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Column / Opinion

Stomach infrastructure, by Dan Agbese




Despite the gloom that has virtually settled on our country – heightened insecurity, recession, hunger, poverty and the stifling of the right of our youths to give voice to our frustrations – it should still be possible for us to appreciate the political wisdom of our politicians dispensed now and then. And laugh. Or smirk. When a politician endorses what we know to be true, he turns it into political pragmatism. 

Here is one good instance. A couple of weeks ago, the governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodinma, offered this gem to all politicians dancing on the periphery as members of some mushroom parties: move to the centre of our national politics, for which, read APC, if you do not wish to starve. I was, you guessed it, intrigued by the sanity and the pragmatism of the advice because it is, actually, an old political more resurrected for the benefit of this ignorant generation of politicians.

It seems to me that David Umahi, governor of Ebonyi State, appeared to have heeded his advice; or he too saw the light and found the way. He promptly dumped his party, PDP, and sauntered to the centre with the members of the state legislature. There was a lot of rejoicing in APC and a loud gnashing of teeth in PDP. PDP lost; APC gained. It is the settled way of Nigerian politicians. In case you have not noticed, only our politicians exercise the full constitutional rights of free movement and free association. 

You do not need a prophet to re-assure you that Umahi will never starve again although I did not think he ever faced the dark prospects of biting hunger as a prelude to starvation. His state is home to Abakaliki yams and rice. He and his family feed at the expense of the state. It is true that everyone in the state eats three meals – square or oblong – a day. Do not take my word for it.

I can understand Umahi’s pragmatic wisdom worthy of emulation by all politicians who find themselves to be big fishes in small ponds. There is not always enough water for the big fishes in such ponds. A big fish in a big pond is more like it. We are talking of the man’s political future here. He has looked into that future and seen that given the fluidity of our national politics, no Nigerian politician has a secure future. The train has a bad habit of leaving some former passengers stranded by the road side and thus forgotten. In any case, having attained the highest political office in his state, it is wise and proper for him to seek new political challenges at the centre where, to put a fine point to it, it all happens. Now at the centre, he wears a new toga as an important figure in our national politics. The senate of the Federal Republic has become the progressive step up the political ladder for all former state governors. There they gather and there they oil their continued political relevance and put integrity to shame.

In any case, something really irked Umahi that, in addition to not wishing to starve, made him make his move to the centre. PDP wanted him to be insulting President Buhari. He was not, you can be sure, brought up to insult his leaders; at least not the president of a country of 200 million people with the largest economy in Africa. He also told his Arise Tv interviewer that “..some of the (PDP governors) speak rubbish in the day and in the night they’re caps in hand and they start going up and down. I don’t like that.” Sure, no man who can boast of the president being “my boss, father and boss” would associate himself with such bad behaviour.

We are witnessing a sickening replay of our national politics; the politics once rightly described by former President Goodluck Jonathan as “stomach infrastructure.” The stomach matters; political ideology be damned. This, as you know, has a long, if disgusting history dating back to our independence some 60 good years ago. Constant political alignments and re-alignments ensure that our political parties are merely temporary gathering of those who wish to be anointed the movers and shakers of our great nation at election times only. Old codgers like yours sincerely would remember the shenanigans and the political re-engineering that made the NPC truck first with NCNC and later with Akintola’s breakaway faction of AG; AG then found accommodation with NCNC.

In the second republic, the national chairman of the ruling NPN, Chief Adisa Akinloye, mocked members of the progressive parties and told them, in case they had not noticed, that they did not need to look closely before seeing that all NPN members spotted coveted rosy cheeks; and the members of the progressive parties had hollow checks – evidence of poor feeding, obviously. The members of the ruling party were living the good life, washing down their pounded yam and eba with egusi soup with choice wines and custom made champagnes. 

His taunt worked. Soon, the ranks of the progressive parties were decimated as their leaders and members joined the good times rolling along. By the time of the 1983 general elections, the first after the khaki politicians left the stage for the agbada and baban riga politicians, all the other five political parties, each of which controlled at least two states from October 1, 1979, had been badly wounded. Their ranks had been severely depleted by those of their members who could not resist the temptation to join the good life and the champagne parties. NPN virtually swallowed the progressive parties, all of which lost the states they controlled from the inception of that republic. The centre had held the sway. It still does.

