The biggest story in Nigeria at the moment is the size of Nigeria’s delegation to the Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Summit on Climate Change, otherwise known as COP 28. In simple terms, the objective of the Conference of Parties is to secure multilateral, bilateral agreements on the consensus by a panel of international, intergovernmental, climate change scientists (IPCC) that for our world to be save, global temperatures must be kept at a level not above 1.5C, as adopted in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, beyond which the whole world will be at risk. Before this year’s conference, it was disclosed in a UN Report that the world was indeed endangered and that the threshold could go beyond 2 degrees C. By September 2023, the world had exceeded the projected limit, far above pre-industrial levels.
This was meant to put pressure on world leaders to pay more attention to the threats of carbon emission, climate change, and the impact on human communities, that is challenges induced within the global ecosystem by the rise in sea levels, hurricanes, floods and environmental disasters, occasioned by man’s abuse of and neglect of the environment: man-made, man-conditioned environmental crisis. Climate adaptation, carbon markets, and climate financing are issues that have been atop the global agenda in the last three and more years. UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, said the “emissions gap is more like an emissions canyon”.
From COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland, to COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, the Africa Climate Week organized by the African Development Bank Group in Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2023 (Africa’s 11th Conference on the subject), and now the COP 28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the goal has been to keep global warming to a limit of 1.5C or 2 C.– the second threshold in the Paris Agreement. High income countries account for the bulk of green-house gas emissions. At COP 26, commitments and pledges were made across the public and private sectors. At COP 27, in Egypt last year, many key arrangements remained unresolved, especially the demand by the developing countries for a loss and damage fund to compensate low-income nations. The main achievement of this year’s event would be the resolve on Day One to agree on a loss and damage deal for green-house gas emissions. Payments are to be made into the fund on a voluntary basis. The World Bank will host the fund for four years on an interim basis. A number of countries have already made pledges: Germany ($100 m), UAE ($100m), United States ($17.5 m) and Japan ($10 m). It is still a far cry from what is required, but it is a historic, hard-fought achievement.
For good reason, Nigeria is a participant at COP 28. We showed up in 2021at COP 26, where during the presentation of National Statements, President Muhammadu Buhari pledged Nigeria’s commitment to a net-zero emission policy. Buhari was not in Egypt for COP 27, the country was represented by Mohammed Abdullahi who was then Minister of Environment. This year at COP 28, Nigeria’s new President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu is fully on the ground in Dubai for the World Climate Action Summit scheduled for a total of 13 days – November 30 to December 12. President Tinubu has been very active, participating at high level sessions where he has shared the platform with world leaders including the COP 28 President, Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber, former US Vice President and Climate Change activist, John Kerry and the Chinese Envoy on Climate Change. President Tinubu has also met on the sidelines with Chancellor Olaf Scholz with whom he discussed Nigeria’s energy needs and the need to deepen collaboration with Germany, Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, President William Ruto of Kenya, President of Namibia, Hage Geingob, and climate activist and philanthropist, Michael Bloomberg. He has made statements about Nigeria’s commitment to end gas flaring, reduce carbon footprint and commit not just to an energy mix, but an eco-friendly future driven by sustainable, alternative energy to turn Nigeria into an investment friendly environment for carbon market investments. He has also been using every opportunity to ask for collaboration with other nations. At the African Green Industrialization session on Saturday, President Tinubu further made a strong case for Nigeria and Africa.
It is most unfortunate, however, that Nigeria’s participation which should have turned out as one of President Tinubu’s major outings on the international scene from the perspectives of economic diplomacy and sovereignty affirmation, has now been marred, irretrievably by reports of Nigeria’s large delegation at the conference- the largest from Africa, the fourth largest globally after the host country, UAE, Brazil and China, attending a 13-day event. There has been some quibbling and tittle-tattle over the exact size of the delegation. I am familiar with that. In our time, when the Naira exchanged for less than N150 to the dollar, and Nigeria was a high performing economy in Africa, with an annual GDP growth of over 6%, Sahara Reporters constantly complained about the size of the President’s delegation to conferences.
If the number was anywhere near 30, Sahara Reporters would raise an alarm, and if I called to complain about a deliberate attempt to de-market the country and the Presidency, the publisher Omoyele Sowore would tell me that he was an Ijaw man who had no reason to de-market his own brother, and that in any case he had a copy of the delegation list. I put it all down to sabotage from within. But this time the situation is slightly different. The information out there in the public domain about President Tinubu’s delegation to Dubai is extracted by the analysts from the COP 28 website, and from reports by Statisense, a leading AI data company, and instructively from State House list. Whereas the details and figures may differ just slightly, what is clear is that Nigeria has a total delegation of 1, 411 persons in Dubai for COP 28. One newspaper reported that the main delegation travelled to Dubai in three plane loads – chartered flights, and the worst part of it is that the Nigerian government did not give the contract for the air freight to any domestic airline.
The total cost of the air ticket for the 590 delegates on the Federal Government’s account is estimated at N880 million. To be added unto this is the vast expenditure on hotel accommodation and estacodes. In a Statisense report, estacode per night for a Minister is $900, Special Adviser $800, Director General of MDAs - $900, House of Representatives member - $900… and so on. The only category that I did not see is the estacode for mistresses, family members and confidantes who according to the opposition parties, notably the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party (LP) are all over Dubai as delegates. Ovieteme George, Arise News Correspondent reporting from Dubai, has claimed that he has not seen most of the delegates at key events that he has covered so far, not even at the Nigerian Pavilion: at most, the President and a few persons are the active ones at the event. Our investigative journalists would do well to check the shopping malls of Dubai, or cozy hotel rooms where far more pressing and important climate change discussions may be taking place among Nigerians!
Debo Ologunagba, speaking for the PDP has complained about an “over-bloated delegation” brimming with “cronies, political minions and mistresses at huge expense to the nation”. Peter Obi says Nigeria’s capacity to compete with China should be in the area of productivity, rather than the waste of resources on delegates to conferences, junkets, as well as unnecessary ceremony and showmanship as a mode of government behaviour - at a time more Nigerians are living in multi-dimensional poverty. Waziri Atiku Abubakar, PDP Presidential candidate, says Tinubu is in Dubai for an “owambe” party, an all-comers jamboree, that is ridiculous and indicative of a lack of governance, awareness and responsibility. The only voice of protest that I have not heard is that of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) who have been championing the call for accountability in the management of state resources. Someone has since whispered to me that they too may have their representatives in Dubai as part of the COP 28 party!
The tone of the response by the Federal Government is to dismiss the protests as opposition gimmickry. I doubt if this is politics. Temitope Ajayi, spokesperson to the President, was the first to offer a defence along the line that most of the delegates in Dubai are from the private sector and civil society organizations who paid their way to the conference to promote their respective causes, and that in any case, it is standard practice for all delegates to be registered against their country of origin, in addition to Nigeria being the most populous country in Africa. Ajayi was responding to reports that the Nigeria Council on Climate Change has 54 persons in Dubai, 53 from the Ministry of Environment, 36 from the National Assembly, and the Presidency- 138 and so on and so forth, making a total of 590 on the government list. Yesterday, the Minister of Information, Mohammed Idris fouled up the waters further in a press statement, in which he argued funnily that the Federal Government-sponsored delegation “is made up of a total of 422 persons.” He even tried to revise the breakdown in an even funnier manner. Would anyone ask the Minister, what exactly is the difference between 422 and 590? Can he tell Nigerians the difference between Okeke and Okereke? Sometimes, it is better for our leaders to keep quiet than to open their mouths and embarrass government. Minister Idris obviously does not get the point. He even mixed up the numbers in trying to “set the records straight”.
COP 28’s official published list says more than 97, 000 participants are attending COP 28 in person. In order to justify his spin, he cuts the number to “more than 70, 000”! Very bad optics. African leaders have often been criticized for rushing to any International Conference to mark the attendance register whereas they should be insisting that some of these conferences should be held in Africa. This year, Morocco has sent a delegation of 823 persons to Dubai, Kenya, 765; Tanzania 763, Ghana, 618! Nigeria has a low GDP compared to other countries, the country’s currency is over N1, 000 to the US dollar, inflation is 27. 33%, Nigeria is planning to borrow almost 100% to fund its 2024, 27.5 trillion, budget. Nigeria has now been said to have the same number of delegates with China in Dubai but while China is the second largest economy in the world, Nigeria runs a bankrupt economy. It is so bad that Nigeria imports traditional African batik, popularly known as adire and cassava flakes, garri, that our grandmothers used to produce from China! We even import toothpicks, and yet we have 1, 411 persons attending a conference in Dubai spending to help build the UAE economy. The Tinubu administration tells Nigerians to tighten their belts and make necessary sacrifices for the country to regain and restore hope.
Our leaders must lead by example. Malawi is not in Dubai this year. This is because its President, Lazarus Chakwera, in November, decided to suspend all foreign trips by himself and government officials till March next year. He cancelled his attendance at COP 28 as part of a number of austerity measures that he announced. Malawi recently took a four-year loan from the IMF – about $170 million. The country also devalued its currency, the Kwacha, by 44%. The country faces a cost-of-living crisis. The President says the country needs to save money, and the responsibility for doing so includes every one in government. In Zambia, President Hakainde Hichilema, upon assumption of office, refused to collect salaries for eight months, stating that he was more interested in serving the people. He refused to buy new cars for the Presidency. These are living examples for Nigerian leaders to emulate. Most of our people in Dubai COP 28 at government expense have no business being there. We can only hope that all the 1, 411 persons attending the party in Dubai will return home and not use the opportunity of the UAE visa to “Japa.” When all is said and done, Nigeria must institute regular mental health checks for public officials. I simply cannot understand why as part of the main highlights of Nigeria’s participation at COP 28, top executives of two government agencies with headquarters in Abuja - the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) and the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI) are in Dubai to sign a joint Memorandum of Understanding and make a song and dance out of it. This is the very height of buffoonery and stupidity!
Now, the main event itself: the success of COP 28 would depend on what language is used in the final agreement – whether there would be an agreement to “phase out” fossil fuels or to “phase down”. This is one of the most controversial issues at COP 28 despite the fact that 100 countries already support a phase-out of fossil fuels. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told COP 28 last Friday that “the science is clear…Not reduce. Not abate. Phase out with a clear time frame.” Many other countries have a different attitude. UAE’s Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, President of COP 28 was not joking at all when he thundered at a high-level meeting that there is “no science behind the demands for a phase-out of fossil fuels.” His country is in fact planning to ramp up oil production. He insists that a phase-out decision would block sustainable development.
Some progress may have been made with regard to loss and damage funding, Article 6, climate adaptation/financing, but the looming failure to reach a consensus on the future of fossil fuels by December 12 may well be the major story of COP 28. Other countries may not have voiced their hypocrisy openly but there are many of the privileged, developed countries, and Big Oil companies that are just window-dressing on climate issues and the scale of the energy transition. In September, the UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak did a U-Turn on net zero emissions. He had earlier approved 100 new licences for oil and gas drilling for the North Sea. Green groups in the UK were aggrieved; they subsequently launched an attack on his North Yorkshire home. He could not be bothered. It should therefore not be surprising that the UK has pledged just a mere $60 million to the loss and damage fund. The US even did worse: $17.5 million, and Japan - $10 million. Payments to the Fund are voluntary, keeping the devil at the centre of the details.
Following the three-day retreat held for Ministers, Special Advisers, Permanent Secretaries and heads of Agencies and Departments by President Bola Tinubu, rather belatedly, three weeks ago with the theme: “Delivering on the Renewed Hope Agenda” some of the Ministers have been jumping up and down, as if the Retreat was the shot in the arm they needed to shift out of their slumber. We have seen quite a number of body movements lately: from the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace, Festus Keyamo, telling the heads of agencies and parastatals under his Ministry that whoever wants to sabotage him through non-performance would be fired. The Minister of Women Affairs, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye has also made a big show of launching tricycles and sewing machines to empower women – the Pink Riders Transport Scheme. Candidly, I don’t know how many women ride tricycles across Nigeria, but it is the pattern around here that policies are often rolled out without thought or reason or prior research. The Minister of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy, Hannatu Musawa has also launched a road map for the cultural sector. But the Ministry that is the focus of this piece is Power, and its new Minister, Adebayo Adelabu, grandson of the inimitable legend, Adegoke Adelabu, a stormy petrel of Nigeria’s First Republic/Ibadan/Western region politics and brilliant author of the book, Africa in Ebullition. It must have occurred to Adebayo Adelabu that as Power Minister, he too must be seen to be doing something. So, shortly after the Presidential retreat, he called a press conference where in a copy-cat manner, he read out a riot act to the heads of agencies under his Ministry with the tone of condescension already copyrighted by Festus Keyamo: anybody that does not support me will be fired! President Tinubu may have to call the mini-Emperors, closet Headmasters, in his cabinet to order. Going about intimidating people with threats is not how to be a Minister. One Minister has even turned himself into a quasi-military administrator of the Federal Capital Territory!
However, Minister Adelabu has shown some enthusiasm for the job, and he should be advised on the basis of the things that he has said. On November 8, he told his audience, in addition to the afore-mentioned threat that (2) President Tinubu has directed that stable electricity supply must be achieved before anyone can raise the issue of cost-reflective tariff, which should have been done before now, but with the present administration having removed fuel subsidy, it would be politically inexpedient to add to the people’s burden by increasing electricity tariffs. Hence, the Federal Government is subsidizing electricity up to N70 per kilowatt hour whereas the actual cost should be about N130/N140 per kilowatt hour. Indeed in 2015, President Buhari disallowed the Multi-Year Tariff Order (MYTO). And (3), the Minister said it is shameful that Nigeria is generating just about 4,000 MW. Previously, he had promised that under his watch, Nigeria should have 20, 000 MW of electricity supply by 2026; (4) he promised to investigate the legality of the five-year license extension of the licenses given to Discos and Gencos which expired on October 31, 2023, and (5) he talked about government playing a more central role in the electricity sector. “I am determined to make impact”, he reportedly said.
I like his enthusiasm, but that is not enough. I have seen at least one detailed commentary, on aspects of the Minister’s rhetoric, notably Ijeoma Nwogwugwu’s “Penkelemesi in The Power Sector” (ThisDay, back page, Nov. 13). I want to add my voice to the conversation that my big worry is that Minister Adelabu has been sounding too strident as if he is a regulator. No, he is not, and he has to resist the temptation to keep sounding as if he is from the Moon. The remit of the Minister is policy and helping to provide an enabling environment for the sector to thrive. Nigeria needs a reform-minded Minister in the power sector. The Minister needs to break the jinx, and so, he cannot afford to gamble. The road map for the electricity sector in Nigeria was put in place from Obasanjo to Jonathan as Presidents. The latter kick-started a comprehensive reform. But under President Buhari the privatization and deregulation process got truncated, mismanaged, turned upside down. Nothing worked because there was no proper coordination in the whole of eight years. Nigeria would need a minimum of about 42, 000 MW to jump-start anything but here we are, at the level of 4,000 MW, far behind most African countries and yet our electricity needs, given our population, far outstrips the African average. South Africa with a population of 57.3 million people generates about 41, 194 MW and that is not even enough for it. The Minister is right when he describes the situation as shameful. It is embarrassingly obvious however that he has not been talking to industry stakeholders. Nigeria is not short of ideas. What we lack is effective implementation. He needs to set out by finding out what the problems are. Managing the electricity sector is a specialized job, and there are people in this country who know where the corpses are buried, and who the members of the dangerous cabal in that sector are. The more he talks, the more the cabal people will plot against him. He must ask questions from the regulatory agencies also: what is their roadmap? What happened to the original road map? He should study the terrain and simplify the issues through rigorous consultations. Why for example has the Electric Power Sector Reform Act of 2005, not worked? Who are the perpetrators of impunity, lapses and sabotage within the sector? Then he must clear the table: Nigeria’s electricity sector is corrupt. All the people feeding fat at the people’s expense, be they government officials or contractors, must be identified and sanctioned through a proper, preliminary audit of performance within the value-chain.
Minister Adelabu can learn from the experience of two previous Ministers. He knows Bola Ige, SAN, orator, lawyer, statesman who was Minister of Mines and Power (1999 – 2000). Upon assumption of office, Bola Ige of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), working for Obasanjo’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) government boasted that he was going to fix Nigeria’s electricity problems in six months. He underestimated the problem. Those were the days of National Electric Power Authority (NEPA). It is commonly agreed that Bola Ige was sabotaged by the generator importers and contractors who were making humongous profits from Nigeria’s inefficiency. Chief Ige later became the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice but his tenure in the Ministry of Mines and Power was a low point in his otherwise sterling career in Nigeria’s public space. The Obasanjo administration spent over $12 trillion on the power sector in eight years. Everything went down the drain. Years later, when former Governor of Lagos, Babatunde Raji Fashola was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari as Minister of Power, Works and Housing, and some people started suggesting that he had promised that he too would fix Nigeria’s power supply in six months, he quickly rushed to the media to say that he never said so. Buhari spent eight years but Nigeria still faces the crisis of epileptic power supply.
In fairness to Fashola though, he prioritized consultation with stakeholders. He held regular sectoral meetings, even if those meetings eventually degenerated into conflicts between him and the distribution companies (DISCOs), but those meetings offered him a better understanding of the sector, even if the challenges in the sector were overwhelming. Adelabu must proceed with a sense of history. There are other stakeholders in the sector that should be consulted: Dr. Ransom Owan, Dr Sam Amadi, both formerly of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Ambassador Godknows Igali, former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Power, Engr. Beks Dagogo-Jack, former Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Power and co-Chairman of the Committee on Gas to Power (2012 - 2014), Professor Chinedu Nebo who handed over the assets of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), successor of NEPA, to private investors in November 2013, Rilwan Lanre Babalola who was Minister of Power 2008 to 2010, and a host of others. They are in a position to show him where the corpses are buried in a sector that is practically a graveyard of hopes and aspirations! In his time, Professor Nebo, who is a man of the cloth promised that he would drive away the evil spirits in the power sector. Those evil spirits defied Nebo. They are still there. The Minister also needs to find out what happened with the Rural Electrification Agency which became a cesspool of corruption. Every Minister comes along with the promise to improve electricity supply but the only people who benefit from all the investments are corrupt people within the value chain. It has become fashionable to blame the DISCOs, who occupy the last mile of electricity delivery, but the problem is not with the DISCOs.
Has the Minister bothered to find out what happened or is happening to the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN)? The Nigerian Government appointed Manitoba, a Canadian Company to manage power transmission in Nigeria – a management contract of over $200 million. Money was released to Manitoba but the company was never allowed to function. It could not execute all the projects that it was supposed to manage and deliver upon. Manitoba has since left Nigeria out of frustration. The Transmission Company is now unfortunately in the hands of government officials, the same old NEPA officials whose cognomen is “Never Expect Power Always.” There must be an audit of TCN as soon as possible, and an urgent probe of all persons who have subverted government policy. Nigeria cannot continue to move from darkness to darkness – the unfortunate reality that we are dealing with is that there are incompetent people in the value chain. And how effective is the interface between TCN and the GENCOs and DISCOs? What happened to loans disbursed in the past? The other major challenge is the supply of gas. The Governor of Niger State has been asking for a share of the derivation fund because his state hosts hydro dams, and he thinks his people deserve more from the national cake because of the hydro dams in Kainji, Jebba, and Shiroro in his state. Some of these Nigerian Governors and Ministers sound like they just left primary school, but that is not the focus of this piece today. The truth is that in the power sector, the main source of power is gas-fired power – that is thermal power which relies on natural gas to generate electricity – about 85% gas as opposed to 15% hydro. Nigeria’s thermal plants include Olorunsogo, Geregu, Egbin, Omotosho, Afam, and Sapele. But gas supply is a problem, a big constraint for the GENCOS, in part because gas supply has not been decoupled from oil.
