Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Blockbuster snake-oil anti-depressant drugs

Does everything on the bus

I remember riding on those big yellow buses with black stripes in Lagos decades ago where a woman with snake-oil remedies would peddle her wares in front of the bus with humour and fallacy bordering on being cajoled.

Gbogbonse (Yoruba - Translating to does everything or cures all) was supposed to do everything from dealing with tooth decay to making you of extremely amorous interest to the opposite sex.

In what looks like a game show, certain passengers on the bus offered to assist in revealing the instant qualities of the medicines, between the comical and the downright bizarre people opened their wallets and parted with cash for those wraps of powdered substance.

It could all well have been a con job; you had no receipts or recourse to challenge the efficacy of your snake-oil drug if it did not do everything.

Since no one knew any better, it all really looked like a replay of a story I read in secondary school about con-men who sold charcoal as sugar for tea in a village and made loads of money.

Snake-oil anti-depressants

So when I heard that anti-depressants are very much like catch-all remedies with snake-oil potency and have very little effect, I really was not surprised.

The substance of the study was that the reviewers took all research material, especially the unpublished ones (which probably show that we are being sold shit) and analysed all the results with the conclusion that only those who are really very ill need be prescribed anti-depressants.

It would appear these block-buster snake-oil mental drugs which have made Big-Pharma exceedingly rich are very much like being sold charcoal as sugar for tea.

In fact, it appears the placebos also give a commensurate therapeutic effect leading some experts to question the full sincerity of Big-Pharma when it comes to conducting clinical and drug research on drugs that their viability and stock price values depend on.

I have no time, have a pill

I can very well understand why these drugs have gained prominence, the doctors have no time to analyse the issues and causes of depression which require extensive therapy, so stick a pill in the hands of anyone who cannot maintain a smile for more than a second.

Before we come to the conclusion that these drugs do not work at all, they might just be the required Gbogbonse the doctor ordered for some, leaving Big-Pharma laughing all the way to the bank anyhow.

It makes the whole matter ever so depressing – meanwhile, the deafening cacophony continues to sound like - kerching! kerching!!

Nigeria: We must make the case at the Supreme Court

A transcript is required

There would be continuous commentary and analysis of the judgement offered by the Federal Electoral Petitions Tribunal yesterday regarding the validity of the election of President Umaru Yar’Adua.

However, I do not think we can objectively comment on these matters till we are provided with the transcript of the judgement which was read for well over 3 hours.

Now, the needs for justice as we are sentimentally inclined to have desired might not have been served, but the one for due process and its legal requirements have been served.

A case must be made

I am concerned that the judgement came out as unanimous, but that simply implies that the case and evidence presented by the plaintiffs did not convincingly satisfy the judges beyond reasonable doubt – which meant they could not find in favour of the plaintiffs.

I also worry that the executive inadvertently tried to influence or interfere with the proceedings by plucking the chairman of the tribunal out for the post of Associate Justice in the Supreme Court of Nigeria – that really should have waited till all proceedings in which the judge might have been found to have a professional duty and honourable cause had been completed.

Law of evidence not weight of sentiment

In all, it appears the evidence gathered for presentation has to attain a higher standard of quality to admissibly influence judgement in favour of the plaintiffs, they do have their work cut out.

We also have to note that justice in and of itself cannot exist in a vacuum; it needs to operate in the context of the society in which the laws that govern that process thrives.

If the election of the president had been annulled, the order of precedence which is in complete disarray at the moment with the annulment of the election of the senator who also happened to be the Senate President would have had us going to the 38-year old Speaker of the House – the 4th in line.

It would have meant all houses of legislature losing their leadership as the executive goes into meltdown and the Speaker tries to steady the ship of the our great nation for possibly 90 days.

Not with this INEC

Conducting another election under the auspices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which still has Professor Maurice Iwu as chairman would have been untenable.

We still have no confidence in the ability and competence of that organisation to run free and fair elections, they cannot now suddenly have gained the competence to perform, rather they might just have perfected how to cover up the loopholes the tribunal proceedings might have exposed.

The plaintiffs do have a solid case and have another opportunity make that case better at the highest court of the land and to seek justice with a judgement in its finality because inadvertently, the tribunal might have shied away from the culpability of plunging the country into chaos.

Prove the case convincingly

I would hope the President would move speedily to overhaul and revamp INEC with more trustworthy and competent leadership and when this case does get to the Supreme Court, one would expect the newly appointed Associate Justice to recuse himself from participating in a case that is reviewing his earlier opinions.

I would say, things are working, so far, so good, those whooping for joy now might soon be in a different state of mind.

If we believe that the elections in April 2007 were flawed, rigged, rotten and falsified, we need to gather unimpeachable and incontrovertible evidence, then present such with excellence before the learned judges – the dry-run at the tribunal should be lesson enough for all concerned - the judges need to be convinced.

Advance! Nigeria! Advance!

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

YouTube versus Islam - Between discernment and ignorance

Mosque smarts and technical dunces

When I wrote Temple smarts and street dunces as the subtitle to my write-up Earth-queers quaking in Israel on the 21st of February, I was not anticipating writing Mosque smarts and technical dunces 5 days on.

On Sunday, the Pakistani government had ordered ISPs to block all access to YouTube because of content deemed offensive to Islam and they all complied.

The smarts at Pakistan Telecom hijacked the IP address of the YouTube web server and in conjunction with PCCW an ISP sent seekers of that site down a rabbit hole.

In fact, it sent the global user community of YouTube down the rabbit hole for two hours.

The jury is out as to whether this act was deliberate or just a case of ignorance about how Internet protocols work, because Morocco, Thailand and Turkey have successfully implemented bans to YouTube without bringing the whole house down.

Accountability or ridicule

Did I not say, “The sooner adherents and followers call their leaders to account the less their beliefs and dogma are subjected to ridicule”, to leaders we now have to add technical people.

This also extends however tenuously to the use and abuse of knowledge, when Pakistan acquired knowledge of nuclear weaponry the smarts involved opened an illegal market of nuclear proliferation threatening global peace.

