Archive for July 2008

How I Became A ‘Prominent’ Lady

July 31, 2008

Dear Ugochukwu,

I was sufficiently provoked by your last week’s column captioned, Criminalisation Of Poverty,to share my great and exciting success story with Nigerians who throng this page every Wednesday to read you. Let me start by proudly informing you that I am a prominent, highly-placed lady, a distinguished member of the nation’s ruling elite, highly-connected political leader, a super organiser and one of those who decide the future and direction of this great nation. I worked really hard to attain my present exalted status, so no columnist should be jealous of me.

 

I am very happy and fulfilled. Today, in my community, State and nationally, I am highly respected and always applauded as one of the “illustrious daughters” of the land and role model, despite what some of you journalists may consider as the unflattering route I took in my rapid journey to the top. Well, not all of you are unappreciative of my person and status. I regularly read brilliant reports full of flowery descriptions of my person in the media, especially, when I hold my usually great parties or attend public functions. But whether you would choose to accept it or not, in this our great country, once someone has “made it”, that is, achieved real financial, political and social success as I have done, and is also willing to occasionally dole out some crispy Naira notes, the person would become an instant celebrity, and anyone trying to question his integrity would be impatiently dismissed as an irritant and insufferably jealous.

 

Right now, I have two highly-rated chieftaincy titles, one conferred on me by the traditional ruler of my community (where I was practically a ‘nobody’ only a few years ago) and the other by a highly respected traditional ruler in another State. I am equally arranging to have a reputable University offer me an honorary doctoral degree to add more dignity, sophistication and intellectual colour to my already high status. My Special Assistant, a former University lecturer, obtained his PhD from a very reputable University in the United States. And my driver? Well, he was always on top of his class while at the University. I have choice properties at highly coveted privileged spots in Lagos and Abuja, and my country home stands out as an exquisite palace befitting my status. I have no interest in owning houses abroad, so I only reluctantly purchased a ‘little mansion’ in London.

 

I am not ashamed of my very humble beginnings. When I finished secondary school, my father had dismissed me as a horrendous disappointment because of my dismal performance. And just like I had failed at school, I also was unable to learn to sew very well, and was always quarrelling with customers I had messed up their dresses at my shop in the State Capital where I had relocated. My boyfriend was the personal driver of a prominent politician. He lived in the Boys Quarters in the man’s massive compound where they stayed each time he was in town. One day, he agreed I should visit him at home, but on the condition that I introduce myself as his cousin. That suited me perfectly, because I had my own plans too. Everyone agreed I was a very beautiful girl, an asset that helped me through secondary school since I was a favourite of my male teachers. And so as the Security Man admitted me into the massive compound and called my boyfriend, his boss suddenly appeared and barked at his direction:

“Who is she?!” he asked with a malevolent scowl, which could not obscure the undisguised lust with which his eyes devoured me.

“My cousin.” My ‘bobo’ answered almost quaking.

“Okay,” the man said, smiling nicely. Later, he invited me into the massive mansion “to welcome me properly,” and from there I entered a good, exciting life I never imagined existed…

 

Chief was simply mad about me and took me to many important places in the country and around the world where I met very important people. My (former) boyfriend complained once, but I silenced him by reminding him of his wife and children in the village, showered him with gifts, and occasionally allowed him to sleep with me when Chief travelled without him. Trust me, I can be that generous. Moreover, you never knew with these drivers; he could pull a surprise one day and Chief would just show me the door and all the good life would suddenly end! One day, I told Chief I wanted to be a Council Chairman. He was shocked. A prominent, formidable godfather in our State, even our governor was anointed and installed by him.

“But you don’t have adequate education?”

“What do you mean, Chief? I have a School Certificate. The person who just vacated the office, what had he?” Then, Chief smiled, and soon after I was anointed and installed as the Honourable Chairperson of my Local Government Area. My father could not believe it. A great tumult occurred the day I rode into our community with my convoy to receive a distinguished Chieftaincy title conferred on me by our traditional ruler at a very impressive and well-attended Civic Reception organized by the community in honour of their “illustrious daughter.”

 

I didn’t want a second term, so Chief got the Governor to appoint me a Senior Special Adviser on Youth and Cultural Affairs, and later Honourable Commissioner for Women and Youth Affairs. Then, my foreign trips increased tremendously, some with Chief, and many others to attend any conference on anything (no matter how insignificant) that had to do with youths or women even in the remotest part of the earth. Although I owe my appointment to Chief’s awesome influence, I nevertheless lured my Governor to my nest, and soon, he also became my active supporter, although he pretended he did it because of Chief, since he knew he could be impeached the very next day if Chief found out about our affair. Chief soon announced me widely at the national level as a “Women Leader” and powerful “grassroots mobilizer” from his State, and with his support, that of my Governor and State Party Chairman (whom I also was sharing very secret moments with), my visibility and prominence at the national level in our great party grew with incredible speed. Chief wanted me to the go to House of Representatives, but I preferred a national appointment (which I still retain). I have an excellent Press Secretary who ensures I am in the news always, and everything I say or do gets duly reported, and prevents my ‘secrets’ from getting into soft-sale magazines. I have invested massively and wisely. Apart from Chief, I have also used other powerful party bigwigs who had lusted after me to get the things I want. They have already anointed me as the next Deputy Governor of my State. I have also acquired significant influence of my own so much so that it is only on rare cases now that I require Chief’s intervention to get whatever I want. I recently launched an NGO to promote morality, honesty and hard work in youths, and regularly speak at youth forums where I draw from my exceptional personal example to warn them on the dangers of prostitution and corner-cutting.

This is my story, Ugochukwu.

And I must tell you, as a prominent member of the ruling class, the present Administration is on course, serious about its war against corruption, and has the capacity to make this nation one of the greatest in the next couple of years. I therefore solicit the support of vocal Nigerians like you, for the president’s excellent Seven Points Agenda and war against corruption.

Very soon, our nation will be ushered into a glorious era of unimaginable prosperity. We are here to ensure that happens.

Thank you.

