Saturday 31 May 2008

The old men say, talk with the enemy

Learning lessons from the past

If they before us have anything to bequeath to generations after them it would be a history of how they lived their lives and hopefully some insight into making the best choices by learning from their mistakes.

There are people today now in their 80s who seem to have a wealth of experience about politics, economics, social policy and general participatory or observational view of changes that have created the world we have now - we would do well to heed their views – they can neatly count on 50 years of experience at the least on world affairs.

They may not be relevant in terms of having the power to change things now but their opinions are anything but irrelevant.

Gore Vidal – Beyond the perceived view of history

I had the pleasure of watching Gore Vidal (82) on BBC World Hard Talk last weekend, he was quite excoriating about George W. Bush but he gave some perspectives into contemporary American history. The interview on BBC (RealPlayer).

A week earlier, he was at the Los Angeles Times – Festival of Books – and he was interviewed by Amy Goodman, the transcript of which reads almost like the Hard Talk interview.

Much as John F. Kennedy is revered in America and the world over, he does not believe JFK did much more than polarise the world even more, JFK did not achieve much but his assassination created a legend of renown.

It is amazing that it is mainly intellectuals that seem to see the way the state is running roughshod over our privacy and liberties in the quest for security whilst breaking every law in the book on the premise of being at war – no greater indictment can be made of a President than to say that the America constitution has been shredded by the sitting President.

The Congress is also culpable in this travesty of democracy that was hard-won in the 20th Century, some way into the interview Gore Vidal indicated it was better to be a writer than a politician considering the way elected people seem to be marionettes controlled by lobbyists.

More on historical perspectives

Vidal is considered one of the foremost commentators on American socio-political life, his despair with his country is exemplified in the phrase United States of Amnesia - the collective inability of Americans to learn from history to know when they are being cajoled.

That brings us to the speech that President George W. Bush gave on the 15th of May at the Knesset in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel where he labelled as appeasers in the context of the appeasement of Hitler those who advocate talking with American enemies.

This is no doubt a distortion of historical context and Bush is no scholar of history as he is both making history and failing to learn from history.

Worse still is to forklift historical events from one time in history to accentuate a flawed logic, that is unconscionable and disingenuous.

President Bush appears to be living in a glass house casting boulder-like stones considering some records of history which had his grandfather Senator Prescott Bush “unwittingly” involved in businesses and banks that “inadvertently” bankrolled the Nazis and helped bring them to power in Germany.

You can read into this research and report what you like, but the mere fact that one of those company’s assets where he was a director were seized under the Trading with the enemy Act in 1942 is interesting enough though Senator Bush was not cited for wrongdoing.

Hero or heroics?

That speech has been criticised as an attack on Senator Barrack Obama who as Democratic Presidential candidate aspirant has suggested that the United States talks unconditionally with its enemies, most especially Iran.

Senator John McCain took on this speech and used it to ram home a few points about Senator Obama’s naivety about world politics, but before we get carried away with the perceived war credentials of John McCain; Gore Vidal does not think John McCain is a hero in the same class as John Kerry.

He says John McCain smashed his plane which would normally attract a court martial; interesting because I would reckon that would not be the case if your father and grandfather were four star Navy admirals – though this is not to discount anything about his political life and savvy.

Then the Financial Times takes Henry Kissinger (85) to lunch (interview); Kissinger who could well be a war criminal in some countries is quite well received in many other countries as a proponent of realpolitik and probably an authority on global diplomacy - a rather busy travelling man he has been, lately.

It is all well today to view some of the ideas and actions in the 1970s and draw conclusions that give us the benefit of hindsight, but it does not detract from the fact that a changing world required some tough and sometimes illegal activity to keep the world at peace.

Comprehensive negotiations with Iran

Mr. Kissinger, is German-born but also a Jew says during a discussion about diplomacy and the way the world has changed – “I have advocated that the United States have comprehensive negotiations with Iran ... We need to have an open discussion of all differences.

The difficulty comes when he says that Iran has to decide whether it is a nation or a cause – now, that is a difficult, the nation has to defend itself against its enemy on both sides in Iran and Afghanistan and it has a cause which is to remain seriously relevant in the Middle-East where the possibility of having nuclear weapons is looking like a national cause. This is the Iran we are told wants to obliterate Israel.

Talking with the enemy

The Economist in its leader last week pooh-poohed the President Bush’s slanted view of appeasement with the byline; when talking to the enemy. “Sometimes it makes sense; sometimes it doesn't; sometimes not talking can be appeasement”.

Appeasement is not so much the talking but the action that could follow the talking, like how Chamberlain sold Czechoslovakia down the river. And no one would call Secretary James Baker talking to the Saddam Hussein regime after the invasion of Kuwait appeasement; however, if America had not driven Iraq out of Kuwait, it would have been appeasement. Should I mention North Korea?

There is no way real dialogue would happen between America and Iran, if preconditions that give America the upperhand in negotiations are doggedly insisted upon.

In fact, talking to the enemy might well be the best way of keeping with the proven policies of containment and deterrence, if not engagement to secure the peace and eliminate threats.

President Jimmy Carter (83) visits Syria in April and insists that Syria and Hamas are integral to the peace process, they need to be involved.

Then Archbishop Desmond Tutu (76) visits Gaza and sees the international appeasement of Israel that allows for the blockade of Gaza to continue without any condemnation from those who can really change things. He called it an abomination.

But the most important statement he made was “conflicts were resolved through talking to enemies not friends”, surely; the man of the cloth knows something about this kind of thing.

It leaves one in no doubt that we have to talk before we can decide on what conditions are necessary to keep talking – a difficult thing for the Bush administration to comprehend because they probably have no knowledge of history to be able to make any sense of history and hence learn the lessons thereof.

Surely, these old men can not all be speaking nonsense.

Friday 30 May 2008

Nigeria: The Nigerian Proclamation, my support for the President

A year on

I participated in the Nigerian Proclamation collective launched by SolomonSydelle last year where the goals were to seek the ideals of good governance through fair representation.

A year has past since this proclamation and a lot of commentary has been made about a year that has been tardy, uneventful, without vision and wasted.

