Death by a thousand cuts – amnesty by another name

To my Nigerian friends, before we start frothing at the mouth whether Boko Haram is entitled to any amnesty, I ask the following questions:

1. Has any Boko Haram terrorist been apprehended?
2. If the answer to 1, is a yes, has he (or she) been brought to justice through the judicial system?
3. If the answer to 1 is yes and the answer to 2 is no, what does that say about a) the reliability of the justice system to provide assurance that the Nigerian judicial system is superior to jungle justice, for seeking redress?
4. If the answer to 1 is no, what assurance can the military give that all the “terrorists” that they have killed in their gallant effort to combat Boko Haram are indeed criminals? Where innocent lives have been lost (and I mean innocent here, not those habouring “Boko Haram”), has anyone thought about the potential of such losses to radicalise the fringe elements in the societies where those innocent people have been killed?
By the way, I do not support amnesty for criminals under any guise; but what steps [apart from shooting] has the  Nigerian presidency (past and present) taken to ensure that the structures that are responsible for the maintenance of civil order were adequate to forestall (or at least minimise) the prevalence of insecurity as it is in Northern Nigeria today?
Does anyone really place faith in the immigration services [to ensure the integrity of our borders]; the Customs services [to prevent smuggling, amongst other duties]; the police [for maintenance of domestic law and order]; the justice system [for prompt, transparent and fair dispatch of justice]; the legislature [for providing an enduring legislative framework that engenders security] and the executive arm for the overall responsibility for the welfare of the country?
Lest you snicker, does anyone reading this piece pay some money to OPC for “security” regularly? If the police were adequate, would you need OPC? Good thing, perhaps that OPC is yet to start bombing government establishments in S/W Nigeria. But the presence of an armed militia called OPC is an aberration that underscores the failure of the police. Should OPC wake up tomorrow to demand for some obscure resource control and commences a bombing campaign to force the government to accede to its requests, perhaps you will realise then that terrorism is not as remote as you imagine.
I am no expert in human psychology, but I have read enough to recognise that there will always be all shades of radical (and criminal) ideologies, seeking converts for their nefarious objectives. In the absence of readily available and legal options for economic empowerment and legal redress when rights are infringed upon, radical ideologies that offer promises of an alternative would easily garner adherents [which is why you pay OPC]. I can safely say that the repeated failure of these organs of the state that have, amongst other factors, precipitated all shades of militants and terrorists – and more importantly, given them the critical mass in membership that has seen them afflict such damage to the nation.
Amnesty to criminals sends a message to others – be sufficiently and persistently brutal in your agitations and your rewards will be in oil lifting allocations and presidential pardon. Truth be told, by granting amnesty to criminals without addressing these issues of state failure, what the nation faces is simply death by a thousand cuts.