Fostering an intellectual environment

Sadly, the real problem is the fact that the Pakistani government has failed to foster an intellectual environment amongst its people.

In the weekend, a friend sent me a few links from YouTube to do with a grandmother doing some “commendably” shocking things like kicking a toddler out of the path of an oncoming train – I found the material utterly offensive and definitely not funny, I did not bother to view the other link but deleted the email and was ungentlemanly enough not send acknowledgments or thanks.

What I am saying here is I made the decision to view the content and once I found it was not to my liking, I refused to create more revulsion by viewing the rest of the material.

If the email had come with a clearer idea of the content, I would not have opened the links at all.

Give the people more credit of discernment

Surely, the people of Pakistan should be able to make informed decisions like that; as refusing to view YouTube videos with refer to the Mohammedan cartoons (Warning: Links to the cartoons, you exercise a personal prerogative in clicking on the link) or Geert Wilders’ Islamic ruse called Fitna to be released in March and still be about to seek out videos that glorify Islam or teach Internet protocols properly.

Censorship is a very blunt and unwieldy hammer to hit the nail where the government has lost the persuasion of ideas that they have to use the coercion of tyranny by resorting to blanket bans.

Very typical of ordering everyone to wall off the windows in their homes because the wind is blowing and it might carry bad odours when people should have the choice to open or close their windows at will to let air in or keep it out as they will.

In the process, technical ignorance on the one part and government policy failure on the other have combined to depict proud, independent and intelligent Pakistanis as ignorant, incapable of making informed decisions and brought Islam to unnecessary ridicule in the name of protecting the self-same religion.

Monday, 25 February 2008

The need for fairness in taxes

Easy to file

I just filed my taxes with the Dutch tax authorities called Belastingdienst and if anything being the son of an accountant and having every mutation of the anti-accountancy gene in my being, they have the simplest tax filing system in the whole wide world.

It is all done electronically, you download a programme, install it and you just go through the sequence of filling in the numbers then use your DigID code to file the stuff – all done in under 20 minutes.

All you require are a number of Year Summary (Jaaropgave in Dutch) letters you get from your employer or employment agency, your mortgage lender, the community value of your home based on the assessment of your local government and a number of insurance details.

I do not complicate my tax filing with receipts of taxi rides and other little expenses, the time spent adding up pennies (cents) ends up losing you pounds (Euros).

When I looked at the summary of my returns I suddenly realised I was so much into the top tax band, it made me sick, I was paying so much at 52%.

Tax breaks away from home

Now, I moved to the Netherlands at a time when the UK Labour Party was introducing a new tax code called IR35 where as a self-employed owner of a company my income was to be taxed at source rather than after it had gone through the company – there was an exodus at a time when the UK needed IT personnel.

At the same time, the Netherlands had been attracting brains and skills for decades with what they called the 35% ruling which gave you the first 35% of your income tax-free before the local taxes apply.

At that time, you could claim back literally everything, soon after they closed a number of loopholes and reduced the tax break to 30% and most of those claims did not go through as easily as before.

The issue here when it comes to taxes is not that people do not like to pay taxes but that when taxes do not have an element of fairness, people who pay more tend to feel they are getting nothing back.

If I had stayed in the UK, I would have been looking for an extra GBP 20,000 a year in taxes for a situation where the transport system would not have improved, where I still had to pay heavily for essential health services through insurance and where access to social services were restricted because I did not have a disadvantaged or poor profile.

Moving to the Netherlands with my career profile allowed me to take advantage of a tax break that can run for 10 years before one settles into the full Dutch tax whack.

Infiltrating tax havens

An interesting issue about the fairness of rates of tax is brewing in Europe, surreptitiously; the German secret service through bribery involving a large sum of money (€5 million or $7.3 million) and subterfuge obtained names of German citizens with bank accounts in Liechtenstein who presumably have hidden their wealth from the taxman at home.

They have been trying to obtain this information from Liechtenstein and they have been unable to break the confidentiality clauses that make the Liechtenstein banking system a favoured haven for who feel entitled to have greater percentage of their hard-earned wealth in their pockets than in the wasteful hands of big government.

In fact, it appears an informant had also offered some information about Britons to the UK tax authorities for a price, but they turned the offer down.

Tax fairness would defeat tax evasion

Now, they are accusing Liechtenstein of aiding and abetting tax evaders which is a rather grave if not scurrilous accusation.

Germany now plans to tighten the screws on European tax havens, because they presumably foster tax evasion.

Well, I think that attack plan is wrong headed, because the issue is not necessarily the legality of taxation, I am sure everyone would willingly pay their taxes; the problem is the fairness of the system of taxes.

Crown Prince Alois, the hereditary prince of Liechtenstein went to the crux of the matter when he said of the German system – “If it were a more direct democracy with a better tax system perhaps its citizens would not cheat”.

Hard words, but ones that have the bitter taste of the truth, most of the tax systems in Europe and the United States are warped, over-burdening, unfair and not delivering value for money for the people who contribute the most.

Liechtenstein is not the problem, they are not the tax evaders, Germany is the problem, their tax regime is burdensome and unfair leading their citizens to seek havens for their large incomes.

It is evidently a matter of human nature to find ways to circumvent a feeling of unfairness and if one has the means to implement the measures, they would; in this case in tax havens that have strict confidentiality laws.

A taxed purpose

Whilst tax provides a means of revenue generation for the government, it behoves the government to ensure the moneys go to activities in a prudent manner for managing infrastructure and services without wastefulness - wishful thinking.

I am not sure that taxing for redistribution of wealth is a fair thing, it penalises those who really do work hard to succeed and lets off those we might wrongly assume do too little to get ahead or do nothing at all but leech on the state having children irresponsibly and so on – a reactionary diatribe.

The aspect of repricing is general and based on consumption and representation which implies that “rulers tax citizens and citizens demand accountability” - is almost Utopian.

The only way we can hold people accountable for the way our taxes are spent is through elections that just get rid of politicians; we still retain the same mandarins.