I am Chief (Ms.)……[Name Withheld]

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Criminalisation Of Poverty In Nigeria

July 25, 2008

By Ugoochukwu Ejinkeonye

scruples2006@yahoo.com

It was a normal news report, the type we are used to seeing regularly, but would, most likely, merely glance through before turning our attention to more ‘important’ matters. But when I saw this particular report, confined to a small corner of the newspaper, something about it spoke a very clear message to my heart.

Under the heading, “Cow Thief Bags 12yrs Jail,” the report said that an Oshogbo Magistrate Court presided over by Mrs. Ayo Ajeigbe had sentenced a certain Mr. Audu Mustapha to 12 years’ imprisonment for stealing a cow belonging to one Julie Idi. The estimated cost of the cow was N60, 000. The police had accused Mustapha of selling the cow and using the proceeds to purchase a small truck with which he conveyed ‘liberated’ cows to either where he sold them or hid them.

If Mustapha who had earlier served a jail term in Ilorin for a similar offence, does not have a powerful, well-connected godfather, especially, in the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), or other equally criminally powerful places where even heinous crimes and treated as “family affair” and simply swept under, he should, as you read this article now, be in one of our dilapidated and inhabitable prison houses in the country enduring the just recompense of his grave sin against the State, and dreaming about his young (and probably very beautiful) wife and their three tender children. Nothing can justify his hideous action. Even people poorer than he was had resisted the temptation to steal; he knew the dire consequences of his chosen career and still tarried in it, because, it had juicy promises of quick, undeserved wealth. Now, the excruciating day of reckoning is here, and he has no choice but to quietly savour the bitter reward of his criminal endeavours. I will only sympathise with his family if they were unaware that in order to put food on their table, Mustapha was cruelly dispossessing other people of their fat cows. This can only teach one lesson: when crime is punished, deterrence is instituted.

If that is always the end of all such cases, society would really be a better place for all of us. While up here, we, in an impressive show of self-righteousness, haul down condemnations on Mustapha with every scorn and unmitigated rage befitting a common criminal, more discerning people would rather view him as an unfortunate victim of a disastrous accident on his way to the exalted circle of the nation’s Elite Class. I suspect that he did not bother to study the rules of the game very carefully and so may have easily run foul of a very important law of the game, namely: Thou shall not be greedy. What this means is that if he had generously ‘settled’ all the OC’s at the checkpoint (Carry go, Sir!), or even ‘cleared’ with the DPO of all the police stations on his route, nothing would have ever taken him before the learned judge in Oshogbo, even if he had stolen a human being!

In fact, he would have been a free man today, doing his ‘honest’ business without let or hindrance, and even getting the opportunity once in a while to attend state banquets and shake the smooth, soft hands of the high and mighty, if he had allied himself with some very influential and ‘responsible’ party elder in his community, secured a Molete-kind of immunity, and regularly donated handsomely to help the ‘great party’ facilitate its ‘fraudslide’ victories.

The truth we all know today is that majority of all the people parading themselves as prominent Nigerians today climbed to the top through the Mustapha route or variants of it. At the risk of repeating myself, assuming Mustapha was not ‘interrupted’ this early in his career, and his business had thrived and he had been wise enough to invest his wealth in the installation of many of his colleagues in power, he would today be dinning with ‘distinguished, honourable’ lawmakers, governors, foreign and local diplomats and even the president, and being invited regularly to chair high profile events where brilliant lectures would be delivered on integrity, transparency, anti-corruption and good governance. But, while he would now languish in jail for twelve years for stealing a cow whose present cost was put at N60, 000, important convicts like Big Tafa and Governor-General Alams got a few months each for playing around with the nation’s billions. And many of their more daring colleagues in criminal accumulation are still out there throwing expensive parties and hobnobbing openly with the nation’s rulers.

Something, indeed, must be wrong with a nation that severely punishes small thieves and celebrates bigger criminals. One must be forgiven if one goes on to conclude that in Nigeria, what makes a small thief culpable is not the crime he has committed, but the poor background he operates from. In other words, he is a criminal, not because of his offence against the State, but because of his status in the society. That is why despite several very factual allegations of very grievous graft levelled against serving and former public officers, especially in the media, security agents do not even bother to investigate them – unless, perhaps, when the person so accused finds himself on the wrong side of power. Well, somebody should tell those in power that they are merely sowing the seeds of anarchy, because, when the law is only reserved for the ‘unconnected’ poor and the real and imagined enemies of those in power, that law may soon lose the power to contain the likely challenge that may come from those whom it has been used to unfairly oppress.

In 1999, Gen Olusegun Obasanjo, whose farm had failed, was practically a poor man, and he did not hide it. One of his closest aides had told the nation that what the man had in his account was only N25, 000. But now, as former president, his Bells University and Secondary School is valued at billions of naira. There is also his now resuscitated and greatly improved multi-billion mega naira farm, a couple of other companies and sundry investments, a Presidential Library Project for which billions of naira were raised by “Presidential extortion”, and his famed bottomless pocket which has effectively crowned him one of the richest billionaires this side of the Atlantic. He has left office for more than a year now, yet no one can claim to have sniffed even the faintest resolve to make him explain the sources of his mysterious wealth, or how $16 billion heartlessly squandered in phoney power projects only plunged Nigerians into deeper, thicker darkness. Now, Mr. Liyel Imoke, Obasanjo’s Minster of Power, has just lost his immunity, having been sacked as Cross River Governor at the Tribunal, so what is delaying his arrest and questioning on how, under him and Obasanjo, the sum of $16 billion could only purchase the nation an impenetrable darkness?

As cases of suspected graft (and they are legion) are swept under, impunity is effectively entrenched. Influential Nigerians abound whose sources of boundless wealth are shrouded in very deep mysteries. Nigerians know many of them as Very Important Criminals (VIC), but the government and even the media celebrate them as ‘statesmen’ and ‘patriots’. Unlike Mustapha, they were able to avoid being caught until they amassed enough wealth to qualify for admission into Nigeria’s privileged, criminal class of untouchables. They are the same people that get National Honours and are appointed or ‘elected’ into highly exalted positions of power and influence, where as, depraved villains in public office, they characteristically deregulate and institutionalize stealing and political criminality.