In 1999, we had five registered political parties. PDP was the dominant party and it ruled the roost at the centre where our national politics matters most. It soon swallowed up the other parties and by the time we went to the 2003 general elections, only AD and NPP controlled drastically reduced number of states. But in 2015, the new political kid on the block, APC, became the new attraction. Without shame, the leading lights in the PDP that had ruled the country for some 16 years, abandoned it for APC. The fortunes of the once biggest in Africa instantly dipped and it lost the presidential election and a substantial number of the states. The big umbrella under which millions gathered to be anointed as leading or bit part political players or to escape the long arms of EFCC, offered no attraction to anyone any more. The party was on its own.

In 2019, the party began the essential process of recovery. But now, it faces an existential threat if the news that more and more of its governors and members would dump it for APC is to be believed. I have gone down my cluttered memory lane to make two points about the pragmatic wisdom of our politicians. One, stomach infrastructure as a guiding political ideology is detriment to the political health of our nation. No one would be naïve enough to discount the damage it has done to our political stability all these years. 

Politics is not just a game of chance or opportunities; it is the time-honoured means made for public service. As long as our politics is defined by the need of the individual to escape starvation, so long will our political parties do less than commit to public service and the development of the nation. We do not know what our political parties stand for. Take that back. We know, of course, that they stand for something – stomach infrastructure.

Two, it should be possible for us to grow two major political parties able to compete for our support at the polls. That would be good for our political health because we need two strong parties, not one strong party, so we can have the choice promised by political pluralism. I think it would be naïve to expect the parties to have ideologies. Since the virtual collapse of communism, ideologies matter less than grabbing power. The world has moved beyond the one-party system. It would do our country, its politics and politicians no good to give some life to the dodo. 

The framers of the 1979 constitution partially tried to chain the to-ing and fro-ing among the politicians by providing that legislators who defected to other parties must forfeit their elective offices. The politicians ensured that this was obeyed entirely in the breach. Stomach infrastructure rules. Nigeria loses the fundamentals of party politics and the role political parties play in changing and developing nations.Having said all that, let me say this: let no politician allow himself to starve. They must all move to the centre where the food is abundant and no one goes hungry. The rosy cheeks trump hollow cheeks any day. A nation that feeds its political leaders is a caring nation, a nation worth dying for by those who feed well at its expense.

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Column / Opinion

Gombe cannot be anyone’s cauldron, by Hassan Gimba




Last month was really not a good one for Nigeria. It was a month that witnessed more than one mass abduction of secondary school students apart from other forms of kidnappings and killings by marauders. It was also a month in which on two occasions Boko Haram released kidnapped people, one a bride and her bridesmaids and the other a local pastor. It was a month of many things but the overall picture was that of hope – hope that Nigerians will overcome their differences and embrace one another as brothers and sisters. Why should there not be hope when Femi Fani-Kayode, a man who loves to hate President Muhammadu Buhari, his region, his religion, his people, his tribe, gobbled up his vomit and came to the president’s party in a manner that set tongues a-wagging?

Yes, we are human, with all the human frailties, accentuated by our diverse backgrounds; with parallel, at times clashing, cultures and fire-eating clerics fuelling conflicts.
It is this hubris in us that bared its fangs in Billiri, Gombe State, threatening to shatter the age-old serenity of the state.

Mai Abdu Buba Maisheru (II), the 15th Mai Tangle (Tangale), returned to his creator after being on the throne for 20 years. Soon a group of Tangale women spread into the streets of Billiri to protest what they thought was the silence, or foot-dragging by the state government in naming a successor, a new Mai Tangale.

The protest was peaceful but protests have ways of assuming lives of their own. And in more cases than one they get hijacked by undesirable elements. Such turncoats have no qualms about causing havoc, mayhem and unimaginable pain to society.

