ANOTHER LOOK AT REBRANDING NIGERIA
There are too many faces of Nigeria. The wave of turbulence in the Niger Delta is one, and can be likened to a theatre of war arising from a prolonged injustice. Disruptions of oil flow and sabotage of the facilities of multi-national oil merchants by restive militants in the creeks of the Niger Delta posed threats to the international crude market. Yet, the Niger Delta question has remained unresolved, not even by the comity of nations.
For about a decade now, the Nigerian state have sustained military operations in the oil-rich region through its men of the Joint Task Force (JTF) with a view to curtailing militancy and economic sabotage, but with no significant result. Security watch in the Niger Delta has rather become another conduit pipe to siphon public money and personal aggrandizement. Over the years, billions of naira that would have been used to develop the deplorable conditions of the region and remedy the long neglect of the people had been plundered into the wasteful venture of sustaining its military onslaughts in which aged-parents, women and innocent children were reported to have been murdered in cold blood and extra-judicial killings, leaving the daring militants unhurt.
The invasion of Gbaramatu kingdom in some parts of Ijaw communities in Delta state by men of the JTF is but a fresh reminder of an exercise in futility. The government having only lately realized that its ill-conceived military operations will do more harm than good proclaimed amnesty for the militants in a bid to arrest the situation. The amnesty is still on course.
Some schools of thought opine that the amnesty deal is a mere window dressing because it lacked the capacity to address the core, fundamental and root causes of the Niger Delta issues that snowballed into the present predicament. Rather, the primary issues seemed overshadowed by the amnesty in what seemed like postponing the evil day.
A staggering N50billion naira is said to have been earmarked for the disarmament and rehabilitation exercise which according to the government is yielding expected results. Efforts geared at providing job opportunities for the repentant militants in Oil and Gas, Information and Communication Technology and Agriculture sectors is also underway and Mr. Government Ekpumopolo aka Tompolo is reported to have finally agreed to surrender his arms. Curiously, no provision was made for the non-restive youths who are not militants and none violent of the society.
Repentant militants have been reported to have surrendered about 34 AK-47 riffles and about 10,000 ammunitions recovered. At another instance, Nwaeze Adiele, a Commander of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) who held forte at Tombia front as well as serviced weapons for militants have also surrendered. Adiele submitted one rocket propelled grenade launcher, a general purpose machine gun, one machine gun, eight AK47, one G3, a berretta pistol, 14 dynamites, 156 AK47 bullets and some other types as well as 17 magazines. About 1,000 militants and their commanders were said to have laid down their arms in exchange for the amnesty programme that promises them a pardon and a job, a scheme which has been in place since August 6. Their responses according to official reports have been generally impressive generally. Yet, tongues are still wagging and people are anxious to know what is next after the time limit for the amnesty deal elapses, to avoid a vicious circle.
The MEND Commander revealed that he became a militant after being recruited by the “almighty” Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to help rig elections in 1999. He said he withheld some weapons given to him by politicians because of the failure to meet up with their own side of the bargain.
Some political observers insist that the amnesty is a gambit to reappraise and reposition the boys for another fraudulent electoral gamble as 2011 elections is fast approaching. They argue that there is a high degree of renewed awareness by the electorates of the unchanging and recurring massive electoral frauds being flagrantly perpetuated by INEC in past elections. Worst still, with the persistent failure of the ruling government to lead us out of our national debacles since May 1999 when they rigged themselves into power.
Fresh concerns have been raised on the Federal Government's amnesty offer to insurgents fighting for greater resource control and a measure of autonomy for the oil-rich region. According to a Guardian newspaper report, Mr. Henry Okah, the leader of MEND, a formidable umbrella body of the militants gave some very useful hints on how the unrest in the Niger Delta can be brought to a peaceful end. Okah was acquitted for treason charges on July 13, 2009.
In a three-point declaration, the militant leaders maintained as matter-of-factly that the amnesty, proclaimed by President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua on June 25 for all militants to surrender their weapons, renounce militancy and avail themselves of government-planned new life, will not work, if the main problem, injustice to the people of the Niger Delta, is not addressed. According to him, government has not defined in concrete terms what people like him should take to the fighters in the creeks to make them renounce fighting and surrender their guns, and to convince the fighters what would be their reward at the end of the day.