What this goes to show is that in Nigeria, it is safer to be a successful criminal than a poor man. Successful criminals are either in power or its corridors, or friends and associates of those in power. They are those set of ‘law-abiding’ citizens who are able to purchase and build palatial homes in ‘approved’ places.

But the poor are the confirmed criminals, always hounded and oppressed by the government, for being able to only afford to seek refuge in the slums, which governors, ever thumbing their noses at them, have already marked out for demolition and prompt allocation to the same criminal class. It is the honest poor that get arrested on the mere suspicion that their haggard, hungry look suggests they might be criminals, or even for such non-existent offences like ‘wandering’, and dumped and forgotten in detention camps for being unable to buy their freedom.

Yes, they are the same people that suffer most the consequences of bad roads (since they can’t afford to fly), power failure (they can’t afford healthy alternatives), insecurity and increases on the price of petroleum products, which in turn jack up prizes of goods and services. In Nigeria, where crime is class-defined, the poor and poverty has since been criminalized. The rich only get into trouble when they are on the wrong side of the power equation, and their ‘trials’ are celebrated to score some cheap point. If you don’t know this, then you don’t know anything about Nigeria.

——————————————————–

www.ugochukwu.blog.com

scruples2006@yahoo.com

Lagos: Mega City, Mega Miseries!

July 21, 2008

BY UGOCHUKWU EJINKEONYE

Mr. Tunde Fashola, Governor of Lagos State, has, within the few months he has been in office, demonstrated clearly that he is a young man with well thought-out ideas, vision and mission to create a new, decent Lagos out of the chaos, waste and near-dilapidation that had hitherto defined the city.

Although many blocked canals and drains are yet out there begging to be reopened to solve the perennial problem of flooding in Lagos, and continuously burning heaps of refuse emitting toxic smoke near Ojota still welcome people entering Lagos from that end, no sincere person can deny that Lagos is fast acquiring a refreshingly new face. The roads which were once famous for their horrible, car-destroying, hypertension-multiplying craters are beginning to experience rapid transformations.

The other day, somebody was saying that while a very horrible road in his area was being rehabilitated, Fashola used to come in the middle of the night with ‘Keke Marwa (tricycle) to inspect it. Some swear he sometimes moves around town on ‘okada’ (motorcycle) to inspect on-going construction works or see for himself the exact state of the State he is governing. It is possible that Fashola actually does all these, but what we all know is that when such stories begin to be circulated about a leader, it says a lot about his popularity rating among the masses.

What I particularly like about him is the quiet manner he goes about his work. Unlike many of his colleagues who would do a ten Naira work and advertise it with hundred Naira, the man seems content to let the people to discover what he is doing by themselves. That may be a longer, more tedious route to fame, but when eventually it is achieved, it is usually more edifying and long-lasting.

Gov Tunde Fashola

Each time I drive through Ikorodu Road now and do not encounter again those horrible traffic hold-ups that used to keep one for hours, I express gratitude to him in my heart. Fashola’s transformational efforts have not been limited to roads; he is equally reshaping the entire metropolis and making it conform to what he thinks should be the original master-plan. And for a very badly mismanaged city like Lagos, populated mostly by people who have known only indiscipline and chaos as the only norms of existence and survival, such a target he has set for himself would prove a task really too daunting.

Just as Fashola does so many good things quietly (including even repainting houses in Lagos), the demolitions he has been carrying out which have plunged many families into untold misery and unspeakable trauma have also been quietly executed. And just as the media underreports his good works, they also treat the issue of the many traumatised victims of his efforts to give us a new, mega city with something akin to half-heartedness. Even if many media people cannot be found residing in the various large slum settlements which Fashola has been scraping off with effortless ease, it still remains their responsibility to give such developments due and just treatment.

The young, athletic governor appears well-meaning, focused, resolute, strict and principled. But I would hate think that he is wicked, heartless and callous. In his heart, he is probably more pained than I am over the unspeakable miseries his attempts to rediscover Lagos is circulating among the populace. Unlike Mr. Nasir El-Rufai, the former Emperor of Abuja, he could not, by any stretch of the imagination, have mistaken raw sadism for principles and courage. I am willing to believe that he fully appreciates my insistence that the wellbeing of human beings with red blood equally running in their veins as it does in him, his wife, Bimbola, and their children (despite differences in status) is as important, if not more, than a beautified environment, and that concern and care for both of them should in no way be mutually exclusive. You can demolish houses, Okay, but what do you do with the mass of displaced human beings?

A few days ago, I was shattered by reports of massive demolitions of countless “houses” that served as homes for multitudes of Lagosians in Abule-Nla (Olaleye) in Ebute Metta, Lagos, without any thought for any alternative shelters for them. As the bulldozers moved in with demonic zeal, mowing down structures and turning them to rubbles, many hapless people suddenly discovered that they had become homeless. Just like that!

Families, including old, ailing men and women, nursing mothers of very tender babies, pregnant woman and frightened, shocked little children, who had all been made to hurriedly escape from the only homes they had known by the murder and destruction-breathing bulldozers, were seen weeping, mourning and flocking about under a very heavy rain, bemoaning their fate and, perhaps, cursing the day of their birth and lamenting the abject poverty that had condemned them to find shelter in those shacks. The sight could melt the cast-iron heart of the most callous Nero. One could imagine some wives looking at their helpless, defeated and humiliated husbands and wondering why they were so unlucky to have married such poor men, unlike some of their more fortunate class or age mates who had married more successful men. The humanitarian crises this singular action has created for these set of human beings whose only offence was that they were too poor to afford decent accommodations in a society that cared less whether they lived or died have been quite has been quite overwhelming. As I write now, nearly a week after the bulldozers had executed their massive havoc and destructions and returned to base, hapless families are still stranded, yet to find any shelter anywhere, punished ceaselessly by the heavy rains and the tormenting sun, and terrorized by the dangers of spending the nights in the open in a place like Lagos. Somebody should just tell me the meaning of this!

Yes, over 80% of Nigerians live in unimaginable penury and utter, unspeakable deprivation, caused largely by the greed and criminal accumulation of the thieving rulers, but must government always go out of its way to rub it in, and brutally underline their belief that these set of Nigerians are worthless and dispensable?

