Monday, August 31, 2009

Lagos Drivers' Certification Card and FRSC

Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola last week launched the Driver Re-certification Card. The card - which will be issued by the Lagos State Drivers’ Institute - will be a pre-requisite for driving on Lagos roads for both commercial and private drivers. However, according to Mr Kayode Opeifa (Special Adviser on Transportation), the card is not a substitute for the national driving licence - administered by the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC). But as part of the scheme, commercial and professional drivers will need to undergo annual re-training at the Lagos State Drivers’ Institute.

Whilst Gov. Fashola should be commended for initiative, there are two issues with this project that concerns me. Firstly, why the need for annual re-training? For starters, Nigeria is the only place I’m aware of, where holders of a national drivers’ licence are required to undertake a re-certification training by a state government. Okay let’s even accept that every driver in Lagos needs to be re-trained, because it is no secret that majority of drivers’ licence holders in Nigeria never visited a test centre talk less sit a driving test. I wouldn’t even be surprised if they don’t know what the “highway code” looks like. But having said that, how many times do you really need to be trained? Is the Lagos state government saying that road traffic rules in Lagos are so dynamic that one needs to be trained annually? I find this laughable to say the least. In most parts of the world, drivers are usually required to undergo re-assessment when they reach the age of 70years. And this is quite understandable. The introduction of a ‘world-class’ training facility for drivers and at the same time subjecting them to annual training seems contradictory. If a driver a properly trained to international standard once, then we re-train annually. Already, there are sections of the society who are saying the annual re-training is just a money making exercise. But can you really blame such conspiracy theorists, when such a policy cannot in anyway be justified.

I do not blame Gov. Fashola for introducing an initiative that is a core responsibility of a federal agency. It is quite understandable that there are significant traffic issues in Lagos he needs to deal with. And it has become apparent that the FRSC is incompetent in this regard. However, the introduction of driver re-certification if not checked could create chaos in the system. This of course brings me to the second issue. What will happen, if other states decide to pursue the same agenda? Does that mean a commercial driver that travels interstate will have to undertake a “re-certification training” in every state of the federation? The fact remains that there is no legislation that compels any state to accept a drivers’ certificate issued by another state.

Whether the project succeeds or not, Gov. Fashola’s initiative has again exposed the ineptitude of the FRSC in discharging its statutory responsibilities. The failure of the FRSC in the area of driver and vehicular licensing cannot be overemphasised; hence Gov. Fashola’s re-certification scheme. One of the reasons why the FRSC was established was “ to design the driver’s license to be used by all vehicle operators and to determine from time to time, the requirement to be satisfied by an applicant for a driver’s license”. But unfortunately, applicants have to navigate through an arduous bureaucratic process that has almost entirely been hijacked by touts, fraudsters and corrupt government officials. For a paltry some of N5,000 you could have a licence delivered to your front door without undergoing any form of test or assessment. Whether an applicant is medically fit to drive a car is not even an issue. As a result, there are lots of drivers on our roads who lack understanding of basic road traffic rules. Some are even mentally deficient.

The Lagos project therefore calls into question the role of the FRSC in driver and vehicle licensing. According to Mr Wole Olaniran, the Zonal Commanding Officer of the Federal Road Safety Corps Zone 2, “the initiative of the Lagos State government for the annual re-certification of drivers in the state, should be emulated by other states and the private sector”. He further added that Driver’s Recertification Card will help checkmate the issuance of fake national driver’s license and entrench sanity on Nigeria’s roads. But does it mean that the FRSC is now absolving itself from its statutory responsibilities? Yes I agree that card could help checkmate forgery, but what has been the FRSC effort at tackling forgery since its creation? What if the state is not blessed with a proactive Governor such as Fashola? I consider the statement of the Zonal Commander as an indictment of an agency that seems to have lost focus. Is he publicly calling for state governments and private sector to take over the functions of the FRSC? The fact that a state government re-certification card now takes precedence over the national drivers licence only makes a mockery of the federal government licensing scheme. What is the purpose of a FRSC national drivers’ license that you can “buy” for N5,000 when you still need to obtain a re-certification card before you can drive?

The efforts of the likes of Gov. Fashola should however be used to put pressure on the Federal govt to officially absolve itself from duties that are primary functions of a state government. The current situation is totally at odds with the principle of “federalism”. And in order to forestall chaos in the system, my advice to the government is, if the federal government still intends to be in control of vehicle and driver licensing, then it is imperative that the FRSC is strengthened to deliver on its responsibilities. An alternative is a review of the functions of the FRSC, with the aim of transferring vehicle and driver licensing to respective state governments, as it would be expected in a genuine federal system. This will however require changes to the legislation, which will compel state governments to accept drivers’ licence issued from other states. The FRSC should therefore be made to focus on road safety and development of appropriate driving standards.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Political Parties and Electoral Reform

The public reaction to the ruling of the elections petition tribunal sitting in Ogun State, in favour of the incumbent governor Gbenga Daniel was not surprising. The lopsidedness of our electoral system means that the odds are heavily stacked against any opposition. Our democratic system is one of the only few where an incumbent political party does not lose elections. The “absolute” power enjoyed by the incumbent, makes it virtually impossible for any opposition. In a situation where the President controls the electoral commission and law enforcement agents what can we expect? Even in cases where we have had election re-run as result of tribunal ruling, the incumbent still returns to power, even with larger votes! As seen recently in Ekiti State.

