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This House Is Not For Sale!

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye 

“Why do I ever think of things falling apart? Were they ever whole” – Arthur Miller, Late American playwright and essayist

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I am forced by some very discomforting thoughts to remember today Bessie Head, the late South African writer and her 1989 collection of short stories entitled, Tales Of Tenderness And Power. I remember particularly one of the stories in that collection captioned, “Village People,” especially, its opening lines which reads:

 “Poverty has a home in Africa – like a quiet second skin. It may be the only place on earth where it is worn with an unconscious dignity.” 

Now, this is one assertion that immediately compels one to start visualizing images of scenes and objects that readily constitute benumbing evidences of “dignified poverty” spread all over Africa, where people try to give some form of shine and panache to a very horrible situation they have somehow convinced themselves would always be with them. In those two brief lines, Ms. Head states a truth about Africa which we may find very demoralizing and objectionable, but which would remain extremely difficult to contradict.

 But is poverty the only thing we appear to have accepted as inevitable component of life in this part of the world? What about crime? How come crime appears to have gradually become too natural with us in Nigeria here, that we even go ahead to put up notices to moderate its operation? We appear to relish more the very unpleasant job of merely alerting people to it than doing anything to stamp it out.

 Now, if I may ask: what usually occurs to your mind each time you enter a hotel room in Nigeria and on the wash-basin, dressing mirror, bed-sheet or towel you see the following inscription: “Hotel Property, Do Not Remove!”   

If you ask me, this warning simply takes it for granted that guests would naturally wish to remove those items, and so to forestall that, care is taken to advise them not to remove those particular items as the hotel is still in need of them. In other words, the absence of such a warning on any other item should be construed as an automatic authorization any guest requires to move those things together with his personal effects, if he so wishes, at the expiration of his stay.  That’s just the implication.  Or have we not also thought about that? What are we then, by this practice, telling numerous foreign visitors that use those hotel rooms daily about ourselves?  

Yet similar warnings abound everywhere, but I doubt that it in any way bothers anyone, even those public officers spending billions of naira on their so-called efforts to manage the nation’s image. 

Indeed, it no longer shocks us to see daily on virtually every building, even rickety, dilapidated ones, this inscription, usually written in very bold letters, even at the risk of seriously defacing the structures: “This House Is Not For Sale!!” And in most cases, they usually add, for maximum effect: “Beware of 419! Beware of Fraudsters!” 

 For goodness sake, is Nigeria the only country that fraudsters can be found? Is this the only country with records of incidents of people selling properties that do not belong to them? Are there no better, more decent, less socially destructive ways of protecting people from fraudsters than screaming on virtually every house out there: “This House Is Not For Sale, Beware of 419!!”

 Are these houses not properly registered at the appropriate offices where prospective buyers can go and verify their real owners? 

 Today, almost every undeveloped, refuse-ridden land on every street hosts at a prominent spot an imposing signpost informing people the land is not for sale, plus the usual warning screaming to prospective buyers to beware of fraudsters and 419. The impression the continued proliferation of these warning signs can only convey is that most Nigerians do nothing else than wander all day looking for each other’s properties to sell to unsuspecting buyers; that our society is filled with so many rich, dumb buyers without the slightest awareness that checks ought to be run on properties before paying for them; that the system here is so chaotic and unreliable that people prefer to rely only on this very crude, people-diminishing method of discouraging potential property buyers with mostly badly written notices.    

Out there, Nigeria’s Information Minister, Dr. Dora Akunyili, is shouting herself hoarse in a determined effort to convince us that she is re-branding Nigeria or its image; she claims that she is striving to give Nigeria a positive image, but I doubt if it has ever occurred to her that this unwholesome phenomenon alone can easily destroy the best cultivated image. What for instance would a foreign visitor think of us, after observing this inscription on virtually every building he saw on a particular street he visited? 

There are some crooks in Nigeria, like in every other nation, but, for goodness sake, this is NOT a nation inhabited by only fraudsters! Decent people like me also exist here, okay! And it is somebody’s job to ensure that this point is clearly underlined to every ear that can hear.  

And because we appear to demonstrate through our indifference to the whole thing that these vulgar displays are in order, foreigners living among us have gone ahead to add some really ruinous sophistication to the ugly phenomenon. In front of even some hardly known, struggling foreign companies today, you must find notices screaming: “No Waiting; No Loitering.” 

The next time you visit an embassy, try and look at the kind of notices placed in front of the buildings.  Indeed, United States Embassy in Lagos here appears to be the most enthusiastic offender in this regard. 

Only recently, while visiting the US Embassy, I was suddenly moved to look at the number of large, gleaming notices in front of the compound warning people against patronizing touts, submission of fake information and documents etc. I can’t really recall now how many notices I saw in front of the same embassy gate saying the same the thing in the same words, and standing gallantly near each other, in silent competition. I have not tried to investigate whether this is what obtains at the US embassies in other countries, but I am willing to guess that this proliferation of demeaning notices may not be the case in other lands. 