Chief Awolowo – Another Perspective

Last night I was unable to sleep, and I decided to engage in a bit of rabble-rousing. I stirred the hornet’s nest – and asked the sacrilegious question “What exactly has Awolowo done to merit the being deified”?  Did I get stung! Sifting through the answers, and the emotions, I was able to draw some conclusions, which I will share below.
The background to this is the slew of comments I have encountered on Facebook over the past couple of weeks, stemming from Chinua Achebe’s opinion of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s actions – principally during the civil war.  It seemed any attempt to question the value of Chief Awolowo’s actions sits smack in the zone of religious heresy. Given such high regard – I stood back from the noise to ask myself – “What has Awolowo done, really done, do deserve such unquestioning fealty?”
I evaluated the responses using a rubric applied by a man who has influenced me more than any other except my father – Nsa Harrison (a bit of name-dropping won’t be bad, eh?) This pretty much asks “What has he done?”, “What is the value?” and “Why was it done?”
The replies are grouped below:
1.         Free education
2.         Action Group / Political machinery
3.         Infrastructure – Cocoa House, Liberty Stadium, WNTV
4.         Tribune Newspapers
5.         Cocoa boom
6.         Ikenne rubber plantation
7.         Industrial estates
8.    Farm settlements for promoting rural economy and ensuring improved agricultural productivity
9.         University of Ife
10.       Honesty, i.e. he was honest.
Without trying to besmirch his character with hearsay or stories that are not in public domain, I will put in perspective all of these achievements listed above. I will however start by agreeing – Chief Awolowo was an intelligent man. This admission, I plead, should be the backdrop of every other thing I will say hereinafter. I will tackle the free education bit last – largely because it is the most contentious. Here is a quick dismissal of most of the others in no particular order.
Infrastructure – I opine that a number of what Chief Awolowo engaged in was tokenism  He inherited an effective civil service that was put in place by the British colonialists and if it isn’t broken, why fix it? Establishing icons of regional supremacy – at a time when each region was trying to outdo the others was the order of the day.  For each of the items listed under infrastructure carried out by Awolowo, there are more enduring “infrastructural legacies” put in place by IBB, yes, read Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. Yet, no one rushes to proclaim IBB lord and saviour – quite rightly so I must quickly add. What distinguishes Cocoa House (a skyscraper built with public funds from proceeds of cocoa) from the CBN HQ in Abuja (another skyscraper built with public funds from the proceeds of crude oil); or Liberty Stadium from National Stadium Abuja? For good measure IBB completed the 3rd Mainland Bridge in Lagos. I will re-visit this issue further down.
Tribune newspapers – Lord help me! A propaganda newspaper owned by a politician is now considered an earth-shaking achievement! For all its merits, the Nigerian Tribune was and still remains a privately owned company, run for the benefits of its shareholders – who I ought to point out are the descendants of Chief Awolowo. It was neither unique – all the major political ideologies had their respective publications – nor was it a forerunner by any means. I do not want to waste further time on this. Next?
Action Group / UPN – my response, AG was a socialist version of PDP. A bit of history – that can be independently verified here; Olabisi Onabanjo was jailed by the Buhari regime for diverting Ogun State funds to UPN. With the benefit of seeing things through an adult’s prisms now – I have often wondered what could the hapless Olabisi Onabanjo really do? He was the governor in Ogun State where Chief Awolowo (SAN) was the capo dei capi. Questions have been asked over the unduly lengthy prison sentence handed down to Gov. Onabanjo, few questions have ever been raised regarding the veracity of the accusation. And by the way, there goes your “Honesty” achievement. If anyone has time, read the Coker reports, not so much for their attempts to vilify Chief Awolowo but for the details of the financial shenanigans that went on under his watch or with his active connivance. Oh, I forget, it’s bad to speak ill of the dead.
Cocoa boom! May I point out – like I did last night, attributing cocoa boom to Awolowo is akin to attributing the current petroleum price boom to Goodluck Jonathan. Both are equally ludicrous, trust me on this one. These are internationally traded commodities, over which no single seller or buyer has appreciable impact on prices.
At this point, we start scraping the bottom of the barrel. Farm settlements, rubber plantations “etc, etc, utc”. These were essentially activities carried out by the WNDC, whose precursor, the Western Regional Production Development Board pre-date Chief Awolowo; but we are not taught this in school. We are taught about WNDC / Oodua Group of Companies which handled these development projects. It was a mixed bag – there were embarrassing failures as well as some resounding successes. Interestingly, the financial success of the WNDC was engineered by a young Alfred Rewane; but I guess it took the divine vision of Chief Awolowo to enter into partnership with Alfred Rewane. Situating a rubber plantation in Ikenne is a matter that will always be subject to debate – was it an ego trip to satisfy the lord and master himself in the face of contrary advice by meteorological services? What is indisputable was that the Sapele plantations have fared better.  Honesty… I’ll leave the reader to conclude.
University of Ife… Jo now! Established in 1962, alongside ABU and Unilag, behind University of Nigeria, Nsukka; this was the result of another regional race for educational supremacy and more importantly, the Ashby Commission Report – carried out before independence. I guess, like everything else, we were taught in primary school – Awolowo established the University of Ife. And we believed it. Without question, he was involved in his capacity as the premier of Western Nigeria pre-independence, but so were other regional premiers.  I really do not know what to make of this point though, universities were established before and after my Alma Mater, the University of Ife. Is it an earth-shaking, heaven-rending event worthy of apotheosis? I do not know.
Finally free education! My people love awoof! A clear mind is required here. So I’ll crave the indulgence of the reader. I asked, and I still ask, what was the value of free education? The response then ranged from biased to the vague.  I’ll quote someone a response here “Free education created an enlightened society, tolerance and mutual respect within the Yoruba. That sums up all his achievements!”  My retort to this vague remark – were Yorubas an unenlightened, barbaric and rambunctious lot before Awolowo’s free education policy? If the answer to this is “yes”; then I will agree that indeed the free education policy “created an enlightened society, tolerance and mutual respect within the Yoruba”. Then I got this one, “Free education that has placed the southwest on a pedestal”. Again, the same regurgitated dogma we have been handed down by the ethnicists of the AG/UPN machinery. What pedestal? The first Nigerian vice-chancellors of the University of Ibadan and the University of Lagos were Igbo men!
The argument then goes on in circle about how Yorubas have been exposed to Western education long before other ethnic groups, blah, blah, blah. If indeed this were the case – a wide exposure to Western education, as opposed to an elitist exposure – the free education policy would effectively be a redundant policy, because Chief Awolowo would have been offering for free, what was already widely available and which everyone was willing to pay for. So, it was either Western education was not widely available, and Chief Awolowo made it available – which falls flat in the face of the missionary schools established as far back as the 1860s in Abeokuta, Ibadan and other parts of what would become Western Nigeria; or Western education was widely available and the free education policy was just another cheap populist policy.
Huff and puff aside, let’s examine the free education policy. The free education policy was “mandatory and free primary school education”; it did not extend beyond this. Bear in mind that before this was implemented, the colonial government had been subsidising the mission schools whilst monitoring their performance. In 1955, when the policy was implemented, there were 6,407 primary schools; this figure reached its peak of 6,670 by 1958, after which there was a steady decline in the number of primary schools to 6,311. The enrolment in schools increased from 456,000 before the policy was implemented to a peak of 1.13 million in 1961, the rate of increase over time however decreased until 1962 when there was a reduction in the absolute number of enrolments. Quite apart from mass enrolment – there is a feature of the period that is not often discussed – mass and automatic promotion, regardless of academic standards. This factor has been held by some to be responsible for the initial decline in educational standards from that which was set by the mission and colonial schools. What is equally questionable is the sustainability of this welfare policy – by 1964, this constituted about 40% of the total government recurrent expenditure (compare this to 14% for the UK government).  Like many policies of the AG era, I can safely say again – this was a mixed bag, it granted literacy to many families who perhaps were otherwise indifferent, but lowered the overall standards in a bid to do so. It certainly was one policy which would have required significant overhaul had it been allowed to run its course.
Honesty and infrastructure revisited.
Take this to the bank – Gowon did more for the infrastructure of Nigeria than Awolowo did for the Western Region when he held sway there. The last significant investments in pylons for the electricity network, roads and bridges were carried out by Gowon; without a whiff of financial impropriety attached to his name. No one is yet to deify Gowon.  So I ask, why am I barred from subjecting Awolowo’s performance to further scrutiny.
I realised after a lot of thought that many of us – Nigerians – have not been encouraged to challenge what we are taught in school. Consequently, it is easy for a state funded school to impart propaganda of any sort at an early age and this remains unchallenged for decades afterwards. Heck, Nigerian schools still teach that Mungo Park discovered the River Niger!
Education is meant to empower us to probe – and revisit long-held dogmas. Sadly, it seems many of us just go to school to acquire the credentials to enable us earn a living and pass the dogma to the next generation.  This reluctance to challenge the status quo, invariably seeps through to other facets of our lives; so – using an underhand example – Fashola is seen as performing in Lagos State in the face of the laughable state of affairs, woe betide anyone who disagrees. A scoundrel is asiwaju of somewhere and everyone kowtows to him without questioning his competence. Some mini-bandit somewhere calls himself eze gburugburu ndi igbo and we all genuflect before him. Another bestows on himself the Seriki of Arewa and we shout “rankadede”! All without asking – “why?”.
I owe Nsa Harrison a debt of gratitude for shattering this attitude – for I once was like this as well – when he asked us in 2001, name your Nigerian hero, tell us why he is your hero, and tell us what he or she has done. I left that class with Nsa knowing we had no heroes in Nigeria. And in the lacuna created by the paucity of genuine heroes, bold charlatans and Machiavellian politicians strut their stuff.
I’m out!

