Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bode Goes to Jail: The optimists, pessimists and conspiracy theorists

My heart was filled with so much joy when I heard the news that the former chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Olabode George along with five other members of the 2001/2003 Ports Authority Board are to spend two years in jail. Bode George and the NPA Five were found guilty and convicted on a 47-count charge, which includes disobedience to lawful order and abuse of office by splitting contracts to the tune of N84 billion by Justice Olubunmi Oyewole of the Lagos High Court.

The public reaction that followed the court ruling can be classified into three broad categories. As expected, we have the optimists. These are people who believe that the jail sentence – albeit two years, will serve as a deterrent to other corrupt politicians. For this group of people, such a ruling renews the hope in the nation’s judiciary as an arbiter of the ‘rule of law’. Secondly, we have the ‘pessimists’. The pessimists are of the view that sentencing Chief Bode George to two years imprisonment for a N84 billion fraud is a mere ‘slap on the wrist’ and makes mockery of the judicial system. In fact, such people are of the opinion that the PDP chieftain will probably have the sentence reduced on appeal, after which he can relax and enjoy his ‘booty’.

And thirdly, we have the ‘conspiracy theorists’. The conspiracy theorists are of the view that the sentence is more or less a ‘smokescreen’ to create a distraction so that the Oligarchy can carry on with its business of ‘do nothing’ and protection highly placed powerful individuals from prosecution. And of the course, the recent action of the Attorney-General in the case of James Ibori and Co lends further credence to their view. They refused to get carried away by the euphoria of court judgement because they are not convinced (and rightly so!) that the anti-corruption campaign of the Yar’Adua administration is ‘genuine’.

Whichever way one looks at the issue, the antecedents of this government provides enough evidence to substantiate any of the viewpoints. However for now I belong to the group of ‘optimists’. Yes I agree that two years imprisonment seems laughable, just as the former Edo State Governor Lucky Igbinedion was fined for N3.5m for embezzling N4.4bn! Yes I agree that Chief Bode George and the NPA Five can afford to live in Kirikiri Prison for two years while their proceeds from the N84bn continue to yield interest in their bank accounts. Yes I agree that there are probably bigger thieves, who seem untouchable roaming around the corridor of Aso Rock.

However, we can take delight in a few things. We need to be appreciative of the fact that, despite the rot in the nation’s judiciary, we still few judges in the country who are willing to stand up for the truth against all the odds. We must praise the courage and sagacity of Justice Oyewole in delivering this landmark judgement. Secondly, with the court ruling, Justice Oyewole has effectively nailed Chief Bode George’s political coffin. Whatever be the case, Bode George is now a ‘convict’. Whether he gets a commuted sentence at the Appeal Court is immaterial. This effectively means he cannot hold any political office for the rest of his life! As someone said, even if sleeps one night in Kirikiri maximum prison, that is enough. Also, we need not to look too far to dig up his criminal records, unlike Messrs Ibori and co. There will be safely kept at the Lagos High Court.

Overall it is worth noting one fact on the ongoing saga. Truth be told, the camp of corrupt individuals and treasury looters has no ethnic or religious barrier. You need not to belong to a particular ethnic group or religious sect to be a member. In fact, you need not speak the same local dialect. The unifying factor of corrupt minds is ‘self-enrichment’ and the common language is ‘money’. When people want to collude to loot the nation’s treasury they forget about that ethnic group. The ethnic diversity in the list of the convicted persons is very clear (Bode George, Aminu Dabo, Olusegun Abidoye, Abdullahi Tafida, Zanna Maidaribe and Sule Aliyu).

We need to point out this fact before some ethnic bigots’ say that the prosecution of Bode George is an ‘ethnic agenda’.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Affluence and Nigerian Churches: 'Touch Not My Annointed.....'

The Nigerian society has been witnessing a continuous utter display of flagrant affluence by church leaders over the last decade or so. Some church leaders live luxurious lifestyles that are devoid of modern day reality. We have also seen churches engage in secular economic activities, some of which borders on societal moral values.

It is unfortunate that in a country of 150 million where more than 70% are living in abject poverty, there are no differences in the lifestyle of some church leaders in Nigeria and Hollywood superstars. A World Bank report recently put the number of unemployed in Nigeria at 40 million (which represents about 25% of the country’s population). To put things in perspective, 40 million is approximately 60% of the population of Great Britain and one and a half times the population of Australia!

I need not to educate you further on the activities of some of these church leaders, and how they have exploited the society. And I don’t think I have the moral authority to query some these activities, which are sometimes described as ‘spiritual matters’ by religious faithfuls. The concern however, is with the system that has allowed all this display of excessive affluence to perpetuate in Nigerian churches in the face growing poverty. The system has failed innocent men and women who see the ‘Church’ as the only place of hope having been let down by state leaders.

