REUBEN'S VIEWS

REUBEN'S VIEWS

Over the weekend, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) decided to extend the deadline for the collection of Permanent Voters Cards (popularly known as PVCs) by an additional week. The PVC collection that was scheduled to end on January 29, was extended till February 5, according to a statement by the INEC National Commissioner in charge of Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye. INEC further extended collection hours by an additional two hours, from 9 am till 5 pm including Saturdays and Sundays. It was the second time within a month that INEC would extend PVC collection deadline. The Commission had earlier fixed January 22, 2023 as the deadline but it then decided at the time to extend the collection till January 29, with the period of collection said to be between 9 am and 3 pm daily, including Saturday and Sundays, at wards and local government centres. Similarly last weekend, Nigerians were informed that the Central Bank of Nigeria had also shifted the deadline for the return of old denominations of N200, N500, N1, 000 Naira notes which had been redesigned by the Central Bank of Nigeria - from January 31, to February 10, with a further extension for return of old notes directly to the Central Bank until February 17.

The INEC spoke on Saturday. The CBN followed suit on Sunday. The immediate effect was that many Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief with fresh expectations that they would be able within the period of the extension get their PVCs, and new notes from the banks. Apropos, many Nigerians have hailed both the INEC and the CBN for listening to the people’s yearnings and for adopting a pro-people stance in both cases. Some of the reactions have been over-laden with an overdose of saccharine. The original purpose of government and its relationship with the people is properly stated in Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution to wit: “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government and (c)the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.” It stands to reason therefore that the government of Nigeria cannot introduce any policy or measure that inflicts pain and suffering on the people of Nigeria or compromises their safety and welfare. The Federal Government of Nigeria under the laws of the land, is allowed strictly to take steps or introduce measures that advance the people’s interest. To the extent that sovereignty belongs to the people – (“we, the people” in the Preamble of the 1999 Constitution), nothing may be done to inconvenience or inflict injury on the people; to do so would be a violation of the spirit and letter of the Constitution with regard to its fundamental objectives and the rule of law. It is therefore understandable that the country’s electoral commission and the apex bank have both reversed themselves, in the course of a weekend volte-face, and hence re-discovered the original purpose of government policy.

The pervasive consensus out there was that INEC’s insistence on a January 29, take-it-or-leave it deadline for PVC collection was beginning to look like a violation of Section 14 (2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution already cited. Before, during and even after the January 22 extension by INEC, most Nigerians complained about the pain and suffering that they were subjected to in their attempt to get their PVCs. The cards were simply unavailable. In parts of the country, INEC officials drove the people from wards to local government headquarters, only to be told that the PVCs were not available. In some wards and local governments, especially in Lagos State, there were allegations of ethnic and religious discrimination. For more than two weeks, persons went to points of collection and they were turned back by unfriendly INEC officials. The evidence in that regard soon flooded the social and mainstream media, in form of reports, live accounts, videos, memes and reports of actual protest and threat of violence in INEC centres from Oluyole in Ibadan, to Oshodi in Lagos to Owerri in Imo State. It was obvious that the Nigerian voter of eligible age was in pain.

This was more so, as the point had been made repeatedly by the INEC Chairman, Professor Yakubu Mahmood, at every opportunity at home and abroad, most recently at their neo-colonial outpost – Chatham House that the Commission was ready. Even with the attack on INEC facilities by unknown gunmen, the INEC Chair boasted that the Commission’s operations would not be affected. In Abeokuta where hoodlums attacked an INEC facility, he assured the people that INEC had the capacity to produce missing PVCs within 72 hours. The people have seen that these assurances have come to naught. Even the Osun Gubernatorial election that the INEC used to tout as concrete evidence of the assuredness of its processes has just unraveled with the Election Petition Tribunal raising questions about INEC technology and over-voting in 744 polling units in 10 Local Government Areas in that election. And yet since the return to democratic rule in 1999, this is meant to be an election like no other. The people have been no more determined to exercise their franchise. They see their inability to get a PVC, as an attempt by the state to disenfranchise them. This is why some people have threatened to commit suicide if they are not allowed to vote. This is why there is violence or threats of violence in PVC collection centres. The matter is made worse by the fact that INEC officials have been accused of hoarding PVCs, and also deliberately asking for bribes before they could release voters’ cards. Videos have been circulated - of INEC officials, ad hoc, or formal, soliciting for bribes. This is scandalous. INEC cannot afford to have rogue elements among its ranks if it hopes to conduct credible elections. The least that can be said for now, 24 days to the February election is that the optics look really bad. The extension of the deadline for the collection of PVC would be completely meaningless and ineffectual, if despite the extension INEC officials on the streets are still giving the same excuses.

There is also the unresolved problem of students who registered in their various home constituencies during the prolonged eight-month long academic union strike but have since returned to school in distant places. Such students have been automatically disenfranchised. Even if they are willing to rush back home to get their PVCs, there is no guarantee that they can get the card, even after two weeks of trying. There are also other constraints: fuel scarcity, the high cost of transportation and the deadly risk of travelling in Nigeria by rail, road or air. This is why it makes better sense for Nigeria to have a harmonized data system that makes it possible for Nigerians to vote with just one means of identification, not the 19th Century system that we still maintain for the identification of the electorate. Still, something has to be done about rogue INEC officials. Before now, INEC said it had arrested some of its official involved in the manipulation of the voters’ register. The same treatment must be meted out forthwith to those officials who are sabotaging the PVC collection process. Part VII of the Electoral Act 2022 deals with “Electoral Offences”. Section 120 of the Act specifically addresses the subject of “dereliction of duty” by “any officer”. Section 121 talks about “bribery and conspiracy”. Both sections of the Act prescribe stiff penalties. But nobody is enforcing the law! INEC is very long on promises and extremely short in execution!

As it is with INEC with regard to the distribution and release of PVCs, so it is with the CBN and collection of old notes through the banks and the release of new denomination notes of N200, N500, and N1, 000. Two days before the volte face, the CBN had been most adamant in stating that there would be no extension of the deadline because it had acted perfectly within the law which is of course true within the purview of the relevant provisions of the CBN Act of 2007 – Sections 2(b), 17, 18, 19, and 20 (1) thereof which read together grant the CBN the powers to design monetary policy, print and redesign, and even change currency, with recourse in stated instances to the President of Nigeria in Section 19 of the same Act. In all that it did, the CBN had the support of the President in addition to the fact that the enabling law grants it the Independence to determine monetary policy. Further, the 90 days window for the return of old denominations in circulation was within the purview of the law. So why did the CBN change its mind? Why did it bow to pressure that came from all directions including the Presidential candidates of the two main political parties – PDP and APC, the National Assembly and the generality of Nigerians who felt that the policy was punitive in execution and that as established earlier no policy should violate the security and welfare of the people?

Whereas the CBN pointed out that the naira redesign policy was in the best interest of the people, to check terrorism financing, counterfeiting, imbalances in the fiscal space with about N2.7 trillion out of the N3.23 trillion in circulation in people’s homes, and abuse of the Naira, Nigerians felt that the suffering induced by the policy was undeserved. The CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele reported that more than N1.9 trillion had been returned to the system with a success rate of over 75% but in return the people could not get the new notes! By weekend, with the deadline of January 31 approaching, the banks still dispensed old notes! The CBN kept saying that it had released more than enough new notes but they were nowhere to be found either in banking halls or at ATM machines, except in the hands of merchants of new naira notes at social events and party centres and in the hands of their patrons who continued in open defiance of the law (section 21 of the CBN Act which appears to be a dead law) to the discomfiture of many Nigerians who watched in disbelief at the effect of a wonky, disconnected process. By January 26, churches and many retail outlets had put out the message that they would no longer collect old notes in the affected denominations. In many churches, last Sunday, ushers were told not to ever allow anybody drop old notes into the offering collection bag. Not even the toddlers in Sunday School were spared. They were instructed in one church that I know to take old notes back to their parents. Bureau de change operators all said they had no new Naira notes, not even the ones that were not redesigned. In many ATMs across the country, able-bodied men took the matter into their hands, and engaged in fisticuffs over access to the very few ATMs that dispensed new notes. It didn’t matter that no ATM could dispense anything more than N20, 000 at a time.

By Monday morning, there was violence in some banks caused by the long queues of customers looking for money. In some parts of Nigeria, even wedding ceremonies could not hold because nobody was going to accept old notes as bride price! In rural areas, the under-banked population for whom the CBN introduced a cash swap policy decided to wait and see. No matter how well-meaning the CBN could have been, its policy was going to result in a break-down of law and order. The advertised extension till February 10 is most expedient. It came as a big relief to aggrieved Nigerians. But will they get the new notes?

The CBN Governor has been shown on tape reporting that the heads of the CBN, EFCC, ICPC, the Nigeria Financial intelligence Unit, the DSS and other security agencies have held a meeting and resolved to work together to apprehend persons who are sabotaging CBN guidelines on the naira redesign policy. Indeed yesterday, the DSS arrested some organized syndicates selling new Naira notes. I hope some bank managers were among those arrested. The security agencies should also take a close look at CBN officials because this kind of open sabotage and effrontery cannot take place without collusion at the highest levels. INEC officials are selling PVCs! Bankers are selling new Naira notes! We live in a country where whatever policy the government comes up with, there will always be persons who are determined to circumvent the policy for profit motives. This is the problem with Nigeria. The CBN extension would only be meaningful if the people can get new notes.

There is the additional matter that has been raised by the House of Representatives ad hoc committee led by Hon Al Hassan Doguwa on the matter. The lawmaker says the House is determined to issue a warrant of arrest for the CBN Governor, because the CBN has broken the law and the Governor is refusing to appear before the House. Both Doguwa and the Speaker, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamiala, insist that the CBN has violated Section 20(3) of the CBN Act, and that under Section 89(1) of the 1999 Constitution and Order 19(2) of the Standing Orders of the House, they have the right to ask that the CBN Governor be arrested by the Inspector General of Police. I sincerely believe that the House of Representatives is grandstanding. They can issue a warrant of arrest as they did a resolution, but the effect may be no more than symbolic. The police that should arrest the CBN Governor reports directly to the President of Nigeria – Sections 215 and 216 of the Constitution. The same President that has taken personal ownership of all that the CBN has done. In days to come, some persons may go to court to seek an interpretation of Section 20(3) and Section 22 of the CBN Act, and throw up more conundrums, but the problem is that our laws are often so woolly that anybody can cherry pick as convenient and avoid a community reading that is recommended as standard practice. Our laws need to be more specific and categorical. But has the CBN not anticipated and side-stepped that possible controversy by granting an additional seven days for the return of old notes to the Central Bank? I think it has.

Finally, it is worth noting that in November 2016, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a similar policy to take “black money” out of circulation in India. The government gave only a four-hour notice for the withdrawal of all 1,000 rupees and 500 rupees. It caused confusion because it came as a shock. It was shrouded in secrecy. New notes were scarce. There were queues all over India. Modi held his ground. He said he needed to fight tax evasion and corruption. The people endured the hardship. He got away with it. The only difference is that the Indians trusted their government. Nigerians have learnt to doubt their own government. This is the crux of the matter.

 

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2023 04:31

 

There seems to be a scramble, a rush, by Nigerian politicians, and political candidates for appearance at or association with Chatham House in London, the policy think tank established by the British Institute of International Affairs, which for more than a century has served as a forum for the exchange of ideas and open expression, research and knowledge. Chatham House, also known as the Royal Institute for International Affairs has hosted a broad spectrum of speakers and world leaders, from different continents of the world. As far back as April 1931, Mahatma Ghandi, the Indian nationalist was at Chatham House, which by the way is also famous for the Chatham House Rule, established in the English vocabulary as a principle of non-attribution in reporting a particular proceeding or engagement. Many Nigerians have of course appeared at Chatham House, but it is noteworthy that when Nigerian politicians do so, there is forever a tinge of self-advertisement and narcissism in their presentations, and this being the case, their opponents are quick to turn such forum into an occasion for combat and pugilism.  

