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Column / Opinion

Looking under the carpet, by Dan Agbese




Let me tell you about my new hobby. It is called, believe me, looking under the carpet. Sounds rather crazy for a hobby but that is the beauty of it. The carpet is an ordinary piece of home furniture. Its primary purpose is to collect dust brought into a room and still leave the room looking clean and decent.

But the carpet serves a greater utilitarian value than that. It is perhaps the most reliable source of confidence in government circles in all countries. Rulers, big and small, hide a multitude of their sins of omission and commission under the carpet. They trust the carpet to keep their secrets. The carpet obliges them too. Once they sweep what they want to keep away from the public under the carpet, their secrets are safe and the ignorance of the public in matters of public interest is assured. The only time a carpet is obliged to yield its secret is when a nosey poker, also known as a reporter, picks up an unpleasant smell and decides to follow where his nose leads him.

So much is hidden under the carpet and so much can be uncovered from looking under the carpet. My new hobby resulted from my curiosity as to why rulers and their minions have so much confidence in the capacity of the carpet to keep faith with them and keep their secrets. My curiosity led me to look under the carpet of the federal government. It is easily and understandably the biggest carpet in the country. I found it an unbelievable treasure trove of our developmental history; what we have made and unmade of our nation in all areas of human development and resource management.
Under it, I found promises not kept, plans abandoned or half completed, movements that morphed in a mere motion, the squandering of riches, the squandering of opportunities, wasted and lost opportunities for national development, abandoned projects that replaced the people’s hope in their governments and rulers with cynicism, wasted financial and human resources not harnessed towards a more humane, united and egalitarian society. And I came to know why this great country so greatly endowed with human and natural resources, has remained stuck at point A and is unable to move to point B in steady steps of focused development towards realising its greatness.

I saw why the cankerworm called corruption which has been the enemy of all Nigerian rulers since January 15, 1966, has proved too powerful to be dislodged and instead digs deep and shames the commanders of the forces of the war against it. And I came to appreciate why former President Ibrahim Babangida once perceptively observed that the country has “…witnessed (its) rise to greatness followed with a decline to the state of a bewildered nation.” And I know that the carpet plays a more important role in the affairs of men, women and nations than making our living rooms look beautiful.

In the service of my new hobby, I would occasionally look under the carpet of the federal government and persuade the carpet to yield some important information on the history of our successes and failures as a nation. I would then serve my finding in an occasional column titled, Looking under the carpet. A few days ago, as of this writing, I looked under the carpet and here is what I found.
Steel is the bedrock of every nation’s industrialisation and development. Sometime in 1971, the federal government under General Yakubu Gowon, took its first major step towards taking our country into the comity of modern, industrialised nations. It established the Nigerian Steel Development Authority, NSDA. Its enabling law was decree 19 of that year. The first assignment of the authority was to carry out the survey of local raw materials for a steel industry. It carried out this assignment and presented its preliminary report in 1974. The report indicated that there was a huge iron ore deposit at Itakpe in the Ajaokuta area of Okene division in Kwara State.

The preliminary report was followed by a more detailed project report in 1977, fully confirming the preliminary findings in respect of the availability of the necessary raw materials for the steel industry in the country. The Obasanjo military administration approved the report as well as the recommended steps to kick start a steel development project in the country. What is technically called global contract “for the construction of steel plant at Ajaokuta were all commissioned and executed under the NSDA” by 1979.

The departing military administration thereafter dissolved NSDA and formally set up the Ajaokuta Steel Company Limited, ASCL, on September 18, 1979, under decree 60. The company defined its vision as “the production of quality steel for the industrialisation of Nigeria while meeting all standards.” The Obasanjo military administration certainly had the same vision in setting up the company. The company’s potentials were huge. It would be the most strategic industry in the country. Its capacity for employment surpassed the capacities of all existing industries in the country put together.
From what I could gather about its huge potentials from its website, “It would provide materials for infrastructural development, technology acquisition, human capacity building, income distribution, regional development and employment generation. While the project would directly employ about 10,000 staff at its first phase of commissioning, the upstream and downstream industries that will evolve all over the nation will engage not less than 500,000 employees.”