And when I say ‘failure of the system’, I refer to the lack of appropriate regulation and oversight on the financial practices in churches across the country. It is common knowledge that churches have now become big ‘enterprise’. The financial turnover of some of these churches are unparalleled to say the least and sometimes larger than that of companies quoted on the stock exchange.

The voluntary work put in by members on a weekly basis to keep it functioning if expressed in man hours and costed accordingly, is mind blowing. It is fair to say that church leaders and directors of public liability companies enjoy almost same benefits and perks. However the fundamental differences are displayed in areas of regulation and accountability.

Companies are subject to series of finance and tax regulation and their directors are accountable to their shareholders. They can be liable for huge fines if their tax files are not up to date and shareholders can demand for resignation of company executives if they are non performing. However on the other hand, most Nigerian church leaders are not accountable to anyone apart from God (if they choose to), and no financial regulator is interested in their books.

In my opinion, I think it is time that closer attention is paid to the financial activities of Nigerian churches. In the western world churches as classified as ‘charity organisations’, and thus, there are exempt from taxation. However, the churches are still expected to file their accounts with the regulator at the end of every financial year. Churches are expected to have a Board of Trustee, who will be responsible for decision making and appointment of Pastors. Pastors are expected to be an annual salary and are treated as staff. These rules are very strict. I know the case of a Nigerian Pastor (names withheld) who was almost jailed for financial irregularities by the UK Charities Commission. He is the Pastor of the largest black church in Europe and since his ordeal; he now seems to be operating from Nigeria.

So what am I saying? I’m not suggesting a ‘socialist’ agenda of cut throat taxation or regulation; either I am suggesting that the EFCC should start chasing Pastors. But I still do feel that the excessive greed of some of these church leaders needs to be put under the spotlight. Unfortunately, most Nigerian churches are operated like a ‘one man business’ or perhaps ‘sole trader’. The founder or General Overseer is the alpha and omega. Members of the church executives/committee who don’t fall in line with the principles (whether good or bad) of the General Overseer are ostracised. There are no policies or systems in place to monitor their activities, therefore giving them absolute control.

Nigerian churches are owners of some of the country’s most expensive schools and universities. Some churches are big real estate investors, selling land to church members within the church premises. We therefore need to ask ourselves, what is the salary of these so called pastors? What proportion of the church income is used for charitable course? Who is creaming the profits made from their ‘extra-curricular’ activities? Who are their trustees? Are these trustees independent or collaborators? Who audits the Church accounts?

The fact that God has called you into ministry does give any Pastor the right to run a church like a personal business. And until the system addresses some of the fundamental issues noted, I’m afraid there is no end in sight for this insatiable appetite for worldly riches.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Yar'Adua the Great - By Michael Egbejumi-David

In my job here in the UK, every now and again, I am called-in to see private patients. About four years or so ago, I saw a patient that had been flown-in from Nigeria. He was definitely a Nigerian ‘big man.’ He had suffered some kind of acquired brain injury.

After initial assessment and intervention I began to leave. As I made my way out, I was stopped in the posh waiting area by a lady who introduced herself to me as the wife of my patient. She thanked me for my input and asked if I was Nigerian. I responded that indeed I was. A look of amazement came to her face. I was curious and wanted to know why she had that look but I wasn’t going to ask as I had to rush off to my next appointment.

As I made to leave, she stopped me again and asked if I was the leader of the team that attended to her husband as I appeared to have been to her own observation. I replied again in the affirmative. She smiled and looked at the rest of her small entourage with open pride. She grabbed my hand and announced to the room that she was very proud. Then she became agitated. Whilst still holding on to my hand, she said something like, “Ah, our children are trying o! Our people are really trying o! Imagine what we are losing in Nigeria. If people like this can come home and help us…”

I wanted to, but I did not have the heart (given her husband’s situation then, and the pressure on my time that day) to give her a small lecture about how people like me would love to be home but that it was precisely people like her and her husband that have made millions of Nigerians like me economic exiles and refugees the world over, wasting the most productive years of our lives outside our fatherland.

Another reason I did not deliver that short lecture was probably because, deep down, I believed that the lady would not get it. I have since discovered that the very rich, the elite, the political establishmentarians in Nigeria (and perhaps elsewhere) live in their own very insular world. They do not relate to you and I, and are therefore, in the main, unable to truly relate to matters that concerns or bothers us. Their A to Z resides only in that little rich cocoon of theirs with its own peculiar rules and regulations where wealth-based rivalry and profligacy are the norm. They all possess a highly fine-tuned sense of entitlement and never understand why regular people challenge or question this. In fact, quite a lot of them think that the ordinary Nigerian is the problem. They believe that the average Nigerian is an ungrateful and a difficult to manage entity.

