Sunday, May 23, 2010

Voodoo Politics

Every time we think our honourable members cannot put their foot where food should go, they amaze us by their capacity to stretch the bounds of acceptable ineptitude.

Some brightly ignorant lawmakers, in the midst of our quest for election reforms, decided to resurrect General Babangida's political laboratory. 
They wanted a two party system; and were willing to legislate it! 

While we all know that even countries where 'two parties' subsist, they were not legislated, and other fringe parties still exist. These parties cater to a wide range of interests from the environmental, to the ultra nationalist.

This plethora of fringe parties, ensures that no one, no matter how obtuse, arcane, or tangential,  his/her views might be, is denied the opportunity of putting his/her ideas across to the broad population, the electorate.

Some people might be deceived into thinking that we have political parties right now; we probably have one or two. What we have are associations of individuals who want to control, and benefit from, the resources of the state.
That is why you see them moving from one party to the other. These amorphous, and amoebic, entities are not political parties.

In my view, they are like recruitment institutions, or clubs, for gaining political office. For these people, elections are an end, which translates to making money, and not a means to serving the people, and propagating one's political ideology.

Decent people, the world over, understand that political parties have manifestos, what we find the current crop of visible politicians doing, is listing what they think the people would like, a form of dishonest window dressing.

They have no intention of executing one item from their contrived manifestos, they are like lures to reel in the voters.

This was obvious when the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, was elected, he came up first with the seven point agenda, then it became the seven plus one agenda. 

All of which was not his Peoples Democratic Part's manifesto. The PDP  did not even utter a whimper, by way of complaint; they were content to be in power, and enjoy the booty. 

That was why it took Yar'Adua more than six months to do anything meaningful. 

Contrast that with the new Conservative -Liberal Democrat government in the United Kingdom: two ideologically different parties in a coalition hit the ground running. 

They were able to do this because they had in place concrete ideological road maps they could deploy immediately.

Plurality of ideas is the hallmark of democracy. Freedom of association is a universal fundamental human right.

If you ask the proponents of the two-party morass the reason for their action, they would probably mouth the usual obscurantist platitude that too many parties lead to instability. 

They fail to realize that in some countries certain parties choose to be regional in scope, others even have ethnic agendas.

But their actual motive is the elimination of potential competition. It is easier to hoodwink one set of eyes, it becomes more difficult when you have fifty pairs looking at you from different angles. That is the fear of the PDP.

The other argument you will hear is that our 'nascent democracy' cannot tolerate so many parties. I have news for them, they might be nascent, and infantile in their political knowledge, it does not mean that the rest of us are. 

We know what is right, and what we want, and we are mature to see their sleight of hand!

They are actually standing reason on it's head. "Two party systems",in reality, freely evolve from a multitude of parties, they are not legislated.

A Two Party system is not the absence of  other parties, rather it is the presence of two dominant parties among a multitude of fringe, and special interest parties. That is democracy. Sadly, these clowns do not even get it.

Until they do,


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Goodluck Jonathan,Setting an Agenda.

I have seen in the media, both traditional and new, people setting an agenda for President Goodluck Jonathan. While it is proper to do that, we must not be ignorant of how government works, and the present day realities.

Some have said he should fix the roads, give us electricity, create jobs, and all the wonderful whimsical  'wish-lists' which wishful thinking sometimes engenders.

The truth is that the man is not God. If Obasanjo in eight years did not achieve those things, the now departed Yar'Adua in three years only thought about the seven things he wished to do; what can Goodluck do in one year?

One year! Or maybe less!That is all he has. I can hear some people saying I am defending him because I am from the South South; far from the point. I live my life as a logical pragmatic optimist. I hope for miracles, but if all I can get right now, is to see men as trees, I will not complain, I will tread softly, while I wait a while for the Messiah to fully open my eyes.

The only thing we can ask Goodluck to do for us is to reform the electoral system skewed in favour of the Peoples Democratic Party, conduct free and fair elections! No more, no less!

Let me explain. It takes about eighteen months to award a power station contract. 