For instance, in the UK, the government has committed over GBP 50 billion in taxpayer’s money in shoring up the Northern Dust and with nationalisation assumed for taxpayers twice that in liabilities and not one head has rolled in government or the government agencies that govern the banking system.

Reform and rewrite

In the end, the real work to be done is in addressing, reviewing and rewriting the tax codes of these countries, I do not think anything can justify paying anything near 50% in taxes.

I did at least three 220 hour months in 2007 and this was NOT for the government or so someone who sits at home each day expecting me to pay for their willingness to remain jobless and not take up opportunities where they have no other choices – I had work to do.

What would it take for governments and lawmakers to reform the tax code? People like me waving placards and persuading our representatives that have a bit of capitalist backbone to see the benefits of fairness in taxation rather than penalising us for being successful to make the less successful feel good.

Then I remember when someone racially abused me a few years ago by suggesting that we black people come to his country for welfare - the reality of my response just makes me angrier about taxes. “I probably pay more taxes than you earn in a year and that goes into the government to have idiots like you speak to me like that.” How true.

Other readings

Taxation in the United States – Complex

Federal Tax Reform

Nigeria: Cut the cake society

Cutting social corners

This “cutting the cake” picture from one of ThisdayOnline's front pages which changes frequently, just about depicts the way we misplace our priorities in Nigeria, if one were to be objective or basically, it is the way things are done in Nigeria, if one were to succumb to the subjective.

The man in the middle is Senator Lee Maeba, and then from the left you have Govenor Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa State, Goodluck Jonathan - the Vice-President of Nigeria, Patience Jonathan (The VP’s wife) and Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State.

Senator Lee Maeba is married with two children, is a second term senator, the Chairman of the Petroleum Upstream Committee and member of the Establishment & Public Service, Agriculture, Culture & Tourism, Ethics & Petition committees.

Sylva replaced Jonathan as governor and they are all from oil-producing states which have seen so much revenue expended but no appreciable benefit to the people. Say no more.

The question then is why a man with a wife and children is cutting his birthday cake with political affiliates?

Birthdays are for families

One would think this is should be more a family affair, but the curse of junketry (that word again) and just the need to party at any opportunity - this has become a state religion with a horde and multitude of willing worshippers - has brought the Vice-President and two governors together to drink and be merry and that probably is just the tip of the iceberg of the many other idle “dignitaries” as they are known in Nigeria, who attended this lavish ceremony.

Anywhere else public figures celebrate their birthdays, it is usually amongst family with close friends gathering round to share the day with them.

I suppose we could forgive the man for celebrating his Molybdenum Jubilee, a landmark, milestone and grand old age not higher than, nor lower than but equal to the amazingly magnificent number of 42 – The birthday boy … as the caption proudly declares.

Governor Amaechi seems to be stretching out so much the buttons are about to come off the suit – in my opinion the best photograph should have been the Senator, his wife and two children put in the family album and kept of public view.

Maybe, it would be asking a lot for important Nigerian men to spend time with their families when there deals to be made and Jones’ to keep up with on the social calendar. Next, we'll have the Vice-President kiss the bride before the bridegroom does at a church wedding.

‘Nuff Said.

NB: Molybdenum derives from the mineral at 42 in the periodic table.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

John McCain with a fistful of ashes for Castro's grave

Bad intentions of bad leadership

It is interesting that a comment in my last blog links up with something I am writing about today.

I read yesterday that Senator John McCain, the front-runner Republican nominee for presidency that opined that he wished Fidel Castro dead very soon.

I am really disappointed that as Castro’s resignation offered everyone an opportunity to become inspired to look at the aspirations of the people of Cuba as see how we could work towards achieving them, we end up with more of the same failed rhetoric – How much does death achieve?

Losing our humanity still

One is saddened that a sense of humanity amidst the animosity between America and Cuba has turned into bloody-mindedness that makes one worry about people who aspire to the office of the President of the United States.

We forget that whatever we aspire to and desire to achieve is always possible, but it does not make us immortal, in fact, I think it is quite rich of a man about to enter the record books as the oldest ever presidential nominee wishing someone else 10 years older dead.

I find no sense of maturity in this kind of thinking because I believe the US could have tailored its policy towards Cuba in a better way to benefit the people and not allow Castro to hold sway for 50 years.

We cannot continue to adhere to flawed policies to the detriment of the humanity who stand to gain from a more inspired, courageous and bold approach to engaging our enemies constructively at the most difficult times.

This takes a different kind of leader and there has been none in American for close to a generation. Ones that show promise still need a wider grasp of the context of history and wealth of experience to take wise and effective steps to project America as a force for good and not a bullying menace that thrives on the gun, a fat cigar and wads of cash.

No thanks to America

I doubt if Cubans resident in Cuba would be thankful to America for any of those policies that isolated a culturally vibrant nation but made them so self-reliant and very resourceful.

The radically socialist-leaning regimes in Central and Southern America are no doubt in part, a backlash in response to myopic policies towards Cuba – remove the embargoes and let the people see what exactly they are missing and then they can decide if want they want the pain of change and if there is anything to gain.

Already speaking death

In fact, one wonders if the “so-called” new breed of presidential aspirants represents any change at all, as if the main thrust of American foreign policy has not committed enough people to earth already.

Now, we have a man who is still struggling to carry the core electoral base of his party, pandering to the belligerence that serves no purpose for peace or the welfare of the people most affected, ready with a fistful of dust and ashes to throw in Fidel Castro’s grave.

We cannot afford another blood-thirsty president in the White House, too much blood has been shed and none of the original goals have been achieved – more people than were killed on 9/11 have died amongst the forces; much more incapacitated for life; the Taleban still thrives in Afghanistan; Osama bin Laden still sends postcards from the edge; Iran and Afghanistan are unstably there.

As for Senator John McCain, you are but a man, and well advanced in years, which I hoped would count for being responsibly smart – I wish you no ill, neither can I bid you Godspeed if you wish others ill.