 Inside the US embassy building itself, the rooms are generously splashed with well illustrated notices warning people that fake visas or passports or false information or documents can open many doors and but close one permanently. Even warning notices meant for the blind and deaf could not have been so generously pasted! 

Indeed, the thing is so gratuitously done that I am forced to wonder if the aim is really to discourage fraudsters or to advertise a well-cultivated opinion about Nigeria to visiting Americans and other foreign nationals who also visit the embassy as often as Nigerians.  I am tempted to suspect that the latter is the prime motivation, and as I look at Ms. Robin Sanders, (who was the US Ambassador to Nigeria when these observations were made), and observe the skin-colour and facial features she shares with me, I am forced to wonder how she is able to allow this clearly unhealthy profiling and stereotyping to continue flourishing during her tenure against the land of her ancestors.    

Yes, we can say that after all we asked for it by failing to contain the vile activities of some Nigerians that clearly portray here as a country of crooks. Indeed, there are fraudsters in this nation, as in any other country, but this is by no means, a nation peopled by ONLY fraudsters. It ought to be clear that fraudsters constitute only a negligible minority in this country, but their evil deeds seem to speak louder than the good works of the decent, hardworking majority. 

And although the fellows ruling us are mostly very low characters who care very little about reputation and self esteem, and whose understanding of being in public office is to loot the treasury pale, I refuse to accept that any nation’s politicians should form the basis for judging the people’s character. Else, why do Americans still speak contemptuously about the “Washington crowd,” and yet hallow their country at any given opportunity? 

Yes, we have a tiny bunch of very corrupt politicians and their accomplices who only know how to rubbish the country and give it a monstrous image before the rest of humanity, but for goodness case, this does not automatically consign all of us to the refuse dump reserved for low, dishonourable characters? 

The time to do a rethink and act accordingly is now. Enough of this debilitating profiling, please.

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scruples2006@yahoo.com

www.ugowrite.blogspot.com

December 22, 2010.

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When Did Poverty Assume the Colour of Crime?

By Ugoochukwu Ejinkeonye

It was a normal news report in a not too recent newspaper; the type we are used to seeing regularly, but would, most likely, merely glance through before turning our attention to more ‘important’ matters. But when I saw this particular report, confined to a small corner of the newspaper, something about it spoke a very clear message to my heart.  

Under the heading, “Cow Thief Bags 12yrs Jail,” the report said that an Oshogbo Magistrate Court presided over by Mrs. Ayo Ajeigbe had sentenced a certain Mr. Audu Mustapha to 12 years imprisonment for stealing a cow belonging to one Julie Idi. The estimated cost of the cow was N60, 000. The police had accused Mustapha of selling the cow and using the proceeds to purchase a small truck with which he conveyed ‘liberated’ cows to either where he sold or hid them. 

Now, if Mustapha who had earlier served a jail term in Ilorin for a similar offence, does not have a powerful, well-connected godfather, especially, in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), or other equally criminally powerful places, he should, as you read this article now, be in one of our dilapidated and uninhabitable prison houses enduring the just recompense of his grave sin against the State, and dreaming about his young (and probably beautiful) wife and their three tender children. 

Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye (The Author)

 I must hasten to add that nothing can justify Mustapha’s ungodly action. Even people poorer than he is are resisting the temptation to steal; he knew the dire consequences of his chosen career and still tarried in it, because, it had juicy promises of quick, undeserved wealth. Now, the excruciating day of reckoning is here, and he has no choice but to quietly savour the bitter reward of his criminal endeavours. I will only sympathise with his family if they were unaware that in order to put food on their table, Mustapha was cruelly dispossessing other people of their fat cows. This can only teach one lesson: when crime is punished, deterrence is instituted. 

Now, if that is always how all such cases end, society would really be a better place for all of us. While down here, we, in an impressive show of self-righteousness, may haul condemnations further down on Mustapha with every scorn and unmitigated rage befitting a common criminal, more discerning people would rather view him as an unfortunate victim of a disastrous accident on his way to the exalted circle of the nation’s elite class. I suspect that he did not bother to study the rules of the game very carefully and so may have easily run foul of a very important law of the game, namely: Thou shall not be too greedy

What this means is that if he had generously ‘settled’ the OC’s at the checkpoint (All correct, Sir!), or even  ‘cleared’ with the DPO of all the police stations on his route, he would most likely had escaped the humiliating appearance before the learned judge in Oshogbo, even if he had stolen a human being! In fact, he would have been a free man today, doing his ‘honest’ business without let or hindrance, and even getting the opportunity once in a while (that is, if he prospers very well) to attend state banquets and shake the smooth, soft hands of the high and mighty, more so, if he had allied himself with some influential ‘responsible’ party elder in his community, secured a Molete-kind of immunity, and regularly donated handsomely to help the ‘great party’ secure its ‘fraudslide’ victories. 

