of her numerous national achievements, but merely my personal encounters. Didn’t somebody say that the way blind men describe an elephant is dependent on the part of the elephant’s body they felt or touched?

Once my mother’s death was announced, I still recall her calling to say, “Dimgba, you can’t bury your mother alone. You need help.”

She kept asking me to come to Abuja to collect her own personal gift. When I eventually came, she went through a list of eastern governors I should contact to support me, because “they are our brothers, so they must help you”.

After the burial, she then said to me, “The watch your wife was wearing was not good enough. Don’t worry, I would get her another one.”

I was stunned. How was she able to notice such things in the rowdiness of the burial events where my wife was always surrounded by a group of ladies who were there for her? But there you are, she might be the federal minister, but she also took note of personal things, more so, the things that concerned a fellow woman.  Dora’s watch had remained one of my wife’s most treasured possessions.

Three months after the burial, I was out of the executive position in The Sun. Once again, Dora was extremely concerned about our future. At her invitation, Mike Awoyinfa and I with our spouses, met her for dinner at Ikeja Sheraton Hotel. The dinner turned out to be not just to eat and socialize, but to explore our future and the way forward. Discovering that one of Mike’s children was unemployed, she offered to get him employed at one of the federal parastatals under her ministry.

To us, she offered to speak to a governor to provide us money to start another publication, but we vehemently turned it down stating, “we can’t work with that man.” Dora immediately understood, because to us, it was a matter of principle. If it could help, she proffered, she could help to make us be placing adverts of some federal agencies in newspapers and earning the commission. When we disclosed a project proposal we were interested in, she readily agreed to take the proposal personally to the president, all these, outside the call of duty or any figment of personal interest.

She had sent me an advance copy of her book, The War Against Counterfeit Medicine: My Story, which not only inspired me to do a personal review before the launch, but to also discover that in Dora, we are not just dealing with a first class brain, we are also dealing with a woman who could have made a good writer if she had wanted. Her vivid description of her rural upbringing, close shaves with death especially during the Civil War when her family became nomadic, dodging bullets, hunger and air-bombardments had Achebeic pathos to it.

The dignitaries that turned up at the book’s presentation at Hilton Hotel, Abuja, was a testimony to the fact that the Dora brand has broken down ethnic and tribal barriers. At the end of the day, the act of goodness that Dora epitomizes has no religious, tribal or gender affiliations. From President Jonathan to intellectuals like Professor Wole Soyinka, to royal fathers from all the geopolitical zones, to various state governors—and some governors could not gain entrance for coming late!—to political and corporate leaders, the point was made that the Dora Akunyili brand had become a national hurricane!

So why then did President Goodluck Jonathan who praised her to high heavens that day not make her minister of major ministries like health or education where she could have brought her transformative power to bear to change things like she did at NAFDAC? That question becomes even more accentuated when it was recalled that at a time the nation was on tenterhooks over whether the Vice President Goodluck Jonathan should be made an acting president on account of President Umaru Yar’Adua’s incapacitation, it took Dora’s bravery to speak truth to power and pave the way for the Doctrine of Necessity which enabled Jonathan to become acting president.

The answer to that question lies at the heart of why Dora ultimately left the Ministry of Information portfolio to contest for a senate position under APGA and controversially lost to Dr. Chris Ngige.

Perhaps, her last battle for us was a rather personal and funny one. At the lunch of her book, we were her personal guests. Dora’s officials had provided Mike and I accommodation in a modest hotel outside the Hilton, saying that there were no more rooms at Hilton. We didn’t mind that at all, grateful that we didn’t have to pay for our accommodation.  When the minister heard about it—and I don’t know how—she raised hell. She demanded that whatever it took, accommodation must be provided for us at Hilton and we got it! That’s Dora, the Amazon and my beloved sister.

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On the night the soldiers came Tue, 10 Jun 2014 00:52:58 +0000 On the night of Thursday, June 11, 1994 when General Sani Abacha’s military junta invaded the premises of the Concord Press, I was the most senior editorial staff on hand to “receive” the troops made up of two army trucks.]]>

On the night of Thursday, June 11, 1994 when General Sani Abacha’s military junta invaded the premises of the Concord Press, I was the most senior editorial staff on hand to “receive” the troops made up of two army trucks.

It was on production night at the Weekend Concord. Mike Awoyinfa, the editor, who had probably seen the troops zooming into the premises had dodged, mixing up with other workers. He was dressed in jeans and casuals, whereas, there I was in an Italian blazer suit. In the eyes of the invading force, I made the cut as the top man. I left Mike to melt into the crowd because he was recovering from malaria and typhoid!

With multiple guns pointed at me, I was then commandeered to guide the troops through the large Concord Premises. I became their first captive, but then, so was everyone else in the premises since the soldiers blocked our gates, allowing no one to exit.

That night, their excuse for the invasion was that they received “intelligence reports” that a large cache of arms were stored in Concord premises by the opposition NADECO. The soldiers quickly surrounded the entire premises while I guided their senior officers on the search for NADECO weapons! For hours, the search was on, starting from the inner pockets of everyone in sight, to drawers, handbags, purses, office kettles, teacups, offices, the warehouse, press hall, every nook and cranny.

It turned out that the only cache of arms found in the Concord premises were the ones the soldiers came in with. Otherwise, they found plenty biros, typewriters, computers, newsprints, ink, plates, films, press equipment, sheets and rolls of papers everywhere and not much else.

That was exactly 20 years ago. Twenty years later, exactly the same June, under the watch of President Goodluck Jonathan, the man, who signed the Freedom of Information Act; the man, who promised us democracy and not military autocracy, the military is invading the media again. This time, it is not (yet) the media premises but media vans, conveying printed copies of newspapers, mostly opposition newspapers, in search of, once again, arms and ammunition!

No matter how much it seems that things have changed, they remain the same again, with history repeating itself in endless Sisyphean cycles. Are we then cursed never to learn from history but to keep recycling its worst spectre in a spatial time warp?

On the night of our captivity 20 years ago, even though the military found no arms dump in Concord then, they still didn’t leave our premises either. In fact, that night marked the beginning of 18-month closure of Concord newspapers. Searching for arms was just a pretext for their more sinister objective: Crushing a dreaded opposing media. Later, other newspapers like The Punch, The Guardian, The Sketch, Tell, The News and others were to be closed too. The staffers were released in the early hours of the following morning, just like those who impounded newspaper vans all over the country kept the drivers hostage for hours before releasing them despite not finding the Boko Haram weapons.

Since my Concord encounter twenty years ago, I am yet to regain any trust in what is usually bogusly dubbed “intelligence reports.” For me, it came down to a matter of credibility. Why would you trust “intelligence reports” which purport to state that a media company would be so stupid and unpatriotic as to lend their delivery vans to members or agents of Boko Haram to convey their arms? How dare anybody suggest that a news medium could actually be complicit in so heinous a crime that tantamount to bearing arms against your nation.  Incidentally, in all my life, I am yet to meet any professional group with so little material resources and yet so patriotic as to lay down their lives for the nation as the newsmen. I dare anybody to contradict me that the democracy we have now would be possible without the daring sacrifices of the fourth estate of the realm, rather than the political class.

When you hear the army spokesman, Major Gen. Chris Olukayode, and presidential spokesman, Doyin Okupe, bandy “intelligence reports” as some kind of mystical mantra just newly discovered, as the reason for the unbelievable blunder of hounding the media so brazenly, you wonder at this regime’s acute sense of selective perception and amnesia. What are these mysterious “intelligence reports,” anyway? Why did the army and the Presidency presume to believe that merely waving “intelligence reports” in our faces is all it takes to wash away all autocratic sins whatsoever?

Some hours before Boko Haram struck at Girls Secondary School, Chibok, to abduct over 300 female students, “intelligence reports” had reportedly tipped off the military authorities in Maiduguri but they chose to disregard it, as one of those tales. Over two weeks later, all the “intelligence reports” that flooded the Presidency about the abduction were also disbelieved. Yet, once some “intelligence reports” came that the newspaper vans were going to be used to convey arms, the government accepted this as verity and unleashed soldiers to interdict newspaper delivery vans and impound newspapers copies since Friday.

Assuming you are members of Boko Haram, planning to use newspaper vans of all things under the earth, to convey your weapons, why would you still do so after learning on Friday that soldiers had spread their dragnets all over the nation, searching for newspaper vans? Yet, despite the outrage on Friday, the “search” had continued with distribution of newspapers still disrupted and reports of some “unfriendly” newspapers seized.