I do not entirely subscribe to those views, I have written a number of blogs on Nigerian politics and have observed certain small steps and principled decisions being taken which may not seem radical but in the end would be far-reaching.

Nigeria is a big ocean liner, it cannot be steered like a jet ski or else it would list violently and capsize before our eyes.

Just above average in the circumstances

In my view, the President’s tenure so far has not been outstanding, I would place him just above average whilst expecting him to improve considerably in his second year or lose credibility and respect.

So many issues with his first year can well be teething problems; sorting his executive council out which has many times been hit by body-blows of corruption or ineptitude, the legislature has been involved more in internal politicking than oversight and enacting legislation until recently and the judiciary has been like the wolf at every politician’s door, not many have been able to settle down to their jobs.

This should all change for the better for the second year, I am quite hopefully that the seemingly intractable issues of power and the Niger Delta would see a bit more movement – so far, President Umaru Yar’Adua has my unqualified support.

Anniversary Proclamation

Reading the anniversary proclamation on Nigerian Curiosity yesterday, we have had opportunity to express disappointment and frustration, at the same time, we should dig deep to find areas for encouragement, praise and support – we have leaders who probably need to be chaperone with the carrot and stick approach.

We cannot always beat them to a pulp with the stick such that they completely unable to gain any nourishment from eating the carrot for their wounds and pains. This is food for thought for all of us.

Quotes and interpretation

The anniversary proclamation took issue with a particular statement that President Yar’Adua made in his interview with the Financial Times; I think we have a difference of opinion on that statement.

The truncated quote was “you find even in personal dealings, business dealings in the market place, between individuals, there is no respect for decent dealings that are governed by civilised behaviour. Respect for the rule of law is the basis for civilisation.”

The full statement in answer to the first question about the achievements of the President in his first year of service was – “I think my greatest achievement is the effort to institute a strict culture for respect for the rule of law in Nigeria.

All the problems this country is facing can be traced to breakdown of respect for the rule of law, regulations, procedures and due process in almost every aspect of our national life, including interaction between our citizens.

Once you have a system, where law and order, established regulations and procedures are not being respected, you find even in personal dealings, business dealings in the market place, between individuals, there is no respect for decent dealings that are governed by civilised behaviour. Respect for the rule of law is the basis for civilisation.”

Context and implication

It would appear the President’s statement was made in some Messianic poise to lead Nigeria to some civilisation, but I read the President talking about contemporary Nigerian society and the way we seem to do things that do not align with what was a foretime our respect for the rule of law.

I do not believe the President, intended or implied impugning the historical facts about Nigerian civilisations of old where I believe there was also respect for some sort of order, probably in this case where the king and his council were the law.

There again, would still have been a sense of fairness, truth, justice and humanity else the people would revolt and dynasties would have been toppled.

Maybe the President should have used civilised society rather than civilisation, but from my reading of this statement and this statement has to be read as a whole and never in part, it can never be misconstrued to mean that Nigeria had no civilisations as part of its historic past – the burden of society today is how to keep the values and mores of those civilisations relevant and valid for today.

That is not doing Nigeria down; in fact, I would suggest, it is asking us in the words of our national anthem to – Arise, O Compatriots to the task of making Nigeria great – or great again, if you feel ever so strongly about it.

Mr. President, you have your work cut out and I support the ideas you are trying to inculcate in our political, economic and social lives.

Good luck, President Umaru Yar’Adua.

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Nigeria: Our Culture adopted for criminality

Our masquerades and culture

Those long varied conversations with Iya (my mother) the other day veered into the amusing, if not incredible but depicted the complete lawlessness that is eating into the fabric and peaceful co-existence of society in Nigeria.

We have always enjoyed the masquerades when we all come out to see the dances, the acrobatics, the drummers and sing the folk songs that make the Yoruba tribe the most given to festivities of every kind.

Our folklore or read superstitious inclinations, consider masquerades heavenly beings, to be respected and revered but they are never touched – their colourful garments sometimes identifying a clan of masquerade pedigree renowned for having powers that instil irrational fear in the onlookers.

[Reading some research material, the masquerades known as Egungun in Yoruba are considered people risen from the dead – bones (skeleton) made alive, hence the assumption they are heavenly beings – benign as people would want this to be, we do in ways worship our ancestors and give the dead a lot more reverence than the living in Yorubaland.]

The criminality of masquerades today

The masquerade festival usually lasts a week, however, it appears these heavenly beings have decided to take up abode on earth – I quipped to Iya – the masquerade has become a menacing chief of criminals that runs through the market grabbing condiments and ingredients that included two live goats - A recipe for masquerade stew?

His cohorts bear whips, harass people and demand under duress monetary gifts whilst creating traffic jams and rolling over bonnets of cars that people are so terrified of menace and aggression, they are completely pliant parting with “gifts” for idle men who can get away with it.

This enterprise has become so lucrative, the festival has been running for 3 months and there is no end in sight except when it rains – in which case the masquerade probably changes into waterproof garb to keep up the game.

It would appear masquerades are no more the harmless entertainment with some underlying traditional rituals and a public cultural spectacle; they have been co-opted into criminal enterprise and have become a lawless and menacing clique in the pay of powerful and shady masters.

Oro in daylight

This whole matter was escalated to a more terrifying spectacle when in the middle of the afternoon, the chiefs who at one time were respectable elders of the community but now have their noses in the trough of relieving people of their effects through menace, gathered in the centre and allowed Oro to come out to play.

According to the earlier research material - The word Oro means fierceness, tempest, or provocation, and Oro himself appears to be personified executive power, Oro is supposed to haunt the forest in the neighbourhood of towns, and he makes his approach known by a strange, whirring, roaring noise. As soon as this is heard, all women must shut themselves up in their houses, and refrain from looking out on pain of death.

One would ask, what is the haunt of the forest doing in the middle of town, in the bright light of day - The Oro only visits the town centre at night when surely all women would be in their homes and completely out of harms way.

Menacing the women

Iya in her car, returning from church, resolved that any Oro that comes out in the daytime wants to be seen of women and should not by any right menace women when it has violated its nocturnal cover.

How I wish other women were able to stand their ground on this matter but she talked of women abandoning their vehicles in the middle of the road and running off to seeking cover in what definitely was a completely illegal and lawless activity.