The task of taking the company from the drawing board and giving it life fell on the first executive president of the federal republic, the late Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari. He too was persuaded that the time had come for the country to do more than pay pious lip service to our industrialisation. Steel development, he too reasoned, was the first and perhaps the most strategic step in the country’s worthy ambition to eat at the same table with the Joneses of the industrialised world. He wasted little time in giving effect to our national dreams. He poured his heart into it and expected to see steel roll out of the factory during his tenure as president. The Russians, willing partners in the project, came and Ajaokuta gradually became the talk of the country.

And then, as often happens in our country, this strategic industry became a metaphor for our myriads of unrealised national dreams. The dream died; the factory is a monument to our attempts to rise to greatness only to descend into the bottom as a bewildered nation, wondering if it is suffering from the curse of nature’s endowments and kindness. I have tried to find some evidence of what was spent on the project before the Nigerian system brought it down to its knees but no luck. It is simply described as a multi-billion US dollar project. For more than twenty years, the company suffered from policy summersaults and contradictions, leading to the deepening of our national misery. Our riches were squandered, turning our industrialisation dreams into a nightmare.
ThisDay newspaper quoted the sole administrator of the steel company as saying that $400 million would be required to complete the plant and if that amount of money was poured into the company with holes in its pockets, it would take a minimum of three years to revive the plant. You do not need me to tell you that if the money is not given to the company, the situation would not just remain as it is; it would be worse.

Whatever remains of the assets that have not yet been stripped would be systematically stripped, leaving the carcass of a factory in the carcass heaps of our national failures. You see, this is the sort of thing you find under the carpet.
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo recently lamented the sorry pass to which Ajaokuta has been condemned all these years. He said, “It is one of the cases of failures. It is a tragedy of immense proportion that we have both Ajaokuta Steel Complex and NIOMCO and couldn’t get anything out of them for years.”

The Buhari administration is bestirring itself over Ajaokuta. But do not keep your fingers crossed. If we place our lean financial resources against the demands of this huge industrial complex, we have a fairly good idea of what the ocean feels when a man empties a glass of water into it.

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Column / Opinion

My Igbo brothers, before it is too late, by Hassan Gimba




The Igbo are a resilient lot, an egalitarian and industrious people. Defined as a meta-ethnicity native and one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa, they are predominant in South Eastern and mid-western Nigeria. Though there is a claim by some of them that they descended from Jews, the World Culture Encyclopaedia has it that the Igbo people have no common traditional story of their origins. It said historians have proposed two major theories of Igbo origins. One claims the existence of a core area, or “nuclear Igboland.” The other claims they descended from waves of immigrants from the north and the west who arrived in the fourteenth or fifteenth century. Three of such immigrant people are the Nri, Nzam and Anam.

I have known the Igbo since I opened my eyes, and I have nothing but respect and admiration for them. Mrs Nwosu and Ogualili were among my primary school teachers. I went through the hands of Mrs Ogualili in Shehu Garbai Primary School in Maiduguri twice – first in my primary five and then seven when she saw me through my first school leaving certificate examinations.

As a student, I had some of them also in the same class in both my primary and secondary schools. Frank Nweke Jnr, a former minister, was my classmate in primary school. Brilliant chap, he was.

At Government College, Maiduguri, among others, Michael Onyia, Christopher Ononogbu, Boniface Edeh, Joseph Anumudu, Felix Udeh and Peter Achukwu were among my classmates. Michael Onyia, now a PhD and lecturer at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, was always ahead of the set academically. Peter Achukwu is now a Professor in Medical Laboratory Sciences, specialising in Histopathology/Histochemistry with an LLB, BL to boot. He is also a lecturer at UNN.