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been discussing the power sector with the Germans. Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor was in Nigeria on a state visit in October. Nigeria and Germany have had strong bilateral relations for more than 60 years. Recently, President Tinubu also travelled to Germany to attend the Compact with Africa summit on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting. He and Chancellor Scholz met again and one of the issues they discussed was Nigeria’s power sector and specifically Nigeria’s deal with Siemens, the German company with which the Buhari administration entered into an agreement – a three-phase plan to provide electricity in Nigeria. The agreement was signed under what was called the Presidential Power Initiative (PPI). By that plan it was expected that by 2023, Siemens would have provided up to 11, 000 MW. We are at year-end. That has not happened. Even the idea of mini-grids has not worked. Siemens is an equipment company, not a Transmission company, not a DISCO, but everyone refers to how that company has helped the electricity generation process in Egypt. Siemens has not worked well here because it is mired in Nigeria’s complex web of zero transparency and lack of accountability. As it turned out, Nigeria started adding other things, talking about local content. Which local content? What does Nigeria produce as local content in the electricity sector? Then, COVID-19. Then the Russia-Ukraine War. And then, no magic from Siemens. The German Chancellor reportedly told President Tinubu that generating the electricity is not the problem but Nigeria has to follow through at its end. He was absolutely right. Everything is about us. We have to follow through. Minister Fashola managed to plug some missing links in distribution because he paid attention. Adelabu must pay attention to details.
What is the way forward? The Minister must sit down with stakeholders. When they call him, he should have enough presence of mind to return their calls. He is holding a public office, not a private office. He must also work hard to dismantle the cartels in the sector. The industry needs to be more investor-friendly, and it is the duty of the Ministry to create an enabling environment. In addressing petty corruption in the sector, government also needs to focus on energy theft. More than 50% of the meters supplied so far to consumers are being by-passed. Nobody really wants to pay for electricity because the chaos in the sector is well known. To break the jinx, the TCN must be handed over to concessionaires. TCN and the Nigerian Gas Company are controlled by government. It is not clear how the industry can make progress if government continues to constitute itself into an obstacle. The Minister wants to review the extension of licenses. If he had done his home-work, he would have discovered that the extension is the result of a mutual agreement between government and the DISCOs – both parties having failed to fulfil their own parts of the bargain since 2013.
Going forward, the Tinubu administration must come up with a National Position on Power beyond the general statements in the 2023 election campaign manifesto. At pages 30 to 32 of the Renewed Hope Manifesto, Tinubu promised to eliminate the disconnect between generation and distribution, provide support for meter asset providers, investment for power in rural areas, power sector governance reforms, and what is generally described as “Nigeria First Power Policy.” I suggest that the President should set up a National Council on Power Reforms which will report directly to him, to begin a much-needed conversation about and around the electricity sector.
Nuhu Ribadu, former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) now Nigeria’s National Security Adviser has been very vocal lately and there may well be many out there who may be wondering why the NSA, effectively the country’s official “father of secrets” should be so loud in the public arena. The NSA in any country is an ultra-senior adviser to the President, counsellor and confidant on both domestic and foreign policies. He is also a coordinator of the country’s security network. But there is no manual as to the style or method that any NSA brings to the office. It is simply a matter of character and choice. A National Security Adviser may choose to be in the background or opt to be vocal like Zbigniew Brzezinski of the United States, and Henry Kissinger who was both NSA and Secretary of State in his time. Kissinger was so public and vocal, he often appeared as if he was sharing power with President Richard Nixon. It looks like Nuhu Ribadu, the current National Security Adviser of Nigeria has chosen to be up-front and centre-stage and we must pay attention to what he says. In the last week alone, he has spoken twice and his statements are pungent. First, on November 13, at the annual Conference of the Chief of Defence Intelligence, Ribadu disclosed that Tinubu inherited “a bankrupt country.” The theme of the Conference was “Leveraging Defence Democracy and Regional Collaboration and Enhanced National Security”. He told his audience: “We are facing very serious budgetary constraints. It is okay for me to tell you. It is fine for you to know. We have a very serious situation… We have inherited a very difficult country, a bankrupt country to the extent that we are paying back what was taken. It is serious.”
Ribadu repeated more or less the same concerns, a few days later at the 19th Annual Conference of All Nigeria Editors in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State where in addressing the theme: “Stimulating Economic Growth, Technological Advancement: Role of the Media”, he called for the support of all Nigerians in eliminating all forms of insecurity. Earlier, at the Defence Chiefs Conference, he had praised the military for their patriotism which had led to a reduction in the spate of violent deaths, (from 1, 200 to less than 100 deaths), and increase in crude oil production – from 900, 000 barrels per day under Buhari to 1.7 million barrels per day under President Tinubu. He further said that the Bola Tinubu administration is committed to tackling the challenges that Nigeria faces.
It was intriguing to see Nuhu Ribadu, a former Chairman of the EFCC in the role of a social critic. But he wasn’t saying anything new or original. As far back as August 2016, Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi had raised the alarm that the Buhari administration was running the Nigerian economy aground. He even gave six recommendations which the government of the day ignored. Seven years ago, Sanusi II also warned the government about the dangers of using foreign reserves to keep the exchange rate at its official level in the market. He said the policy would never work! Nobody listened. In more recent days, he has since reminded everyone how Buhari mismanaged Nigeria. Like Sanusi II, President Olusegun Obasanjo in the last seven years has also consistently accused the Buhari administration of spending recklessly and terribly lacking the understanding of economics. Obasanjo has not changed his mind that indeed Buhari caused Nigeria’s current economic woes due to sheer recklessness. Obasanjo and Sanusi II are not alone. In August, Senator Adams Oshiomhole also said the same thing. Wale Edun, the Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy told us, also in August, that the Tinubu administration inherited a “bad” economy with an unacceptable high rate of unemployment and inflation: “We met a bad economy and the promise of Mr. President is to make it better,” he said.
The question to ask is where was Ribadu between 2015 and 2023 under Buhari? Where was Wale Edun? Or Adams Oshiomhole, and all the self-styled economists now advising this administration? In 2019, Nuhu Ribadu was in fact the Director of Field Operations for the APC Presidential Campaign. He helped to bring Buhari back to power. Oshiomhole also campaigned for him. Were they deaf then to the protests by Sanusi II and Obasanjo that Buhari and his team were destroying Nigeria’s economy? What Ribadu, Edun, Oshiomhole and other APC figures now criticizing Buhari are doing amounts to self-indictment. They were part of the problem. And since Ribadu insists that the truth must be told: at what point did he discover the truth by the way?, let it be known that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu lacks the right to moralize over the failure of the Buhari government. Did he not boast in the domain of the man he called the Eleyi of Ogun State (Governor Dapo Abiodun) that he, Tinubu was the Godfather who re-discovered Buhari, told him to stop crying, and made him President. Where was he when his chosen President was mismanaging the economy? What did he do? Now that he has taken back what he believes rightly belongs to him, he now blames the APC “John the Baptist” at the Presidential Villa.
There is this traditional folk wisdom that says you can help a man to get a job, but you cannot help him to discharge the responsibilities that come with the office, how he goes about it is his responsibility. It is just that we are shocked to hear from NSA Ribadu that Buhari left an empty treasury and ran the country aground. Buhari met a country debt profile of N12.6 billion in 2015, he left behind N87 trillion debt in 2023! By May 29, 2023, Nigeria’s inflation rate was 24%, the country was left in such a stranglehold that by October, headline inflation had accelerated to 27.33%. Food inflation is now 31.52%, unemployment rate is over 50%. Buhari left behind a chaotic foreign exchange system, a weak, badly devalued national currency, a compromised, over-politicized Central Bank, a huge debt overhang with the debt service to revenue ratio at 98%. One of the major reasons Nigerians supported Buhari was out of the belief that as a retired Army General and a former military Head of State, he would be able to deal with the challenges of terrorism, insurgency and banditry head-long. Ribadu who is a policeman has disclosed that he did not make much difference. Buhari adopted the strategy of pacifying and appeasing terrorists. His administration gave criminals “aso ebi.” He served them pepper soup and jollof rice, under the guise of rehabilitation. Till the last moment, the Buhari administration blamed the Jonathan administration that preceded it for all its woes. Even when it became clear that the duty of every administration was to improve on the efforts of its predecessor, and that eight years was more than enough to make a difference, Buhari and his people continued to blame Jonathan.
But here is what Karma has served: in September, Mr Wale Edun said on record that the Jonathan administration stabilized the Nigerian economy, and that the last time the Nigerian economy functioned was under Jonathan. Since he left office, President Jonathan who marked his 66th birthday yesterday, has remained relevant. His example continues to endure as a gold standard for democratic conduct and sportsmanship. He did not play “do or die politics”. In the face of the desperation of APC politicians who were threatening to burn down the country in 2015, if they were not allowed to take power, he decided to walk away, and said Nigeria was more important than anyone’s individual ambition. Other African leaders have followed in his footsteps: John Mahama of Ghana and George Weah of Liberia. He is today one of the most sought-after former Presidents in the world – leading election observation missions and intervening in peace building processes. I doubt if any international organization would require President Buhari’s services any time soon.
I am in fact surprised that all the spokespersons of President Buhari who used to spit fire and brimstone have moved on. Notably. where is Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the former Minister of Information? He is now a Special Adviser to the Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). He has moved on. Femi Adesina, Presidential Spokesperson is now Vice Chairman of The Sun newspapers. He is a Pastor of the Foursquare Gospel Church. He has also taken a traditional chieftaincy title from his home town, Oluomo of Ipetumodu, in addition to chieftaincy titles he already had from Abia (Ugo Mba 1 of Isieketa) and Enugu (Nwanne di Namba of Nmaku). Pastor, multiple-Chief Femi Adesina has also moved on. In 2022, President Buhari, trying to show that he was determined to address the economic challenges that the country faced, decided to set up a Presidential Economic Advisory Council (PEAC) to replace the Economic Management Team led by then Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. The committee was chaired by Dr. Doyin Salami of the Lagos Business School (LBS). Members included Bismarck Rewane, CEO Financial Derivatives, Chukwuma C. Soludo, former CBN Governor and now Governor of Anambra State, Professor Ode Ojowu, Dr Mohammed Sagagi, Dr Salisu Mohammed, Iyabo Masha: all first-class brains in economics and finance. In 2022, Salami was later made Chief Economic Adviser to the President. It took President Buhari four years to set up an Economic Advisory Council and seven years to appoint a Chief Economic Adviser. Obviously, he didn’t think the economy was important as Obasanjo alleged. Exactly what kind of advice did he receive? We may never know. His economic advisers have all melted into the folds of the Nigerian jungle where anything is possible. They are all probably waiting for the next Nigeria Economic Summit Group meeting where they can sound off about macroeconomics, scenarios, and those cliches with which textbook economics lobby for appointments. They too have moved on, in search of the next client. The only man who seems to be hanging around - our good friend Garba Shehu, also seems to have gone possum.
After President Buhari left office on May 29, Garba Shehu stayed back to help manage communications. He was Senior Special Assistant (Media and Publicity) to President Buhari. He continues to function in that capacity in the private sphere, playing the role of an attacking midfielder in the Buhari team. Each time anybody tries to attack the Buhari record, he pounces, and provides an alternative view. One of the first pieces he wrote after May 29 was “One Hundred Days After Buhari”- an innovation in presidential communications. He has also had cause to tell us that Buhari brought Nigeria out of economic hardship, why Buhari could not remove fuel subsidy and that his boss is not responsible for Nigeria’s high inflation rate. When Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice said in an interview with Adesua Giwa-Osagie that the Buhari administration was “the most incompetent in Nigerian history led by a set of political morons”, Shehu was quick to go after Adoke with expletives. But why has Garba Shehu not responded to NSA Nuhu Ribadu who has in fact outrightly accused the Buhari administration of theft? It has been a week since Ribadu delivered his double bombshell, and we have not heard from Garba Shehu. Is Shehu afraid of the NSA? Is he also aware that former Minister of Communications under Buhari, Adebayo Shittu has said on Channels TV: “In Buhari’s government, if you don’t go and meet him for the next four years, he would probably would not ask of you.” Engr. Shittu, he probably was not aware of your existence! Deal with that, please. However, I have seen, as of the time of this writing, a statement by Mallam Shehu on X (formerly Twitter) to the effect that President Muhammadu Buhari himself would appear on NTA Network, Monday, in an interview session titled “A Conversation with History.” The interviewer should ask him: how and why did he bankrupt Nigeria? His handlers should advise him not to come up with the jaded, contrived, response that he inherited a bad economy, which has been exposed as a blatant lie by those who should know.
This is where the Tinubu administration seems to be different. Whereas the Tinubu team has been saying that Buhari ruined the Nigerian economy because he was the perfect clueless leader, they have also been forthright in saying that Tinubu is determined to correct whatever may have gone wrong. That is leadership. That is accountability. That is courage. In Mecca, Saudi Arabia, a week ago, Tinubu said yes, he inherited liabilities but he also inherited assets. But “we do not make any excuses”. That is what Nigerians want – a leader who would “not make any excuses”. Buhari and his team spent eight years giving one excuse or the other. Throughout, they blamed President Jonathan, and hounded his team. At other times it was COVID-19. Or the President’s health. Or the Russia-Ukraine war. They even blamed the weather! Meanwhile, they abused Ways and Means and broke the law. Tinubu says he will make a difference. We expect him to do so.
It is not enough however, for the National Security Adviser to tell us that Nigerians “face a serious situation” and that “we are paying back what was taken”. If indeed, it is fine for us to know as he says, then he has to come out with the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The country’s NSA cannot afford to sound like a social media commentator. He must back his claims with concrete evidence. For acknowledging the right of the people to know, can he please tell us: who took what away? How much was taken away? How much are we paying back? How much have we paid back so far? Who are those persons responsible for bankrupting Nigeria? By making the statements he made in Abuja and Uyo, he faces the test of transparency and accountability. Full disclosure cannot be a threat to national security. Having brought the matter to the public domain, the NSA is obliged to tell us more.
The major thing we know for now is the repeated disclosure by the Coordinating Minister of the Economy that Nigeria can no longer borrow to fund budget deficit, and that it would be unwise to borrow more when debt service to revenue ratio is 98%, and the budget as a percentage of GDP is 10%. Edun thinks the country should focus more on revenue generation through infrastructure. He was accompanied to the Joint Senate Committee by Zach Adedeji, Chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service and Ms. Patience Oniha, Director-General of the Debt Management Office (DMO). Patience Oniha? Yes, the same Ms. Oniha who used to tell us that there is nothing wrong with borrowing. Madam has started singing a new song…Oh la la…
Off-cycle elections in Nigeria are elections that are held outside the usual timetable for general elections. When Nigeria returned to democratic, civilian rule in 1999, the expectation was that elections would be held regularly across the federation in a four-year-cycle, but after the 1999 elections, many candidates went to court to protest the outcome of the elections in many states. The result was that the election petition tribunals removed some Governors and ordered re-elections. After the 1999 elections, off-cycle elections were held in eight states of the Federation. Thus, the decision of the courts which usually comes months after a Governor or a legislator may have been sworn in is the reason for the off-cycle elections. In 2003, in Anambra State, Dr. Chris Ngige had been sworn in as the Governor, on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but Peter Obi of the All-Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) objected to the results all the way to the Court of Appeal which ruled in his favour in March 2006. Ngige v. Obi went from the Tribunal to the Court of Appeal for over 34 months! It was possible given the position of the law at the time that the process could have gone on four years, and justice would not have been done.
Obi had to begin a fresh four-year term of four years, automatically pushing Anambra State out of the regular 4-year cycle. For this reason, Anambra’s next Gubernatorial election, going by the four-year cycle, would be in 2025 whereas Nigeria is due to hold general elections in 2027. Bayelsa is yet another example. Other examples include Edo State, Ekiti State, Kogi, Ondo, Osun, and Imo states. In Rauf Aregbesola and 2 ors v. Olagunsoye Oyinlola and Ors, in the 2007 elections, the petitioner did not get justice until three years later in 2010. There was hence a felt need for the review of the 2010 Electoral Act, especially with regard to the time frame for determining election petitions. Off-cycle elections have their roots in this regard.
President Goodluck Jonathan, after voting in Bayelsa state during the current off-cycle elections in Imo, Bayelsa and Kogi states has been quoted as having now expressed the view that the National Assembly should consider an amendment of the Constitution to put an end to off-cycle elections in Nigeria. With the off-cycle pattern already in place, post-1999, and the decisions of the courts on various election petitions, it would be difficult to see how that can be done without violating sections of the Constitution which obligatorily state the tenure for elected officers as four years, renewable every four years for the President and Governors, with a limit of two terms, and open-ended for legislators. The extension of that tenure by a day would be a gross violation of Section 135 (2) for the Presidential position, and Section 180 with regard to Governors. Besides, it was the case previously that election petition cases used to be heard in some cases, for three years as already indicated, creating room for grave injustices and limited access to justice. The 2002 Electoral Act and the 2006 Electoral Act did not specify time limitations for election petitions. This was the mischief that the amendment of Section 285(6) of the 1999 Constitution (by the First Amendment Act No 1 of 2010) sought to correct by limiting the hearing and disposal of petitions to 180 days, and 60 days for the appeals arising therefrom. These amendments arose from petitions to the 6th National Assembly to amend the Electoral Act and the 1999 Constitution.
The merit in President Jonathan’s statement is not that off-cycle elections would end, they have come to stay, but that there is indeed a need for amendments of the Constitution and the reform of the Electoral Act to deepen our electoral system. There are two arguments on the table: by those who argue that the time limitation in Section 285(6) of the 1999 Constitution often limits the intendment of Section 36 on fair hearing, and hence should be further extended, and the second by those who argue that in fact the time limitation should be reviewed to ensure that all election petitions should be determined within a shorter period and before anyone is sworn into office. In other words, it would amount to a miscarriage of justice for a person to enjoy the benefits of an undeserved victory only to be removed months later as in again Ngige vs Obi, or for the court to have its hands tied by the limitation of time as in Senator Adeleke v. Gov. Oyetola (2019). The prevalent opinion is that election petitions should be determined before anyone assumes office as is done in Kenya. Perhaps when this happens, the number of off-cycle elections would be reduced considerably. After every general election many issues are thrown up for further consideration and reform, and there are many that have been thrown up in such manner in recent times after the 2023 General election including time limits for election petitions, electronic transmission of results, the burden of proof, and whether or not our courts in determining election cases, should rely less on technicalities and lean more towards judicial activism as in Marbury vs. Madison, and Adegbenro vs. Akintola.
However, with regard to off-cycle elections, I recall that after the 1999 and 2003 elections, the dominant impression at the time was that such elections were necessarily good for the country’s “fledgling” (once upon a time, a famous phrase) electoral system. It was thought that they would provide the Electoral Commission and other stakeholders in the process an opportunity to correct whatever mistakes that they may have made in the main elections and respond also to omissions identified by the courts and the general public. Unfortunately, this has never been the case. Every off-cycle election is as bad as the main election, in many cases worse. Nigerian politicians and the various stakeholders are obsessed with their own greed, ambition and limitations. Nobody shows any capacity to learn any lessons, making every election the same of the same: the same incredulous pattern of criminality, conflict and capture. This is what the current off-season elections in Imo, Kogi and Bayelsa states have demonstrated. As usual, the various stakeholders observed the established pattern, elections having become hollow rituals in Nigeria.