Iya safely manoeuvred through the melee but it was not a sight for the faint-hearted, it took the governor to call these criminals masquerading as custodians of our traditions to order.

Apparently, as the governor would have learnt, it is one thing to enact a law banning street parties but if it is not policed and the law upheld by law enforcement measures; it would be flouted by all those who think they can do things with impunity.

But Oro in the centre of town at 14:00 hours just really takes the biscuit, big time.

Saturday 24 May 2008

The Gambia: They need a sane President

Need for mental checks

If there is a case for assessing the mental health of leaders in Africa and more so their suitability for office, the President of The Gambia presents such an opportunity.

He has just ordered all homosexuals in The Gambia to leave the country within 24 hours or be beheaded according to the BBC.

He has threatened to enforce laws against homosexuality stricter than the ones in Iran.

It is outrageous that so-called leaders can subsume secular legal process with fundamental religious laws imposing such on people regardless of their degree of adherence to the religion.

He is in grave error

It might be well to ask foreign homosexuals to leave your country, but indigenous homosexuals are Gambian as the President is Gambian, they have every right of existence to live without fear in The Gambia just as the President exists in The Gambia.

However, he is in error, no President has the power to remove the right of citizenship to any indigenous person, he might have the right to deny a representative document of the country to allow the citizen travel out of the country as a Gambian.

If he does want to rid his country of homosexuals, he should facilitate their exodus, arrange for a country to accept the people he is trying to exile, ensure their safe passage if they decide to leave but he must follow due legal process and if any decide to stay and fight the authority of the President to impose such a sanction.

Anti-African concept

This kind of fundamentalist intolerance is alien to African, it does not belong to our culture, people might be ostracised for who they are but not to the point that they are menaced in this way.

This is the same President who claimed he had found a cure for AIDS but was involved in some hocus-pocus herbalism and mantras which could not stand the scrutiny of commonsense talk less of medical inquiry.

In his stupidity he announced his new found powers to the diplomatic community and they should have laughed him to derision.

They are like you and me

People might have their issues with homosexuality and homosexuals, that is their prerogative – they are fellow human-beings, have the right to life and freedoms as the other man in their citizenry and persecuting homosexuals does not begin to address the serious issues of governance that these idle useless incompetent leaders should be addressing.

It is a distraction and unconscionable, we cannot sit back and watch the dereliction of duty to the service of governance made insignificant for some super-moral society that delivers no solutions to the people.

Having idiots in leadership is bad enough, having a rabid mad man in leadership is twice a misfortune and having Yahya Jammeh as President of The Gambia is a catastrophe visited on a people who deserve a whole lot better.

The buffoon is 43 tomorrow, I cannot believe we were born in the same year – this is really bad it is horrible. Like I wrote in February 2007, The Gambian is being overrun with an epidemic of stupidity that needs to be wiped out, first with getting rid of that man.

Nigeria: The powerful taking the law into their hands

The third part of that programme

If we are to go by the respect for the rule of law as the core intent of President Yar’Adua’s programme in Nigeria, I have noted we also have to have that go in tandem with equality before the law.

Reading another news story today leaves me very aware of the fact that the President does have a mammoth task before him and I can only wish him Godspeed.

Obviously, it appears many of my insights seem to revolve around the family of the ex-President, I would have you know that their cases are not unique and almost always representative of people who can wield power and peddle influence by reason of their association rather than personal achievement.

Daughter bothers mother

This time the matter concerns of the mother of Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello – Mrs Remi Obasanjo; considering the tribulations her daughter has been going through and they the parents would quite have us believe their daughter is being persecuted and victimized as a means of getting at her father.

That is a matter for some other debaters; however, it is nice to see that families do close ranks when met with some sort of adversity.

It would appear the mother had been in Abuja to offer moral support to her daughter and only just returned to Lagos after her daughter had fulfilled her bail conditions.

Since the daughter until recently had been as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel the press decided to seek a sound bite off her mother in Lagos about the travails of her daughter.

Within the law your privacy

Now, anyone anywhere should be at liberty to exercise the right to privacy and be able to seek relieve from intrusion of the press. Generally, that should be a polite message to visitors that one is not interested in their entreaties and inquiries, failing that one can seek the help of law enforcement or go as far as seeking an injunction from a court of law.

A journalist from the Punch newspaper - the powerful have a seething contempt for professional, journalists, most especially - visited the premises of Mrs Remi Obasanjo in Lagos seeking an interview and presented his business card to the security guard; soon afterwards an aide of the madam came to the gate and this allegedly is the conversation that took place between them.

The threatening conversation

Aide: Are you the owner of this card?

Reporter: Yes.

Aide: Madam is not in the mood to see anybody now and I will advise you strongly that you leave this place at once.

Reporter: Did Madam actually send you to deliver this message?

Aide: Yes, and I will advise you in your own interest to leave and never to come around this place again.

Reporter: Why?

Aide: Well, I have just told you, if you love yourself, don’t come here again. Or why do you want to risk your life?

Reporter: But this is not my first visit here.

Aide: And since you have been coming, how many times have you seen her? So, in your own interest don’t come here again.

Reporter: But make sure you give my card to her.

Aide: She has seen your card, and will call you when she is in the mood to talk. Bye

Reporter: All right.

My pique

I have a serious problem with this conversation, the first clause of the second sentence of the Aide is fine enough – Madam is not in the mood to see anybody now – fair enough she has had a rough few weeks on account of her daughter.

Is there any reason to then try to menace the journalist with – I will advise you strongly that you leave this place at once – it is very much like chasing away a stray dog; there might be cases for treating journalists as dogs, but I do not think the conversation warranted this level of hostility.

The reporter then tries to ascertain if the threat was a direct order from the madam or the aide being supercilious and working beyond her brief.

Incriminating her mistress she affirms that she was told to threaten the journalist – fine enough.

She then threatens the well-being of the journalist saying he should in his own interest leave and never come back again – well, where there is a public interest issue that would be a difficult order to follow – we can agree that the case of the daughter does not automatically make the mother a public interest subject.

The threats and menace continue with this statement – I have just told you, if you love yourself, don’t come here again. Or why do you want to risk your life? – She does appeal to his sense of self-preservation but a threat to his life?