But let me now attempt to put together what I could have said to that lady and her clique using their current front man – Yar’Adua - as a case study:

Yar’Adua had just spent another week or so in Saudi Arabia getting pumped full of steroids. He had invited himself, and was pretending to be interested in the opening of a university in that far away land at a time when all the universities in his own country were shut down. Clearly, irony is not his strong suit. Shortly before that, he ran out to the same Saudi clinic for “treatment and the lesser hajj.” Before that, he was again in the same clinic, via Brazil, during the heat of the ‘boko haram’ crisis. I can count five trips already this year. This has become the pattern. In short, his medical trips out of the country have been incessant. But this same Yar’Adua was the governor of a State for eight long years. For a majority of those eight years, he was a regular dialysis patient. His dialysis centre was in far away Germany which he visited, at one period, at least every fortnight. He had other concomitant ailments as well.

Because of his poor health, Yar’Adua’s government in Katsina was only a government on paper. The State’s Executive Council actually met and sat far less than a third of the times available to it. Also, because of poor health, Yar’Adua was unable to do things, spend or chop money to the extent that he otherwise would have done. Most of what was spent went to his German doctors. The rest of the money just sat there in the treasury; hence Obasanjo was going around in early 2007 telling the whole country that Yar’Adua was not corrupt as he was the only governor who left some money in his State coffers. (OBJ was wrong: Abubakar Audu left a whole five hundred thousand Naira in Kogi in 2003!)

But in all of that time, and with his health problems and personal experiences, Yar’Adua never thought it expedient, necessary or desirable to spend a fraction of all that money to establish a specialist renal and related diseases hospital in Katsina that would treat him and others in his State. If he had done that, the facility might today be serving as a centre for clinical excellence and possibly now be a national and West African regional referral centre. Such a centre would not only have met his and others’ medical needs, it would also have provided a good standard employment for specialist clinicians and allied professionals in Renal Medicine, Nephrology and Urology. It would have attracted expert Nigerians and other medical personnel from elsewhere. Post graduate medical training would have flourished there. The facility would also have been an easy cash cow; a nice little earner for his State. He wouldn’t even have had to build one from scratch; he could just have developed an existing facility.

However for him, flying out to German private clinics to take care of himself was the only logical thing to do. Others would and should take care of themselves anyway they could. That all the money he was spending on his own personal healthcare was depriving others in Katsina of even basic healthcare amenities just never occurred to him. If it did, he probably thought the State owed it to him as governor - even if it consumed all of the State’s resources.

Now, two calamitous and barren years into his tenure at Aso Rock, Yar’Adua has continued where he left off in Katsina. As his health has worsened, so has the government he pretends to head. It is on good authority that, most days, this man spends less time in his office, or on State matters than Obasanjo spends at the meal table. But more importantly, he hasn’t deemed it necessary at all to do anything about healthcare in Nigeria. He continued flying directly into Germany until Nigerians let him know that they would rather he resigned on health grounds. Since then, he has perfected the art of stealing into Saudi Arabia at the slightest excuse for treatment.

In 2008, following the huge outcry over his constant jetting out for treatment, Yar’Adua announced that some $20 million would be spent to upgrade the Aso Rock Clinic. $20 million! That clinic is for his exclusive use. But there is something called the “National Hospital” in Abuja that I understand was founded by Maryam Abacha. This is the Nigerian premier hospital but still our big people will not patronise the place. The National Hospital started off as a women & children’s facility to reduce morbidity and mortality rates amongst that population and was formally opened in 1999 by Abdulsalami. By May 2000, the place has been designated a national hospital as it began to take on male patients. Its operating cost in 2008 was nearly N4.3 billion but it is only known for its IVF focus.

Apart from the national hospital, there are other public healthcare institutions dotted across the country but these places are largely under-funded, mismanaged and near desolate. There are plenty of private hospitals as well, but Nigerian big men and women only spend, at best, the first day of their illness in these places before they are flown abroad.

The national hospital was initially managed by the International Health Group brought in from the UK to manage the hospital for 10 years. But in 2003, Obasanjo sacked the management board for incompetence and installed his Special Assistant and Lawyer, Musa Elayo as head of the interim board. Obasanjo also appointed his personal physician, Dr Olusegun Ajuwon the Chief Medical Director.

