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RIDING A CAMEL IN A JET AGE

By NBF News
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But before I proceed, let me offer profound apologies to you, my loyal readers, who have been bombarding me with mails, seeking to know why I stopped writing. Truth is I never stopped writing, and I can never, ever, contemplate committing such professional suicide. I affirm here and now that I will continue to write as long as God Almighty gives the grace and health. To me, journalism is a calling. It is a way of life. It is a religion. I can't imagine life outside the altar of journalism. I can't contemplate a day without worshipping in the temple of news. It is one way of life that transcends all understanding.

It is a calling with an awe-inspiring capacity to survive kings and kingdoms, emperors and empires, terrible tyrannies and dastardly manipulation of power the world has ever known. Such is the awesome power of journalism that once it hits you, you are hooked forever. Whether you are writing or reporting or editing or publishing for print or broadcast or electronic media as a profession, or you are writing or reporting for the media as a literary genre or style, once the bug hits you, it preys on you till you die. The virus never leaves your blood. I'm happy and grateful to God to be afflicted by this virus. It is a positive affliction that gives you positive vibrations all the time, especially if you use it to engender a better society. How I love this job.

But there comes a time when the so-called writers' block hits you. It could last a day, a week, a month, even two, other factors being unequal. Or your schedule or thoughts could be so crowded or get so twisted that you lose the inspiration to write. Your inspiration could succumb to the drudgery of daily living in a country where nothing works, where life is not only hectic but hellish; where, to survive, you have to run your own government, providing your own power (via electricity generating sets), water (via boreholes), road, education, health, etc. Indeed, without inspiration, a journalist, a writer is like fish out of water. But the good news is that even though the afflictions of writers or journalists eking a living in Nigeria may be legion, the god of inspiration has a way of restoring them. They have a way of bouncing back. So, like Pat Utomi would say, 'I'mmmm… back!' Oh yes, I'm back in THE SUN where I hope to tap into its cosmic energy to serve you better.

As they say, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since I last wrote this column in The Spectator. The political circuit has been in an understandable frenzy. It has been threatening to burst at its seams with activities, throwing up the usual mud and mire. The contentious issue of 'zoning', the hottest and most divisive word in our political lexicon, has continued to shred the 'family' bond within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. While I was away, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, saw 'the truth' and capitulated on its initial timeline for the 2011 general elections. Consequently, it released a new timeline that is yet to be wholly acceptable to all the political parties, and still awaits the legal seal of a National Assembly that is making haste slowly in processing the necessary constitution and the Electoral Act amendments that would make the shift realizable.

Despite all that, the club of presidential aspirants (including both pretenders and contenders) has continued to swell by the day. The same goes for those gunning for the state government houses that must have new tenants in 2011. We are daily inundated by all manner of politics and politricks. Politicking is getting messier by the day, and the gladiators are getting as reckless as they could be. On October 1, a day we marked 50 years of our country's independence as a sovereign state, two bombs went off a stone throw from the Eagle Square, venue of the celebration, claiming 12 lives, seriously injuring many others. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, claimed responsibility and apologized for the loss of lives. The blasts blighted our national pride beyond measure. But what did our politicians do, rather than allow the relevant agencies to carry out painstaking investigations into the national embarrassment, they feasted on the tragedy and tried to make political capital out of it.

Of a truth, the battle for the soul of Nigeria has never come so hot.

Yet, as the aspirants move from the indecent to the diabolic, trying all possible means to grab their parties' tickets, none of them has come out with any clear-cut manifesto that will, for instance, eliminate kwashiorkor and cholera from the homes of poor and long-suffering Nigerians; return the country to winning ways by eliminating poverty; restore our productive capacity to appreciable and sustainable level; fix our dilapidated infrastructure; provide jobs for the masses of our graduates roaming the street; and generally make life abundant for the citizens.

None of the gladiators has done that. Rather, they have been moving all over the place, crying like over-pampered babies over zoning, making empty threats about how they would make the country ungovernable if they are denied the opportunity to continue defiling the country and sucking its life blood with their vampire proboscis. My reading of the current situation is: as it has been since the better-forgotten days of the locusts, so it is now as most of the gladiators just want to grab power by foul or fair means, and think about what to do with it after inauguration.

But I have news for them: they will not find it easy this time around. After years of living in bondage, bondage inflicted by some of these same leaders now prowling around to re-loot the country, Nigerians are now wiser. The bitter experience of the past has taught Nigerians to take their destiny firmly in their hands. I see them voting with anger and vengeance in the coming elections. I see them going to the polling boots, not only with a steely resolve to ensure that their votes count, but that whoever they vote to power will truly serve. If you think this is fallacy, visit cyber sphere and witness the intense debate going on there. From what I have seen so far, I think we are right on the verge of a revolution that would, on the one hand, permanently eclipse those who seek power for personal aggrandisements, and, on the other, yield accountable leadership and selfless leaders. If this anticipated revolution succeeds, and there is no reason why it should not, it would grow our fledgling democracy and enable Nigerians to enjoy its tangible dividends.

If we fail to get it right this time around (God forbid), we will not only ride on camel's backs when we should be flying in ultra modern jets in terms of national development, we will most likely continue to mourn when we should be celebrating. Just like it happened on October 1, 2010, through the bomb blasts. Through the bombs, the perpetrators were saying there was nothing to celebrate in a nation so hugely endowed to be a leader in Africa, and an emerging economy like Malaysia and Indonesia, but so stunted by mis-governance, bad leadership, mindless looting and re-looting. Condemnable as the dastardly attack was, it is the perpetrators' way of saying 'enough is enough!'