Is Nigeria this lawless?

This is just not on, is Nigeria such a lawless society?

Is she implying that an enquiry made of the ex-wife of a former president can lead to a homicide in trying to escape or avoid media scrutiny?

That I would say is completely lawless, no one should have their lives cheapened in such a way in order to convey a message that they are being inconvenienced, it is really taking the law into their hands and there are places where such a threat would be prosecuted to the limits of the law exacting apologies and compensation.

But this is turning into a train of ideals that need to be part of the President’s grand scheme – respect for the rule of law, equality before the law and not taking the law into ones hands.

The aide either exceeded her lawful remit or her madam was wielding influence and power that primarily should belong to law enforcement and legal process – you can refuse to see a journalist, you can beseech the journalist not to visit or pursue you but you have crossed the line of legality when you threaten a journalist with menace.

In the end, I am glad she did not send out her security guards to beat the journalist to a pulp, I would not put it beyond their ilk to commit such a heinous act and get away with it.

I think can now really announce that I am officially exiled from Nigeria – I cannot countenance this kind of attitude, it is just not on.

They shall not grow old

Picturing the gruesome

Kenya Burning is the name of a photo exhibition that documents the happy days of the election through to the lynching and mob violence that claimed the lives of over 1,200 people and displaced 300,000.

This tragedy came about because the political class failed their people by conducting a flawed election rigged to produce results that completely dissatisfied the opposition and was evidently corrupt.

As the rulers shuttled between 5* hotels and news conferences trying to win influence for their apparatchiks, the people descended into inter-tribal violence taking Kenya to the brink.

Interestingly, the report notes that no politician has visited this exhibition to see the results of their handiwork such that some have suggested the exhibition be moved into their dining room, if only to show that when the people speak and they refuse to hear, the consequences are dire.

Burning witches

The burning however has not stopped because something more gruesome has happened, 11 people between the ages of 80 and 96, eight of whom were women were burnt in a village in the western Kisli district for allegedly being witches.

They were dragged out of their houses and individually burnt, then their houses razed to the ground – apparently that is a valid exorcism.

Apparently, someone had found an exercise book containing the minutes of a “witches” meeting with indications of who would next be bewitched.Let me try a positive spin on this - a meeting of elderly concerned citizen about the state of affairs in their village where certain members of the community have been singled out for either honour or reprimand.

Our old people

Beyond the problems we have in Africa and especially in Kenya which was sadly showcased in Living with Corruption and the situation where live expectancy at birth is now 55.31, one would think reaching these amazing ages would be a sign of survival against all militating odds that fill our screens about Africa.

I was fortunate to have a great grandmother into my early 20s and she was the repository of information that allowed us to trace back our genealogy up to 7 generations considering bad record-keeping in Nigeria.

The hold of superstition

We are losing something special in our African culture if we are so held in bondage to irrational superstitious beliefs to which people react with mob hysteria and end up committing criminal acts in the name of preserving their communal welfare.

I am not discounting the supposed notion of witchcraft or witches; there is probably one under every table, if you care, but what really is the empirical test for determining if a person is a witch or an innocent person who just happens to have grown old?

I really worry that no commonsense prevails when anyone is branded a witch, you are guilty at the declaration and in many societies including before the West became as barely civilised as we are now, and the witch was strapped to a ducking stool and made to admit practising witchcraft.

Who would not confess if your lungs were forced to take in water instead of air, a confession or denial still had the same penalty – death.

The people who had the power to execute judgement wielded undue influence in the community and could abuse this power to rid the community of possible rivals whilst holding the community in terror, fear and obeisance to their whims.

Believing other things

It is dastardly to the extreme that one should read this kind of news in this day and age – one would suppose the mob was also religious possibly Christian and church-going where their belief systems are supposed to give them the confidence not to be bothered with witches having any influence over their lives.

One can only say that church-going does not necessarily confer faith on the person; I have seen in Nigeria where many really think there is an enemy everywhere working against them such that not a positive prayer escapes their lips, they are so bound to their enemies that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

They are usually their worst enemies; dishonesty, corrupt behaviour, a lack of ethical principles, a lack of integrity, shirking responsibility, bad decisions, poor judgement, illicit deals, deceit and the propensity to tell white lies could well transmogrify into some hated close relation messing up your life.

The common parlance is “someone is doing you” directly translated from Yoruba, Wake Up!!! You are doing yourself in and stitching yourself up praying the wrong prayers and offering the wrong sacrifices.

I would broaden this scope to include any other organised religious belief system and the way it gets preached in Africa it sometimes seems to replace rampant superstition with virulent fundamentalism, both of which are almost as evil as witchcraft.

For the fallen

By which time another poor hapless innocent person has accused of practising witchcraft as we rid our communities of our old and aged when we should be learning the secrets of life from them.

What shall be said for the fallen? Not the words of Laurence Binyon – They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old – rather it is sounding like – You must not grow old as the young around you might kill you – it is a sad indictment of our humanity and we are all the poorer for it.

The law in Kenya should treat these cases without sentiment as mob violence leading to murder and the leaders of these mobs must be held to account, we cannot allow our superstitious suspicions to run riot and lead to lawlessness, not in this day.

Developing News

Meanwhile in Nigeria a cat was knocked down by a car and this said cat transmogrified into a woman, apparently the woman has confessed to having changed forms but is now in protective custody in a clinic being treated for injuries inflicted on her by a mob about to lynch her having suspected the cat became the woman because she had blood on her.

The police are at a loss as to what charges to place, I would suppose such tall tales are very difficult to align to the law of evidence, it would be like letting the cat out of the bag.

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Nigeria: A desire for equality before the law

The knightly crusader without a horse

Having read the transcript of President Umaru Yar’Adua’s interview conducted by the Financial Times, I could not help but think that his knightly crusade to ensure Nigerians respect the rule of law was missing a horse.

It became very clear to me this morning as I whipped through the Nigerian dailies on the web to catch up on happenings at home.

Now, who would have thought we had our own home-grown Paris Hilton trying to play escapegoat whilst lamenting she is being made a scapegoat.

Nobbling the judge

News reaches us that the invisible Senator, Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello finally appeared in court and was refused bail after the lawyer failed to sway the judge by mentioning that she was a medical practitioner, a Senator and a daughter of the ex-President of Nigeria.