 

We have seen this at play over the years but what is shocking now is how our politicians have turned an opportunity to speak at Chatham House into a badge of honour. One state Governor had to make so much noise about making a speech at Chatham House, you would think he had been knighted at the time by the Queen! When a sitting Government gets wind of information that an opposition member was about to speak at Chatham, it is standard practice to send “our own people there” to “state our own side of the story” This time around, as Nigeria begins the countdown to the 2023 elections, Chatham House is part of the general conversation. On December 5, 2022, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Presidential Candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), was at Chatham House, an outing that was attended by rather exciting drama as a result of his resort to what he called “team-ship” in responding to questions and comments raised by his audience. The drama overshadowed the subject of his presentation: “Nigeria’s 2023 Elections: Security, Economic and Foreign Policy Imperatives”. He was heavily criticized by commentators at home and abroad. Yesterday, it was the turn of Mr. Peter Obi, the Presidential candidate of the Labour Party addressing the subject: “Nigeria’s 2023 Election: A Vision for Policy Change and Institutional Reforms.” 

 

Today, January 17, Chatham House will host the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu focusing on “Preparations, Challenges, and Priorities for Ensuring Electoral Integrity and Inclusivity.” Tomorrow, January 18 it would be the turn of Dr Rabiu Kwankwaso, Presidential candidate of the New Nigeria People’s Party with particular focus on his policy ideas for Nigeria.  The candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar has not yet shown up at Chatham House this time, although he had been there before on two different occasions – 2007 and 2018. Alex Vines, Director of the Africa Programme at the Institute has however confirmed that Atiku has been invited but he is yet to respond to the invitation.  He probably would do so before the elections too, so he and his aides are not left out of the Chatham House jamboree. When Waziri Atiku Abubakar went to the UK recently, however, it was gleefully reported that he met with some UK officials. No one should be surprised if some other key players in the 2023 electoral process also find their ways to Chatham House, or ask to be invited if only to fulfil the ritual of shaking the hands of one English member of Parliament and parade same as an achievement!   Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised one of these days, with the way things are going, if a Nigerian politician shows up at Chatham House with his entourage all garbed up in the kind of party attire that Nigerians call “aso ebi!”

 

As an Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House can easily justify its current focus on political developments in Nigeria: Africa’s most populous country, going through another election season that would involve a transition from one administration to the other, with implications for peace, stability and economic growth. As the Institute puts it: “Nigeria stands at a critical juncture, having suffered from two recessions in the past six years, unprecedented levels of physical and food insecurity, persistent fuel scarcity, and high levels of crude oil theft. Civic fatigue also remains an important challenge and Buhari’s three main policy pillars of security, economy and corruption continue to be defining issues for citizens.” But Chatham House’s interest in our affairs is not entirely altruistic; it is a listening post for the British establishment, and as a body that depends on donations as a major source of funding, its managers are fully aware of how vain and generous Nigerian politicians could possibly be at a time like this. This is one area in which the Chatham House Rule would definitely apply in the circumstance, so there may be no point inquiring into how much Nigerian politicians pay when they are granted the podium at 10 James’s Square. Perhaps “pay” is not the right word, so please scratch that, and substitute “donate”.  

 

Chatham House. Chatham House. And so what? We have a similar body here in Nigeria; the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), which is Nigeria’s top think tank on public affairs, established in 1961, and since then has proven to be a major centre for research and analysis. Were the NIIA to invite Nigerian politicians to come and speak at the platform, they are not likely to show up. They would give excuses. And that is why no major politician has gone there to engage the Nigerian intelligentsia. They would rather go to London. This says something about our relationship with the West. The average Nigerian suffers from a terrible colonial mentality. Even for elections that will be decided by the Nigerian electorate, there is so much concentration on London. Our leaders go to London for medical treatment. They go to Dubai for tourism. And they don’t go alone. Every trip is an opportunity for over-excited aides to pose for photographs, sometimes with wives and girlfriends and their children. Nigerian leaders have a strong appetite for everything foreign. That is how they killed Nigeria’s education sector. That is how they killed the health sector. Now, they want to kill our politics! In the absence of diaspora voting all the showmanship by Nigerians at Chatham House amounts to nothing.  The delivery of 1, 000 speeches at Chatham House cannot influence the Nigerian electorate in any way. Has anyone paused to ask why British politicians do not come to Nigeria to sell their campaign plans? And why other politicians around the world do not turn London into a major campaign centre? 

 

It is possible to argue that many Nigerians live in the UK, and they could influence their kith and kin back home even if they themselves may not have a PVC. But such Nigerians are not likely to be found at Chatham House. Any Nigerian politician seeking the people’s votes through such strategy is better off holding Town Hall meetings in parts of the UK and Ireland where there is a large concentration of Nigerians, especially those neighbourhoods where if you stay by the window and you shout “Good Morning” in Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa, you are likely to hear many voices greeting you back loud and clear in the same language especially in South London:  Elephant and Castle, Camberwell, Peckham, Croydon, Lewisham… There are also many Nigerians in Dublin. Since diaspora remittances mean a lot to Nigerians back home, it may be good sense to carry Nigerians in diaspora along, but certainly not inside Chatham House. But we may ask by way of further interrogation: does a speech at Chatham House give a Nigerian politician global recognition and acceptability? Or is it meant to show that the particular candidate has a programme that the international community can buy into? Does the platform confer legitimacy of any sort? It beggars the question whether that is what the Nigerian electorate needs.  

 

There is one more point: the idea of Chatham House as a tourist centre by our political leaders and their aides is most unfortunate. For more than 100 years, it has been seen as a centre for rigorous thinking, and yet Nigerian leaders go there to say mundane things and their aides make a song and dance out of that. Let us stop disgracing ourselves and keep our mundane chatter among ourselves. Nobody gets a certificate or extra votes for going to Chatham House.  It is ironic that the same politicians that do not want to attend debates at home are ever ready to be seen in foreign capitals. They can only have that global recognition that they seek when after winning the election, they then put up such performance that would recommend them for global acclaim. 

 

In the weeks leading to the 2023 Nigerian elections, Nigerians deserve to see their Presidential candidates engage each other in debates. Some of the candidates have opted for stage-managed town hall meetings of their own where they and their aides set all the questions and provide the answers that they consider most convenient. It is true that presidential debates are not a Constitutional requirement but they have evolved over time as a means of assessing the candidate’s level of preparedness, capacity in comparison with other candidates, and the creation of a level playing field for the electorate to make an informed choice. The kind of charade that is going on in the name of rallies and self-promoting town hall meetings is akin to a situation where a job seeker insists on setting the criteria by himself, for himself and on his own terms. In a country of over 200 million people, this amounts to an act of contempt and disrespect. We must begin to modify the campaign system. Rallies are at best carnivals, the risks involved are too high. Years back, a wise politician told me that based on his experience, he had deduced that six months to a Presidential election in Nigeria, it was always possible to predict the outcome. This time around, all the wise men are uncertain about the future, which makes this 2023 election, one of the strangest that has been held in this country since the return to democracy in 1999. 

 

What is certain is the resilience of the same centrifugal forces that have held the country down. Those who want to behead existing gods and hegemonies of Nigerian politics may well discover that the elections may be determined in a familiar fashion: Yoruba people will vote for a Yoruba candidate, Fulanis will vote for Fulani, Muslims will vote for Muslims, Christians will support their fellow Christians, and most ironically, women who constitute a dominant percentage (about 47.5%) of the voting population will vote for men. The swing factor may well be the youths of Nigeria, who represent 39.65% of voters between the ages of 18 and 34, out of a total of 93.4 million registered voters. But will the youths of Nigeria get their voter’s cards despite the extension of the collection of PVCs by one week till January 29? Would the youths of Nigeria be able to vote in parts of the country where violence is so rife that even the security agencies appear helpless? INEC continues to affirm that the elections will be held without hitches, “come rain, come shine.”  What is the basis of that optimism, even as INEC offices remain under assault, the most recent being the attack on INEC’s Area Office in Enugu South Local Government Area? It would be a great shame indeed and most disappointing if the agents of retrogression are allowed to hijack the 2023 elections. 

 

The main challenge is here at home, not on the streets of London. And to all the political gladiators: there is an urgent need to focus more on the issues, rather than engaging in mud-slinging, polluting and fouling the environment. The ongoing politics of hate would make healing and reconciliation difficult when the election is won and lost.  Nigeria cannot afford that. 

Last modified on Tuesday, 17 January 2023 22:25

 

From today, we have just about 47 days to Nigeria’s general elections, a major transition that would involve a change of government, the seventh since the return to civilian rule in 1999, but the biggest fear is that the current electoral process faces threats from different directions more than any other before it. I intend to identify some of these and reflect on them, as we all begin to count down to this year’s major elections. Yesterday in Ojota, Lagos, it was reported that there was a shoot out between members of the Oodua Progressives Congress (OPC), and the Oodua self-determination activists and Nigeria’s security agencies. Persons were killed, other were injured. By 9 am, concerned citizens had declared the Ojota area of Lagos a no-go area except you would willingly take a stray bullet in your head and die just like that.  In Anambra State, unidentified gun men burnt down a police station in Umuchu community in Aguata Local Government Area. 

 

The same station was destroyed by #EndSARS protesters in 2020 during a mass protest. The Umuchu Improvement Union decided to rebuild it, only for it to be set ablaze again.   In parts of the East and elsewhere, both police stations and the offices of the electoral umpire have been special targets of evil-minded arsonists and unknown gunmen, ahead of the elections. As of December 2022, we were told that over 50 INEC offices had been attacked in four years, across 15 states. Of these, 11 incidents in Imo state alone, seven in Osun, five in Akwa Ibom, five in Enugu and Ebonyi, four in Abia and Cross River, two in Anambra, Taraba, Borno, and one in Ogun, Lagos, Bayelsa, Ondo and Kaduna. The frequency of these attacks has since increased as the elections draw nearer, causing understandable panic and concern among right-thinking members of the Nigerian community. The truth is that INEC facilities and security stations have become targets of arson and vandalism. 

 

The attacks point to a trend: the determination to destroy INEC infrastructure, incapacitate the institution, and derail the 2023 electoral process. The details are as follows:  yet uncollected Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs) have been stolen, generating sets and computers are destroyed and the assailants across the country disappear into thin air. There is no record of arrests having been made. When INEC offices are not attacked, there are other attacks that point to what is beginning to look like a deliberate attempt by some hoodlums to make sure the 2023 elections do not take place. On March 28, 2022 for example, a Kaduna bound train from Abuja was attacked and bombed and passengers were injured and abducted. More than 100 of the abducted passengers did not all regain their freedom until September 2022. The families who lost their loved ones, or paid ransoms, and those whose relatives were injured, humiliated and flogged, would never forget their pain and loss. Their only crime, at the risk of sounding repetitive is that they are Nigerians living in a country of strange occurrences where life has become  “nasty, short and brutish”.  

 

On Saturday, just a few days ago, the railway station at Igueben in Edo State was attacked. This time, it was the station, not the train. Over 30 persons were abducted including the manager of the train station. This is all made more worrisome because before the re-opening of the Abuja-Kaduna rail line on December 15, 2022, the Minister of Transportation had boasted that special measures had been taken to ensure the safety of passengers and the entire Nigerian railway value chain. The Minister has since visited Igueben and he simply repeated the same tosh without even thinking about how additional security measures would eb taken.  What we see is that government officials do not learn from what happens to the people. They repeat the same embarrassing script in an odious advertisement of their lack of capacity. So much money and commitments have been invested by Nigeria in the country’s rail network, but the management is atrocious because it is in the hands of incompetents who on top of it all, have not learnt the lesson of keeping quiet when you have nothing intelligent or reasonable to say. In some other countries, where merit is more important than connections, the Minister of Transportation and the Managing Director of the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) would be out of job by now.  