MoshoodiLag, Akoka

Whilst I might find the possible abbreviations of the new name quite amusing, I have nothing against a name change in itself.
Many institutions and buildings have their names changed all over the world and all through history; one of the things I find tragically comic about this type of spontaneous (dare I say macabre) re-christening is the potential cost of implementing this across a whole lot of the university’s dealings. A simple instance, did Dr(?) GEJ think about the cost of stationery change alone? Overnight, the official letterheads of the University of Lagos were rendered effectively useless for all intents and purposes. Domain name issues could also pop up, the question is still the same – have the cost implications of this “re-birth” been assessed?
Comparisons have been made with the change of name from The University of Ife to the much longer Obafemi Awolowo University, I do not know if this is apt. The University of Ife was pretty much the brain-child of the late Chief Awolowo, with close and continuous involvement / interaction with the university for most of his life. The name change was effected within 3 days of his death in 1987 – albeit arbitrarily like the MAUL name-change. As a matter of fact, a riot ensued when the authorities of the University of Ife then tried to change the name of Awo Hall (based on the premise that the university had been renamed after Chief Awolowo). Ahmadu Bello University was so named from day 0, for the later Sardauna was that much revered and influential in the northern part of Nigeria in his lifetime. Without denying the validty of claims that the Abiola name be immortalised in some tangible, national form, questions could indeed be asked about the relationship he had with the university above others in the country. And how does the university name change reflect his fatal involvement in the democratic process of 1993? If NIPSS had been renamed the MKO Abiola Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, there could indeed be a stronger argument to be made for such a change.
I sympathise with the students of the MAUL, whose vain sensibilities have been hurt, but then they should get a grip on life. In four years, it would hardly matter if you graduated from UNILAG or MoshoodiLag, the vicissitudes of life would have bludgeoned such ego-fuelled follies to submission – that is until PDP’s President David Mark decides to change the name of the university again to Moshood And Kudirat University [MAKU] (of Education). I fear for third mainland bridge when that happens!