The public reaction to ruling against the opposition although expected, should however be treated with caution. As one would expect, the Action Congress (AC) supporters are always quick to point fingers at the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). When PDP win elections, we are constantly reminded of rigging, violence, intimidation etc. When an appeal is lost at the tribunal, the opposition is always quick to say that the Judges have been bribed. Yes I agree that some of that these things do happen, but the question is, does this make the opposition party a “saint”? Does it mean that opposition parties are not involved in rigging? Are we saying opposition parties have never offered bribes to tribunal judges or electoral commissioners? The fact remains that elections in Nigeria are won by the party with best “rigging” machinery. The difference between the incumbent and opposition is that, whilst the opposition employs the services of thugs, the incumbent uses the state apparatus (Police, Army etc). And from a layman’s perspective, a Policeman stuffing a ballot box is worse than a political thug intimidating voters. Also collating election results at the Police station is more serious than inclusion of fictitious names on the voters’ register. But really is one form of electoral fraud worse than another?

It was the same issue when the opposition party candidate in Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola was arrested and charged to court for forgery recently. The Inspector-General of Police alleged that the Police report tendered by Aregbesola is support of his appeal was indeed “forged”. As we will expect, the arrest was seen as another “government magic”. Many political and social commentators saw it as a ploy to suppress the opposition, but thank goodness that we are in democracy. The case is now in court, and it is up to the court to decide if the report was indeed forged. My argument on the issue has always been it is irrelevant if it took the Police twelve months to realise that the report was forged. The most important thing is to establish if it was forged or not. And if the report was forged, the Police have every right to charge him to court. An opposition that is engaged in forgery is no better than the incumbent that has rigged itself into power. We need to start calling a spade a spade, and not just an agricultural instrument.

I understand people’s frustration with the PDP. I agree that the PDP has offered us NOTHING for the last ten years since its being in power. But are the opposition parties any different. What is in the manifesto of AC, PPA, DPA, and ANPP? For me, the current group of political parties are no different from each other. Whilst they may have different names, their ideology and principle are all same – if any! These are parties founded on self-preservation and greed. The parties only provide a platform for people to seek political office, have a bite of the national cake and nothing more.

We have often criticised Former President Obasanjo and PDP for intimidating all the PDP presidential aspirants in 2007in order to pave way for Umar Yar’Adua. It is common knowledge that some of the former governors were even threatened with prosecution. However, how is that different from how Gov. Raji Fashola emerged? Was the imposition of Raji Fashola on AC candidates better than the intimidation of PDP presidential aspirants? Is that what we call democracy? The Fashola issue has however been swept under the carpet because of his popularity. However, if Umar Yar’Adua has also been performing, then how PDP conducted its Presidential primaries might also have been a “dead issue”.

My position is that the clamour for “genuine” electoral reform should be devoid of party partisanship. The interest of the nation should be of utmost importance. The current electoral system is not working, and voters are the biggest losers. Let’s not be deceived, even if an AC candidate becomes President in 2011 under the current system, the issues we have will still remain. Then it will be the PDP crying foul. The challenge with our electoral system is not about political parties. It is the system that has encouraged fraud, thuggery etc. Let’s continue to put pressure on the govt for a genuine electoral reform, instead of shouting AC/PDP or crying wolf. The Justice Uwais Panel report on Electoral Reform is a very comprehensive document. However, the govt has been “cherry picking” which aspect suits it most in order to further perpetuate itself in power. This approach cannot be right. Why can’t we have a healthy debate on the report has presented. I’m not canvassing for a total adoption of all its recommendations because some might not be practical. But the report represents a major starting point.

Monday, August 24, 2009

REJOINDER: "The Rise and Fall of a Man by Dele Momodu

It is no more news that five banking executives were sacked by the CBN because of their banks’ exposure to excessively high level of non-performing loans. This exposure according to the CBN Governor was attributable to poor corporate governance practices, lax credit administration processes and the absence or non-adherence to credit risk management practices

The media however has been awash with all sorts of stories and conspiracy theories following the sacking of these five CEOs . Opinion seems divided. Some argue that the CBN Governor Lamido Sanusi, is only acting the scripts of the Northern Oligarchs who lost out during the last bank consolidation exercise. Some say, he is out to make an impression, and the only way he can do that is to rubbish Prof. Chukwuma Soludo’s legacy of banking consolidation. One article that however caught my attention was Chief Dele Momodu's titled “The rise and fall of a man”.