But since Yar’Adua took over, nothing at all has happened. Even the funny and kickback laden contract that Obasanjo awarded (again, to another one of his former aides!) for the building of one health clinic each in all the 774 Local Government Areas of the country was revoked by Yar’Adua but Yar’Adua had never suggested an alternative policy nor did anything himself. At this rate, and at Yar’Adua’s pace, our elites would soon be heading out to Ghana and the Gambia for medical care.

During Obasanjo’s second term, I sent in a detailed proposal to his last Health Minister on ways to revamp and run a functional primary care health service, but nothing came out of that effort. All I got back in response was a standard email reply and that was that. But healthcare in Nigeria is still completely neglected. I don’t know how many Nigerians go to Germany, Saudi Arabia, USA, Portugal, etc for medical attention, but I do know that the traffic into London alone is very heavy.

From Obasanjo to Atiku, Turaki, Buhari, Babangida (his own preferred destination is France), Emir of Katsina, Awoniyi, Gen. Malu, all the State governors and nearly all other government officials; they all flock abroad for medical care, annual medical check-ups and eye tests. And most of these people are ferried abroad and are treated at public expense. Quite a few of them die abroad because it is usually too late to do much for them by the time they arrive and because acute emergency medical response back in Nigeria is under-funded and inadequate. Others (like Eaglets coach, Yemi Tella) die whilst waiting to be flown abroad. There was even the pathetic case of Gen. Abdulkarim Adisa, a former Works Minister who died in a London hospital following a road accident in Nigeria.

Yet, Yar’Adua continues to lead the way with unending trips out for treatment. He is constantly under sedation and what not. I wonder if anyone in his circle has thought about the possible national security implication of this. Entrusting the elective medical care (as different from emergency intervention) of a country’s leader continually in the hands of foreigners and in foreign countries is fraught with risks and danger, is it not?

But I know that Yar’Adua, his cohorts and others like him think that they cannot entrust their lives to the inadequate healthcare provision in Nigeria. They continue to flounce to foreign lands and foreign hospitals that are, in any case, suffused with Nigerian doctors and nurses. So why not do something about the dysfunctional healthcare system at home? Why not make it adequate? Why not invest in it – publicly and privately? Make it functional. Make it effectual and Nigerians will come home. Lay a credible foundation or, minimally, start to show some believable effort and others will be more than happy to come and join-in and help build a sustainable healthcare system.

When Yar’Adua was campaigning, before he got caught out and landed in a familiar German hospital with “sinus” problems, he famously declared that he was a regular squash player. Throughout his eight years in Katsina, as he preoccupied himself with playing squash and lying on foreign sick beds, Katsina State consistently came dead last in the National Examinations Council (NECO) and GCE exams. I wonder if he still plays squash. I know that he plays with Nigeria; the problem is that it is not funny anymore.

The Perfidy of 'Sardauna of Sokoto' Foundation

Barely two months after N10billion was raised at the launching of the First Lady Cancer Centre, businessmen, state governors and politicians again gathered in Kaduna for another session of naira rain. However this time, it was for launch of the Late Sarduana of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello Foundation.

According the organisers, the objective of the Sardauna Foundation is to undertake research on the life and legacies of the late Sardauna, in the areas of values in service, leadership, development strategies, education, religious and ethnic tolerance, transparency and accountability. And according to media reports, the sum of N5.4billion was realised at the event, with Kano state government donating a sum of N779million (!). Other northern states were also noted to have donated between N200-N250 million each.

I have so much respect and admiration for the Late Ahmadu Bello. In fact, if one-third of all the northern state governors followed the legacies of the Late Sardauna, northern Nigeria is likely to be one of the best places to live in the world. It is on record that Sir Ahmadu Bello led northern Nigeria to great heights with zeal, audacity, momentum and focus.

During his reign as Premier, he established the largest University South of the Sahara (Ahmadu Bello University), the largest Polytechnic in Africa (Kaduna Polytechnic), one of Africa’s biggest conglomerate (Northern Nigeria Development Corporation), one of Africa’s biggest printing press (New Nigerian Newspapers), one of the leading banks (Bank of the North Ltd) in Africa etc.

However, when I read about how taxpayers money are been doled out and frittered away by elected politicians at ‘social events’, I can help it but cringe. It pains me to the bone marrow that our leaders can squander the state resources ‘willy nilly’ on useless and silly projects without been questioned.

This is not the first time, when monies from state coffers are donated towards advancement of individual causes that serve little or no public benefit. We see monies thrown at libraries, foundation, pet projects that lack any clear purpose. These projects serve as conduit for our greedy and corrupt leaders to siphon taxpayers’ money.

