Friday, January 13, 2012

Africa, o Africa!

“My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.” – 1Kings 12:11

For a writer, Africa is both immensely fascinating and infuriatingly repelling. The hugely blessed and beautiful continent that could enthrall so magically is equally capable of aggravating one to death. The same continent that is so full of pleasant surprises could also makes one want to pull one’s air out in anguish.
Where else on earth but Africa do people so lack consideration for their fellow human beings that they think nothing of organizing religious jamborees in the middle of the night with drums, shouts and wailings?

And should one be bold enough and dare to confront the pastor or pastoress (or prophet or prophetess) about the illegality being committed in the name of religion; one is met with incredulous stares and dubious questions of why one is against the preaching of Jesus Christ.

“No, I am not against the preaching of Jesus or anyone, but I just would like to sleep.”

“But we are worshipping god.”

“You don’t have to worship your god at ungodly hours.”

“Ah, but we can worship god at any time.”

“You most certainly can, but in the confine of your home and without disturbing my sleep. It should be possible to talk to your god without all the pantomime of noises.”

“We don’t make noise, we praise god. That is all we do.”

“With nightly drums and shouting?”

“It is written in the Bible.”


There are laws in this country against noise-making after certain hours. There are laws in the land against citing of places of worship in residential areas. But it seems like, in the name of imported religions, our people can break laws as they wish and with the law-enforcement agents not doing a darn thing about it.

It looks like professing to worship any of the alien religions we have in Africa is license to break the law at will. And it also looks like people have been made to reconcile themselves into the unholy and ungodly behavior of having their sleeps truncated by shameless charlatans who pretend to stand between man and his creator.

Why can’s people get it into their heads that their freedom stop at other people’s noses? Why is it so difficult for modern Africans to know that taking other people’s feelings into consideration should form part of a good upbringing? We were brought up to respect other people’s rights. So, why can’t many people nowadays learn that it is just simple etiquette not to unduly aggravate one’s neighbours? Why is it so difficult to accept that laws are not mere suggestions, but are made to be obeyed?

And when are we in Africa going to realize that discipline is a pre-requisite for an orderly society and is the foundation of all civilizations?

African politics is another bewildering phenomenon. Callousness and insensitive does not even begin to describe our political class in Africa.

Our politicians always manage to collar large chunk of national budgets for their upkeep; no long-winded debates or party divisions there. Almost every political appointee in the land gets, apart from basic salary, free accommodation, transportation and other emoluments.

Even with all the outrageous pay and emoluments they awarded themselves, the rapacious and thoroughly avaricious political class takes absolutely no interest in solving any of the myriads of problems confronting the society.

And hefty paychecks are surely no guarantee that our politicians will stop from dipping their filthy hands into the national kitty as evidenced by the numerous scandals splashed in our media.
Without any sense of shame whatever, politicians in Ghana take pride in boasting about who between them is able to garner the largest loan.

It is only in Africa that people will beat chest in congratulations for ability to negotiate a US$3 billion loan from China, totally forgetting that modern China is just eleven years older than our dear republic.

And notwithstanding the mouth-watering pay they get, all our politicians apparently do was wage useless media war against one another - contributing their quota to unnecessarily raising the level of anxiety in the land.

At the end of their unmeritorious four-year term, these political jobbers splash themselves with ultra generous severance pay and what they term ex-gratia.

No one bother to tell the citizens what they ought to be grateful for. Little wonder that politics has become a do-or-die affair in Africa, or is it do-and-die?

Nigerian and Kenyan politicians are believed to be the highest paid in the world. While Kenya seems to be finding its way, Nigeria is clearly a failed state tottering on break-up as the Americans predicted it would in 2015.
Today in Nigeria, citizens are mouthing what is considered unthinkable just few years ago: “The soldiers must come back.”

President Goodluck Jonathan, the first Nigerian leader to brandish a Ph.D, is clearly a man totally out of his depth. He is as visionless as he is clueless and he is totally bereft of ideas.
Nigeria has never been blessed with great leadership, but Lucky Joe’s regime is such a monumental failure that it defies categorization.

Nigeria has never had it so bad. Not even at the height of the civil war did the generality of Nigerians feel as insecure and as helpless as they are today. And not since the twilight of the Gowon’s regime has the country been as rudderless as it is today.

Despite billions of naira voted for security, lives of Nigerians are being snuffed out like cheap candles.