Is impounding copies of some pesky newspapers part of the demands of the “intelligence reports”, perhaps, to allow for a forensic analysis of the chemical components of the ink and newsprint used in their production, in case the terrorists had infiltrated or injected explosive component into their pages?  Or, perhaps, repressive measure that also smacks of economic sabotage of the media business? If I file “intelligence reports” that Boko Haram would use all NTA stations to store their arms, would the military respond to such “intelligence reports” and seize all their broadcast equipment?

But, of course, it is so much easier to attack the defenseless messenger of bad news than to confront the raging Boko Haram insurgents, threatening to tear the nation apart. So, “intelligence reports” came into the picture!

When the military under Abacha closed the Concord and other newspapers, it was to forestall the marking of June 12 and the relentless media onslaught, as part of the grand strategy for Abacha’s self-succession agenda. In other words, it was a panic response of a nervous junta that thought that truth could be crushed under the jackboot. But, they got the opposite result from an ever resilient media, giving birth even to a more virulent underground media now studied in media institutions as the birth of Nigeria’s Guerrilla Journalism. Under Jonathan’s watch, it seems that history is merely repeating its ugly face. Except that today, with the birth of social media, those who dream of crushing the media might as well consider fetching water with basket or crushing the wind!

It is not just that the handling of these “intelligence reports” is a throwback to the dark days of the military junta, it is also that as a response to the so-called negative media the Jonathan administration has attracted, the clampdown on the media can only make things worse for the government. We’ve said it countless times that the primary duty of a journalist worth the name or the media is not to make political authorities comfortable but to put them on their toes.

Perhaps, unknown to the government, the paradox is that the media thrive better during hard times rather than good times. The highest copy sales of many opposition publications happened to be during the dark days of underground journalism under the military. Many of such publications went down when democracy returned and the media was starved of battle tools. But these are the tools that this administration seems bent on handing back to the media, the reason I suggest that the ongoing crackdown is fraught with tactical ineptitude and strategic myopia.

Here is “intelligence reports” from my stable. Since the colonial days, no regime has been able to fight the media and win. Only fools run where angels fear to tread. Those who tried to crush the media lived in eternal regret of their folly. In the end, no matter the level of anti-media crackdown, the media always, always outlived their enemies and above all things, are usually on hand to write the obituaries of those regimes and individuals, who sought to nail the media at their Golgotha.

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The tax or the sword Tue, 03 Jun 2014 00:21:32 +0000 “Half an ounce of gold. In the 7th century, that’s how much Christians in what is now Syria had to pay for the privilege of living under the protection of the Caliphate. ]]>

“Half an ounce of gold. In the 7th century, that’s how much Christians in what is now Syria had to pay for the privilege of living under the protection of the Caliphate. If they didn’t want to pay, they had two other options: They could convert or, as some interpretations of the pact between Muslim rulers and their Christian subjects suggest, ‘face the sword.’” That quote came from a cover article for TIME magazine by Aryn Baker on April 21, 2014 edition. Today, in the northern Syrian town of Raqqa and other parts controlled by fringe rebel extremists, poor and rural Christian families are still levied about $650 per head annually in exchange for their lives and as a concession to practise their faith in strictly regulated terms. Last Tuesday in Abuja, it seems that the spirit of such extremism visited us at the ongoing National Conference where the delegates overwhelmingly voted that religious bodies should now be taxed like other corporate bodies. On the face of it, the religious bodies targeted are churches and mosques. Herbalists, animists and other traditional religious adherents, who largely operate under the radar would hardly feature in the tax regime. The argument is that religious bodies make so much money, just like corporate bodies. Now, it would take a mountain of argument to convince me that there is much difference between the taxation imposed by the Syrian extremists and the proposal of our national confab members. At the bottom of both is green-eyed extortionism or to put it in local parlance, simple “bad belle”! According to the motion by a representative of civil organisations, Mallam Naseer Kura, on the report of the Committee on religion, religious organisations, which make so much money, should be taxed. The argument about the wealth of religious bodies, especially churches, has been a long one. There is a CD by a member of the Committee on Religion at the confab that is circulating in religious circles that puts the annual revenue of all the churches in Nigeria at approximately N3 trillion! If you believe that, it means that the income of churches in Nigeria is almost equivalent to Nigeria’s annual budget. But, of course, such a claim is derived from bogus statistics. However, as exaggerated and unsubstantiated as the figure is, it feeds into the ammunition of those who want to knock the churches for sports. The fact that members of the confab, who hardly ever agree on anything whatsoever voted overwhelmingly on the tax matter based on the fickle argument of the proponent of tax motion, is enough reason to be suspicious. It meant, for instance, that many of our Muslim delegates from the North, who had numerical majority based on the number of states, also voted overwhelmingly for a taxation scheme that may affect the mosques. But when the chips are down, who would tax the mosques and come out with his head still intact? So, the real targets are the dovish churches, the supposed mega churches that are allegedly making so much money that their pastors live extravagant lifestyles, some buying private jets. This vile motion is in fact supported by a delegate, representing my constituency, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, Isaac Ighure. “Some people buy private jets when people in their churches are suffering and living in abject poverty, they should be made to pay taxes,” he said. As in most things, affecting the churches, there is so much ignorance. For instance, last year, radical lawyer, Femi Falana, had argued that orthodox church leaders like the Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury live conservative lifestyles and fly commercial jets whereas some Pentecostal pastors own private jets. “Since they earn fat incomes, they should pay tax to the state for development. It is unjust and illegal to tax the poor congregants while multi-billionaire pastors or bishops are not subjected to any form of taxation.” Here is a little fact, for a start. Who is the world’s largest property owner? The Catholic Church, followed by McDonald. Conservative lifestyle does not always approximate to absence of wealth, but would you now suggest that Catholic churches should be taxed simply because they own so much property wealth, mostly Cathedrals used for their worship services? But, is it really true that pastors don’t pay taxes? Not quite. Churches and mosques as non-profit-making bodies are exempted from taxation but church workers, whether pastors or bishops, who earn income are subject to personal income tax just like any other person. A clear separation must be made between the pastor/imam as an individual, who earns income from the corporate non-profit-making body, such as a church or a mosque. It would be strange if tax authorities do not collect personal income taxes from religious leaders, as individual citizens who are distinct from the non-profit-making religious organisations they represent. Since religious leaders pay their personal income taxes, it goes without saying that if any of them is found to be making multi-billion personal incomes, they should pay personal income taxes accordingly. I am not aware that religious leaders, who own private jets, for instance, are in any way exempted from paying all the requisite taxes and levies for such assets. Outside the strict business of worship service, where religious bodies set up businesses that are not strictly for charity purposes, they usually also pay taxes on them. This is the category where religious bodies that are buoyant enough to set up private schools and universities fall in. There is no law to my understanding that exempts private universities set up by religious bodies that charge normal school fees from corporate tax obligation. But then, the anti-church elements dabble into issues about how the school fees charged by private schools and universities set up by churches are beyond the reach of their poor members. This reminds me of the hypocritical argument of Judas that the expensive alabaster ointment that Mary Magdalene emptied to anoint the feet of Jesus could have been sold to feed the poor! “The poor,” Jesus remonstrated with Judas, “you would always have among you.” In a country where 70 per cent live on less than $2 dollars a day, there is hardly any amount you charge for school fees that would be affordable to all the poor. The solution is really for the government, rather than the church alone, to adequately fund education, improve the public schools and provide for free education from primary to, at least, the secondary schools. If Chief Obafemi Awolowo could fund free education in the Western region from cocoa revenue from the early ‘50s, why should churches be held responsible for the failure of corrupt political authorities in the twenty-first century to do so, despite huge oil revenue? From the best estimates, it takes about a million naira to support a student in a university for a year. Apart from the American University owned by Alhaji Abubakar Atiku that charges over a million naira annually for tuition and board, all the private universities owned by religious bodies in Nigeria charge approximately half a million naira in school fees. This, of course, remains a lot of money for majority of us to pay but what are the choices available? The public universities, despite Nigeria’s half a trillion naira budget for education, are in shambles – grossly underfunded. Then churches that could afford it stepped in to bridge the gap and they are vilified for charging fees that some members could not afford. If they don’t charge such fees, how are they supposed to run the institutions? After more than a decade of running Covenant University, for instance, Bishop David Oyedepo, who owns one of the universities where all members could not afford the school fees, said in Sunday Punch interview last week, the church is yet to make any returns from the university. On the contrary, this year, the church is still investing N1.6 billion into Covenant University! That speaks volumes about the alleged profiteering of churches that own private schools. I write as an insider whose church has been labouring to build a private school from our own private donations and I know how thankless the job is. I am not aware that any of the churches set up private schools to make money or are making money from owning private schools. Corporate taxes are paid from profit of companies. How do you then compute the profit of a not-for-profit organisation whose products are spiritual intangibles? Like the classic editorial of Sunday Sun advised, the delegates in our national conference should focus on serious issues of restructuring the country rather than dissipate their energy on the emotive frivolity of taxing churches. If they really care about taxes, how about exploring measures to increase the percentage of companies that pay corporate taxes in Nigeria from the current average of 30 per cent to something above 50 per cent. If they try that, they would get more money than wasting energy on how to rob the temples!