The truth we all know today is that many of the people parading themselves as prominent Nigerians today climbed to the top through the Mustapha route or variants of it. At the risk of repeating myself, assuming Mustapha was not caught and disgraced this early in his career, and his business had thrived and he had been wise enough to invest his wealth in the installation of many of his less-successful colleagues in power, he would today be dinning with ‘highly distinguished and  honourable’ lawmakers, governors, foreign and local diplomats and even the president, and being invited regularly to chair high profile events where brilliant sermons would be delivered on integrity, transparency, anti-corruption and good governance – citing his exceptional industry and sterling honesty as  worthy of emulation by today’s youths. 

But, while he would now languish in jail for twelve years for stealing a cow that sells for about N60, 000, very important convicts like Big Tafa, Governor-General Alams and Boy George got a few months’ ‘rest’ each in cosy prison suites for playing around with the nation’s billions. And many of their more daring colleagues in criminal accumulation are still out there throwing expensive parties and hobnobbing openly with the nation’s rulers whose ‘zero-tolerance for corruption’ is universally acknowledged! 

Something must be wrong with a nation that severely punishes small thieves and celebrates bigger criminals.    

In 1999, Gen Olusegun Obasanjo, whose farm had failed, was practically a poor man, and he did not hide it. One of his closest aides had even told the nation that what the man had in his account was only N25, 000. But now, as former president, his Bells University and Secondary School is valued at billions of naira. There is also his multi-billion naira farm, a couple of other companies and investments, a Presidential Library Project for which billions of naira were raised through a method Prof Wole Soyinka aptly described as “Presidential extortion”, and his famed bottomless pocket which has effectively crowned him as one of the richest billionaires this side of the Atlantic. 

Indeed, until a decent and patriotic leadership emerges in Nigeria, Obasanjo would never be compelled to explain the sources of his mysterious wealth, or how $16 billion spent on well-advertised power projects only plunged Nigerians into deeper, thicker darkness. Nor, will anyone ever ask Gen Ibrahim Babangida (who is scheming to rule Nigeria again) how $12 billion suddenly developed wings and flew away right under his nose as military president.    

As cases of suspected graft (and they are legion) are swept under because the calibre of the persons involved, impunity is effectively entrenched. Influential Nigerians abound whose sources of boundless wealth are shrouded in very deep mysteries. Nigerians know many of them and quietly dismiss them as Very Important Criminals (VIC), but the government and even the media celebrate them as ‘statesmen’ and ‘patriots’. 

Unlike Mustapha, they were able to avoid being caught early in their career until they amassed enough wealth to qualify for admission into Nigeria’s privileged class of untouchables.  Some of them even get National Honours and are appointed or ‘elected’ into highly exalted positions of power and influence, where they characteristically help immensely to deregulate and institutionalize stealing and political corruption. 

What all these go to show is that in Nigeria, it is, perhaps, safer and more rewarding to be a successful criminal than a poor man – which is very saddening indeed.

Successful criminals are either in power or its corridors, or friends and associates of those in power. They are those set of ‘law-abiding’ citizens who are able to purchase and build palatial homes in ‘approved’ places. But the poor are the confirmed criminals, always hounded and oppressed by the government, for being able to only afford to seek refuge in the slums, which governors, ever thumbing their noses at them, have either sacked or already marked out for demolition and prompt reallocation to the same members of the privileged class.

 We all know that it is usually the honest poor that get arrested on the mere suspicion that their haggard, hungry looks suggest they might be criminals, or even for such non-existent offences like ‘wandering’, and dumped and forgotten in detention camps for being unable to buy their freedom. Yes, they are the same people that suffer most the consequences of bad roads (they can’t afford to fly), power failure (they can’t afford healthy alternatives), insecurity  and increases on the price of petroleum products, which in turn jack up prizes of goods and services. In Nigeria, where crime is class-defined, poverty has since been criminalized. The rich only get into trouble when they are on the wrong side of the power equation, and their ‘trials’ are celebrated to prove the point that “no one is above the law.”  If you, dear reader, don’t know all these, then you hardly know anything yet about Nigeria.

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scruples2006@yahoo.com

www.ugowrite.blogspot.com

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Nigeria: Diminished By Greed!

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

To a people addicted to the tragic luxury of self-delusion, truth hurts badly. But then, truth always refuses to go away. It lingers around to perpetually taunt and haunt those that loathe and despise its face. 

Now, the truth we can no longer afford to deny today is that anybody, in fact, any animal can rule Nigeria. I mean that even a baboon can be Nigeria’s president or governor. It is that simple! All it will take, after all, is for the baboon to get a Maurice Iwu to rig him in and then learn the simple art of stuffing dirty bags with dirty naira notes and delivering them at the appropriate quarters and at the appropriate time, and Nigeria is his to pillage and desecrate as he likes any day! 