 

But the bigger picture, the big elephant in the room, is that this is election season and it seems that some fifth columnists are determined to truncate the process, derail it, make it impossible, as it were for Nigerians to have credible elections. This may sound hypothetical, but from the evidence of current trends, it is possible to do a threat assessment and conclude accordingly. We face a very high level of security threat as we get closer to the 2023 elections, and it is one reason why the security agencies must arouse from their slumber and stop playing possum when the house is threatened by arsonists.  President Muhammadu Buhari had given, before now, the security agencies a deadline of December 2022 to make sure that they “got on top of the security situation” in the country. The various service chiefs pledged that they would do their job. The joke is now on them. Where are they? Are they hiding in some secret cupboards somewhere? There is widespread insecurity in the land. The people have played their part by seeking to register and collect their Permanent Voter’s Cards: 93. 5 million registered voters and over 48 million young people who want to use the 2023 opportunity to have a say in how they are governed. Who is afraid of the people’s voice and power? Buhari wants to leave a strong legacy. The starting point, and the obvious redemptive choice is to leave behind a free and fair election that produces the best options for Nigeria. This week, the President would begin to show up as we have been told at rallies of his party in 10 states (why 10?),,for  the APC’s Presidential candidate Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The last time President Buhari was sighted at any APC rally was during the flag off of the campaign in Jos, Plateau State. But now, he wants to come out to throw his weight and influence behind his party’s Presidential candidate. In doing so, at this crunch time, he must be reminded that he had told us again and again that he is for everybody and for nobody and all he wants is for Nigerians to vote according to their conscience. He has an obligation to toe that chosen  path even as he relishes photo opportunities at campaign rallies by his own party, otherwise he would be accused of hypocrisy. His party members expect him to deliver single-handedly, over 12 million votes from the North. But the times have changed. Out of the total of 93. 5 registered voters, over 48 million of them are young men and women, and they are majorly in the South, espousing a combination of #EndSARS, #IPOB and #TakeOurCountry Back ideals. There is a new generation in the electoral space that does not know the older generation. This is bound to be an election like no other. It would be a contest between the old and new order, the rich and the poor, the establishment and the people. Whoever wins, Nigeria stands the strong chance of new realignments and awakening.  The best bet for President Buhari as he goes into final retirement from public service and partisan politics is to protect his legacy for Nigerians, and take ownership of his own narrative. He is not getting the help that he badly needs!

 

 

Th 2023 election process is further threatened by the inability of the people, especially young men and women who dominate the electoral register to get their PVCs. In Lagos state or elsewhere, the story has been that either the INEC officials do not show up, or they arrive late and close early, provoking the anger of majorly young voters who believe that there is an attempt to disenfranchise them. INEC spokespersons continue to argue that they are prepared and ready, but what explains the inefficiency in INEC collection centres from Local Government Areas to the wards, and the fact that INEC ad-hoc staff are mostly unavailable at their duty desks. There has been a clamour for the extension of the INEC time-table for the collection of PVCs beyond January 22, 2023. INEC must also audit its own processes beyond merely making promises it cannot keep. The people have been told that the only way they can vote and for their votes to count is for them to have a voter’s card. One man, one vote. INEC must in addition to everything else explain why its Voter’s Cards are showing up in refuse dumps and drainage channels. How did they get there?  The PVCs must be in the hands of Nigerian voters who expect to use them to exercise their due rights under the law.  This is not something that INEC must sweep under the carpet. The   organization has announced that beginning from today, it would embark on the enlightenment of the electorate across the country. It is not just the voters that need enlightenment, the process must begin with INEC officials and ad hoc staff. 

 

The politicians also must be called to order. The beauty of the Electoral Act 2022 is that it spells out in no uncertain terms, the penalty for misconduct. Sections 91, 92 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, guide conduct during elections accordingly, with penalties properly spelt out in Sections 92 (7), (8), 93(2), 94(2), 95 (6), 96(3) and 97 (1) but nonetheless, the level of impunity has been horrendous. Candidates go to campaign rallies and the major thing they do is to abuse their own opponents with a barrage of hate speech, toxic language and argumentum ad hominem. In some states where certain parties are in charge politically, they do not allow the opposition to campaign or erect campaign materials. There has been in fact a rank disregard for Section 97 of the Electoral Act which forbids any form of campaign on “religious, tribal or sectional reason for the purpose of promoting or opposing a particular political party or the election of a particular candidate…”  Meanwhile, it has been reported that a special prayer session was organized by Muslim clerics in Kano recently in support of the APC Presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. At the event, one Abdulmutalab Mohammed Auwal, a Sheik, advised Muslims to vote only for a Muslim-Muslim ticket as a call to Jihad. He argued the Bola Tinubu/Shettima Muslim/Muslim ticket is an indication of the supremacy of Islam. The meeting was attended by about 75 Muslim groups from the North and other parts of Nigeria. Other speakers at the event promoted the politics of religion. The last time we checked, the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria at Section 10 thereof says: “The Government of the Federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as State Religion”. It is the same provision that is reflected in Section 97 of the Electoral Act 2022 on the prohibition of “campaign based on religion or tribe”. But here in Nigeria both the people and the government break the laws routinely because impunity reigns. How on earth can a total of 75 groups gather at a forum and preach hatred based on religion and they are allowed to get away with it?

 

So in essence, the security agencies are not doing their work! They have an obligation to protect the state against all levels of threat, and they must do so, proactively, and consistently, not when it is convenient for them to do so. A general election such as this country is about to hold in the next two months is not just about the ballot paper, and the people’s ability to choose, it is also a national security operation. It is the integrity of the Nigerian state that is at stake. The electoral framework is clear on that. The people’s right to vote and choose, freely and without inducement or any form of harassment or molestation, must be protected and defended. Election managers often talk about a certain concentric circle of security operations on election day, but clearly, the security dimension of any major national security event is not a day-event, it is a process: before, during and after. Not enough has been done before the elections as indicated by the multiple security breaches around the country. The challenges ahead are clear and obvious. The politicians are behaving as if the election this year is a kind of war. The last thing this country wants is any form of war.  Nigerians want peace. The 2023 Budget as defined has a deficit of N77 trillion. Unemployment rate is over 33%. There is a debt overhang of over N22 trillion. Revenue projection is about N10 trillion. There is the possibility that fuel subsidy and other subsidies will be removed but there is no guarantee that the gains accruing therefrom will be properly managed. Tighten your seat belts. This is bound to be a tough year for us, as Nigerians. The politicians will win or lose, but they don’t seem to care enough about us. This is our sad reality.

Last modified on Tuesday, 10 January 2023 05:19

This certainly promises to be an interesting year for Africa where a total of 24 general, legislative and local elections would take place in the course of the year in Republics of Benin, Comoros, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe. For a continent that has had issues of military truncation of democratic processes or threats thereof in recent times – Libya, Egypt, Congo, Burundi, Central African Republic, Ethiopian, Mali, Guinea Bissau, Chad - any indication of the sustenance of democracy in any part of the continent would be simply good news. But the one that concerns us most is the fact that Nigeria in 2023 is scheduled to have general elections, the sixth since the return to civilian rule in 1999, with the possibility, if that be the case, of the outcome of a transition at political party level at the centre. 

 

This would perhaps turn out to be the most important event in Nigeria’s political calendar in 2023. The question as framed in not so many words is: who will succeed President Muhammadu Buhari? If the race had been somewhat measured, it can be safely imagined that as we enter the New Year, it would possibly take no more than two weeks from this moment, before the entire Nigerian landscape lights up in frenetic election frenzy as the various parties and candidates begin the final dash towards the Presidential election on February 25, 2022, and the Gubernatorial and Legislative Elections scheduled for March 11. For now, there seems to be an informal consensus that out of the 18 political parties in the race, only four political parties and four candidates can be taken seriously: the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and Waziri Atiku Abubakar, the All Progressives Congress (APC), and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Labour Party and Mr. Peter Obi and the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) and Dr. Musa Rabiu Kwankwaso. In a recent, robust, thumb-of-the-rule, analysis of projections, ThisDay Newspaper, reduced the race to a straight, all-out fight between the APC and the PDP and the possibility of a run-off. This may however change, given the volatility of political permutations. 

 

But what lies ahead has already been signposted by a series of events.  Just as the year was about to end, Prince Arthur Eze, the Igbo billionaire and entrepreneur and the Godfather of some people, announced at an Ofala festival, that he had told Peter Obi of the Labour Party not to run for the Presidency because he is not the chosen one. He said he told Peter Obi not to waste his money and when it is the turn of Igbos, it would not even be him, but Professor Charles Soludo, the incumbent Governor of Anambra State to whom whoever wins the Nigerian Presidency in 2023 would hand over. Prince Eze’s intervention generated not a little ruckus, more so as he had arrogated to himself the power and privilege to determine the political future of Igboland and the political fortunes of Peter Obi.   This was made a tad more interesting by the fact that Professor Charles Soludo whom he announced as the Igbo choice for the Presidency of Nigeria had in fact written in November 2022, in a piece titled “History Beckons and I will Not Be Silent (1)” that Peter Obi’s presidential ambition is a wild goose chase that will amount to nothing, and that his claim of extra-ordinary performance as Anambra Governor is at best a scam. Soludo has not published the Part II of his 2023 political homily. But while he and Prince Eze have the right to their own choices, it cannot be confirmed that they speak for all Igbos or the Nigerian elite, even if there has been very loud silence among the Igbo elite about Peter Obi’s candidacy. His constituency is the ordinary Nigerian who wants to take his or her country back, who believes that the best way to move Nigeria forward is to disrupt it, do something different, think out of the box. Either by default or design, Peter Obi, more than Omoyele Sowore, candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) who in fact generated that lexicon in 2019, has taken ownership of it and given it velocity and currency. But to what end? There is considerable disagreement over what the Peter Obi phenomenon means. 

 

What has lent it further oxygen, however, is the New Year endorsement by President Olusegun Obasanjo who says Peter Obi in his own estimation has an “edge” over other candidates in Nigeria’s Presidential race. Having been an issue in Nigerian politics for more than five decades, Obasanjo has learnt the artful game of owning the moment and that is precisely what he has done this time around. Weeks to the election, on the first day of the new year, he announced his preference, and he drew attention to himself, and made himself an issue. There are persons who have expressed the view that President Obasanjo should be quiet. I disagree. He has every right under the law to offer an opinion, just like Governor Charles Soludo, Prince Arthur Eze, and the rest of us. Nobody should be crucified for speaking their mind, since we all know in any case that nobody, be it a former President or a serving janitor has more than one vote. The only difference is that some people imagine that with their celebrity endorsements or condemnations, they can influence the votes. This is why the most important person in the forthcoming general elections is the voter. The Nigerian voter must stand up, be resolute and make an informed choice. There is no individual in this country that has powers under the law to dictate how others should vote. The operative rule is one man, one vote. Whether or not the elite prefer a particular candidate, what matters is what that average voter wants, and chooses. It is hence important that the Nigerian people vote according to their conscience. This is the area where the civil society has a responsibility to act in the people’s interest by conscientizing them that the best way forward for Nigeria is to vote for those who will make Nigeria a better place. Nobody must be allowed to play God in 2023. There are no messiahs in this country anymore. We only have the people and the people have a duty to save themselves.

 

Why? Because the leading political parties are in disarray, and do not seem to care about the electoral framework. The Electoral Act 2022 has been touted as a major step forward in Nigeria’s process of democratic consolidation but there is no concrete evidence that the political parties, their candidates and supporters have taken time out to study and internalize its provisions.   There is too much bad conduct on the political scene. The political parties signed a peace accord brokered under the leadership of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah and others but the campaign process has been far from peaceful. It has been abusive, toxic, abrasive and uncivil. The major political parties are all guilty, and the surrogates, the hired Vuvuzelas, half of whom are hungry and angry have been unhelpful to the country, the process and the candidates who give them just barely enough to keep their stomachs alive.  Under such circumstances, the people of Nigeria have a responsibility to save their country from all those elements, the termites, the fortune-seekers who have crawled out of the woods to hold the country hostage. 

 

We have been told by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that the only way to do this is for the people to get their voting cards. Unfortunately, the on-going PVC collection exercise is a nightmare. In the South West, there have been allegations that non-Yoruba persons are not allowed to collect PVCs. In the East, there are allegations that militant groups are chasing people away from PVC collection centres. In the North, it is alleged that under-aged children are being given PVCs. Across the country, it is said that some unscrupulous elements are buying up PVCs and Voter Identification Numbers (VIN), apparently to reduce the number of voters on election day, and induce poor voter turn-out to serve a purpose in specific constituencies. INEC through its spokespersons has been very eloquent in dismissing all of these allegations and in boasting that it is prepared, so prepared it has even printed extra ballot papers should the country be faced with the possibility of a Presidential run-off and the activation of reverse logistics.  This is not the time for empty boasts. INEC must address the challenges it faces. It must investigate the allegations that have been raised and take appropriate action. Less than eight weeks to the election, it has been said that people cannot get their PVCs! The collection process has been chaotic from Lagos to Anambra. It is not juju. It is organizational dysfunction! Indeed, in Lagos, many non-Yorubas complain that in the few local government areas where PVCs are given out, anybody bearing a non-Yoruba name is discriminated against and denied a PVC. Now, that is unacceptable.   INEC must look into that and ensure that there is smooth, non-discriminatory collection of PVCs across the country, especially now that the adoption of BVAS – the Biometric Verification Accreditation System- has eliminated the recourse to incident forms. Everything in the coming 2023 elections depends on INEC and the integrity of its systems, and further, the commitment of President Muhammadu Buhari to his promise to ensure a peaceful and credible transition.  INEC needs more ad-hoc staff. It needs hands on the ground. How it manages this make-or-mar election should mean a lot to its staff. INEC must stop making promises and get to work.