Slash their wages, not the subsidy

The following is a short “analysis”, done on the back of the challenge issued here(Link: Cut The Waste: Squeezing Water From The Rock) by Aguntasolo, a man for whom I have utmost respect.
Here is an instant fix to the fuel subsidy brouhaha; each senator in the country should have the total remuneration pegged at N1,296,000 per annum. This would mean a total of about N142 million would be the bill on senator’s remuneration (including allowances). Each member of the House of Representatives should have their annual remuneration fixed at 80% of that of a senator; bringing the total House of Representatives remuneration burden to about N373million. In all, the nation should be spending N515 million per annum on the salaries and allowances of ALL the members of the National Assembly (NASS).
I am joking right? No, I’m not. Here is a quick analysis to validate my request. In the UK, the minimum wage is £5.95/hour, which translates to £11,603 per annum (assuming the standard 37.5hr work week). A member of the UK Parliament earns a little under six times this amount; which is fair, since public service means just that – SERVICE. The Nigerian legislator, from Senator David Mark to the newest back-bencher MUST be prepared to view his involvement in the National Assembly as a sacrifice and not as an avenue to plunder the nation away from the glare of the scrutinising public. And if in their collective bi-cameral wisdom, the two houses of legislature have declared that the minimum wage of the Nigerian worker should be N18,000 per annum, let the legislators, in line with the UK counterparts earn 6 times this amount for their devotion to the Nigerian cause.
Apart from the instant savings to the purse of the Federal Government, this would have the effect of winnowing out the fortune-hunters who might have mistakenly found their way into NASS and leaving room for genuine patriots to go about the business of creating an appropriate legislative framework for the development of the country. Alternatively, if the seemingly insatiable appetite of the National Assembly to devour a quarter of the annual national budget must be met, then it must devote itself to improving the lot of the poorest paid Nigerian worker, so the least paid employee in Nigeria could be paid, say… N300,000 per month.
Geeky analysis aside, I believe the remuneration of elected officials should be indexed against the general wage levels of the country. In addition to the advantages highlighted above, I think this would make a certain politician less of a liar when next he says “I am in your shoes”.

Their Grievance: Learning from history

I do not have any proprietary rights over wisdom, what I write below is based on what I have read and observed. I do not approve of violence – you need to see my 5ft 6in frame to know that I am not built for violence – and there can be absolutely no excuse for wantonly taking the lives of other human beings.

I have been in a handful of discussions on different social media fora in the last 24 hours where the (ongoing) violence in certain parts of Northern Nigeria is being discussed and condemned. A lot of these have eventually assumed an ethno-religious hue, alongside the call that Major General Muhammadu Buhari should lend his voice to call for an end to the violence. The blanket tar that has been used to paint the whole Northern Nigeria is that of a frontier of primitive tribal and religious bickering; and that the terms of our corporate existence as a nation-space called Nigeria should be re-negotiated.

Often when criticism is levelled against acts of destruction and violence, virtually all the critics fail to question (never mind trying to resolve) the precipitants that led to these events. This seeming inability (or is it an unwillingness) to examine and resolve the causes of such upheavals, inevitably keeps the society in a vicious circle. History (Nigerian history as well as that of other nations) is replete with instances where seemingly civilised segments of the society descend, and quite rapidly, into an orgy reprehensible violence which they never believed they could.

One of the points that I find is very biased is that this is Northern Nigerian or Northern Muslim behaviour. It is as insensitive as it is baseless. From the Aba riots of 1929 (Eastern Nigeria), through to the 1960’s Operation Weti e and Agbekoya uprisings (Western Nigeria), Maitasine Riots (Northern Nigeria), Warri riots, Niger Delta “militants” campaign against the oil industry (South-South) and the Jos riots (Middle Belt) – our nation’s history is littered with all manner of mayhem that it would be tendentious to attribute these to some inherent belligerent trait in any tribe. The 1966 coups, the subsequent pogrom against Igbos in other parts of Nigeria and the Nigerian Civil War all give an insight into how quickly everyone can tumble from their perches of racial haughtiness and become barbarians given the excuse and the opportunity. Anecdotes abound of how some Igbos (who barely 2 years earlier were victims of some of the most abominable crimes against any tribe in Nigeria), toward the end of the civil war, turned on the minority ethnic groups in what was left of Biafra and many were killed in extra-judicial circumstances – the term used to describe them was “saboteurs”. This perhaps shows how quickly victims can become tormentors when disorder sets in.

Have the Agbekoya riots or the Ife-Modakeke riots made the Yorubas a “violent race”? Or have the actions of Colonel Boyloaf and Tom Polo condemned every Ijaw man to being called a “militant” for the rest of his life? Just as the actions of a clutch of Igbo men in 1969 against some Ndonis have not resulted in the Igbos being called barbarians, it then becomes a simpleton’s conclusion to say the disturbances in the North of Nigeria happen because Northern Nigerians (whatever that means) are innately bellicose. I do not want to start a religious argument here either, but for those who are quick to add a “Muslim” dimension to this, I would urge you to do a crash course in Judeo-Christian history and see how steeped in blood it also has been.

Having tried to show that the same madness is capable of besetting any group of persons, regardless of creed or language, it then becomes important to try to assess what gives rise to these events. Underlying every instance above is an unaddressed sense of grievance – I would like to think of it as “disenfranchisement”. The mistake that has been made over and over, when an injustice is deemed (and I have said “deemed”) to have been perpetrated, is that those who are not involved simply shrug their shoulders and move on. To the group that has felt slighted or left bereft of what it believes to be its entitlement, it is not quite as easy to gloss over. In 1966 January, rightly or wrongly, Nigerian soldiers of Hausa/Fulani descent felt cheated by a coup deemed to have been plotted by Igbo officers, which left both the civilian and military Northern leaders dead. By the end of the third week of January 1966, the Sardauna of Sokoto, the Premier of Nigeria and Brigadier Zakariya Maimalari were dead. [Never mind that Lt. Col Arthur Unegbe was also killed in the coup and Maj. Gen. JTU Ironsi barely escaped being killed; and Northern soldiers and at least one officer from present day Benue State participated in the coup.] Virtually nothing was done [from the point of view of the aggrieved] to address their misgivings. History may judge on the rights or wrongs, but 6 months later the country was headed to a civil war.