 

 

Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan

And if he is lucky enough to be blessed with the kind of morally challenged characters presently encumbering our political space, and the tragically light-minded National Assembly headed today by David Mark and his cousin, Dimeji Bankole, he can as well wrap the entire country up, confidently put it away in one of the folds of his wife’s wrapper and retire to an oxygen bed for a long, refreshing sleep. And the heavens will not fall! 

Instead, supposedly sane and rational human beings would unleash their revolting selves on the citizenry, with convoluted, toxic arguments about how Nigeria would immediately cease to exist if the baboon suddenly picked offense and retrieved Nigeria from where it was rotting away and gave it back to the Nigerian people. It is not a new malaise, mind you. Mr. Alao Aka-Bashrun, the esteemed former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) stated it more elegantly many years ago when he said that even if some armed robbers got together and seized power in Nigeria that he knew some of his colleagues who would immediately rush in with their CVs to seek to “serve” in the regime of those bandits. A country whose political elite is driven mainly by self-serving considerations rather than ennobling altruism is a country that that will go nowhere. And that is why Nigeria is yet to demonstrate any signs that it is going anywhere. 

 

 

Mrs. Turai YarAdua

 

There is something called self-esteem, and it is very sad that it remains grossly in short supply in Nigeria, especially in the pool from which Nigeria is, most unfortunately, drawing its irredeemably greedy rulers. Time was when all a leader wanted was to leave a glorious name and sterling legacy behind. But the set we have been stuck with for sometime now does not appear to care about such things. Call them thieves to their faces, and they would not even blush. All that excite them are the fat accounts and choice properties they have criminally accumulated across the world. And when they advance any opinion, one searches in vain for the slightest hint of conviction and principles. Sadly, such terms, it would seem, are totally alien to their entire worldview. They appear driven by only the expected immediate gain to be carted away, and clearly lack the capacity to even appreciate that Nigeria needs to remain there till tomorrow for them to even find something more to steal. 

How a society became so unlucky as to leave its destiny in the hands of mostly dregs and scum in its midst is one dilemma that might engage the most learned sociologists and experts on behavioural studies for ages? When then would Nigeria’s reclamation commence? Can the Acting President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, be relied upon to represent the beginning of the much awaited recovery? 

Nigeria always fills any sane and decent person with unqualified sadness and even despair. At no time in our history has a country been so badly diminished by raw greed. 

As I watched in utter disgust the series of poorly scripted and unsightly drama periodically unleashed on the polity by a bunch of ultra selfish and unpatriotic entities led by Mrs. Turai Yar’Adua to discourage any attempt by Nigeria to get on its feet again after being horribly crippled by her husband’s lamentable lack of vision and  gross inertia even long before his evacuation for medical resuscitation; as they undertook several desperate moves to destabilize the country by instigating ethnic and religious tensions just to maintain their stranglehold on the country’s resources, it was just unbelievable that men and women empowered by law and paid from the public purse to put a halt to the whole nauseating nuisance were sitting passively and watching helplessly, as the hideous activities of an irresponsible few threatened the peace and stability of the country and further diminished it before the rest of the world. In which civilized country can such bunch of low creatures dare to stretch impunity beyond its malleable limit like that and get away with it? These are some of the factors that deepen the enduring feelings of hopelessness and despair in Nigeria! 

 
 Now, were there no persons and institutions empowered by law in Nigeria to investigate the sources of the alleged limitless resources with which the crude, dangerous desperation flaunted by those fellows was being generously funded? There were suspicions that the slush fund flowing around like polluted rivers had ensured the silence and passivity of those who ought to do something. And so the nauseating dramas kept being enacted to the shame and embarrassment of all of us. There were also several ungodly alliances that we were told must be maintained at the expense of the country and its long-suffering masses. What a tragedy! For goodness sake, how long shall we continue to hide under the debasing excuse that this is a badly run country where anything is permissible, and where decency and development would continue to remain elusive to a long suffering people? When shall we lay claim to a better testimonial? How long shall a country greatly endowed like Nigeria remain grossly diminished before those it ought to be better than? 

No doubt, the consequences have been enormous. Because of the kind fellows we allow to take charge of our affairs in this country, there is decay everywhere, because they lack the capacity to appreciate the need to build enduring features for posterity. The only language they understand is grab-and-plunder, which has caused the country to bleed profusely and die gradually. Consequently, Nigerians are fleeing their country in droves daily as if it is involved in a very devastating war. In all manner of countries they are being subjected to all manner of unimaginable humiliations and debasing deportations. 

 Did you hear that Nigerians are also now being deported from Sudan, of all places? How low can a country sink before it decides to seek self-rediscovery? Which day will the timid majority resolve to confront the tiny gaggle of defeatable thieving minority and rescue the country from their cursed hands? When shall we all stand up and bellow a big ‘No More!’ to their hellish determination to never even minimize their mindless plunder of the country’s resources? 

 Public officers and rich Nigerians now send their children to schools in Benin Republic, imagine that? Our rulers have deemed it fit to watch the schools here to rot away, while they carted away the funds that could have turned the institutions in Nigeria into international centres of excellence. 