It is sad to watch such a beautiful and once-promising country like Nigeria reduced to its present sorry state.

Until few years ago, few Nigerians would have believed it possible that their nation would become the Iraq or Afghanistan of West Africa. And until recent years, few would have believed that seemingly fun-crazed Nigerians will spawn suicide-bombers.

And while his (let’s settle for his country) is collapsing around him, Lucky Joe is fiddling. He spent his first few months pre-occupied with campaign for tenure elongation. Precious presidential time was spent canvassing that the idea that a four-year term was too short.

And whilst Boko Haram terrorists rain bombs on Nigerians, their president was rather focused on removing IMF-inspired so-called fuel subsidy.

Several civic organisations have rubbished the idea that the Nigerian government in any way subsidized fuel in the country. They have published data to show that fuel is most expensive in Nigeria among OPEC members. Their data clearly shows that the selling price at N65 per liter is way above the production cost.

Yet, while pretending to be negotiating with stake-holders, Lucky Joe announced the removal.

And the timing, good gracious!

Even were the arguments for the removal of fuel subsidy not to be so specious, the timing is simply atrocious. Does it have to be announced when Nigerians are busy trying to enjoy their New Year holidays? And does it have to be announced at a time of heightened security tension in the country?

Would a two or even four weeks delay break the economy?

Talking about breaking economy, what could be more economy-bursting than the latest budget that Lucky Joe presented?

While the Nigerian government was parroting the IMF-scripted nonsense about fuel subsidy, the Nigerian budget contained provision for the following items as published by a Nigerian paper:

• N280 million for two bullet proof Mercedes Benz saloon 600 E Guard at N140 million each

• N356.72 million for new vehicles in the presidential fleet

• 5 Mercedes Benz 350 (semi plain/partial bullet proof) at N25 million each, 10 jeeps (assorted - Range Rover, Prado and Land Cruiser) at N10 million each, and accessories for these vehicles will cost N25 million

• N57.43 million to upgrade facilities at the Presidential Villa

• N127.50 million to overhaul power generating sets

• N512.385 million to refurbish the family wing of the main residence

• N385.35 million for land reclamation at the State House Medical Centre

• N101.67 million for the rehabilitation of transformer substation in the villa

• N97.95 million for extension/expansion of State House car parks (The more SUVs and cars you accumulate the more ground you need to park them in!)

• N108 million for communication equipment at the Villa, Dodan Barracks and vice president's guest house

• N36.88 million to rehabilitate presidential/ministerial chalet at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, despite spending/budgeting N48 million for this last year

• N52.87 million to rehabilitate 10 presidential houses on Ibrahim Taiwo Street, Abuja, despite allocating/spending N101 million

• N530.57 million to rehabilitate the State House and Dodan Barracks, despite spending/allocating N628.64 million this year on the two properties

• N357.731 million for repairs and renovation of the administrative building at the Villa, despite allocating/spending N302.29 million on this last year

• N62.23 million for the rehabilitation of the banquet hall dome roof, despite allocating/spending N81 million on the roof last year

• N992.57 million for feeding the president and the vice president

So, while the elite shamelessly plead with citizens to tighten their belts, they are busy splashing the country’s wealth on their lavish lifestyles.

And Lucky Joe who told tale of going to school sans shoes to win elections, today is budgeting one billion naira to feed himself and his deputy!

Nigerians are rightly asking questions. Top of these are:
1. What has the government done with all the oil and other revenues it collected over the years?
2. And what happened to the US$41 billion dollars debt the government borrowed since its inception in 2007, having inherited zero debt from the Obasanjo governmnet?
3. Why has the foreign reserve being depleted from US$80 billion to US$33 billion and what has the money been used for?

It is difficult to argue with those that says Goodluck Jonathan is the worst ever president in Nigeria - a country that has had its share of truly appalling rulers.

Here was a man who is facing immense security challenges from the Boko Haram insurgency, but decided to add more to his problem by, literally, throwing down a gauntlet to his own people.

Luck Joe has 36 ministers and is said to have more than one hundred advisors, including one for beans and Cassava affais. Why can’t a single one of these so-called advisors tell the Bossman that removal of so-call oil subsidy will galvanise the populace like no other idiotic thing? Why can’t they tell him that it is only an insane and utterly stupid general that seek unnecessary fight while waging a major battle.

Now lucky Joe is forced to use the security people who should be confronting the menace of Boko Haram to face and beat up Nigerians protesting an ill-advised and wrongly timed provocation.
Cry the beloved country!