You are but a man only.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Fidel Castro: At a time of his own choosing

Far from Cuba

I have not been able to convince myself that any of the policies of America towards Cuba for over 40 years have been productive, useful or effective.

Like Bette Midler’s song, Only in Miami is Cuba so far away and the Cuban-Americans there have influenced and lobbied to obtain favours and policies sometimes wholly detrimental to their homeland.

The news of Fidel Castro’s resignation might have had some people dancing in the streets, but I would observe that the man chose to go at a time of his choosing.

Age has a way of slowing people down and with Castro’s government giving Cuba one of the most developed medical healthcare delivery systems in the world he underwent intestinal surgery though the seriousness of his condition and slow recuperation of an octogenarian took him out of the public eye since July 2006.

Of rest and peace

The old man writes, “The night before, I slept than ever”, we can safely say the man has completed his journey and entering into his rest having prevailed against all the machinations of his enemies 90 miles north of his shores.

It is with interest that one notes that a piece of land which the United States leases in perpetuity from Cuba is Guantánamo Bay.

In all, the point I want to make, is, happy is the man who can decide at the time of his own choosing when he has completed his job and he can take a holiday and have a long rest been fulfilled in what he has achieved.

The only other person I know who has exercised this amazing but rare opportunity in life is Madiba Nelson Mandela, so at this point, I wish Fidel Castro a very happy, restful and peaceful retirement.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Earth-queers quaking in Israel

Temple smarts and street dunces

It is a shame that sometimes we cannot look to our religious leaders to foster societal cohesion and promote the need to help all peoples live together in harmony.

Their deep knowledge of presumably spiritual matters is sometimes expressed in crass stupidity about social, political or natural law issues.

Even those who believe in miracles do not oppose natural laws; no one would call for rain to come out of the ground nor would they expect the crippled to rise up and walk on pig trotters.

Then we have political figureheads of extreme and fundamental causes who in their ignorance and idiocy look for social cannon fodder to blame for simple natural occurrences which get passed off as acts of God.

Pastor President with Bible Constitution

Mike Huckabee the Republican presidential nominee aspirant represents one shade of that perspective where America would be in danger of having a pastor for a President and the Bible for the constitution – how that can be any different from Ayatollah’s Iran surprises me as so-called conservatives dyed in the formaldehyde of the past still ply in to vote for him.

Can anyone tell these people that human government is radically different from religious government? One requires popular support; the other thrives on the cult of the personality and worse things that impact on the efficacy of democracy.

Earth-queers quaking in Israel

However, the reason for this write-up surrounds the crass statement by a political leader from the ultra-Orthodox (read - not of these times) Jewish Shas Party indicating the recent earthquakes in the Holy Land were caused by gays.

In other respectable forums, a statement like that should make the person certifiable but because he is a politician, stupidity is taken for political savvy – my view – if many people vote for an idiot, it does not suddenly make the winner of the popular vote smart.

History and experts

I am not going to go into a seismological survey of the Holy Lands but an expert in the geology of the Levant did indicate in November 2007 that the Middle-East was ripe for another earthquake.

Apparently, there are 400-year historical circles that offer a kind of pattern to these predictions with major earthquakes occurring at these times in history along the Jordan Valley in 31 BCE, 363 CE, 749 CE and 1033 CE – Other experts.

To go by the assertion of this political leader I would wonder what societal malaise might have taken a 400-year cycle to coincide with major earthquakes.

It is morally reprehensible for religious or political leaders to seek a minority group to blame for natural disasters and the sooner adherents and followers call their leaders to account the less their beliefs and dogma are subjected to ridicule.

Not 5 in the Israel of God

If I were to seek a Scriptural aside to this verbal atrocity one would only have to refer to the intercession of Abraham on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah where God acceded that He would spare them if He could find 5 godly people in those two cities.

In the end, only 4 escaped the wrath of God in those 2 cities; Lot, his wife and his two daughters – so maybe the earthquakes in the Levant could have been prevented but for the unfortunate situation that not even 5 godly men could be found in the whole of the Israel of God.

I do not need to carry this argument any further without offering the likes of Shlomo Benizri the opportunity to make idiots of anyone who gives any attention to his comments.

What has any minority done to warrant unfair and dastardly attacks like this?

Lucky is on the loose

Softer bail conditions

I cannot say that I am glad to report that Lucky Igbinedion, the ex-governor of Edo State who was indicted for corruption charges has been able to secure bail and leave prison.

I wrote last Friday that the bail conditions were almost impossible to meet and even though his lawyers seemed to be able to coral two federal permanent secretaries, the Head of Service of the Federation refused to use her office to vouch for a private citizen with his own legal travails.

When it became apparent that the lady would not be bought or prevailed upon by rotten influence peddlers the lawyers returned to the judge to seek other terms that were within the machinations of their ilk.

Now the conditions have been varied to only have people with landed property in the jurisdiction of the court and no requirement for the Head of Service to introduce any of the sureties.

Like I commented in my earlier blog this now shows that fewer people would allow their offices to be brought into disrepute by suspect criminals, no matter how much they can spend or what Senior Advocates of Nigeria they can use to scare other parties.

Proofread and correct

Mr. Igbinedion is supposed to report to the EFCC every fortnight on a Friday, it grates that sometimes one has to read Thisday Online with utter disdain because twice they have written that he should report to the EFCC every first Friday fortnightly.

The laudable art of proofreading has died a horrific death in the Nigerian press.

Even months after I have posted blogs, if I read through stuff and find errors, I correct them and repost.

King of the jungle mentality

Beyond this, I would suppose there would be a welcome party to greet the man of the people when he returns to his home state and that is very unfortunate.

We as Africans have to take our concept of leadership beyond the primitive concept of the King of the Jungle – in the jungle, animals fight, vie for ascendancy and power and maintain that office with menace and coercion.

As human-beings we have evolved beyond that rule of the jungle to expect people who gain leadership to be accountable, honest, fair and just in their leadership duties.

We cannot continue to revere leaders who have abused their positions for personal gain just because that have once been in leadership, these people should be constantly apologising for their poor leadership and their dishonest tenure rather than being regaled by the teeming mob of never-do-wells who scramble for every sop and crumb that falls off the rich man’s table.