Ahead of the elections, the National Peace Committee chaired by General Abdusalami Abubakar invited the gubernatorial candidates in the three states to a peace accord signing event. Out of the 16 candidates in Bayelsa State, 15 showed up, the only one who was absent, Udengs Eradiri of the Labour Party (LP) said his own party people hid the invitation away from him, so he did not know about the event and that in any case, even if he was invited, he was not interested in signing any peace accord in the company of the same perpetrators of violence, attending accord signing ceremonies they do not believe in. Indeed, in Bayelsa state, shortly after the signing of the peace accord, Bayelsa Governor Douye Diri (PDP), and his APC counterpart, Chief Timipre Sylva engaged in a war of words blaming each other for promoting violence.
In Imo State, 17 political parties signed the accord, but conspicuously absent were the candidates of the APC, the incumbent Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma, the Labour Party candidate, Senator Athan Achonu, and Senator Samuel Anyanwu, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate who by the way, arrived the venue and not sighting the candidates of the other two major parties decided to leave. He obviously considered voting for peace a matter of ego and status. Also absent were the candidates of the All-Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Tony Ejiogu, and Ben Odunze of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP). The running mates to the Gubernatorial candidates (APC, LP, and PDP) who were sent to represent their principals were not allowed to sign the accord. Party Chairmen were allowed to do so though. In Kogi State, 18 Gubernatorial candidates signed the peace accord, with John Cardinal Onaiyekan appealing to the conscience of the political parties and their candidates, urging them to play according to the rules of the game.
Apart from the signing of the peace accord, other stakeholders in the process assured Nigerians that they were ready. This was going to be an election in three senatorial zones (South South, South East and North Central) with a total of 5.169, 992 voters, in 10, 470 polling units across 649 wards in 56 Local Government Areas. INEC deployed 27 Resident Electoral Commissioners, 2 National Commissioners and 46, 084 regular and ad hoc staff. The police mobilized a total of 92, 565 personnel, including 27, 000 in Bayelsa, 25, 565 in Imo and 40, 000 in Kogi, with a Deputy Inspector General of Police leading the operation in each state assisted by AIGs and CPs, helicopters and 15 gunboats in Bayelsa. The political parties on their part deployed 137, 934 agents to cover the polling and collation centres. An off-cycle election in three states, limited only to Gubernatorial elections, would seem to be easier to manage than a general election in 33 states of the Federation. Everything also seemed set on the eve of the November 11 elections, but what happened?
Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), one of the many Civil Society Organizations that covered the election drew attention to the spate of violence, armed thuggery, and electoral fraud in the three states. HURIWA went further to advise losers not to bother to go to the courts to challenge the outcome of the polls in the three states because the judiciary cannot guarantee justice. HURIWA is wrong on that score. The judiciary is still the best forum for aggrieved persons in the electoral process, no matter how flawed to seek redress. Petitioners must always be encouraged to address their concerns through a recourse to due process and the rule of law, never through self-help. But as for violence, this was widespread in Imo where party Chairman of the Labour Party and an agent of the party were beaten up, in Bayelsa there were reports of shootings and killings before and during the election in Nembe, Basambiri, Brass, Southern Ijaw and Kolokuma-Opokuma.
In Brass LG, INEC officials were held hostage; in Yenagoa, there were street protests over results from APC strongholds in Nembe. The more astonishing report was the revelation that in Kogi state that certain persons were found with pre-filled election results forms even before the election commenced in five Local Government Areas, resulting in INEC’s decision to cancel the election in some polling units in the affected LGAs and to reschedule the elections for Saturday November 18 as follows: Ogoro-Magongo (9 wards), Adavi (5), Ajaokuta (5) Okehi (7) and Okene (5). The Civil Society Situation Room has asked that this should be investigated by INEC – how did sensitive election results forms get into the hands of unauthorized persons ahead of the election? Who did it? My fear is that the investigations may lead to nowhere.
Other election observers including Watching the Vote Initiative - YIAGA Africa, EU-sponsored TAF Africa and the Centre for Democracy and Development Election Analysis Centre (CDD-EAC) have all reported logistics challenges, vote-buying, and collusion between state government officials, security agents and electoral officials. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested 14 vote buyers in all three states. Udengs Eradiri in Bayelsa and Dino Melayein Kogi both further protested that indeed the level of vote buying was so overwhelming but they were not part of it. In many places, voting materials arrived late and the BVAS did not work as Senator Achonu claims. There were reports of discrepancies between the results at polling units and the data posted on the IREV portal. Even more bewildering is the report by YIAGA that INEC uploaded results for polling units where elections did not take place. How?
In all the three states, incumbency was a major factor, with Hope Uzodinma of Imo State winning by a wide margin of 540, 308 votes, his closest challenger, Samuel Anyanwu of the PDP- 71, 503 votes. Uzodinma has claimed this as a vindication of the fact that he truly won in 2019, and has won again leading in all the state’s 27 Local Governments. In Bayelsa state, incumbent Governor Douye Diri was declared winner with 175, 196 votes to defeat his closest rival, Sylva of the APC who polled 110, 108 votes (not so wide a margin in this case). In Kogi State, Usman Ododo, the anointed candidate of the incumbent and outgoing Governor, got 446, 237 votes to beat Muri Ajaka of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) who scored 259, 052 votes. But there is something even more noteworthy in the Kogi election. The people voted strictly along ethnic lines, with the people of Kogi West (the Okun people) playing the beautiful bride by pitching their tent with Kogi Central (the Ebira) to prevent the Igala (Kogi East), who had ruled the state for so long, and to prove to this dominant group that they do not have the advantage of the numerical strength that they claim. Usman Ododo is not necessarily a product of any grand strategy, but the Okun and the Ebira conspiring against the Igala, in the hope that if the Ebira end up spending 16 years in power as the Igalas did, they too, the Okun people will in the future be supported by the Ebira. This ethnic sub-text to Nigerian politics which rears its head at every cycle portends danger for the polity.
On the whole, there isn’t much to cheer about the conduct of the just-concluded off-season elections. The various stakeholders seem not to have learnt the right lessons. In all the three states, the opposition parties have called for the cancellation of the elections. Nigeria remains a work in progress.
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu recently proposed to the National Assembly a N2. 18 trillion supplementary budget - the details of which have generated much interest in the public domain, especially those aspects of the supplementary budget relating to expenditures not considered of urgent importance but now reintroduced into the existing framework. During the campaigns for the 2023 Presidential election, Tinubu as candidate had promised that he as someone with a financial background would pay careful attention to Nigeria’s borrowing profile, and that he would not increase the country’s debt burden by borrowing more for reasons of consumption. At the time, Nigeria’s debt burden was a problem: external debt stock was about $41. 69 billion in 2022, domestic public debt stock was in excess of US$100 billion.
The country’s Debt Management Office (DMO) even argued that the debt was sustainable, and that Nigeria in fact had one of the lowest debt-to-GDP ratios in Africa- in 2022, debt to GDP ratio in Africa was 56%, in Nigeria 38%. It was argued that Nigeria’s debt-carrying capacity was still strong. The World Bank recommends a tolerable debt-GDP ratio of 77%. We were told that debt should not be a problem, after all, the United States has a debt-GDP ratio of over 120 per cent and the country still functions. The counter-point to this, however, is the debt-service ratio. It was established by professional economists and the opposition in 2023, that debt-service was/is the major problem. By 2021, Nigeria was spending about 19% of its revenue on debt service; in 2023, this had increased to more than 90%. Nigeria, in 2023, had the fourth lowest revenue-GDP ratio in the world. Government revenue as a percentage of GDP is indeed abysmally low. With uncertainties in oil and gas revenues, and crude oil theft in the Niger Delta, Nigeria today is not so certain about its revenues. The default position has been to pay more attention to tax revenue.
Given this background, it is right to assume that the major priority for the Tinubu administration would be to address Nigeria’s debt burden and not worsen it, manage inherited circumstances prudently and give the people hope that there is truly a new dispensation in town. Nigerians during the elections beyond partisan considerations had hoped that the new administration that would emerge would reduce the cost of poverty, generate employment, promote economic growth, give jobs to the people, and generally reduce the cost of governance. There seems to have been a pervasive consensus that Nigeria is on the brink of insolvency, and that a new government by whatever label must act differently. The problem is not that President Tinubu asked for a supplementary budget. The questions are what for? how and why? At the recent Presidential retreat for leaders of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), long awaited, unnecessarily delayed but better later than never all the same, the President said that borrowing is not a crime and that he was determined to borrow and increase Nigeria’s debt profile more or less. Even the dumbest economist on the street would tell you that countries can always borrow, but such borrowings must place the country in a situation where it can pay its debts, create budget surpluses, invest in infrastructure and support small businesses. A country can also borrow to diversify the economy for tangible benefits. No serious country borrows for luxury, consumption, or to indulge the taste of the men in power.
The current controversy about the Tinubu administration’s request for a N2.18 trillion supplementary budget must be seen in this light. The Communication process has been bad. The management of the aftermath has been negligent. The details go beyond what is in the public domain. The breakdowns show that the Federal Government is looking for more money for the Defence headquarters, the Nigerian Army, Nigeria Navy, Nigerian Airforce, Defence Intelligence Agency, Police Formations and Command, the Federal Capital City Administration, Office of the National Security Adviser, Department of State Services, State House, Federal Ministry of Works,, construction of Highways in the North East, North West, South East, South West, South South, Agriculture, Bridges Intervention, and the Federal Ministry of Housing. It must be noted that Nigerians have not complained about aspects of this supplementary budget that would be of benefit to the Nigerian people. They have complained however about aspects of the budget relating to luxury items particularly with regard to the needs of the Nigerian Presidency namely, the proposed request for N4 billion for the renovation of the residential quarters for the President in Abuja; renovation of the residential quarters of the Vice President (Abuja) – N2.5 billion; Renovation of Dodan Barracks, Lagos, Official Residence of the President - N4 billion, Renovation of Official Quarters of the VP (Lagos) – N3 bn, Construction of Office Complex in the Presidential Villa - N4bn; Purchase of Presidential Yacht – N5 bn; Purchase of Vehicles for the Office of First Lady - N1.5 bn; Purchase of SUVs for the Presidential Villa - N2.9bn, and Replacement of Operational Vehicles for the Presidency – N2.9 bn. These details have sparked outrage, and in an understandable sense.
When President Tinubu assumed office on May 29, 2023, he declared to Nigerians that fuel subsidy was gone. This has brought great and untold hardship upon the people: increase in the cost of living, with headline inflation now at over 26%, the highest in 18 years, crisis with the Naira which has been yo-yo-ing, against the dollar, further driving up the cost of living and the widespread pandemic of poverty in the country. The consistent message by the Tinubu administration is that the people should be prepared to make necessary sacrifice: things may be rough, we have been told, but they will get better surely, so we the people, must be patient. The sheer commonsense of it would be that while the people of Nigeria are facing serious hardship, their leaders who are prescribing austerity would also demonstrate that they are with them, on their side, and ready to suffer along with the people until the country gets out of the woods. More so, they have a President who has been there at the battle front of democracy, at the barricades, and who cannot claim that he does not understand how the people feel. His wife even recently boasted that she and her family do not need Nigeria’s money. So, what is the problem? Why do they want new cars and renovated quarters? Why can’t they wait?
The problem is that the President is sending wrong signals with regard to the issues highlighted above that need to be addressed. There is a tendency for people in government to live in the Rose Garden and dismiss the people as ignorant. This would be a wrong approach as it was in the past, as it is now, as it would always be. The people have both the need and the right to know. At the risk of over-simplification, it is the duty of government to continuously explain to the people and re-build their trust and confidence, even when the matter appears mundane, self-evident, and self-explanatory. One of the major risks of democracy is that those who govern may be dealing with a patently dumb population, but the people must never be treated as dumb, because they may be quick to learn and ask the right questions and their dumbness could become historical wisdom. True sovereignty in that regard belongs to the people. Power belongs to the people as the lesson has been learnt in such places as France in 1789, 1830, and 1848 and in Brazil in 1835, 1964 and 1972.
It is therefore important to listen carefully to what the people of Nigeria are saying. They seem to be saying that it is wrong for President Tinubu to tell them during the campaigns that brought him into office that he will reduce Nigeria’s debt stock, and would focus more on productivity, to now come around and announce that borrowing is not a crime. Nobody has ever said that borrowing is a crime. It is what you do with it that matters, and when you make a promise, you keep it – a matter of honour. We admit that most of the details in the supplementary budget are not controversial, except those sections relating to luxury. New vehicles for the office of the First Lady! What on earth is that? An average Nigerian who is finding it difficult to buy ordinary recharge card, or buy fuel, is bound to ask. They didn’t vote for Mrs.Tinubu, they seem to be asking. So why should her office show up in the budget of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? Again, the State House wants to change vehicles? Nigerians have had cause to draw attention to the example of President Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia who refused to change official vehicles after assuming office. There is a video of the Zambia President out there which simply says he wants to serve not to indulge in the pleasures of office. For those who are in doubt, at least one Nigerian newspaper has written a full editorial on the subject: The Daily Trust asks: “Why should the Presidency make a budget for a new fleet of cars for the First Lady’s entourage? What happened to the vehicles used by former First Lady Aisha Buhari? What happened to the pool cars used by former President Muhammadu Buhari? What happened to the cars used by former Vice President Yemi Osinbajo? How many times will the Presidential lodges be renovated?” (Monday, Nov. 6). But what really stands out, and made to look like a scandal is the reported plan to buy a yacht for the President under the budget of the Nigerian Navy. A Yacht for the President, at a time when the people find it difficult to pay for transportation? The outrage has been loud and deafening
As it happened, the House of Representatives resolved that the N5 billion earmarked for this yacht should be added to the proposed supplementary budget for students’ loans – in itself another controversial proposal, with the details so opaque. A budget is a proposal after all. It is not binding until it is appropriated by the National Assembly. But the narrative that later came out is that the controversial Presidential Naval Yacht was actually ordered by the Nigerian Navy under the previous Buhari administration. It was delivered in June 2023. It showed up in the 2022 Supplementary Budget proposed by President Tinubu because Nigeria has an obligation to pay on delivery. International transactions are governed by strict laws under the rules of international trade. Without being pedantic by quoting the rules and structures of international trade, it looks like in this particular transaction, Nigeria has bought itself a Presidential yacht. The country has an obligation to pay. The documents of sale have been received. The yacht has been delivered, and this really looks like a CIF sale. The seller is not obliged to worry about Nigeria’s domestic politics. The details of the contract of sale not being in the public domain, this is the best assumption that can be made.
However, what Nigerians must note is that Nigeria used to have a Presidential Yacht. Nigeria had a yacht called NNC Runa Yaro. It was later named AMARIYA. The luxury boat was seized from a former Governor of Rivers State and handed over to the Nigerian Navy. It was re-purposed for both luxury and training operations. President Shehu Shagari used it. General Babangida also travelled with the yacht once to the Republic of Benin to attend an ECOWAS meeting. President Olusegun Obasanjo hosted visiting Presidents on the vessel. In 2011, the vessel was decommissioned. Indeed in 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari had asked for the vessel to be used to take the Prince of Wales to sea only to be told that the vessel had been decommissioned. The Nigerian Navy was then told to source for a new option. This is the background, but it is not even the entire story. There is another story that the Nigerian Navy had in fact as far back as June 2010 asked the Nigerian Government, Dr Goodluck Jonathan was President at the time to review the Presidential Naval fleet and buy a new yacht ahead of the country’s 50th Independence celebrations. President Jonathan reportedly turned down the request.
Nigerians are angry again because not even the United States has a presidential yacht. The last Presidential yacht in the US, the USS Sequoia was decommissioned in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter and sold off. The key difference is that whereas the Americans have many options, most Nigerian Naval vessels cannot function. They are like the refineries. Even our flagship NNS Aradu cannot move, and with that being the case, Nigerians have every reason to be angry that anyone at all can talk about a yacht, the simple dictionary definition of which is about pleasure and luxury! Should there be a military challenge against Nigeria tomorrow, are we likely to go to the battle field with a luxury boat and Big Brother Naija actors? But we have bought a luxury boat guys, and we are obliged to pay for it. While other countries of the world are getting serious, we are busy thinking of luxury for staff and wives and…What a country! No yacht for President Tinubu.
On Thursday, October 26, the Supreme Court of Nigeria gave its judgment in the appeals by Waziri Atiku Abubakar and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and Mr. Peter Obi and the Labour Party (LP) challenging the September 6 judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) which affirmed Tinubu’s victory in the February 25 Presidential election. The appellants sued on the common ground that the lower court erred in law in its rulings on Tinubu’s failure to obtain 25% of the total votes cast in the Federal Capital Territory and whether Section 134 (1) (2) of the 1999 Constitution should be read “conjunctively or disjunctively”; the civil forfeiture by Tinubu of $460, 000 in the United States with regard to his eligibility under Section 131 of the Constitution, INEC’s failure to transmit results electronically, the ruling by the court of first instance that the appellants failed to prove that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), violated the Electoral Act 2022, and the request for the leave of court to file fresh evidence obtained from the Chicago State University (CSU) and US District Courts with allegations of discrepancies and forgeries in Tinubu’s academic records. The Atiku/PDP team raised, in general, 35 grounds of appeal. The Peter Obi/Labour Party team of counsel raised 51 grounds of appeal in a 73-page notice of appeal.
A panel of seven Justices of the Supreme Court, with Justice Inyang Okoro, presiding, and Justices Uwani, Musa-Aji, Ibrahim Salauwa, Mohammed Lawal Garba, Tijjani Abubakar, Adamu Jauro and Emmanuel Agim consolidated both appeals into seven grounds, and on every ground dismissed the appeals as frivolous, vexatious and lacking in merit and hence thereby dismissed. Their Lordships had initially reserved judgment but when they finally delivered their judgment, three days later, they came out smoking. It was a unanimous judgment with their Lordships even warning the public to refrain from media trial, and to “trust the Court”, instead of sending threatening messages to judges and justices. I have argued that while judicial review is an important part of the judicial process, and public opinion is critical to the democratic process as Professor Barry Friedman has argued eloquently, it is just the case that courts of law do not take decisions on the basis of the opinion of the mob, moved more by emotions and sentiments, beer parlour engagements and social media tittle-tattle. This much has been well-stated per Niki Tobi JSC in Atiku Abubakar vs Umaru Musa Yar’Adua,and most recently by Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, CJN. Judges are members of the community. Their wives and children or husbands go through the same things as the rest of us. They also watch television and listen to the news. But when they are required to apply the law, their calling requires them to be above board like Caesar’s wife, and to be impartial no matter whose ox is gored.
In Nigeria today, most unfortunately, judges and justices are treated like closet criminals and are believed to be so. The Supreme Court is supposed to be the last hope of the common man, but with some problematic judges in recent times, so much doubt has been created among the people. The Hon. Justice Chukwudifu Akunne Oputa, Socrates of the Supreme Court as he was then popularly known, had addressed the matter when he opined that “we are final not because we are infallible, rather we are infallible because we are final.” The meaning is that the Supreme Court may make mistakes but it is the final court, beyond it, you can only appeal to God. Funnily enough, it is only the Supreme Court that can reverse itself, and it has had to do so in many cases in the past. But I insist as I have done that whereas the courts of equity may give the impression that the law is moral, and the study of jurisdiction having strong basis in morality and ethics, or that the foundation of law is the common good, in actual practice our courts are guided by what the law says it is.