It is not like buying a generator at Ojuelegba road in Lagos. The process involves tendering, working on designs and engineering drawings; vetting, approval ,and finally placing order for the turbines, and mobilizing to the site for the construction of the power station's infrastructure. 

Some of the power station contract Obasanjo awarded have not been built as we speak.

Roads! They are about the same. It is not when you see a grader clearing a path through the bush,or people patching potholes, that the contract was awarded. 

Extensive survey has to be done first on the scope of work necessary, then the contract is awarded. The Abuja-Lokoja road has been ongoing now for about four years.About three contractors are working on the project, it is not likely to be completed this year.

The realistic expectation, which is feasible, and realizable,  and within reason, is electoral reforms. 

All it requires is political will. Goodluck seems to have it. There has been moves to appoint an unbiased Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Chair. This is a good omen.

I believe that because the president sees himself as a political orphan, he has no choice now than to be fair.T

here is the odd chance that he could actually benefit from free elections. 

All we need now is to encourage him to be his own man. The demons who farm chickens ,who are currently whispering ugly things into his ears, should be exorcized once he has consolidated his hold on power.

We must begin to vociferously, and vehemently speak out against the zoning arrangement that is threatening to destroy our politics. 

It is amazing that two Nigerians won seats in the recently conducted British general elections; they were able to because of the reforms carried out by the British, it was not always so.

I can state, without fear of being controverted, that the same fellows, here and now, would not even be elected as councillors in their various wards back home in Nigeria. That is the kind of system we should demand from Goodluck. A system that brings out the best, and gives everyone running for office a level playing field.

Until we have it, keep talking, keep pushing, until we see our salvation at the ballot box.
This os my one point agenda for President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Decent People Do Not Know How To Fight :A Sequel.

When you look at people who mean well, one thing you see right away is that they have zeal. You can hear their zeal in the amount of noise that they make over the issue. But it is sometimes misplaced.

They are so zealous and passionate that they fulminate, grit their teeth, and shake their heads, like  rabid dogs, and when it now comes to doing something practical to address the problem,they seem to fade, and make excuses about being pacifists, and children of God.

You would think, from their initial hell-raising reactions, that they would be willing to offer themselves on the altar for the cause they so passionately have voiced belief in, but it is all a show. 

Sometimes they may even start a group on Facebook to protest the perceived injustice, but that is where it stops. Only talk, more talk, and nothing more.

I will illustrate with Senator Ahmed Yerima's case; he has been accused by all decent people of an odious, and abominable act: how many concrete practical steps have been taken by people to bring him to justice. Less than five!

Some of the most vociferous critics of this man live abroad, and others in Nigeria: they have not deemed it fit to institute an action in a European, or Nigerian, court of law. 

Maybe they do not know that certain countries in Europe have now taken it upon themselves to bring European justice to the rest of the world.
These countries do not distinguish between an offence committed outside their borders, and one within.

What the fellow did has international legal ramifications: he transported a minor across international boundaries, he paid money for her.

All these are in the public domain, they are not in dispute.He has said it is sanctioned by his religion, let us now put it to test to see if his actions would be justified, or condemned.

Bringing a case against him would achieve a couple of things: it would delay, and distract him from abusing the minor sexually. 
The pressure from the case might just be enough for him to rethink the whole exercise, and warn him ,and other potential peadophiles that it is a 'high risk, low return venture.' 

If he looses the case, an international arrest warrant would be issued, they do not like peadophiles in the West.

Another area where good people fall short is in the area of elections, they are all shouting now that General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida must not be allowed to come back to rule this country. On what basis, may I ask?

They are foaming in the mouth again, and doing the usual rabid dog routine; ask them what practical steps they have taken: they are collecting signatures. I am wondering? To what end are these signatures? Is it to show the man that we do not want him? He does not care!
Or is it to show the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, so that they would not register him for the election? Error!

Signatures, I believe, are a form of moral persuasion. 

I was in a church service once where I heard a pastor say, 'the only language the devil understands is violence'. Meaning, that you have to fight a battle with the weapon that would be effective against the enemy. 