To anyone, it was an innocuous plea but it was laden with menace and threats to the authority of the judge – she is no medical practitioner in a general sense, she is a veterinarian and I doubt she has ever shown medical compassion to a stray dog.

Indicating she is a profession might appeal to the professional stature of the judge, but it did not work; the view that she is a Senator is just piffle, she has not been in the Senate for a month and she was not there to present the Health Bill that finally got passed last week.

Piling on the pressure by indicating she is a daughter of the ex-President was to warn the judge that he was dealing with powerful forces in Nigeria, but that did not wash with the judge.

She only gained reprieve by being sent to police custody rather than Kuje jail.

It is in police custody that we find the bolted horse that the knightly Yar’Adua is supposed to mount for his ever so important crusade.

Enter the diva

She gets to Maitama Police Station and suddenly becomes the diva, we find that she has commandeered the place and is sleeping chief officer’s office having brought in her own bed and fan, and she arranges for the air-conditioning equipment and power generator to be fixed and gets a carpenter to fix the netting on the windows to keep out mosquitoes.

One could be forgiven for thinking the accused was banged up in police custody with creature comforts that might have one renaming the location Maitama Hilton Towers.

Obviously, influence and sycophancy has prevailed on the better judgement of law enforcement as she holds court in the police station giving us the impression that she is being lawful and respectful of the rule of law.

Influence peddling again

Well, I am getting fed up of these spoilt brats that get involved in nefarious activities, influence peddling, corrupt practices and unethical conduct who when caught by the law would cry me a river and not face up to the weight of the consequences of their actions – they almost always get off lightly as people of privilege wielding their status wherever they go subverting the course of justice.

Beyond the crusade of respect for the rule of law Sir Umaru – the great knight of the rule of law crusade – has to mount the stallion that ensures equality before the law. If she should be in an executive cell, then all prisoners should have executive cells, the culture of preferential treatment at the execution of orders of the court or the law has to stop.

I do not think the judge would be too pleased to learn that his orders have been be carried out with such levity so as to undermine his authority – send her to the executive penthouse of Kuje Prison and make sure the gates are properly locked up.

Current Developments

However, despite my protestations, she has now be granted bail, but the irony of it all must not be lost on anyone, I suppose removal men had to be called in to move her creature comforts back home.

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Nigeria: Splitting hairs on Senate funding

The intent is clear

This is an update to the blog I wrote yesterday about the directive of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) advising Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA) about providing funds to other organs of government which should for their purposes be fully-funded for their activities.

In what is looking like splitting hairs, the spokesperson of the Nigerian Senate is now trying to interpret that message and achieve an understanding that is clearly not the intent of the SGF.

Live within your means

The fundamental principle simply is, every organ of government should be fully funded or prudently manage their budget to facilitate whatever activities they need to carry out within the law and their legal remits.

If that organ of government does not have sufficient funds, it should apply to its line of management to secure sufficient funds or can the proposed activity – it is a commonsense idea of living within your means.

Conflicts of interest

The National Assembly serves the dual purpose of enacting laws and providing oversight; to fulfil all righteousness in carrying out its duties, it should clearly be financially and structurally independent of the other arms of government.

Regardless of rules of engagement, it is only proper and ethical to avoid situations where the slightest influence can be leveraged through MDAs facilitating or offering funds to the legislative organs of government.

In fact, it is disingenuous of the Senate to expect that MDAs sponsor or facilitate so-called capacity building exercises which are to ensure the Senate delivers on its constitutionally authorised duties of oversight.

There are too many avenues for abuse if the budgets of any of the Senate committees are not completely under the purview of the Senate administration.

Maturing into an example democracy

Regardless of examples the Senate portends to happen in other legislatures in the world, the concept of facilitation should strictly be the availability of personnel, information and access to whatever is needed to ensure the legislature has all the detail necessary to reach the right conclusions for government.

Nobody would be against that, the monetary aspect should be completely off the table, if only to protect the fragile state of our democracy that is still trying to mature into one that fully recognises the rule of law and the principle of separation of powers.

Nigeria runs a presidential system of government, the government should not then allow for obfuscation that makes it appear it is running parliamentary system – the separation of powers including funding for facilitation must be sacrosanct.

Clear intent

I think the clear intent of the SGF was to prevent budgets within the Executive being imprudently disbursed to organs outside its control; this would definitely include the legislature and the judiciary.

Each organ has a job to do, if they cannot get their jobs done due to insufficient funding, the planners need to review their projections and make contingencies for unexpected circumstances – the law should clearly require that MDAs have no right to pass moneys out to the National Assembly.

There should be no debate on that matter at all.

Nigeria: Yar'Adua interviewed by the FT

Yar’Adua with Financial Times

At first, I would like to thank Ijebuman for highlighting this interview conducted by the Financial Times with President Umaru Yar’Adua.

It presents one of the opportunities when good questions are asked of African leaders without the fawning and obsequiousness that gets in the way of local journalists doing their jobs boldly and courageously with an air of serious professionalism.

From what I read of the transcript, it was clear in terms of the direction the President wants to lead the country whilst highlighting the fundamentals that have to be in place to make the country governable, peaceful and prosperous.

Respect for the rule of law

The President has a clear goal – to institute a strict culture for respect for the rule of law in Nigeria – that is the recurrent theme in the interview.

He believes most of the ills in Nigeria derive from a lack of adherence and respect for stated procedure, due process and the law such that it is difficult to expect decent dealings that are governed by civilised behaviour.

He concludes in answering the first question about his achievements by saying, “Respect for the rule of law is the basis for civilisation”, I think I can very well agree with that.

Legality of contractual agreements

He extends this rule of law principle to the concept of the sanctity of contracts indicating all business transaction should follow due process and any process that does not seem to be well conducted creates aggrieved parties whose concerns might have to be investigated – however, if everything is above board, any business can expect all their contractual dealings to be protected and secure.

It goes without telling that companies who allow their dealings to deviate from the expected letter of required conduct and honest interaction can expect to have their contracts nullified, face loses and sanctions.