Tell me, what does Sarduana Foundation mean to millions of children that die yearly due to preentable diseases? What does Sarduana Foundation mean to millions of Almajiris begging on the streets of Lagos and Abuja? What does Sarduana Foundation mean to dilapidated hospitals in the north? What does Sardauna Foundation mean to millions of northerners that have no access to pipe borne water? What does Sarduana Foundation mean to the average northerner that cannot afford a single meal a day? What does Sarduana Foundation mean to millions of northerners who are homeless? What does Sardauna Foundation means to millions of unemployed youths in the north?

Now going back to the actual donations, there are few questions we need to ask the state Governors. Now that N5billion has been realised, how is it going to be spent? Who are the administrators of the Sardauna foundation? Who will hold the administrators accountable on how the money realised will be spent?

It is high time we as individuals need to start holding our leaders accountable for their actions. I cannot imagine my State Premier donating $7m of taxpayers’ money towards a foundation, irrespective of whom the foundation is set up. And by the way, were these donations appropriated in the state budget? Did the state legislative assembly approve such expenditure?

Truth be told, we do not need to raise N5.4billion before we research the legacies of the Late Sarduana. His legacies are there for all who care to see. However, what has the northern leaders done in the last 43yrs to improve on the legacies of the Late Sardauna? What is the state of university/polytechnic he left behind? What happened to the NNDC? Where is New Nigeria newspaper? What happened to Bank of the North?

The Late Sardauna was not allocated money from the ‘Excess Crude Account’, yet he built schools, media empire, financial institutions. The Late Sardauna did not enrich himself through dodgy and sham foundations. He did not coerce government contractors into donating money for pet projects that did not serve any public good. I do not think he was junketing overseas for medical treatment while local hospitals in the North remained non-functional. I also do not think he was sending his children overseas for education, while the educational institutions in the North remain perpetually shut down.

If these northern states are so rich that they can raise N5.4billion, then Gov. Fashola shouldn’t have had to go through the pain of repatriating the Almajiris begging on the streets of Lagos back to the north.

Let make no mistake N5.4billion is a colossal amount of money, irrespective of the currency. If N5.4billion is spent on Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, it might at least reduce Pres. Yar’Adua overseas medical trips. The money is enough to save future generations in the north from dying from illnesses such as Malaria and Polio etc.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

How Aondoakaa Sold Murtala Muhammed Airport to Bi-Courtney

Fresh court documents obtained by Saharareporters has found out how Nigeria's most corrupt Attorney General, Michael Aondoakaa participated in the controversial handover of the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) of the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos.

Mr. Aondoakaa, our impeccable source revealed, took huge bribe money from Mr. Wale Babalakin, the chairman of Bi -Courtney, the company now reputed for building sub-standard structures. Aondoakaa had worked with Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited to grant the company a 36-year concession to run the domestic wing of the Murtala Mohammed Airport after Bi-Courtney presented a carefully manipulated lease agreement that extended its tenure from 12 to 36 years.

During the Obasanjo's administration, Babalakin got Femi Fani Kayode to recommend that his lease on the airport be extended from 12 years to 36 years, but that proposal was rejected, but our sources revealed that Femi Fani Kayode did not reverse the lease agreements, leaving Bi-Courtney to use Aondoakaa to legitimize it.

Aondoakaa, after receiving N400 million from Babalakin, got Bi-Courtney to sue his office for breach of contract after claiming that it had the right to manage both the MMA2 and the GAT for 36 years starting from April 2004.

Curiously, Bi-Courtney did not include the Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and other agencies involved in airport management as well as affected airlines involved in the lawsuit even though its initial lease agreement was signed between FAAN and Bi-Courtney/ Stabilini Visioni. That strategy was deliberate. FAAN would have contested the lawsuit, but Aondoakaa's refused to diligently defend his office when put on notice about the suit. Aondoakaa sent his aide, a controversial lawyer, Anthony A Malik to pursue the case. But it was so poorly done that Justice Anwukere Chikere reflected his poor performance in the case note on page 22 in her ruling. Noting that the AGF, the sole defendant in the matter, did not contest Bi-Courtney's pleadings and averments.Lack of diligent prosecution was deliberate

Bi-Courtney then obtained a court judgement allowing it to forcefully take over GAT in a secret ceremony that had the airport workers protesting. The worker’s protests temporarily yielded some positive results, as the office of the National Security Adviser intervened and suspended the Bi-Courtney agreement but as soon Yar'adua returned from his sick bed in Saudi Arabia he reversed the decision of the NSA and ordered that Bi-Courtney take over the local wing of the Murtala mohammed airport in Lagos State.