If we were in America, where moral persuasion is sufficient to stop a fellow from contesting, I would sign.In Nigeria, moral persuasion is wasted on evil men, like music on a deaf man.

The plain truth is that no one can prevent IBB from running for office. It is part of his fundamental human rights, which all of us, as decent people, ought to defend in pursuit of an open society. 

As long as no competent court has barred him from running, we should respect and protect his right to run. We must not descend to the level of what we are opposing, and become one with it. We must maintain the moral high ground!

That you like him, or not, is immaterial before the law. Unless you can find a valid reason under the law, you might as well be throwing stones at the moon.

No matter how sincere your intentions are, if you do not take concrete steps, you are 'sincerely wrong'

I would expect someone who intends to prevent another from winning an election to go out and carry out some form of voter education. Tell them why one candidate is bad, and another good; rent buses to ensure that these people go to register; on election day go and remind them to vote. 

But good ,'sincere' people forget to  join a political party, they forget to register to even be eligible to vote in the election.

What do good people do on election day, they stay at home! They allow the thugs to run the show. They do not want to be hurt. 

We have a saying in Nigeria, that 'every man wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die'
If you cannot shoot a gun, and you should not, shoot a video; use technology to fight your battle.
Certain election results have been upturned in this country, on the basis of a combination of video ,and forensic evidence. The evidence you gather might just prove conclusive in winning the case.

Form election vigilantes in your area who wold ensure that the ballot box is not stolen by hoodlums. 

After the election, go to the INEC office monitor the counting, ensure that no 'last minute' boxes suddenly materialize to swing the election.

The last issue I would like to look at is legislative ,and judicial, activism. 

We see many things we do not like and we never bother to sponsor a legislation to correct  them, or go to court, to challenge them. 

We allow the people in the two houses to run riot, like spoilt children in a toy shop. 
They make laws to increase their allowances, and reduce the number of days they have to sit in a legislative year.The real issues that affect the people, the Freedom of Information Bill, and others, get scant mention, and eventually die with the house.

When your landlord arbitrarily increases the rent by two hundred percent, you either beg him, to reduce it to one hundred and fifty; or you tell him to give you time to move out. 

They get away with this because no one has taken the time to prosecute an action in court. 

Instead, our people will mouth the eternally futile, and hopeless euphemism,'God De'! They do not even say the 'God de', as a declaration of faith in God, it is a declaration of helplessness, surrender,defeat, and total capitulation!

If decent people do not change the system, who would? The fraudsters? The unscrupulous business man? The sly politician? Or the shylock landlord?

We must be willing to have our time wasted for what we believe in.We must be able to say,'Let me be the last person that will suffer this injustice, whatever it is going to take, I am going to give it'

Like the saying goes, a person who will not stand for something, will fall for anything. 

Let us stand for something, for once in our lives!
As we do,


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Decent People Do Not Know How To Fight

I met Dele Ned some months ago. He is working with some people to build a different kind of political party. They want to change Nigeria. His party is the Kowa Party. I am not holding brief for him, it is the conversation we had I want to use as a launch pad.

He said in a particular area of Lagos state, the demographic distribution is along income/education lines. The educated rich live in the posh estates, and the unschooled poor live in the suburbs.What was strange,Dele said, was where the political shots were called. The poor,unschooled, were in charge. 

They were determining the fate of their rich neighbours, not because they were more in number, but because they were more active politically. The rich were too busy with their golf, satellite television, and fine summer holidays, to bother.

And that is a fair representation of Nigerian politics today. The intelligentsia ,who have read all the theories in political science and political economics, do not know how to properly engage in the real world. And when they decide to engage in politics, they are not street smart, they do not understand that there are protocols to be observed. 

They just come to 'shoot the breeze', they love making high sounding speeches that are not understood by ninety percent of their audience. When they see people clapping, they believe they are 'connecting', what they do not know is that they are nothing short of a comic relief.

How many times have you seen a welder aspiring for the the presidency? Never! The welder knows that it is not his time, yet. 