I am not saying that Fashola did evil in seeking to improve the face of Lagos, but I had expected that he should as well have been even more worried that his fellow human beings have been so terribly impoverished in their own very richly endowed and high-earning country and forced to take refuge under those shacks. Agreed, these Nigerians had sought shelter under “illegal” structures, but wouldn’t they jump at any opportunity to be moved into decent quarters? It is only fair and just that in executing all its big dreams, government should not be unmindful of the magnitude of human suffering its actions regularly create. My colleague and friend, Mr. Dianam Dakolo, once wrote a very touching column entitled: “Government As Public Enemy.” I think that it is still possible for governments to take tough decisions and still remain people-friendly.

Years later, when historians would remember and applaud Fashola for giving Lagos a face-lift, there is no doubt that not even a footnote would be reserved for the hapless causalities of his gallant efforts.

I would love a beautiful and pleasant city of Lagos, but certainly not one constructed with the blood of peasants and retrenched workers. Patriotism would continue to remain scarce in this nation so long as government continues to be seen as an oppressor and public enemy. Who can ever hope to appease children whose parents had died of heart failure because their homes were destroyed?

For every human tragedy created in the wake of these mindless demolitions, a dozen or more embittered people enter the growing list of the State’s enemies. By the way, doesn’t government also have a duty towards the homeless, to ensure they are adequately sheltered?

Yes, the people were duly served with quit notices, and even allowed several months of grace after their expiration, but does anyone consider that these our fellow human beings may have been too poor to relocate themselves, even to their villages? Who protects them against bloodsucking landlords?

Indeed, I like Tunde Fashola very well, and that’s why I am telling him to endeavour to make the rehabilitation human beings an inevitable counterpart of his ongoing rehabilitation of physical structures in Lagos.

———————————————

scruples2006@yahoo.com

www.ugochukwu.blog.com

Lagos: Mega City, Mega Miseries!

July 21, 2008

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

Mr. Tunde Fashola, Governor of Lagos State, has, within the few months he has been in office, demonstrated clearly that he is a young man with well thought-out ideas, vision and mission to create a new, decent Lagos out of the chaos, waste and near-dilapidation that had hitherto defined the city.

Although many blocked canals and drains are yet out there begging to be reopened to solve the perennial problem of flooding in Lagos, and continuously burning heaps of refuse emitting toxic smoke near Ojota still welcome people entering Lagos from that end, no sincere person can deny that Lagos is fast acquiring a refreshingly new face. The roads which were once famous for their horrible, car-destroying, hypertension-multiplying craters are beginning to experience rapid transformations.

The other day, somebody was saying that while a very horrible road in his area was being rehabilitated, Fashola used to come in the middle of the night with ‘Keke Marwa (tricycle) to inspect it. Some swear he sometimes moves around town on ‘okada’ (motorcycle) to inspect on-going construction works or see for himself the exact state of the State he is governing. It is possible that Fashola actually does all these, but what we all know is that when such stories begin to be circulated about a leader, it says a lot about his popularity rating among the masses.

What I particularly like about him is the quiet manner he goes about his work. Unlike many of his colleagues who would do a ten Naira work and advertise it with hundred Naira, the man seems content to let the people to discover what he is doing by themselves. That may be a longer, more tedious route to fame, but when eventually it is achieved, it is usually more edifying and long-lasting.

Each time I drive through Ikorodu Road now and do not encounter again those horrible traffic hold-ups that used to keep one for hours, I express gratitude to him in my heart. Fashola’s transformational efforts have not been limited to roads; he is equally reshaping the entire metropolis and making it conform to what he thinks should be the original master-plan. And for a very badly mismanaged city like Lagos, populated mostly by people who have known only indiscipline and chaos as the only norms of existence and survival, such a target he has set for himself would prove a task really too daunting.

Just as Fashola does so many good things quietly (including even repainting houses in Lagos), the demolitions he has been carrying out which have plunged many families into untold misery and unspeakable trauma have also been quietly executed. And just as the media underreports his good works, they also treat the issue of the many traumatised victims of his efforts to give us a new, mega city with something akin to half-heartedness. Even if many media people cannot be found residing in the various large slum settlements which Fashola has been scraping off with effortless ease, it still remains their responsibility to give such developments due and just treatment.

The young, athletic governor appears well-meaning, focused, resolute, strict and principled. But I would hate think that he is wicked, heartless and callous. In his heart, he is probably more pained than I am over the unspeakable miseries his attempts to rediscover Lagos is circulating among the populace. Unlike Mr. Nasir El-Rufai, the former Emperor of Abuja, he could not, by any stretch of the imagination, have mistaken raw sadism for principles and courage. I am willing to believe that he fully appreciates my insistence that the wellbeing of human beings with red blood equally running in their veins as it does in him, his wife, Bimbola, and their children (despite differences in status) is as important, if not more, than a beautified environment, and that concern and care for both of them should in no way be mutually exclusive. You can demolish houses, Okay, but what do you do with the mass of displaced human beings?

A few days ago, I was shattered by reports of massive demolitions of countless “houses” that served as homes for multitudes of Lagosians in Abule-Nla (Olaleye) in Ebute Metta, Lagos, without any thought for any alternative shelters for them. As the bulldozers moved in with demonic zeal, mowing down structures and turning them to rubbles, many hapless people suddenly discovered that they had become homeless. Just like that!

Families, including old, ailing men and women, nursing mothers of very tender babies, pregnant woman and frightened, shocked little children, who had all been made to hurriedly escape from the only homes they had known by the murder and destruction-breathing bulldozers, were seen weeping, mourning and flocking about under a very heavy rain, bemoaning their fate and, perhaps, cursing the day of their birth and lamenting the abject poverty that had condemned them to find shelter in those shacks. The sight could melt the cast-iron heart of the most callous Nero. One could imagine some wives looking at their helpless, defeated and humiliated husbands and wondering why they were so unlucky to have married such poor men, unlike some of their more fortunate class or age mates who had married more successful men. The humanitarian crises this singular action has created for these set of human beings whose only offence was that they were too poor to afford decent accommodations in a society that cared less whether they lived or died have been quite has been quite overwhelming. As I write now, nearly a week after the bulldozers had executed their massive havoc and destructions and returned to base, hapless families are still stranded, yet to find any shelter anywhere, punished ceaselessly by the heavy rains and the tormenting sun, and terrorized by the dangers of spending the nights in the open in a place like Lagos. Somebody should just tell me the meaning of this!