Macro-economic discipline governed by law

Fiscal discipline in Nigeria is governed by observing and respecting constitutional provisions, the federal system for revenue sharing has laid down rules that cannot be changed by whim, the budget is planned on likely oil revenues of $53/barrel but hiked up by the legislature to $59/barrel, and all excess is placed in a national reserve.

There is however a delicate balancing act of keeping inflation low which the President says is still in single digits, keeping interest rates low with the help if the rather more independent Central Bank of Nigeria, having a stable macro-economic environment and providing funds for infrastructure development.

The critical infrastructure concerns are listed as power, energy, mass transportation, railways, waterways, cement, iron and steel.

In the first year, more effort is being expending in completing or closing existing projects, no new projects have been awarded.

Central Bank Independence

The clashes between the Presidency and the Central Bank have been due to the teething problems of properly understanding the remit of the bank in terms of its newly acquired independence which was only signed into law 4 days before the President’s inauguration.

The President gives examples of where the governor has erred in judgement and action; however, he maintains confidence in the governor of the bank and is seemingly satisfied with his tenure.

The Niger Delta and second year

He also hope to find a resolution to the Niger Delta crises which appears to be linked to bunkering which is protected by violent criminality, a summit of all stakeholders should convene in eight weeks.

The President has a full programme for his second year with aims to deal with the power issue, the restructuring of the NNPC, providing adequate security, maintenance of law and order, education and health.

Much as people complain about the President being tardy in his reforms, he appears to belief in the old “slow and steady wins the race” adage – the emphasis is on good planning to ensure any project or reform is fully realised.

The President would vacate his office if the Supreme Court overthrows his election without qualms.

His doctor is really in Germany

I have commented a lot about the President’s health and his sojourns to Germany for treatment. His last visit was to deal with an allergic reaction brought on by new malarial medication that he had taken.

He says he is not super-human and enjoys rude health though I worry about the fact that he only gets 4 to 5 hours sleep, nothing like George W. Bush who is already in bed at 21:00hrs.

I can no more fault his visits to Germany for treatment, he has a personal doctor and a medical record in the hospital he visits in Germany going back 22 years – it would only be right for him to see specialists that know all about his medical history and are well versed in what kind of treatment he responds to when ill.

It simply shows that Nigeria has had a poor health programme going back almost a generation and successive governments have failed to grapple the issue and deliver solutions for health.

Finally, the President advises Nigerians to have confidence in their leaders and should not be gullible in believing all kinds of rumours, he then says that as the respect for the rule of law takes root fabricated stories, falsehoods and activities that hinder nation building would have less impact as the country matures in democracy.

Good job! Yardy, Good luck! Yardy

In my view, I think it was a rather good interview, in my writings of recent, I can see how the emphasis on the respect for the rule of law is baby-stepping its way in to the leadership polity from the top.

I think President Umaru Yar’Adua who has now been President for a year is getting on with the job and I can only wish him Godspeed – I do hope that Nigerians would offer him the support he needs to turn the country around.

As it stands, he is the man in power and only those in power can do things that change a nation – Yardy, Good Luck!

Monday 19 May 2008

It's Only a Book

It’s only a book

I remember a song from my childhood when I watched the children’s program the lyrics stuck in my head for days; any idle moment was occupied by that song seeping into my mental tranquillity.

The first two lines went thus:

It’s only a book
Paper bound in leather and glue

I cannot remember the other lines but this is sufficient for the purposes I have raised it.

Abusing the Quran

The newswires are now excited with the news that a US soldier in Iraq had used a Quran for target practice; it was riddled with bullet holes and scrawled through with graffiti.

In any event, I would consider this act utterly insensitive, probably outrageous but I would offer the offender the benefit of the doubt that he was not malicious.

The American Army in Iraq has apologised to the local tribal leaders and hopefully, this will not be hijacked by malevolent forces to bring people unnecessarily onto the streets in protest.

Books, words and acts

I would concur that many religions have their books of knowledge and Scripture, which adherents hold in varying degrees of reverence, but a book on its own does not constitute anything in and of itself.

It has to have words that are read, meditated upon, voiced in prayer or preaching to make any sort of impact.

I would be very sorry if a rare version of the Quran, the Bible or the Torah were destroyed in some Barbaric vandalism, such a book might be irreplaceable but the import of the words would not be all the more potent if the same words were read from a modern-day cheap reproduction.

The benefit we have beyond the days of Johannes Gutenberg is that a basic Bible or Quran can be easily replaced by going to the shops without making wanton destruction affect us so adversely.

Giving books reverence

I remember the reverence with which people picked up their Bibles when accidentally dropped them, they were overcome with a combined sense of guilt and piety as they picked up the book and bowed their heads into it in mock worship.

I would be very concerned if the book were to accidentally leave the grasp of a holder and then fail to obey the laws of gravity just as I would have been concerned that religious books had such powers as to be resistant to the impact of bullets.

A book is a reference document; the quality of the information in it is only as good as how it is used; hopefully for the benefit of mankind – if a book begins to exhibit onomatopoeic tendencies without human influence or anthropomorphic attributes, one might be persuaded to say the book is bewitched.

Yet, we ascribe without thought powers to books which they do not have as inanimate objects – because only the realisation that the content when read can influence situations has any potency.

Between reverence and survival

It is only a book, paper bound in leather and glue.

I would wonder what would happen if one were caught in a dire survival situation where a fire was an essential thing to maintain life – one would hope that the essential bits of information to maintain faith and hope would have already been committed to memory – allowing for the book to be set on fire to provide warmth.

However, appealing to a greater sense of civility, I would hope that this matter would be treated with temperance and put in perspective whilst accepting the apology offered.

Religious fervour is not well served by bringing the mob onto the streets to protest about the peacefulness of one’s religion.

It’s only a book, paper bound in leather and glue, what would happen if one smashed a computer screen where the words in the book appear?

