When you live in a glass house, as they say on the street, you don’t walk naked. But that conventional wisdom must have been lost on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) National Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, despite his considerable experience in politics spanning decades. In a viral video a day after the party’s primaries that nominated former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar as the PDP presidential candidate for the 2023 general election, Ayu venerated the Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, as the hero of their presidential convention.
Since what Tambuwal did to earn the accolade was to step down for Atiku, the import of Ayu’s statement was that the primaries had been programmed to nominate one man while any other outcome would have defeated such agenda. To compound the problem, the party set up a 17-man committee to shortlist three candidates for the position of running mate. Ordinarily, when a committee is tasked with such an assignment, you don’t force the hands of the appointing authority. But the members went beyond their brief to announce that 14 of them voted for the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike (who came second at the primaries). Three members were said to have endorsed Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa. When Atiku eventually picked Okowa as his running mate, Wike’s supporters, led by Benue State Governor Sam Ortom, went on a media blitz to attack the choice. Ortom, who at one point said he was hibernating in a prayer room, waiting for God to direct him whom to vote for at the 2023 election, has of course changed tune on the matter but the damage is done.
In my column of 7th May 2015, ‘Inside the PDP Tower of Babel’, I wrote of the problems ahead for the party that had just lost the presidential election. And from the evidence of the past seven years, it is reasonable to conclude that the PDP seems to be as incapable of managing defeat as it was of managing its victory while in power for 16 years. With an orchestrated invitation of opposition governors (former and sitting) to come and commission projects in his state, Wike is raising the stakes every day, causing apprehension in the main opposition party. But he should also learn from history. In a previous disquisition on the PDP, someone who signed off as ERG, wrote: “The Umbrella was designed to give shelter to a finite number of persons, notably the man holding it (party chairman) and the one for whom it is meant to be covering (president or its presidential candidate). All other renegade passengers can exit into the rain in their trench coats”.
I don’t know what the endgame is but I hope that Wike is not burning his bridges. Since he has promised to tell Nigerians what is provoking his recent actions and utterances, I will delay my comment on the unending fiasco in the PDP until I hear from him. In any case, there are far more important issues to deal with. For instance, I have in the past few days followed the interesting drama in France of the rescue operation launched for a stranded beluga whale in Seine River. Although it was euthanized yesterday after developing health complication, I am sure many of my readers will consider me mad to write about a dead whale in France when Nigerian universities are under lock and key. For those who still care, this is the seventh month that Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) members have been on strike. How do we build a secure future for our children with such a cynical disposition to education, which ordinarily is the bedrock of every society?
Whatever may be their grouse, there are serious integrity issues which require more than throwing humongous sums of money at the lecturers to resolve. At the minimum, ASUU must also embrace transparency and accountability. I remember that almost a decade ago, ASUU forbade its members from filling a form distributed by the National University Commission (NUC) for a staff and student audit in the university system. How lecturers would oppose planning with data beats me but the argument of ASUU at the time was that the federal government could not be trusted with what it wanted to use the statistics for. Like the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) which ASUU also rejects on spurious grounds, that proposition would have revealed all those teaching ‘full time’ in two or more universities as well as those doing little or no academic work, but demanding uniform earned allowances etc. Let us also not forget those who are teaching courses in which they lack even the basic knowledge!
After decades of crisis in our public education system, I believe we have come to a critical juncture in which we need to engage in honest conversations about so many issues, including the state of infrastructure, alternative sources of funding, curriculum models, instructional methods, staffing policies as well as available educational resources in terms of libraries, laboratories, computers etc. Not to mention whether the current regime of free tuition can realistically be sustained. Such intervention is important because even if we resolve the current ASUU strike, we may soon be back to square one. Sadly, intellectuals who you ordinarily believe should be interrogating our problems with a view to proffering practical solutions beyond ‘give us money’ are behaving as if they are under the tutelage of MC Oluomo. But we deceive ourselves to imagine that as a nation, we can wobble and fumble our way into the future. Therefore, it is time we rally to resolve the ongoing crisis so that our students can go back to their campuses. After that, we can begin a serious conversation about public education in Nigeria.
Perhaps we should leave education for now and look at the state of our economy. In an April 2013 edition of ‘Economist’ magazine that I still keep in my study are two interesting stories about Nigeria. The first quoted Jim O’Neill, member of the United Kingdom House of Lords (at that time a Goldman Sachs economist) saying that with its huge potential, Nigeria deserves a better place on the global economic table. Higher than even South Africa. As for the second story, the introduction sums up the paradox: “Like a heavyweight boxer who has gone too many rounds, Nigeria sometimes seems punch-drunk. One minute it acts like a champion by virtue of the size of its girth and the smile on its face, the next it could be flat on its back, groaning in anguish. On the whole, the country is tottering along, acclaimed as much for its massive potential as for its actual achievements. It is still a sick man all the same.”
No better sector of our national life exemplifies that than the oil and gas industry. On Monday in Owerri, Imo State, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, described oil theft as a “national emergency”, after admitting that Nigeria “had fallen short of OPEC daily quota, from 1.8 million barrels to 1.4 million barrels, due to crude theft”, meaning that we lose 400,000 barrels per day. But as grim as that revelation may seem, this is also an old tale.