 

The promises should be left to the politicians. As things stand, the two major political parties are in a battle to the finish. The APC is so arrogant, and confident in a most insufferable manner that it is again the turn of the party. APC is the ruling party, and so there is probably something to be said for the power of incumbency. The only caveat there is that the sitting President has cultivated a seeming air of neutrality in the matter.  He is leader of the party and Chairman of the APC Presidential Campaign Council but except I am missing something, and I stand to be corrected, the President has told everyone whoever has ears to hear that he is committed to leaving behind a legacy of free and fair elections and he wants Nigerians to vote and choose freely according to their conscience. In other words, he, President Buhari belongs to everybody and nobody in particular, even if he has also been quoted as saying that he wants his party, the APC to win. He has in that regard shown up in one or two campaigns. His wife too. But is that how a sitting President campaigns for a successor that he wants? Politicians don’t tell people to vote according to their choice. They go out there to drive their own choice down the people’s throats. In 2007, President Olusegun Obasanjo was more active on the stumps than his chosen successor, Umaru Yar’Adua. He was the one going around selling the sick Yar’Adua to Nigerians, and he had his way willy-nilly, even if years after the fact, he is now the same man saying a Presidential candidate needs the gift of mental and physical agility. Do you see how Nigeria has suffered in the hands of its leaders? In comparison to Obasanjo, President Buhari has been rather reticent. He wants Nigerians to decide for themselves. While that comes across as good statesmanship, it reduces the force of the Tinubu campaign. Why would a sitting APC President not energize his proverbial 12 million voters in support of his own party by going out there to rally the base?

 

 

The rival, the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has issues of its own too. The party is divided as it were into three factions. Yes, three. There is the Atiku faction: the traditional PDP group, the die-hards who are eager to return to power and displace the ruling APC. They are not saying it is their turn, but they are convinced that power belongs to them, they only just missed it in 2015 and 2019, and they want it back desperately. But there is this other faction: the Nyesom Wike faction. Wike, the inconsolable, cry-baby of the PDP Presidential primaries who missed the presidential ticket, and also lost out in the running mate race who has now ganged up with other Governors of the party to form a G-5 and other members to form a rebellious Integrity Group – he says in the name of justice, equity and fairness, Senator Iyorchia Ayu must go as Chairman of the party – an irreducible minimum. The party has since passed a vote of confidence on Ayu, and in the last few days, the PDP has made it clear that both the G-5 and the Integrity Group can do their worst, because they do not matter.  The way I see it, I think Wike and co. have overplayed their hands. Apart from Wike who is not seeking any elective post, all the other principal partners are in a Catch-22 situation. Seyi Makinde in Oyo state wants a second term. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Samuel Ortom, and Okezie Ikpeazu want to go to the Senate. Governor Ugwuanyi is old and experienced enough to know that Enugu is a traditional PDP state. He can follow others to Port Harcourt and London to drink pepper soup but in his private moments, he knows that he should not jeopardize his own political interest.  Okezie Ikpeazu, the Malabitic Ph.D Governor of Abia state is presumably too intelligent to go and follow Wike and others to drink poisonous soda. Ortom has been very diplomatic all along, dancing this way and that way, knowing that there are more than enough formidable PDP forces in Benue who can bury his political career. Right now, most of the aggrieved members of the PDP political family are orphans in search of shelter. They also need to be reminded of what happened to the Alliance for Democracy Governors in the 2003 elections in the South West due to mixed messaging. Tinubu was the last man standing in that debacle. They should learn from him.

 

This may well be a general election of surprises in Nigeria. The story has just begun.     

 

Last modified on Tuesday, 03 January 2023 02:43

By this time next week, the year 2022 would have ended, and across the world people will speak of a new year with fresh expectations but when we look back on the year that is about to pass, in terms of achievements, high points, successes, failures and experiences, it would be recalled that the year 2022 was indeed more than ordinary. It was the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic which up-ended our lives, exposing us all to an international public health crisis, countless deaths, compulsory stay at homes, a redefinition of the world of work, and the depths of human resilience.  The year began on a cautious note, as many countries while opening up their borders still insisted on proof of vaccination against COVID. The importance attached to this was most vividly demonstrated when Novak Djokovic, the tennis maestro was denied participation at the January 2022 Australian Open because of his blunt refusal to take the vaccine. He was slammed with a three-year ban from the Australian Open. 

 

As the year progressed, the world opened up further, and whereas in 2022, China still reported cases of COVID in its major cities, and insisted on the zero COVID policy, by year-end, that zero-COVID policy had been significantly revised. It is a much more open world today than it was two years ago. Many international meetings including The African Development Bank (AfDB) conference in Mauritius, in May 2022, Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Rwanda, June 2022, the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, in October 2022, Conference of Parties (COP 27) in Sharm El Sheik in Egypt in November 2022 as well as other international events were held in-person or through a hybrid of physical attendance and virtual participation. Airlines took to the skies again in large numbers, the world of tourism bounced back. In October 2022, Hong Kong promised to give away 500, 000 free flight tickets to attract tourists back to the city. In November 2022, one million foreign tourists visited Japan, one month after it fully re-opened. Hitherto, Hong Kong, the Chinese Special Administrative Region and Japan had some of the strictest COVID rules, forcing airlines- Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and American Airlines to suspend flights to the city-state.  Wedding parties and events that were suspended in the full swing of COVID are now being held. In 2022, our world began to re-connect. Djokovic has now had his three-year ban from the Australian Open lifted, and hence, in January 2023, the nine-time Australian Open Champion has serious guarantee, without fear of ambiguity, that he will be welcomed back to Melbourne. 

 

The world’s gradual recovery was however abbreviated, very early in the year, when Russia and its President Vladimir Putin declared a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.  It was not enough for Putin that he had annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and supported the seizure of territory by separatists in the Donbas region, the 2022 invasion was a direct assault on Ukraine’s right to exist. More than 300 days since the war began, over 14 million people have fled Ukraine as refugees, the largest refugee crisis since World War II, more than 300,000 Russians have also fled their country, Ukraine’s energy infrastructure has been damaged, a fifth of Ukraine’s territory is in Russian hands, thousands of people have died.  The international community has imposed sanctions on Russia including putting a price cap on Russian oil, the mass exodus of Western companies from Russia including Volkswagen, Toyota, Pepsi, Daimler, LG, Adidas, Burger King, Sony, Siemens Visa, MasterCard Xerox, and many others that have either suspended operations in Russia or have left completely. Russia has also been kicked out of SWIFT, the international payment system, thus disconnecting its financial institutions from the global network. A US-backed global task force has frozen more than $330 billion of assets from Russian oligarchs and the country’s Central Bank. Members of the task force include Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and The European Commission. Affected Russian oligarchs include Suleiman Kerimov whose yacht was seized. Roman Abramovich, the former Russian owner of English football club, Chelsea FC was forced to sell it off without any direct profit. No other event has connected the world together more than the Russo-Ukrainian war. 

 

But it is also a war of attrition that has inflicted much pain on the world.  Russia supplies about 40% of the gas used in Europe. Russia decided to weaponize energy supply by shutting down the Nord stream 1, the biggest gas pipeline from Russia to Europe which has the capacity to deliver 55 billion cubic metres of gas a year, thus creating an energy crisis across Europe. Before then, Gazprom, the Russian energy giant had insisted on payment for supplies in rouble -the Russian currency - until Russia eventually shut down supplies, compelling European countries to seek alternative sources of supply and adopt the rationing of power.  The cost of energy of course went up, throwing many households into panic. Power cuts is something developing countries in Africa are familiar with, but it is becoming a pattern in Europe due to the war in Ukraine.  

 

The spot price of oil also spiked soon after the Russian invasion of. Ukraine, up to about $92.81, resulting in higher revenues for oil producing companies which made huge profits, and also, the oil exporting countries. Sadly Nigeria, a member of OPEC could not take advantage of this, it could not even meet its OPEC production quota due to crude oil theft, collapse of infrastructure and general decay in the country’s oil and gas ecosystem.  Russia in comparison profited from the war it started:  within 100 days, it had earned about 93 billion Euros from exports of oil, gas and coal. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has continuously asked the world to stop trade completely with Russia. China, India and United Arab Emirates continue to buy from Russia. The bigger blow was the disruption of the global supply chain. 

 

Between them, Russia and Ukraine control about a third of the world’s supply of wheat, 19% of the world’s supply of corn and 80% of the world’s trade in sunflower. Russia is also the third largest supplier of nickel, copper and platinum. In the course of the war this year, Russia blocked ships from carrying grain exports across the Black Sea. Over 300 ships were stopped from moving, and the effect was seen in terms of food supply crisis and food price inflation. The impact was felt all over the world, even more so in Africa where most of the countries including Nigeria and Ghana and 23 others that depend on wheat imports from Russia, lack spare capacity - the cost of basic items like bread skyrocketed. The IMF warned about a looming food crisis. The pandemic had made things bad enough, the Russo-Ukraine war worsened the people’s plight. In Europe, people complained about the cost of food, petrol, gas and the high cost of living. 

 

Inflation was the big dilemma that many countries had to deal with resulting in hawkish i=tightening of rates in many countries with perhaps the notable exceptions of Japan with its insistence on negative interest rates, and Turkey’s unorthodox approach of cutting interest rates even with the country’s soaring inflation at 80%. In contrast, most countries followed the lead of the US Central bank. In the year 2022, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates seven times, pushing borrowing costs to a 15-year high in order to stabilize and stimulate the economy, and yet US inflation is at a 40-year high. In the UK, the Bank of England raised interest rates eight consecutive times in the face of rising unemployment, high energy prices, fiscal crisis, high mortgage rates and CPI inflation at 11%. Many people around the world found the cost of living so high that they simply took to the streets. In Ghana street protests have been witnessed, in the UK at the moment, nurses, border officials, paramedics, rail unions and paramedics have decided to stage walk-outs. In Sri Lanka where inflation is around 70%, the hardship can be best measured in the depth of the people’s suffering.  Leaders are quick to blame the situation on the war in Ukraine but part of the problem is self-inflicted, especially in a country like Nigeria where inflation is at 21.47% (probably higher than that), fuel scarcity has added to the people’s woes, the cost of travel is not just expensive, the cost of living is high. It is Christmas season but many Nigerians don’t know it is Christmas. 

 

In 2022, Queen Elizabeth II died after 70 years and 214 days on the throne, the longest reigning British monarch ever (February 1952 – September 2022). She was one of the most influential figures of the 20th and 21st centuries. The majesty, pomp and pageantry of her burial, and the outpouring of love for her by the British and across the world was an indication of the force of her impact and the dignity and decency in public life which she represented throughout her reign. Her departure was one of the most striking highlights of the year 2022, and the fact that this became an occasion for the reinvention of attitudes and perspectives about the legacy of the Empire which she inherited and which her throne symbolized was not entirely surprising. The baton has since passed in line with tradition to her son, the then Prince Charles II, Prince of Wales, who is now King Charles III. 

 

This was also the year when Argentina won the World Cup a third time, after 36 years, and the star of the team’s sterling performance at the Doha FIFA World Cup 2022 was Lionel Messi. Marvellous Messi in the course of an 18-year glittering career had won 7 Ballon d’Or, 10 La Liga titles, 7 Copa del Rey, 4 UEFA Champions Leagues, 14 Argentina’s Footballer of the Year awards, 6 European Golden Shoe, 2 FIFA World Cup Golden Ball, and in Qatar, he won the trophy that had seemingly eluded him: the World Cup to put a seal to his all-round accomplishment as one of the greatest footballers in history. His story was a positive confirmation of his legend and personal triumph. This was indeed one World Cup in which history was made on all fronts, with Morocco finishing in the Fourth place, the first African country to go as far as the semi-final in the history of the World Cup. Nigeria did not qualify. We were spectators. The only saving grace was the appearance of Davido, the musician as part of the troika that sang the tournament’s theme song, “Haya Haya.” Many Nigerians would have loved to see the Super Eagles in action representing Nigeria and Africa. The country’s national team has since been downgraded from 32 to 35 in the latest FIFA rankings list, a reflection of the team’s indolence. The last match they played in 2022: they lost 0 -4 to Portugal.  