Happy New year to everyone.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Obasanjo Agonistes

[Note: I wrote this piece in the year 2007 and, given recent happenings in Nigeria, I believe it deserves a republishing].
“Ti iya nla ba gbeni sanle, awon kekeke a ma gori eni.” – Yoruba proverb. English translation would be something like: “When a great calamity befalls a man, tiny indignities will start to pile atop.”
It is very difficult for me not to feel sorry for former Nigerian President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Less than a year ago, Uncle Sege, as he’s fondly called, was a master of all that he surveyed. Today, his image lay in ruins. It is as though every Nigerian needs to take a swipe at the Ota chief in order to feel better.

Sometime in 2007, I wrote a rejoinder to one Godwin Offoaro who was among the advocates of Chief Obasanjo’s elongation of his presidential term. I wrote, inter alia: “I believe that Chief Obasanjo will be doing a great disservice to himself, his family, the Yoruba race and the Nigerian nation if he should listen to the Offoaros of this world. As a born-again Christian, Chief Obasanjo is undoubtedly unaware of the fact that it is those who cry “Hossanah,” today who are going to be crying “Crucify him,” tomorrow.

I don’t know if he reads articles on the internet, but those close to Chief Obasanjo and those who truly love him should advice him to quit when his term ends. He has no business listening to people like Chief Offoaro. “

How prophetic!

Less than a year after he quit being President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo is being daily lampooned by critics left and right.
Those corrupt, self-serving and envelope-chasing, shameless lot that call themselves journalists in Nigeria are using Obasanjo’s name to sell the scandal-mongering junks they call newspapers! And on the net, we have the arm-chair critics, many of them brandishing PhDs, telling bare-faced lies in order to bash Uncle Sege!

I hold no brief for Chief Obasanjo. Except for a brief encounter at the Amsterdam airport long time ago, I have never met the man.
And in all honesty, he's simply too crude for my liking. But I am outraged whenever my intelligence is assaulted. How on earth can any thinking human being claim that the Obasanjo’s regime was the worst ever in the history of Nigeria?

This is clearly an affront.

I was too young to remember regimes up to the Ironsi brief tenure. But I have being a witness to Nigeria’s governance since Gowon and I hereby challenge anyone, I repeat, anyone to come out and tell us which other government has performed better that the Obasanjo’s regime. It might be true that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed is the king. But so far as achievements are concern, no other Nigerian leader even come close to chief Obasanjo impressive records.

Chief Obasanjo is certainly no saint; no human being is. But let’s learn to give credit where it is due.
For crying out loud, the man spent eight years ruling Nigeria and brought a modicum of respectability to the country. Of course, the roads are still in terrible shape. The electricity generation and distribution systems are still in shambles and a host of other things. But Chief Obasanjo successfully tackled the telecommunication sector. He effectively reformed the banking sector. He paid off Nigeria’s debt. He left the Nigerian treasury in better shape than he met it. If every Nigerian leader has registered the same modest achievement, the country will not be in the sorry state it is today.

Below are some of the things Chief Obasanjo did and for which he deserves credit. And I ask those criticizing him to tell us which other Nigerian leader can boast of the same achievements.

Nigeria’s external debt and reserve: Chief Obasanjo inherited a looted treasury brimming only with crippling external debt. At the end of his tenure, these debts have not only been paid back, but he left a respectable (US$30+billion) reserves in the country’s external accounts. And some people are arguing that the man’s eight years tenure was wasted!

Nigeria’s international image: I do not know where these critics were living before the second coming of Chief Obasanjo. What is not in question, as any honest and honourable person will attest, is that Nigeria’s external image then was at the lowest ebb possible. Nigeria was then equated only with dictatorship and 419ers. The country lost its voices at international forum. Nigeria was a pariah state and its attempt to galvanized support for a UN seat was seen as a bad joke.

Employing Nigerian human talents: At least all his critic admits that Chief Obasanjo is a totally-detribalised Nigerian. His Yoruba critics apparently are miffed because he refused to use his presidential terms to promote a Yoruba agenda. His Hausa critics are angry because they believe that he clipped the wings of the Northern oligarchists. What is difficult to understand his where his Igbo critics are coming from?