Instead the fellow would go for the council position, later he would graduate to the local government chairmanship, then he becomes a member of the state  assembly, from there he jumps to the office of the deputy governor, and finally he becomes a governor. All this time the educated man is still aspiring,  perspiring,floundering, and not arriving!

There are living examples today of the virtue of patient progression in politics, the Oyo state governor is a former policeman, and his Kogi state counterpart is a carpenter:they are the butt of jokes because of their antecedents. But one thing you cannot take away from them is that they are politically savvy, they worked their way .   

If you suggest  to the Harvard -trained Nigerian politician that he should become a councillor, he would look at you with disdain for denigrating his academic pedigree, prowess and facundity with such a ludicrous suggestion!

He would quote Karl Marx , and Abraham Lincoln ,and round it off with Mahatma Gandhi, to support why he ought to be president. He forgets that he has been out of the country for the last fifteen years, and that the people he is seeking to serve do not know him,neither he them.

It is like trying to get to the last floor of a building ,without coming through the entrance, and up the different floors. He must be superman, or spiderman.

The poor chap prints his posters from Oxford street in London, and distributes them from door to door (he saw Gordon Brown doing the same thing when he was in school in London)

He employs agents who are only out to get their share of the dollars he is so willing to ignorantly part with. On election day he get sixty eight votes out of the sixty eight thousand on offer, and he does not understand. Poor fellow!

Every time I see a Pat Utomi, or Chris Okotie, or Gani Fawehinmi (God bless his wonderful indefatigable soul) aspiring for the presidency, I laugh, and regret, as well. 

I know how they would end up, nowhere! Imagine if we had these individuals in the senate? Incorruptible,upright,and forthright men and women? The place would not be comfortable for the likes of the Yerimas of this world. From there they can build alliances that would propel them to the presidency.

I am not casting aspersions on the suitability of these individuals, they are some of our best, and are eminently overqualified. 

They fall short when they take for granted that the goodwill  they have is all they need to catapult them to the presidency. In Nigeria, goodwill is not enough. You need to be street savvy, you need alliances with those who know the terrain, and where the bobby traps are.

This indictment of the intelligentsia is meant to nudge them into considering a paradigm shift, making the attainment of the presidency a long term, collaborative project; right now they are failing, and falling short, because they are thinking it is a sprint, it is not.

Another factor responsible for the lean harvest so far is the choice of political party; in Nigeria today, nomination by the Peoples Democratic Party is akin to eighty percent success in the polls; the huge machinery of the party is used to facilitate victory, by hook, or by crook. 

I do not subscribe to the methods of the party, but I admire their size. In politics, size is everything. The intelligentsia should consider collapsing these mushroom parties they claim headship of, into one big political juggernaut that can stand in the wind of Nigerian politics; they need to, because, right now they are like blades of grass before the Peoples Democratic Party. 

I rest my case.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Vision 20 20 20, Will We Ever Get There?

There is a process to building a house. It is methodical, scientific, and planned.Any deviation from the process could lead to disaster. The same logic can be extended to nation building. I have spoken at different fora on our 'fire brigade' ways, and means, of development. 

Late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, tried to end this chaotic habit of ours, with the Vision Twenty Twenty Twenty. The idea was that by the Year 2020, Nigeria would have displaced one of the Group of twenty most advanced nations. I hear some people snickering ,and even, laughing !

For this to happen, we would have to undergo what would definitely be regarded as the greatest feat of development, greater than Chairman Mao's Great Leap Forward, greater than the Asian Tigers, in short we would rewrite the book on rapid development. I will now stop holding brief for the government and address the issues at hand.

Many are not aware that Peugeot Automobile Nigeria, PAN, the last remaining automobile assembly plant in Nigeria, has just announced that it would no longer assemble vehicles in Nigeria, it can no longer compete with the available cheap second hand cars in the Nigerian market. They have now decided to start importing second hand cars too! 

PAN's problems are directly linked to another fraudulent shame that sits like an elephant in our national 'room'; the Ajaokuta Iron and Steel Complex. 

Other nations, have probably  built three similar complexes, from the one we have had on life support from it's commissioning. Ajaokuta was designed to fail from inception. It was designed as an iron rods complex, there was no provision for flat sheets. 