I felt deflated the other day while attending a forum at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana, when I found out that Americans, Britishers, Chinese and people from diverse nations of the world were proudly studying there. In 1993, I met an America Professor of Economics who proudly announced to me that while he studied for his Masters Degree at the University College, Ibadan, (UCI) in 1958, he stayed at Kuti Hall. I wonder if he can advise any American child today to get near that same Kuti Hall he spoke so glowingly about, or encourage the child of his worst enemy to attend a Nigerian University. 

While a friend and I took a walk around midnight on a Saturday at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, we felt so safe, despite the several trees in the well landscaped and beautified compound that lent the school its serenity, but which could also provide cover for cultists to strike. As we stood on a walkway, about eight American youths hopped across, chattering, laughing and feeling so much at home and happy with themselves. 

Children of countless Nigerian government officials are enrolled in this school, generating huge funds for Ghana with which it offers divers scholarships to its own citizens. These prodigal rulers would prefer paying all the money to Ghana than improving and making our own schools qualitative and safe so that youths from several parts of the world can also come to Nigeria (as used to be the case) to study. 

Nigeria has enough resources to buy up the entire Ghana. No doubt, Ghanaians do not have the drive and innovativeness of Nigerians. Under sincere and honest leaders whose eyes and hearts are not focused only on the treasury, nothing can stop Nigeria from becoming one of the greatest countries in the world?  It offends me each time anyone attempts comparing Nigeria with Europe or America. From Swaziland, Botswana to Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia to Uganda, Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast to the Gambia, Nigeria is, perhaps, the only country in the whole of Africa that is yet to achieve stability in its energy supply. What a pity. 

Maybe, there is a silver lining on the horizon, although doubts still abound. Dr. Jonathan, instead of making himself the head of Petroleum Ministry (Nigeria’s cash cow) has elected to be the Minister of Power. Let’s hope that this is really a sincere effort which will mark the end of debilitating, pitch darkness in Nigeria which has killed industries and left the country prostrate.

But sometimes, one wonders whether Nigerian masses are even worth fighting for? The same people who are exploited and oppressed daily by heartless and godless public officers are the same people who would eagerly agree to be rented as brainless crowds to demonstrate and whip up support for sinking corrupt and/or incompetent officers. When will Nigerian masses see their oppressors for who they are and learn to distance themselves from them, no matter the peanuts they offer each time any of them is being made to account for his or her role while in office? Those who agree to be rented are using their own hands to perpetuate their own slavery. When shall we learn?     

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www.ugowrite.blogspot.com

scruples2006@yahoo.com

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A Nation in Crisis and the Urgency of National Reform

 Being a Communiqué issued at the end of the Chinua Achebe Colloquium in Providence, U.S.A. on December 11, 2009. 

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The Achebe Colloquium on Africa at Brown University, recognizing the crisis at the moment in Nigerian history, invited scholars and government officials from Nigeria, Europe and the United States to examine the problems and prospects of the upcoming Nigerian elections and to suggest solutions. The Colloquium was well attended by delegates from around the world. Highlights of the Colloquium included the insistence by the Convener, internationally acclaimed literary icon, Professor Chinua Achebe, “that peaceful elections are not impossible in Nigeria”.  

Chinua Achebe

 The Colloquium notes the fact that elections in Nigeria have become progressively worse in quality over the years, and that this fact has gravely affected the country’s international strategic significance.  Among the resolutions advanced at the Colloquium are the following:
                                                      

 

1. National Dialogue.

The Colloquium acknowledges the fact that it has taken over three decades to bring Nigeria to the current decadent state. The country is at a critical moment that requires urgent intervention through a National Dialogue to consider issues of constitutional review and electoral reforms. The present crisis is an opportunity for Nigerians to discuss and adopt a new approach to deal with recurrent socio-political problems. Nigeria’s experience in the last ten years shows that the country’s democratic institutions have dangerously retrogressed. Nigerians as well as members of the international community, including other African nations, are deeply concerned about Nigeria’s fading international significance, Nigeria’s crisis of identity, and her future as a corporate entity.

 2. The Colloquium calls for free, fair and credible elections as a way of arresting and then reversing the downward spiral witnessed during the 2003 and 2007 election cycles. The Colloquium notes that the role played by the Nigerian judiciary during this period has been positive but uneven. The forthcoming Anambra elections will be a litmus test of the political will of the Federal Government and her agencies to conduct free, fair and credible elections in 2011 and beyond.

 3. The Colloquium calls on the National Assembly to ensure that the Executive arm of government adopts, as a matter of urgency, the report of the Justice Uwais-led Electoral Reforms Commission (ERC). The set of reforms should be enacted into law in time for the 2011 general elections. The Colloquium notes that the autonomy of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as recommended by the ERC is paramount for free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.