The judgement also imply that the Lagos state government could operate airports in the state except Bi-Courtney allows it.

Culled from Saharareporters

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Prof. Charles Soludo: The Case of Moral Integrity

After weeks of political machinations, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) finally announced the nomination of the former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Prof. Charles Soludo as its flagbearer for February 2010 Anambra State Governorship elections.

Following an injunction from the Anambra state High Court against the planned governorship primaries, the former CBN governor was handpicked by the PDP national executive after the 47 aspirants failed to reach a consensus.

There is no doubt that, only very few surpass Prof. Soludo in academic achievements, intellectual capacity and expertise. His curriculum vitae speak volumes. Whether go or bad, he left an indelible mark on the nation’s banking sector. But that been said; does Prof. Soludo have the moral integrity to run for a State Governorship seat? For me, the handpicking of Prof. Soludo is a slap on the face of Anambra state electorates. It also reaffirms the notion that our political class are mentally devoid of moral integrity.

It is on record, that during his time at the Apex Bank, Prof. Soludo oversaw the biggest consolidation in the nation banking history. This achievement as we know, won him numerous awards in and outside of Nigeria. There is no doubt that the Nigerian banking sector was revolutionalised under his leadership. But at the same time he got carried away while carrying out his regulatory functions. He became the ‘best friend’ of the CEOs, wining and dining with top bank executives.

As the regulator of the nation’s banking industry, he colluded with bank executives to hide the rot in the banking system. He encouraged the recklessness and excessive risks taken by bank executives. And when it became glaring the banks were in trouble, it is alleged that Prof. Soludo “threatened the banks with sanctions if they disclosed that the capital of some of their peers had been eroded”. Instead of dealing with the crisis, he was always quick to blame the banking crisis on ‘demarketing’ tactics employed by some banks to take away customers from their peers.

Even at the height of the global financial crisis, he was quoted as saying, “Nigeria’s economy cannot go into recession” (!). Despite the sharp fall in price of crude oil and rapid depletion of the nation’s foreign reserve, Prof. Soludo had the gut – without any sound justification - to say that Nigeria’s economy was immune from the global recession!

When countries were injecting monies into their banking system to mitigate the impact of the world financial crisis, Prof. Soludo claimed that Nigerian banks are very strong, hence do not need any government ‘bail-outs’. He in fact noted that, “it is the banks that will bail-out the government” (!).

So what am I saying? The selection of Prof. Soludo sends a very worrying signal. The decision makes mockery of Lamido Sanusi banking reforms. It further lends credence to the conspiracy theory (which I do not subscribe to) that Lamido Sanusi is acting the script of the northern oligarchs.

If I belong the ethnic agenda camp, the question I will be asking is, if the banks were so much in a precarious state, due to sharp practices of bank executives, which was encouraged (directly or indirectly) by the leadership of Prof. Soludo, then why would the same person be handpicked by the ruling party for a Govenorship seat?

This decision of course, indirectly exonerates Prof. Soludo from any complicity in the ongoing banking scandal. The decision therefore calls into question the “real” intentions of the ongoing “Sanutization”.

Also just last week, a national Australian newspaper reported that an affiliate company of the Reserve Bank of Australia is under Federal Police investigation for allegedly bribing Nigerian officials in a cash-for-contracts scandal. The alleged contract, awarded during the tenure of Prof. Soludo at the CBN, was for the newly launched polymer naira notes. Similar to the Halliburton scandal, these bribes were paid out to the Nigerian officials through two British businessmen who acted as proxies.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time Nigerian officials have been named in cash-for-contract scandal. Whilst investigation is still ongoing in Australia, there’s been no official comment from the government on this matter. Prof. Soludo has also not said anything about his involvement in this matter, despite the fact that the contract was awarded during his tenure.

In civilised societies, an allegation of such gravity is enough make a politician step down from office, talk less of having the audacity to run for a political position. However, in our society it is business as usual, as no one bothers to investigate such allegations.

With Prof. Soludo almost guaranteed to win the state governorship election, this effectively grants him immunity for eight years (if he seeks re-election). After which it will all be case closed.

The election of Prof. Soludo as the Governor of Anambra state wouldn’t come as surprise to many. It is only in Nigeria that elected politicians with corruption cases hanging over their heads, are sitting in the federal parliament legislating federal laws. It is only in Nigeria that a candidate can be elected into office, while been detained in prison. And we call this democracy?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Niger Delta Amnesty: What Next......?