Do you get the picture? You require flat sheets,more than rods, for industrialization. About seventy percent of a car's components are flat sheet based.

I suspect that the Nigerians who supervised the complex were either bribed, or deceived, into overlooking this oversight. 

We built a complex that would only give us steel rods for building houses. The West did not want us to develop, that was their masterstroke. Imagine if we had flat sheets right now, we probably would have been like Korea, exporting cars all over the world and creating jobs at home. 

Some days ago, the international wing of the Murtala Mohammed Airport, suffered a power outage for about three hours. One prayer I hear the Yorubas of Nigeria pray a lot is, that your enemy would not know your secret; we chose to expose ourselves to those coming and going, in the worst place possible, and at a very sensitive period in the aviation industry.  Sensitivity to security, and losses from low patronage is the issue of the moment, we showed how tactless we can be. What happened to the generator(s) ?
No one has resigned yet! And no one ever does! 

But that was a symptom of a bigger problem, the Power Holding Company of Nigeria,PHCN. My venerated friend,Tomi Davies, after being becalmed by the volcanic ash saga in Europe, came home and met the outage, I can imagine his outrage.   

The company's name has changed several times, but it's inefficiencies have multiplied; and even given birth to newer, deadlier children.

I am sure Nigeria is the only country in the world where the power utility company uses generators for their administrative business. PHCN has become a financial blackhole,( according to the general theory of relativity, a blackhole is a region of space in which nothing, including light, can escape)  The company has swallowed billions of dollars in investments, nothing resembling efficiency has come out of it.

I have seen people die because of power outages. I have run my business continuously for thirty days out of thirty, on generators for eight hours straight, almost every month of the year. I have seen an absurdity, welders welding at three am in the morning because that was the only time power was available.

Our nation has been enslaved by a cartel of generator importers, and career quislings masquerading as engineers in PHCN, their mission, the inefficiency of PHCN.

I have recently traveled from Lagos to Abuja, I counted over twenty articulated lorries,(petrol tankers) ,that had upturned and caught fire. Reason, we do not have a viable rail system that ordinarily would transport such highly volatile cargo, our rail system died, and was buried, more than twenty years ago. It did because a cartel of articulated lorry owners, sabotaged it to grow their own business.

I could bore,and hence loose you, with a litany of inefficiencies that we have become, as a nation. 

This, then bothers the question, which of the current members of the elite twenty most developed economies in the world are we going to supplant?

Is one of them going to embark on an aggressive exercise of national 'dedevelopment' , and retrogression, to open the door to us to sneak in ? 

Is it possible that by some fluke,or miracle, or quirk of development, that we would, in ten years, develop and overtake one of them: bearing in mind that none of them is waiting for us right now, and no quarters would be given,or asked.

As a pragmatic optimist, I do not see any of the two coming to pass with the arrangement on ground at the moment. What we may aspire to, may be the second tier of developed nations; attainment of this would be nothing short of the miraculous.

Until this happens,


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Umaru Musa Yar'adua, An Epilogue of Sorts.

That the man Umaru Musa Yar'Adua has died, is not news. Anyone who is a student of history, did I just use that cliche, would know that if you fail to learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before you, you would end up repeating them.

I am sure none of us prayed for Yar'Adua's illness  to progress the way it did, we did not expect him to die, but he did.I can say without fear of contradiction, that none of us wished him dead, I was in a church service where we prayed for him to recover. What lessons can we learn from all that happened. 

We are used to our leaders going for medical check up abroad, the State pays for it. It is the obligation of the State.What I would like us to consider is the role played by Hajia Turai Yar'Adua, in what then degenerated into a tragicomedy that gave a new meaning to absurdity.

Answering the following questions would hep us locate the event properly. Does a sitting president belong to his immediate family, or to Nigeria ? Is his wife supposed to determine who should see him, or not, in sickness or in health ? When he died, was an autopsy conducted on his body to determine the cause of death ?