 

At the beginning of the year, there was so much excitement about cryptocurrency, with the price of the leading tokens – Bitcoin and Ethereum hovering around $69, 000, but as the year ends, many cryptocurrencies have either collapsed or declared bankruptcy. Once touted as the future of money, the year 2022 turned out to be a really bad year for crypto with skeptics pointing to the fact that they had raised concerns about its volatility. Bitcoin is legal tender in El Salvador and the Central African Republic, but it has lost three-quarters of its value, that is more than 50% and there have been calls in many countries for strict regulation of the crypto market. This has been made more urgent with the scam perpetrated by Sam Bankman-Fried, the CEO of FTX, once hailed the younger version of Warren Buffet but has now been unmasked as “the king of fraud.”  The epic collapse of FTX sent shock waves through the crypto sector, and affected exchanges like BlockFi and others which have similarly filed for bankruptcy. 

 

It was in general a year of agony: floods in Pakistan, US and Nigeria, protests in Iran following the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16, following her arrest by Iran’s morality police for not wearing her hijab correctly. This ignited demonstrations in solidarity from Tehran to Stockholm, Washington DC, to Athens. 

 

Nigeria had its own share of bad stories. On March 28 2022, Nigerians were shocked when an Abuja-Kaduna train was attacked by bandits in Katari, Kaduna State. Eight persons were killed, several were injured, 62 passengers were kidnapped. The kidnapped persons including the elderly, women, the sick, and infants were subjected to untold hardship by the bandits. The victims were eventually released in batches, the last batch on Thursday, September 6. In May 2022, David Imoh, a sound engineer who had gone to work at a social hub in Lekki was set ablaze by a group of commercial motorcyclists He had tried to intervene in a disagreement between a friend of his and an Okada rider over a sum of N100. He ended up being set ablaze. Also in May, Deborah Samuel Yakubu, a Christian student at the Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, was killed in a gruesome manner by her fellow students who accused her of insulting their religion. 

 

In June, St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo was attacked while a Sunday service was going on. The attack led to the death of 40 people while 80 other persons sustained injuries. There have been many other cases of mindless killings and violence across the country – in the East, Southern Kaduna and elsewhere, accentuating the challenge of insecurity in Nigeria and the increasing contempt with which human lives are treated. In the various cases that were reported during the year, the most recent as the year ends being the murder of Mrs. Bolanle Raheem by a trigger-happy policeman in Lagos, on Christmas Day, Nigerians are used to expressing shock but the perpetrators of evil are never brought to book.  All the persons who died or were abducted have one thing in common: “Nigeria happened to them”, which is so sad. 

 

Many Nigerians will remember 2022 as the year of scarcity: the scarcity of money, petrol, aviation fuel, civility, and unity. In the course of the year, university teachers were on strike from February to October!  The CBN redesigned the high currency denominations of N200, N500, and N1, 000. Even the new notes are scarce. 

Last modified on Tuesday, 27 December 2022 02:53

The 2022 World Cup is over and what a World Cup that was- 29 days: November 20 – December 18 of pure passion, nail-biting, knife-edge matches, records made, myths broken, pure, contagious, joy in a tournament that has been truly adjudged as one of the greatest ever of its kind, since the World Cup began in July 1930.  No one gave the government and the people of Qatar a chance: there were issues about human rights, the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community and migrant workers, the non-consumption of alcohol, and Qatar’s insistence on the inviolability of its cultural and conservative values. Many questioned why the tournament was awarded to Qatar in the first place and predicted it would turn out to be the dullest World Cup in history. 

 

The objections were probably 12 years late. Over a period of 12 years, the government of Qatar engaged over 26, 000 workers to build seven new stadiums, 100 hotels, apartments, villas, estates and tents.  The host country also built a completely new metro rail system and major highways to facilitate transportation within the 54 km radius within which all the 8 stadiums used for the tournament are located.  A fleet of 4,000 buses were made available, with about 49, 000 security personnel, both public and private, on duty to provide security. It was the first time the World Cup would be hosted in the Middle East and by an Arab nation which does not even have a record of any outstanding performance in football as firmly indicated eventually by the fact that Qatar turned out to be the first host country, granted automatic qualification in line with FIFA traditions, that would lose all its matches in the group stage.  

 

But in the end the country put up a spectacular performance, it invested a total of about $220 billion – clearly the most expensive World Cup ever held. Attendance was over 3. 4 million, 64 matches, played by 32 teams, scoring 172 goals – the highest in the history of the tournament.  Thus, Qatar defied all the odds to stage a World Cup that would be remembered for long as a great achievement for both Qatar and the entire Arab world. It is not for nothing that Qatar is now making a bid to host the 2036 Olympics Games. It can do so having shown its capability to host the entire world and do so successfully. The big point is not about the money spent, but leadership, focus, vision, the fact that rules work when enforced, and those are precisely the key points those seeking lessons from Qatar and the World Cup should consider. The people and government of Qatar deserve a standing ovation. 

 

 

This was also Africa’s best outing at the World Cup with the Atlas Lions of Morocco achieving the feat of a fourth place, losing to Croatia, 2 - 1 in a third place play off, after losing to France in the semi-finals.  In a tournament in which the Three Lions of England were tamed by arch-rivals France, in the quarter-finals, the Atlas Lions of Morocco kept roaring beyond the semi-finals.  They may have lost to Croatia, but they did Africa proud and sent a strong message to the world about the growing maturity of football in the continent. The world will remember that Morocco did not concede goals, except an own goal during the group stage, until the semi-finals against France. Morocco in the course of the tournament proved to be a giant slayer beating Spain to reach the quarterfinals. The celebration of this feat was so loud that when Moroccan women trooped to the streets in Ceuta, Spain to celebrate, Spanish policemen turned on them with truncheons. Morocco had in fact defeated Belgium and Portugal too. The Moroccan wins generated violent attacks in Europe (Antwerp, Brussels, Rotterdam, Amsterdam) and the Hague) and also in Israel. When Morocco made it to the semi-finals against France, the referee was so obviously unfriendly. 

 

 

The Royal Moroccan Football Federation had to petition FIFA over the performance of referee Cesar Ramos. But it no longer matters, Morocco has made history that is good for it and also for African football. Senegal’s national team, the Lions of Teranga, may have lost in the group of 16 knock-out stage to the Three Lions of England, 3-0, but they didn’t do badly either. Even without Sadio Mane, the Senegalese talisman, the world witnessed at closer range the creativity of Kalidou Koulibaly, Edouard Mendy, Ismaila Sarr who gave a good account of themselves.  Tunisia may not have gone beyond the group stage, but the team pulled off one of the greatest shocks in the tournament beating defending champion, and eventual runner-up, France, 1- 0.  Cameroon and Ghana, the two other African representatives did not make it beyond the group stage too. But overall, the world will not forget Africa’s performance at the World Cup 2022. It was a pity that Nigeria was not there. However, African football associations as Sunday Oliseh, a member of the FIFA Technical Crew has pointed out, need to develop the local leagues at home, and that is a message that Nigeria needs to note carefully. 

 

 

Once upon a time in this country, the local Nigerian league produced stars. Sunday Oliseh, himself is homemade: from Saint Finbarr’s, Akoka, he played in the Principal’s Cup and was a star in the Nigerian League, as player with Julius Berger before he went abroad and subsequently became a legend. The Nigerian Football Federation has failed to build on past glories. The Nigerian League is in shambles. Many Nigerians would rather watch European football. Many do not even know that once upon a time in this country, Nigerians were excited watching clubs like Stationery Stores. BCC Lions of Gboko, IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan, ACB Lagos, Mighty Jets of Jos, Iwuanyanwu Nationale of Owerri, Abiola Babes, Leventis United, Concord FC, Bendel Insurance, Enugu Rangers, Sharks of Port Harcourt and others. Football in Nigeria is in a state of “arrested development” for the want of a better phrase. This year, we were left with no option but to console ourselves with the role of spectators and commentators. Our only bright moment perhaps was the appearance of Davido on the closing day, singing “Hayya Hayya” (Better Together) alongside Trinidad Cardona, and Qatari singer, Aisha. Davido made us proud, reiterating the importance of the creative arts as veritable tools of diplomacy, branding and international relations and the limitless value of individual talent.  Morocco did not just make history, it has now been chosen as the host of the Club World Cup in February 2023, a tournament it had the honour of hosting previously in 2013 and 2014. No one should be surprised if some day in the future, Morocco is chosen to host the FIFA World Cup.

 

Watching the 2022 World Cup, it is difficult even after the teams have all departed, to forget some of the historic moments: Saudi Arabia defeated the eventual winner - Argentina, 2-1, Tunisia handed France a 2-1 defeat, and as if these were not enough, Japan walloped a presumably formidable German side, 2 -1.  Japan also beat Spain, 2 – 1, South Korea humiliated Portugal, 2-1. Canada scored its first, historic World Cup goal against Croatia, but despite losing and crashing our early, that was more than exciting for the Canadians. This was one World Cup where every team was determined to stand out and refused to be taken for granted. There was no fear in the eyes of the co-called underdogs who fought valiantly. The World Cup is about glory and the thrill, although some people have observed that money is also a factor. But that cannot possibly be the main motivation for the great individual and team performance that we saw on display. What we know however is that for just qualifying at all, each team got 1.2 million pounds, teams that got to the group stage - £7.5m, Round of 16 - £11m, Quarter-finals - £14m, Fourth place - £21m, Third place - £23m, Runners-up - £25m, Winners - £35m, not to forget the fact that the players were entitled to 30% share of the prize fund. FIFA itself made 7.5 billion, more than the originally anticipated profit. But what we saw on display was patriotism, self-belief, confidence, human capacity, and the determination tot excel. 

 

The tournament was so electrifying, even the fans switched camps and supported the teams that they found impressive. There were sad moments though. Three journalists died: Grant Wahl, American Sports journalist, Al Kass TV photo-journalist, Khalid al-Misslam, and Roger Pearce, ITV Sports technical director. A 62-year-old supporter of Wales, Kevin Davies; a security guard at the Lusail Stadium, John Njau Kibue from Kenya, and Alex, a Filipino working at the training resort used by the Saudi Arabian team, also died. May their souls rest in peace. The bigger story is that even before the tournament began, a total number of migrant workers over the 12-year cycle between 2,000 to 6, 500 died, including suicides. This was one World Cup haunted by “ghosts” and there have been talks about corruption as far away as Europe and sheer criminality with regard to the management of the tournament. Will anyone be held liable at all, now that the game has been won and lost and everyone else has moved on? Will anyone ever admit the other truths about deaths and cover-ups at Qatar 2022? FIFA fined Croatia and Serbia for inter-ethnic incidents at the World Cup. But the same FIFA could not touch the United States which altered the Iranian flag. Also, the family of a Qatari Whistleblower, Abdullah Ibhais who raised concerns about the mistreatment of migrant workers has accused FIFA of “callous indifference” and for ignoring his case. Ibhais was detained, accused of fraud, tortured and thrown into solitary confinement in prison. Ibhais was a member of the Supreme Committee of the Qatar World Cup team. FIFA has been silent. 

 

The role of referees was also a major issue in this year’s World Cup. Morocco complained about the referee in the France vs Morocco semi-finals. Lionel Messi and Emi Martinez were openly furious with referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz in the Argentina vs Netherlands quarter-finals. The Spanish referee dished out an incredible 18 yellow cards and one red! Lahoz was sent packing by FIFA. Argentine referees - Fernando Rappallini and Facundo Tello were also accused of conflict of interest. The female referees seemed to have fared better. Stephanie Frappart became the first female referee to officiate a match at the men’s World Cup when she took charge of the Group F match between Germany and Costa Rica. Out of a total of 36 referees selected for the World Cup, six were women, Stephanie Frappart (France), Karen Diaz Medina (Mexico), Neuza Back (Brazil), Salima Mukasanga (Rwanda), Kathryn Nesbitt (America) and Yoshimi Yamashita (Japan), paving the way for a whole generation of female referees, with their professional outing at the World Cup. FIFA referee Chairman, the legendary Pierluigi Collina had the honour of overseeing the referees, but certainly there would be need for a further look at the refereeing process and the deployment of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR). 