The Igbos have always been a republican ethnic group without kings and have governed themselves by universal adult male suffrage for years – “Igbo a ma eze” is an expression that means “the Igbo do not recognise, or have no regard for, kings”. The British unilaterally appointed warrant chiefs in a bid to carry out indirect governance, ignoring the customs of the people that were being governed. Aba women’s riots were precipitated as a consequence of this amongst other issues. Many contemporary views agree that this upheaval is indicative of an un-redressed defect in the British colonial style of governance.

The perennial Niger Delta unrest, regardless of how the politician in Abuja sees it, is a result of decades of neglect of the environment and the people where the bulk of the nation’s wealth is derived. Until this is addressed coherently and comprehensively (and not by some witless truce or amnesty), it does not take a genius to figure out that this would continue in one variant or another for a long time.

The civil disturbances in Kaduna and Kano in the past 24 hours have their roots in a perceived electoral injustice. I say “perceived” because except a court determines otherwise, the elections returned Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as the President-elect. It would however be wishful thinking to assume every segment of the society believes the numbers stack up to reason or that the elections were fair. The segment that feels robbed is the segment that is protesting at the moment. That we are a nation divided at the moment is putting it mildly, and it behoves President Jonathan to do his best to assuage the sensibilities (and emotions) of those who are aggrieved; curfews suppress physical movement, not human emotions.

For those who are quick to say “let them go to hell”; let caution be the guard over their mouths, for no one has the monopoly of violence – not the Egbesu, not the Boko Haram and not the Agbekoya – and should things get exacerbated, it is sadly the innocent who will suffer more before things are properly resolved.

This is not an academic article and I am not trying to give it a hue of academic legitimacy; however here are some other references that could prove interesting.

1929 Women

Federalism and ethnic conflict in Nigeria


Holy Inquisition


Igbo religious philosophy

Igbo Enwe Eze

Max Siollun

The Nigerian, the Masochist

I was not going to write this piece, hoping the (empty) hubris that I have been accused of would not be brought to the public domain. But I’ll lose the moral right to complain over the next 3 to 4 years if I do not express my views, so I write.
I won’t be voting in the forthcoming Nigerian elections because I am about 4,000 miles from the nearest polling booth and do not have the luxury of travelling for the event.  That said; being my country of birth, I am very interested in the inputs and the outcome of the imminent elections.   Sadly, I am holding myself out as a prophet of doom – Nigeria is not ready for any dramatic development.  Using the Facebook blogosphere as an indicator of the wider sentiments in Nigeria, with due apology to Honorable Igodomigodo, I am “maniacally bewildered” by the catatonic tendencies exhibited by Nigerians who still consider Dr. G.E Jonathan and the PDP as credible options for the Nigerian presidency for another four years.
Anyone who, at this stage of the country’s retrogression, is still rooting for PDP’s continued leadership – for reasons other than being a direct beneficiary of the extant putrid and thoroughly inept system of governance embodied by the PDP – seriously deserves the worst that life can throw at him or her.  Given that the office of the Nigerian president has been adorned by all shades of characters – from a barely literate goon to a couple of PhD holders (one of them after the office); from a 29-year old bachelor to a 70-year old polygamist – all with colossal failures – with the incumbent contributing an accelerated decline to the retrogression, I will be hard-pressed to believe that there is anything to be gained by retaining this current salmagundi of dimwits.
Tomes have been writing about the quantum of fiscal incompetence exhibited in the past 18 months since the ailment (and later, demise) of the late President Yar’Adua; and I am not inclined to add to that library.  External reserves have been depleted with hardly a sliver of motorway to show for it; and the country recently celebrated the resuscitation of a train service that takes 9 hours to ply the 300 or so miles from Lagos to Ilorin.  In an age where the emphasis has shifted from not just providing stable electric power supply to obtaining commercially viable green sources of power supply, we have a national leadership that is unable to generate as much electric power as Wisconsin, never mind the United Kingdom.  A leadership that believes it is necessary to shut schools down for voters’ registration, when in the same period; I filled my census form in the UK without leaving my bedroom.  After listening to speeches laced with “umblerras” and “fellow widows”, I am hardly surprised at the discount placed on education by the man in a fedora.
I have heard all sorts of puerile arguments about being hopeful.  Sorry, hope should be reserved for the deserving  – those who truly lift one’s hopes – and not for the worthless scoundrels who have dashed the nation’s hopes over and over again without remorse.  Whilst the insensitive recklessness and pathetic incompetence exhibited by the elites of the PDP is, well, to be expected, what is more appalling is that some simpleton who carries a Nigerian voter’s card is optimistic enough to even consider the party as a credible option during the elections.   In any environment that seeks to be clothed with even the thinnest veneer of progress, the PDP’s defeat would have been as assured as the darkness that follows sunset on a moonless night.  If GEJ (by extension PDP) is voted in at the next presidential elections, it is not because he deserves the office on the basis of any commendable track record, it will be because of the self-destructive naïveté (and the masochism) of the Nigerian.  But then, common sense is not a widely available commodity; or will I be proven wrong by the Nigerian votes?