They are guided by specific sources of law: received English law (circa 1876 and 1900) as represented by the common law, the doctrines of equity, and the English statutes of general application, international customary law by incorporation, local legislation, decisions of Nigerian courts (that is, stare decisis), rules of court and procedure. In considering all of this, I am of the firm view that the Okoro-led panel of seven JSCs, gave a judgment that is sound in law, and I restate this for record purposes. For example, when the Atiku/PDP camp embarked on a voyage of discovery to the United States about Tinubu’s certificates, I argued that the matter being brought out of time under Section 285 of the Constitution, and not pleaded and not proven in the court of first instance may eventually be of no moment. Hakeem Olaniyan in his Jurisdiction of Nigerian Courts in Causes with Foreign Elements (2013)and I. O. Agbede in his Themes on Conflict of Laws (1989) had raised the point that for a foreign element to be admissible in a foreign jurisdiction, facts must be pleaded and proven. It is elementary law that you plead facts not the law in private international law. Local laws also take precedence, and where the matter lacks the element of reciprocity, the court in the local forum decides on key questions of jurisdiction, which is the fountain head of the authority of the court and applicable law. A court can however assume jurisdiction, but this is at the discretion of the court. What their Lordships did was to uphold the jurisdiction of the lower court. They were also on terra firma on questions of recognition, relevance and admissibility of evidence. The other point on which I think they stood firm was their point that the argument about electronic transmission had been determined. This had been addressed in Oyetola vs Adeleke. Here, Emmanuel Agim JSC, presiding, held that “the case of the petitioners that the presiding officers were bound to instantly or on the spot transmit the number of accredited voters in the back-end server to INEC has no support.” A related matter in the October 26 matter was the burden of proof. The Supreme Court dismissed the arguments of the appellants with regard to the credibility of witnesses. It added that they were “octopus agents.” There are other key issues in that ruling that cannot be faulted in law qua law, no matter the emotional choices of appellants and their paid agents and public commentators.
The sum effect of the judgment is that the litigation with regard to the Presidential election has ended. Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been confirmed as the winner of the February 25, 2023 Presidential election. The Supreme Court has conferred on him the much-needed legitimacy. He has been given the de jure authority to act as President of Nigeria, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. He can now sit with the two laps of his buttocks on the seat. He is affirmed. The threat by some interested parties and their agents that they will settle the matter in the court of public opinion is foolhardy. It seems to me that we have moved beyond political campaigns. It is now time for governance and policy. President Tinubu has asked his opponents and others to join him to build a country and move Nigeria forward. There must be an end to litigation, and it has ended within the provided framework. President Tinubu must reach out honestly to the opposition and run a diverse, inclusive government of national unity. Certainly not a turn-by-turn government. The major opposition figures – Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi have so far refused to congratulate him. I think their sour grapes look untidy. In critical moments such as this in the life of a nation, men and women should behave as patriots and put Nigeria first. No man should be good enough to run the country if he or she believes that personal ambition must come first. The opposition is required to play its part but the obsession with “me, I and myself” is deplorable.
Many would remember the example of Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States, and the Bush vs. Al Gore case that was decided on December 12, 2000, in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled against the order of the Florida Supreme Court for a selective manual recount of the election. It was generally believed that the Supreme Court in awarding Florida’s 25 Electoral College votes to George W. Bush (Republican) erred in law. The margin of victory was so close it was clear Gore won in Florida. Gore in fact led by 327 votes. But Gore allowed it all to go. He disagreed with the Supreme Court of course, but chose not to be disagreeable in deference to the apex court of the country. I think there is a big lesson here that we all can learn across party lines.
In the 2023 general elections both the Constitution and the Electoral Act 2022 were put to the test. Certainly, there is a need for reform, and the National Assembly has a big job to do. One, the point has been made clear, even by mechanics and others, that a situation whereby a man or woman wins an election by every means possible in Nigeria and then turns around to say brazenly: “Go to Court!” is unacceptable. Why? Increasingly, the courts determine election outcomes. Our democracy would be better strengthened if candidates in an election do not have to go to the courts to seek validation. It is one reason people are asking that we must develop a system whereby people win at the polls not in the courts. Besides., where there are election petitions, these must be concluded before anyone is sworn in as is the case in Kenya. Where a supposedly elected person is already sworn in and he begins to exercise formal authority, as President Tinubu has been doing since May 29, the hands of the courts may be tied by public policy even if they may not say so. Other necessary amendments may be with regard to qualification and eligibility. Nobody who does not have a certified minimum of a higher degree must never be allowed to run Nigeria! The phrase “school certificate or its equivalent” (section 131 (d) and the dubious interpretation in Section 318 (1) must be expunged from the Nigerian Constitution! This country deserves to be led by its educated and enlightened class. What scandalous provision is that that makes it possible for anyone with a failed, F9 parallel school certificate to run this country. The National Assembly must also take a second look at the provision on electronic transmission of results. It is too opaque. It appears like a ceremonial, decorative provision in the Electoral Act. The law must pass the test of certainty not ambiguity. Manual transmission or electronic transmission? Let’s be clear.
Lawyers must also draw their own lessons from the Supreme Court Judgment of October 26. Their Lordships were not kind to the appellants counsel at all. As I noted on Arise News before now, they simply threw the textbook at them. They faulted them on the subpoena of witnesses, their understanding of the rules of court, even Section 12 of the Supreme Court Act, stare decisis and the meaning of Section 285 of the Constitution with regard to the time limitations of election petitions. Among the lawyers are Senior Advocates of Nigeria, masters of the law with years of experience, but they chose to mislead their clients. Why? Every lawyer is trained to be an officer in the temple of justice, that is to defend the cause of justice which is the end of law. Going forward, the Nigerian Bar Association has a lot of work to do: to protect the integrity of the Bar, inner and outer. Having a situation whereby lawyers behave like ambulance chasers for quick monetary gain defeats the entire purpose of the administration of justice system. It is precisely for this reason that George Chapman in his 1654 play, Revenge for Honour referred to the law as an ass. The same view is echoed by Mr. Bumble in Charles Dickens’ novel, Oliver Twist. Lawyers must stop behaving like donkeys, and it is the responsibility of the NBA and the NJC to put a stop to this through stronger codes of conduct.
Since the Supreme Court judgment, I have seen the public opinion mob referring to the valedictory speech by Justice Dattijo Muhammad (JSC, now retired) for confirmation of their conviction that the Supreme Court is a rotten place and that the entire judiciary is bad. I have had cause to question Justice Dattijo’s choice of forum: after serving 47 years in the judiciary, he chose the moment of his exit to throw the entire judiciary under the bus. He was the most senior Justice on the Bench, after the CJN, yet he complained about the Chief Justice running a one-man show. I have tried to compare his valedictory speech to that of Justice Odemwingie Uwaifo, January 24, 2004 titled “May the Supreme Court Never Become an Undergrowth.” Whereas Uwaifo JSC was cautionary, Dattijo Muhammad was combative, his speech full of direct, unmistakable innuendoes, a clear indication that judges and justices are also human beings and can descend to the arena like market women. It is the integrity of the entire judiciary that is further damaged. For timing purposes, Dattijo Muhammed simply poured cold water on the October 26 judgment of the Supreme Court in the Tinubu case.
Nonetheless, I find much wisdom in Olisa Agbakoba, SAN’s submission, supporting Dattijo JSC (as he then was) that there is an urgent need for judicial reform. Agbakoba also draws attention to the recommendations of a Judicial Reform Stakeholders Committees Reports, 24 – 26 October 2011, chaired by Justice Dahiru Musdapher, CJN of which he, (Agabakoba), was a member. Justice Musdapher refused to appoint his daughter as a Justice of the High Court even when she was eminently qualified. Dattijo tells us that these days, “children, spouses and mistresses” are now routinely appointed Judges. That is scandalous. Dattijo also complained about the over-concentration of power in the office of the CJN. The NJC in particular needs to be reformed. He complained further about vacancies on the Supreme Court Bench that have not been filled. The country now has only about 10 JSCs. This should be addressed and it is about time we began to admit lawyers and scholars to the Supreme Court Bench as they do in Canada to ensure diversity and inclusivity to enrich our jurisprudence. Above all, there is a lesson for the President himself. He now has a government to run. He must do so in the best interest of all concerned parties to justify the legitimacy conferred on him.
Writing this piece, I am aware that perhaps the biggest lessons and examples in leadership and management in the world today, trapped as it is in a season of crisis are better extracted from the Russia vs. Ukraine war, as well as the Israel vs. Hamas war that broke out subsequently on Saturday, October 7, and the concerted efforts by the international community to safeguard international humanitarian law, the body of legal codes guiding armed conflict. In this regard, we have heard the voices of President Joe Biden of the United States and the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, now on a frantic shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East, UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak also in the Middle East trying to make peace from Jordan to Israel and elsewhere. And the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, of whom Josef Stalin in 1943, legendarily, perhaps apocryphally, once asked: how many divisions does the Pope have?
The Pope incidentally does not command divisions. He wields strong moral and spiritual authority, and this is what Pope Francis has done by calling on all the warring parties in the Middle East, this last Sunday, to give peace a chance by respecting international humanitarian law. He has asked for prayers around the world today, Tuesday, October 17, for peace. It is a charge from the Pope for an urgent need for leadership in the world, in the face of the failure, if not the ineffectuality of the divisive United Nations Security Council (UNSC). It is not certain that anyone would listen. The same US that is talking across board, even via back-door channels to China, to rein in Iran, has sent in two military carriers to back up Israel, similarly in Europe the sentiment on official sides is pro-Israel.
Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister has vowed to “demolish” Hamas, the Palestinian militant group and inflict a long and prolonged war. Israel however faces war from three fronts: Lebanon from where the Hezbollah has already fired rockets into Northern Israel, and Israel has retaliated, and also from Gaza and Syria. The fear that the situation could escalate rapidly is well-placed. For more than 100 years, the world has tried to deal with the menace and the barbarity of war by creating structures for managing conflict. It would appear however that the prevailing logic is the position by Carl von Clausewitz, in his book, On War (1943). Clausewitz was a Prussian military strategist whose theory of state was perhaps stronger than his theory of war, given his argument that “war is politics by other means among states.”
The reality is that the world has been torn apart by this corrosive, selfish ambition of states couched in nationalistic terms or as patriotism but nonetheless most of the distortions of the last three centuries and even earlier have persisted. It is a throw-back to the selfish nature of man. Netanyahu, Mohammed Deif and all the other leaders involved in the current conflict claim that they are fighting for their own people’s interests. In doing so, they and their allies are not too keen about the humanity of others. Pope Francis’s intervention is a throw-back to the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949, the additional protocols of 1971 and 2005 and the guidelines of 2009, which taken together uphold the connecting, common Article 3 of the Conventions to wit that war no matter how tough must have a human face: there must be a humanitarian corridor, as the Pope demands, non-combatants, children, Prisoners of war, the sick and the wounded must be protected, relief providing bodies like the Red Cross, the Red Crescent and others must be allowed access to the distressed and the wounded. In the Israel vs. Hamas conflict, over 4, 000 persons have been killed, more than 3, 000 are injured, over 7, 000 have been displaced, and the casualties continue to increase. Hamas is still bombing Israel. Israel is insisting that hospitals in Gaza must be evacuated. We have seen similar barbarity between Russia and Ukraine. Before now, Russia not only cut off energy supplies to Europe, it also shut down the major global food supply route.
The story of Israel vs Hamas is about “terrorism, evil and hate”. In. 1917, the British, through Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour announced the establishment in Palestine of “a national home for the Jewish people”, and “will use the best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire, at the end of World War I, the British took control of Palestine until Israel emerged as an independent state in 1947/48. The objectives enunciated by Balfour have never been met since then. Israel has known no peace from Palestinians and the Arab States who object to its existence. The conflict between Jews and Arabs is more than a century old, dating back to ancient times, further made worse by conflicts over historical sites and monuments. Everything came to a head on October 7, with the surprise attack on Israel, on a holy day, 50 years almost to the day after a similar attack on Israel by Egypt and Syria, the Yom Kippur war of 1973. Since then, the world has been scrambling to manage the situation and find leadership. The conflict reminds us poignantly of the failure of leadership from Babylonian times to the British, the United Nations, and the reign of evil/hypocrisy in our world and the increasing helplessness, non-meaning and expendability of man, in a world driven by might and arrogance. Man qua man is the biggest threat to humanity, and world peace. The world has failed Israel, and also the Palestinians.
II. CAC And NIPOST
Our second lesson in management and leadership is local, and closer home and it has to do with the contrastive dramas that we have seen this week, at the Corporate Affairs Commission of Nigeria (CAC) and the Nigeria Postal Service (NIPOST). In recent appointments, President Bola Tinubu reportedly changed the CEOs of the two government agencies. The reactions by the staff have been different, somewhat hilariously morbid and of a burlesque nature but useful all the same as case studies in management and the nature of man. On Monday, it was announced that the Registrar-General and CEO of the CAC, Garba Abubakar had been removed, and upon hearing the news of his removal, lawyers, law firms and staff of the CAC broke out in jubilation.
Lawyers accused Abubakar of messing up the CAC, even when no one knows what awaits the agency with the appointment of a replacement, Hussaini Mogaji (SAN). What I found even more shocking is the fact that yesterday, the staff at the CAC headquarters in Abuja recruited a musical band to celebrate the exit of their former boss. They put up banners and placards calling Abubakar an “emperor” and “a vicious tyrant”, and as the band belled out tunes, they danced joyously. They even prayed for the new CAC CEO and sang in praise of President Tinubu: “On your mandate, Tinubu, we shall stand” to pledge their loyalty.
They accused the former CAC CEO of being too wicked. Mr. Abubakar has not been given an opportunity to defend himself, and he may take all the staff complaints about his failure to attend to staff welfare, nepotism, high handedness, arrogance, abuse of office, backwardness and insensitivity… in his stride. But still I do not think that the CAC should become a hideout for closet politicians. There is a lesson here however, for all managers and chief executives. In the CEO Handbook, managers and CEOs are expected to be people persons, exhibit emotional intelligence and realize the simple fact that any organization is only as successful as its people. The complaints about Mr. Abubakar’s tenure by lawyers and CAC customers may have been a direct consequence of the former CEO’s disconnect with his own team. This may not be the first time this kind of reaction will occur. There have been reports of former CEOs who were not even allowed to return to the office to clear out their offices, after their departure. The banner at the CAC headquarters in Abuja listing Abubakar’s offences should be photographed and used as reference material in the teaching of management and leadership.
In contrast, yesterday, however, there was a different situation at NIPOST. The new NIPOST boss, Post-Master General/CEO, Tola Odeyemi whose appointment was announced on October 11, had gone to the headquarters to assume duties. The workers said they did not want her. They carried placards and blocked the gate. They insisted they preferred the former Post-Master General, Adeyemi Adepoju. Somehow, Ms. Odeyemi managed to find her way in at about 1 pm to meet with top Directors of the agency. Having been met with such hostility, and the pro-Adepoju sentiments of the staff, the lady rejected the seat that she was offered and chose to sit elsewhere. This one is clearly a superstitious appointee! If she survives the storm, she would be the first female to be appointed head of NIPOST, which by the way, is a moribund organization despite the massive assets it owns across Nigeria. But the staff seem to like the former Post-Master General. The uncertainty that now hangs over Odeyemi’s appointment is not helpful. Whatever may have recommended the former CEO to the staff as a good leader, the Presidency must quickly clarify the situation at the agency. Was the former Post Master General reinstated after his sack? What is his exact status today? Heads of MDAs hold their positions at the pleasure of the President, on whose behalf every appointee executes delegated authority. We can only hope that if Odeyemi survives her present ordeal, she would be confident enough subsequently, to sit on the CEO’s chair and endeavour to make the kind of difference that would endear her to the staff. Again, the personnel make much difference in any organization. They do the work. They write obituaries.
III: Nigeria Goes A-Borrowing?
One of the issues during the Presidential campaigns for the 2023 general elections was Nigeria’s debt profile. The point was made repeatedly that Nigeria ‘s debt burden was too high, but the Debt Management (DMO) kept insisting that Nigeria could in fact borrow more money, because we had a relatively low debt burden compared to other African countries. Those who should know argued then that the problem was that the country was borrowing not for productivity, but crass assumption. By the time the Tinubu administration assumed office in May 29, the debt profile had grown bigger with about 98% country revenue to debt service ratio. Subsequent disclosures showed that inflation was well over 26%, food inflation much higher, the foreign reserves was down to a paltry $4 million, equivalent of just 4 months of imports, the country’s unemployment rate was over 36%, later reviewed strangely downwards, through voodoo methodology. But more persons had slipped into multidimensional poverty. By the time President Tinubu took key steps in the economy: removal of fuel subsidy, that the Buhari administration tactfully dodged, and the harmonization of the foreign exchange regime, our nightmare was complete.
To address this, the government of the day has been busy announcing palliatives and loans, up to about N3. 27 trillion that would be used to alleviate the suffering that has descended heavily on the land: as follows: N200 billion to boost agriculture, N75bn for manufacturers, N125 bn for MSMEs and the informal sector, N185 billion as palliatives for states, N1 trillion as student loans, N315 billion to pay federal workers allowances for six months, N1. 13 trillion to 15 million households at N25, 000 for 3 months, N100 billion to acquire 3, 000 units of 20-seater CNG fuelled buses, N70 billion as palliative for lawmakers, N75 billion loan for market women… and so on. The way this Nigerian government has been announcing a spending spree of billions since June 2023 is frightening. Wale Edun, the Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy has said the country will no longer rely on Ways and Means. So where is the money to run the economy and fund wastage and leakages coming from? Even the IMF/World Bank, at their recent Annual Summit in Marrakech, Morocco while praising recent reforms in Nigeria have said openly that the Naira is under pressure, with inflation at 26% year on year, and while reviewing Nigeria’s growth projection downwards, advised that Nigeria has to tighten monetary policy and address its foreign exchange to build trust and confidence. IMF says it is willing to lend Nigeria money if it is approached by Nigerian authorities. May we not end up like Sri Lanka and Venezuela. And Ghana next door.
The truth is that we have been on a borrowing spree since June 2023: $449 million in IBRD loan and $301 million IDA credit totalling $750 million, $500 million from the World Bank to invest in improving livelihoods of Nigerian women; in July, it was further reported that Tinubu’s administration is to take $800 million pre-approved loan to cushion the effect of fuel subsidy removal, by September 2023, within three months, Nigeria had borrowed $1.95 bn from the World Bank. By last weekend, it was reported that Nigeria was poised to borrow an additional fresh loan of $1.5 billion from the World Bank, what is otherwise called HOPE loan. Who is going to pay? Hope? How? The projected revenue of N10 trillion for 2023 cannot support fresh borrowings. The Senate has asked the government to bring a supplementary 2023 budget, nobody has said anything, perhaps because the lawmakers themselves have been allocated N70 billion for expensive SUV vehicles. Yesterday was World Food Day, food inflation in Nigeria is above 24%, much higher in some of the states. And yet on top of it all, the government continues to make appointments on a daily basis, driving up the cost of governance. One or two Governors have more than 50 media aides, most of them bearing the same titles, doing nothing.