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Another rambling note Tue, 27 May 2014 00:34:13 +0000 It was a normal Saturday when I expect that Mike Awoyinfa would be on the street, visiting myriad friends. But he was marooned at home. What’s wrong? Real Madrid and Atletico were playing UEFA final that day at 7 p.m. and Mike was taking no chances.]]>

It was a normal Saturday when I expect that Mike Awoyinfa would be on the street, visiting myriad friends. But he was marooned at home. What’s wrong? Real Madrid and Atletico were playing UEFA final that day at 7 p.m. and Mike was taking no chances.
He didn’t want to be out on the street and risk getting stuck somewhere or accidentally breaking his legs somewhere, he explained. I didn’t see why anybody would wait for a match playing at 7 p.m. from morning. But then, I am used to the crazy ways of soccer fanatics and had written about these in the past.
I was minding my business, watching CNN, as the match played. If you’ve been a regular reader of Sideview, then you are probably already familiar with the fact that I am somewhat immune to all the soccer drama. Yes, it is no longer news that I am the only stranger in the land, who is not afflicted with the popular craze for soccer.
In Nigeria where everybody, from the masses to the high and the mighty are soccer fanatics, mine is a strange disease indeed. As a reporter at large these days, I am ever so aware that you can hardly meet any member of the ruling class, who is not a fan of either Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United – almost in that order.
And their loyalty to their clubs is as ardent as loyalty to religion, perhaps, only more ardent. From ministers to governors, to legislators, to top corporate players, to everyone else, soccer addiction is a common disease nobody wants to be cured of. It is no surprise that many people with heart condition seem to prefer possible suicide to avoiding the rollercoaster shocks and drama of soccer wahala.
If you want to draw the passion of any Nigerian, open a discussion on any of the latest European soccer encounters. Or the clubs – Arsenal, Chelsea and Man U. I’ve learnt, for instance, that if you are in the home of the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, or his godfather, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, you had better not speak ill of Man U. Tinubu, Fashola and, perhaps, members of their families and allies are ardent Man U fans, a club, which the legendary Alex Ferguson nearly ruined by foisting a bad successor – a clueless fellow, named David Moyes, his fellow Scott. Does that smack of nepotism? Perhaps, in leadership, some people are simply better as underlings than on the driving seat. Moyes is one of them and there are many Moyes all over the place, messing things up.
Under Moyes, a great team built by Ferguson was tottering, rudderless and skidding to disintegration. Moyes seemed clueless but, at least, he didn’t fish for excuses. He took responsibility for his failures. There are many reasons to fail but no excuses, even good excuses, are good enough to justify failure. Failure is failure and drags everyone down.  Good leaders are those who win despite excuses, problems and obstacles.
My favourite definition of leadership is that which says leadership is solution. There is a mountain of problems in the land and we need a leader to navigate us to solution. A leader is like a coach. A coach, team manager or a leader is there to solve problems. The opponents are there to make things easy for you but most of the time, to create problems. If you don’t like problems, you can’t coach a team, simple. Problems come with obstacles, otherwise they won’t be problems, would they? Blaming the obstacles rather than tackling them is my primary definition of failure. Failure of leadership.
Yes, I learnt this lesson years ago. In those days, it was the fad of the various military juntas – from Generals Ibrahim Babangida to Sani Abacha – to close down newspaper houses. In fact, the closure of Concord newspapers in June 1994 by Abacha regime lasted for 18-months!
Everybody sympathised with us, trust Nigerians. But at home, just because our newspaper was unjustly closed didn’t stop the bills from running. House rents, school fees, utility bills, medical bills and so on ran as usual. You can’t use the closure of your workplace as excuse to wave away the bills. In my case, for instance, the closure came at a time we had a new baby. From the infant, I learnt an enduring lesson. In case you don’t know it, babies don’t stop crying for milk just because you are out of job! The unjust closure of Concord was a good excuse not to provide for the family but try explaining the politics of June 12 to an infant, crying for milk and see how far that would take you.
But then, David Moyes was not a Nigerian, otherwise, he would have mobilised his kinsmen to explain away his failures. Enemies! Sponsored critics! Ethnic bigots, who never wanted him to succeed! Pressures from the board for results! Sabotage from players! Bad officiating by sponsored referees, who don’t like Scots! You can generate more stories, more excuses or hire men to do it for you!
There are no shortage of excuses. But the people are saying, bring back the goals! The goals, the goals, the goals! That’s what Man U is all about. A winning team, not this shambling and shambolic team that didn’t look like Man U? Why should Man U become a global laughing stock and David Moyes enjoys the pleasure and perquisite of a full contract? That is the point, the question and the contention, which the board of the club had to resolve. They did and that explains why today, Moyes has no job, because the fans would not eat excuses.
But here, I drift. This piece is not about Man U and the Moyes of this world. It’s about my rambling thoughts on the climactic match between Real Madrid and Atletico (I hope I am getting the names right?). While the fans were glued to the match, I was either reading or glancing at the CNN.
Then the CNN flashed the result. Atletico 1 and Real 0. This was history about to be made by Atletico, the Spanish premier league champion, who were on the brink of winning their first UEFA cup. Real Madrid had won the cup nine times, so Atletico was the underdog about to make history. They had tenaciously held on to their one goal lead for 92 minutes, 30 seconds. For them, it was 90 seconds to glory. But in soccer, 90 seconds can be so short to recover from setback or so long to lose a battle.
The underdog, striving for victory from the champion, flies on the wings of faith and determination, charged and motivated. A highly motivated Atletico side was this underdog. But time – a fragment of time – stood between them and victory.
It just took a momentary loss of concentration. In just that split second, Real Madrid scored and equalised. The Atletico hope crashed. The swing of psychological burst of hope and optimism enveloped the Real Madrid camp in equal measure, as angst, deflection and disappointment dealt a psychological blow on the Atleticos.
Between victory and defeat is a bubble – a cathartic swing of emotional energy that can kill or destroy, win or lose battles. As Solomon once argued, at times, the race is not for the swift nor the battle to the strong, “but chance happenth to them all.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11).
But chance is one thing, psychological disposition is another. The Atleticos, who held on to a one goal lead over Real Madrid for 92.30 minutes, crumbled to a 4-1 defeat in the next few minutes once Real Madrid managed to get an equaliser. What is the magic? This is a question sports psychologists would spend time, analysing for the benefit of ordinary folks like us, who know nothing in that field. What happened to Atletico that they ended up snatching such an astonishing defeat from the jaws of victory? Does that indicate that Real Madrid is the better side? If they were, how come they were down for 92.30 minutes, enough time for most matches to have been won and lost?
It is certainly not about skill and energy, more about hope and psychological disposition. As Jean-Paul Sartre once argued, “Once you hear the details of victory, it is hard to distinguish it from a defeat.”
That is to say victory or defeat in most issues of life is a matter of attitude. I do not for a moment, for instance, believe that the Boko Haram insurgents are gaining the upper hand in the ongoing war in parts of Nigeria mainly because they have better military skills than our military or are even better funded. Rather, I believe that apart from our familiar plague of corruption, from the commander-in-chief to the field commanders of our troops and the infantry foot soldiers, the critical difference is the attitude to the battle. The attitude makes all the difference.
If we must win the war against the insurgents, then we must start with the attitude, the right attitude. We’ve heard too much of conspiracy theories. Even if they are true, are we then to surrender to the conspirators? Time to dispense with the excuses – sweet excuses that do not deliver result – and put on a winning attitude. We have war on our laps and you don’t win war with excuses. War is too serious to be fought half-heartedly.

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The insane option Tue, 20 May 2014 00:43:15 +0000 Ever heard of the insane option? The insane option is often the road less travelled. It is insane because it does not make sense, it does not make sense because it is insane! Yet, major advances in civilization happened only because somebody decided to think ]]>

Ever heard of the insane option? The insane option is often the road less travelled. It is insane because it does not make sense, it does not make sense because it is insane! Yet, major advances in civilization happened only because somebody decided to think differently, to do things in ways nobody has ever considered.

The management people call it thinking out of the box. With such an intellectual baptism, the insane option suddenly begins to make sense—well, that is, if it works.

Insane is the way the letter written by some aggrieved indigenes of Borno State, to President Goodluck Jonathan, seems at first reading. According to news report, some of the indigenes want Jonathan to authorize them to arm themselves with “sophisticated” weapons to confront the menace of Boko Harams themselves and free the abducted Chibok girls from captivity.