Unfortunately, such harbingers of pain get aided by certain factors. The day of the protest and the leaning of security agents could swing the action. Any protest in Nigeria that occurs on either of the two worship days – Friday or Sunday – can spiral out of control. The religion of the majority of the protesters generally determines the day the protest would start and the path the protesters would follow. Nigerians can protest over religion and tribe but hardly over how such is used to mismanage them
But security agencies can always nip such protests in the bud. This is so because all protests begin with small talks here and there – in churches, in mosques, in markets, where people gather, etc. One can see the storm gathering in people’s frustrations and venting of anger. Sometimes the air thickens with impending trouble. Therefore a dutiful security agent can pick up the scent of impending mass action and pass it to his supervisors who know what to do. But in Nigeria, sometimes security agents are part of the problem.

The Billiri protest started on a Friday, unfortunately, and the obvious targets would be Muslims and mosques. In viral videos, you could see fully kitted security agents watching the mayhem calmly. Their calmness and body language gave the impression that they were not against what was happening.

It is just unfortunate that the Billiri or rather Mai Tangale succession issue became embroiled in violence. The Tangale people are generally some of the most friendly and most social of tribes in the North East. It is hard to believe that they can dissolve into violence.
But should religion even be a problem in selecting the Mai Tangale? This is because the Mai is not an Imam that leads the Muslim faithful in prayer or a pastor that shepherds the congregation. He is just a custodian of the Tangale culture and tradition and that duty can be done by any, either a Muslim or a Christian.
Perhaps this is why there have been baton changes between Muslims and Christians among those that have ruled the Tangale. Being a chiefdom created by the British to ease their indirect rule, the first Mai, Galadima Yilah Ashile, a Christain from Dantha ruling house, was appointed in 1906. He was deposed in 1923 and Maiyamba Tara da Uku or Kwa (1923-1951) became the first person from the Billiri clan to rule the entire Tangale.

The Tangale history has it that their past rulers practised the traditional religion of their ancestors. However, MaiyambaTara da Uku later converted to Islam. Iliyasu Maiyamba, who succeeded him was a Muslim and ruled for 35 years between 1951 and 1986. Again, his son Muhammad, who can be seen to be a Muslim from his name, succeeded him and was on the throne for 11 years.

When he died in 1997, and after a protracted legal tussle (a story for another day, perhaps) Dr Abdu Buba Maisheru, a Christian, became the Mai Tangale in 2001 till his death after 20 years on the throne. The Muslims, then, did not challenge his emergence, nor was there any protest of any kind.

This may be one of the reasons why a statement signed by Reverend Liman Umaru, Tangale DCC chairman, and Engr Istifanus Amlai on behalf of Christian elders, condemned the actions of the disgruntled few and went on to say that “these actions by these few individuals do not represent what the people of Tangale and Christians stand for. We condemn their actions in strong terms and we disassociate ourselves from them and their actions. These individuals are very few and they do not speak for us through their actions.”
“The Holy Bible in Romans Chapter 13 V. 1-7 teaches Christians that they should not rebel against constituted authorities because they are established by God, as the Bible admonishes us to be obedient.

“We, therefore, recognize that the final and utmost decision and approval of who becomes and ascends to the throne of the next Mai Tangale is vested upon the shoulders of the governor!”

To show that all responsible Tangale sons frowned at what happened, the Billiri Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Reverend John Joseph, went out of his way to apologise on behalf of his flock to the state governor, Muhammad Inuwa Yahaya, and consoled the Chief Imam of the town, Alhaji Abubakar Abdullahi, over the loss of lives and property, including places of worship of Muslims.

All these can only happen in climes where there is so much trust deficit that people believe they can only get their wish through blackmailing leaders and governments through religion and tribe. In the Billiri case, they are all one tribe, though various clans.

However, it is in times like this that great leaders are forged. Whatever happened has happened, the next step is that of damage control and proactive measures to unite a people temporarily disunited by mistrust. And this is where Governor Yahaya demonstrated his skills in assuaging frayed nerves.