Is the Tinubu government planning to run the country by borrowing? Some commentators have praised the choice of President’s economic managers: Wale Edun – Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy, Yemi Cardoso – Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and Abubakar Bagudu, Minister of Budget and National Planning, but all the praise from the international community about suitability just because these managers appear to be dancing to the tunes of the neo-liberal economists at the IMF and the World Bank would be of no use to Nigeria, if the average citizen can no longer eat bread or corn. Nigerians cannot be fed with rhetoric and platitudes. Can we stop the grandstanding, and do real work? It is a question of management and leadership.
When in 1992, James Carville, Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist uttered the quip on television: “It’s the economy, stupid”, little could he have realized that he had pronounced a phrase that would reverberate beyond the United States and become a benchmark in other presidential campaign processes. Carville spoke in the context of the 1992 US Presidential campaign by the Democrats against incumbent President George H. W. Bush, that is Bush, the father. As a strategist for Bill Clinton, he merely played up the recession in the United States. He talked about change vs more of the same, the economy and healthcare.
The phrase has caught on since then, not just in the United States but across the world and applied instructively to anything that is considered of high priority. Carville, now 78, in at least one interview is now wondering why President Biden’s approval ratings remain so low despite the fact that unemployment in the United States is at an historic low and inflation is on a downward trend. The economy seems to be doing well under Biden, but it has not increased ratings. The paradox speaks to a certain disconnect, reasons for which may have to be sought elsewhere. What cannot be controverted however is that economic performance is directly linked to the people’s well-being, and the spread of prosperity. In the United States, many Presidents were punished for failing to get the economic framework right: Jimmy Carter, George W. H. Bush. The role of the economy in elections, and government’s performance would always be a major issue, and in that regard, James Carville may be rest assured that he has added a phrase into leadership and governance that may well ring true for all times. The state of the economy determines the people’s level of happiness, the opportunities that are available to them and their capacity for self-belief and actualization. Even in the United States, there is currently a raging debate about Bidenomics between the Republicans and the Democrats, coloured as expected, by partisan interests. The times keep changing but concerns about the economy remain crucial.
And that leads us to the relevant question here: how is the Nigerian economy faring under Tinubu, five months after the assumption of office? Are we better today than we were under President Muhammadu Buhari, the man who has been described as the perfect exemplification of the words “slow” and “clueless”. Nigerians oftentimes do not know what is good for them. They voted for the same man twice and kept him in office for eight years and there are millions out there who believed and may still believe that he was the best choice for Nigeria. I am worried, and for this reason, by the year 2035, Nigeria’s population would have increased to about 400 million. This may translate into an exponential increase in the population of stupid people who can be led by the nose by deceit and propaganda. It is the country that will suffer. In the 2023 general elections, then came along a certain Bola Ahmed Tinubu on the platform of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), who fought a valiant battle to win his party’s ticket, backed by the slogan that having made other persons king of Nigeria (notably Buhari), it was his turn to sit on the throne. He did not quite have the express support of the incumbent President, but in the end, he not only got the ticket, he won the election, with more than 8 million votes - one of the lowest margins since Nigeria’s return to civilian rule in 1999. The President’s campaigners sold the narrative that he turned Lagos around, increased Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), built infrastructure, and mastered political engineering. Reminded again and again, that Lagos is not Nigeria, Tinubu’s strategists told us not to worry. They talked about the possibility of hope being restored. So, today, we ask: how market? How is it going? Five months down the line. Our primary focus is the economy.
Not enough attention is being paid to this very important subject, at the moment, by the way, in part because there has been so much engrossment with politics and other matters. The pursuit of the controversy about President Tinubu’s credentials by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate Atiku Abubakar in a foreign jurisdiction, has been the subject of attention in addition to concerns in the Southern part of the country about the controversial death of Ilerioluwa Aloba, popularly known as Mohbad, in itself a very bad and needless distraction that should never have occurred. While distractions in politics and society may serve the sitting government well, nothing is taken away from the fact that the economy is tanking and the people are suffering. On top of it all, I have raised the alarm elsewhere that the President appears to be absent. The Presidency is not a job where the holder of the office can appear and disappear at will. He must be present, always. I have not seen Mr. President in any public capacity in one week, and I think Nigerians have a duty to ask after his whereabouts. If the American President disappears for three days from the news in America, even the stock exchange will be affected. I once wrote a piece referring to a book by Matthew Algeo titled “The President is a Sick Man”. The subject of the book was Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th American President who disappeared briefly to have a secret surgery at sea in July 1893 on a friend’s yacht. A journalist, E. J. Edwards exposed the President. Cleveland’s political career was built on the mantra: “Tell the truth”, but he failed at that moment to tell the truth, act honestly, about his own circumstances thus creating a conflict between politics, medicine and journalism. E.J. Edwards, the journalist was disgraced and dismissed as a liar but he was vindicated more than 20 years later when the truth came out. Cleveland disappeared for only five days to treat a cancerous tumour.
Matthew Algeo’s book tells the full story. In contemporary times, if the American President were to disappear from public view for just two days, the American stock market would have issues. It is a measure of the kind of system that we run around here that Nigerians would not see their President for days and they would be comfortably obsessed with tittle-tattle. I have not seen my President since he returned from Paris and he made an appearance on October 1. No Federal Executive Council Meeting. Why? Three additional Ministers have been cleared by the Senate. They are yet to be sworn in. Why? The Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC) Board has been cleared by the Senate. Yet to be sworn in. Why? So, what’s next? Where is the President? This columnist hopes fervently that he will show up tomorrow at the Federal Executive Council Meeting, and not be represented again by his Deputy who has been more visible in action in recent times than his principal. This was how President Buhari once disappeared for more than seven months and we all accepted that anomaly, and simply moved on. It must not become a tradition in this country that a President can just disappear and show up at will. The Presidency of Nigeria is a full-time job, not a part-time assignment.
What suffers with a President playing possum is the economy and the people’s welfare. It will be recalled that on May 29, 2023, the day the President assumed office, one of the major highlights of his speech was that fuel subsidy was gone. He promised to reform the economy and make Nigeria a major investment destination. He also promised to fix Nigeria’s foreign exchange crisis, and in that wise, the country’s dual exchange rate was abolished, the Naira was devalued, the then Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele was arrested and detained. All of those initial steps taken by the President have failed more or less, leaving Nigerians in greater difficulty. Five months later, Nigerians are still searching for the hope that they were promised. They are forlorn. The removal of fuel subsidy has moved the pump price of petrol (PMS) from N186 in May to over N500 and as high as N617 in July. What is quoted is the fact that there is no provision in the 2023 Appropriation Act for subsidy beyond June 1, 2023, and the fact that the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) states that petroleum prices must be determined by market forces. Our neo-liberal economists praised these forces to high heavens. By August 2023, the landing cost of PMS had risen to about N720 per litre. The same government saying that fuel subsidy had gone has since been forced to provide subsidy. Please what happened to the market forces? The situation is likely to get worse with the on-going Israel-Hamas war, which has resulted in about a 4% jump in the spot price of Brent Crude and WTI. Nigeria imports finished products because all of its refineries are not working. Marketers have had to halt imports, resulting in queues at fuel stations in many parts of the country, and complaints by oil marketers about NNPCL monopoly. Could it be that the President did not understand the situation before he said subsidy was gone? Shouldn’t the President come clean and announce subsidy is back and his administration has had to reverse itself?
We also need to know what is going on with the harmonization of the foreign exchange regime. Since the introduction of that policy, the Naira has been devalued by more than 40%, such that the biggest challenge that Nigeria faces today is how to save the Naira. If the Tinubu administration hoped to close the gap between the official and parallel windows, it has achieved the exact opposite and created more opportunities for arbitrage. The Naira today is almost N1, 000 to the dollar, and over N1, 250 to the pound sterling. It is rated among the lowest currencies in Africa. Everyone is groaning, including manufacturers and employers of Labour. Godwin Emefiele, former CBN Governor, was suspended and detained, an acting Governor, Folashodun Shonubi was appointed, later replaced by Yemi Cardoso as substantive Governor, yet Nigeria’s monetary policy remains chaotic. Virtually every post-Emefiele policy move under Shonubi’s interregnum failed. The standard excuse was that Nigeria was facing a supply of forex problem until we all found ourselves in a situation where nobody could function again and the entire economy was thrown into a dysfunctional mode. The CBN even said it was entering into an alliance with oil majors and Fintechs to assist with forex supply. It didn’t work. NNPCL, Nigeria’s oil and gas behemoth also waded in, with a crude oil for cash swap with AFREXIM Bank. No result! Why should anyone expect any result in an unproductive economy? Countries earn forex by being productive. Nigeria is one vast consumption destination, a dumping ground.
It is therefore the reason no one should be surprised that in the recent Capital Importation Report, by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), it was disclosed that the country’s total capital importation dropped by 9.04% in the second quarter (Q2) of 2023, that is within six months, amounting to a drop of 32.90% year on year. In the report, 28 states of the Federation did not attract any foreign investment in six months, an alarming indication of the economic crisis at Nigeria’s sub-national levels. These states exist just to collect their shares from the monthly Federation Allocation Account. They lack the capacity to produce despite all that talk about how Nigeria is richly endowed and every state is flowing with resources. Petrol dollar which accounts for 40% of GDP, 98% of foreign exchange earnings, and 76% of country revenue has made everyone lazy and has turned crude oil into Nigeria’s biggest curse. The eight states that have received foreign investments according to the report are of varying value: Lagos – 69%, Federal Capital Territory – 28%, but a state like Ondo got just a meagre $200, 000. What is the matter with Ondo State, for example? Why would any foreigner invest there? This is a state that is bogged down by sheer irresponsibility, mindless politicking, absenteeism, physical and psychological, and a governance mind-set that belongs more to the paleolithic age. Those who claim to speak for the confusion in that state are so dumb and so poorly educated they merely misrepresent their own unimaginative narrative. Dr Abdullahi Ganduje, Chairman of the APC and former Governor of Kano State, whose own state is as much a victim of bad politics, now says he wants to help resolve the infantile Governor vs Deputy Governor politics in Ondo State. How? We may again and again focus on the Federal Government, but what goes on at the sub-national level is enough to generate outrage, given the fact that it is the people who suffer from the reduction of governance to a circus.
Senator (Mrs) Remi Tinubu the First Lady of Nigeria has been quoted as saying that nobody should hold her husband responsible for Nigeria’s problems because he is not a magician, he is just a man who inherited the failures of past administrations. I have had cause to praise Mrs. Tinubu for her grace and elegance and the dignified manner in which she has supported her husband. But she must restrain herself from getting directly involved in core governance and policy issues. Otherwise, each time she jumps into the arena, she would have the likes of Garba Shehu giving her a back-hand slap to tell her to get back quickly to the famous other room as Shehu did rather impudently, recently. Nigerians voted for her husband, not her. She must learn to strike a balance. Besides, all the Tinubu sons and daughters trying to treat Nigeria and the Presidency like a family heirloom must back off, and stop pushing themselves in our faces. We have the Vice President, Kashim Shettima who is constitutionally empowered to act on the President’s behalf but even he must be sure of what he says. Going to Lokoja, Kogi state, the other day, to make empty promises with Ajaokuta Steel Company – to create 500, 000 jobs - is one of the most curious empty promises in recent times, based on complete lack of knowledge at the highest levels. VP, you can’t create 500, 000 jobs by merely talking about it at a political rally.
President Tinubu must show up and take charge, not episodically, or through hurriedly arranged photo-ops but every day of the week. He has been employed for the job. He must show up each time Nigerians check the attendance register, except otherwise determined by exceptional circumstances and even at that, we have the right to know.
Last Thursday, I was invited to review a book on Odia Ofeimun, one of Africa’s leading poets and public intellectuals, a committed, “empathetic scholar” as Professor Tunji Olaopa describes him elsewhere. Our own Odia is not a man to be disappointed, he is our “Baba”, our ‘Owalen” as many of his brothers from his Iruekpen clan or Esan West kingdom of Edo State call him. But Lagos, the subject of Ofeimun’s anthology: “Lagos Of the Poets” can be often multi-dimensionally treacherous, the product of the chaos that is built into its structure, sustained by the inability to transform the city to serve the purpose of those who live therein on a sustainable basis. Professor Wumi Raji and Kunle Ajibade had been on my matter, in literal “Yorubanglish.” I promised them I would be there and indeed immediately I stepped off the set of The Morning Show on Arise TV, I started heading out towards Rights Hall, Adeniyi Jones Street, Ikeja, Head Office of the CDHR, the venue of the event. The car was properly fuelled and that is a statement not to be taken lightly in Tinubu’s Nigeria.
But the road laid in wait, not for a sacrifice, but in mischief. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had served notice that it would embark on “a total and indefinite strike” on Tuesday October 3 in protest over the decision of the Tinubu administration to remove fuel subsidy, which resulted in the pump price of fuel jumping up by over 300%. Organized Labour raised its objections and at negotiation meetings presented a set of demands before the Federal Government. The same Federal Government set up a Presidential Steering Committee and sub-committees but this yielded no results as government officials abandoned the negotiating table, and resorted to appeals to Labour to be patient and understanding. Understand what? Labour issued a 21-day warning notice. The government kept begging.
The NLC later embarked on a two-day warning strike on September 5 and 6. Government officials including the Minister of Labour and Employment and the Vice President at the last meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC) continued to preach without addressing the issues. By that Thursday when I set out for Ikeja, the entire stretch of Awolowo Road was blocked by queues at petrol stations. People had embarked on panic buying of petrol, ahead of the announced Labour strike, with NUPENG having declared that all petrol stations would be shut down. I had to struggle through the traffic, endure the terrible potholes on the Third Mainland Bridge, which had been shut down on many occasions in the recent past for repairs, but where shortly after the repairs, the same potholes would return, putting motorists on that bridge in a state of prayer with fervent hope that the day would not come when those potholes would become craters and vehicles on that bridge would begin to drop into the ocean below. An imaginable calamity!
I finally made it to Ikeja to meet even more difficult traffic hold-ups. I was lucky it wasn’t one of those days when the rains fell. When it rains in Lagos, it could be practically impossible to travel from one side of the city to the other. By the time I reached Rights House, the book presentation ceremony had begun. It was well attended: Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika, SAN, Chair of the occasion, Professor Kayode Soremekun, former Vice Chancellor of the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Femi Falana SAN, Professor Mike Ikhariale, my former teacher at the Lagos State University (LASU), Professor Akin Onigbinde, my former colleague at Ogun State University (now OOU), Senator Yunus Akintunde representing Oyo Central, Molara Wood, writer and editor; Managing Director of The Guardian, Martins Oloja, Kabiru Aregbesola, representing his father Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, former Minister of the Interior, who later joined us straight from the airport. Editors. Reporters. Poets. Novelists. Word merchants. I met all the Mainland people already seated. The city of Lagos inflicts psychological terror on residents with its structural divisiveness. I know people who live and work on the Island who will never cross the bridge to the Mainland and vice versa. I was not even allowed to take a glass of water before Professor Sylvester Odion-Akhaine, the compere, announced that it was good I had arrived “in time” or “on time” – I arrived late anyway- and I should immediately present my review. It was an assignment I was glad to take seriously.
One of Odia Ofeimun’s famous books, the product of a 2003 lecture at the University of Ibadan, is a collection of essays titled “Taking Nigeria Seriously” in which he reflects on issues about the making and the unmaking of Nigeria, the contradictions that have turned an otherwise promising country, of enormous potentials, into the very opposite of its original value, or perhaps something dangerously close to that due to the absence of enabling leadership opportunities, and an inevitable descent into the lower depths. Those who know Odia, the title of the third part of the book under review: “The Odia We Know”, know him to be a man who takes everything that he does seriously. It is this single-minded devotion to his craft, and to his environment, to society that has been a defining characteristic of his polyvalent genius, encountered in virtually every facet of his persona as a poet, writer, polemicist, journalist, dramatist, producer, essayist, publisher, literary critic and entrepreneur. The last definition may seem odd to many but it is true, for as Chairman and Founder of the Hornbill House of the Arts, Odia has had a long experience running an enterprise, even if the main substance of that enterprise is literature and ideas, not money. Hornbill House has nonetheless produced profit in that regard: it published Tade Ipadeola’s The Sahara Testaments, winner of the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature, 2013. It is also the publisher of Obari Ogomba’s Grit, a play that has been shortlisted for the 2023 NLNG Literature Prize, both a firm confirmation of how Odia Ofeimun takes literature seriously too, not just as creator but also as promoter of the genres.
While Odia Ofeimun takes what he does seriously, it is noteworthy that the publication under review is an affirmation of the man himself being taken seriously. Essentially, the book – Odia Ofeimun: In Search of a Common Morality – Essays, Tributes and Conversations (Ile-Ife: Obafemi Awolowo University Press, 307 pp.) is the product of a conference in honour of the subject, on March 16, 2020, on the occasion of his 70th birthday, held at the University of Lagos. Three years later, the presentations at that conference and other materials have now been put together for posterity in a book form by a troika of editors and scholars: Wumi Raji, Sylvester Odion-Akhaine and Akin Adesokan. The editors have done a praiseworthy and remarkable job of putting a fence around that year 2000 septuagenarian celebration, and whereas they claim that “the readers will be encountering for the first time what represents more or less a sustained critical engagement with Ofeimun’s writings”, I doubt if indeed this is the first effort of its kind. I refer the editors to an earlier book: Vicky Mnguember Sylvester (ed.) Critical Perspectives on Odia Ofeimun (Lagos, Ibadan: Malthouse Press, 2012, 271pp) with contributors including Kole Omotoso, Onookome Okome, Tanure Ojaide and Effiok Uwatt. But whereas this earlier book focused mainly on Odia Ofeimun’s texts, what can be seen at first glance in the latest appraisal is the extensive scope of the content, the depth of the analysis, the array of scholars and friends taking Odia Ofeimun seriously, and the focus on not just the literature, but also informed portraits of the man and his life and times, that is a near-balanced coverage of the literary and the biographical.
It is not difficult to see why this is so. Odia Ofeimun is one of the most impactful, productive, influential public intellectuals that Nigeria has produced in the past four decades, with his contributions to poetry, journalism, literary criticism, public affairs and stage presentations forming a formidable part of the canon. His influence is cross-disciplinary, multi-dimensional – politics, literature, drama, activism, journalism, culture, and as a person, he remains one of the most actively engaged citizens of our time. What further stands him out is his courage, his conviction and the sheer daredevilry with which he reinvents himself. Long before the Labour Party became such a movement in contemporary Nigerian politics, Odia Ofeimun had made an attempt to become a state Governor on the platform of the same party in pursuit of his oft-stated optimism that Nigeria can be rescued and saved through direct involvement of the “right persons” in the governance process.
The book is divided into four parts, with a total of 18 chapters. The reference in the title to common morality is extracted from Akin Adesokan’s “The Fragmented Poetics of a Common Morality” in Part I titled “Critical Essays” – seven in total in this section. It would appear however that the common morality that is referred to is the humanistic temper that underlines Odia Ofeimun’s writings: his deep interrogation of what makes us human, what makes us less human and what could make us more human, across all the spectrums of human experience. These seven critical essays examine Odia’s writings, not the entire oeuvre but his essays, his poetry infused by what Idaevor Bello and Lizzy Onyeiwu call “the tradition of resistance writing”: “The Poet Lied”, “A Handle for the Flutist”, “Under African Skies”, “London Letter,” “Go Tell the Generals”, “I will ask questions with stones if they take my voice.” The city is a central symbol and referent in Odia Ofeimun’s writings. In “A Melting Pot: Representations of the Lagos Imaginary”, Professor Wumi Raji examines Ofeimun’s book of selected poetry, “Lagos of the Poets” (2010).