If the military cannot do it, if even the superpowers have so far drawn blank, what then are the chances of local vigilantes even with “sophisticated” weapons and poisoned arrows?

Their petition, tinged with sarcasm and frustrations, states, “We have had enough of the military placebo effect. We are on standby, ready to go in. An army of 50,000 to 100,000 is ready and mobilizing. The Nigerian people from Borno and across the country are holding back waiting for you to fulfill your obligation to the people and grant us executive authorization to carry sophisticated arms and go after Boko Haram terrorists in all tunnels, caves and jungles where they hide in plain sight.”

They added a confessional, “We know where Boko Haram is. They are no ghosts. We have received reports of the movement of the abducted girls which we are able and ready to act upon promptly; a response ‘your’ military fails at.”

The petitioners argued that the most viable solution is for local vigilantes to work together in collaboration with the military “and for civilians to defend their villages from attack in the reality of our current military failure in providing any form of rapid response; as part of a larger national systemic corruption and ineptness-based failure of governance.”

Now that they are talking about “systemic corruption and ineptness based failure of governance”, you begin to wonder if they are referring to the president. You don’t talk about rattling bones near old people! If so, that betrays a bit of political motive. They seem to suggest by their letter that the Boko Haram insurgents are not so invincible after all, if only the leadership was right, if only our soldiers could fight, if only corruption was checked. These are points echoed by the global community anyway.

Now, to their request. On the short run, an armed local populace may be able to resist the impunity of the Boko Harams in their respective localities. As petitioners say, the locals know those behind the insurgency; they are no spirits, they are no special combatants. The Boko Harams are mostly bullies empowered by our systemic failures to unleash more terror. The more fear they inspire, the more they are empowerd and emboldened by such fear.

Armed locals, therefore, may even be able to rescue some of the girls. Surely, the odds of a local fighter who knows the terrain and the individuals at the other end is infinitely better than a de-motivated soldier who is wondering why he should stake his life when he is probably ill-equipped and his welfare is not guaranteed. And if the locals are not staking their lives to battle the insurgents, why should foreign troops risk anything beyond surveillance from the security of a sophisticated spy planes?

Yet, despite the prospect of a short term gain, granting the request of Borno vigilantes may turn out to be a strategic suicide for the nation. If you arm the locals to confront Boko Haram today, what happens to the guns afterwards? The Borno petitioners claim they have 50,000 to 100,000 people on standby ready to take up arms. Really? Assuming they are not blustering, arming 50,000 to 100,000 people in a state is the easiest road to Somaliasation of the country with state or ethnic armies. Note that the Biafrans who withstood Nigerian troops for 30 months started the war with merely a few hundred guns!

Even then, the petition underscores the need for our security forces to work with the local vigilante groups. That may be tricky in the current atmosphere of uncouth political recriminations between the state and federal government and uncertainty over individual loyalties. But such are risk of all wars anywhere which we must be willing to explore in order to go forward.

But despite the systemic failures so far, the regional security summit in France involving leaders of all our neighbouring countries whose lands had provided cross-border refuge for the insurgents, is already a major blow to the Boko Harams. A new era of enhanced co-operation between Nigeria-Cameroun-Niger-Chad should mean, one dares to hope, that insurgents are cornered. But underscore the words, should mean, because at times, theory and practice are worlds apart.

In my view, the softening up of the Boko Haram stance on the abducted girls as reported yesterday should correctly be seen as an indication that the insurgents anticipate tough days ahead. This then is the time to close the deal both on both the military front and otherwise. I see a glimmer of hope.


Re: Nigeria in the jungle of Sambisa 

 Mr. Dimgba, you are a good man.  In your piece on,  Nigeria in the Jungle of Sambisa, “you talk am as im be.” A lot of people would nod several times while reading it. Jisie ike. You have a friend in me.Chinedu Nwoye, 08035885658

Dimgba Igwe, thank God for your life. I have always seen you as the “VOICE.” Today again you have spoken the minds of the voiceless. There is nothing more to add. Both the literal and figurative Sambisa, we await the outcome.


I have just finished your Sideview about Nigeria, Sambisa and our military’s failure in the country. I am very happy with your write-up. Thanks.

Engr. Forster Onumajuru, 08035276139

Sir, your “Nigeria in the Jungle of Sambisa” is down-to-earth and a masterpiece. This negligence syndrome is pronounced even here in Asaba. Kudos for your brilliant write-up!

Somnazu Francis, Asaba, 08026201736

Well done my beloved Dimgba. Your today’s piece is indeed a true narrative of our country and a must read for all Nigerians. May your pen never run dry!

Your brother, Nnia Pat, 08062517819

Thank you Dimgba for writing this piece. This country is in a sorry state. It’s a pity. Once again, thank you.

Jerry, 08034052447

Oga Dimgba, you mercilessly provoked the truth about Sambisa’s metaphorical connection with Nigeria’s failings as a state in decay—educational decline, ill-motivated military, poor intelligence gathering— all fueled by corruption and bad and inept leadership. Please, next write on how corruption will rule Nigeria.

A.Abba, Kadana, 08036465434

Nigeria in the Jungle of Sambisa was a masterpiece my brother. Ride on with your pen biko.

Prince Ohaekelem, 09038025747

Dimgba you are a Boko Haram writer. But remember that even America needed its allies to fight Osama bin Laden. You sound as though you see yourself as the only competent person in Nigeria but I tell you that those who think like you do only delude themselves.

Please make a less partisan suggestion on how best to improve this country and stop talking down on people. A little respect for Jonathan will do or why not try a political office?

Barrister D. O. Nwodoh, 08052452933

Pastor  Dimgba no one can force Islam on those innocent victims, certainly not Shekau(dead or alive). We continue to insist that Boko Haram has nothing to do with Islam. We continue to insist that President  Jonathan must do something about the general insecurity in the country and especially in the north east. Our fervent prayer is for the return of our girls to the safety of their loved ones.

Barr. A. B. Abubakar. 08037863937

Your piece on Sambisa is another demonstration of the fact that you are the best penman to emanate from the east of the Niger. Please keep the fire burning. With 2 or 3 of your type dispassionately discussing topical issues without blinking an eyelid, Nigeria will surely be a better place.

Dsp. Okafor Moses, 07037836989

Great article, which way Nigeria?


You and the world should understand and appreciate the fact that Jonathan administration has been ambushed and sabotaged by an irate North and their elite. My problem is not what is happening now but what would happen during the tenure of a future northern president in this country. Boko Haram can kill all Nigerian if they like but Jonathan must rule, sir. You southern journalists are not helping matters at all.

Tony, Abuja, 08155222311

This matter is deeper and more complex than you presented it in your column today. It goes beyond Jonathan’s leadership qualities. For decades, indeed ages, the political, religious, economic and social establishment and leadership in the North of our dear country, had through irresponsible, atavistic, feudal and sectional religious practices and mis-governance disguised as leadership, incubated the evil, wickedness, cruelty and intolerance of the one-sided religious sectarianism in the North and this monstrosity was unleashed on the entire nation through Boko Haram. And it is the monster that I beheld when I saw today the images of the daughters of Zion in captivity. This is an evil that is deeper and goes well beyond Jonathan’s leadership qualities or lack of it. The sustained irresponsible, inflammatory blood curdling utterances of prominent members of the Northern establishment and their open and undisguised hatred for Jonathan had fed this monster and may have helped in nourishing it with recruits, sponsors, donors and financiers in their multitudes and stripped it of any inhibitions it may have hitherto entertained in its bloodlust. The abduction of the daughters of Zion in Chibok has opened the eyes of the international community not to Jonathan’s supposed ineptitude, incompetence and alleged leadership deficit, but rather to the pure and undiluted evil that had been quietly incubated inside Nigeria and released unto our national space. Foreign leaders of major world powers tend to be better informed and the outpouring of real practical assistance by them to Nigeria is a creditable acknowledgment of the positive assessment of the person of our president. It is not easy for any president to escape without bruises or even serious political wounds and damage in a situation such as the present one. President George W. Bush was accused of ineptitude and incompetence after the 9/11 tragedy in the USA and many actually blamed his alleged cluelessness for making the attack possible. The American CIA and FBI was taken to the cleaners, and after Osama bin Laden escaped from Torah Bora in Afghanistan, the standing of American military and George Bush himself sank very low. It took the American military and intelligence 10 years to restore their credibility through the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. What Jonathan is going through today in Nigerian and international public opinion is thus easily understood by many serving and retired world leaders. The action of Jonathan in seeking and accepting international assistance is radical, decisive and commendable.