Despite ‘acceptance’ of the amnesty deal by some of the most notorious Niger Delta militants like Tom Ateke, Government Ekpomukpolo (Tompolo), Farah Dagogo, the jury is still out on the how long before these militants are back in the creeks. And now that the amnesty programme has ended, the questions now been asked are, how successful was the amnesty programme? And, will it bring lasting solution to the Niger Delta crisis?

If the success of the amnesty is to be measured by number of militants that have signed up to the deal, then President Yar’Adua cannot ask for anything more. If the success is measured by the arsenal of weapons handed in by the militants, then President Yar’’Adua and indeed all Nigerians, have every reason to jump up for joy! For me, the cache of weapons deposited by the Niger Delta militants is enough to launch guerrilla warfare and destabilise the existence of any nation.

As the region that lays the golden egg, the strategic importance of the Niger Delta to the development of Nigeria’s economy cannot be over-emphasised. As a mono-economy heavily reliant on revenue from oil proceeds, the oil wells of the Niger Delta have been the nation’s ‘cash cow’ since independence.
The effects of sustained violence in the Niger Delta have been far reaching. The sharp drop in the nation’s daily oil output, from its peak of 2.6million bpd to 500,000bpd is an example. This coupled with the dwindling oil price in the world market, resulted in the massive loss of government revenue.

It therefore became imperative for the government to find a lasting solution to the Niger Delta militancy. And it was for this reason that the President Yar’Adua announced the plan to offer the Niger Delta militant an ‘Amnesty’ earlier in the year. The government amnesty package noted to worth about N50billion includes monthly payment to militants who were willing to lay down their arms.

The amnesty plan was however met with fierce public criticism. Many commentators, including the author, believed that the solution to the Niger Delta crisis is more than just offering a salary package to militants in exchange for arms. The public also couldn’t understand how a militant that could earn hundreds of thousands of dollars from oil bunkering will lay down his/her arms in exchange for N50, 000 per month. So as far as the public was concerned, it was a gamble.

But now that most of the militants have laid down their arms, the fundamental question remains what next? Has the government gamble paid off? Apart from laying down their arms, the warlords have also been flown in Presidential Jet to Abuja to wine and dine with the President in Aso Rock. Some have also been treated to a ‘presidential photo session’.

On face value, the government’s amnesty package seems to have been a huge success. However, if current media reports are anything to go by, the success may be short lived

It was reported that the government caved into the demands of the former warlord Tompolo to engage him and his lieutenants and their boys on contract to provide security for oil pipelines. This agreement according to the government “will help provide a legitimate source of income for the warlord and their soldiers”.

For me, if this is what the government amnesty is about then it is nothing more than a “travesty”. It is like saying to homeowners, that the solution to house robbery is to engage an armed robber as your security guard! If the demand was the “condition “on which Tompolo accepted to surrender his arms, then I’m sorry it’s not an “amnesty”. Such agreement also calls into question, the integrity of the amnesty package.

By definition, an amnesty is a legislative or executive act by which a state restores those who may have been guilty of an offense against it to the positions of innocent persons. This means that for an amnesty to be offered to an individual, he/she must be deemed to have committed an offence punishable by law. Therefore, how can an offender dictate the terms under which he should be pardoned?

Also, why the need to employ ex-militants to guard oil pipelines if indeed the militants and government are genuine in find a lasting solution to the Niger Delta crisis? Prior to advent of militancy, I cannot remember any case of pipeline vandalisation. Which in other words means that pipeline vandalisation was perpetuated by the so-called militants with support of few elites, who are engaged in illegal oil bunkering.

Even if the government assumes that vandalisation of oil pipelines will still persist post-amnesty, then why can’t the nation’s security agencies perform this role. What is the point of having military, police and para-military forces, if they cannot secure and protect our key infrastructure?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that some of these ex-militants can not be involved in providing security in the Niger Delta region. My point is, this should be done properly through a rehabilitation process and not just as a condition of sham amnesty deal.

Let’s make no mistake, the agitation in the Niger Delta crisis is more than signing a deal with few militants, in order to keep them quiet. The government cannot just offer employment to a few thousand militants as security guards under fictitious amnesty deal and think all is well. What about millions of other citizens who have been impoverished for decades but have not been engaged in militancy? Is the government saying it pays to be a militant after all?