Nigeria: Ministries banned from funding National Assembly

Don’t give
Once again, one does not see tectonic shifts in reform but the small steps one sees are significant.
The Secretary to the Federal Government (SFG) has sent letters to Ministries, Departments and Agents (MDAs), advising them that every arm of government has its own budgetary allocations to fund their activities and so they should not be sponsoring activities for other organs of government especially those of the National Assembly.
This came about after the illegal disbursement of funds from the Ministry of Health to both the House of Representatives Health Committee and the Senate Committee on Health.
Bad gifts
These funds were part of the N300 million excess that the President had ordered the Ministry of Health to return to the treasury but lead to an elaborate scheme to embezzle the funds disguised as Christmas bonuses, this lead to the resignation of the Ministers and the indictment of administrators of the Ministry.
Offering N10 million each to the committees in the National Assembly would have compromised the oversight and lawmaking functions they have over the Ministry of Health; the House of Representatives committee returned their share whilst the Senate committee went on a jaunt in Ghana.
Obvious conflicts of interest
Though, the Senate did not see anything untoward in accepting funds and cleared the chairman of the committee of wrong-doing, better sense has prevailed upon others in the Executive that there is a clear and attributable conflict of interest in that kind of transaction.
The letter of the SFG clearly addresses the responsibility of chief executives of government organs in the stewardship of their resources and conformance to existing financial laws whilst warning that their prudence should ensure they are not caught in criminal conduct.
It also seeks to address avenues of patronage that might lead to corrupt practices.
Clear separation of powers
In general, a clear separation of powers is being advocated by removing inducements; without saying it in words; whilst hoping to promote a transparent and professional relationship between the Executive and the Legislature.
The fallout from the Ministry of Health embezzlement is no all bad; I think it strengthens democratic structures in a progressive and positive manner.
Once again – Good Job, Yardy!

Saturday 17 May 2008

Nigeria: Ali denies lobbying for post

Ali back in the news

It would appear the hot coals and spitting fires of dissent and disdain have been roasting the backside of Dr. Ahmadu Ali.

After media reports of his rejection of the ambassadorial posting to South Africa where sources have it that it was only South Africa of all the possible host countries that was willing to receive his credentials and the President’s decision to consider a more qualified career diplomat, the doctor might have been at a loss.

By coincidence, because of the problematic Federal Character profile required to appoint human vessels from each region in Nigeria rather than then best people in Nigeria; the erstwhile Minister of State in the Ministry of Health – Mr. Gabriel Aduku – hails from the same state as Dr. Ali, this being Kogi State, the President might have a bit of a challenge.

Ali denies lobbying for post

Obviously, one would expect that balancing the Federal Character of the Federal Executive Council can include a reshuffle and the selection of other qualified Kogi State technocrats who have a desire to serve rather than a demand to be rewarded and respected – that would hopefully provide the President with great opportunities.

Dr. Ahmadu Ali strenuously denies that he is lobbying for a ministerial appointment; that can only be very good news, I would also hope that no consideration whatsoever is being taken to advance his name for any federal appointment – he has done his time and he should give way to others.

Of service and possible disservice

For argument sake, we can agree that Dr. Ahmadu Ali has served his country as a Minister of Education in the 70s and consequently a Senator, I do not however believe that the chairmanship of a ruling party constitutes service to ones country.

I think that political position within a party structure confers too much authority and power to that personality who has no electoral mandate but exercises undue influence usually inimical to good governance and geared mainly to entrenching party influence and sometimes beclouding what should be transparent processes.

Undue influence of ruling party chairmen

The case of A.M.A. Akinloye as the Chairman of the ruling National Party of Nigeria between 1979 – 1983 and the influence he wielded on a national scale, the statements coming from the current Chairman of the ruling PDP – Chief Vincent Ogbulafor – indicate that we need a reform of the kind of public profile of these chairmen – they should merely be administrators of the party system, their continuous appearance on the national scene pronouncing policy and influencing government decisions must be curbed through constitutional restraint.

As private citizens they have every right to contribute to the debate about good governance but as party chairman, they should and must keep a low profile.

They were not elected to public office and they are not accountable to the electorate, so they should not be so visible as to be implicated in why there are serious conflicts of interest between self-interested party policy and good governance of Nigeria as desired by the electorate.

Meanwhile, if Dr. Ahmadu Ali is beginning to settle into inevitable retirement from “National Service”, I can only bid him Godspeed; however, if he is up to some mischief, he would be a man of questionable character – such an one is not needed in the Nigeria of today.

Wednesday 14 May 2008

The Yesterday Telegraph for breakfast

Late again

No great lament shall come of my disappointment when my next visit to Gran Canaria would have me reading yesterday’s The Daily Telegraph for breakfast because it does not arrive on the island till well in the afternoon.

I had written to The Daily Telegraph to complain that an Englishman has the misfortune of not being able to read his daily at breakfast – breakfast on holiday usually starts around 10:00hrs for me.

I can only imagine we are back to some old telegraphy technology, for the speed at which I got a response to what was initially an electronic mail, sent about 2 weeks ago - I did get an apology, so nice of her.

The Reply

The reply came this evening with the following words.

Thank you for your recent email regarding the Telegraph. Please accept my sincere apologies for the delay in responding to you.

I understand from your correspondence that you frequently visit Gran Canaria and have noted that The Telegraph is available to purchase around 1pm whereas the tabloids are available to buy much earlier.

The reason for this is that the tabloid newspapers are printed in the Canary Islands and distributed along with the Spanish press; however the Telegraph is printed further away, in Madrid.

Whilst I appreciate that this causes a delay in purchasing the paper and I am sorry if this causes any inconvenience, I regret there are no plans to change our printing site at this time.

May I take this opportunity to thank you for taking the time to contact us and I sincerely hope that you will continue to enjoy reading the Telegraph.

Should you wish to contact us please email or telephone us on 0800 31 66 977. We are available to take your call Monday to Friday 9am-5pm and saturday 9am-1pm.

With kind regards

Definitely not with the times

Boo hoo hoo! I took the time to contact you because I could not get my paper on time, surely, arrangements can be made to ensure that the paper is electronically sent to the Canary Islands and then printed out here to sensibly call it a daily rather than an evening paper - The Evening Standard in London is already out at 11:30AM.

I guess The Daily Telegraph has not recognised that its name does not have to reflect its inability to leverage modern technologies to achieve the possible.

In the end, if I can only get my daily in the afternoon, I surely must not be charged the full whack to read stale news, maybe I should seek solace in the bosom of the Page Three Girl.

Nigeria: Paying the dead and billing the living

We mourn the Pa

Ijebuman a fellow blogger highlighted in his blog today two issues that caught my eye before I went to work this morning.