People will understand, therefore, when I say I have nothing but respect and admiration for them. The Igbo, on average, can be generous and will do all it takes to build someone into becoming someone responsible. They have the best apprenticeship mentoring system in the world, where the mentor sets up the apprentice after a period of training.

I nearly married one, Uzoamaka, in 1990, but that should be a story for another day. However, I offered my junior sister—same parents—to an Igbo secondary school classmate when I realised he wanted to marry a northerner. He ended up marrying someone from abroad, though.

In the 70s, the civil war was fresh, understandably, but by 1979 and through the 1980s up to 2015, the Igbo had been fully integrated into Nigeria and were (still are) major players.

From 1979 to 1983, they occupied the slot of vice president. Ebitu Ukiwe was President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s deputy before Augustus Aikhomu displaced him. They have had chiefs of staff, especially that of the army, Senate presidents, Senate deputy presidents, deputy Speakers in the House of Representatives, and many more positions. There is no position in Nigeria that the Igbo has not held, including the presidency if Goodluck Ebele Jonathan can be regarded as an Igbo by default.

Therefore, when the Igbo man cries “marginalisation!” I wonder if I knew its meaning.

The North East has not tasted power at the apex since Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, yet they have not cried of being “marginalised” by their North Western brothers who will tell them “One North” but when all come “home”, they always take the larger portion of the cake.

In 1979, the North West knew the North East’s Malam Adamu Ciroma was head and shoulders above all the presidential aspirants of the party that won the presidency that year, but they connived to deny him the ticket. Same with 1992. When they realised he would defeat Umaru Shinkafi at the National Republican Convention’s staggered primary elections, they again conspired to scuttle his journey. After doing him in, they went on and truncated another North Easterner, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe’s presidential drive, denying him victory even as a vice-presidential candidate. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar too has suffered the same fate.

Yet the North East did not lament. They did not threaten to break away. The temptation to blame others for their “woes” did not cross their minds. Cries of marginalisation did not sweep over them. No. They will sit down and re-strategise, then make their brothers an offer they cannot refuse: They will present their best who will hopefully best their best. This is politics. It is what democracy is all about. The business of give-and-take. No hairsplitting or inviting the god of thunder or threatening Armageddon.

Again, if people are backward, unable to witness any development in their areas, as the Igbos cry, they should go to the source and address it. Would it be fair for an Anambra man, for instance, to accuse a Hausa man of under-development in his state? Methinks it will not look nice. Members of the state house of assembly are all Igbos, same for cabinet members and all local government officials. Those representing the state at the national level are all Igbos and the governor who got elected into office by his fellow Igbo is also one of them. Their full allocation comes to them, as well. So, where did someone from another area cause the problem? How did he do them in?

It is too late for Nigeria now to divide into only God knows how many components. Perhaps 1966 was the best time. Yes, maybe. Perchance by now, we would all have been independent nationalities, each with its peculiar problems and prospects. But now? No way, sir! We are all safer in a united Nigeria. None of the six geopolitical zones can survive outside Nigeria. Bandits, insurgents, militants, megalomaniacs, charlatans and all would overwhelm us. Even the Igbo nation cannot stand on its own if left to the whims, arrogance and demagoguery of its self-anointed secessionist leader who Yoweri Museveni will look like a saint when compared to.

But many intelligent Igbo know this. The problem is there is a herd movement towards something that the gullible, used cannon fodder do not even know what it is. To them, it is “freedom”. Sure? Freedom from what? From where? From who? If it happens, which is doubtful, it is then they will recall Nigeria with nostalgia and rue over a Nigerian slang “one chance”. They would realise its real meaning, albeit late in the day. This is assuming various warlords have not emerged to deny everyone peace. And freedom. And therefore I sympathise with my good friends, my brothers across the Niger.

A herd movement like the IPOB has its driving spirit and being populated mainly by society’s dregs with nothing to lose, a certain force with a promise of violence pushes it. The level-headed can easily get intimidated and blackmailed into sheepish silence.