Yes, over 80% of Nigerians live in unimaginable penury and utter, unspeakable deprivation, caused largely by the greed and criminal accumulation of the thieving rulers, but must government always go out of its way to rub it in, and brutally underline their belief that these set of Nigerians are worthless and dispensable?

I am not saying that Fashola did evil in seeking to improve the face of Lagos, but I had expected that he should as well have been even more worried that his fellow human beings have been so terribly impoverished in their own very richly endowed and high-earning country and forced to take refuge under those shacks. Agreed, these Nigerians had sought shelter under “illegal” structures, but wouldn’t they jump at any opportunity to be moved into decent quarters? It is only fair and just that in executing all its big dreams, government should not be unmindful of the magnitude of human suffering its actions regularly create. My colleague and friend, Mr. Dianam Dakolo, once wrote a very touching column entitled: “Government As Public Enemy.” I think that it is still possible for governments to take tough decisions and still remain people-friendly.

Years later, when historians would remember and applaud Fashola for giving Lagos a face-lift, there is no doubt that not even a footnote would be reserved for the hapless causalities of his gallant efforts.

I would love a beautiful and pleasant city of Lagos, but certainly not one constructed with the blood of peasants and retrenched workers. Patriotism would continue to remain scarce in this nation so long as government continues to be seen as an oppressor and public enemy. Who can ever hope to appease children whose parents had died of heart failure because their homes were destroyed?

For every human tragedy created in the wake of these mindless demolitions, a dozen or more embittered people enter the growing list of the State’s enemies. By the way, doesn’t government also have a duty towards the homeless, to ensure they are adequately sheltered?

Yes, the people were duly served with quit notices, and even allowed several months of grace after their expiration, but does anyone consider that these our fellow human beings may have been too poor to relocate themselves, even to their villages? Who protects them against bloodsucking landlords?

Indeed, I like Tunde Fashola very well, and that’s why I am telling him to endeavour to make the rehabilitation human beings an inevitable counterpart of his ongoing rehabilitation of physical structures in Lagos.

scruples2006@yahoo.com

www.ugochukwu.blog.com

Nigeria: Very Rich, Very Irresponsibly Managed

July 21, 2008

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

Last Wednesday, we had a very important and urgent need to be in Kumasi very early the next day. It was already midnight (Nigerian Time –11pm in Ghana), and we were still in the heart of Accra, surrounded by its brilliant lights, soothing serenity (there was not the faintest hint of any generator anywhere) and profound modesty, wondering what to do. But a Ghanaian who was with us did not seem to share our worries. He simply told us to hit the road, that in the next three hours, we should be in Kumasi.

I looked at him with surprise and disbelief. Who was sure nobody had hired him to lure the three of us into a well-laid ambush by violent robbers? When I expressed my concern about armed robbers, his answer was sharp, with a tinge of impatience.

“There are no armed robbers!”

When I repeated the concern much later, he said something he should not have said, but which Nigerians need to continue hearing no matter how painful we find it: “I have told you… no armed robbers! This is not Nige…!” He cut himself short. It occurred to him, a bit too late though, that he had gone too far in his bid to emphasize that point. Just like the way I felt when I shouted to some Nigerians at one place we had gone to in Accra some days later when the driver was about to run over a bag: “Remove that Ghana-Must-Go bag!”

When I called a Nigerian friend and he reassured me that the long journey from Accra to Kumasi was safe, we hit the road. At the one or two places where very friendly policemen had stopped us, they merely looked at the vehicle and waved us on with their torches, without the slightest hint that they wanted an ‘egunje.’ And so, after a long journey through lonely, lengthy stretches of the expressway, and vast quiet countryside, we embraced the warmth of the clean, well-lit streets of Kumasi early that cold morning, and found our way to the serene ambience of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.

Ghana is a very poor country. Beyond the glitter of an efficient system is poverty that is real and palpable. But Ghana has been lucky with its leaders. What nation would not prosper under the watch of a visionary, patriotic leader who is not afraid of his people who had elected him in fairly free and fair elections, but lives among them (instead of hiding himself in an impregnable fortress like Aso Rock), and is able to inspire the citizenry to believe in him, and buy into his determination to put in place a workable system? It is only thieving, failed leaders that live in perpetual fear of their people.

Throughout my stay in Ghana, I never dialled any number twice with my Ghana MTN line, no matter the country I called! But in Nigeria, if you dial a number saved in your phone, what you would probably hear is: “This number does not exist on the MTN network.

Then you try again: “The number you have dialled is incorrect.

And you dial the third time: “The number you have dialled is switched off.

Fourth time: “The number you have dialled is unavailable.”

And if you have the patience to try the fifth time, it may then go through! What a country! Ghana Telecom Service Providers are effectively monitored and regulated, unlike what Ernest Ndukwe claims he is doing for us here. The begulatory body ensures that no service provider sells lines more than it has the capacity to manage. It once, reportedly, called MTN to order, when it attempted to roll out lines like it does in this our lawless jungle.

Each time I recharged my line with 2Ghana Cedis (N230), I would make several calls both to Nigeria and within Ghana, and would still have much credit remaining. But here, the thing finishes with incredible speed.

It offends me each time anyone attempts comparing Nigeria with Europe or America. From Swaziland, Botswana to Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia to Uganda, Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast to the Gambia, Nigeria is, perhaps, the only country in the whole of Africa that is yet to achieve stability in its energy supply. We are here still grappling with pitch darkness and watching our pitiably blank and hare brained leaders telling embarrassing, infantile stories about their inexplicable failure and insufferable incompetence, while very poor countries we can easily buy up have since left us behind on this issue of power supply and provision of other social amenities.

In most of these countries, one can conveniently walk to any public tap and drink water, but whoever tries that here any time some liquid manages to trickle from any public tap would be guilty of attempting suicide.

At Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Americans, Britishers, Chinese and people from diverse nations of the world are proudly enrolled as students. In 1993, I met an America Professor of Economics who proudly announced to me that while he studied for his Masters Degree at the University College, Ibadan, (UCI) in 1958, he stayed at Kuti Hall. I wonder if he can advise any American child today to get near that same Kuti Hall he spoke so glowingly about, or encourage the child of his worst enemy to attend a Nigerian University.

While a friend and I took a walk around midnight on Saturday, we felt so safe, despite the several trees in the well landscaped and beautified compounded that lend the school its serenity, but which could provide cover for any cultists to strike. As we stood on a walkway, about eight American youths hopped across, chattering, laughing and feeling so much at home. I am told that children of countless Nigerian government officials are enrolled in the school, generating huge funds to Ghana with which it now offers divers scholarships to its own citizens. Yes, Nigerians would prefer paying all the money to Ghana than improving and making our own schools safe so that youths from several parts of the world can also come here (as used to be the case) to study. Indeed, the KNUST faculty Guest Houses can comfortably diminish some things that pass for “big” hotels in Nigerias.

Ghanaians do not have the drive and innovativeness of Nigerians. Under sincere and honest leaders who are not mere common criminals whose eyes and hearts are only focused on the treasury, what would stop Nigeria from becoming one of the greatest countries in the world?

But what do we get here: the Babangidas, the Abachas, the Obasanjos: rulers who derive peculiar animation from prospering by marketing the nation’s entrails.

Obasanjo’s only noticeable achievement while in office was to join the emergency Billionaires’ Club with such fanfare and brazenness that sent all the others scampering for safety . But while leaving office, he left us in the hands of an Umoru Yar’Adua whose only understanding of leadership seems to be to perennially grope for direction.

So, while our leanly endowed neighbours like Ghana are gradually laying solid foundation for greater tomorrow, Nigeria is decaying and sinking into unimaginable depths. Laden with insufferably inept legislator, and an odious character like Maurice Iwu as INEC Chairman, what options are left for a country so immensely rich, but so irresponsibly managed? What a tragedy.

Four Indian Universities to Celebrate Things Fall Apart in October

July 21, 2008


Four Indian Universities – Osmania University, Hyderabad; Mysore University; Kolkata University; and the University of New Delhi, will kick off conferences to mark the celebration of the 50th year of the publication of “the noted Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe’s highly influential and widely studied first novel “Things fall Apart,” starting with opening proceedings at Osmania university, the last week of October.


According to the convener of the sub-continental conferences, Professor Bala Kothandaraman, each major Indian university will host individual seminars organized by their local English Departments – made possible by funding from the respective universities and the ICCR (the Indian Council for Cultural Relations).

Professor Lyn Innes Professor Emeritus of the University of Kent, Canterbury, England, will be the keynote speaker. In addition, Professor Kothandaraman provides that the seminars will celebrate local Indian and Asian scholars and highlight their vigorous and extensive Achebean and African Literary scholarship. Also invited to these ambitious celebrations are noted scholars from America, Europe, and Africa.

The Keynote speaker, Professor Lyn Innes, was born in Australia. Currently Professor Emeritus of the University of Kent, Canterbury, England, she graduated from the University of Sydney, before spending 12 years in the United States as a Postgraduate student and University lecturer, first at the University of Oregon, then at Tuskegee Institute, Alabama (1968-70), and finally at Cornell University. At Cornell, she completed the Comparative Literature doctoral programme revolving around Irish, African and Caribbean literatures (Francophone and Hispanic as well as English). After completing her doctoral thesis on Black and Irish Cultural Nationalism, she taught at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where the Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe, was Professor of African Literatures, and became Associate Editor of OKIKE Magazine: A Journal of African Creative Writing, which Chinua Achebe had founded. In 1975 she went as an exchange lecturer to the University of Kent, and remained there.


At the University of Kent she helped introduce the undergraduate degree in African and Caribbean Studies, which has now become a degree in English/Postcolonial Literatures; developed courses in Australian literature; taught various Irish literature courses at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels; and joined with colleagues in English to establish a Centre for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies and an MA in Postcolonial Studies. She is a member of the editorial board of Wasafiri and of Interventions.
Her publications have developed the lines of interest established early in her career. They include two collections of African short stories co-edited with Chinua Achebe, and a critical book, Chinua Achebe (1990). Her other books are The Devil’s Own Mirror: the Irish and the African in Modern Literature (1990); Woman and Nation in Irish Literature and Society, 1880-1935 (1993); and A History of Black and South Asian Writing in Britain, 1700 – 2000. She is currently engaged in a diverse set of projects: compiling an anthology on the afterlife of the Australian bushranger, Ned Kelly, writing an Introduction to Postcolonial Literatures, and researching the history of black and Asian writers and artists in Ireland.

Professor Kothandaraman believes the series of seminars throughout India will provide “an ample occasion for some of the most expansive analysis of the contributions of Achebe’s oeuvre to world civilization.” A fitting tribute, according to the professor to “ a body of work that is required reading in schools and universities in India and around the world; and a novel (Things Fall Apart) that remains one of the most widely read and influential books ever written.”

Now, Will President Yar’Adua Be Kind?

July 12, 2008

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

 

About forty days after Mr. Umar Musa Yar’Adua was sworn in as Nigeria’s president and the nation was saturated with loud calls on ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo to leave alone the new man he single-handedly imposed on Nigerians to implement his own ideas and programmes to “move the nation forward”, I published a piece in my newspaper column and on several internet news sites entitled, “In Nigeria, Yar’Adua Reigns, Obasanjo Rules,” asking those trying to shout our heads off whether they were sure “Yar’Adua himself [was] even desirous and eager to be rid of the overbearing influence of Obasanjo?”