The article seems to focus on the public reaction to the recent sacking. Dele Momodu is of the opinion that we are a nation of envious people, looking for every opportunity launch scathing attacks on successful people within the society. He further noted that we have become so disillusioned, and therefore incapable of objective reasoning. According to him “No one was ready to give them (Banks CEOs) the benefit of the doubt. Nigerians have become too disillusioned. Everyman we see with a measure of success must be a rogue”. Mr Momodu also couldn’t understand how a man who spent his whole life in banking profession, and that was seen shaking hands with the Sultan of Sokoto days before his sack can be subject of savage media attack.

I’m in agreement with Dele Momodu that it is inappropriate for any person to gloat over the misery other individuals, especially if you are ignorant of the facts behind their travails. However, the recent sacking of the banking executives is somewhat different. Most of the stories reported in the media about the allegations of impropriety against the executives were not concocted out of rumours. Let’s get this right. The CBN conducted an investigation. The bank executives were found guilty of sharp banking practices, and the CBN took appropriate action.

So what exactly is the gist of Mr Momodu’s write-up? Is he saying that envy is only peculiar to Nigeria? Does he want us to believe that the ‘Pull Him Down” syndrome only exists in the DNA of the average Nigerian. Or is Dele Momodu agitating for a soft landing for the sacked CEOs?

Envy is not peculiar to Africa, neither is it just a Nigerian problem. In every society, there is the tendency for people to be envious of others that are perceived to be more successful than they are. There is also a strong correlation between poverty and envy. Unfortunately, some of the so-called big men in Nigeria don’t understand this. Some of these rich men are very insensitive to the plight of the common man. They look for every opportunity to flaunt their wealth (whether it is genuine or fraudulent), and even sometimes oppress the poor. As individuals, we need to learn to conduct ourselves in humility, especially in a society with some much poverty and deprivation. For as long as the masses see themselves been oppressed by the rich, then the sort of wanton attacks launched against the bank CEOs will be inevitable.

Truth be told. The fact that a former CEO was seen shaking hands with the Sultan of Sokoto doesn’t mean appropriate action shouldn’t be taken against him. It is not the first time that corporate high-flyers or highly influential individuals have been found guilty of mismanagement and financial irregularities. Dele Momodu noted that one of the CEO spent his whole life in the banking profession. But does Dele Momodu know that Bernard Madoff, who ran the biggest finance scam in history, also spent his whole life in finance/investment banking. And at one time Madoff was non-executive Chairman of NASDAQ stock exchange. Can Dele Momodu remember Kenneth Lay, the former Chairman of Enron? Kenneth Lay oversaw the biggest corporate fraud in the US history? Ken Lay was former President Bush right hand man, who was at one time considered for the position of Treasury Secretary. We may also have to remind Mr Momodu about the former Billionaire Sir Alan Stanford. So, let’s not be deceived, Nigeria is not exception and perhaps worse. At least the Madoff, Lay and Stanford of this world were convicted and jailed. In Nigeria, our Madoffs are the Pro-Chancellors of our universities. They are President of professional institutions. They run our stock exchange. Let’s make not mistake, the Nigeria system breeds corruption. The more influential you are, the higher the propensity for corruption. These high-flyers sleep, drink and eat in the corridor of power. They are the ones celebrated on the pages of the national newspapers. They are the same people bestowed with national honours. They are the biggest donors at corporate and social functions.

So having read Dele Momodu’s article, I struggled to understand where he is coming from. Is he suggesting that people shouldn’t talk? If we can openly criticise the corrupt former governors, most of who - strictly speaking – have not been found guilty of corruption, why can’t we talk about bank CEOs? If it is right to launch scathing attacks on President Yar’Adua because of his incompetence, why is it not right to criticise the sharp practices of the banks CEOs?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Era of Kleptocracy - An Audit Trail of Corruption

In view of the ongoing scandal in the nation’s financial sector, I tried to undertake an audit trail of how much has been reported stolen or misappropriated from the government treasury since the start of ‘kleptocratic’ governance in 1999. How the nation can still function with the level of thieving currently being experienced is beyond my imagination. And these is just at the federal government level. What about the state government? What about the local government, with little or no accountability?

But the key question still remains, how many people that are involved in the scams listed below have been successfully prosecuted? Yet, we have an EFCC, ICPC, and Police Force. How these figures compare to that of past military regimes will also be good to know. A good research topic you will say!

Nigeria! Great Nation!! Thieving Leaders!!!