 

This year’s World Cup was a sort of ending for some of the stars: Cristiano Ronaldo whose team, Portugal simply failed to shine, losing to Morocco and South Korea, even if they managed to beat Switzerland 6-1. Ronaldo himself was treated shabbily by his own coach -Fernando Santos who has now been sacked by the Portuguese Football Federation (PTF). It was Ronaldo’s last World Cup as he now retires, from international football.  Other players who may not participate in the 2026 World Cup include Lionel Messi (Argentina), Neymar (Brazil), Karim Benzema (France), Eden Hazard (Belgium), Robert Lewandowski (Poland), Gareth Bale (Wales) Luka Modric (Croatia) and Thiago Silva (Brazil). Out of this list, the marvellous Messi of Argentina stands out for ending his international career with glory, applause and distinction having led Argentina to its Third World Cup trophy in Doha, Oatar.

 

Football has produced many great players: Pele, Diego Maradona, but the World Cup 2022 is the moment of Messi. He played in his fifth World Cup, surpassing the four of Diego Maradona and Mascherano. He also scored in every game in which he appeared in Qatar, scoring seven goals, with two assists. He has also made a record 26 appearance in World Cup matches.   More importantly, he won the Golden Ball Award and finally achieved his dream of lifting the World Cup trophy – the Holy Grail.  The Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad, gave him a black, golden tunic, the Beshth, a gesture of honour and high appreciation. The last time Argentina won the World Cup was 36 years ago. This was sweet victory for Argentina and Latin America and glory for Lionel Messi who is now effectively, at just 35, in the pantheon of legends.  What a career! What a man, in whom fortune and destiny are both so well mixed. In that final match between Argentina and France, the tension was so high, the sequence was so hard, anyone could have had a heart attack depending on their health. But in the end, Argentina won. Emi Martinez saved two of the spot kicks by France. Argentina won after the regulation time and extra time and the penalties. That was a special moment not just in football, but life itself. 

 

The agony of losers could be seen on the face of the French team. If France had won, it would have repeated the feat of Italy which won the World Cup back-to-back in 1934 and 1938, and Germany in 1958 and 1962, but this did not happen. Nonetheless, Les Bleus were not disgraced. They fought until the end. And those two goals within 95 seconds by Kylian Mbappe which cancelled out the initial two-goal lead by Argentina would forever be etched in people’s memory. The game was so intense, football began to look like magic. Those who talk about exits and Messi/Argentina’s glory must also remember how this particular World Cup signposts promise and hope: Kylian Mbappe, who turns 24 today, and winner of the Golden Boot Trophy with eight goals is a symbol of that hope and future.     

Last modified on Tuesday, 20 December 2022 05:43

“Omo, this thing is getting serious oh. E be like say make man begin prepare for war in this our obodo Nigeria”

“Which war? Go and calm down, my friend. It is only children that talk about war. The one they started in Ukraine, the whole world does not know how to end it, you are here saying war is coming. Nobody is looking for war in this country. Those who fought in a war will never ask for it. Those of us who read about it do not want it. The people who are asking for war will be consumed by their own evil thoughts. Nigeria will survive.”

“I saw one video in which some people were saying the 2023 elections would be war, and that nobody would be allowed to vote in their part of the country. Gunshots. Bloodshed. Mayhem.”

“Don’t worry. It is always like that. Every election cycle in this country, there are bound to be local and international experts who will tell you that Nigeria is on the brink of disaster. They will tell you Nigeria will tip over the precipice and when that happens, there will be big crisis in the West African sub-region and Africa. But you know what? All of that is civil society, and international agencies funding talk. Since 1999, when Nigeria returned to civilian rule, it has been the same pattern. Election time is chop time. When there is tension in this country, that is when some people cash out. Many people say talk is cheap, but at times like this, it pays to talk, even if the only material in your head is absolute, refined, sawdust. People make noise. Militants cause problems. Thugs cause mayhem. Some die. The majority survive, but in any case, life goes on. Last, last, people find their level. Whatever is going on now, is no different from what I have seen. I want to assure you that we will be fine. You can’t stop all the rogues from doing their quick business.”

“Quick business. What is that? You call the attack on the offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission, quick business? In five INEC offices, in four states within months, INEC offices and facilities were attacked. Set ablaze. Permanent Voters cards were stolen. Ballot boxes were taken away by unknown gunmen and arsonists.”

“Has anybody been arrested? Has there been any lead as to the probable causes of the attacks? Are the attackers known or identifiable?”

“No. They remain unknown. But the Inspector General of Police says a combined team of security agents from the police, the military and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps has been deployed to protect INEC offices and facilities in all the 774 Local Government Council across the country, and that the government is ready to prevent INEC facilities from being sabotaged. The National Security Adviser, acting on the authority of the President’s directive also said exactly the same thing.”

“Good, Mr. Current Affairs. I hear you. And since the NSA and IGP hemmed and hawed, what has happened oh? I beg, what has happened? Please tell me and I will share what I know.”

“There have been more attacks on INEC facilities, the most recent somewhere in the East where some people were heard saying that a sit-at-home has been declared and nobody should expect that any campaign or election would be allowed in the South East.”

“You can be sure those guys are on some people’s payroll.”

“Candidly, I am not sure of anything.”

“And I tell you that all these fifth columnists are on a payroll somewhere. You and I wake up every morning thinking of how to make this country better, but there are many out there whose only assignment is to make Nigeria difficult for everybody as long as they can make bloodily, filthy money.”

“Hmm. Wait a moment. An attack on the state headquarters of INEC in Owerri, Imo was repelled, yesterday. Three of the assailants were gunned down. If the security agencies can check the systemic attacks on INEC offices and facilities, I believe, we would be in a good place. I think we should commend those security agencies that stood up to the enemies of progress in Owerri yesterday.”

“You too like to dey commend? Commend what? Three attacks in Owerri in one month, they managed to kill three men, you dey here dey commend What of the attacks in Ebonyi, Osun and Ogun states? . Dem show you one arrange-ee work, you dey commend. What Nigerians want is a security architecture that is impactful and efficient and that can deliver peaceful and credible elections not a sleep and wake up security architecture. Do you want me to tell you the truth? “

“In this country, nobody knows the truth anymore. I do not even know who to trust.”

“I will tell you something”

“Hun hun”

“You know I told you earlier that there are some people in this country who profit from causing problems in this country. When things are difficult and you and I are groaning, they step in and make profits. When COVID-19 began, do you know how many persons in this country who made a fortune from COVID contracts? Do you know how many side-chicks of the botox and bottom variety and other non-state actors who became rich just by getting COVID contracts from corrupt sugar daddies? Or the various shady deals in government corridors at all levels. I will tell you one more thing.”

“What?”

“I sincerely believe that some fifth columnists do not want the 2023 election to take place. I suspect that they are the ones behind all the attacks and breaches across the country ahead of the elections, and that they are happy to expose the incompetence and helplessness of the Nigerian state”.

“I can relate. I suspect so too. Can you even imagine Permanent Voters Cards escaping from INEC offices only to be found in drainage channels? I can understand the fact that some INEC offices were attacked but in states where there were no reported attacks, how did PVCs end up in wrong locations? I won’t deceive you: this country never ceases to amaze me. We may have had democracy for 23 years but I don’t think the people believe in it.”

“What I genuinely suspect is that some people don’t want the election to take place. They would rather have a zero-sum situation, and then the country would have to re-arrange itself, possibly through an interim government mechanism. Some people don’t want Bola Tinubu, Atiku, Peter Obi, Kwankwaso or anybody else. They prefer to scuttle things.”

“What do you mean either Bola Tinubu or Atiku or…? We have 18 Presidential candidates on the ballot. This is the problem in this country and you are part of it.”

“Leave matter. What I am telling you is that something must be going on somewhere, the way we are going. In fact, I had a dream the other night, and my dreams are always accurate.”

“Can we leave dreams out of this? You know I have been listening to you since. But forget about dreams. The truth is that since this country became independent in 1960, Nigerians have been having nightmares, resulting in headaches. That is our problem. Are you sure you don’t have migraine?”

“To tell you the truth, the more I talk about Nigeria, the more depressed I become. Everybody is giving up. Even INEC says the politicians and other stakeholders do not want the new Electoral Act 2022. They are ignoring salient provisions in the law. They are not interested in the provisions about decorous language, peaceful conduct or internal party democracy. Nigeria’s older politicians of the First, Second, and Third Republics must be turning in their graves.”

“The law is what the law-maker says it is. People are ignoring the electoral framework because the security agencies have failed to enforce it. Simple!”

“Who will they arrest? Who will enforce the law? The biggest lawbreakers in this country are the law makers themselves and the Executive arm of government, and their godfathers and friends.”

“I miss that”

“The law cannot work in a country where the law makers have no respect for the rule of law. Do you want to wait until we start talking about security agencies collecting bribe and looking the other way, or when politicians ignore the rule of law as is standard practice around here? Have you not heard that the National Assembly is kicking against the cashless policy by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)? They want the CBN Governor to come before them and explain why the Central Bank is insisting on cash limits of N20, 000 per day for individuals, a total of N100, 000 per week, or N500, 000 per week for corporate organizations?”

“Don’t mind those lawmakers, they think they will be allowed to collect money and spend money anyhow in the 2023 elections. The Buhari government is saying that will not be allowed to happen.”

“Don’t get over-excited. That is if the fifth columnists allow the election to take place. There is too much vitriol in the air. The politicians are fighting among themselves. They are fighting others. They are even fighting journalists and civil society. When INEC offices are not being attacked, PVCs are stolen and dumped in drainage channels.”

“Don’t put journalists inside oh. Na our work we dey do. Whoever fights journalists will hear his own story with his own ears. Dem never born dem. For where?”

“Stop sounding like a thug. When they go low, you should go higher.”

“I just dey tell you. Anybody wey wan do werey, we go show dem say plenty plenty plenty werey dey oh. Area! Iyalaya anybody. Gbas gbos”.

“Can we discuss something else then? You know I don’t like any kind of stress.”

“I am not putting you under any stress. It is just that this country must be made to work. President Muhammadu Buhari has said he believes in the integrity of the electoral process, and he wants to defend that. He has an obligation to keep his promise.”

“Stop bothering yourself. President Buhari is in the United States drinking tea with the Americans.”

“He is in the US attending the US-Africa Summit. I don’t have a problem with that. Nigeria must always engage with the rest of the world.”

“But Africa must also learn to take full advantage of the outreach from the rest of the world. Everybody is looking for Africa as if we are back to 1885. There is a new Scramble for Africa from Europe and Asia. Russia, China, Japan, France, the UK want inroads into Africa. Now, the US under Biden has rediscovered Africa, second summit since Obama in 2004. But is Africa ready as the Summit begins today in the US, and President Muhammadu Buhari gives a speech?”

“I like the fact that President Buhari is speaking on the first day. It means the Americans know that nobody can joke with Nigerians. Naija no dey carry last. For where? We must come first.”

“Please can you be serious? The US-Africa Summit is not a population contest. There are serious issues at stake. Nigeria is specially recognized out of the 49 African countries that have been invited in order to encourage the country to remain the leading force for stability in the continent. Some countries were pointedly told that they are not good enough for decent company. Go and check that out: Eritrea, Somaliland, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Conakry and Mali.”

“Are those ones countries, when you mention Nigeria?”

“Under the UN Charter, my friend, every country is equal. Size does not matter under international law.”

“In this animal farm in which we all live?”

“Yes. And you must have seen that at the World Cup. No animal is more equal than the other. You prove yourself. You assert yourself.”

“This year’s World Cup is something else, I agree. Saudi Arabia humiliated Argentina 2-1, until those ones suddenly woke up. Morocco sent out Spain in the quarter finals, and beat Portugal, subsequently to become the first African country to reach the semi-finals in the World Cup. They even topped Group F ahead of Croatia, Belgium and Canada.”

“Very significant. A great moment for Africa. But I don’t like it when people say Morocco is not African but Arab and Middle Eastern”

“Leave that matter. Morocco is African. Don’t let Western media mislead you. I think it is paining them that Africa is in the final stages of the tournament. The same week that President Biden is hosting an African Summit, an African country is also in the news at the World Cup. Africa is the next frontier on all fronts. Our only problem is our leaders.”

“Wait. Wait. What is your prediction today? Argentina v. Croatia. Lionel Messi vs Luka Modric.”

“Argentina. Lionel Messi. The God of Argentina will fight today!”

“You are such an incurable loyalist and optimist because you have a woman with Argentine connection?”

“Where is that coming from?”

“Wait. I just saw something on my phone now”

“What?”