 

I said: “Is he really ready to take charge? Are we sure that the ‘Servant-leader’ is not even too grateful that Obasanjo’s meddlesome and looming shadow are providing perfect alibi for what is gradually appearing as his stark visionlessness? I would certainly want to know those great ideas of Yar’Adua’s which Obasanjo’s meddlesomeness is preventing him from unfolding! The truth, as we know it, is that Yar’Adua never wanted to be president, and so, he never sat down to draw up anything that vaguely looks like a blueprint for the country’s redemption. When he was conscripted by Obasanjo and imposed on both the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Nigerians at a time elections were merely a couple of weeks away, he was too preoccupied with the thought of winning elections to have any time to concentrate and think about how he would rule Nigeria … it soothes Yar’Adua, [therefore], to still have Obasanjo in charge, while he enjoys the perks of office without the responsibilities that go with them. And at the end of the day, when another four years of devastating failure must have been successfully enacted, Yar’Adua can conveniently come up with the theory that he was not allowed to implement his ‘superior ideas’.”

 

The essay, judging by the reactions it generated, won me many friends who thought that my judgment of the ‘Servant leader’, though too early in the day, could hardly be faulted.

But there were a few who maintained that it was unfair to state like I did that the president (who was barely a month in office) presented the perfect picture of “a pitiably confused leader groping his way through an impenetrably dark alleyway.”  

 

Well, I have since been vindicated because the crippling directionlessness and benumbing passivity which President Umar Musa Yar’Adua presides over in Abuja today have clearly validated the ‘heresy’ I dared to utter about forty days into his regime, so much so that it has since become a permanent feature in virtually every public commentary or formal and informal discussions on the present regime. Unlike the time I first expressed it, the view has now become all too common and very obvious to elicit any more surprises. In fact, I doubt if it still has the capacity to make the president feel embarrassed.

 

Okay, I have been proved right, but where has that left us? Nigeria is presently weighed down by so many big problems, but here we are, stuck with a president who can neither be hurried nor bothered that the nation he is supposed to be ruling is dying every day.

 

Yes, we have a ruler who cannot be made to allow even the slightest hint of urgency in his moves and seems not to have the barest idea of what it means to be perturbed that he had flopped on virtually every promise he had made to the nation. In fact, it does not appear he can even be brought to lose any sleep that he has failed even before he started, and that most Nigerians have since lost every confidence in him. Many are no longer able to feel there is a government in Abuja! What is plastered everywhere are utter hopelessness and despair.

 

Here is a president who evidently came into office without any ideas, focus, any coherent action plans or even an average understanding of what he was coming to office to accomplish. And so, each time his attention is called to the mounting problems begging for his urgent intervention, he appears startled and looks as if he feels he is being unduly bothered. It looks very much like what he would prefer is to merely sleep through the problems with the blissful hope that he would wake one day see all of them solved.

 

Maybe we should not even blame Yar’Adua, because, come to think about it: what exactly did he promise Nigerians   during his so called campaigns in which he was an imposed, “unwilling” candidate?

 

Okay, I remember that he kept saying something about “Energy Challenge” which he intended to tackle headlong. But since he came into power, the energy situation has worsened beyond what anyone had imagined was possible in a richly endowed and high-earning country ruled by a human being. The Obasanjo junta had allegedly squandered about $16 billion to plunge Nigeria deeper into thicker darkness, and the toxic revelation had caused Nigerians untold mental torture. But to demonstrate his utter disdain for the feelings of Nigerians on this heartless pillaging of the nation’s resources, and his unambiguous opinion on the astounding revelations at the power probe panel, President Yar’Adua recently appointed three governors (Liyel Imoke, Segun Agagu and Danjuma Goje) who had served as Ministers of Power in that darkest period of Nigeria’s history to serve in the so-called Presidential Implementation Committee on Power.

 

What this should mean is that in the thinking of the   president, these men deserved to be applauded by all of us for colluding with Obasanjo to ensure the nation remained in impenetrable darkness. What Yar’Adua has dropped is a bold hint on what he would do with the power probe report once it gets to his table.  What an unlucky nation!

 

If till now there is hardly any evidence that Yar’Adua has been able to achieve an appreciable grasp of the enormous task facing him as Nigeria’s president, then it would be most foolish to hope that he would still not be groping for direction even after two years from now. In fairness to the man, it could well be said that since he had raised no hopes from the beginning till now, no one can justifiably accuse him of dashing any.

 

But how long can a continuously decaying nation defer its reclamation by endlessly waiting for a president who is yet to start charting a very clear direction?

 

If Yar’Adua would be kind, that is, to himself and Nigeria, he should put a halt to all these blind pursuits and dumb guesswork, hand in his papers, retire to Katsina in peace, and save the nation further trauma of having to perennially wait for a man who may never be able to either comprehend or respond to the challenges of such a high and strategic office.

 

Although hangers-on and parasites feeding fat on the grounded system may hold a different view, certainly, the line of action I am recommending to Yar’Adua would attract a kinder verdict from history to him than going on confusedly like a child handed a terribly complicated, strange toy to decode, and traumatizing the whole nation in the process.

 

Indeed, quitting now would be more redemptive of Yar’Adua’s person than being remembered later as the groping undertaker of a richly endowed but seriously ill nation?    

 

scruples2006@yahoo.com

www.ugochukwu.blog.com

 

 

 

Yar’Adua, Give Nigerians Prepaid Metres!

July 7, 2008

(Published on Wednesday, May 28, 2008, a day before Nigeria’s ‘Democracy Day’ and President Yar’Adua’s one year anniversary)

 

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

 

By this time tomorrow (May 29, 2008) President Umar Musa Yar’Adua would be one year in office. As usual, he may call for “low-key, sombre celebrations” and “sober reflections” which would not be extended to the obscene gaiety, excessive mirth, hugging, necking and backslapping amidst endless flow of champagne and sumptuous delicacies, in short, the bacchanalian revel that would take place in the name of State Banquet later in the day.

 

He would also record a speech in which he would appeal to us to make further sacrifices and exercise more patience to allow the great seeds of growth, development and incredible plenty which he has been carefully sowing and watering for the past one year (and which he may continue to sow and water till he leaves office) to germinate, grow and spread unimaginable prosperity all over the nation. He would probably spice the speech up with a long list of the phantom achievements he had recorded since he was sworn in and grab the headlines by announcing some really ambitious and big projects he would undertake between tomorrow and the “second quarter of next year.”  Needless to add that he may well forget the whole thing before Sunday afternoon. 