Mr. Igwe, you made my day on the back page of Daily Sun newspapers of 13/5/3014. You are among the few patriotic writers with pen powers to educate Nigerians. In this write-up ‘Nigeria in the Jungle of Sambisa’ you were able to capture virtually all the exposures that come to bear as a result of the abducted girls in Chibok. Igwe may Allah guide and protect you as you continue with the good works. Amen.

Yusuf Agwai Moh’d, Abuja, 08095952323.

Brother, very educating and fine write-up titled: Nigeria in the Jungle of Sambisa.


Nigeria in the Jungle of Sambisa: ‘which way Nigeria’. I tell you, no way for Nigeria. How can our military or (the Northen army?) work when some of them sympathize with Boko Haram?


Pastor Dimgba, your ‘Nigeria in the Jungle of Sambisa’ was a great piece. You rightly captured how we arrived at this sorry pass “…the bitter fruits of wasted opportunities and exceedingly bad leadership” God bless you

Barrister Ezekiel Anuri, 08036725250

Your column this week is the mirror President GEJ needs to assess his image. Keep it up.


Your perspective, insight and delivery last Tuesday was cerebral and lifting. Nigeria is indeed in the jungle of Sambisa. Nigeria is Sambisa. Sambisa is the macrocosm of a microcosmic Nigeria. Else, how is it that Sambisa keeps defying this “Giant of Africa” Sambisa’s Goliath, be informed that you have defied too long, but unknown to you, little insignificant David is about to be unleashed to your utmost disgrace. I join the #BRING BACK OUR GIRLS SAFE AND ALIVE NOW.


Dimgba, I am so much captivated by your Sideview topic . Your observations to the situation, ‘Nigeria in the Jungle od Sambisa was well articulated and presented. I salute your courage. In the interim , we have and we have had so many analogue leaders in Nigeria – that is why we have also produced analogue graduates. Therefore it is shameful that our military, paramilitary are also analogue in their outlook. That is why they have failed to uproot the Boko Haram gorillas that dug in that bloody jungle, coupled with the inability of the (NASRDA) to effect proper remote censoring of that notorious Sambisa jungle. It is very fair that the much jubilated Nigeria SatX and Sat2, had only 2.5metres resolution – what a shame. I am sorry for the Director General of NASRDA who did not reject those poorly designed satellites – has shown corruption in every aspect of our developmental processes.

At this point, Mr. President should declare total emergency on Borno state and close the entire international boarders along Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States.  Collapse the democratic government of Borno state and assign an administrator preferably from the State Security Service. He, Mr. President must also be ready in the period of the total emergency period, replace the SATX and SAT2 toy satellites with more powerful ones that will have the capacity to track individual movements. The president must wake up and clean all cobwebs around him –take extreme proactive decisions that will put his administration into top gear to tackle both civilian and military problems causing the wide spread insecurity in the country. I also advice all Nigerians to mind and bridle their tongues, the press and the electronic media must stop being biased in their reporting. I want to also warn all the politicians to be careful.

The president should be careful with the way he deals with negotiations on the abducted Chibok girls. Finally, those who think that Nigeria belong to them only must have a serious rethink. That there was 3-year bush war does not make the people of the Southeast perpetual slaves to the Northern and the Southwestern people, because it will be stoutly resisted in any way. For what is going on today in the northern region is because the so-called Northern elders did nothing to emancipate their people from deadly iron grip their aristocratic and oppressive elite imposed on their teaming youth. I intend to make it clear to every Nigeian to bear in mind, that any group that is oppressed up to 50years, that does not react, are nothing but slaves. Therefore I advise the northern elders, their emirs, their spiritual heads and their Sultan to call their book haram youths to order to release those girls in their custody and surrender without further delay.

Chief J.I. Nwafor, 08036925729



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Nigeria in the jungle of Sambisa Tue, 13 May 2014 02:37:44 +0000 For those who had been there, Sambisa is described as an impenetrable jungle, a potential forest of a thousand demons where vision is impaired literally by poor visibility; insecurity looms and survival is a matter of the fittest. In Sambisa forest, your neighbours are wild ]]>

For those who had been there, Sambisa is described as an impenetrable jungle, a potential forest of a thousand demons where vision is impaired literally by poor visibility; insecurity looms and survival is a matter of the fittest. In Sambisa forest, your neighbours are wild animals, serpents or poisonous snakes. It is a hiding place for the daring ones who are more at home in the jungle than in human habitats.

In the colonial times, Sambisa was a game reserve, much like the famous Yankari Game Reserve, which used to attract huge traffic. In 1982, Yankari Game Reserve, was the place I wrote my earliest magazine cover story for Dele Giwa’s Sunday Concord, which earned me a lot of kudos from him. I still recall the title Giwa gave the piece: Want To Get Away From It All? Try Yankari.

If Nigeria had been a serious country where leaders were seriously development-minded rather than roguish and unprepared for the job, Sambisa would have been one of Nigeria’s tourist attractions earning revenue for the governments in the states of Borno, Yobe, Gombe and parts of Bauchi which bordered the forest, depending on how the territory would have been delineated.

As Wikipedia captured it, “the Sambisa Game Reserve had leopards, lions, elephants, hyenas and huts built for tourists to stay in. However, the federal/state government allowed the place to fall into a state of disrepair as the animals died, the roofs leaked, weeds covered the roads, water stopped flowing, there was no power and the whole reserve became derelict white elephant.”

As nature abhors vacuum, it is the Sambisa forest that has become a haven for Boko Haram, a lesson that if you leave your home untended, it becomes your own Sambisa. But it is not only that. Around the world now, Chibok, a town in Borno State, and Sambisa have become a metaphor for Nigeria’s broken state. A nation trapped in Sambisa!

The hundreds of innocent girls abducted from their school in Chibok, are now held hostage in the jungle of Sambisa. A place formerly created as natural habitat for wild animals is now a place of captivity for vulnerable young girls. In place of wild animals you now have wild Homo sapiens without souls.

Yesterday, the insurgents showed the world a cruel video shot of the girls in the bush chanting religious mantra.  It is anybody’s guess whether they are still in literal Sambisa, or a figurative Sambisa outside outside our borders. Covered in the Islamic hijab, there is no telling what violence has been visited on their body, on their virginity and the psychological trauma of their souls. Poor girls. Even though about 90 per cent of these girls are Christians, their reciting of Islamic chants is a provocative ploy designed by their heartless captors as a testimony of their forced conversion to Islam.

Barring skepticism that those are actually the abducted girls, the video clip is perhaps the first indication that the global pressure to bring back the girls is hitting home, after all. It is also to reassure the world that the girls are still alive. We must thank God for small mercies, even though the girls are now pawns in the hands of the insurgents’ bid to twist Jonathan’s arms. For President Jonathan, to negotiate the release of the girls on the insurgents’ terms of prison swap or not is the classic devil’s alternative. Yield to their demand, and you introduce kidnapping and prisoner swap as the new elements of the war. Stick to the no-negotiation stance mouthed by the emboldened presidency and the President would seem callous and culpable if any harm comes to the girls.

Once again, Nigeria is in the global headlines for the wrong reason. The last time we came close to being so negatively advertised around the world was during the Sani Abacha regime when the environmental activists led by Ken Saro-Wiwa were hanged after a kangaroo trial. Today, Nigeria is on the cross again, at least, for dereliction of leadership.

It is no use wondering how we came to this sorry pass. Sambisa is obviously the bitter fruit of decades of wasted opportunities and exceedingly bad leadership.

It did not start from Jonathan’s regime. The gross dereliction of political and economic leadership in parts of our country, especially in many parts of the North, has been there through the years of military regimes which only created wealthy few at the expense of the masses. Those who wave the poverty argument to current regimes to rationalize the Boko Haram atrocities must reflect on what foundation the previous regimes left behind.

In Sambisa, Nigeria’s political, military and economic failures are advertised before the whole world. Look carefully at Sambisa and you will see the tragedy of Nigeria in bold relief. In Sambisa, you see corruption, leadership incompetence, insensitivity, travesty, decay, neglect, political gimmickry, everything wrong with Nigeria.

Start with the basic. One of my pastors, Blessing Ochingwah, asked me, “Sir, why is it that the girls who are supposed to be writing West African School Certificate Examination cannot answer a question in English? Why should somebody be interpreting questions in English for them?”

The answer is in Sambisa. Many of the abducted girls are actually the few that wanted to escape the trap of illiteracy prevalent in Nigeria’s North-east. The abducted girls, therefore, represent the best of their peers. In a very educationally disadvantaged North-east states, the girls now held hostage in Sambisa represent the future in their environment. But what manner of future? In the inability of many of them to articulate themselves in English despite being in the final year of their secondary school education, the degeneration of the nation’s educational system is now globally advertised. Compared with the poise, articulation and brilliance of the 16-year-old Pakistani’s school girl, Malala Yousafzai, who survived assassination attack of the Talibans on account of her campaign for girl education—the very thing Boko Haram is against—the products of our educational system leave a sour taste in the mouth.