“Dele Alake and Bayo Onanuga attacking ThisDay and AriseNews, Prince Nduka Obaigbena and Reuben Abati in defence of their principal, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.”

“Please, what are the two spent men, looking for stomach infrastructure in an unscrupulous manner at old age saying?”

“You should read yourself”

“They must be lying of course and destroying everything they ever worked for in pursuit of a mess of pottage. You see, this is the tragedy with Nigeria. Hunger destroys men. It turns them into slaves, blackmailers and pigs and they begin to talk without thinking.”

“Are you saying that you suspect that Dele Alake and Bayo Onanuga working for Bola Tinubu are slaves and pigs?”

“This whole 2023 process is being turned into a brawl. People who need friends and are making enemies where they need friends need to be told that they do not have a monopoly of anything.”

“So?”

“When I subject their latest silly and amateur political talk to closer interrogation, I should be able to answer your question but your guess is as good as mine.”

“My own is just that everybody should just know that Nigeria is more important than their individual ambitions oh, and that election is not war.”

“Look it is time for you to go to church or mosque… my friend. I have work to do. When idiots blab, they must be called to order.”

Last modified on Tuesday, 13 December 2022 06:10

 

On March 28, 2022, a Kaduna bound train from Abuja, was attacked at a place called Katari in Kaduna State around 7: 45 pm. As is the case with many things in Nigeria where documentation is poor and students are just about to start learning history again after more than 10 years of the subject being excluded from the curriculum, till date nobody can give the exact figure of the number of passengers on that ill-fated train. What we all know is that it was attacked by rampaging bandits and terrorists, who had rigged up the train line with explosives, and who attacked the train, riding motorcycles and bearing dangerous weapons. The train was less than 20 minutes to its Rigasa station destination. The terrorists opened fire on the hapless travellers. More than eight persons were killed on the spot. About 62 persons were abducted.  

 

Over 20 persons were injured. It was the beginning of a long nightmare involving negotiations with the abductors, the agony of distraught families, and a sad exposure of the vulnerability of the average Nigerian. The victims fell within a broad age and health range: young children, family members, the infirm, the elderly and the aged, including persons who were on various kinds of medication from which they had been cut off simply because they live in a country where insecurity is a problem and human lives have lost value. Those who died included Chinelo Megafu, a young medical doctor, Amin Mahmoud, an APC youth leader and Musa Lawal-Ozigi, secretary-general of the Trade Union Congress. Family relations of the affected persons were thrown into agony. As the Federal Government of Nigeria insisted that it was not prepared to negotiate with terrorists or pay ransom, families cried to high heavens. A few Samaritans led by Sheik Ahmad Gumi, Tukur Mamu, Professor Usman Yusuf and others stepped in to help, even if they created controversies of their own in the process. In the end, the abducted persons were released in batches on April 6, June 11, July 9, July 25, August 10, August 19, and the final 23 regained their freedom on October 6.  The Federal Government has tried to claim credit for ensuring the release of the last batch of abducted persons, but what is worth remembering is the needless loss of lives, and the general insecurity in the land which must be addressed - government has the primary responsibility to protect the people. 

 

Following the attack of March 28, the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) announced the suspension of services on the Abuja-Kaduna route to give time for the rail line that had been damaged in parts to be fixed. Two weeks ago, it was further announced that the rail line would now be re-opened for operations.  The Minister of Transportation, Muazu Sambo, during an inspection tour of the Abuja station said the train service was originally scheduled to resume by November 28 but that within a week, normal service along the route would re-commence.  Minister Sambo was quoted as saying that he had vowed that the trains will not return on that route until the last abducted person was released and that he was happy he had been able to keep that promise. Muazu became Minister of Transportation in July 2022. He only needs to be reminded that in fact before he was posted to the Ministry of Transportation, the Federal Government had tried to re-open that route by May 23. The attempt was greeted by public outcry. It was generally agreed that the government was being callous and insensitive, seeking to sell train tickets while the abducted persons were still in captivity. Affected family members threatened to picket train stations. At the time, Fidet Okhiria, Managing Director of the NRC claimed that the corporation was under pressure to resume operations. Nigerians refused. NRC was forced to change its plan. Now, yesterday, the trains returned along that route. 

 

Mr. Sambo, the Minister in charge, says the NRC is 90% ready. Is the NRC ready? Can the people trust its managers? The Minister further claims that lessons have been learnt. Is he sure that indeed lessons have been learnt? What lessons exactly, if we may ask? Minister Sambo has said a lot of sweet things to rebuild public confidence and encourage people to travel again by rail between Abuja and Kaduna. But how many people will summon the courage to trust the NRC and government? When the first train left the Abuja station at 10 am yesterday, after eight months of inactivity on that route, the passengers were few. People have obviously learnt to be cautious and watchful. We have been told that there would be increased security along the rail line and inside the coaches and that some of the security men would be in mufti. The Inspector General of Police, Usman Baba has to that effect deployed police men, working with other armed personnel, drawn from the Police Mobile Force, K-9, Force Intelligence Bureau, Railway Police Command and the Explosive Ordinance Unit to protect lives and property along that route. But for how long will the security agencies sustain this? And where is the Civil Defence Corps whose primary responsibility is to protect national assets and infrastructure? Why are they not part of the arrangements? The sloppiness of our security operatives has been a major part of the security challenge in Nigeria. Even if the Abuja-Kaduna route is protected, what happens to other railway routes across the country? There have been reports for example of the vandalism of rail tracks in parts of the country, the most vandalized route being the 157-kilometres Lagos-Ibadan rail line. Apart from deploying armed personnel to protect the rail lines and the award of jobs to security contractors, many Nigerians would like to know if there is an electronic surveillance system in place to protect the rail lines across the country. Security in the 21st Century does not simply mean uniformed personnel. In April, the then Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi had disclosed that a proposal for the procurement of a N3.7 billion security surveillance solution was taken before the Federal Executive Council but this was rejected at the Council meeting of September 24, 2021. Questions were reportedly raised about the capacity of the recommended firm for the project. So, what has happened since then? An electronic surveillance system would definitely enhance whatever security measures the Federal Government wants to put in place. 

 

The Minister of Transportation also says as part of new measures to be introduced, that train passengers would have to produce their phone numbers, and National Identification Number (NIN). Are they also going to ask for birth and marriage certificates? The proper identification of passengers should prevent the kind of confusion that occurred in March. The NRC had no proper manifest at the time! Till date the number of passengers on that Abuja-Kaduna train remains a matter of guess-work! Whatever documentation the NRC introduces this time around, every effort should be made to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy that could expose passengers to avoidable hardship. The bigger thing to worry about is the endemic corruption in the operations of the Railway Corporation. And let the point be made that the bandits who attacked the train in March were not passengers. They attacked the train along the route. There is no point treating every passenger like a potential criminal. 

 

We have also been told that there would be no night trains.  This is simple common sense. Nigeria is not safe during the day, not to talk of night time. In broad daylight, people get kidnapped, and it is worse during festive seasons when too many bandits become more desperate. The March 28 train attack occurred around 7:45 pm, forcing many people to advise against night train travels. It is in order that the Federal Government has taken the people’s suggestion in this regard. It is all such a pity though. Every means of transportation in this country has become so expensive and risky. The roads are bad, the waterways are dangerous, air travel is costly and even the trains cannot be relied upon. A country of over 200 million needs an effective public transportation system and this must be a major issue for whoever wants to lead Nigeria going forward. In some countries, public transportation is considered so important, there are Ministries of Railways as in India, China, Japan, Bangladesh, Canada and New Zealand. 

 

According to the NRC, the Federal Government lost N113 million due to the suspension of the Abuja-Kaduna train services for over eight months. In another account, the figure was put at N6.6 billion. What has now been decided in typical Nigerian fashion, is that fares would be increased. People died. Families lost their loved ones. Persons were killed in captivity. On one occasion, the bandits showed their victims being flogged.  They threatened to kill and maim. One of the kidnapped persons, Dr. Mustapha Imam is an Associate Professor at the Usman Dan Fodiyo University, Sokoto. He came home from India to give back to his country and share knowledge. He spent four months in captivity. When he was eventually released, he burst into tears. And now, NRC is lamenting that the corporation lost N113 million. How about lives lost, the hardship that the victims faced, the pain, the agony? The people suffer. They get punished for their suffering. Their only offence is that they are citizens of a country called Nigeria. Fares on the Abuja-Kaduna route would now be N9, 000 for 24-seater coaches, with immediate effect.  Empathy, security, and efficiency should be more important considerations for the Federal Government, not profit and greed.

Last modified on Tuesday, 06 December 2022 07:35

President Muhammadu Buhari hit the nail squarely on the head last Thursday, when he told members of the Senior Executive Course No 44 (2022) of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPPS), Kuru that state Governors are stealing funds meant for Local Governments. The President’s assertion came about a day after the Minister for Budget and National Planning, Clement Agba had accused state Governors of being responsible for the high level of poverty among Nigerians, the majority of whom (72%) live in rural areas, and had been neglected. I felt the Minister of State was grandstanding and fishing for scapegoats. 

 

The simple response to him is that both the Federal and other levels of government continue to fail the people, and that the crisis is that of leadership. But the President’s position on the financial autonomy of local governments is most deserving of further emphasis. One of the many good things that the present administration has done in the area of reform includes the push for the fiscal autonomy of the judiciary and local governments, both of which have been stoutly resisted by vested interests.  In May 2020, President Buhari signed Executive Order 10 to enforce the financial autonomy of the states’ judiciary and legislature. The States raised objections and went to court. In February 2022, by a majority of six to seven, the apex court ruled that the controversial Executive Order 10 was in conflict with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution with regard to the powers of each arm of government. The President was adjudged to have acted ultra vires.  The Order was an administrative directive that monies meant for the judiciary should be sent directly to their leadership without state governors pretending to manage the funds on behalf of both the judiciary and the state legislatures, while stealing part of same. There was yet another matter. In 2019, the Nigerian Financial. Intelligence Unit had issued guidelines with regard to local governments to the effect that not more than N500, 000 can be withdrawn daily, and that state governments must not tamper with local council funds, and can only act within the purview of the law as transit points.  The state governments went to court. But the Federal High Court in Abuja presided over by Justice Inyang Ekwo ruled in May 2022, ruled that the NFIU guidelines were in order to promote transparency and that the plaintiffs (the 36 state governments) had no case. The Court found that the NFIU within its enabling Act had powers to provide guidelines. It was the second time that a court of law would decline the attempt by state governments to resist NFIU guidelines. 

 

The contentious issue is Section 162 (5), (6), (7) and (8) of the 1999 Constitution.  Section 162 (6) specifically creates “the State Joint Local Government Account”, and the subsequent amplifications as cited but this has been subjected to so much abuse with state governments and governors turning into supervisors and overlords of the local governments. All the 774 Local Governments in the 1999 Constitution are no better than appendages of state governments. Local government Chairmen are treated like aides of the Governors. The states rely on Section 162 (6) to collect monies due to the councils, and after charging administrative fees decide unilaterally on what they think the boys in the local governments should get. What is sent to them is barely enough to pay salaries, with some small change for the Chairmen and Councillors who by the way are so ignorant and incompetent, they are happy to collect crumbs. They are part of the problem! In March 2022, the National Assembly passed a bill to abolish Section 162 (6) of the 1999 Constitution, but for the bill to become law, it has to be passed by 24 Houses of Assembly. The Governors would not allow that to happen. Every Governor seeks to control the judiciary, the legislature and the local governments. Ours is a democracy of dictators. At some point, the State Joint Local Government Account has to be deleted from the Nigerian Constitution to provide a constitutional safety valve for the third tier of government. 

 

Development springs from the local councils – they are the best institutions to help address the challenge of poverty alleviation, being the level of government that is closest to the people. When they are rendered impotent and ineffectual, the entire governance superstructure is compromised. However, no one should be surprised that some Governors have responded sharply to President Buhari’s latest attempt to put them on the spot.  Benue state Governor, Samuel Ortom, David Umahi of Ebonyi State, Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq of Kwara state, Simon Lalong of Plateau State, Dapo Abiodun of Ogun state, and Nyesom Wike of Rivers State have all come forward to protest that they do not steal local government funds. President Buhari cited the specific example of one state Governor whom he refused to name. Whoever that Governor is, he would know himself. This is why every governor must speak up, otherwise we would be right to assume that all the Governors that are keeping quiet are the guilty ones. And that President Buhari knows what he is talking about. Members of the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) were quick to support the President’s assertions. They should go a step further and name the thieving Governors and states that they know. The Supreme Court may have made a technical point about the Constitution but the President can give effect to his own words by prevailing on states controlled by his own party, and they are currently in the majority, to act with integrity and eschew the theft of local council funds. When the time is ripe, Section 162 of the 1999 Constitution should be amended accordingly to put a permanent end to the mischief of the state governments.