The discursive, research-oriented tone of the critical essays is sustained further in Professor G.G. Darah’s “Odia Ofeimun and the Dialectics of Nigeria’s Long Revolution” and Sylvester Odion-Akhaine’s review of “the Politics of Odia Ofeimun” both drawing attention to and exploring his interventions with regards to issues of nation-building, federalism, national conference and the centrifugal tensions in the Nigerian process. It may be said that this first part of the book for deliberate, obvious reasons is the more rigorous part given the academic, research-based flavour of the contributions. Two poems follow - by Professor Niyi Osundare and Okinba Launko – Professor Femi Osofisan’s nom de plume. The editors describe this section of the book “as an interlude”. Osundare and Okinba Launko are Ofeimun’s contemporaries, members together, with Kole Omotoso, Bode Sowande, Tanure Ojaide, Funso Aiyejina, Abubakar Gimba, Festus Iyayi, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Tunde Fatunde, Zaynab Alkali, Buchi Emecheta…of the second generation of writers who helped to shape the ideological character of what came later.
A much easier offering is Chapter III of the book titled: “The Odia We Know”, a collection of friendly, appreciative tributes to the subject by Owei Lakemfa, Rauf Aregbesola, Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, Yewande Omotoso, Omowunmi Segun, Chris Dunton, Ogaga Ifowodo – presented in form of personal encounters and relationships with the poet, revealing how in the course of his career within the community, Odia as he is fondly called, or Uncle Odia as Yewande Omotoso and Chris Dunton refer to him, has been a source of inspiration and a mentor to many not just through his craft but also his example and generosity of spirit.
In Chapter 5, Professor Biodun Jeyifo’s keynote address during Odia’s 70th birthday is reproduced, an even-handed, first-hand portrait of the subject by a fellow-traveller through the decades titled “When Poverty is Wealth – in Connection with the Word (for Odia Ofeimun at 70).” Chapter IV is titled “Conversations” and here in three Chapters: 16-18, we hear directly from the celebrant himself in three major interviews: his romance with the word, his life, literature and struggles – a more directly biographical section of the book which lends it a fresh momentum and appeal through story-telling and the vehicle of reminiscences.
There is no doubt that apart from documenting an important milestone in the life of Odia Ofeimun, a poet and writer of the first rank whose love for literature and language is in a class of its own, this book will generate further discussions about his art and thoughts as well as interest in his entire oeuvre. Few writers have been as prodigious and as compelling. It is important that the essays in the book do not convey any hint of hagiography or undeserved praise - for although it was Ofeimun’s 70th birthday, the commentators and critics know him well enough to understand that he could not be swayed by any form of flattery. Ogaga Ifowodo tells him to write the long-awaited, long-promised book on Awo, otherwise “Nigeria would not forgive him.” Omowunmi Segun’s portraiture of Ofeimun at poetry reading sessions in a critical but humorous tone, is right on point, a well-pointed jab below the belt, but it speaks more to the man’s passion for the word, written or spoken.
Adesokan, one of the editors, tells us that Odia Ofeimun is a writer that we will continue to encounter deep into the future. He is right. Ofeimun’s place in the world of letters is more than assured. After more than 40 books of essays, poetry, criticism and public affairs analysis, we can only look forward to a feast and a harvest of more words from his fecund imagination. The present book does not in any way, comprehensive as it may seem, exhaust the many possibilities for analysis that Odia Ofeimun’s work offers: his unionism for example as Secretary General and later President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), and the many battles he had to fight; his journalism before and after the military era as columnist/member of the editorial board of The Guardian and later as Chairman of The News Newspaper, and of course his practical involvement in politics either as Private Secretary to Chief Obafemi Awolwo, or as a Labour Party Gubernatorial aspirant who had progressive ideas about how society could be organized for growth and development but was limited by his own idealism in a political environment where commerce and vainglory prevail.
As we look forward to Odia Ofeimun’s continued service in the literary vineyard, the editors have enriched our libraries and the growing bibliography on Odia Ofeimun’s writings by publishing this book that should be of interest to students and teachers of literature, culture and politics alike. People like Odia are hardly ever remembered when national honours and other diadems are given out, mostly to the undeserved, but it is his kind who speak and write truth to power who represent the vanishing oases of sanity and humanity in this land where the people’s hope for a better tomorrow is stained by the blood of the innocent and the wickedness of persons in high places. It is about time Nigeria and Nigerians began to take themselves seriously.
Beyond politics – Tinubu’s maiden trip to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Atiku Abubakar’s voyage of discovery for Tinubu’s academic records in the United States, revelations regarding how the Presidency lied about the President’s stop-over after the G20 Summit on his way back home at the United Arab Emirates, the increasing failure of the Naira without respite, the proposed strike by organized Labour, and other urgent matters political in the public domain – no other matter has been of greater compelling attention and significance that the sudden, surprising death of 27-year old artist, musician, song-writer, and rapper, Ilerioluwa Oladimeji Aloba popularly known as MohBad or Imole. No other death of an artist has caught the popular imagination in Nigeria in recent times as his. His departure has been like the eruption of a volcano, with the lava spreading uphill and downhill. When beggars die so said the poet, there are no comets seen. But when Princes die, even the Heavens themselves blaze forth the glory. So it has been with MohBad: a life so short, and yet so impactful, more so in death than in life. He was a prince of his art. What lessons can we learn from this phenomenon that has been thrust upon us by fate and circumstances?
Many years ago, in 2007 to be precise, I wrote a piece on the pages of The Guardian newspaper titled “A Nation’s Identity Crisis” in which touting my credentials as a trained expert in dramaturgy, ethnomusicology and the entire range of theatre arts theory and criticism, having taught the same subjects myself, I argued, with special focus on contemporary Nigerian music at the time that an emergent “Naija, Nija, or 9ja” generation had lost touch with their original roots. I raised questions about a palpable slip into the “age of abbreviations” of talent and everything else, characterized by the emergence of a new generation that was in “a hurry.” It was a comparative essay between the old tradition and the “post-modernist, deconstructive temper of emergent youth culture which as I argued was marked by a Grunge character that suited non-meaning and alienation. That piece I believe should be available online in this season of social media reality. In it, I praised the old culture, the musicians of the earlier generations – the 60s till the 80s – whose music had a proper complexus of sound, shape, sense, skills and authenticity as major highlight. In contrast, I found contemporary music then to be highly deficient in the same respects, bogged down as it was by populism, commercial appeal, wannabe affectations and a befuddling lack of depth. Accordingly, I predicted that many of the emergent superstars of the period would not survive for long because their talent was not original enough; it was mere hype, propped up by animation and the synthetic piano. In those days, we had artists with swollen heads who thought naively that they had arrived. One of them, Rooftop MC in fact told everyone: “Ori mi wu o, e lagi mo.” I concluded then that “most of the music being produced now will not be listenable in another five years and this perhaps is the certain fate of commercial art that is driven by branding, show and cash.
My intervention stirred the hornets’ nest. For more than two months, the super artistes who felt their ego had been bruised attacked me on the pages of The Guardian and elsewhere. My colleague, Jahman Anikulapo, Arts Editor of The Guardian then, allowed all shades of opinion to flourish. He opened up the pages to a robust debate. Some of those who responded to me included Banky W., El Dee and a host of others. Looking back on those days, I guess I may have been proven right. Many of the musicians I predicted would not make the long-distance run have since fallen by the roadside. Only the truly talented can make that long-distance journey. In the 18th Century in Venice, Italy and Austria, Antonio Salieri was a far more popular composer than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Europe. He got better patronage from the courts. Posthumously, however, Mozart has proven to be the true Amadeus – chosen by God, a true legend, eternally recognized for his genius, not momentary popularity. Salieri remains unknown.
I have given this background to show that the uninformed, the uninvolved who relate to developments in the cultural space, without education, relying on sentiments, may in the fullness of time discover that they may have been driven more by emotions rather than the truth, or a proper, intelligent reflection on the matter at hand. Our departure point is the death, last week, of 27-year-old Ilerioluwa Oladimeji Aloba, a tragedy which has now become a cause celebre. There has been an enormous outpouring of grief from all parts of the world. Processions have been organized in Lagos, Abeokuta, Akure, Benin, Lagos, Ikorodu, Abuja, Wolverhampton, London, UK, Canada and Spain. In New York, MohBad’s image was on the screen at the Times Square. In nearby Ghana, elderly women took to the streets and mourned as they joined others in asking for #JusticeforMohbad - a clear testament to the power of music as a universal, semiotically, unifying referent and language. MohBad’s songs – Feel Good, Ponmo, KoPorKe topped the charts in the UK and elsewhere. He became a greater star in death. Many who have trooped out, asking for justice because they have bought into the narrative that there was foul play in his death, may never have even listened to any of his songs. But his spirit has proven to be stronger in death than in life. In metaphysics, there is this belief that certain spirits are indestructible. Fela. Ayinla Omowura. Victor Olaiya. Fatai Rolling Dollars. Michael Jackson. Bob Marley. In other words, the transcendentalism of the human spirit - but the residue in this matter is the force of good art, further confirmed in the eponymous quote by Horace that “art is long, life is short.” MohBad’ s music seems destined to live beyond him.
It is important for us to ponder on the lessons of his example rather than the attempt to jump to conclusions about the circumstances of his death. The Lagos State authorities have exhumed his body for an autopsy. All the conspiracy theorists who have raised questions about blood that was found in his grave when his corpse was exhumed (those who know insist this is not unusual); those who query why he had to be buried so quickly and in an unbefitting space, those who argue that there is a foul play and that they have an idea about the identity of the killers and their agents should all at this moment clam down and allow the pathologist to do their work, and the security agencies to conclude their investigations. The response of state agents so far is commendable, especially the empathy that has been demonstrated by the Lagos State Government and the Nigeria Police. The creative community has also shown solidarity in a most impressive manner. MohBad is dead and gone. Those who are using his death to fight personal battles, chase clout, gain attention and play games should calm down, and look beyond their own emotions.
There is a MohBad in all of us, a part of him that speaks to the depths of our cravings, outer realities, and fears. Young or old, man or woman, we all wake up every morning hoping that God’s grace will shine upon us. MohBad enjoyed heavenly Grace, no matter how briefly, in life and death. In death, he became a catalyst for the expression of youth angst and despair in Nigeria and elsewhere. Yet he grew up amidst deprivation. It is perhaps true after all that heroes do not wear capes. They could come from the ghettos. MohBad’s mother left his father. He grew up under the wings of a problematic step-mother who has been studiously silent. Good for her. MohBad managed to complete secondary school education and gained admission into a Polytechnic. But he would eventually drop out to pursue his passion: Music. He was brought to the limelight by Naira Marley Records. When he eventually decided to leave this particular label to set up his own: Imole Nation, his travails began. He was hounded from pillar to post by his former Managers. He reported to the police and even sang about his travails in his records. Many of those now shedding crocodile tears heard his cries for help, even in his songs, but nobody raised a finger to help. We are all sad enough in the same space: a random check will reveal millions of persons who had home troubles like MohBad, work troubles as he had, and who also lived in fear and anxiety like him, and who slipped into depression, and who in the midst of it all, made wrong choices, or just one wrong choice that ends it all. MohBad, young as he was, lived an impactful life, but many in his shoes die unsung. Perhaps if he received help and support, not having to bear so much burden at his young age…Think upon these things.
There are many broken children like him, products of a broken home who manage to find their way in life, but whose background limits their chances. The artist who made good, created good music and a sellable brand has been made a further victim of family circumstances. His shameless father has been all over the place, hugging the limelight, proclaiming himself as the father of a dead son. Could he have done something different to keep the boy alive? MohBad’s mother who abandoned him for 15 years suddenly took over his home in Lekki after his death, to attend to visitors. The young widow, Wunmi who had a five-month son for him was so promptly marginalized, the lady’s sister had to cry out on social media! What I remember from some of the reports is that MohBad’s mother has been whining that her son had promised to give her N5 million before he died. What exactly is she missing? Her son or N5 million? According to the reports, concerned persons like Davido and others have contributed funds for the upbringing of the innocent son that MohBad left behind. What is the guarantee that Wunmi, the boy’s mother would not eventually be driven away and eventually accused of killing MohBad, when an inevitable struggle for money and benefits, who-takes-what begins.? Obviously MohBad was too young to write a will. Nobody expects to die so young. Many are in this same boat. You spend your entire life supporting family. When you die and your children are still young, the vultures in the family and among your friends move in to inherit whatever they can - including the wife you left behind. Family members start the war by accusing your wife and her family of witchcraft. In MohBad’s case, some characters even asked for the DNA of his son.
There are more lessons certainly to be learnt, especially by artistes still within the creative space. A major thread of the MohBad narrative has been how he was reportedly maltreated and dehumanized by his former Manager, Naira Marley: anger over his decision to leave the Marlians, death threats, assault, blackmail and intimidation. MohBad decided to establish his own record label and that even worsened his situation. Disc jockeys and radio stations were allegedly instructed not to play his music. On one occasion, he was physically assaulted, He reported to the police but when he was called upon to identify his assailants, he was the one who failed to show up. He was too scared to talk. Imole’s fans are convinced that his travails reflect their own circumstances: the oppression and victimization of youths by power figures in the public and private arenas. This is why in part they ask for justice. It is in the nature of artists and their craft to inspire passion. We urge caution. Many of the people using MohBad’s death to draw attention to themselves -more have turned the ,tragedy into an enterprise, or to chase clout – that is what most are doing, most cynically should please allow the pathologists and the police to do their work, so we can have proper closure.
I find even more curious the indication that MohBad was treated for an ear infection in a hospital – Perez Hospital - by an auxiliary nurse. The said nurse has since been arrested only for us to be told that she is not even a nurse at the named hospital. The hospital has since denied ever treating him and that MohBad was brought in dead, lifeless. I find this curious. Why would a rising star who has enough money to promise his mother a N5 million gift, and enough money to live in Lekki, allow himself to be treated and administered injection by a random nurse at home? Why did he not visit a proper hospital early? The older musicians that I praised were far more circumspect. The more modern singers who emerged after their generation may not have been as talented. This new generation are the worst that I have seen, though. They can sing and dance, and they have been helped by technology, and increased globalization. But this is nonetheless a unique generation that is on drugs. They are also different because their space has been taken over by occultic groups. Artistes are required to be high on certain drugs and pay allegiance to a cabal. It is most difficult to see that the new generation is permanently high on something. This is one of the biggest threats to talent and tradition in Nigeria today. Our artists do not bother to take good care of their personal health. They prefer to buy diamonds. Flashy cars. Fine homes and those pimpernels who appear as if they have just stepped out of God’s beauty parlour. They travel in private jets too. In due course, their investments take a second seat. There is an emerging greater emphasis on vainglory rather than true art, and a definitive colonial mentality in Nigeria’s cultural space, identified in our 2007 analysis, but now more the case with the ills of drugs and occultism to boot. Who will save our artistes?
MohBad’s death is a tragedy that calls for reflection and soul-searching. Is there anything that can be done to assist the multitude in the creative space who have to grapple with issues of relationships, contracts with managers, the devilish context of operation, society’s expectations and the ephemerality and tensions of stardom?
“Omo, it is now that I am beginning to understand why there is so much fight for this thing called Presidency of Nigeria oh. See as Tinubu just dey do swag, dey shine, dey do Eko for Show from here to there. Him just dey tranga, dey travel, dey flex. Him don dey look young and fresh sef.”
“He is President my friend. Anyone else in his shoes will act in more or less the same manner. If you are placed astride a horse, no matter how modest you are, the moment the horse gallops, you will bounce up and down, your neck will move.”
“Omo, Tinubu dey bounce. President of Nigeria for hand, ECOWAS Chairman just like that, Paris Summit, AU Summit, G-20, stop-over in UAE, and na so he don dey New York, now now oh, rubbing shoulders with leaders of the world.”
“He is President. The President of Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa. I don’t know why you people always think you can envy the President of Nigeria. Once you get into that position, you are practically a monarch. Is it easy? No. It is not. It is a power game. Even if you were to grab that position, you that I know will run with it. Let me tell you one thing, Tinubu and the people around him, know how to use power.”
“I hear the Presidency is lucrative. Each time you travel, you get fat estacodes, and the President gets the biggest envelope”
“Sometimes, I don’t understand you. I look at all the certificates you brandish and I wonder. You think the big deal for a President of Nigeria is estacodes? Who worries about estacodes when you sit and preside over the entire wealth of Nigeria, and you can lift people up or destroy them, create billionaires at will, and turn billionaires into paupers if they do not respect that there is a new Sheriff in town?”
“Truly, a new Sheriff is in town. See as the man dey enjoy. I no go surprise if the man takes new wife sef to crown everything. But what about the Supreme Court matter? The process of determining the true winner of the 2023 general election is still on. I hear the Chief Justice of the Federation is about to announce a panel of Supreme Court Justices.”
“The only matter that still exists is this: This is Nigeria. In this place, nobody is going to remove, embarrass, humiliate, or dethrone a sitting President who has spent more than 100 days enjoying Aso Villa AC, the paraphernalia of office, the majesty of being President, shaking hands with world leaders, stumping on grounds that generations in your family never thought possible. You will manage to get to that height, for more than 100 days and counting, and you will open your eyes, your wife or wives are alive, and all your supporters who know that this is a big elephant meat that nobody can eat alone, and all of you will open your eyes and allow other people to take the meat you are already enjoying from your teeth. Please be realistic. This is Nigeria. Na die there we dey so oh.”
“But it was possible in Kenya.”
“What happened in Kenya? My friend, this is Nigeria. You people have to stop comparing spaghetti with well-cooked jollof rice. Yes, some people have been saying the Nigerian Constitution should be reviewed and amended to ensure that election petitions are resolved before anyone is sworn in at any level. I agree too in principle. That would be a good way of deepening our electoral process. But until then. For now, this is what we have.”
“I hear say the man don reach New York sef as we dey speak.”
“Yes. He is President. He is there on your behalf to promote your interests as a citizen and the interests of Nigeria as a country.”
“Me, I just hope this won’t end up like another radio trip”
“What do you mean radio trip?”
“The President stopped over in UAE, after attending the G-20 Summit in New Delhi, and the Presidency told us he was able to achieve major things including investments in Nigeria by the UAE, lifting of the visa ban on Nigerian travellers and resumption of flights by Emirates and Etihad Airlines without any immediate payment by Nigeria. Nigerians broke out into a break dance. Local travel agencies did Tik Tok. Nigerians living in Dubai jubilated. But you never hear? An official of the UAE has said on CNN that their country never made any such commitments. Even the read-out by the Emirates News Agency did not include the exciting claims by the lying Kings of Nigeria. We were even told that UAE officials were already meeting with Nigerian officials. Omo, Audio!”
“Please. Please. We can be very critical. But we must also understand that diplomacy is not exactly black and white. There are grey areas in-between. You win some. You lose some. Have you forgotten that the same President went to New Delhi for G-20 and came back home with investment pledges of about $14 billion?”
“You don see am?”
“Actually, yes. In fact, last week, as part of the fall-out of the New Delhi, G-20 trip, NNPCL signed a gas supply deal, and a Memorandum of Understanding with Indorama, to promote the development of large-scale gas utilization industries in Nigeria. That’s a deal. A gain of diplomacy. Professionals don’t expect that diplomacy will yield 100% results always, but you must keep pushing, you must keep defending national interests within the international competitive space.”