Alas! That is why tyrants, despots, dictators and thieves find honour in Africa amongst their people – we need a serious re-education – Pretty Damn Quick!

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Wikileaks - The right to know

An undying Internet presence

I happened upon a website that got its DNS entry removed through a legal process by an aggrieved plaintiff in cahoots with an Internet Service Provider.

In what might appear egregious in its remit, the judge not only asked for Dynadot the domain hosting service to remove all traces of the site from all systems that could resolve the name, they also any resolution from showing anything but a blank page.

The law as many would agree is an ass which by inference means it can only be laden with so much before it collapses under the weight of the load.

So, today as we can see Wikileaks.org no more we see Wikileaks.be, for any resourceful organisation taking a site offline only offers an inconvenience and not complete Internet obliteration – reincarnation is reality in new technology.

The need for whistleblowers

Wikileaks provides a unique service as a repository of documents posted anonymously by whistleblowers in government or corporations.

Obviously, if organisations, governments, politicians and powerful organs of influence conducted their businesses with transparency and honestly within the bounds of legality, justice and fairness there would probably be no need for whistleblowers.

Now, this is no advocacy to break the law and countries with official secrets legal codes should for matters of national interest be able to govern what gets revealed to the general public – the only problem is that it gets abused and used to conceal criminality, illegality, subterfuge and injustice.

Kenya stands out

Going through the site, it is not surprising that Kenya which stands out as a paragon of corruption amongst political leaders and their cohorts features prominent.

As it transpired the newly elected government of Mwai Kibaki engaged Kroll Inc. to investigate issues of corruption concerning the looting of Kenya under government of Daniel arap Moi his predecessor.

They produced a 110-page report in 2004 which implicates the ex-President’s sons in activities that have both of them worth just under a billion pounds or $1.8 billion.

This report is either gathering dust or being used as political leverage since it is interesting that Daniel arap Moi came round to supporting Mwai Kibaki having been unseated by him 5 years earlier.

The Kenya page shows a number of whistleblower documents that should be explosive and having people indicted and convicted but systems in Africa sometimes do to seem to deliver justice to certain strata of the society.

Dearth of Nigerian detail

The Nigeria page does not show much apart from personalities like Dr. Dora Nkem Akunyili, who as the Director General of NAFDAC runs the gauntlet of corrupt organisations and interests who flood Nigerian markets with sub-standard drugs.

Her job is made harder by sometimes unresponsive federal ministers or demi-god thugs with undue political clout like Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, we have every faith that she would prevail.

Another name was that of Chris Anyanwu who was jailed for life for publishing information about an alleged coup plot in 1995, a sentence that was commuted 15 years and she was eventually released in June 1998.

However, when Amy Goodman revealed the collusion of the Chevron Corporation with the Nigerian Army – in that the company offered transportation and logistics support – that lead to the killing of two villagers in the Niger Delta in 1998 and number of shady liaisons left a good few people in the poorest light but it resulted in a documentary that won her the George Polk Award in 1998.

The HRW expose on the unholy alliance sealed in a contract between Godfather Chris Uba and Anambra State aspirant governor Chris Ngige would have been a prime document for Wikileaks.

No fear in revealing

Maintaining the possibly tenuous Nigerian link is Dr. Martha Coleman-Adebayo (An African-American with a seemingly Yoruba name - Adebayo). As an employee of the Environment Protection Agency she found out and revealed that a United States firm was poisoning African workers and families with toxic waste.

Rather than get accolades, she was harassed and severely discriminated against within the EPA, however, what transpired after winning her case against discrimination lead to the signing into law by President George W. Bush of the No FEAR Act 2002.

The Notification and Federal Employee Antidiscrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act 2002), seeks to prevent organisations or managers from engaging in unlawful discrimination or retaliation against whistleblowers.

The Right to Know - I

Once again, one has to be careful about the reasons for whistle-blowing and what is to be achieved by revealing such information. A writer for the Zimbabwean Financial Gazette wrote an article that appeared on allAfrica.com, the premise being the attacks on the right to know.

The article tackles a number of issues but in summary, one could say that if the power of political leadership derives from the people, they should have the right to know about the fitness of their leader for leadership and their ability to govern.

For instance, reporting about the health of the President where its seriousness can make the person incapable of performing their duties should be covered by access through the right-to-know; closer to home is the need to squelch the rumours about the health of President Umaru Yar’Adua of Nigeria.

Dr. Beetroot had details of her alcoholism revealed as it appeared she jumped the queue for a liver transplant having been a public advocate against the dangers of alcoholism.

The judge in a case brought against the newspaper said, “This is a case where the need for the truth is, in fact, overwhelming. Indeed in this matter the personality involved as well as her status establishes her newsworthiness.”

The Right to Know - II

Truth, status and newsworthiness pertaining to matters that have public relations façade far different from the concealed realities need scrutiny and should have the light shone on them.

  • In the end, Africa has a right to know how their vast resources are being commercialised but never affecting their livelihoods for the better and why.
  • They have a right to know how unscrupulous and corrupt global conglomerates under the guise of humanitarian aid poison them with drugs they would not dare test in their home countries.
  • They have a right to know how their politicians deviate from the service to democracy and their constituents towards their selfish ends of self-aggrandisement, corrupt enrichment and influence peddling.
  • They have a right to know that they should by merit and qualification be able to attain any goal and if that is not the case, they should know why and who is creating that unfair situation leading to tough sanctions against that practice.
  • They have a right to know how the electoral process ends up with results that are not representative of their voting. Some whistleblower electoral officers in Kenya came forward to reveal irregularities with the December 2007 collations.
  • If anything, they have the right to know the truth, the whole truth which does not prejudice valid national interest and nothing but the truth regardless of who it touches.

Wikileaks – a resource and repository

Basically, if we cannot obtain information of the sources about issues because of red tape, officialdom, corrupt interference or abuse of legal process, the only way to get at the truth would be through whistleblowers and they have Wikileaks to keep their identities whilst exposing rotten situations.