Is an elected president the property of his family, or does he belong to the nation. In my 'myopic' eye, I believe that he belongs to the nation, until he resigns, ends his tenure,or impeached from office. Even after these, the Nation still has certain irrefutable obligatory responsibilities to him. What we witnessed with  'Yar'Aduagate' was a show in shame, as unbelievable as unbelievable can be. If he were an imperial monarch, then the rules of engagement would be different.

His wife kept the whole nation in the dark, there were no daily,weekly, or periodic reports on the state of our President's health. Nowhere in the world, except in a Banana Republic could this have happened.Even President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, a longtime, sit- tight, undemocratic ruler, after his surgery was shown on television recuperating.

Second item on the show in shame was that she did not allow access to the President. One would assume that the President's doctor would be the one to make this call, some governors went, a delegation of the National Assembly were rebuffed, and when it was convenient for them, I believe they digitally morphed a statement from the ailing president to the effect that he was getting better. When did we become so enamored  with the BBC that we would choose to speak to them instead of our beloved Nigerian Television Authority. It is because they had something to hide.

To compound the infamy, they smuggled him in like some contraband in the dead of the night, it was like watching Jack Bauer on 24 hours.They reduced the Nigerian Army to some type of private 'maigadi'(security man) They called out troops without the consent of the acting Commander in Chief, Goodluck Jonathan.They knew the endgame was at hand.

We thought things would change when he was brought home, but the shame continued. The man who was elected with Umaru Musa Yar'Adu, the then 'Acting' President, was not allowed to see him until his death. If anyone had a right to see him, it was Goodluck Jonathan. 

Their intention had been to keep Yar'Adua in seclusion, and begin to rule in his name, like some oracle. It is said in law that you cannot approbate, and reprobate, at the same time. Meaning you cannot accept, and reject at the same time: but this the did continuously.
They spent Nigeria's money to keep Nigeria's President, Yar'Adua, in Saudi Arabia, they were ensconced in the presidential villa at our cost, and they did not deem it fit to brief us, they claimed it was a private affair:I refuse to agree, the President swore to uphold, and defend, the Constitution of Nigeria, this means that he is a servant of the Constitution, not his family, not even of himself, and definitely not his wife's.

And then he died. And we, as we must, because we are human,we mourned him. My immediate feeling was for us to leave his corpse for his wife alone.Since we were not worthy to see him when he was ill, who were we, mere unworthy mortals now, to now participate in his obsequies. But, to their shame, we did. We did, because we had truly suffered a loss; we did, because we had always maintained the moral high ground.
We did not cry tears of joy, we were truly truly sad. We felt his loss deeply; we felt it because he had truly, genuinely,deep down, belonged to us! He was Our President.  

And finally, they buried him. Was there an autopsy?  Did we have a right to know what Our President had died of ? Nope! The disdain continued. 
It is like someone informing you that your crops were not doing well, and because of that he cleared the whole farm, and set fire to it all. You were not even allowed to see for yourself, to verify. What if he had actually harvested, and sold everything?

I have asked these questions for the sake of posterity. Our generation has failed this particular exam; my wish,and prayer, is that our children, in their own time ,would not.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Of Corpses of Men, and Women Too !.

I have been traveling from Lagos to Abuja, I always enjoy these long trips, the reverie is soothing, I get to do some serious thinking,don't ask me how, when I am on the road.

As usual,one could not help but notice the poor state of the roads, there are futile attempts at fixing them, but we all know they would not last, very few of them have proper drainage: the consequence is that water pools on the roads, and degrades them.

But that is not the issue at hand, I witnessed an accident yesterday at Gbongon Exit, along Ibadan-Ife Road, I saw the huge crowd before seeing the woman who was evidently dead, she was lying on her back,like a boxer who was out for the count: I knew she was not waking up, ever. 

The photographer in me wanted to stop, and take a photograph, but I heard my head telling me it was approaching Six pm, I do not drive on Nigerian roads after Six pm,I almost died in an accident last year.

In the morning, I continued my trip, everywhere bad roads, bad bad roads ! I had just left Okene, a Town in Kogi state, when I saw it, it was a corpse, this time it looked like a man, but it barely looked human, it was in it's final stage of decomposition. I was subdued again.