 

                         Pres Yar’Adua: Floored By the ‘Energy Challenge’

 

If he is able tomorrow, he may also attend a parade at the Eagle Square, give a short address, or send his irritatingly dull deputy to stand in for him, while he stays at home to rest and conserve some strength for the State Banquet, where Turai, his wife (and she that must be obeyed), cannot wait to star without moderation. Indeed, not even the Servant Leader himself can deny her this day!

 

It is unlikely, too, that the contractors, hangers-on and jobless fellows whose eyes are fixed on the next cabinet reshuffle would heed his call to observe tomorrow as a day of sober reflection. No doubt, newspaper pages would be dominated by full-page colour adverts extolling his “sterling virtues  and great vision,” and the “unprecedented achievements of this great son of Africa who has just under one year taken Nigeria to great heights” – the same words they had deployed to seduce Gen Olusegun Obasanjo into his present grief.

 

(By the way, when last did anyone witness where Obasanjo was referred to as the Founder and/or Father of Modern Nigeria? The last I heard was Founder and Father of Modern Corruption!)

 

But if Yar’Adua would take my advice, he should ask everybody to stay at home tomorrow and excuse himself from any grand design by unconscionable fellows in and around government to celebrate failure. I mean abysmal and all-round failure!

 

He should also be man enough to stand up to his restless, limelight-crazy wife and tell her that any State Banquet tomorrow evening would constitute an obscene provocation to long-suffering Nigerians. What exactly would Yar’Adua be celebrating? Does he need anyone to tell him that his one year in office has been one woeful story of overwhelming failure? Sometimes I am tempted to feel that this country would have even fared better if this government (or any other one like it) was not in place. At least, the country would have moved faster on the path of development without the crushing burden this burden  constituted.

 

Last Saturday evening, I entered a filling station to buy fuel and the crowd I saw there almost scared me. It was when I looked closely that I saw containers of different sizes in the hands of the people. Oh, all those people had come to purchase fuel for the countless generators they use to generate power for themselves in a failed state like Nigeria. As I looked at this large crowd and it occurred to me that many of them may even be storing the fuel under their beds, I shuddered. No doubt, it is only God’s mercy that has prevented the whole of Lagos from going up in flames before now.

 

Take a trip today to the various areas in Lagos, especially, where people are crammed into small apartments like the face-me-I-face-you type of accommodation, where whole families and dependants are piled into stuffy rooms, and observe the room occupants showing off their generators and the fuel they had stored. At night when all these machines begin to roar, emitting killer fumes into the already airless, stuffy enclosures, what emerges is a most horrible situation where a failed and heartless government has cruelly driven its hapless citizens into organizing their own bitter deaths with generators purchased with monies they had probably starved themselves to save.

 

In order to escape the unbearable heat and choking darkness their government and its licensed Agent of Darkness, NEPA/PHCN, have heartlessly plunged them into, they end up creating deadly gas chambers where they enact mass suicides daily. We have regularly heard of whole families being found dead in the morning after an all-night inhalation of generator fumes. For those resilient ones still on their feet, what is left of their sensitive organs by the lethal fumes they abundantly inhale every night are being progressively ruined by the ear-splitting din produced by the countless generators. No wonder cases of hypertension and nervous breakdowns are also on the increase in Nigeria.     

 

Turai Yar’Adua, (Right): Power Behind The Throne?

 

My view is that as these people whose only offence is that they were born Nigerians develop lung cancer and deadly heart and respiratory diseases and die painful in their obscure corners due to lack of medicare (while their president hops across to Germany from time to time to treat catarrh (common cold) and allergic reactions, their blood would certainly be required at the hands of those who claim to be ruling this richly endowed nation.

 

 Night time in this nation has simply turned into several harrowing hours of unbearable torments. In the fairly moderate accommodation I occupy with my family, we usually abandon our rooms every night to cram ourselves into the parlour and my already jam-packed study, because the ear-splitting noise from my neighbour’s generator in the next compound is simply destructive. As the monster starts roaring (and this continues till morning), not even the wall demarcating the two compounds can mitigate its damage. I have this feeling that if I try any day to protest, the man might pour on me all the pent up anger he had reserved for Yar’Adua and, of course, Obasanjo who for his own selfish reasons foisted on us a man who neither wanted to be president nor have any clear idea how to get this nation on its feet.

 

For two months now, NEPA/PHCN has left my neighbourhood in total darkness. We used to complain about irregular power supply. Now, total darkness has enveloped the whole place.  Apart from the two or so brief moments I was informed power was supplied, it has been darkness all the way for more than two months now. In the previous months they had managed to flash some flicker of light. Yet despite all these, the huge bills keeps coming. This is nothing but heartless extortion and daylight robbery, actively supported by the Federal Government under Mr. Umar Yar’Adua.

 

A friend who recently secured his prepaid metre was so excited to discover that it was only two hundred naira that he had consumed in a whole month. Before now, his monthly bill never came below five thousand naira despite the uninterrupted darkness that engulfed him! What an unarmed robbery! The other day, officials of NEPA/PHCN invaded a widow’s house threatening to disconnect her from their Darkness Supply because she was “not paying her bills.” The woman’s protestations that she was using the prepaid metre only annoyed them further. They hate to hear that anyone is using a prepaid metre because it effectively checks their extortion!

 

So, how long will Yar’Adua allow this robbery to continue? How long will Nigerians continue to pay for services not rendered to them?  Why are the irremediably corrupt sadists at NEPA/PHCN frustrating attempts by Nigerians to get prepaid metres?  

 

Now, if NEPA/PHCN chooses to supply only darkness, they should let every Nigerian have a prepaid metre so that no one would be compelled again to pay for energy not supplied. It is cruel to force people to pay these bills after they had generated power for themselves at very huge costs and great risks to their health.

 

If President Yar’Adua wishes to distance himself from this heartless, official robbery, he should tomorrow (May 29, 2008) announce a date when everybody in Nigeria must, without fail, be issued a prepaid metre. If this measure would dry up the revenue base of NEPA/PHCN and cause it to fold up, so be it. Nigerians are better off without such an agency that produces only pain, torments, sorrow, heart-ache and death.  

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 scruples2006@yahoo.com

www.ugochukwu.blog.com

 

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