Support the crusade for the truth, support the message of Wikileaks in the global defence of sources and press freedom as a just, fair and importance cause.

They called the child ...

Giving names

We look at the circumstances around birth to name our kids – so goes the saying in Yoruba land.

It is such that if anyone were to document all the names a child receives, a basic idea of those circumstances can determined with some accuracy.

Some of my names indicate I was born close to a festival time and that I was far away from where my extended family could welcome my coming. (Abiodun [Born at festival time – Christmas was in 4 days time] and Bamidele [Follow me home – I was born abroad with my grandmother really wishing to see me]).

Many times when I went to my home town, each of my grandparents had names they called me and my parents were sometimes discerning enough to refer to me in their preferred appellation.

It is always an honour to be invited to name a child because you are allowed your perspective of those circumstances to come up with an edifying name.

Names with meanings

Yoruba names have to be meaningful and relevant, in fact, the child really does not get named till the 7th day when people are gathered to party and bless the child with the new names.

Christian names are no more names plucked out of some obscure “this begat that” verse in the Bible, rather they are names that reflect a person’s devotion or gratitude expressed in a language they fully understand.

English names are not necessarily Christian and sometimes, we have fallen for thinking English is Christian when Christianity itself has its roots in Judaism which evolved from the Middle-East.

However, in a situation where your emotions are quite mixed-up between the joy of the birth of a child and the presumed insensitivity surrounding being informed about the circumstances; silence becomes golden – the child’s name is the child’s name – given by others.

That is my advice to my friend; let peace prevail.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Nigeria: Percentage Allowance Legislators

Note: The original graphic in this blog has been lost and the link to the article which I originally sourced from the Punch newspaper is unfortunately dead. The point this blog makes is that legislators take away 1,260% of their basic salary in allowances for cars, clothes, entertainment, newspapers, holiday pay, accommodation and much else.
Allowances by huge percentages
The salary that goes with the plumiest job in the world has taken on rockets and flown right into the stratosphere. Over 4 years some people would be on this Orient Express gravy train living large in such opulence that is way beyond the dreams of their constituents.
Our lawmakers in the Nigerian National Assembly would be able to claim allowances equivalent to 1,000% of their annual basic salary possibly tax free as allowances to seek accommodation, furnish their accommodation, buy a vehicle and be dressed up to the nines.
Dress the legislator
Before we get to the figures, it is interesting that they are concerned about such minutiae as their wardrobe which for men would be flowing gowns 10 times the size of the wearer.
In a throwback to the colonial days of the District Officer they would have domestic staff that would include a steward, a cook, a housekeeper and a gardener.
They also get paid for being on recess and we can assume there are two recesses in a legislative year and we also pay for their newspapers.
Missing some essentials?
However, I think for legislators, a good deal of the important things necessary to be a legislator in the West are missing and I suppose that is because our legislators who would be walking on cloud 20 are not necessarily representatives of any constituency.
In the expenses scandals that have bothered UK Members of Parliament, one gleaned that a legislator usually requires an office, a secretary and possibly an office administrator, a number of researchers and usually a number of trips to manage constituency matters – I see no allowances that cover those aspects.
My suspicion is, beyond these allowances they would still be able to claim additional expenses to cover these matters along with a chauffeur for the executive vehicle.
Nice job, if you can get it
I know not of any job anywhere that offers this kind of largesse, ordinary people are usually supposed to pay for all these things out of their basic salaries.
It would be different if the legislators really get down to doing stuff that helps build Nigeria but with them fed and fattened to the extent that they would not be able to get out of their opulent furniture to walk through the widest doors on earth, this would be gravy-train par excellence and it grates.
Hike linked to inflation?
One cannot say why the total salary bill for our national politicians has been hiked by 31.67% from NGN 41 billion to NGN 60 billion because there has to be some economic sense to flooding the economy with an additional NGN 19 billion for work that is not even in any productive sector of the economy.
It might be that the legislators know something we do not, which is inflation in Nigeria is running at over 30% and really everyone should be irresponsibly be given a salary raise commensurate with the level of inflation.
Now we can look at the figures, over 4 years; a senator would earn NGN 2 million per annum plus the 1,260% in allowances that is NGN 8 million plus 12.6 times the annual salary (NGN 25.2 million), this would all come to NGN 33.2 million or $277,638.
Not representative at all
It might look small, but this is in a country where according to the World Bank, 90% of the population lives on less than $2/day which when summed up comes to $2,920 if the person did make $2 for every single day for four years.
It is then no surprise that electioneering is a fight to the death because there are few jobs that pay like this without extensive influence peddling.
The multiplier effect of the percentage allowance scheme is quite instructive because from another perspective it shows the multiples of ones salary required in getting these basic needs and hopefully the numbers were not just plucked out of the air.
Welcome to the plumiest job on earth, being a Nigerian legislator.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Cult of the Frozen Cow

Escorting Daisy

Taking Daisy the cow by the raised hoof and chaperoning her to the Repose Enforcement Centre (abattoir would be inhumane) where she would be selflessly be engaged in the service of nourishing men, one could only reflect on man’s inhumanity to her kin.

As some of her friends stood in line without the luxury of a valet, they became exhausted that they could not stand on their feet, they still submitted to repose without the respite or reprieve that might have come from a sympathetic judge.

In the end, we have reluctant and incapable personnel forced into service putting at risk the usually unquestioned professional service of the cow and all that might be result from it.

Call back the beef

The reality is, before you to send the men in white coats over to take me away; the United States has had to recall 64.9 million kilograms of beef that might have been tainted.

Tainted, in that sick or seriously distressed cows might have entered the food chain, the bigger scare being some of the cows might have had Mad Cow Disease.

Just over four years ago there was a similar situation of a probably infected cow entering the food chain; I am still amazed that meat from one cow ended up in eight states and the island of Guam.

Spare me the details

Sometimes, it is good to be spared the details of the food processing industry because this frozen beef being recalled dates back to the 1st of February 2006 – someone is about to tell me that I am could be eating beef that first landed in the freezer two years ago.