There is nothing the good and visionary can do when demagogues opiate the minds and souls of the gullible herd. Or so it seems. But we should also keep in mind Edmund Burke’s letter to Thomas Mercer, a 19th century Judge. A summary of the letter is: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

But sometimes one gets disappointed in how the situation was left to deteriorate to this level. Of course, we know that once there is no fairness or justice in a land, agitations take over. In 1966 when life was snuffed out of some leading northern military and political leaders, the chant in the North was for “Araba” (separation) because the North felt the military regime then was not fair and just to it.

The only way we can slow down and perhaps reverse the impending doom is for all to feel included and carried along in affairs despite scarce resources. We have a lot to learn from how Quebec and Ireland are being handled by the Canadian and British governments, respectively.

Nnamdi Kanu, who Aisha Yesufu described as a ‘made-in-China Shekau’ and his IPOB and ESM always deny what everyone knows were perpetrated by them. This is unlike the Boko Haram insurgents who are eager to own what they did and didn’t do as long as it was sinister. This means there is still hope that they could be persuaded to return from their fatal journey, a journey that will only cause untold pains to all on both sides. We need not go through what we had gone through before. Even animals learn from experience, sometimes referred to as history.

We that are in Nigeria should not heed the calls of those safely ensconced in the safety and comfort of the lands of the Whiteman to put our house ablaze. Let anyone who loves us and wants to fight for us remain within us, as Gandhi and Mandela did for their people. We shouldn’t put our lives and those of our loved ones, our properties and years of labour and sweat on the line for one brigand in disguise, a charlatan living off our sweat in comfort abroad.

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Column / Opinion

Tinubu: standing out in the crowd, by Dan Agbese




The occasion of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s 69 birthday last month invited, as such occasions are wont to do, a flood of encomiums, each intent on reminding us what a blessing the man is to our national politics. Tinubu, of course, knew that some of them spoke from both sides of the mouth. He knew that among those who loudly proclaimed his political greatness were men who could not stand his guts, his political sagacity and courage and, of course, his assumed and legitimate political ambition to climb to the top of the totem pole. There is nothing wrong with the king-maker becoming the king. He knew they did no more than stroll down the path of tradition in order to be numbered among those who appreciate him in earnest. Nothing strange there. It is the way the cook stands; it is the way it crumbles.

            Tinubu is in the eyes of the storm; he has been in it for as long as one can remember. People are suspicious of his political moves. If he keeps his lips sealed and refuses to jump into the fray of needless and often puerile controversies, he is said to be doing so because of his presidential ambition. And even if he speaks, he satisfies no one. Whatever he does tends to be clothed in dark and sinister motives of an unbridled personal political ambition by men who fear his principles. It is an unkind cut. But he is a smart man. I believe he is neither fazed by the unkind cuts he receives nor inebriated by the whiffs of panegyrics. It is, as they say, politics in action.

            This piece is not intended to praise Tinubu. This old codger is hardly qualified for that. Its noble intention, even if I say so, is to use the senator’s role in our national politics to assess our increasingly wobbly steps down the garden path of our national politics in the context of our assumed ambition to water, protect and grow our democracy. Tinubu represents for me a more committed approach to that great ambition than we are willing to give him credit for. He has done some very titanic things and helped to effect some critical changes in the direction, if not the tenor, of our national politics and discourse. He is one of a handful of principled men among our politicians who have not been blown off course by the ill wind of naked political ambition and casting about for where the bread is likely to be better buttered in the next circle of general elections, even if it means picking up the crumbs from under the table. 

Tinubu remained firm and loyal to his original political party, AD. It changed its name to CAN and later helped to birth a new political party, APC in 2014, that has cemented the South-West in the mainstream of our national politics; politics at the centre, that is. AD was a child of political circumstances. It did not meet the condition for national spread stipulated in the General Abdulsalami Abubakar transition programme but nevertheless made the grade because the gun of protests over the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election was still belching ominous smoke in the South-West geo-political zone and threatening to blur the path to the birth of the third or fourth republic. 