I am not afraid of death, I know that one day it would be my turn, what angers me is how people who die in public places in Nigeria are treated.
In the woman's case nobody had thought it right to dignify her in death, by covering her, she was left there for all to stare at. No one could spare a wrapper, or even cut branches to cover her. In this man's case, he could have been the victim of a hit and run accident, a robbery attack, ritual killing, or whatever. No one dignified him in death by removing the corpse from the side of the road. He was allowed to decompose like an animal.

The woman, I am sure was someone's wife, or sister, and definitely daughter, she could have been a traveling trader who came to her end at Gbongon, I hope she had some form of identification on her. The man was certainly someone's son, probably a brother, maybe he even had a wife, and children. In his case I am certain that none of his loved ones were aware of unflattering end.

The two cases I have mentioned, were probably replicated in at least ten different places in Nigeria, and the end would always be the same, the loved ones would not know how these people died, they would kindle tiny sparks of hope that one day they would come home.Alas! All to no avail. I keep wondering  if there are there no local governments in these areas where people die everyday, and are left to rot ,like common animals.

It is common knowledge that very few Nigerians go about with any form of identification. There is no central database for dental records, fingerprints ,or DNA. Many Nigerians are one step away from just vanishing into nothingness. 

The other day I posted on my wall on Facebook, India's biometric census exercise. That is an example of a government that understands the power of technology. There are very few things we can achieve until we get the basics right. I am exasperated each time someone refers to Nigeria's population figure: it used to be One hundred and forty million people, now we hear people saying, 'about One hundred and fifty million, are they interpolating or extrapolating, I am shocked that we do not know how many we are.

I have always known that it was dangerous to be ill in Nigeria, now I have just discovered that it is also undignified to die in public too.   

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Of Strong Individuals,Weak Institutions; Yar'Adua as a Metaphor

The only thing that is sure, is change. When a specie, or process , resists change: it's tenure is ended by nature: it dies out. 
We have ,over the years, consistently missed opportunities to change at critical crossroads in our nation's development.

While one cannot rejoice that a man has died, we need to ask this question: Did we learn anything from Yar'Adua's illness? Sadly, I believe, we did not. His illness was not as epochal, or novel, as man's landing on the moon, or the the discovery of the Americas.  In the two events the explorers did not know what they would meet. With Yar'Adua's incapacitation,we had a blueprint of the road ahead, and how to navigate it. But we chose to be blind to the prescriptions of the Constitution.

An organization becomes great when every member knows his place in it, and obeys the rules of engagement in every situation.

Some would argue that it was an event, that had never happened to us before,true:but were there prescriptions for dealing with it in the Constitution? Yes there were. What happened to us has happened to others before. 

In 2006 Ariel Sharon,the then Prime Minister of Israel, suffered a stroke,and became comatose, there was no debate over who was to takeover, Ehud Olmert ,his deputy, was sworn in immediately.That is an example of a process that works. In not swearing in Jonathan as president we missed a great opportunity to grow, and come of age. The sad thing is that is that if this event occurs again in future we would not know what to do, because we have never done it before.

We need to begin to build strong institutions, if we want to develop as a nation.  Strong institutions are the infrastructure upon which strong nations are built. What we have now are strong men and weak institutions. It is a reversal of the natural order; the tail cannot wag the dog.There is no other way, we cannot hide behind the usual platitudes of 'home grown democracy' or 'peculiar situation': they are just reasons people give to subvert the system.

Collectively, we must demand that the arbitrariness that is synonymous with government should stop.Political office holders should not be able to just spend public money as if it is their own personal wealth, they must not be allowed to run the country the way they feel,they swore an oath to uphold,and defend the Constitution,let us hold them to it.

In our own areas of 'jurisdiction',we must insist on procedures being followed. We must forcefully demand, with determination, that that all levels of government discharge their duties, and obligations, to us.This will not come easily, there will be resistance, but the force of our determination must match,and surpass, their resistance. This is the only option we have, for us to survive.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

An Open Society

What is an 'open society' ? Are there any dangers in having an open society? Is there an alternative to having an open society? 