For some years now, Niger Delta militants have been saying enough is enough in many painful ways, but has the Nigerian system done enough to address the root cause of the problem? It hasn't. Rather, successive administrations have been coming up with one white elephant project after another to (in their estimation) palliate the sufferings of the Niger Delta people. At the end of the day, few individuals usually become overnight billionaires while the vast majority of the people continue to suffer and die in the midst of their divinely ordained endowments. This has been the pattern since oil became the mainstay of Nigeria's economy.

This is partly why I think those who felt we had no reason to throw wild parties for our golden jubilee had a point. Come to think of it, do we really have tangible reasons to roll out the drums? Permit me to borrow Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife's contribution on Channels Television Forum, on October 1, to respond. In one or two areas, said the former Anambra State governor, we need to be thankful to God. He said we needed to celebrate our survival as individuals and as a nation; and praise God for the miracle that Nigeria continues to remain a united country despite its surfeit of problems.

Beyond these, I dare ask, what else is there to celebrate? Do we pop champagne for a country that is rapidly sliding to the state of nature where life is short and brutish? Do we cling glasses to toast the pervasive insecurity in the land that has ensured that some of our brightest and best are mauled with impunity? What is there to cheer in a country where kidnappers, armed robbers and other career criminals have a free reign and government and its security apparatus seem so hopelessly helpless? Indeed, what is there to jubilate about in a country whose political leaders constantly fly to India, world's reigning Mecca of medicine, to treat headache, common cold and back ache when millions of Nigerians are sentenced to hospitals without drugs, hospitals which competent doctors and nurses are either in UK, or US or Saudi Arabia, working their fingers to the bones to earn the almighty dollar or pound?

Should we throw parties to celebrate the resurgence of cholera? Or celebrate graduates who have trudged the streets every day of five or six years searching for nonexistent jobs? Or applaud electric power supply that flickers like candlelight (where available), or roads dotted with gullies deep enough to swallow some vehicles in whole? Or an education system that is so shambled that Nigerians who cannot afford to go to Britain and America now send their children to Ghanaian schools?

When, 26 years ago, Chief Richard Akinjide said Nigeria was riding camel in a jet age, our graduates were still graduates indeed. They still proved truly worthy in character and learning. Today, reverse is the case. Today, we mass-produce graduates and the land is replete with people who cannot defend the certificates they brandish. Still, there are other serious problems, problems that we could easily surmount if we had leaders properly groomed for power as against pretenders whose mantra is 'My begged me to run' or 'I'm a reluctant candidate'.

However, I must admit that we also managed to record some oases of excellence in certain areas of our national life during the period. Which, perhaps, made Gordon Brown, the immediate past British Prime Minister, to predict that 'Nigeria has the potential to lead a new Africa and a global society where we can finally say there is no third world or second world or first world-just one world of growing prosperity.' This is my earnest prayer too. But for that not to be mere wishful thinking, we must, starting from the 2011 vote, plug the gaping holes that had swallowed our potentials for greatness in the last 50 years.

The last 50 years had witnessed mindless squandering of Nigeria's riches and golden opportunities by notoriously corrupt and wickedly profligate leaders. Starting with next year's vote, we must begin to reverse that ugly trend by installing focused and disciplined leadership at all levels of governance. We must use our votes to block people who had violated our country in the past from gaining power. We must enthrone visionary leaders. Failure to achieve this could only mean one thing: the vicious cycle will continue and our country will continue to ride on camel's back when others are flying in jets.

Another one for democracy
The judiciary has done it again. The court has shown yet another power usurper, Segun Oni, the red card. For three years and five months, Segun Oni ruled as governor in Ekiti State, on stolen votes. But as our elders say, 'everyday is for the thief, one day for the owner'. That all-important day of the owner came on Friday as the Court of Appeal, sitting in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, burst the Oni lie, and installed Dr. Kayode Fayemi as the duly elected governor.

Governor Fayemi has thus joined the rank of validly elected governors who temporarily lost their mandates to usurpers. He has joined the tribe of the likes of Anambra's Peter Obi, Rivers' Rotimi Amaechi, Ondo's Olusegun Mimiko, the Iroko, and Edo's Adams Oshiomhole.

This is another monumental victory for democracy. However, my joy would have been fuller if we had a process in place to punish those who steal votes and usurp power. They must not only be made to refund to the state all the salaries and other perks of office that they enjoyed during the period of their illegal occupation, they must also face the full wrath of the law. They must go to jail. That is the only way we can stop this madness. That is the only way we can stop the cancer destroying our electioneering process.

What Is On Your Mind?
It is my desire, dear readers, to make this column a people's parliament, a talk-shop of a sort, where you can air your opinion on burning national issues, especially Nigeria's leadership question and how to make our country work again, and return to winning ways. Kindly send your clearly articulated contribution to my inbox. It should not be more than 50 words and should be devoid of vulgar or abusive language.

Let's roll.
QUESTION:
Did President Goodluck Jonathan exhibit good judgement by absolving MEND of culpability in the 10/1 bombing in Abuja?

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PRAYER FOR NIGERIA
Pray that Professor Attahiru Jega and his commissioners at INEC will not only

talk the talk but also walk the talk. Pray that the professor will live up to his billing and conduct credible and internationally acknowledged elections next year. Pray.