I might well be living in Antarctica and digging down miles to retrieve million year carcasses of long dead dinosaur meat – this is really getting crazy.

The want to kill our babies

To crown it all, the beef would supposedly end up in school lunch programmes and other federal nutrition programmes – if I had kids, I would be hysterical by now; but we all should calm ourselves down and react with a modicum of comportment.

Do not let your federal government be involved in your nutritional plan and be very wary of school dinners – basically who can you trust to do anything right?

People’s Burma or cattle’s America

In what does not look too far off from how repressive regimes clamp down on civil protest; the video, “showed crippled and ill animals being prodded with the blades of a forklift truck, kicked, given electric shocks and sprayed with high-pressure water hoses by staff in an effort to get them to their feet before slaughter”. BBC Source.

I could safely assume it was mad cowboys herding mad cows – I am off beef for the foreseeable future.

References

The Humane Society of the United States Undercover Investigation

Charged with Cruelty - The Video is quite graphic

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Nigeria: Governor's reputation goes up in hospital flames

Useless Health Ministers
If this is not a case where Nigerian politics and the service to humanity has lost its priorities, focus and purpose, I would wonder what is.
I have railed before about so-called professors in medical science who have been appointed Ministers of Health and they have failed to grasp the extent and import of their briefs.
It informs the reason why for a simple fracture that the erstwhile vice-President had or the complicated ailment that the current President had before his selection required them being flown out of the country.
We have at least 4 teaching hospitals that have been in existence for at least 4 decades and we still end up with situations where one was particularly involved in obtaining sub-standard drugs from the black market that the Health Minister of the day could not be persuaded to act decisively on the report from the drug standards body; because the report was addressed to a predecessor he replaced a few weeks after the report was submitted.
If there would ever be a Health Minister in the mould of the late Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti who in spite of the strictures he had to work in, still made improvements and adjustments to health delivery in Nigeria, one cannot yet tell.
Junket beclouds purpose
The news reaching me today is appalling to say the least, a general hospital that had been built in Maiduguri, Borno State, with possibly start-of-the-art medical equipment was burnt down.
That is unfortunate, but reading the detail leaves one quite livid with rage; for the sake of stupid ceremony, the culture of junketry (for the want of another derivative of junket) that gets in the way of getting things done expeditiously and properly for the people; the hospital which was completed in June 2006 has remained closed until the day it was torched.
It had remained closed because the State Governor, Senator (Dr.) Ali Modu Sheriff, wanted the President to fly over with his entourage of leeches at great expense to the taxpayer to cut the tape to open the hospital.
So far, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria had been otherwise engaged than to do bed-pans that a number of visits were postponed until one that had now been set for March 2008.
I would contend that if the hospital had been deployed to the service that it was built to provide, it is unlikely we would be reading of arsonist attacks, rather, it would have breakthroughs in healthcare delivery hugging the headlines.
Misdirected anger
I am not surprised that the people of Bulunkutu were angry and shouting abuses at the alleged arsonists but their anger is completely misdirected and this is where the education of the masses is required for a clear thought process.
The governor stated that there was not one state-owned hospital in the country that had the type of world class equipment that could be found in the hospital complex – if that was the case, the next question should be whether the hospital was built for the people or for the opportunity to bring the President to this far-flung North-Eastern state.
It is unlikely that the President would have needed to use the facilities, the people of the state however, would have benefited from using the hospital considering other Borno State hospitals are poorly equipped and overcrowded.
The people should have been foremost in the mind of the governor and after being unable to get the President he should have settled for another delegated functionary or even done it himself.
Now, he laments the arsonists had a ploy to damage his political reputation – How do we get to elect these cretins?
This hospital should have been opened 19 months ago and it should not have lain fallow and unused for another one month until March 2008.
Another rape of the people
Not only is the governor culpable in this travesty and rape of the people, his advisers should have seen that his political reputation stems from the people not from junkets that have him play host to the President.
The healthcare delivery hierarchy should have prevailed upon him; if indeed we had healthcare delivery statistics all around the country, to open the hospital and give respite to the people who most definitely have no opportunity to jet out for Aspirin.
The anger of the people should be directed at the idiot that is the governor, just as the arsonists who were wrong could no more stand seeing a white-elephant in their neighbourhood.
I would suppose the President would be visiting next month to cut the tape and allow fire engines access to fight the fire after which he can shovel the ashes and see the hospital rise like a phoenix before the eyes of the junketeers.
Sometimes, incredulity is the norm in great Nigeria.

Today, We are Kosovans

The Flag of Kosovo

The Flag of newly independent Kosovo (WikiMedia Foundation)

The people have spoken

Many regimes have rolled tanks over the aspirations of their people and shot bullets into the hearts of a few of the people who yearn for freedom.

Men, women and children they can kill but a hope that has become a movement for the emancipation of the people can be delayed, it can be obstructed and it can be temporarily crushed but it cannot be destroyed.

The Balkans has always been the tinderbox that has set Europe on fire much as peace in the Balkans keeps an uneasy calm in Europe.

This day, the people of Kosovo by their democratic will and earnest desire became a nation – the parliament unanimously declared independence from the Republic of Serbia.

A promise to all

Many have welcomed this realisation and others have rubbished the reality as false.

The leaders of the people have vowed to protect the minorities in their new nation whilst they forge ahead building a new identity and ready to play their part in the commonwealth of global nations.

Any nation that would not recognise the validity of this declaration should reflect of why they would deny a people their aspirations and wonder at their democratic credentials.

A treasure un-cherished

Serbia for instance claims that Kosovo is the cradle of Serbia, if it were that precious and priced as a place of their heritage they should probably have been smarter about treating that heirloom with respect and recognition.

They should have striven to unite their different peoples rather than wage wars (Wars waged in 1389, 1448, 1915, 1944 & 1999) and belligerent rhetoric against the dominant and majority occupiers who have a considerably different heritage.