 4. The Colloquium recognizes the important role of a credible and accountable political opposition to the survival of democracy in Nigeria, and calls for the emergence of a vigorous opposition in an atmosphere devoid of political violence and intimidation. The Colloquium is concerned by the policy vacuum in the political parties and urges politicians and leaders of thought to begin the process of re-orienting party politics along policy lines.

 5. The Colloquium calls on civil society to engage in robust issue-based voter education, longer monitoring of elections, promotion of democratic institutions and protection of the public mandate expressed by the ballot. The Colloquium recommends credible public opinion polling, conducted well in advance of elections, as one way of monitoring candidates’ performance as well as safeguarding the sacred mandate of the electorate. We urge local and international observers to begin monitoring elections in Nigeria right from the crucial party primaries rather than concentrate on Election Day activities. Our collective experience in Nigeria shows that election malpractices begin from voter registration, through the party primaries, climaxing on Election Day in the theft of ballot papers and other criminal activities.

 6. The Colloquium notes that widespread disregard for accountability and transparency fertilizes corruption and fosters a culture of violence in electoral contests. The Colloquium recommends that the overall financial package for Nigerian office holders should reflect the services they provide as well as the leanness of the country’s resources. In keeping with the practice in many countries, Nigeria should consider tying legislators’ compensation to the days they sit. 

 7. The Colloquium recommends an immediate revision of Nigeria’s immunity laws, with the specific end of ensuring that elected officials who criminally abuse their office are not protected from investigation and prosecution. In addition, the Colloquium suggests that Nigeria should abandon the practice of entrusting governors and the president with huge monthly allocations of public funds under the heading of security votes. In line with the practice in many other countries, such budgets for matters bearing on security should be handled by a body made up of various security agencies, and this body should be required to give periodic accounts to an appropriate legislative committee at the state and federal levels.

 8. The Colloquium encourages Nigerians in the Diaspora to increase their agitation for credible elections and responsive governance at home through the use of innovative electronic media that have played such an important role around the world in deepening democracy. Widespread poverty and uncertainty in Nigeria continue to promote a culture of corruption and impunity.

 9. The Colloquium notes the Obama administration’s proactive engagement with Africa based on the doctrine of reciprocity and shared responsibilities. It reviewed the growing danger of Nigeria’s diplomatic and strategic irrelevance, and observed that this decline can be reversed through credible elections. The Colloquium urges the United States of America, in line with its strategic partnership with Nigeria, to further support the cause of democracy in Nigeria by rebuffing any future Nigerian government that emerges through a questionable electoral process.

10. The Colloquium calls on Nigerians at home and abroad to join hands  during this time of crisis and uncertainty and take the necessary steps to   build a country of which they can be proud.

www.ugowrite.blogspot.com

scruples2006@yahoo.com 

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Ndigbo Shall Regain Political Relevance In Nigeria, In My Lifetime — By Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu

ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY DIM CHUKWUEMEKA ODUMEGWU-OJUKWU, CHIEF GUEST OF HONOR AT THE PROFESSOR CHINUA ACHEBE INTERNATIONAL COLLOQUIUM ON FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS IN NIGERIA.

Providence, Rhode Island, 11th December 2009

TITLE:

NDIGBO SHALL REGAIN POLITICAL RELEVANCE IN NIGERIA, IN MY LIFETIME

Our host; the very distinguished; our own beloved and revered Professor Chinua Achebe, I salute you.

Distinguished Ladies and gentlemen.

I wish to begin this address by greeting everyone who has made time to attend this very important Colloquium. May the Almighty God, the God of the universe, the Omnipotent and Omniscient God, the creator of all peoples of the earth, the creator of Nigerians, the creator of Ndigbo, bless you.

My primary duty today is to welcome you to this conference being hosted by one of the very best that the creator has given to the world from the Igbo stock, a citizen of the world but who is proud to be Igbo; our very own Chinua, Chinualumogu Achebe, we your people love you.

Chukwuemka Odumegwu-Ojukwu

Chukwuemka Odumegwu-Ojukwu

We salute you today as we did over fifty years ago when you told our story in “Things Fall Apart”. It became the mother of all firsts in African Literature. We salute you today because you continue to make us proud through your values and ideals; and your commitment and courage in standing up for what is right and just in society. We hold that these are true hallmarks of Ndigbo, Nigerians and indeed all sane human beings. We jubilated and today we thank you for spurning the “national honour” to be given to you by then President Obasanjo at the height of impunity and abuse of the Anambra State Government and people. By that action of yours whatever pride was being trampled upon by the powers that be at the time was retrieved by your courage. Ndi Anambra salute you. Thank you. Ndigbo and well-meaning Nigerians salute you for standing tall at the time. More importantly the Igbo soul yearns for more Chinua Achebes, clear thinkers, lucid writers, men of courage, crusaders against injustice, true sons and daughters of their fathers. Today I say to you, dear Chinua that you are a true son of Ogidi, Anambra, Ndigbo, Nigeria and the world. As you wrote more than fifty years ago, “the body of Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu” on behalf of Ndigbo salutes you. Deme, Deme-Deme.