CBN Banks/CEOs scandal – N747 billion

NNPC – N555 billion

COJA Games – N38 billion

Ministry of Aviation (Femi Fani-Kayode, et al) – N19.5 billion

Former IGP Tafa Balogun – N13 billion

NTA U-17 World Cup – N8.2 billion

Rural Electricity Agency bribery scam (Hon. Elumelu et al) -N5.2 billion

Ex Comptroller-General of Customs Ahmed Bello – N3 billion

Kellogg Brown and Root/Halliburton Bribery Scandal - $180 million

National Identity Card Project (Late Sunday Afolabi et al) - $214 million

Hon. Elumelu Power Probe – $16 billion

AG Siemens bribery scandal (Gen. Olanrewaju, Haruna Elewi et al) - $14 million

Wilbros bribery scandal - $6 million

Universal Basic Education Commission contract scam – N850 million

Hon. Patricia Etteh House Renovation Scam – N628 million

Ministry of Defence (Perm Sec et al) – N421 million

Minister of Health, Adenike Grange, and others – N300 million

Minister of Education, Fabian Osuji and others – N55 million

*This list does not include funds stolen or misappropriated by corrupt former governors.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

On the Appointment at Nigeria Railways Corporation

The recent appointment of a new Managing Director to run to the Nigeria Railways Corporation (NRC) is a welcome development. And perhaps, it couldn’t have come at a better time. The new helmsman Adeseyi Sijuade until his appointment was the client Project Director of the Lagos-Kano Railway modernisation project. He is a chartered civil engineer and holds a MBA degree from Loughborough University.

Mr Sijuade is coming into the NRC at a time when the nation’s railway is in state of comatose. It is suffice to say that he already has his work cut out. He expected to run a government agency – like many others - that has virtually collapsed due to corruption, mismanagement and ineptitude. He is also expected to lead a workforce with low skill base and weakened staff morale. Having said that, it is critical for him to make known his vision and aspiration for the NRC as soon as possible. Various stakeholders in the transport industry will want to know Mr Sijuade’s position on key issues currently affecting the railway industry, especially with the Railways Act Bill

The NRC MD was quoted in the media to have said he will make the rebranding of the corporation a priority. He noted the need to change public perception of the corporation for better. But really, what product does the NRC have to offer that it wants to rebrand? Is it the decrepit rail locomotives lying on the rail tracks across the country? Or is it the dilapidated NRC properties across the nation? Or may be it is the retired staff who have not receive their pension payments in years? There is no doubt that the public perception about the NRC is terribly bad. And this is primarily due to failure of NRC to deliver its primary product.

But will the appointment of Mr Sijuade bring about positive change in the nation’s railway sector? I do hope and pray so! But more importantly, the role of NRC in the planned future privatisation/concessioning of the nation’s railway needs to be resolved as a matter of priority. Up until now, neither the Minister for Transport or Mr Sijuade has been able to clearly articulate the institutional framework that will govern the proposed concessioning/privatisation. The proposed Railways Act Bill - which is aimed at sorting out some of the complexities in the railway sector – only offers very little.

For instance, we heard the newly appointed MD saying the decision to concession the operations of NRC did not translate into its sale. One can assume from the statement that only the rail operations arm of NRC will be concessioned to the private sector. So the questions are, will the ‘rail operation’ arm of NRC operate as a private company? How will such a company fit into the overall NRC model? Why does the government not consider selling off the entire “operational function” of the NRC to the private sector? What is the obsession of NRC with rail operations? Why not allow the private sector to operate railways and leave NRC as an umpire?

Ultimately, it is up to the government to decide what role the NRC will play in the post privatisation era. For me, it either has to be an operator - competing with other private operators – or just a rail regulator. It is unacceptable for an agency to perform the dual role of service provider and regulator. If the NRC is keen to remain a rail service provider, then it is only sensible that the rail regulator should be an independent body. It should be a statutory board operationally independent of government. If the NRC continues to provide rail services and also responsible for regulating other concessionaires, the question then is who will “regulate” the regulator? Although, the government is keen for private sector participation in the railway sector, it is clear that it doesn’t know what to do with NRC.

These are some of the key challenges Mr Sijuade will have to grapple with as he settles into his job. Some consider him as an outsider, who lacks the political clout required to turn things around. Given the necessary support by the Federal Government, I have every hope that Mr Sijuade will succeed. And I wish him best of luck!

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Menace of 'Ghost Workers'

The ghost worker syndrome has been a menace across all tiers of government for years. Annually, millions of naira is siphoned from government coffers through salary payments to non-existing employees, who have fraudulently been listed on the payroll system. Some of these employees may include retired civil servants, deceased people or pure fictitious names. One major cause is the absence of civil service regulations, which allows corrupt civil servants to increase government expenditure through the placement of ghost workers on the payroll.