A well-respected (read, I don’t even know the man from bingo) Yoruba leader died recently and anyone who had two feet trundled to his residence like they all do, to belabour the grieving survivors with condolences.

In fact, it is customary to find that the survivors are pre-occupied with the entertainment of dignitaries than having time to recollect their thoughts, their memories and their affections of their dearly departed.

Pa Abraham Adesanya who has through his works and deeds acquired a rarer title that ranks in precedence above the proletariat chief or even the now common Otunba that everyone seems to have, is to be revered and buried in incredulity.

Sir Who and Dame What

Before, I get to that point, I have also noticed that certain Nigerians are exhibiting titles of Sir and Dame – the last time those were legally acquired in Nigeria was before 1963 when Nigeria was not yet a republic.

It makes me wonder who is now conferring knighthoods (Sir Mike Mbama Okiro) and damehoods (Dame Patience Jonathan) on Nigerians and how long we have to wait before someone ends up with a peerage. I would suppose these are Catholic orders of chivalry and I doubt they are to be presented as personal titles.

Ijebus do big burials

Pa Adesanya is an Ijebuman and whilst the Ijebus are quite thrifty and enterprising, it is common knowledge that you cannot borrow anything from an Ijebuman for business, education or investment but you will earn the best lines of credit to conduct a burial.

With that in mind, it is probably not surprising that his burial would cost a whopping N150 million ($1.3 million, £670,000 – Ijebuman’s estimation) - that could buy immortality.

Now, anyone has a right to spend as much as they want to ensure they have properly put a man 6-feet under and done that securely; what is irksome is this is really taxpayer’s money, 6 state governments in the South-West of Nigeria are contributing $216,000 each for his burial; the electorate probably have no say in deciding if this is ethical, legal, legitimate and right.

The few in orgy

As the selectively invited cavort in an orgy of festivities celebrating the life of this great man that would last 5 days from Monday the 19th of May till Friday the 23rd of May when he would be committed, one could almost say the cacophony of the troupes of well-heeled professional mourners might just end up being a ceremony that would wake the dead and end the party.

The man who suffered such poor health for the last 4 years of his life probably might have found better use before his death for that large sum of money and probably he would have offered himself for cryogenic storage till some medical breakthrough had been developed to restore both his health and youth.

But we cannot afford to celebrate the living when the ceremonies of the dead attract more fanfare, pomp and pageantry.

Frankly, I do not understand my people at all, but as far as they are concerned, they have their priorities right, you have to bury the dead well and no expense should be spared.

Adedibu lives

Ijebuman goes on to wonder how much would be set aside for Lamidi Adedibu who I wrote about last year, a man beyond the law and a complete menace to societal calm but perversely revered.

He took ill recently and the governor of Oyo State paid his medical bills up to the tune of N5 million, and on the matter of one of the senators of the state not putting forward any finances towards his hospital bill; he boasted that the three senators representing Oyo State were all from his room, such is the influence of the man.

Then a group of supposedly enlightened people meeting in a suburb, north of London, as Adedibu Beneficiaries in the UK – It really does beggar belief – claim because of his recovery, God still wants to use Adedibu, I am speechless.

Tuesday 13 May 2008

Nigeria: A National Assembly fudge

It is a fudge

It is a fudge, if I ever saw one with influence peddling gaining the upper hand over a straight-forward legislative process.

The ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo was supposed to appear before the House of Representatives Committee on Power and Steel yesterday to answer questions which he did not.

Apparently, the ex-President had prepared a presentation and sent a letter through his Special Assistant stating that he was slightly indisposed after preparing the presentation and hoped that his presentation would suffice without holding up the committee in its work.

The ex-President had earlier agreed to appear before the committee but some advisors prevailed upon him to wield status, demand privileges and consequently he questioned the manner of the invitation and never appeared.

Refusal precedes withdrawal

In what is quickly becoming a farce, the committee then withdrew the invitation, but this was after the invited had failed to appear – so where they should have flexed muscle as a constitutionally constituted organ with the mien to invite any Nigerian citizen to a sitting, they caved in to pandering and compromises that in my view has diminished the standing of the legislature.

Like I noted yesterday, the Nigerian Bar Association had said the invitation was exercised within the legal remit of the legislature, that is, the committee can invite any citizen; an ex-President is a citizen first and then any other dignities and achievement are beside the point of being first a citizen.

Who is the President today?

There might however be a case for preserving the mystique of the office of the President, as the report indicated; the withdrawal was to avoid desecrating the office of the President.

One would think the office the President is the preserve of the incumbent rather than previous holders, else that would mean a perverse order of precedence exists that places ex-Presidents above the law and possibly beyond the survey of the incumbent.

The question then becomes; who is an ex-President answerable to?

I cannot believe that ex-President Obasanjo is being accorded these courtesies when he himself does not accord the President any courtesy – I noted at a gathering to honour the elder brother of the President (Shehu Yar’Adua), ex-President Obasanjo singularly and prominently did not rise for the President when he took the podium.

A quoted source says, “It is not about Obasanjo. It is about the office and stature of a former president of this country. It would set a bad president (sic) [precedent – ThisDay try proofreading your copy] to put him in the dock at the National Assembly and subject him to the kind of questioning that former ministers have been subjected to in the last few months nothing has changed on the investigations, but something has changed in the way the matter will be approached.”

An untenable situation developing

In my view, this elevates intransigence and truculence to a subjective variable that now has prominence when men fear to stand in the power of their office to seek the truth in the name of Nigerians.

The ex-President would not now appear in the chambers of the National Assembly but he would be interviewed in private – it offers unprecedented latitude for the ex-President to dictate the whole proceedings.

He can refuse to provide evidence or answers under oath, he can require none of the proceedings be on record and he can decide he has no further time for the legislature.

In fact, when he was President he showed scant regard for the separation of powers and this attitude seems to have followed him out of office.

In the end, I am disappointed by the way our democracy has been subsumed to the cult of personality, regardless of the protestations of the quoted source – if an ex-President can be selective about giving account for his tenure of office, we have potentates that would continue to riddle Nigeria with bad governance and get away with it.

It does not augur well at all.