Professor Chinua Achebe

Professor Chinua Achebe

The founding fathers of Nigeria won for us after a bitter struggle with our colonial masters the right to be governed by leaders of OUR OWN CHOICE. Today we must apologize to our founding fathers for our inadequacies, for our lack of courage, indeed for our cowardice which made it possible for us to lose this right to be governed by leaders of our own choice via massive electoral malpractices. This situation just cannot continue. We as Nigerians must resolve today, not tomorrow, to conduct free, fair and credible elections. We cannot afford to fail in this all-important task. And we shall not fail. For it is true that no violence, indeed nothing can stop a people once they have decided to win back their rights. Therefore I say to this Colloquium today that our collective future in Nigeria as one nation under God, lies in our collective resolve to organize free, fair and credible elections.

Let this, our resolve, be impregnable. Let us face the matter of free and fair elections in Nigeria with the same fervor and courage as our founding fathers faced the struggle for Nigeria’s independence. It is that serious; for the future and well-being of our nation depends  on this.  As we seek to accomplish this mission, we must, as a people, be determined to deal ruthlessly with any who obstruct the genuine will of the people.  Such people who benefit from electoral malpractices and the political instability which follow in their wake, must be decisively and summarily dealt with.  In the words of Pandit Nehru, the late Prime Minister of India, “a moment comes but rarely in history when we step out of the old, into the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation long suppressed, finds expression.”  The struggle for free and fair elections in Nigeria, which I prescribe at this colloquium today, cannot be avoided.  It should be regarded as an irreversible mission of national retrieval and rejuvenation.  It shall be the last struggle of true and genuine Nigerian patriots to save the fatherland and propel it to greater heights.

Conference on Nigerian Elections organised by the Achebe Colloquium, Brown University, Rhode Islands (pix by SR)

Conference on Nigerian Elections organised by the Achebe Colloquium, Brown University, Rhode Islands (pix by SR)

Let me warn that throughout history, struggles have never been for the faint-hearted.  As we know, struggle by its very nature entails suffering and sacrifice.  However, we also know that suffering breeds character, and character breeds faith, and in the end faith always prevails.  Consequently, we shall embark on this mission to exorcise Nigerian politics of the demons of electoral malpractices, which have stood before Nigeria and greatness, knowing that our future as a nation depends on it.  It will not be easy.  But it has to be won in the Anambra State Governorship elections on February 6th, 2010, and in the nation-wide general elections in 2011.  God being our strength, and with aggressive vigilance of citizens in “community policing” of their votes/mandate, we shall achieve the objective of free and fair elections in Nigeria.

I wish to continue this address by affirming my personal resolve and commitment that Ndigbo shall regain political relevance in Nigeria, in my lifetime.  I am a Nigerian.  But I am also an Igbo.  It is my being Igbo that guarantees my Nigerian-ness as long as I live.  Consequently, my Nigerian-ness shall not be at the expense of my Igbo-ness.  The Nigerian nation must therefore work for all ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.  This is the challenge, the key part of which is nation-wide free and fair elections.

Back to Ndigbo.  They are the most peripatetic ethnic group in Nigeria.  In the words of another great writer, Professor Emmanuel Obiechina, who is well-known to our host, “Ndigbo forgot that they also had a farm of their own to tend and spent their youth and vigor working on other people’s farms whilst their own was overgrown with weeds.”  Now, the weeds have taken over and Ndigbo must engage in two struggles simultaneously – to rid their own farms of weeds while insisting on free and fair elections throughout Nigeria.  It is like jumping over two hurdles, vertically stacked. 

Supposed Leaders of Tomorrow: Tender Victims of Criminal Politics

Supposed Leaders of Tomorrow: Tender Victims of Criminal Politics

Compounding the Igbo predicament are the after-effects of their post civil war political and economic emasculation by the Federal Government of Nigeria.  Their shrill cries of marginalization were ignored by others and by the Nigerian Government, and they have come to terms with the reality of their present position in Nigeria.  But we Ndigbo will never give up.  It is not in our character to succumb to inequity.  Being a very major ethnic group in Nigeria, we will not accept our present marginalized status as permanent and we shall continue to seek and struggle for justice, fairness and equity in the Nigerian politics.

My commitment, because I am seriously involved, is to work with all well-meaning Nigerians to bring about the Nigerian society as promised by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  When this happens, and all glass ceilings and other unwholesome practices designed to keep Ndigbo, or any other ethnic groups in Nigeria marginalized are dismantled, I shall feel fulfilled.  When this happens, Ndigbo shall regain their political and economic relevance in a fair, just and egalitarian Nigerian society.  This remains my mission.  It is my commitment to Ndigbo.  It is my commitment to Nigeria, Africa and the world.  And it shall happen in my lifetime.  Not after.  This is both my desire and a promise.  I therefore urge this generation of Ndigbo, especially the youths, to gird their loins to safeguard their votes in the coming elections as to elect leaders of our choice.  We shall either achieve this in the February 6th, 2010 Anambra State Governorship elections and 2011 General elections in Nigeria or forever hang our heads in shame as a failed generation.  Let us not be intimidated by coercive forces of Government.  The mandate belongs to us collectively, and not to government.  As for me, I cannot be intimidated, and I know that together we shall triumph.