He organised a stakeholders’ meeting that brought everyone together. Warring factions came together and ironed out their differences and a lot of others saw through their folly. He made them see that in a small state like Gombe, all are brethren because schools, markets, places of worship and work, business environments and leisure spots have brought a greater percentage of people of different backgrounds into contact with one another. Therefore they should not allow their beautiful, fast-developing state to be turned into a cauldron by persons pursuing a parochial agenda.

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Column / Opinion

The president as a role model, by Dan Agbese




Section 11 (1) of the Fifth Schedule to the 1999 constitution provides as follows:

            “Subject to the provisions of this constitution, every public officer shall within three months after the coming into force of this Code of Conduct or immediately after taking office and thereafter – 

(a)   at the end of every four years; and

(b)  at the end of his term of office,

submit to the Code of Conduct Bureau a written declaration of all his properties, assets, and liabilities and those of his unmarried children under the age of eighteen years.”

            This was borrowed from the same section in the 1979 constitution. The departing military administration in 1979 created the Code of Conduct Bureau, which has been retained in all subsequent constitutions, as part of its efforts to protect our public officers from the temptation of soiling their integrity at the sight of money. I suppose they wanted to guard against men and women going into public office with the generous physical endowments of a mosquito and coming out looking like African elephants. The new look would not necessarily be evidence that they lived beyond their means while in office but it would definitely be a fair indication that they either fed well at public expense or with the generous assistance of contractors to their ministries. You should easily recognise that as part of the longest-running war in the land – the anti-graft war. 

            The constitution does not compel the declarant to make his declaration public. The drafters of the constitution made two assumptions here, to wit, a) the Conduct of Conduct would have the capacity to authenticate an individual declaration in every material particular and encourage individuals to challenge the declarations where necessary and b) a sense of responsibility in the public service coupled with moral leadership would compel the declarant to be honest and avoid the fiction of under-declaring his wealth to protect himself but defeat the primary purpose of the constitutional provision. None of the assumptions has been borne. Our governments are still opaque, not transparent.

There is hardly any sane point in doubting that this constitutional provision is treated with contempt by our public officers to whom the section applies. They merely follow the routine and get away with the criminal under-declaration of their legitimate but mostly illegitimate assets towering above their liabilities. Wealthy permanent secretaries with mind-blogging mansions in Abuja and other major towns and cities, pass themselves off by declaring the mud houses built by their fathers in the time of Lord Lugard as their own only assets. But the Code of Conduct Bureau has no capacity for proving the falsity of the declaration.

            The late President Umaru Yar’Adua tried to make a difference in the observance of the law. After he assumed office on May 29, 2007, Yar’Adua, aware that as president, he bore the moral burden of providing both legal and moral leadership as our national role model, duly declared his assets and liabilities and made his declaration open to the public. He must have expected his ministers to follow his sterling example. None did. Not even his vice-president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. Not a single state governor followed the president’s example. He walked a lonely road through the marsh of our collective ambivalence.

            The only man who followed Yar’Adua’s example many years later turned out to be his fellow Katsina man, President Muhammadu Buhari. He and the vice-president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, fulfilled this constitutional requirement even before they formally assumed office on May 29, 2015. Initially, they too did not want to go beyond what the law stipulated but when the public howled and brought pressure to bear on them to make the declaration of their assets and liabilities public, they duly obliged. 

For a man who campaigned for a corruption-free country, this step was important to the president as the supreme commander of the anti-graft forces. He served notice, or so most of us believed at the time, that the dawn of transparency in government had arrived on our shores.

I crowed. In my column of July 1, 2016, I wrote: “The change that swept Buhari and his party into power last year was not just change. It was a watershed; a boundary between yesterday and today and even tomorrow. We expect the administration to be all that we wish for our country. We expect every action of this administration to breathe that change and spell that change. Anything that suggests, inadvertently, that it is still business as usual robs us of our hope, our fervent hope in a great present and a greater tomorrow for us and our country.”