In August 2012 (exactly a decade ago), Al Jazeera television did a report on this same issue. It followed the disclosure by the then Coordinating Minister for Economy and current Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that Nigeria was losing as much as 400,000 barrels per day to these cartels. “Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister, has said the trade in stolen oil has led to a fall in official sales of about 400,000 barrels a day – a 17 per cent drop – in April alone. With average April prices of $121 per barrel, this results in a loss of $1.4bn,” the television reported. “According to the authorities, the trade in stolen oil also involves sophisticated criminal networks and international traders who provide oil at discounted prices to refineries in West Africa, China and India.”
What I find most interesting in the Al Jazeera report is that the station spoke to a military commander as well as the head of the oil theft cartel. “Nobody is going to be spared, no matter how highly placed. We are here to protect the oil and gas sector of Nigerian economy,” Lieutenant Colonel Onyema Nwachukwu, a spokesman for the task force charged with stopping oil theft at the time, reportedly told Al Jazeera. But he did not have the last word on the matter. “It’s mainly because of anger we are doing this job, because the government and oil companies don’t recognise us,” one Ibegi Alakoroa said to be the leader of illegal bunkerers also told Al Jazeera. “We want to tell the politicians that Nigeria’s oil is for all of us. They eat the oil revenue in Abuja, and we take the crude down here. That’s how it’s going to be,” the channel quoted the Alakoroa as saying. “Each day they continue burning our refineries, but we say: ‘Let’s go back to the job again and we go back immediately.’”
That, in a nutshell, has been the situation in the Niger Delta for as long as I can remember. It is obvious that the sustained pillaging of our national resources is a problem that will not go easily away until we muster the courage to decisively deal with it. On 28th July 2013, at the public presentation of the 2009-2011 audit report of our oil and gas industry, the then National Extractive Industries Transparency Initiatives (NEITI) governing board Chairman, Mr. Ledum Mitee, disclosed that Nigeria lost over $10.9 billion worth of crude oil to thieves within the period. Today, the statistics of loss are even more frightening.
In March this year, I joined the federal government team to overfly the Niger Delta creeks to witness oil theft in action. In the team were the Minister of State, Petroleum, Mr Timipre Sylva, Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Ltd, Mr Mele Kyari, the Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), Mr Gbenga Komolafe, Chief of Defence Staff, Ltd General Lucky Irabor and several senior officers from the Navy, Airforce and the security agencies. As I wrote after our visit, I don’t know how any rational investor would want to put his money in the Nigerian oil and gas sector while the sheer magnitude of the tragic debauchery speaks eloquently to the total breakdown of law and order in Nigeria.
That precisely is the challenge of our country today, and also connects the three domestic issues I have highlighted, albeit briefly. Whether it is the inability of the leadership of the main opposition party to resolve their internal contradictions or the crisis in our university system that has made the ASUU strike an annual ‘festival’ in the calendar of our tertiary institutions or even a situation in which sundry criminal gangs seem to have overwhelmed the capacity of the Nigerian state in the oil and gas sector. We cannot continue like this.
Due to the way we have mismanaged our affairs, many young people now invest their hope and aspirations not on productive enterprise in Nigeria but rather on how they can ‘Japa’ (emigrate). This is a risky route that offers no predictable outcome, even to those who succeed. But we cannot blame those who dream of greener pastures abroad if the opportunities are shrinking on our shores. To retrieve our country, we must begin with the restoration of law and order. The meaning of what Alakoroa told Al Jazeera a decade ago is that the moral authority to challenge impunity has been lost to criminals who are aware of what is happening within officialdom. Until we successfully deal with that, peace and progress will continue to elude us.
Penchant for Last-minute Rush
For more than a year that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) campaigned for those who had not registered to vote to do so, not many Nigerians paid attention. When the exercise was about to close, millions of people rushed in at the same time to do what they could have done many months ago with ease. In the process, they have created a needless confusion in the polity. This is a Nigerian malaise we must deal with as we also experience every year with the annual Teens Career Conference of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), The Everlasting Arms Parish (TEAP) Abuja.
The registration portal opened about five weeks ago. By the time we close the portal hopefully by this weekend, we will then begin to get calls and messages from parents who want their children to attend. And when we decline, many of them take it personal. With the theme, ‘Why Tomorrow’s Leaders Must Begin Today’, the speakers for the 2022 edition are Samson Itodo, Executive Director, YIAGA-Africa and member of the Kofi Annan Foundation Board, Linda Ejiofor-Suleiman, an award winning actress and model, and Seun Onigbinde, a social entrepreneur, open data analyst and co-founder/CEO of budgIT. Like previous editions, the conference will bring together teenagers from Abuja and its environs to listen to expert advice on career choices in today’s dynamic and challenging world. Details about the conference are on www.rccgteapteens.ng.
Yusuf Alli @ 60
That Yusuf Alli, the Managing Editor, Northern Operations of The Nation newspapers is one of the finest all-round journalists in Nigeria today is without any dispute. But that’s not what marks him out. Even though he once edited all the PUNCH titles (Saturday, Sunday and daily), his humility is unparalleled. That is perhaps because he sees himself basically as a reporter—the hallmark of a true professional in this business. On Monday, he joined the elite sexagenarian club, even though he doesn’t look it. I wish my egbon, Alhaji Yusuf Alli many more glorious years ahead in good health.