Look carefully in Sambisa and you’ll see our military power brought so low. Isn’t it such a great irony that the Nigerian military that used to shine in international peace-keeping operations seems so tamed by the Boko Haram insurgents, so much so that we are now grasping for foreign military help to rescue our girls from harm? Inadvertently, the Boko Harams have showcased our grossly inadequate capacity in intelligence gathering, surveillance and speedy response.

At the end of the day, the military cannot operate in isolation from our retarded macro setting. Modern military power is more electronic and high-tech driven rather than sheer demonstration of brawn. In the circumstances, asking our military to do exploits against a determined and fluid enemy without the benefit of precise technological information gathering system is akin to flying blind.

Thanks to Sambisa, we now know that despite the billions we budget annually on space science, our so-called satellite systems are merely obsolete technological toys which provide our political authorities and their bureaucratic accomplices with the necessary cover to appropriate and misappropriate public fund—another Sambisa syndrome. At the time we needed the services of the National Space Research and Development Agency, (NASRDA) which recently celebrated the launch of Nigeria SatX and Sat 2, to track the location of our girls, the Director General Professor Seidu Mohammed, doused such hope by telling us that our satellite only had 2.5 meters resolutions and therefore lacked the capacity to track individual movements. So, why are we wasting so many billions annually to sustain such scientific charade when we might just as well rely on outsourcing from the global community as in the present case? Why buy an attack dog if it had no teeth?

Of course, our military failures cannot also be divorced from what the world media and personalities have described as Jonathan’s incompetence and poor leadership. That it took him over two weeks merely to officially react to the abduction is bad enough; that the presidency could not even make up its mind whether there was kidnap or not after more than two weeks of the abduction is not exactly what it takes to galvanise a troop. In effect, the field commanders would have been justifiably faced with conflicting signals from the political authorities. Not the least of such absurdities is the theatrical histrionics of the First Lady, trivializing the abduction saga.

In a world running at the speed of sound, it took Sambisa to remind us that our president doesn’t easily give a damn about anything! He takes his time, even if the world is on fire. Thanks to Sambisa, Nigeria’s image is taking a toll and the leadership question is back on the front burner. As Sunny Okoson’s lyrics would ask, which way Nigeria?

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Chibok girls and the conquered women of Biafra Tue, 29 Apr 2014 00:57:05 +0000 “Stop pretending that you are a human being!” a victim of sexual abuse tells her abuser. They might not exactly be able to utter such words to their captors, but this is likely the thought that would be going through the minds of hundreds of the students of Government Girls Secondary School, Borno State, who were abducted by the Boko Haram insurgents since two weeks now.]]>

“Stop pretending that you are a human being!” a victim of sexual abuse tells her abuser. They might not exactly be able to utter such words to their captors, but this is likely the thought that would be going through the minds of hundreds of the students of Government Girls Secondary School, Borno State, who were abducted by the Boko Haram insurgents since two weeks now.

Perhaps, the only trauma that would make these innocent girls even sadder in their captivity is the absence of news of any attempt at their rescue. According to the parents of the abducted girls, so far, there had been no known official effort at rescuing the girls, despite the enlarged security meetings. Ironically, the last known effort at rescuing was the suicidal gambit by the desperate parents of the abducted girls who went two kilometers into the Sambisia forest, only to be advised to turn back because it was suicidal to venture into the evil forest unarmed and unaccompanied by security forces.

This then makes the first point. The location of those holding these girls is not so unknown, only that we had not put our acts together to make a bid for the girls. On the other hand, it seems that we have not made a serious bid for the girls or to crush the insurgents because despite official sound bites to the contrary, our fighting forces are just not well-equipped to deal with this unconventional enemy.

The plight of the Chibok girls in a way evokes memories of the ordeal of women in the Biafran enclave shortly after the war.

In 1971, the news came to us in the bush where we had lived for ten months that the war was over, that Biafra had surrendered, that we were free to return to our villages ostensibly to rebuild our lives. There was no time for ambivalence. We would have wished that Biafra survived, but the reality was that we’d had enough time watching the Biafran dream die slowly and painfully to nurse any hope of victory any more.

Starved, outgunned, outmanned and outnumbered, we the Biafrans were reduced to a daily battle of personal survival rather than expecting military miracle. The fact was that if the bullets didn’t get you, starvation could, and a man’s greatest daily battle was to survive to the next moment.

The news of the end of the war was, therefore, a great relief. Tentatively, people began sneaking back into their villages to see things for themselves. The reports were mixed. They met other survivors, some reunited with relations whose whereabouts were unknown, and so on. But in more cases than not, our homes lay in total ruins. Family houses were now reduced to rubbles.

Still, it was better to be back. And alive.

But for young women, the young women of the Biafran enclave, it was perhaps, the beginning of another war. A war against women which spread to almost every family. The victorious Nigerian soldiers wielding their guns so menacingly, were on the hunt for personal war trophies—women.

If you were a woman, especially younger, married or single, you were in danger. You were hijacked as soon as the soldiers sighted you. A wild scramble would ensue among the soldiers for the woman. A Hobbesian scramble where the strongest won the trophy. The most senior soldiers commandeered the female booty first and the others scrambled for the rest.

My maternal uncle had married a woman from the north, Mariam, and they were much in love. Mariam survived the war with us in the bush. But on the first day she returned from the war, the soldiers took her. My uncle who spoke fluent Hausa, tried to argue for his wife as much as Mariam protested her abduction. For his pain, my uncle nearly lost his life as the soldier’s bullet missed him narrowly. For days, he wept like a baby, especially as the soldier who now took over his wife was still domiciled in a barrack within our village.

Some men who dared challenge the abduction of their wives, girlfriends or sisters were openly tortured, often stripped and whipped in the village square before being thrown into detention. A man actually died protesting the abduction of his wife.

If the soldiers were pleased with the woman they’d abducted, they simply declared that they have “married” them. That’s all, no ceremonies, no further ado. In turn, the women so “married” enjoyed the privilege of regular meals, something Biafran returnees could not boast of. During and after the war, food was scarce and everyone scrounged for food anywhere you could. After the war, the loads of Biafran currency at our disposal were useless. With no money to buy food, survival was still a tricky business. Some of us fetched water and firewood for the soldiers in exchange for foods, often a leftover from their regular military rations.

So many of the abducted women forcefully “married” to the soldiers soon began to bear children for their abductors. In time, the women adjusted to their new reality, but that was only for a while. Years later when civility was restored, many of such marriages never survived, although many children were produced from their union. But the stigma of their abduction and insinuation of being defiled by strangers remained with the women, ruining future marital life of many of such women.

In wars, women had often borne the brunt of savage abuses. During  World War 11, the Japanese imperial army turned hundreds of thousands of girls into the so-called “comfort women”, a euphemism for sex slaves offered to relieve the fighting men. Much of the comfort women were abducted from conquered territories. The comfort women served much larger strategic objective. They were used to defuse potential revolt or emotional implosion from overheated and overstressed fighting force.

In the Bosnia War, thousands of Muslim women were gang-raped by Serbian men, some of them forced to rape the women, not only to humiliate the enemy, but to impregnate them with a Serbian blood.

In Rwanda, while everyone else was hacked to death, beautiful women were spared as sex slaves. It was the story of one of such sex slaves recaptured ten years after that gave our Dele Olojede his Pulitzer Prize. A woman who had been repeatedly raped by men who killed her entire family found herself pregnant and gave birth to a son from her rapist and killer of her parents and family members. Looking at the child filled her with absolute horror. What would she do with this beautiful son of a rapist and a killer who murdered her parents and raped her? Why keep the child who so reminded her of his monstrous father and her horrible ordeal? She’d burst into paroxysm of rage against the child then remember that the boy was innocent of her father’s crime. Her emotional swing from extreme hatred for her son and maternal love of the innocent baby created a classic moral conflict which Olojede masterly captured for New York Newsday.

The forceful abduction of hundreds of teenage secondary school girls in Chibok by Boko Haram insurgents played into this typology. The speculation is that these girls would either be turned into wives or sex slaves by the insurgents. As one of the parents interviewed in the Punch puts it, the Boko Haram insurgents selected matured girls for abduction, ostensibly to turn them into wives of the insurgents. But, what fate would befall the younger girls? Perhaps, there are pedophiles among them too?

That is to say that despite their religious pretensions about what constitutes “haram” or sinful abomination in their version of Islam, these are no religious puritans at all, but mere sexual animals not any better than the soldiers who abducted the conquered women of Biafra.