“Fine. I hope the President will bring something concrete, positive, and useful back from the United Nations General Assembly. It is his first outing on the biggest stage in the world. One of the newest Presidents who would be given a place at the podium. On the sidelines, he will be coveted by Presidents, personalities and investors. When he returns, we don’t want any audio claims or exaggerations. Nigeria is too big a country to go to UNGA for photo-ops.”
“I am sure New York is not a new place to President Tinubu. Afterall, he is a Chicago guy. He is not one of those new Presidents who would get carried away by the sight of skyscrapers. May be some of the members of his entourage who may be visiting New York for the first time in their lives.”
“It is not a holiday visit. I hope they all know UNGA is a lot of work. And in any case, President Tinubu had earlier said he was travelling with a very small delegation.”
“Have you seen the Presidency publishing a full list of the Presidential delegation to UNGA?”
“Wait then for Sahara Reporters, David Hundeyin, Obidients and the usual anti-Tinubu media crowd to dig out the truth. I have seen names of persons who have been sighted in New York whose presence may well turn Tinubu’s maiden appearance at UNGA into a jamboree.”
“There are serious issues on the table at this UNGA. I would like to see Nigeria talking about serious issues - democracy in Africa, climate adaptation, SDGs, the international economic corridor, geo-politics. Will the President address the UNGA? How many minutes would he have?”
“Ten minutes max. But don’t worry yourself. These ones don’t have problems writing good speeches. There are more than enough boys at the back-end. Telling people what they want to hear is part of the power game. And this new Sheriff knows that game.”
“The boys. The boys. Tinubu just made one of his boys CBN Governor-nominee. I have no doubts that Nigeria’s rubber-stamp National Assembly led by Godswill Akpabio will quickly rubber-stamp the nominations, including the four other Deputy Governors who have been named.”
“Yemi Cardoso. I think he is a good pick. A safe pair of hands. He is a commercial banker though, with a background in business management. Conservative. Good pedigree. Worked with Citibank. Became Chairman Citibank. Helped to set up Citizen’s bank. There’s no controversy around him. I don’t know the four Deputy Governors. They come across like political appointees, and for that reason, I guess altogether, there is no depth in the appointments.”
“My point. That is my point. The job of the Central Bank is monetary policy. All these Tinubu nominees have no monetary policy, macroeconomics background at a time the CBN has so much to worry about: the CBN Balance Sheet, abuse of ways and means in violation of Section 38 of the CBN Act, intervention loans that have to be cleaned up, inflation, foreign exchange problems and the need to restore confidence in the CBN.”
“I get your point. But don’t let your point carry you away. What is the big deal about macroeconomics? Textbook knowledge. You people seem to have forgotten that a journalist, Adamu Ciroma was once CBN Governor in this same country. He was also Minister of Finance. Many others who succeeded him were senior bank tellers as they call them who were glorified with the titles of commercial bankers. In fact, I can tell you categorically that a graduate of Islamic Studies once ran the CBN and he did much better than the so-called macroeconomics people. The job only needs common sense.”
“You don’t run an economy in the kind of state that Nigeria is with roadside common sense. You need knowledge. A strong skills-set.”
“Sometimes you put people in a position because you trust them. You can then surround such persons with core subject area experts. Tinubu can appoint directors into the CBN who know all the micro and macroeconomics, monetary policy and the abracadabra but he also needs in that institution, a man that he can trust.”
“But why is it that President Tinubu does not seem to trust anybody that has not been his boy or past aide, or someone recommended by a friend, a sycophant, or by a blood relation? He is practically turning the Federal Government of Nigeria into an extension of Lagos.”
How? He promised to run an inclusive government. Wike is from Rivers and the opposition. Festus Keyamo is Delta. And so on.”
“I know what I am talking about. I am talking about strategic positions and optics. Look at the management of the economy as proposed. The CBN-Governor nominee is Yemi Cardoso who once worked with Tinubu as Commissioner for Budget and Planning in Lagos. Dele Alake, Tinubu’s former Commissioner for Information in Lagos is Minister of Solid Minerals. Former Governor of Osun State, Tinubu’s blood relation, Gboyega Oyetola, is Minister for Marine and Blue Economy. The Chairman of the Federal Internal Revenue Service (FIRS) is Zacchaeus Adedeji, another Tinubu acolyte, and Tope Fasua, another member of the same clan, is Special Adviser of the economy. Wale Edun is Minister of Finance. Every person in charge of a money-making economic posting is a Yoruba man, directly connected with Tinubu. Haba!”
“It is called Emilokan. It is my turn. It is our turn. Bishop Matthew Kukah long ago called it “the my-own-ni-zation of power”. He predicted the present and the future and this has come to pass. Other Presidents have done more or less the same thing. When a President gets to power, he pushes advantages to his own people. This is why we are not yet a nation. You cannot blame Tinubu. He is simply following what he inherited from Buhari.”
“President Jonathan did not behave like that. President Obasanjo did not act like that. Maybe it is an APC standard.”
“It is even good you mentioned President Buhari. His handlers did everything possible to disprove the claim that he Katsina-nized and Northernized Nigeria”.
“But he did. Even some sycophantic Ministers took strategic government infrastructure to Daura, Katsina thinking that would promote their selfish, political ambitions.”
“Do you know what I find intriguing in this matter?’
“I am with you.”
“Can you believe our friend, Garba Shehu recently published a piece in which he was talking about President Buhari, 100 days after leaving office?”
“No. What is that? And what is Mallam Shehu saying? I have never heard of any former President crowing about 100 days after leaving office. Garba Shehu was probably talking about the former President’s cattle farm and the problem in Niger.”
“No. He says 100 days after leaving office, Buhari is still the superstar.”
“Some of these Presidents don’t know when to move on. Completely insensitive. That is the problem. I think people must realize that there cannot be two Presidents in this country at the same time. The President is Bola Tinubu. Not anyone else. When you are out, you are out. Even Baba Obasanjo is still acting President all over.”
“What has OBJ done? I don’t get your drift. He left office in 2007.”
“He went to an event in Iseyin, Oyo state, he was ordering traditional rulers around. Stand up, Sit down, he was acting like a Regimental Sergeant Major. He was a guest at the event oh, just like the monarchs. What gives him the right to think he can order people around. Kings for that matter. He is lucky one of them didn’t pack enough spine and balls to disobey him.”
“My brother, traditional rulers lost their space long ago. The conflict between tradition and modernity has turned monarchs into cultural relics in Nigeria. The colonial masters abused them. They sent them into exile. They defied their authority. Post-colonial Nigerian leaders treat them like employees. Were you not in this country when Nyesom Wike tongue-lashed a traditional ruler and described his crown as an Uthman dan Fodio cap? Were you not here to witness the dethronement of monarchs by Governors in the North. Obasanjo was giving a lecture on protocol”
“But I hear he has been ordered by the Oluwo of Iwo to apologise. One of his own wives has promptly apologized on his behalf and her two children.”
“Please stop. Oluwo to Obasanjo? And which wife? Have you not seen the story saying the wife is an impostor according to Obasanjo himself?”
“There are no fake wives, please. Every wife mans a gate. I disagree. Two children oh”
“Talking about wives, I feel for Wunmi, the late musician, 27-year-old, Mohbad’s wife. Nobody is sparing a thought for her and her five-months-old son who has now become fatherless.”
“Mohbad. Bad story. I just hope Nigerian artistes will learn the relevant lessons from the tragedy about relationship with labels, copyright issues, family, friends, depression and the challenges of stardom.”
For more than a week, President Bola Tinubu, Nigeria’s chief foreign policy officer has been on a diplomatic offensive to New Delhi, on the sidelines of the G20 Summit hosted by India, and from Bharat, as that country is otherwise known, he has had a quick diplomatic stop-over in United Arab Emirates (UAE). Next week, he goes off to New York, United States for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). When Tinubu returns to Nigeria, before he goes off to New York, his handlers would have more than enough to crow about and a lot of chest-beating to do. I imagine that following the ruling in his favour by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, on Wednesday, September 6, we can legitimately expect a loud and heavy display of triumphalism, sycophancy, self-congratulation and advertisements by Tinubu/APC supporters for whom modesty is a strange word, but the more sober ones among them would probably point to how Tinubu seems to be succeeding on the foreign policy front.
In less than 100 days in office, he was elected Chairman of ECOWAS, and has had to lead the charge in managing the Niger coup crisis, even if roughly, in June, he also attended a France-Africa summit in Paris, an African Union summit in Nairobi in July, and now he has gone to India, and the United Arab Emirates. Beyond the assertion of political, and diplomatic influence, and a claw at legitimacy in a local “emilokan” style, whether you like it or not, big photo ops on the world stage, big opportunity to showcase Nigeria and the new administration, the main narrative has been that President Tinubu has been attracting investment to the country. In India, the total pledge by Indian investors was put at $14 billion. It is this drive for investment that connects President Tinubu’s foreign excursions as covert text, and it was the same also in the UAE. But I keep adding the caveat that pledges would not translate into anything, beyond the ink on the Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) that Nigeria signs here and there, if these pledges do not yield concrete outcomes. Nigeria is very good at signing documents and taking photos. Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials are very good at organizing ceremonies for any President who likes to stage shows; in any case, the current “City Boy, Eko For Show” President would jump at any opportunity to hug the limelight. But ceremonies and photo-ops would take Nigeria nowhere. Nigerians need follow-ups. We need a Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment (MITI) that can turn pledges into opportunities.
We need to be reminded that domestic policy drives foreign policy. Investors are not in the business of charity. The gulf between them and the Red Cross is the widest in the world. They are interested in profit and opportunities. For the pledges that have been made to be redeemable, President Tinubu must meet the existing and prospective investors half-way, by keeping his part of the bargain to wit: his promise that Nigeria would provide very good returns on investments, that is ROI, the bottom line in the age of capitalism. Investors want to minimize risk. Nigeria is a risk-laden investment destination. Investors cannot repatriate their funds. The country’s foreign exchange regime is unpredictable. The country’s CBN Governor has been suspended. He is in detention. The interim CBN Governor is exactly not in a position to make far-reaching decisions, so the CBN is busy experimenting with monetary policies. Professor Pat Utomi once wrote a successful book titled “Managing Uncertainty: Competition and Strategy in Emerging Economies”, (Ibadan: Spectrum Books, 1998, 465 pp). If Nigeria’s economy was walking with the aid of walking sticks at the time Utomi wrote that book, its fortunes are now so uncertain, the economy having suffered multiple strokes, it is now in a wheel-chair. This is what Tinubu has inherited, and what he must do something about beyond all these high-profile photo opportunities around the globe.
His recent diplomatic shuttle has however provided one bright indicator that should not be ignored, and that is the outcome of his trip to the United Arab Emirates. It is one achievement that we can touch and perhaps feel. It will be recalled that the Presidency informed us that the purpose of the Abu Dhabi stop-over was to get the United Arab Emirates to lift the visa ban on Nigerians and to ensure that Emirates Airlines, the kingdom’s airliner lifts its suspension of flights to Nigeria. The third shopping item in the basket was to hunt for investments in agriculture, defence and other areas. By yesterday evening, we had been told that after meetings with Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, and the Emir of Abu Dhabi, President Tinubu was able to secure the lifting of visa ban on Nigerians, and the immediate restoration of flight activity to Nigeria by Emirates Airlines without “any immediate payment by the Nigerian government.” Kudos. Kudos. Kudos. This achievement is all the more remarkable because Tinubu has just scored victory where his predecessor in office failed. What has happened is a teachable moment in leadership and diplomacy.
A bit of the background is necessary. In 2021, the Emirates airlines and the UAE had insisted on administering rapid antigen tests on Nigerians visiting the UAE which resulted in a diplomatic row. Subsequently, Emirates Airlines also raised questions about its inability to repatriate funds from Nigeria. Further, on October 18, 2022, the UAE banned nationals from about 20 African countries from entering its major city, Dubai, Nigeria inclusive alongside other countries like Benin Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Uganda, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Burkina Faso. As the drama unfolded, in February 2023, President Muhammadu Buhari, Tinubu’s predecessor placed a phone call to Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan of the UAE to condole with him on the death of his mother -in-law and he used the opportunity to bring up the matter of the blanket visa ban on Nigerians intending to travel to the UAE. The major revelation of that bilateral move was that many Nigerians go to the UAE illegally and in flagrant violation of the laws of the Kingdom. Buhari at the time, also asked for a resumption of the suspended operations of the Emirates Airlines. This is where Tinubu has now gained victory. Etihad and Emirates Airlines can now resume flight schedules in and out of Nigeria. Many Nigerians for whom Dubai is a favourite trade, tourism and medical destination are now jubilant. Dubai is an attractive destination because of leadership and vision. Nigerians are rushing to Dubai and hustling for visas to the UAE because their own country has not met their expectations. For the benefit of those who would start touting Tinubu’ s UAE mission as a big deal, they need to be cautioned that there are other sides to the story especially with regard to the aviation sector.
Where is Nigeria’s strategic interest in the aviation sector in this matter under review? Has the interest of Nigeria’s aviation sector been served? When Tinubu assumed office, there have, indeed, been some activities in the aviation sector. One, he changed the nomenclature of the Ministry from Ministry of Aviation to Ministry of Aviation and Aerospace Development. Two, he appointed Festus Keyamo as Minister. Three, Keyamo visited the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos and on the spur of the moment, he shut down the old international terminal at the airport and ordered a move to the new terminal to allow for renovations. Many stakeholders in the aviation sector have complained that they were not consulted. In fact, they were ignored after a fashion. The effect of that is the on-going nightmare at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos. Travellers arriving at the airport have to be bus-driven from the old terminal to the new terminal. It is the same bus that is used to ferry people, that is also used to move luggage. Immigration processes are slow. It could take up to four hours before persons can go through immigration to the luggage point to the exit. This is a clear case of acting before thinking! Similarly, it is doubtful if anyone made the effort to consult with industry stakeholders before reaching agreements with the UAE.
In 2022, airline operators of Nigeria, the AON, objected strongly to protests by foreign airlines, including Emirates, that they had not been able to repatriate $464 million of their revenue out of Nigeria in line with the Bilateral Service Agreement (BASA). The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) at the time announced the release of $265 million to foreign airlines through special FX intervention. Nigerian airline operators protested. They objected to foreign airlines being given preferential treatment when local airlines were suffering. Till date, Nigerian local airline operators are still protesting. Nigeria has an obligation to look out for their interest. Foreign airlines enjoy flight frequencies that are not available to Nigerian airlines under BASA. Nigeria is a big market. Even with the economic hardship today, flights in and out of Nigeria are still fully booked, and yet Nigerian airlines are short-changed. No serious-minded country does that. Every day, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways make humongous amounts of money on the Nigerian route. No Nigerian airline is on the London route. No Nigerian airline is allowed to enjoy full BASA rights in the UAE. The Central Bank of Nigeria was talking about special FX intervention for foreign airlines, but the same CBN is sitting on about $14 billion belonging to Air Peace. At the 2023 NBA Conference in Abuja, the Chairman of Air Peace, Allen Onyema brought up the matter.
What has been done to other local airlines is worse, indeed a criminal act of economic sabotage. Take what the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) has done to Arik Air. Established in October 2006, by Sir Arumemi Ikhide-Johnson, formerly of GT, Arik soon became the dominant airline within the Nigerian aerospace creating jobs and building opportunities for Nigerians. At the height of its glory, Arik Air had flights to London, Madrid, Atlanta, Miami, Birmingham, Johannesburg, Dubai, and the Caribbeans. By 2012, it had transported over 10 million passengers. In February 2017, the airline was taken over by AMCON and handed over to receiver-managers on grounds that have become subjects of contention in courts of law. AMCON and the receiver-managers claimed that there were debts running into about N24 billion to be recovered, but six years later under their watch, they have turned Arik Air into a shadow of its former self, killing the dream that created it. What really happened was that in 2010, the CBN announced a sudden change of policy whereby foreign loans with local guarantees hitherto treated as off balance sheet were arbitrarily converted to on balance sheet local loans. This was done without negotiation or consultation with Arik Air. All efforts to secure an amicable settlement between the shareholders and AMCON have so far failed. The story of Arik Air is similar to that of Aero Contractors, also under the grips of AMCON.
It is worth stressing that AMCON was established in July 2010 to help Nigerian banks address the challenge of non-performing loans and thereby ensure stability within the financial system, and hence prevent a descent into crisis. It was given a lifespan of 10 years. The Act was further amended in 2015, 2019 and 2021. More than 10 years after its creation, AMCON has proven to be worse than the problem it was meant to correct. It has accumulated more debt than the same companies it was meant to rejuvenate. Its receiver-managers have not made any significance difference as seen in the gross mismanagement of the two examples already cited. What has been writ large is the resort to name-calling, ethnic politics, and persecution by an agency of government established with more ennobling expectations. AMCON was meant to revive and re-engineer businesses. Rather it kills them. Its disposal of assets has been more controversial than transparent. The agency may well claim achievements in other aspects of its operations: oil and gas, finance, general commerce, capital market and manufacturing, our argument is that at first blush, its intervention in the aviation sector has been catastrophic.
It is for this reason that we urge President Tinubu focusing on the aviation sector and aerospace development to take a closer and critical look at AMCON and the interest of stakeholders in that industry - from the plight of domestic airlines under receivership and allegations of prejudice and mistreatment, to the structure of the Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), security matters, and the state of Nigeria’s airports. Besides, AMCON has lived far beyond its sunset clause, and yet it has not truly served its purpose. It is tied down by litigation. The various amendments to the Enabling Act have not made any difference. One of the more pressing matters for the Tinubu administration is to investigate AMCON and its relevance and impact or non-impact so far, and seek to ensure that those who have been wounded by the politicization of the special purpose vehicle get justice.
This would mean taking the aviation sector beyond the routine measure of airport renovation, and vacuous rhetoric, something which every new Aviation Minister embarks upon under the guise of bringing our international airports up to an international standard. Contracts would be awarded. Equipment would be procured. Tapes would be cut. Six months down the line, the newly refurbished toilets would be shut down due to lack of proper maintenance. The luggage carousel will stop working, along with the air conditioning and other facilities. The roof of the newly touched up building could even start leaking. Enough of the window-dressing. There are more fundamental issues to be addressed, the full extent could only emerge in national interest through due consultation with industry stakeholders, at the heart of which is the security of investments and the certainty of policy.
Mohammed Bello Adoke, who turned 60 on September 1, 2023 served Nigeria as Attorney General and Minister of Justice, April 6, 2010- May 29, 2015. He holds the esteemed, silky rank of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR). He is one of the finest gentlemen that I know, a sound professional, brutally honest, intellectually gifted, a man whose first code of relationship is loyalty. I admire him for his intellect and forthrightness, but even more so for his stubborn loyalty to persons and causes.
There are persons that I have had cause to criticize in the recent past, in the line of work basically, but Adoke would insist he would never condemn any man in public who has ever been nice to him whatever the situation may be. And yet he has the most caustic tongue that anyone can ever think of. I have always warned him never to think of a career in journalism, lest someone breaks his bones literally, because when he takes on a subject that he is passionate about, he does not know how to measure his words. He is one of such persons who believe that their syntax must match the exact timbre of their feelings. When he is opposed to a subject, he wields an axe, when he is in support of a particular matter, he waxes lyrical.