The Accountant-General of the Federation, Alhaji Hassan Dankwambo was recently quoted as saying "knowing the total number of federal government staff, like somebody asked, is one of the challenges we have today. To tell you the number that we pay today, may be you'll have to go to the Budget Office to extract that from the documents that can fill the room. But by the quantum, it is more than N800billion that we pay as salaries per annum, looking at the budget estimates". In view of this problem, the Federal Government has therefore commenced the process of capturing the biometric data of staff under its employment, with the purpose of eliminating ghost workers and ensuring prompt payment of salaries.

Biometrics refers to methods for uniquely recognizing humans based upon one or more intrinsic physical or behavioral traits. In particular, biometrics is used as a form of identity access management and access control. Whilst its use has proved to be successful, it is worth pointing out that the system itself is not infallible. As a matter of fact, the so called biometric system would have to be operated by human. What therefore makes the A-G to think that corrupt elements within the public service wouldn’t find a way to circumvent the system? The introduction of the biometric system alone will not deal with the root cause of the ghost worker syndrome. I wonder if the introduction of the biometric system is an “amnesty” for the perpetrators of employment fraud in the public service. The government cannot just sweep the problem under the carpet by introduction of an IT system. It’s like implementing border control measures to tackle human trafficking but not investigating who the human traffickers are? The question for the Accountant-General therefore is, what efforts are being undertaken to weed out the perpetrators of employment fraud out of the public service?

On the other hand, there is also the need for better accountability within the public service bureaucracy. As an apparatus of government designed to implement the decisions of political leaders, the role of bureaucracy is critical to all areas of the development process. Bureaucratic capacity determines what will get done, when it will get done, and how well it will get done. The importance of the bureaucracy in the development process, therefore makes it unacceptable for any A-G to admit that the civil service does not know the number of employees on its payroll. This admission smacks in the face of accountability and probity. What are the functions of the Human Resources Dept of government Ministries, Departments and Agencies, if they cannot account for the number of their employees? What is the role of the management, if they cannot account for the number of their staff? Assuming the A-G works in the private sector, can he be paying N800bn annually to staff he cannot account for? For the Head of Service and A-G not to know the number of public servants on government payroll is not only outrageous but nonsensical

I remember the public outrage that followed when the Minister for Labour and Productivity publicly admitted that the government does not have any reliable data on the number of unemployed Nigerians. In hindsight, it probably shouldn’t have been. How can we expect a government that cannot confirm the numbers of employees on its payroll, to know how many people are unemployed in a population of 120 million? And this is the same Minister that told us recently that the government will declare a “state of emergency” in the job sector. Declare state of emergency for how many? What a joke!

Whilst the biometric initiative is commendable -as this will help the plug the wastage in the public sector - more is needed to sanitise the public sector. The civil service itself needs a serious overhaul. It needs to rid itself of corrupt officers. I believe it is time the top echelon of the public service is injected with fresh blood. We need a modern public service that is devoid of “professional bureaucrats”.

Whatever mechanism being introduced to tackle the problem of ghost workers, the key question are , who are the perpetrators of this fraud? what are the efforts undertaken to weed these rogue elements out of the public service? Until the perpetrators of this fraud are fingered and prosecuted, the biometric system will only achieve very little in tackling this menace.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Madam Turai Yar'Adua Cancer Centre Naira Rain

It was “naira rain” about three weeks ago at the launching of the International Cancer Centre Abuja (ICCA) by Nigeria’s First Lady, Hajia Turai Yar’Adua. The Cancer Centre is expected to provide services in the areas of cancer diagnosis, treatment and research. The proposed centre is also expected to have an initial capacity for 128 in-patient beds and 20 terminally ill patients.

According to media reports, over N10 bilion was raised at that fundraising. The highest donor was Aminu Dantata, who donated a whooping sum of N1.2 billion. Others included business mogul, Aliko Dangote who also donated the sum of N1 billion on behalf of the Dangote Foundation. Niger State Governor, Dr Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu who stood in for the Governors’ Forum, made a donation of N720 million, while 15 members of the National Assembly donated a total sum of N7.5 million amongst others.

There is no doubt that cancer is a serious public health problem in Nigeria, and regrettably, its management has not been satisfactory due largely to the adverse effects of unfavourable economic factors. This experience is similar to that in other African countries which have similar economic problems. But whilst the provision of cancer treatment facilities in Nigeria is not being questioned, the long term viability Hajia Turai’s pet project remains unclear.

When I read about the project launch, the first question on my mind was, I hope this would not be another failed pet project of a Nigerian First Lady. As we know, the track record of such pet projects is abysmal. We are now used to Nbillions donated to various pet projects at federal and state level without any commensurate result. In fact, the lifespan of such projects are only as long as the tenure of their promoters. Before, it was Maryam Babangida’s Better Life for Rural Dwellers, then came Mariam Abacha Family Support Programme, and Stella Obasanjo’s Child Care Trust. Despite the amount of donations showered on all these projects, I’m yet to see any infrastructure that has survived beyond the tenure of these women.