The deed has been done here and hopefully, we can keep the peace and watch this nation grow into a force for good in the old Yugoslavia, the Balkans, Europe and the world at large.

We are Kosovans

There is nothing illegal about realising the aspirations of a people, the memory of the martyrs whose blood flowed to realise this dream shall not have been shed in vain.

Today, we who seek freedom and liberty with safety are together at one with Kosovo.

Today, we are all Kosovans – Long live the independent Republic of Kosovo, we welcome you.

Reference

The timeline to Kosovan Independence

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Nigeria: Abusing the Honours System

Honoured for service

A few years ago, my father was honoured with a chieftaincy title by the king of our hometown, when I heard of the news, I was certainly pleased for him knowing that he had been conferred this honour by reason of his work and commitment towards development of our town.

Of his generation, he stood out as one who gathered the people, engaged his peers and encouraged the powerful to raise the profile of the town. Titles like these are primarily the means by which clans and tribes are able to honour leaders in their communities.

The electrification project, the building of the cathedral, the refurbishment of the primary school, the building of the secondary school, the mentoring of the younger generation – they were hallmarks of his service – work of over 40 years rewarded by a grateful people and their king.

The patriot that he is, I am definitely not and if he bore his traditional title in formal address, I would not begrudge him.

Dishonouring honour

However, I worry about the way titles and honours get dished out by whim or caprice by any traditional leader of the hut, hamlet, village, great city, tribal land or kingdom.

Everyone gets conferred with a chieftaincy title such that we are probably running out of people to give modernistic irrelevant but trendy titles that the pets might begin to feature in these ceremonies.

Ologini of Gbokiti (Cat of Tumbler) or Ajaoba of Meranyii (King’s Dog of catch the goat) – The imaginary places could easily be your homestead.

People go out of their way to flatter and aggrandise themselves before traditional leaders who in turn are captivated and entranced by the show of wealth that could be used to buttress wanton excess in the throne-room.

Honours by the basketful

This all for the sake of being addressed as chief with the most prized title being Otunba (Right-hand man of the king).

I remember when Gbenga Daniel, the governor of my home state, Ogun State ran for election in 2003, he had already bagged about 50 chieftaincy titles from literally every named habitation in Ogun State and more from other states.

He is formally addressed as Otunba Gbenga Daniel; his wife currently holds the fanciful title of Yeye Aare Ajibosin of Owu kingdom and is addressed as Yeye Olufunke Daniel. Yeye being synonym for mother in Yoruba.

Honours from anywhere

You then have people who seethe with religious addiction and superstitious stupidity whilst in the bondage of subjectivity that gives more credence to evil than good conferred with church or mosque titles.

Reverend, Canon, Venerable, Imam we know, but how would one handle titles which have become the formal style of introduction as Deacon, Senior Assistant Evangelist, Prophet, Apostle, Pastor, Senior Prophetess, Mother-in-Israel or Iya Adinni to mention a few?

This has become the raison d’être of the Nigerian elite, you are nothing if you are not titled, even if the title is conferred by some backwater king who has a wicker stool for a throne and nothing more than loin cloth to retain his decency.

Bastardisation of Nigerian honours

A more recent development grates me, after the hairdresser hair-singe of Madam Etteh the erstwhile Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives, the new 38-year old Speaker was conferred with the national civic honour of Commander of the Federal Republic.

Members of the House have taken umbrage about the class of honour and remonstrated that as the fourth citizen of the country he should have received a higher honour because of his status and especially where the Chief Justice of the Federation who is lower in the order of precedence (seventh) has received a higher honour.

I am afraid; this clearly shows that our representatives are clueless about how honours systems work. This is not some conferment that comes by reason of office; it should come by reason of having a track record. News of those honoured.

Two Ts short of a citation

Mr. Dimeji Bankole, the Speaker, who has not yet been subsumed into the chieftaincy morass of Yoruba culture happens to be the son of a high-chief in Egbaland who goes by the chieftaincy title of Seriki Jagunmolu of Egbaland so. some of those titles might be on the way. I would not be surprised if people are not already needling some backwater king to make him Chief Chatterbox of Backwaterland.

It would go without saying that Mr. Bankole’s political base stems from the influence his father exercises and the failed political forays into seeking popular electoral office; it could well be that coming from the same city as the last President (Olusegun Obasanjo) is a coincidence.

I am not convinced that Mr. Bankole has the track record or body of work in service of Nigeria to be conferred a national honour at all, we only have to see what the Chief Justice of the Federation brings to the table.

Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, was called to the bar at The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn on the 20th of July 1965 and he enrolled at the Nigerian Law School on the 22nd of July 1966 (I have records of all lawyers registered in Nigeria up until mid-1990 since I worked on publishing a Legal Desk Book for 1991), he became a High Court judge in 1976 and was appointed to the Supreme Court as an Associate Justice in 1992, then became Chief Justice in 2007.

I think this citation would read for minutes and would attract deserving applause without having to consider the fact that he has been elevated to the post of Chief Justice.

The embarrassing thing about Mr. Speaker’s national honour would have been the way the citation would have been blown up and filled in to justify the act after just 4 months of being Speaker in a term that should last 4 years, although he has been a representative since 2003 - the key fascinating fact would really be his age, for which many clapped; everything else is par for the course.

Honour should come after service

However, one only has to see examples of the United Kingdom where Tony Blair was Prime Minister for 10 years and quite visibly a world leader for most of that time – he was not conferred with honours during his term and having left office he might not be conferred with honours for another year or so.

This does not mean he does not deserve honouring; at least a knighthood, but the case in Nigeria might well be compared with giving a Nobel Prize in some science to someone we anticipate would come up with a ground-breaking idea because he is a scientist rather than because of the work that has been done that has served humanity.

In the end, if people are honoured long before they should be with honours way beyond what recognition they should get, the whole exercise is cheapened and it is made it worthless in the face of many other Nigerians who have no political influence but are even worthier of great honour.

The honour should not have been conferred at all, at least not at this time; but until we have objective representatives who are not caught up in the tide of emotion, we can expect such idiocy to grab the headlines.