Legal practice suits his temperament perfectly. Lawyers are basically technicians, wielding facts and evidence and relying on precedents and the law to build a case in favour of their clients, and lawyers are fine in that regard as long as they do not behave like characters in Charles Dickens’s The Great Expectations or The Bleak House where Dickens, 19th Century English satirist offers a most unflattering view of the law. The key thing about our common law jurisprudence is that the court-room restrains lawyers from speaking as it comes to them outside the rules of professional conduct. Adoke’s professionalism is not in doubt. Called to the Bar in 1986, after obtaining a degree in law from Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria (1985), he holds a Postgraduate Diploma in International Tax Law from Robert Kennedy University, Zurich, Switzerland, a Diploma in International Commercial Arbitration from Keble College, Oxford and an Advanced LLM in Public International Law (specializing in international criminal law) from the University of Leiden, Netherlands. He has practised law in diverse areas such as civil litigation, commercial disputes, arbitration, election petitions and oil and gas culminating in his attainment of the rank of an SAN, membership of the International Law Commission in Geneva and his appointment as Chief Law Officer of the Federation: a position that places him in a special class in the legal profession.
The other day, ahead of the celebration of his 60th birthday, he granted an interview which has now become very controversial, to a lady, Ms Adesua Giwa-Osagie, on a platform called “Untold Stories”. In the interview, one thing led to another and Adoke, reacting to allegations that he was charged for corruption by the Buhari administration told his interviewer that no he was not corrupt, but that Buhari ran “the most incompetent government we’ve ever seen in this country, ran by the most incompetent President that this country has ever had and will never have again…by a set of political morons.” This was that side of Adoke’s persona that I talked about in action. In a few words, he delivered the most devastating assessment of the Buhari administration so far since Buhari’s departure from office on May 29. To accuse a man of incompetence at his work is to declare that he is not worth it at all. To dismiss a whole Government as a government of morons is brutal. It was therefore not surprising that by Monday morning, quite a number of news platforms reported a sharp rebuttal to Adoke’s statement by Mallam Garba Shehu, former senior assistant spokesperson to President Buhari. One example would suffice.
This newspaper yesterday in its lead front page story quoted Garba Shehu as having claimed that President Buhari’s fight against corruption is unprecedented. He was said to have cited the Process and Industrial Developments (PID) matter, Paris Club, and the Ajaokuta Steel Company as cases that Buhari had to take on which were inherited from the Jonathan administration under which Adoke served. He reportedly said that Buhari was on “a rescue mission”. Adoke’s interview, ahead of his 60th birthday, was on a relatively modest platform. I have always warned that volubility is not an asset in the business of spokesmanship. He who speaks for another must know what to ignore, what to respond to, and what to manage. By responding to Adoke, Garba Shehu has taken what could have been overlooked as a side comment to the front pages, and drawn more attention to President Buhari’s legacy. He should have kept quiet. But he didn’t. And now he has ignited a conversation around the question: what exactly did President Buhari rescue?
It is true that in 2015, President Buhari had promised Nigerians that he would address the issues of insecurity, the economy and corruption. By the time he left office in May 2023, he had left the country in a far more insecure state than he met it. The economy was in the doldrums. Nigeria was in so much debt, even Buhari’s economists advised against the perils of further borrowings. Inflation had become unmanageable. The country’s unemployment rate was so high, the succeeding Tinubu administration has had to engage in the voodoo manipulation of statistics to reassure Nigerians that the unemployment index had dropped using a different methodology. But the same Tinubu, APC to APC government has not hidden the fact that the new managers inherited a badly managed economy.
Wale Edun, the current Minister of Finance and the Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy has said publicly that the last time the Nigerian economy was stable was about a decade ago, in other words before Buhari/APC assumed office at the centre. He added, to drive the matter home, that “we inherited a bad economy.” So, what happened to Buhari’s rescue mission. The standard excuse that has been given in his defence is that he was “not aware” of most of the things that happened under his watch. Tinubu, his successor, from the same party has been carrying on as if he is aware, and that is why he has been prying into some of the transactions under Buhari: the CBN, the foreign exchange, import waivers, management of palliatives, the anchor borrowers’ programme. His only saving grace would be that if Tinubu with his “over-sabi” fails to deliver on his reforms, then people could become kinder to him, but if Tinubu is able to make a difference, then Buhari’s legacy would be in tatters. The jury is still out. Buhari’s spin doctors are no longer in a position to dictate how he should be remembered. The old line about Buhari fighting corruption that was hatched under Jonathan is a worn, over-flogged tale that no longer sells in the light of present realizations.
As a person. Muhammed Bello Adoke has used the occasion of his 60th birthday to defend himself in the public domain. Before his recent interview, he had written a book titled “Burden of Service: Reminiscences of Nigeria’s former Attorney General” (London/New York: Clink Street, 2019, 270 pp.) in which he provides a detailed reflection on his trials and triumphs as Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice: the mischief of those who witch-hunted him, specifically the OPL 245 Controversy and the Ajaokuta Steel Settlement. Adoke’s main argument is that he acted in the utmost best interest of Nigeria in all that he did and strictly within the purview of the rule of law. The frustration that he expresses in the book about the intrigues in the corridors of power is enough to discourage anyone from agreeing to serve the Nigerian government. Depending on the circumstances, you could go in as an innocent person interested in service, only to come out with a heavy Sisyphean burden on your shoulders. In 2016, the Buahri administration charged Adoke to court along with others over OPL 245. He was hounded from pillar to post, even as far as the Netherlands. He was eventually arrested in Dubai after spending about six years in exile. Adoke is in the best position to tell his own story, and he probably would do so in another book. What is certain is that a court in Milan, Italy discharged and acquitted him of any wrong-doing in the OPL 245 debacle. The Commercial Court in the UK ruled that he had nothing to do with the P&ID debacle which seems to have gone cold most conveniently. The former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN advised the government in a written opinion that the Federal Government had no case against. Adoke. Mr Ibrahim Magu, former EFCC Chairman, by Adoke’s own account, also found cause to apologise to him. This is probably the root of his deployment of strong adjectives to dismiss a leader that was once a “constituted authority” in this country as the most incompetent in Nigerian history. Politics is a function of time and chance, hall of mirrors, a revolving door.
Adoke was not originally my friend. We quarrelled before we became friends. When I assumed duties at the Presidential Villa in 2011, one of the first pieces of advice I got was from Akachikwu Nwankpo, then Special Adviser on Technical Matters to the President and later Gubernatorial candidate in the 2022 Anambra elections. Nwankwo had drawn my attention very early to what he called the existence of a “A Gap Theory” in the Villa, in the sense that the place was a jungle and the only way to survive was to defend your territory with every ounce of energy within you. I thought he was joking. But he was dead serious. “You see this place my brother, you have to watch your territory, even when you are doing your best people are perpetually looking for how they can do your job for you.” I felt that was odd. People had specific titles and job descriptions.
But as it turned out, I discovered on my own that my assignment as Presidential Spokesperson was something everyone had their eyes on. I usually briefed the President every morning at the breakfast table. In a short while some people started dragging it with me. They would plant themselves at the table and before I started the briefing, one of them would have launched an unsolicited media commentary: “Daddy, on AIT yesterday…” Oga, I heard that so, so and so editor.” Ha. Would these people allow me to do this job? Many of the interlopers used to go directly to the President to introduce editors and other media players, claiming to know the media better than everyone else. Some had the effrontery of directing me to issue press statements. I was caught in the web once or twice, but when I saw the President didn’t like me producing press statements that he did not personally authorize, I became fiercely territorial. Only the President could tell me what to do.
I had a different kind of baptism in January 2012. That was during the “Occupy Nigeria” protests following the Jonathan administration’s decision to deregulate the downstream sector, which resulted in the pump price of petrol going up from N65 per litre to N141 per litre. Mayhem descended on Nigeria. There were riots in Ojota, Abuja and other parts of the country. For more than a week, organised labour and civil society fought the Nigerian government. They wanted the removal of subsidy reversed and they were determined, not the kind of “testing, testing” protest that Labour leaders of today are organizing on the same issue. There was unease in the Villa as there was in the country. There were casualties. It was felt that the President needed to address the nation. I wrote a draft in which I tried to appeal to the people and calm the nerves. Then came along Adoke with a militant draft speech in which the President was meant to sound stern and warn the dissidents and their sponsors who were disturbing the peace of the nation. The version that Adoke brought was pugilistic and fierce. The President told me to go and look at it and get back to him. I came back with a modified draft, only for the President to opt for the militant piece. It was his statement, not mine. But I was bitter. I complained to Dr. Fortune Fiberesima, the President’s physician who said he too was facing the same challenge – all kinds of people trying to do his work, even when they had no knowledge of medicine. One Minister, who always boasted that his wife was a medical doctor, in fact relished offering the President medical advice. Fiberesima used to fume.
I decided to talk to Mohammed Adoke. I told him he should not do my job. He should focus on his AGF work. He was nice. He said he was interested in the purity of the law, not other people’s assignments and indeed, with the law, he is one of the finest that Nigeria has had as AGF and Minister of Justice. The story of our friendship since then till date is another story to be told some other day. For now, please join me to wish him a happy 60th birthday. Congratulations, AGF Emeritus.
“So now that President Bola Tinubu has held his first Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting with his Ministers, what do you think?”
“When was that? You know, sometimes, I try to select what I pay attention to in this country. This place is so bad enough it can affect your mental health. You have to struggle with your own mental health even when you worry about the complex country called Nigeria.”
“Okay, for you to ask when confirms your point. For your information, President Tinubu’s inaugural FEC meeting was held yesterday at the Presidential Villa.”
“On a Monday? I thought the traditional day for FEC meetings is Wednesday of every week.”
“Traditional yes, but not statutory. There is nowhere in the Nigerian Constitution that it is written that the President must meet with his Cabinet on a Wednesday. Ministers are the President’s advisers and aides, he can meet with them as he deems fit, and because the Federal Cabinet represents voices from across the Federation, it is endowed with the toga of inclusivity and representation.”
“You have started again. You think these Ministers see themselves as representing anybody? You people just like to quote theory and sound bites from persons whose job is simply propaganda, and they are masters at it. When Minister Nyesom Wike declared that he would demolish any structure that could be in violation of the Abuja Master Plan, was he doing that in the people’s interest?”
“Master plans are meant to be respected. He is defending the rule of law. In fact, if you ask me, I would say that of all the Ministers, it is only Wike who has hit the ground running. Apart from his statement about illegal structures, he also inspected the Abuja mass rail transit system and openly declared that it is in a dysfunctional state.”
“What do you expect him to say? Was his arch-enemy Rotimi Amaechi, former Governor, former Minister, former Presidential aspirant not the man in charge of railways matters with the Chinese under the Buhari administration? Wike knows how to play the game of cutting your rival under the belly. I always tell people that he is a deft politician, whatever you may think of his style”
“Maybe you are right. After all, more than any other Minister, particularly any former Governor turned Minister, he has been able to capture the attention of the President. The other day, at the on-going Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Annual Conference in Abuja, the President publicly told Wike: “If I ask for free land in Abuja, don’t give me”
“Yes. The President said so. That is the Jagaban for you.”
“My friend, stop. Nobody gives anybody land free of charge. I put it to you that Wike will reserve choice plots of land for President Tinubu and his associates, and for anyone that the President approves of. Tinubu was talking about giving out free land, not the individual’s legitimate right to acquire and own land. Always learn to read between the lines before you run with the headlines.”
“What I know is that President Tinubu has fixed performance targets for his Ministers, and he has made it clear that any Minister that is surplus to requirement would be asked to leave.”
“When that happens, we ‘d see, we’d see.”
“You don’t believe him?”
“Of course, I do. But we’d see. After all, the same President has said that his administration will not service debt with 90% of the country’s revenue. We all know that such a revenue to debt ratio is unsustainable. But the question is how? How? How? The Buhari people may not know enough theory, but these new guys know the theory and they mouth the received wisdoms from IMF and World Bank so well, but the question is: to what effect?”
“What do you mean to what effect? This administration has rolled out robust cost-cutting strategies to reduce the cost of governance. The President has just directed ahead of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September that any government official that has no business in New York should not be attended to by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”.
‘You know what the Presidency has just done with that statement? They have just provided work for Omoyele Sowore and Sahara Reporters.”
“How? The President wants to cut costs”
“Is that how a government cuts costs? Stop supporting our leaders blindly. Try and have a critical mind of your own. You are already jubilating and inventing panegyrics because you don’t know. You should wait till some research journalists publish the list of the President’s entourage to New York in September, and the additional list of accompanying Ministers and their own aides. Don’t forget that at the next UNGA, Tinubu’s first, we have been told that he would be having a meeting with President Joe Biden on the sidelines. And it is not only President Biden that he would meet. He would need many government officials around him from the Nigerian Mission to the US and the UN, and a retinue of officials from home. You don’t think there would be Ministers who are scrambling to accompany the President just to take a photo with President Biden? I have my suspicions, but let’s wait and see, and please stop committing everything government says to heart. Learn to separate the wheat from the chaff.”
“I always do. I do, if you want to be fair to me, and in any case, I don’t have to see things as you see them. The problem with people like you is that you think you know it all.”
“I always tell you the truth”
“You sound like you are the only one with a monopoly of the truth. Truth is relative. If I tell you I stand on Asiwaju’s mandate, then that is where I stand, and that is the truth for me”
“And that is why you were saying the other day that Nigeria reporting a 4.1% unemployment rate in the first quarter of 2023 is a good sign, and I told you that’s nonsense.”
“And how is that the president’s problem? It was the office of the Statistician-General and the National Bureau of Statics that gave that report. They said they have adopted a new methodology in calculating Nigeria’s unemployment figures in line with best international practices. You need accurate data to plan.”
“What new methodology? Lying with data. Do you need to be a statistician to know that things are getting worse in Nigeria? And why would anyone quote Q1 figures in the light of present realities? The National Bureau of Statistics must begin to talk to us in the kind of simple language that we can understand. Now they say new methodology: how do we measure the effect in terms of the quotidian reality of our lives? Are you aware that any parents have slipped into depression because all the children they trained through university are all at home without work? Are you aware also that many of the Nigerians who have abandoned the country in search of greener pastures did so and are doing so because life elsewhere provides them with greater meaning?”
“This is the age of globalization. No government can legitimately stop its citizens from going anywhere. Those who want to live abroad will leave, those of us who are determined to remain here, will remain, life without end. People must learn to make sacrifices for the good of their country. Nigerians are always trying to compete with their leaders. Our Money, Our Money. People should know their place in the ultimate equation of things.”
“Are you alright?”
“Yes, I am”
“People tell you to make sacrifice for Nigeria, the same sacrifice that they are not willing to make. Are you aware…?”
“I am aware of everything. Stop asking me if I am aware. Are we not in this same…?
“Let me finish.”
“Are you aware that members of the House of Representatives in the 10th National Assembly have only recently agreed to give themselves N150 million each as constituency allowance, coming up to a total of about N54 billion. House of Reps members in the 9th National Assembly took N100 million each. Nobody ever knows what they do with the money these lawmakers continue to collect as allowances. Most of the time, a lawmaker would dig bore holes. At the height of COVID-19, many of them bought water buckets and called them constituency projects. Besides, investment in infrastructure is the job of the Executive not the Legislature.”
“Rome was not built in a day. Democracy is a learning curve. We will learn”
“After 24 years of return to civilian rule? We are still learning. Perhaps, you could be right you know? The Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) has only just taken some Nigerian Governors on a three-day retreat to learn about how to re-imagine leadership in a fast-changing world. But does anyone need to go to Rwanda to learn that leadership is a major challenge in Africa and that there is a trust crisis between the leaders and the people they claim to lead?”
“The programme was in collaboration with the UNDP, and on the personal invitation of President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame. One of the subjects that they deliberated upon was how to promote inclusivity. There can never be any end to learning.”
“Except that Nigerian leaders going to Rwanda to learn about leadership is an indication of how low we have sunk as a country.”
“President Paul Kagame is a fine example of how to be a leader.”
“Give it to him. He is at best a benevolent dictator, and he has been able to re-write his country’s narrative. As for being a fine example, please. And all these your Governors that went for the retreat, the only thing they probably came back home with is a copy of the communique and may be cartons of Akabanga.”
“Akabanga. What is that?”
“Banga. Banga. Go and find out. It is a Rwandan national treasure, the kind of thing that would interest your Nigerian Governors.
“This is my problem with you. We will be discussing serious things your mind will be wandering here and there.”
“What I am saying is that those Governors had no business going on a retreat in Rwanda and packaging it as a major expedition of discovery. Governor Babajide Sanwoolu of Lagos State that should stay at home making sure his rejected 17 nominees are accepted by the Lagos State House of Assembly goes on a frolic in Rwanda at a critical moment. I don’t get it.”
“You don’t get it because you are not a politician. It is a political game. The Governor must carry people along when he makes his choices. He cannot assume that because Tinubu has made him the leader of the party and the state in Lagos, he can do what he likes and disconnect with other stakeholders. This is the mistake most people make. He must learn to listen to the other side. He is trying to fight people who know his political history. They have just told him that he is not Tinubu, and that there are forces in Lagos that can insist on their own preferences.”
“But what does he want to do with 39 Commissioners and his mentor is talking about cutting the cost of governance? Do these people connect the threads at all?”
“If Sanwoolu gets the politics right, he can have 100 commissioners if he wants and all of them will be approved. But to think he can dictate to the Lagos State House of Assembly, they will show him that there are powers behind the throne occupied by Tinubu in Lagos.”
“But how about technocratic competence? Professor Akin Abayomi did well as Commissioner of Health. Has anyone forgotten how he provided professional leadership during the COVID pandemic in Lagos? Gbenga Omotoso also served diligently as a sound technocrat. At least I know those two.”
“You don’t know politics. When Professor Akin Abayomi was setting up COVID centres and conducting money-guzzling research, how many of the stakeholders did he carry along? Technocrats. Many of you guys hide under that title to project an annoying image of hypocrisy. But technocrats know how to spend money and enjoy. But they don’t know party Chairman, Ward chairman and party members. They don’t even want to collect party membership cards. It is an open cinema. Let us all wait for the end. After all, THE END is what ends a film in the cinema.”
“I sense envy in your voice.”
“You must give me credit that I also know one or two things about politics. It is like Shaibu, the Deputy Governor of Edo State saying he wants to also become Governor of Edo State, and he remains loyal to his boss. Answer me, have they not shown him yesterday what his Governor thinks of his loyalty? His media aides were all blocked from attending a state event. When he expressed his anger, all his media aides were sacked on the authority of the Governor. The game of power can take any dimension. Babajide Sanwoolu no fit”
“What if Tinubu intervenes? This is clearly a case of the cat going on a journey and all kinds of mice and other rodents are flexing muscles in the kingdom. Who would dare carry a lantern to look at the face of the lion?”
“I don’t think Baba is going to get involved in Lagos politics for a while. He has more urgent issues at hand. Nigeria, ECOWAS, and now he is going to the UN in New York. He is where he wants to be, his place of dream. If he gets involved in Lagos matters, it is you people that will still accuse him of greed. People should learn to live without going through life as the parasite in a Godfather’s compound.”
“I just hope that someone will do something about the announcement by the Republic of Cameroon that water will soon be released from the Lagdo Dam which as we know would result in big floods on the Benue plains and 13 other states”
“The Minister of State for Environment, Ishaq Salako has said people have nothing to fear. The Lagos State Government says they have everything covered.”
“Okay. Okay. We’d see. What does the Minister know? The story of Nigeria is this: the more things are, the more they remain the same. Pathetic.”