Personally, I think it is important to challenge the principle behind Hajia Turai’s project. Firstly, what is the purpose of this Cancer centre, when there are major hospitals, with cancer treating facilities that are grossly underfunded? It is on public record that there are only four active radiotherapy centers giving a ratio of one machine to about 30 million people, as against the recommended one per quarter million by the World Health Organisation. The available spectrum of anti-cancer drugs is also very limited and such drugs are not readily available. Imaging facilities for staging patients with cancer, such as computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), are difficult to come by, and when available the cost of such studies puts them out of reach of the average citizen. So why can’t the N10 billion be channelled towards providing adequate facilities at existing public hospitals? Secondly, what is the purpose of locating such a centre in Abuja, a city with a population of just approximately two million? Research has shown that cancer is most prevalent in the low socio-economic class of the society. And these are the same people who cannot afford the cost of basic medical care. In a civilized society, efforts are made to locate health services within close proximity of the working class. Therefore we need to ask Hajia Turai, for whose benefit is the Cancer Centre in Abuja? Is it for the rich and affluent of Abuja or poor masses living in Lagos, Port Harcourt or Kano?

Thirdly, I’m also not sure on whose behalf the donations from the State Governors were made. Were they personal donations or from the state coffers? I want to believe it is the former rather than the latter. If it is from the state coffers, it raises serious questions about probity and accountability. It is ludicrous for any State Governor to make donations from the treasury to a project that lacks any financial governance. By the way, who is the First Lady accountable to? The office of the First Lay is not recognized in our constitution and therefore cannot have funds appropriated to it in the budget. Therefore, who monitors how taxpayers donated by state governors are spent? And now that N10 billion has been realized how can we be sure that the entire money will be spent? I will note that to date, Hajia Turai has not told us the actual cost of the Cancer Centre project, and she is sitting pretty with N10 billion – some of which are likely to be taxpayers’ money,

Fourthly, what will be governance/management structure of the Cancer Centre? Will it be managed privately or handed over the Federal Ministry of Health? How will centre be financially maintained in the longer term? How can we be sure that ‘world class’ Cancer Centre will not be another morgue in 10 years time?

There is no point in any First Lady raising Nbillions for project that is destined for doom from word go. Our First Ladies should instead use their influence to build institutions that will outlive individuals. The problem in our health sector is not lack of hospitals. If all the hospitals in Nigeria are adequately funded, we may probably not need a dedicated Cancer Centre.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Why I missed my flight - The Nigerian idol worship

Written by Anosike Wilson
Thursday, 06 August 2009 09:23

It was the 25th of July 2009 and I was bound to travel to Lagos via Imo Airport with Chachangi Airlines for my onward travel out of the country the same day. Incidentally, The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was on his way to Imo State for the now celebrated defection of the state governor Chief Ikedi Ohakim from PPA to PDP.
For me it was not a big deal, the coming of the president is a party affair—coming to welcome a new convert—however, I was in for a shock. On my way to Imo Airport I observed that the ever-busy Douglas Road was a shelf of itself. It was a ghost street. Eke-ukwu owerri—one of the biggest and busiest market in Imo State—was locked. The governor has ordered that the market be shut for the coming of his Excellency the President! All buying and selling must wait till the President of Nigeria comes and goes and till Ikedi Ohakim completes his carpet-crossing. If you are aggrieved then go to court!

The deal was not done yet. As I veered towards the Airport I was met by a huge security set-up made up of the Police and the military. All vehicles heading towards the Airport were required to stop 2 miles away from the airport, whether you are traveling or seeing a relation off. We were forced to alight and walk all the way to the airport. Being sick and having lots of luggage, it was not a good experience. I had the courage to accost one of the military men to enquire what was going on, why should we stop so far away from the Airport just because the president will land at the Airport. His reply “I was sent from Abuja and I am doing my duty” my reply “why should our leaders treat us this way?” “I don’t know” came the reply. Well, Yaradua has sent me on a forced walkathon and I had to comply. After all, he is the commander-in-chief. The route of my walkathon was lined up by primary school students on uniform with paper-made Nigerian flags waiting to wave at the president. What! It is a Saturday morning and school children are dressed because of the president coming for a carpet-crossing!

Our flight was scheduled for 11:30 am. The flight was to arrive from Lagos and pick up the Imo passengers back to Lagos. The high point of the drama then came when the in-coming Chachangi Airplane was seen hovering around the Airport, reason, it was not allowed to land since the President was at the airport waving like an imbecile(eme onye ara conductor….). I learnt later that it was not only Chachangi that was not permitted to land, Arik Airplane was also being delayed just because the president was waving at his retinues. Well, since I started traveling and listening to the news, I only heard that flights were advised not to land because of bad weather or accidental situations but not because the president landed.