It turned out I spoke too soon and set myself up for disappointment. The dawn did not dawn. To begin with, Buhari’s ministers and other appointees covered by the constitutional provision did not follow the example of his moral leadership set by him and Osinbajo. Sure, the ministers too declared their assets and liabilities but kept their declaration under lock and key with the Code of Conduct Bureau, safe from the prying eyes of the Nigerian public. Twice the president and the vice-president walked the lonely path, as if they could turn the fact of nature on its head and a lone tree could make a forest.

We are talking here about something that has never featured in our national discourse on where we went wrong and continue to either wobble or even go wrong. Moral leadership is the real pillar of leadership and a president’s legacy. There are two aspects to political leadership – legal and moral. Legal leadership is easy because the laws lay the road map for it. It is thus easy to know when the president desecrates the rule of law to expand the space for his own convenience. A howl of public would quickly greet such transgression because the public watches with the keen eyes of an eagle any such breaches that might narrow the people’s rights and freedoms that protect them against the vagaries of incipient autocracy. 

On the other hand, moral leadership is rather difficult to appreciate because its road map is mapped by individual conscience and his sense of public responsibility. We have for long ignored the moral aspect of political leadership and in doing so, undermined the totality of good and responsible leadership and rendered our laws and the constitution hollow and ineffective. No Nigerian public officer has ever resigned his exalted office for costly mistakes made by him or by those over whom he exercises official responsibilities. It is the reason our public officers ignore those who have documentary evidence that calls their integrity into question. It is the reason heads of our security agencies would ignore the killing of unarmed civilians by their men and get on with running their offices, pricked occasionally by conscience warped by power.

The surprise is not that Buhari’s men refused to follow him as their role model. The real and embarrassing surprise is that the president abdicated his right to exercise his moral authority over his personal appointees and make them toe his line and thus expand his anti-graft war to the next level in the moral regeneration of our country derived from our public officers accepting responsibilities for what goes wrong under their watch. 

As I noted in my column under reference, “The letters of the law are important but, in some respects, the spirit of the law trumps the letters of the law. Law becomes sterile legalism if it is not vested with the moral authority derived from its spirit. Going the extra mile to vest this law (on declaration of assets) with the respect it deserves should serve notice to our public officers that the eyes of the small people are watching them.”The president is our national role model. I urge Buhari not to forget that. He leads, we follow. He talks, we listen. He decides and acts, we accept. These are the authentic building blocks of his legacy. Casting himself as a role model would clear the path for him to cast off the political babar riga stained with biases and a skewered sense of national leadership and replace it with the immaculate babar riga of statesmanship that enables him to throw his arms around the country and its citizens as a leader, not as ruler.

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Column / Opinion

Yewande: Troubled tenures of female appointees, by Zainab Suleiman Okino




Last year, protests rocked the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council (NIPC) over allegations of corruption levelled against the Executive Secretary, Mrs Yewande Sadiku. The protesters called for her resignation or sack by President Muhammadu Buhari. The president did not oblige them. Last week, the agency’s union, again called out its members to re-enact their resentment against the Executive Secretary.

Full disclosures first. I have never met Mrs Yewande Sadiku, not even through a third party, but I understand that she was met with resistance almost from the beginning of her tenure. I cannot confirm the allegations of corruption against her either, since she has not been tried in a law court. I have also not seen much of the work of the NIPC in public space, even though the agency “has the mandate to promote, coordinate and monitor all investments in Nigeria”.

My concern is the way some public officials are harangued, taken to the cleaners, and their reputation smeared because of the self-serving interests of a few, who are probably averse to change (if any) or are being remote-controlled by higher authorities for the same selfish interest. I must add, at the risk of being accused of playing the victim card, that these attacks are more often directed at the female CEOs than their male counterparts.

More often than not, the tendency to run into trouble is more prevalent among women appointees than men, for so many reasons: our society, is by and large, patrilineal, so our male dominated society is yet to come to terms with women leadership, and uncomfortable with women who have broken the glass ceiling, giving orders from the rooftop. The perception is that women have uncanny reputation for high-handedness, and when, probably they bring those traces to public works, they unsettle the Augean stable, and in return, they are heckled and harassed.

The term “iron lady” derived from Margaret Thatcher’s tough stance as Prime Minister of Britain, when used to describe a female boss in our clime, is most often not complimentary, that is putting it mildly.