Spiritual Toll Gates

Being a Christian does not preclude asking questions and demanding propriety from those in authority.
It is stale news that Pastor Christian “Chris” Oyakhilome’s Christ Embassy took an “innovative” approach to crowd control by charging an entrance fee of N1,000 per head to attend its New Year eve church service.  With a church auditorium said to seat about 25,000 people, this is a crowd control measure with an income earning slant.  Viewed purely as a monetary transaction between the attendees and the church, this incident is hardly newsworthy.  Provided the buyers are willing to part with their money and the seller – in this case, the church – is willing to receive the same and offer some service in return, it is all well and good.   This short essay however tries to examine this incident from another set of perspectives.
Those willing to attend but unable to pay
Whilst many pastors (and their fervent acolytes) will disagree with me, an organised church is a charitable establishment amongst other things, with a religious hue.  Amongst the people who might want to attend a church event are many who have a genuine need – beyond the euphoric – for a tangible spiritual experience, but who cannot afford to give any monetary consideration in return.  A church being a charitable organisation has a moral duty to these people.  The Bible is replete with instances where Jesus forbade the disciples from turning the needy from him.  On more than one occasion, He brought the crowd around Him to a halt to attend to the need of someone on the verge of being discarded by society as a waif.
It is utterly galling to then see an establishment place its pecuniary objectives ahead of its charitable duties and then turn around and try to justify it by terming it “crowd control”.  Someone needs to be told the truth here, without that “crowd”, there will be no church.  The services rendered by charitable organisations can often not be quantified in monetary terms.  A bowl of soup might cost just 90 pence, but when you go feeding the homeless at Leicester square on a winter night, that bowl is worth more than 90p to the homeless man that is fed.  In a similar manner, what price tag can you really attach to the spiritual experience that was denied that widow or area boy turned back at the gates of the “Embassy” for want of N1,000?
The follies of ignoring history
Many of us, first generation African immigrants in Europe, are shocked at the extent of religious apathy exhibited by most Western Europeans.  A history of the church in England might help here, because Mr. Oyakhilome’s crowd control methods are not new.  A few centuries back, virtually all the cathedrals in England had one relic or the other, which many unwitting peasants had to pay to touch or see, with the belief rife that touching or venerating these relics brought solutions to some problem(s).  These churches became spiritual toll-gates of some sorts.
In retrospect, a list of these relics from previous centuries look like a scammer’s toolbox – toe clippings from the nail of Mary Magdalene, a piece of the true cross, Saint Peter’s chains, a feather from the raven (some say dove) that Noah sent out of the Ark; the list is endless.  I will use this quote from Wikipedia – “since Christians during the Middle Ages often took pilgrimages to shrines of holy people, relics became a large business.”  The sad part of the monetised church was the obscene opulence in which the cleric lived, whilst a substantial part of the laity lived in poverty.  In an extreme instance of financial irresponsibility, the church refused to finance Henry V’s war against France in the 15th century, threatening anyone who dared tax the church with excommunication.  The disheartening consequence of this business is that as people became more enlightened and the obvious frauds behind the relics’ toll business came to light, the seed of disenchantment was sown.
These attributes are echoed in the 21st century organised church, where pastors live in abominable splendour in the face of indigent members – and the taxation of churches is something we must not discuss because we have been indoctrinated – “touch not mine anointed and do my prophets no harm”.   So, monetisation of spirituality is nothing new, but the paucity of attendance in churches in Europe today speaks volumes of the long-term effect of a monetised church.  Many an Anglican parish minister in England will long for the crowd that Pastor Oyakhilome turned back on 31 December 2010; sadly the 21st century English flock has gone to the pubs and clubs instead.
The focus of the church over many centuries was on money without a sustainable spiritual base for worshipers, the absence of tangible spiritual benefits being offered by the church has seen a generation has turned its back on organised religion and by extension turn its back on God.  I have had the opportunity of attending majority black churches (MBCs) in England as well as a handful of other churches with predominantly Caucasian congregations and I know which group dwells on “money, money, money and more money”; and I am mildly amused at the seeming incapacity of MBCs to learn from the mistakes of the older “orthodox” churches.
As society becomes more technologically advanced and science and technology provide more succour (even) in under-developed nations like Nigeria, and a prosperous existence is not predicated on the pulpit utterances of some pastor in flashy suits, churches will be built, not on congregations where members can pay N1,000 but on Christians who have a genuine relationship with God.  By then, the N1,000-paying, hero-worshiping and skabashing throng will be long gone to other exciting venues  and one may well ask, “whither shalt thou be crowd-control?”