Let me hasten to add that some of the glass ceilings have begun to disappear with some recent appointments by the Federal Government of Nigeria.  This gives me hope that previous water tight exclusion of Ndigbo from key national positions is being positively addressed.  One hopes that these positive developments shall be sustained as we continue to sustain the Government that follows.

However, over and above these tokens of de-marginalization, is the central and fundamental issue of electoral reform and the eradication of electoral malpractices in the Nigerian system.  This is at the root of continued marginalization of various groups in Nigeria.  For example, it is no secret that Governorship aspirants of the few Igbo State in Nigeria (the Igbo geopolitical zone has fewer states than the other geopolitical zones ) strive to be endorsed from outside Igboland.  When such a Governorship aspirant gets “elected”, “imposed” or “appointed” as Governor of an Igbo State, he remains loyal and accountable not to the electorate in Igboland, but to the godfathers outside Igboland that endorsed, “imposed” or “appointed” them.

This modern-day enslavement of Igbo politics must end.  And I worry as I see the same scenario about to be re-enacted with the February 6th, 2010 Anambra State Governorship elections.  And I say, God forbid.  Chukwu ekwena.  Already, there are invasions of Anambra State by political heavyweights from outside of the State seeking to foist their preferred “Governors” on Ndi Anambra.  Before then , there was an attempt to politically castrate the political organization – the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) which I lead and which currently enjoys the mandate of the people of Anambra State.  That attempt failed.   And the incumbent Governor remains the APGA candidate for the February 6th, 2010 Anambra State Governorship Elections.  Let me assure all gathered here, and the entire people of Nigeria, that I shall be physically out there in the field to ensure that the mandate of Ndi Anambra is not stolen again.  We shall meet the invaders in the field.

A curious observer may ask, “Why Anambra?”  The answer is there – Anambra State was chosen in the best-forgotten days of “garrison politics” in Nigeria as the entry point for the emasculation and enslavement of Igbo politics.  But like Horatio, APGA stands firm at the gate, refusing to yield.  In case we have forgotten, Anambra State was the only state in Nigeria where an incumbent Governor was denied a chance to seek re-election by his political party, in 2003.  In case we have also forgotten, Anambra State was where the political party which I lead, the APGA, won elections in 2003 but the elected Governor was not allowed to exercise the mandate freely given by the people because of scandalous electoral fraud that became a national shame.  The courts declared APGA as the winner of the election – the legal process taking the better part of three years.  Also, it is only in Anambra State where there have been five “Governors” – one elected Governor and others, in the same period.  The other States in Nigeria have had one or at most two Governors.  It is in Anambra State that no Governor has served two terms of office.  And finally, lest we have forgotten, it was the crass impunity and political happenings in Anambra State that incensed our host, Professor Chinua Achebe, to reject publicly with an admonition, a national honour richly deserved by him, but coming from a Presidential hand that was heavily soiled in the Anambra political mess.

Consequently, my firm resolve this time, with the political party to which I belong (i.e. the APGA), is to undertake a state-wide, grassroots community-based campaign and mobilization of Ndi Anambra against electoral malpractices in the February 6th Governorship elections.  We insist that the votes of the people must count.  We insist that the votes shall be counted, recorded and announced at the various polling centers throughout Anambra State.  The people must elect a Governor of their choice.  Ndi Anambra shall not be dictated to from outside – not from Abia, nor from any other geopolitical zone.  Ndi Anambra will not succumb to intimidation.   The invading forces of politicians must retreat from Anambra State.  The state has bled enough.  The hemorrhage must stop.  Let the February 6th, 2010 Anambra State Governorship elections be canvassed by Anambra people, for the people, so that families and communities shall see the faces of traitors and saboteurs among their own.  In the end, let the TRUE WINNER of the elections govern.  My party, APGA, and I will always respect the will of the people.  That is what gives meaning to my life.  When this happens, that is, when the people of Anambra State effectively resist electoral fraud and ensure that the choice of the people emerges as Governor, I will retire.  As I retire, I expect that other Igbo States and the Nigerian nation will do what has to be done to exorcise the demons of electoral malpractices from the 2011 general elections in the country to ensure that these also become free and fair.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you for listening.  I thank our host, Professor Chinua Achebe, who in his work titled The Trouble with Nigeria diagnosed our national malaise as the absence of effective leadership, for showing effective leadership by convening this conference.  May God bless him and his family.  May God bless Ndigbo.  May God bless Nigeria.

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