While aboard I had to vent my anger on one of the crew, he clearly told me that I saw that they were not allowed to land and again, they had to take-off late from Lagos since it was a clean-up day. Well, the clean –up seems a better but ridiculous excuse. We managed to land at the Lagos Airport around 2pm. I clearly knew that I have missed my flight bound for Qatar by 2.40pm. However, I got myself down to Murtala Mohamed International Airport, having wasted some minutes for baggage waiting and paying for Throlley! Well, the flight was at the tarmac and ready to take-off. You can blame me for not being in Lagos a day or two before my departure, at least I have a valid excuse, having being sick and having re-booked my ticket thrice, I had to travel less my ticket becomes invalid.Yaradua having forced me to a walkathon now made me pay the sum of hundred and thirty-nine dollars of no-show. That is the Nigeria we are living in. The Nigeria of Vision 2020 and 7-points agenda!

Culled from Saharareporters

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"The Police Is Your Friend"....You're right!

The recent extrajudicial killing of Boko Haram leaders in Police custody further reiterates the Nigeria Police Force utter disregard for human lives. Whatever anyone might say, the alleged offence been committed by the religious sect does not it anyway justify their summary execution. And I was very delighted when I read that family members of the deceased are contemplating suing the Police for their action.

Anyway, we can all talk and groan about the killing of Mohammed Yusuf and Buji Foi, but what about thousands of innocent civilians who have been killed in Police custody or at security check points for no good reason? If the killing of Boko Haram leaders had not being related to religious militancy, then it may never have made it to the news. As they say “e ni to kan lo mo” meaning, “only those affected feel the pain”.

In desperation to regain public confidence, we can all remember the Nigeria Police Force rebranding programme in the late ‘80s titled “the Police is your friend”. But really, is the Police our friend? If you are a tourist in England, it is often advised that if you get lost on the streets of London, the best person to turn to is the “Bobby on the beat”. And it is in fact true. I have seen cases where officers of the Metropolitan Police have offered lifts to tourists in their patrol vehicles. Now tell me, can any tourist in Nigeria approach the Police for help? Can you imagine telling a Police officer in Lagos that you have just recently arrived from overseas, and don’t know your way around? Can you imagine an overseas tourist seeking refuge at a Police station in Nigeria? The short answer is no. The Police Force that is mandated to protect lives and properties are actually at the forefront of robbery and indiscriminate killings. Based on my personal experience with the Nigerian Police officers, if I’m the last person to help a dying Police officer, I will probably be quick to kill him/her without hesitating. And I will give my reasons. Some might say this wicked, but I will tell you short story.

In the last semester of my final year at the University, myself and some colleagues were very unfortunate to be arrested by the Police and detained in the cell for been in possession of a face mask. We were arrested on our way to party organized by a University social club. The party theme was “Halloween”, which meant we were all given face masks to wear on the night. However for some reasons which I still can’t understand until today, we were surrounded by some fierce looking Police officers in front of a school hostel. It was like Hollywood show on display. In fact the officers threatened to shoot us, if we didn’t surrender! Imagine the Police threatening to shoot innocent university students going to a party. Some students took to their heels, and the few like me who were stupid enough not to run were arrested. We decided no to run because we never felt we did anything wrong.

Before we knew what was happening, eleven of us found ourselves in the Police station, and “kata kata” started. Without any evidence, the Police accused us of been members of a “secret cult” and that the “mask” was our symbol. They also claimed that the party – which was held in a private house – was a “secret cult” meeting. At that point we knew we were in trouble!

Quickly, the Police informed the university authorities. Soon after, the Deputy Registrar turned up at the Police station with a file containing names of suspected cultists on the campus. Fortunately, the list had none of our names. At that point, I thought if any of us was on the list, then that would have been it, as it. It would have been extremely difficult to convince the University and the Police that we were not planning to attend a cult meeting. Although, the school was satisfied that we were not cultist, we were told there was nothing they could do because the social club – that organized the party - was not registered. Which meant it was up to us so sort ourselves out with the Police. And of course the Police had a field day. Following the departure of the Deputy Registrar we were locked up in the cell until the next morning.

The next morning, the DCO visited the venue of the party. He saw the house owners, who confirmed that a party was held and that it was nothing out of the ordinary. They also spoke to other students who attended the party. But in spite of this, they still insisted that we were cultists.

We were told that our case will be transferred to the State Police Command. And that it was a “swinging pendulum”, meaning it can go either way. But if we want the case not to be transferred, we all must come up with N10, 000 each (!). The DCO told us ‘point blank’ that he needed money to pay for his MBA programme. We even begged to pay N5,000 but he declined because he was so damn greedy and looking to maximise his "profit".

At this stage it became clear that no amount of appeal will get us out of the Police cell. And considering that we all had final year exams in three weeks, everyone was keen to get out of Police custody. Personally, I didn’t want to spend my precious time reporting daily to a Police station.