When Orunmila spoke and Enoch anointed

“He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes,  saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm. “
I can safely say the 2011 presidential election in Nigeria is a fait accompli for Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.  Not since the witch of Endor foretold the death of Saul have the gods of pantheism and Jehovah been aligned on an opinion of this magnitude.  The custodian of the 300 odd deities of Yoruba land, decided a few weeks back that heaven had lost its voice and with theocratic authority, decreed that Dr. GEJ is  the new-found voice of heaven.  To forestall a situation where this voice would be deprived of celestial company, Madam Péshé (French pronunciation, please) was deemed to be the spouse (read: Echo) of this new cosmic voice.
Not to be outdone, the man of God, named after another man of God who walked with El-Shaddai of old and was found no more – “for God took him”; in a divinely inspired moment had the president of the most populous (?) black nation kneel down before him whilst he proclaimed (?) him as the anointed one.
Both of these events within four weeks of each other!  When the denizens of the pantheon speak, woe betides the mortals who oppose their proclamation.  Let Atiku be filled with fear! Let Ribadu’s trepidations overwhelm him into submission. Let Buhari lose all hope. The gods have spoken.  And should any of them be tempted to “heat up the polity”, let them be told –”it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”, for it has been prophesied unto GEJ, “the Lord shall fight for you and you shall hold your peace”.
And I am earnestly urging all Nigerians; do not bother to vote, lest you incur the wrath of the gods.  If you vote against the anointed of heaven, you are voting against your maker(s).  If you vote for him, you are being presumptuous in thinking that you can help the gods; remember Uzzah in the Bible who was struck down for holding out his hand to keep the ark from toppling off a cart? Think of the election day as a public holiday. Sit at home and keep your wives and children company. If you have no children, use that day to make one. If you have no wife, ring up that girl you have been mustering up courage to chat up. Do anything, but do not vote.
I do not wish to hold brief for Orunmila or any other Yoruba deity; my knowledge of Ifa is based almost entirely on Wikipedia and I do not hear from the Judeo-Christian God with sufficient clarity that I would decide to anoint anyone. I am just a Christian trying to do my quota on earth whilst I yet have breath.  On the other hand, I think that with the privilege of being the principal custodian of religion in Yorubaland or having direct access to God, comes the responsibility to apply discretion in one’s pronouncements.  After all, Samuel took care to anoint David in private, likewise Ahijah when foretelling the ascension of Jeroboam to the throne of the northern Israelite kingdom.
On one hand, it will be extremely comforting to know that the deities across different religions have agreed to support Jonathan. On the other hand, there is a question that tugs at the corners of my mind, in this quick succession of divine pronunciations, is GEJ the ruler ordained to deliver the country from the morass where it currently sits; or dare I ask, are the gods simply prodding him forward to a destination known only to them?  Otherwise, a disturbing proverbs begins to echo faintly in my mind – “he whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad”.

From 6/6/6 to 10/10/10

I am going to offend some of my christian friends here. What on earth is it with Christians and dates?
I have received so many inane texts about how October 2010 is a unique month and that it occurs once every 863 years, once every 1000 years (which is quite obvious) and all sorts of other outlandish claims.
I got one last night about how October 2010 has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays and 5 Sundays; and that this unique combination occurs only once every 863 years. I was then requested to forward the two-page text so as not to break some puerile fengshui luck. I don’t know which upset me more, the banality of the text or the requirement that I should use my money send a two-page text to four more people in order to partake of this Chinese luck.
On the 6th of June 2006, it was night vigil galore. On 7th July 2007, it was the turn of those seeking some gamblers’ goodluck. Each year, I am bombarded by texts and mails, proclaiming fantastic interpretation of some date or another.
Where do people – particularly my Christian friends – keep their grey matter on issues such as this? The Gregorian calendar is cyclical for crying out loud. Within a 28 year period, every date combination you can come up with is repeated (except years, which are unique anyway). So, come October 2027, there will be 5 Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in the same month, so what becomes of this fengshui drivel? Given that the Gregorian calendar was derived by skipping some dates, which 10 October 2010 is valid? Is it the Julian or Gregorian? Or the Jewish calendar? Or the Islamic calendar? Or the Chinese?
Purely from a biblical perspective, there are clear restraints placed by God, which forbid a Christian from astrology, which is equivalent to this dates combination claptrap . “For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.” (Deuteronomy 18:14). Somewhere, between being true to one’s faith as a Christian and using our brains, one would ordinarily assume people will realise each day is unique and appreciate it for what it – a gift from God.
Henceforth, if I get any text or mail about how this date occurs once every 777 years or that another month has a Friday the 13th, my reaction will be definitely explosive!