It is salutary that our political leaders seemed to have recovered their humanity and decided to unite against these blood-curdling infidels who kill and maim for kicks. Nothing perhaps captured this new bipartisan spirit better than General Muhammadu Buhari’s powerful message to the Boko Harams: “The perpetrators look like human beings. They may have limbs and faces like the rest of us but they are not like us. In killing innocent people, they have become inhuman. They live outside the scope of humanity. Their mother is carnage and their father is cruelty.”



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Nyako’s toxic letter! Tue, 22 Apr 2014 00:09:33 +0000 I was in my village on Saturday when I received a text of a letter written to the eighteen Northern state governors by the Governor of Adamawa State, Vice Admiral Muritala Nyako (rtd.), complaining of genocide against the North by the federal administration under President Goodluck Jonathan.]]>

I was in my village on Saturday when I received a text of a letter written to the eighteen Northern state governors by the Governor of Adamawa State, Vice Admiral Muritala Nyako (rtd.), complaining of genocide against the North by the federal administration under President Goodluck Jonathan. In normal circumstances, I would have immediately forwarded the letter either to The Sun newspaper’s Managing Director, Femi Adesina, or to one of the editors. But the letter was so hateful, so unbelievably inflammatory, rambling, convoluted, divisive, subversive and in my layman’s view, even potentially treasonable I decided not to forward it to Sun editors for fear that they might mistake my doing so, as perhaps, a vicarious endorsement to use it at its face value.

In these crazy days where men and women are walking on their heads, doing unimaginable things, I was skeptical that Admiral Nyako, a long-term member of the Nigerian ruling class, right from the Nigerian Civil War days where he fought as an officer, to his days as a member of the Armed Forces Ruling Council, could actually write such a letter. Could a fifth columnist not have forged such a toxic trash and foisted Nyako’s name on it, waiting for a gullible audience to swallow it?

It is difficult to forget, for instance, that in a bid to score political points, a bogus online article, bearing the name of an American author, which linked the suspended Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, with funding of Boko Haram insurgents, was alas, traced to the president’s Special Assistant on New Media, Reno Omokri. The ominous silence of the Presidency since that infamous snafu had meant that you must be most circumspect in what you believe, that there is so much disinformation going on it is no longer safe to rush to conclusion on any material, either online or in print. When barely hours after Nyanya bombing that killed 75 people in Abuja, PDP’s National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, rushed out a press statement, accusing opposition APC of being behind the attack, it became evident that in these times, decency and order have left our shores.

But all these infractions pale into insignificance beside the toxic letter purportedly written by Nyako. To my greatest shock, it turned out that Admiral Nyako actually wrote the pernicious memo. Not only has Nyako not denied the letter dated April 16, the Presidency has already reacted to it, even when it appears that a large section of the media had initially applied self-censorship in publishing it. How are the mighty fallen!

According to Nyako, the military campaign to check the atrocities of Boko Haram insurgents was in fact a “full-fledged genocide” against the North; that Northerners are being massacred by federal forces at the instance of President Jonathan; that it was part of a plot to eliminate Northern elite, noting that already, attempts were made to eliminate Senate President David Mark (a Northerner) in Imo State; two Northern governors, Shehu of Borno and Emir of Kano, all by those sponsored by federal authorities; that majority of those security forces being massacred in the war against Boko Haram were Northerners, who are trained only to be eliminated by the agents of the federal administration or security agencies; that Boko Haram is a grand pretext for these genocidal onslaught against the North, including the kidnapping of school children, going to write exams, that Fulanis are being uprooted by the military from their ancestral domain where they had lived in for the past 100 years, among other unprintable garbage, which Nyako certainly knew to be total nonsense.

Reading the attack on security agencies, it is difficult to believe that Nyako was once the Chief of Naval Staff and retired as the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff, the second topmost military post. Nyako leaves us confused on whose behalf he speaks. Is he speaking for Nigeria or Boko Haram?

Perhaps, in a clever attempt to drag in the perennial and periodic whipping boys of Nigerian ethnic slaughters, the Igbo, Nyako declared that President Jonathan was from the old Eastern Region, rather than South-South, as if he was not already a military officer in 1967 when the military regime of General Yakubu Gowon carved Nigeria into twelve states in a bid to excise the old Rivers State (comprising today’s Rivers and Bayelsa States) and Cross Rivers State (comprising the present Cross River and Akwa Ibom States) from the Eastern Region.

In a crafty effort to link Jonathan’s alleged sins to the Igbo, Nyako wrote: “Nigerians, this is the first time we have collectively elected a citizen of this country from the former Eastern Nigeria, as a President. Dear citizens of Eastern Nigerian origin, please, note that this Federal administration under your son is giving you a bad name.”

Nyako ultimately compared what Jonathan was doing to the North to what Adolf Hitler did to the Jews! He wrote:

“The issue now is not between the North and the South or Northern Nigeria vs. Eastern Nigeria or Western Nigeria. We must save our communities, state and Nigeria from the Hitler-like evil-mindedness of a few. Let me remind ourselves that when Hitler walked out of the 1938 Olympics because a blackman was winning all his events, humanity pretended it did not notice the beginning of genocide; when he started tracking and killing the Jews, it talked glibly about it, as if it did not concern us; when he embarked on his racial cleansing, humanity then began to shiver but it was too late to avert disaster that engulfed the world…We have a duty not to allow our country to be taken to abyss…One is quite sure that if you (the Igbo) had condemned the cold-blooded murder of the political and military leaders of Northern and Western Nigerian origins in the night of 15 January, 1966, by your sons, it would not have led to the massacre of the innocent and the Nigerian Civil War.”

Read: Igbo beware, another massacre is on the way, unless you start condemning Jonathan each time the Boko Haram insurgents strike! In invoking the 1966 coup, the killing of the Northern and Western leaders as a justification for the massacre of the Igbo that followed, culminating in the genocidal Nigerian Civil War against the Igbo, what Nyako is doing is to once again wave the ethnic red flag to the charging bull of extremist Islamism, Boko Haram and ethnic irredentists, as a target for the next slaughter. Assuming that the governors in the Igbo states are not too busy, picking their toes, this, perhaps, is the time to stand up to Nyako’s evil designs.

In a most wicked and deliberate manner, the sins of Boko Haram would now be blamed on Igbo, and then Christians everywhere. I am, of course, aware of the genuine concern of Northern leaders that there might be attempt by the ruling party to politicise the Boko Haram insurgency for electoral benefits. But whatever the merit of such argument, it should clearly be noted that between PDP and APC leaders, there are no saints on the one side and demons on the other side.

The real lesson of the metastasis of Boko Haram in the North East states is that those who are riding on a tiger’s back at one point ultimately end up in its belly. The Niger Delta militants started, as a political tool created by politicians for extortions and partisan gains until it ultimately morphed into a Frankenstein’s monster, which sought to consume its creators. Until President Umaru Yar’Adua came up with his amnesty programme, none of the former leaders from the Delta region, as excellently articulated by the former Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Patrick Ekpotu, in his book, Lifting the Peril, could return home or sleep with both eyes in their ancestral homeland.

Pretending that President Jonathan created Boko Haram is so silly it is unbelievable that any leader could actually suggest that in writing. But, perhaps, it is the same thing, as suggesting that General Sani Abacha actually formed NADECO in order to give the opposition a bloody nose! This again is beyond politics.


The oil magnate, Elder Ekeoma, as a prophet

 Jesus says it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. In Nigeria where things are going so badly, this seems even more of a verity. So, when God started blessing the Chairman of Nepal Oil and Gas Limited, Elder E. E. Ekeoma, beyond his wildest imaginations, he decided to submit his life totally to God. That way, he is guaranteed the blessings of this life and that of eternal life.For over a decade, Elder Ekeoma combined deep spirituality with active forays in the deep end of business world, traversing financial services to dredging business and oil and gas. I should know, because he is my younger kinsman. Then, on Saturday, April 19, 2014, his faith was called to test.

Ekeoma’s beautiful daughter, Ezinne, was to be given out in traditional marriage to an America-based business man, Kelechi Nwazulu. Ekeoma and his wife, Barrister Ngozi Ekeoma, rolled out the drums to host thousands of dignitaries and ordinary folks, who thronged their country home at Amiyi village, Igbere, for the occasion. The only reason I would skip the list of dignitaries is because doing so may turn endless.

Guests arrived in private or chartered jets, commercial planes and in assorted spectacular cars. The Ekeomas had rehabilitated the access road to Amiyi and bulldozed special parking lots for vehicles. The array of security in place could wage a mini civil warfare. In fact, when it was announced that the Abia State Commissioner of Police was standing in for the Inspector General of Police, I worried if I would be safe from kidnapping to Umuahia to answer for seditious charges!

Still, in spite of the organisational dexterity and massive logistics in place, the event could be marred if it rained.