For now, the situation seems to be a win-win situation for the government and militants. Oil exploration continues without hindrance, thus increasing government revenue. The northern oligarchs also continue to feed fat from the cash cow. At the same time, the militants can continue to hold the government and oil companies to ransom by been engaged as security guards. So everyone is happy! But as the Yorubas say, “ewu nbe loko longe, longe fun rara e ewu ni”.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Nigeria @ 49: Senate President David Mark, the Delusional Optimist

With prevailing realities, there is no gainsaying that Nigeria has failed as a nation since independence. President Umaru Yar’Adua also confirmed this when he expressed regret that the promise of independence is yet to be fully realised 49 years after. In his words the President said “today (October 1 2009) should be a forceful reminder of the promise yet to be fulfilled, of the dream deferred for too long, and of the work that is still outstanding”. However, one person that seems to see things differently is the Senate President, David Mark.

The Senate President in his “goodwill” message to mark the 49th Independence Day anniversary was quoted as saying “At 49, no one can argue that Nigeria has realised its full potentials. This notwithstanding, we have made remarkable strides, especially in our steady march towards democracy and the rule of law. There are some successes we have to celebrate and consolidate”. Having read this statement, I was convinced that Senator Mark lives in a world of utopia. For a Senate President, who is the nation Number 3 citizen to say Nigeria has achieved its full potential in the face of abject poverty and indiscriminate looting of the nation’s treasury is not only patronising but preposterous. Such a statement is a slap on the face and an insult on 70 percent of the masses who have been continuously impoverished and thus live in abject poverty. If indeed we have realised our potential, then what Senator Mark is saying that, it is these 70 percent that do have a problem, and not the leadership.

For me, I will describe Senator Mark has someone who is probably suffering from “Delusional Optimism”. By definition, “delusional optimism” is a habitual failure to accept reality, unless it matches the positive outcome you want. And this problem is not peculiar to Senator Mark. Ex-President Obasanjo during a recent interview on the BBC programme Hardtalk, was also quoted as saying “based on the nation’s (abundant) resources, that Nigeria has achieved its potential”. Can you imagine that? Our leaders sometimes try to fool their minds into seeing something “good” instead of facing reality. They impose their own standards of “good” and “bad” on issues that have no such qualities. Their thinking is confused, misinformed or simply wishful.

Now going back to Senator Mark’s comments, on what indices are the potential we have achieved measured? If realisation of our potential is about being a leading corrupt nation, then the Senate President should take delight in the report recently released by Transparency International, which ranks Nigeria as 121st on table of the world’s most corrupt nation. Also, the Senate President will probably be the happiest person to know that we have lost almost $850bn through institutionalised corruption since independence. If the realisation of our “full” potential is about being one of the poorest nations in the world, despite being the world’s sixth largest crude oil producer, then we have indeed realised our full potential. Senator Mark should be informed that more than 70% of Nigerian citizens live on less than $1 per day. In fact the pace at which the potential of being one of world’s poorest nation has been realised is quite phenomenal. According to research, from 1970 to 2000 the Nigerian government received over US$300 billion from oil sales while the percentage of citizens living in extreme poverty (on less than US$1 per day) increased from 36 per cent to around 70 per cent.

Also why wouldn’t Senator Mark think we have realised our full potential, when he enjoys 24-hr uninterrupted power supply, thanks to multiple generators at his official lodge. If the realisation of our “full” potential is measured by the number of days that the masses can survive in perpetual darkness, then we are definitely on the right track. Senator Mark will be happy to know, with a population of 140million, we can only generating 2,900mw.

If anyone takes an in-depth look into Senator David Mark life history, then you probably wouldn’t blame him for making such a condescending statement. This is a man that has occupied one government position or another since Buhari-Idiagbon regime. At the age of 44, he has already been the Military Governor of Niger and the Old Ondo states. Within that period, he also served as the Minister of Communications. And as we know, he is now the Senate President. Those who know him will agree that he has a strong tendency for making silly jibes. This is the same man who said, “Telephones are not for the poor” during his time as Communications Minister. Now tell me, how can a man that has enjoyed perks and luxuries of public office for almost half of his life, not think that Nigeria has achieved its full potential?

The likes of Senator Mark encapsulate the challenge we face as nation. As long as we have leaders who are so detached from the reality of occupy positions of power, then we can never move forward as a nation. These guys are stuck in the cocoon called Abuja. There very insensitive to the plight of the masses. Rather than face challenges, they bury their heads in the sand pretending all is fine. Their definition of nation’s potential is the amount of money they can loot from the state treasury. Their definition of the nation’s potential is the number of oil blocks in the Niger Delta that can be auctioned to their families and cronies. Their definition of the nation’s potential is measured by the number of state-owned assets that can be sold to their cronies through dodgy privatisation deals. And finally, why wouldn’t a Senator that presides over a legislature that is maintained with N1.3 trillion yearly, but has only managed to pass four bills since its inception, not think that Nigeria has achieved its full potential?