The Finance of Self-Preservation

In many developed and actively developing countries, there is usually some state-initiated mechanism (or a similar device) which seeks to prevent the denizens of those countries from falling into some social abyss or another.  These mechanisms play out as welfare schemes, targeted infrastructural development drives and government involvement in certain areas of public infrastructure maintenance.
In Western Europe, there is a welfare / benefit scheme in each of the constituent countries (which vary in how “lucrative” they are from country to country). These ensure that the basic needs of the citizens and other inhabitants are met, regardless of their ability to earn income. Like all systems maintained by man, these are abused continually by unscrupulous people, but there is a matched effort on the part of the governments to stem the abuse.  In other instances, countries may embark on infrastructural development initiatives to kick-start economic growth and social regeneration in areas where there are identified economic (and often social) development needs.  Similar objectives see these governments provide employment in seemingly trivial activities like street cleaning and community beautification activities.
Beyond the obvious economic advantages of having as many people in the nation working or having a means of livelihood, these seemingly altruistic activities of these governments have at their core, a very self-preserving objective.  History has shown over and over again, that when there is a critical mass of disenfranchised citizens in any space, the resultant backlash crystallises in the displacement of the erstwhile elites who disenfranchised them in the first instance.  It is thus beneficial to the ruling class to prevent this critical mass from being breached.  Unlike physics however, where the critical mass of an element is known, the tipping point and mass for a repressed population cannot be quantified by any social scientist.  It may be as elastic as the Nigerian’s or as brittle as the Taliban’s.
I am in no way advocating the implementation of a welfare state in Nigeria, largely due to the absence of an identity management framework like the US Social Security Number or the UK National Insurance Number models.  In addition to this, the gestation period before the effect of a welfare scheme is seen might be a luxury that the precipitously placed entity called Nigeria can ill afford.  This does not in any way obviate the need to start to develop a credible identity management framework.  Professor Jega’s N84billion voter’s register could have turned out to be much less expensive if such a framework had been in place.
On the other hand, I will try to make an active case for an accelerated infrastructural development program in the remaining parts of this essay, using a rather outlandish example.  I will use the Niger Delta as the principal example in this mini-treatise.
Niger Delta – the size
The Niger Delta occupies about 70,000km2.  Whilst it is shaped roughly like a section of a circle, this landmass is comparable very much comparable to a trapezium that is 280km/250km.  Whilst it may appear like I am being rather pedantic here, please note these numbers.  In miles, this roughly translates to 174 miles by 156 miles.
Motorway Infrastructure
Assuming a mono-focal government set out to literally cover the Niger Delta with a grid of motorways as its own development plan for the area, how much really would be the cost of this venture?  In the UK, it costs £4.8million to build a mile of motorway.  The Naira equivalent of this is about N1.2billion.  Allowing for topography – which may cause this to be more expensive in the Niger Delta – and higher costs of living in the UK, which would cause materials and labour to be comparatively less expensive in the Niger Delta, I will hold this amount as being equally applicable to the Niger Delta.
A Motorway Blanket
If a motorway grid is built from scratch, running the length and breadth of the Niger Delta, with intersections every 15 miles; the resultant grid will be 12 motorways running for 174 miles and 10 motorways running for 156 miles.  This will probably be one of the most reticulated motorway scheme in the world, given the landmass involved.  The total mileage involved in this seemingly gargantuan project is approximately 3,640 miles of motorway. At a total cost of £4.8 million per mile, this is £17.5billion; in dollars, that is $26 billion.   Now that is some truckload of money, right?  Well, sorry to bust your bubble, no it is not.
Colossal Financial Ineptitude and Lost Economic Opportunities
In the period since the former President Obasanjo vacated the office to date, the Nigerian foreign reserve has been depleted by this amount and more, with zilch to show, save a national cake of embarrassing dimensions and 20-odd PDP governors growing fat.  This money could have changed the story of the Niger Delta – forever.
The multiplier effect of such a project in the Niger Delta will alter the economic landscape even more dramatically than the visual impact of such a motorway grid. This will go a very long way towards settling the claims of injustice that have got the Niger Delta militants up in arms against the ruling class in Nigeria.  This analysis can be extended to any sector – electricity, health, agriculture or education.
I very much doubt the need to build such a grid, but I have gone to these outlandish lengths to show that whilst the operations of a welfare state might be impracticable in the immediate term in Nigeria, economic development initiatives are definitely within the financial capabilities of the government.
However, the agitations of the subjugated will rather be ignored whilst the Sarakis, IBBs, Odilis, Tinubus and Uzor Kalus of this world ostensibly feed fat on the sweat and blood of the deprived populace.  I read the 2009 Ben Enwonwu lecture delivered by Prof. Osinbajo and his remark about the failure of Somalia should be a dire warning to the avaricious political elite in any country – particularly Nigeria.  When Somalia failed and the area boys (he called them warlords) carved up territories for themselves, the erstwhile elites were queuing up with ration bowls in their hands to receive the UN-provided food. What would it have taken to prevent this from happening?
As Nigeria seemingly hurtles towards its self-inflicted fatal denouement, one wonders if there is any atom of self-preservation in the malignant lot who have held bayonets to the throat of the nation for over 50 years –for the rot started before independence.  I do not see the explosions of 1 October as an event, but more a symptom of other events, which, like a concert building to its crescendo seems all but set to unleash its climax on us all.
Like a true Nigerian who has his favourite haunt along the Lagos/Ibadan expressway, I conclude by saying God help us all!