Tinubu needed no one to tell him that the party was what the South-West needed to bargain with the Nigerian on its fair share of the national cake. He entered the 1999 race for the governorship of Lagos State. He won and began the steady spread of a shift in state-cum regional development paradigm. AD went on to win all the six states in the geo-political zone in 1999. And this, despite the fact that one of its illustrious sons, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a presidential candidate of PDP, was virtually crowned as president by the generals long before the first ballot paper hit the bottom of the ballot box that year.

President Obasanjo, smarting from being treated as a political orphan because he did not enjoy the support of his own people, outsmarted the AD governors in the 2003 general elections. He convinced them to support him for his re-election in return for his support for them for their own re-election. Tinubu was the only man who saw through Obasanjo’s plan and rejected it. The rest of his colleagues took the bait and the umbrella replaced the broom in their government houses. 

Unusual for a Nigerian politician, most of whom are permanently in search of greener pastures, Tinubu remained alone and true to AD and was determined to make Lagos a successful political and economic story and thus an enviable island in the muddied sea of our national failures. I understand he unveiled the local equivalent of a Marshall plan for the old Western region to which all the states in the zone were originally obliged to tap into and make it the new hub in our national development. His infrastructural development has had a tremendous and positive impact on the rest of the zone, even in states that do not quite share in the policy of collective system of regional development. 

We can all see it. Lagos is the only state in the federation that does not wait for the monthly handouts from the federation account. It generates enough revenue internally to take care of itself and oil its developmental ambitions. Internally, the state has more and better roads than the rest of the country. Its economy is said to be fifth largest in Africa. That is something to be immensely proud of – even if out of a reluctance to applaud those who make a difference, we clap for Tinubu, the architect of all that, with one hand. Still, the Asiwaju stands out in the teaming crowd of political jobbers parading themselves as patriots committed to rebuilding Nigeria.

            From what I can see, Tinubu stands out as the kind of political leader we need and urgently so, to help stop us from moving in circles in a vain search for a magical development paradigm that does not exist. We need politicians forged on the anvils of their principles who are not easily swayed by the mere lure of power or of lucre. He is. We need politicians with a larger concept of public service and who bear no allegiance to tribe or religion and can, with some courage, manage our ethnic diversity and political pluralism. The Asiwaju fits the bill.

 Tinubu has consistently opened the doors of Lagos State to politicians from other states to find their berth. He left a legacy of building a state in which every Nigerian has a stake by accommodating non-indigenes in the state cabinet. You can find Yoruba from within and outside the South-West in every Lagos State administration; just as you can find some other tribes there too. Thus, the son of the minister of information and culture, Lai Mohammed, is a member of the Lagos State house of assembly. He is from Kwara State. And from Kogi State comes James Faleke who is a member of the House of Representatives in Lagos State. I know of no other state in the country where people from other states enjoy this degree of political space with the sons and daughters of the soil. I can think of nothing more effective in building a united states of Nigeria than by making every part of Nigeria home to every Nigerian as Tinubu has done.

I confess that I do not quite know the colour of his politics in terms of an ideology but whether he has one or not, he has shown that he is a pragmatic politician with a capacity for hands-on leadership. His succession plan in Lagos has worked and made the state the least atomistic one in the country. This has also ensured consistency in infrastructural and economic development plan from one administration to the next. In no other state is this evident absent of succession plans. Instead a departing state governor anoints a successor with two left hands and leaves the state in the lurch with an unprepared and confused man fumbling in the darkness of his blind ambition. Sure, Tinubu has done well for his state as well as getting a chunk of power at the centre for the South-West geo-political zone. However hard we may try, I think it would be dishonest not to admit that Tinubu and he alone made the birth of APC possible in 2014, and changed for ever the political fortunes of Muhammadu Buhari and that of many others. But his work is not done. Our country is still on the weary trek towards transforming itself from a mere geographical expression into a united and egalitarian nation. Buffeted as it is by unprecedented violence and insecurity, the clouds are beginning to blur our vision – in case the Asiwaju is kept unaware of it.