This then was Ekeoma’s test of faith. He embarked on fasting and prayer to hold the rains. Ekeoma is a man of prayers. Two weeks from the date of the event, the sky remained dry at Igbere. On the day of the celebration, the sun sizzled all through. Somewhere after 5pm, the Ekeomas were tearfully releasing their daughter to marry her heartthrob. Tears? Yes, Mrs. Ekeoma and her second daughter could not help themselves!

But for me, the point of this story is not the galactic guest lists of who-is-who of the political and corporate world or the culinary cornucopia on display. The point for me came when in Ekeoma’s speech, he began praising God for honouring his prayers to stay away the rains for the past two weeks.

“In the last two weeks, it has not rained in Igbere,” he declared, urging the guests not to take the good weather for granted. “But from tomorrow and days ahead, watch out for the rains.”

I wondered at his audacity. “Is he a rain prophet?” Mike Awoyinfa, who sat beside me asked. The answer came the following day, Sunday. We got back to Lagos with 9.45 am Arik flight on Sunday. From 3pm, the sky opened up in a downpour in Lagos, Aba and Igbere!

I called Ekeoma. “You are not just good at hosting a mega event in Igbere, your prophecy about rain has also come to pass,” I said, reminded of Elijah, urging King Ahab to run to the city after years of draught because rain was on the way.

“It’s God’s doing,” Ekeoma said, sounding fatigued and modest. “We give him all the glory. It’s also raining here in Igbere. God is making it obvious why we should serve him the more.”

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Fashola versus Obanikoro: The limits of politics Tue, 08 Apr 2014 00:27:35 +0000 It is quite expected that as the election year draws close, the fireworks will increase and the brickbats would start flying. In Lagos State, as in every other parts of the country, the tempo of politicking and jostling for power is spiraling to the top. And, it is quite expected. In the jostle for power in Nigeria, Lagos State is arguably the next biggest trophy after the presidency.

It has been generally acknowledged that in Lagos, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, alias, BRF, has  raised the benchmark in achievements and governance. You may not always agree with him, but he has surely done so much in his two terms that the next governor coming after him will have a tough act to follow.

But that does not mean that the opposition PDP is going to send him greeting cards for a job well done. On the contrary, PDP legitimately wants to take Lagos from the ruling APC. And, they are entitled to such ambition.

It is in the spirit of such legitimate aspiration that PDP is picking holes in Fashola’s programmes and in effect, the ruling APC. This is not any different from the way APC is hurling missiles at President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration at the federal level. The fact is that APC wants to kick out Jonathan from power next year and they are doing a good job of punching holes in Jonathan’s report card.

But whether at the federal or state level, there must be limits to politicking. At the federal level, such limits are drawn when the national security is involved, when the overall welfare of the Nigerian people is at stake. Any politicking that ignores the interest and overall welfare of the people is ultimately anti-people. In the quest for political advantages, this principle must be uppermost in the mind of our political gladiators.

But in Lagos State, it seems that this red line is about to be trampled underfoot in the quest for political advantages. Nothing illustrates this point better than the ongoing disputation between Fashola and the Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musliu Obanikoro. On Wednesday, Fashola raised alarm that Obanikoro used soldiers to stop work at the Illubirin Housing Project. Fashola had awarded contract for the construction of 1,188 flats at a reclaimed land in Illubirin, but Obanikoro stopped work on the project with soldiers, on the grounds that the land belonged to the federal government and Fashola had obtained no permission from the relevant federal agencies, including Ministry of Works, National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) and Power Holding Company of Nigeria, (PHCN).

Fashola, however, argued that the land belonged to the state government, that the contract for the reclamation was awarded to Julius Berger by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu administration, that since reclamation, the land had been lying fallow for five years until he awarded the contract, then the Federal Government showed up to put up a signboard claiming ownership of the land. Fashola said that soldiers acting on the instruction of Federal agents also stopped work at Oyingbo where the state government was putting up a 48 flat housing for the people.

The argument as to who really owns these pieces of land may go on ad infinitum, perhaps, as the wheel of judicial process crawls endlessly. If the case goes to court, it might take the next 20 years to exhaust. Meanwhile, the housing projects that would have been inherited by over 1,200 families would be put on hold.

I find the arguments funny, dysfunctional , counterproductive and anti-people mainly because they represent loud echoes of unpleasant but familiar past. During the First Republic politics, it was said that the premiers of Eastern and Western region would bulldoze or relocate projects from any area that failed to vote for them to areas they got the votes. In those days in the Eastern region, the fear of Dr. M. I. Okpara’s fury was the beginning of wisdom. If gravels had been dropped to pave roads to your area or electrical poles had been mounted and your people voted for the opposition, then the gravels were removed and the electrical poles uprooted. Such scorched-earth policy was a warning for dissenting voices to comply. It worked only because it was still in our nascent years of grappling with power and politics. In that sense, our politics should have moved on.

Unfortunately, under President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, a variant of this scorched-earth policy was reenacted. The Minister of Works, Chief Ogunlewe, a Lagosian from Ikorodu who was a PDP chieftain with his eyes on the governor’s seat, tackled Governor Tinubu of the then AC, from every corner. There was near-bloodshed when Tinubu tried to clear Marina waterfront of miscreants who created traffic mayhem, because the minister said it was a federal territory. The logic of politics then was to frustrate all developmental initiatives that would give the opponent a boasting right. The notion was that if you were allowed to achieve things, you could use them as a campaign tool to retain power, so better achieve nothing to create the ground for you to lose power.

Ogunlewe unleashed his boys on Tinubu’s boys creating a bloody clash. For instance, the old Western Avenue, a major arterial road that leads to Lagos Island, became impassable but the federal government would neither repair the road nor allow Lagos State government to rehabilitate it. At the height of it, Ogunlewe created what looked like a parallel government. Ironically, while most of these took place, Obanikoro was one of Tinubu’s commissioners who were even touted as one of his potential successors. Then Obanikoro switched camps to the federal side, becoming one of Obasanjo’s lightning rods against the Tinubu forces.

In the midst of this politicking, the people suffered. But, the coming of President Umaru Yar’Adua reversed all that. Yar’Adua was clearly not interested in dysfunctional politics, but rather politics that serves the interest of the people. He reportedly told Fashola, “Governor, go and do your job.”

Yar’Adua’s statesmanship meant that Fashola had no opposition when he cleared miscreants from the Marina and repaired the Western Avenue now named Funsho Williams Avenue. That created convenience for everybody, irrespective of party affiliations.

In the beginning, Fashola’s vision included construction of two major mass transit rail transport system, one from Agege to Lagos and another from Badagry to Lagos. While the construction work in the Badagry line took off, heading to Okokomaiko, that of Agege which was to run on old rail track of the Nigeria Railways from Agege to Iddo is yet to take off, ostensibly because the state government, over the years, is still to get approval from the federal authorities. That is the classic story of politics of the bureaucracy. In effect, when Obanikoro was asking Fashola to get approval from three major federal agencies, assuming for the purpose of mere argument that the land in question actually belonged to the federal government, he knew exactly what he was driving at—politics! Dysfunctional and unproductive politics.

This then brings us to another point. The official position is that Nigeria’s housing need is in short of 16 million houses. We may be the largest economy in Africa, but our people need housing badly. I am not aware that one of the achievements of the Jonathan administration included providing affordable housing that could make a dent in the 16 million houses that are lacking. In May last year, Co-ordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, announced that Jonathan administration was targeting 200,000 low-cost houses in the next five years, to be supported by the World Bank. None of these 200,000 houses has been delivered, and even if they were, they remain a far-cry from the 16 million housing shortage.

I was a guest at the launch of a private-sector driven Goodluck Jonathan Housing Estate in Abuja by Good Earth Group, when an American investor warned that nobody would invest in Nigeria’s housing and mortgage market without a fundamental reform of our convoluted and unfriendly land laws. It is this unfriendly land laws that the likes of Obanikoro are invoking to shut out the 1,200 housing units Fashola was building for low income earners in Illubirin and Oyingbo.

If Fashola builds the houses, it is likely that APC leaders who are the targets of Obanikoro’s politics, would not live in those houses. Actually, the political elite live in better housing than communal flats. It is the middle class, the very people Obanikoro is ostensibly seeking to serve that would be the ultimate beneficiary. If the houses are not built because of politics of land ownership between the federal and Lagos State government, the real losers are the people of Lagos State.

Isn’t it curious, by the way, that these land disputes are conducted on the pages of newspapers rather than through recognized channels of official communication? In the normal world, you required the approval of the Commander in chief for the deployment of soldiers. How come that nowadays, soldiers are now used at the instance of junior ministers to seal off housing projects as if the Nigerian police are on holidays? Politics, politics, politics? Damned politics!

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