Some years ago, in Abuja the capital of Nigeria, I had the privilege of 'attending' a  meeting that was called by the American Billionaire,George Soros. I was not invited as a participant,neither was I there as an official observer, I was there more like a fly on the wall, I had been contracted to take photographs.

It was the launch of the Open Society Initiative of West Africa, OSIWA. I find myself at events like this once in a while, and I always keep my ears open. George Soros was there and he spoke eloquently on the value of an open society. I believe the meeting was almost a decade ago.

Something recently got me thinking on the subject again, then I asked myself the question, how close is Nigeria to being an open society?

An open society, I believe is a place where there is a legal instrument in place to ensure access to information, Nigeria has being 'trying' to pass the Freedom of Information Bill for more than ten years now.

It is also a place where the rule of law works, before his hibernation,or should we say suspended animation, President Yar'Adua kept saying that his government would be guided by the rule of law, but we all know that the gyroscope that determined his government's trajectory was the Peoples Democratic Party, his political party. Ordinarily this should not be a bad idea if the party was law abiding, and internally democratic, but we all know that it is an institution dedicated to breaking the law to hold on to power.

One could argue too that an open society is one where citizens are informed, and are willing to engage and challenge any act that undermines the 'openess' of the society, and where necessary make sacrifices to correct infractions.

Finally an open society is a place where the colour of your skin, the place of your birth within that society, and your ethnic group, or religious beliefs do not preclude,or disqualify you from aspiring for political office.

Lastly, it is one where there is an incorruptible civil society and a vibrant and free press.

The points I have listed are by no means exhaustive, but for me will suffice for now. How far are we on the way to an open society?

On the issue of the Freedom of Information Bill, we have failed abysmally. The politicians have ensured it's stillbirth each time, from all indications it may die with this current legislature. We have not fared any better on the second point, governments at all levels set the pace in how to break the law, and disobey court orders. Sometimes I believe those in government think that 'the rule of law' means the rule by those who are custodians of the law, who are not subject to that law themselves.

Another question to ask is whether we are informed and willing to challenge issues that undermine the 'openess' of our society, to a large extent we are informed, where we have fallen short is the engaging and challenging aspect of the equation. Nobody wants to stick his neck out. That is why I stand in awe of what is going on in Thailand, people are willing to literally shed their blood for a cause. If it were here, the only thing you would hear is the eternal lame excuse for doing nothing,'God De'

The next point speaks for itself, the current acting president has been informed that he should not bother standing for election next year, in an open society, I believe, no one would speak openly the way the Peoples Democratic Party has done on issues like this.

Another condition I indicated is the issue of an incorruptible civil society, while we have some noble NGOs working to make life better, we cannot deny that the motives for setting up others have not been altruistic or egalitarian. NGOs have become cash cows for getting money from governments and international organizations. Our press is vibrant, but not free. The ownership structure has ensured this. Most media moguls are also contractors to government, and some journalists regularly collect money to kill stories.

What are the benefits of an open society, for me they are the Watergate Scandal, the Monica Lewinsky Debacle, the Iran Contra Scandal, Ehud Olmerts troubles in Israel and a host of politicians in the western world resigning when exposed. I always tell people that President Barack Obama of America, lives in fear of breaking the law, every president in America does. In Nigeria, you ability to break the law, and the frequency and gravity, actually show how much political power you have.

An open society is a stimulus for good government, and an antidote to bad ones.
One does not need to look far to see how we have scored, our president has not been seen in public for five months, and less than five individuals have resisted the legitimate transfer of power demanded by the constitution. Not too long ago a politician was accuse of killing the attorney general and arrested, while in prison the ruling party nominated him as their candidate for an election, he won from prison and his case died an unnatural death.The journalist, Dele Giwa was assassinated with impunity and those accused are still walking about free.And at the moment a politician has just married/bought/trafficked a thirteen year old girl across international boundaries, and he is defending his right to break the law because his religion prescribes it.
How open is this society. Your comments should be interesting to read.