Anyway to cut the long story short, it took the intervention of the father of a colleague, who is a retired Commissioner of Police before we were released. We ended been released without paying a kobo. The greedy DCO who could have accepted N5, 000 and wave us goodbye, ended up receiving nothing. You can’t imagine the mood of the Police officers. It was a phone call from their “oga” that set us free from the greedy and callous DCO and his officers.

So can you imagine, if we all didn’t have anyone to help? We would probably have been sent to the State Police Command. Who knows how much they who have demanded at the State Command? May be N100, 000 each! Even if we were cultist, so it means we could have paid the N10, 000 and walk away scot-free (!).

I’m also sure that the DCO is still in the Police Force. Now imagine someone like that being the Inspector General of Police. Is this the calibre of people we want to entrust our lives and properties?

And after all this, you still want the Police to be my friend? You’re right!

Monday, August 3, 2009

President Umar Yar'Adua, the "Statesman"

On face value, it seems that the rejected Nigerian stone is now turning out to be cornerstone of Ghanaian democratic governance. A lot of has been said about Ghana’s democratic governance in the last few weeks, in terms of how it has portrayed itself as the shining beam of Africa’s democracy. This was even further reiterated during the recent visit of US President, Barack Obama to Ghana. However, out of the woodwork came the statement from the Ex-Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings that the credit for Ghana’s electoral success should however go to Nigeria President, Umar Yar’Adua.

Ex-President Rawlings was quoted in a Ghanaian weekly newspaper saying "by the way, we claim to be the 'Gateway' but don't be surprised if Nigeria ends up as the destination, as they claim. It is important to keep in mind that it was partly Nigeria's intervention under President Yar'Adua's leadership that pulled the plug on Kuffuor and Nana Addo's intended adventure; not the Western powers, some of whom urged on the NPP's electoral fraud and theft in 2004. But for General Sarki Muktar (Yar'Adua's National Security Adviser)'s timely visit, we may very well be mourning and licking our wounds by now". According to the media report, President Yar'Adua feared that it would be catastrophic if Ghana's democratic process was disrupted and therefore initiated diplomatic moves to stem the tide.

It is common knowledge that the last December’s Presidential election in Ghana was a photo-finish. A clear winner did not emerge between the candidate of the then ruling party, Nana Addo and the opposition party's candidate, Prof. John Atta-Mills after the first ballot. This therefore resulted in a run-off that saw Prof. John Atta-Mills emerging as the winner.

A “statesman” is a leader in national or international affairs, who is a disinterested promoter of the public good. A statesman is someone who exhibits great wisdom and ability in directing the affairs of a government or in dealing with important public issues. If indeed President Yar’Adua intervened in the Ghanaian elections as noted by Ex-President Rawlings, then there is no doubt that he has demonstrated strong leadership and statesmanship. However, is President Yar’Adua a true statesman?

If indeed he is a statesman, then the questions we should be asking are,why is he not doing the same in his home country Nigeria? Why has he not exhibited same leadership quality in Nigeria? Or is it that he is more interested in Ghanaian internal politics than Nigeria? Is the Ghana election more important that the last Gubernatorial election re-run in Ekiti state? Is intervening in Ghana politics more important that issues in Niger Delta? Is intervening in Ghana election more important that than ensuring good democratic governance in Nigeria?

President Yar’Adua is probably not just getting his priorities right. In fact, what moral authority does he have to advise Ghana on how it conducts elections? As the Yoruba adage says “ile la ti ko eso ro de” (meaning charity begins at home). How can the President of Nigeria think that failure of Ghanaian elections will be catastrophic, but it will be acceptable for elections in Ekiti to be rigged? I guess the people of Ekiti are not within his constituency (!). How can a man who potrays himself as a statesman bully and threaten a state government for allegedly not adhering to the constitution in matters that are strictly within the prerogative of the state government? How can a man portraying himself to be a “peacemaker” endorse gross human right abuse against some of the most deprived people of the country under the guise of “military action”? How can a man portraying himself to be peacemaker preside over a government that encourages extra-judicial killings to silence public dissent?

To President Yar’Adua, I will bluntly put it that you are not a “statesman”. Whilst you might have portrayed yourself to be one in Ghana, we Nigerians can tell the Ghanaians that it’s all fa├žade. Your government is grossly enmeshed in corruption and human right abuses. Your leadership thrives on hypocrisy. As a President, you have never practiced who you preach. Every time and again, you tell us about your respect for “rule of law”, but your action and demeanor has indicated otherwise. I’m still looking for an action taken by your government in the interest of public good. In fact your government is currently struggling to overtake its predecessor’s record on human right abuses. Your government has killed in the North, maimed in the Niger Delta and we are all waiting to see where the Joint Task Force and Operation Flush 11 will next be deployed.

It might be better for you to first remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother's.