Last modified on Tuesday, 06 December 2022 08:10

Contrary to initial predictions that the on-going FIFA World Cup tournament in Qatar would be the dullest ever in the history of the World Cup, it is in fact defying all such doomsday calculations and turning out to be a most exciting event. The quality of play is very high, the various players are superbly motivated, the fans are enthusiastic and as the tournament progresses, it all gets even more exciting. I find myself glued to the TV set every day to keep abreast of this historic event. Initially, politics almost overshadowed the event, with FIFA having to write to all the 32 teams playing a total of 64 matches in this year’s edition to focus on football, and not the protests that had been planned around the issues of human rights record of the Qatar government, LGBTQ+ rights in particular, and the abuse of 30, 000 migrant workers who were hired to build the infrastructure for the World Cup. The government of Qatar built 7 new stadia, an airport, 100 hotels and a fan park. The politics was so much that seven Captains of the participating European teams in fact announced that they would wear “One Love armbands.”  Denmark said they would wear “tone down” shirts. Paris and other French cities threatened that they would not screen the matches in public areas. 

 

The Ukrainian FA also called for Iran to be banned for “systemic human rights violations”. Ahead of the tournament, Qatari authorities had to go after persons who had made fake World Cup trophies – 144 counterfeit trophies were seized, even counterfeit clothes with World Cup logos were seized. In the second week of November, a luxury liner dubbed by The Sun newspaper of London, as HMS WAG, ferrying the wives and girlfriends of England’s World Cup Squad set sail for Qatar. The players, we were told, were banned from setting foot on the massive ship, but nobody talked about the WAGs going on land to visit their men in the hotel bubbles to which they were going to be confined. There was also the issue of the consumption of alcohol. Alcohol consumption is against the country’s Islamic laws and beliefs. Homosexuality also carries a penalty of a fine or seven years imprisonment in Qatar. 

 

The irony is that Budweiser, a beer manufacturing company, with a $75 million deal with FIFA, is the major sponsor of the tournament and has been a FIFA sponsor for about two decades. FIFA first announced that it would be possible to drink beer in fan zones, but it eventually reversed itself and Budweiser was told to serve only zero-Bud within the vicinity of the stadiums. Now, Budweiser says the winning country will take all of its unsold beer from Qatar. FIFA would also later agree that persons who wanted to wear rainbow bucket hats or wrist bands could do so, after the Football Association of Wales protested vehemently over the maltreatment of its fans, but as we now know, Qatar’s officials refused. Even after FIFA’s assurance, fans wearing rainbow colours or symbols were arrested or rough-handled at train stations. The only man no one could do anything about is Tottenham Hotspur superstar, and England’s Captain, Harry Kane who decided to go around off-pitch with an 18-karat, diamond-encrusted, Rainbow Rolex watch worth about $950 million – a massive show of wealth, but Kane simply was protesting in support of the LGBTQ+ community and indicating his angst over FIFA’s threat that any player wearing a One Love Band will get an automatic yellow card. Kane could not wear the armband during England’s 6- 2 win over Iran.  Germany also responded last Wednesday before their Group E match kick off against Japan by covering their mouths. Germany’s Interior Minister, Nancy Faeser also wore a One Love arm-band, sitting in the stands, next to Gianni Infantino, the FIFA President. She later took it off, and of course did not get a yellow card -  she, not being a footballer. 

 

What Qatar represents in my view, is as I pointed out earlier in a parenthetical, prior comment on this page, now built up into an extended commentary, on what I have seen so far, is the clash of civilizations, between a conservative Middle Eastern culture, and a liberal, hypocritical Western outlook. The hypocrisy of the West is writ large. It is okay to collect sponsorship funds from Budweiser, only to turn around and breach contractual agreements and put the entire blame on the recalcitrance of Qatar. The big question in this World Cup is: should Qatar have been granted hosting rights in the first place as far back as 2010? And now 12 years after the fact, the West is complaining about human rights? This looks like a case of the money is good, bring it, but the culture is not good enough. Hell-ooo! In any case, if the World Cup is a game for the whole of humanity, no part of the world should be discriminated against, and what the people and government of Qatar are showing is that if their money is good enough for France, England and all the other Western countries, the onus is on them to also respect their culture and conservative preferences. One clear point from the politics of the current World Cup in Qatar is that the West likes to overdo things, and wittingly too, as they seek to re-write principles of international law in a manner that should be of interest to teachers and students of the subject. 

 

The most egregious example would seem to be the brazen manner in which the United States Soccer Federation decided to alter the Iranian flag last Saturday and chose to replace the Islamic emblem on the flag with a graphic representing the Group B standings in the FIFA World Cup. The US says it did so “to demonstrate support for the women in Iran fighting for basic rights.” This amounts to interference in the affairs of a sovereign state, but the US as a superior power is accustomed to writing its own rules of engagement with other countries of the world. And hence, it would get away with it, despite Iran and the TASNIM, the official news agency of Iran, saying that the US has violated the FIFA Charter and should be kicked out of the Qatar World Cup. Iran is slated to face off against the US today. Ahead of that encounter, the US is clearly waging a psychological war against Iran by interfering in its internal affairs. FIFA will not impose any sanctions, and thus delicately avoid getting involved in the conflict between both countries that dates back to 1980.  It will be recalled however that the Iranian team at the World Cup refused to sing their own country’s national anthem during their first World Cup game in Qatar.  The meeting between Iran and the USA today will be another “mother of all games”, a rematch of their 1998 World Cup group stage encounter which Iran won 2-1. The US may have already won the match off-pitch. 

 

Indeed, so political is this year’s edition of the World Cup tournament, even at the group stage level, on and off-pitch that Canelo Alvarez, the Mexican WBA, WBC, WBO and IBF super middleweight boxing champion has vowed that if he sets his eyes on Lionel Messi, he would teach him a lesson or two with his fists about how not to disrespect Mexico. Messi is accused of having pushed aside a Mexico jersey with his left foot as he tried to take off his shoes after a Group C match in which Argentina slammed Mexico 2- 0.  Messi’s fans have said that the incident was inadvertent, but Alvarez says he is keeping his fists waiting for Messi. Lionel Messi may be good at playing football, and he has done well for his country in Qatar, matching Diego Maradona’s record but I doubt if his lithe frame can take one small, punch from Alvarez’s big fist! When politics and emotions are mixed with sports, the outcome can be very dangerous. Indeed, in July 1970, El Salvador and Honduras went to war – the Soccer War or the 100-Hour War - over a World Cup qualifying match, triggered by underlying conflicts between both countries.

 

The World would also forever remember the Captain of the Colombian team in the USA ‘94 World Cup, Andreas Escobar, who scored an own goal and caused Colombia’s early exit from that World Cup.  He was the other Escobar. There was Pablo Escobar, not a relation of his, a blood-thirsty drug warlord who was hunted down by the police and murdered. Andres’s offence was that he scored an own goal. Six bullets were pumped into his back at the El Indio nightclub in Medellin, later described as revenge action by gangsters who made heavy losses betting on Colombia at the World Cup. “Football,” as I wrote previously, is “worse than opium”. This year, last weekend, riots broke out in Belgium and the Netherlands, after Morocco, the Atlas Lions, handed the Belgium National team a 2- 0 defeat in a Group F match. A car was burnt down in Brussels. There was violence in Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Antwerp and Brussels. The police had to use water cannons to disperse crowds and enforce some arrests.     

 

All of this drama about the 2022 World Cup in Qatar notwithstanding, I suspect that what would be remembered hereafter, would not necessarily be the attendant politics, but football itself, and how dominant it is as a game. The tournament is still at the group stage level at the time of this writing, but we have seen much to compel the view that this is turning out to be a remarkable event. History is being made, and it is becoming obvious that there are no underdogs on the pitch. All the 32 participating countries are in Qatar to make a statement and quite a few have been able to do so. Almighty teams, tipped to be potential winners have been humiliated by smaller teams on the FIFA ranking table. Could anyone ever imagine that Saudi Arabia would beat Argentina, 2- 1? But it happened. The King of Saudi Arabia himself found the feat so unbelievable, he had to declare a national holiday to celebrate the achievement. It doesn’t matter how Saudi Arabia fares in this World Cup, it is firmly on record that Saudi Arabia humiliated Argentina! The second major upset after this was the spectacle of Morocco beating Belgium, 2- 0. 

 

The victory was such a major upset it caused riots in Belgium and the Netherlands!  In a Group E opener, Germany lost to Japan in a 2 -1 upset. Germany, a football superpower, is now alive, after managing to force a draw with Spain. It now faces a must win match against Costa Rica, as it confronts the prospect of finishing bottom of its group as happened in the 2018 World Cup. Another: Canada was beaten 4-1 on Sunday night by Croatia, but it managed to score its first World Cup goal through Alphonso Davies. Canada may exit the World Cup but what the team has achieved so far- that one goal, within 67 seconds, the country’s first at the World Cup was enough to keep the pubs open in Canada on Sunday. The World Cup is a place to make history, and many are in it for the special experience and the opportunities it offers. Wales showed up in Qatar this year, the first time in 64 years. It would be difficult for Wales to reach the last 16, from Group B, sitting at the bottom of the Group, having played a draw against the USA, beaten by Iran 0 – 2, and now having to face England tomorrow.    

 

At least one commentator has attributed the determination and the revolt against traditional assumptions that we have seen on display at this World Cup to money: the fact that the FIFA World Cup is one of the biggest prizes in sports – the total prize money in Qatar 2022 is about 440 US million dollars, $40 million more than the previous World Cup in 2018. The winner of the tournament will walk away with $42 million. For participating at all, every team will get a minimum of $9 million. The clubs whose players are at the World Cup would get a largesse of $209 million to be distributed across the world. The referees at the tournament will get a base fee of $70, 000 and $3, 000 for every match that they oversee. FIFA already gave every participating nation $1.5 million to aid preparations.  But I don’t think what defines the World Cup is money no matter how high the paycheck is, although it must also be admitted that host country Qatar is set to cash out big time!  It is something more: the thrill of participation, nationalism and the opportunity to be on the world stage. 

 

The kind of energy that has been put into the game is further demonstrated even by the African teams: Ghana showing that it truly deserves a place in the sun: see what the Black Stars did in the match against Portugal on Nov. 24. They lost 3- 2, but they were formidable. In their match against South Korea, yesterday they fought like true stars, and recorded an impressive win, beating South Korea 3-2!  Before then, Morocco trounced Belgium 2-0. Cameroun forced a draw with Serbia, 3-3 in an explosive, thrilling, entertaining encounter. Serbia was leading 3-1, but the Cameroonians roared like lions and cancelled out the deficit.  Senegal lost to the Netherlands, 0-2, but they defeated Qatar, 1-3. They have survived to fight again today when they meet Ecuador. Tunisia has not done badly so far also at the World Cup. They played a draw with Denmark, in Group D, and lost to Australia, 0 -1. Their next match is against France on Wednesday. France has so far been a dominant defending champion. Les Blues are proving unstoppable, but this is again a World Cup like no other where underdogs are taking on the traditional champions and burying established reputations. The aggregate gainer is football, and the fact that football has become effectively a science, rather than 22-men running up and down, looking for the goal post. What I have been watching, to speak for myself, since the World Cup began in Qatar on November 20 looks to me like an interplay of artistry, science, and individual talent. It is a glorious testament to the capacity of the human mind and body, and how the world continually reinvents itself in time and space. The underlying and perhaps overt political and ideological currents speak to the inequalities and dissensions at the centre of geo-politics which in the long run are unresolvable given the balance of powers. 

 

But for giving us an opportunity to laugh and get entertained beyond the perils of COVID-19, high inflation, cost of living crisis, and the doomsday predictions of economists, the World Cup is serving a great purpose at an appropriate time. When last, did the entire world laugh and cry along the full emotional spectrum therapeutically, over something as refreshing as sports, the interplay of talents, emotions and national pride? COVID-19 blocked our joys. The World Cup is setting our emotions free. And so, as the beat goes on, let the games continue, and may the best team triumph.   

Last modified on Tuesday, 29 November 2022 07:02
Page 1 of 19