Contrarily, being high-handed is not an offence in itself; most of the women bosses described this way might just be disciplined, competent and capable. So while we seem obsessed with women at the top and who we want to draw back by cultural and religious inhibitions, public works may suffer, even as those inhibitions may blind us to their capacity and competence.

There are misogynistic men, always on the prowl to cast aspersion on women in high places, but this does not mean that there are no bad female leaders taking bad decisions at their workplaces; my opinion is in relative terms.

During the protest last week at the NIPC, staff accused the ES of “executive felonies”. Their grouses according to a Premium Times report are wrongful dismissal, denial of promotion, breach of the public procurement law and failure to pay staff relevant allowances. The civil service union also asked for the reversal of dismissed staff in the last four years, renovation and rehabilitation of zonal offices and NIPC headquarters and above all, the immediate removal of the ES. There are channels to redress all these issues and I hope all parties will explore them for peace to reign.

While Yewande might be traumatised with these incessant attacks, she is still sitting pretty at her job, despite these allegations and criticisms. Sadly, many are not that lucky. The unlucky ones heckled out of office, may have to deal with psychological trauma to their mental health. As someone who had gone through such attacks revealed recently, “nothing prepares any one for the type, severity and quantum of challenges that one can face while in service to our country and contrary to the beliefs of some people, these challenges DON’T strengthen us. Instead, they change the shape of our souls, destroying our inner core; at the end of the service we leave with irreparable damages to our organs, body, spirit and soul. Recovery from the damages one incurs in service to our fatherland is not linear”.

This should not happen to Yewande before an amicable resolution is reached. Women have to work their hearts out, have to work twice as their male counterparts, before they get recognition or get compensated. Women are also wired differently; they can become emotional wrecks if accused wrongly. Not even those we refer to as super women are free from such. Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, the newly appointed World Trade Oorganisation (WTO) Director-General had many of such moments when she was coordinating minister for the economy in the Jonathan administration.
Adams Oshiomhole, then governor of Edo state in 2015, accused her of using one billion Naira government money for Jonathan’s re-election and how the excess crude account was depleted down to $4.1 billion from $10 billion without approval from the National Economic Council, to which the former minister responded and said Oshiomhole was after her because she denied him approval for a N15 billion Naira suspicious loan which would have left “Edo state with a heavy debt burden, and the state would have found it very difficult to pay back”. She also indicated using legal means to clear her name. In the end, it all boiled down to local politics as Okonjo Iweala has since risen again to international reckoning with her WTO appointment.

Another classical example was the case of Dr Marilyn Amobi, then CEO of Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading Company(NBET). She had a running battle with two ministers of power, who were not even her supervising ministers by law, and some staff who saw in her a threat to whatever they stood for. In the end, the staff and ministers had their way, and her tenure was not renewed. Long after she is out of the way, the power sector’s sad story at that level has only gotten worse.

After an involuntary assessment tour of NBET and interactive session with her before she was relieved of her position, I wrote then: “Public service is conservative, it resists business unusual and prefers to stick to existing structure even when it doesn’t suit the purpose… clearly she (Amobi) had made her mark, but is Nigeria’s cut-throat elite competition for top jobs ready? …Such is the dilemma of one of a few leading lights of the Buhari administration. Since all these back and forth is not about incompetence and lack of knowledge of the job but mere spoils/perks of office, you’d wonder what we really want as a nation—a patronising novice who uses his/her office to embezzle and dispense favours recklessly or an accomplished, competent and skilful professional whose impact and footprints can engender the attainment of organisational and national objectives”.

I hope Yewande’s lot will not be like that of Marilyn, because while those who wanted Marilyn out had their way, the Nigerian story as far as fighting corruption is concerned has remained unchanged. And despite the fact that she was said to have “constituted clear and present danger”, no case was instituted against her after office. For Okonjo Iweala, Oshiomhole never advanced corruption case against her beyond the political exigency of that time. Yes, women can be unyielding, recalcitrant and tough on the job, but why not, if it can be justified positively.

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