No other Nigerian leader has given the Igbo the same high-profile appointments accorded them by Chief Obasanjo. And yet, even those Igbos who choose to praise him had to qualify their credit. Of course, Doctors Okonjo-Iweala,Oby Ezekwesili and Soludo are brainy, world class technocrats. But Nigeria would have been deprived of their huge talents had Chief Obasanjo not brought them aboard.

Telecommunication: Pre-Obasanjo’s Nigeria was in the stone sage, tele-communication-wise. Under the regime of General Abdulsalami, yours truly was arrested in Nigeria by a police constable who believed that only armed robbers and drug pushers needed mobile phone. My plea that mobile phones are common things in Ghana where I live fell on deaf ears. Today, Nigeria is numero uno in Africa in mobile telephony usage.

Reforms in the banking sector: The London-based New African magazine in its April 2008 edition has a supplementary on Nigeria. In it we read about the tremendous strides Nigerian banks are making with some of them now listed on the London Exchange. Any traveler in the West African sub-region cannot but notice the presence of Nigerian banks.

What Chief Obasanjo and his team did with the Nigerian banking sector is nothing short of revolutionary. The question is: to whom do the chief’s critics credited with this achievement?

The EFCC: On fighting corruption, there is no single Nigerian or even African leader (with the possible exception of Ghana’s Jerry Rawlings) who has fought tenaciously against corruption like Chief Obasanjo. Again, the record is clear.

Who but a child born today hasn’t heard of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission? And may we ask these critics whom they credited with setting up the EFCC?

I am not at all arguing that corruption has been entirely removed from Nigeria. What is clear is that corrupt leaders today no longer enjoy the same type of impunity they enjoyed in pre-EFCC days! And the notorious 419ers have had their operations heavily curtailed.

The EFCC recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. Among its achievements, the commission claimed to have recovered cash and assets worth US$500 billion from corrupt leaders. This is very solid achievements in anyone’s book. We are entitled to ask the Obasanjo bashers why they keep hammering upon corruption under his regime and not mentioning the staggering sum recovered by his government.

I do not argue that Obasanjo is not corrupt. No, the argument here is: which Nigerian leader has fought corruption and recovered any money for the nation apart from Chief Obasanjo? This includes even the muscular despotism of General Buhari.
Even if he’s corrupt, Chief Obasanjo couldn’t have stolen upward of 500 billion dollars which still puts him on the credit side. Uncle Sege might be corrupt, or he might not. I simply have no evidence. The onus is upon those accusing him to provide evidence of his corruption. It is part of our civic responsibilities to report cases of corruption to institutions like the EFCC.

Why on earth is difficult to believe that the man could have borrowed the money for his businesses from the banks as he claimed? Which collateral is more solid than the Presidency of the nation? It might be unethical to abuse the privileges of his office, but it’d be a lesser offence than looting the commonwealth!
I thought the most successful entrepreneurs are those most able to use their connections. Case in point: a Nigerian, Dangote, is reputed to be Africa’s richest man. As far as I know, no one is accusing Alhaji Dangote of corruption.

The post-Abacha Nigeria was a disaster waiting to happen. It was a morally and financially bankrupt nation wallowing in financial debt and international opprobrium. It was a pariah state in every sense of the world. It was a nation tottering on breakup. Few Nigerians dare call it a home.

Although we have not reached the Promised Land yet, but most Nigerians I talk to today believe in the viability of the Nigerian Project. Today, many of us proudly call ourselves Nigerians. And may I please ask to whom these Obasanjo-bashers would give the credit of rescuing us from the rot to?
Even if only because he made it possible for us to call and talk to our loved ones at home with ease, we ought to salute that singular achievement!

Those of us that make it our business (most especially the analysts among us) to inform should be circumspect in getting our facts and figures right. The onus is upon us to be disciplined enough not to allow our emotions and personal grudges to becloud our sense of judgment and objectivity. We owe it to posterity to strive to set the records straights as others might be tempted to use our pieces as sources for their research. That’s my plea!

Given the vituperation directed against the person of Chief Obasanjo, I think mayhap Nigerians deserve the type of otiose leadership they have been getting over the years. Most of the so-called Nigerian analysts I read are too myopic. Most of them apparently cannot see or reason beyond their nose. This makes me wonder why they choose to become disseminators of information rather than fiction writers!

The question Nigerians have to ask themselves is whether or not a society can prosper where members see nothing good in one another. What good can come out of a country where citizens fanatically believe in rubbishing each other?

Wise saying:

" Never use both feet to test the depth of the sea." - African proverb