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Police reforms: Senator Uba Sani’s enduring legacy in view, by Jafaar Bello




Nigeria is bedevilled by lingering insurgency and insecurity in the form of violent crimes such as abductions, farmer-herder conflict, attacks on local communities, revived secessionist movements and much more. Besides retarding the economic progress of the country, the consequences of these conflicts are enormous, to say the least. Farming communities have been sacked by bandits thereby endangering food security.

A few studies have also shown the negative impacts of insecurity on governance and economic growth; it sucks
out investments, reduces direct investments from businesses abroad and increases unemployment and dwindles government revenues.

Security is inextricably linked to our current economic crises and tackling the aforementioned successfully will likely involve resolving this precarious situation — a journey that will no doubt start with reforms of the Police as we know it, and federal (and state) policing laws.

I had the opportunity to work on public engagements for the Police Reform Bill in 2018 and at the time, it struck me that we could start to fix a string of problems we had (and still do) as a country by starting with the Nigerian Police. It is my opinion that we could have done more to capture the immediate need for reforms in police welfare for example, but I digress.

Proponents of state police say it is in line with the principles of true federalism and
decentralisation or devolution of powers, and that such an arrangement would enable our 36 states to effectively maintain law and order, especially during emergencies.

While not discounting counter-arguments of potential abuse of power by state executives, and factoring in the
rising violence across the country, I think it’s time to bring back discussions on state policing
to the fore.

If we are going to achieve everything I’ve mentioned, we’ll have to first look at the National Assembly where Senator Uba Sani has sponsored four bills to secure the decentralisation of policing in Nigeria. The bills have all successfully passed through the first reading at the Senate.

The first Bill seeks to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 to amongst other provisions establish State Police Force in the 36 states of the Federation, change the name of the Police Service Commission to the Federal Police Service Commission, establish the State Police Service Commission and amend the Second and Third Schedules of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

The second one is Police Service Commission Act 2001 (Repeal and Re-Enactment) Bill, 2020 which “seeks to repeal the Police Service Commission Act 2001 and enact the Federal Police Service Commission (Est. Etc) Bill to amongst other provisions establish a Commission which shall be charged with the discipline of all officers except in state police force and to dismiss and exercise disciplinary control over any person holding office in the Nigeria Police Force (other than the inspector-general of police).

Third is the Nigerian Police Act (Amendment) Bill, 2020, seeking to alter the Nigeria Police Act 2020 to amongst other provisions establish an operational structure for State Police Force in the 36 states of the Federation, change the name of the Police Service Commission to the Federal Police Service Commission, and address new issues that are not covered under the Nigeria Police Act 2020.

Finally is the State Police Service Commission (Establishment) Bill, 2020. Once enacted, the law will among other provisions seeks to establish a Commission which shall be charged with discipline of all officers except in state police force and to dismiss and exercise disciplinary control over any person holding office in the State Police Force (other than the Commissioner of police).

Undoubtedly, the state police once established through the senator’s effort, will become one of the enduring legacies of Senator Uba and indeed the Buhari administration.

Uba Sani’s own senatorial district, Kaduna Central has had more than its fair share of insecurity, so it is only sensible that he would champion this cause.

An arduous journey no doubt awaits the Kaduna Senator, so kudos to him for engaging in a battle many would consider a sinking pool or threading on a path many fear to contemplate.

As a people, we should really look into a lot of the discussions brought on by last year’s protests in relation to the Nigerian Police. These include funding, training, equipment, welfare and discipline. In order to fulfil our economic potential and take advantage of the AfCFTA for the benefit of citizens, we have to roll our sleeves and do this dirty work- we the
citizens, and the officials we’ve elected to defend our interests.

As we hope for a successful passage of the bills and accent by President Buhari, I urge us all to be optimistic and rest assured that our elected officials as represented by Senator Uba Sani are doing the needful to ensure our people’s aspirations are met. For Senator Sani, it is indeed a new dawn as he stands up to be counted in this perilous time.

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