He argued that the whole idea of asking militants to bring out their guns is a self-aggrandizing stunt because no one knows how many guns are in the hands of the militants. He however observed that many of those currently handling the amnesty programme are politicians who have vested interests, but quickly added that "I will not say any thing more on this". Okah canvassed that government must go back to implement faithfully the report of the Technical Committee it constituted and was submitted to it last December.
He argued that the oil-rich region on which the economy of the nation is rested should be allowed a gradual periodical revenue growth from the present 13% to not less than 50%. That is where the government ought to have started from. It will show seriousness and commitment on the part of the government. "As it is today, it does not sound right to go into the creeks and tell the fighters that the government says you should drop your guns, surrender all your guns, but would have nothing more to tell them to look forward to" he added.
He proposed “a good faith plan” to help douse the tension in the region, noting that government should involve the communities in which they are made stakeholders or joint venture partners. Okah believes that the communities would not allow their own boys to destroy their own project when a community has a stake in an oil project, they would police the project jealously.
Meanwhile, MEND had threatened to resume hostilities on oil facilities on September 15 when its self-declared ceasefire expires. The Movement said arms being surrendered by militants in the region were owned by the government and did not form part of the guns held by its fighters. "In the midst of such sheer deceit, the MEND will be compelled to resume with ferocious attacks on the oil industry at the end of our cease-fire on September 15, 2009," the militant body said. It vowed "not to enter into talks with Governors from the Niger Delta who have tainted the amnesty programme with politics and monetary inducements.” The Movement maintained that "our solemn pledge to the people of the Niger Delta still remains to emancipate the region from the forces that have held it down for over 50 years with divide and rule, monetary inducements and treachery." Already, there are indications that the government may have instructed the JTF to respond forcefully to the threat.
Okah, the militant leader who assured that he enjoys a lot of respect among the fighters and weird's considerable influence had maintained that he should have something concrete to present to the fighters to make them want to drop their weapons. Like the MEND which he represents, Okah said that “no one person can stop the fighting. Not even me." "I don't think that the government can stop the fighting too." Rather, he just wished the country well, and prayed we have peace soon.
In the northern parts of the country particularly, agitations by religious extremists seemed to have gone political. Religious riots, mindless killings of innocent citizens and the wanton destruction of property have remained unabated. This dare-devil act of religious divide has continued to endanger apathy in the society, thereby entrenching the seed of discord between the two amalgamated poles of north and south.
Our political atmosphere has been saturated by godfatherism, as politicians are now cultists of political party formations embroiled with the desperacy to rule. To that extent, most members of the constituencies do not know the names of their so-called elected representatives. Government has become a cash and carry business only for the wealthy and the mighty in our society and election results are written even before elections are concluded and those who will rule us are already known before the ballot. There seem to be a widespread concocted deception in our electoral processes by the management of the electoral body. The consistent failure of INEC to conduct free and fair elections that can guarantee true and purposeful representation and qualitative governance is like a time bomb that will do nobody any good if allowed to explode.
The newly invented INEC automated machines have infiltrated an endless list of fictitious names that have replaced the credibility and genuineness of voter's card. The INEC machines now litters the houses of party chieftains. Yet, the electoral body which is to conduct the 2011 elections of hope maintained it is right on course, and as usual, the slogan is that there is no course for alarm. But Nigerians desire a new Nigeria of change. A country of pride with an improved electoral system where the votes count and confidence built.
Poor leadership has been identified as the key factor responsible for our numerous failures and woes in a society where politicians drive the rusty wheels of politics. Desperate elements and jobless personalities are now potential candidates for politics which has become a game of the bandwagon. The Nigerian state showcases a digressional graphical report of a failed state.
Like a failed state, the country faces the challenges of epileptic power supply that cannot drive industrialization. Poor network of roads have become daily death traps. Our healthcare facilities cannot be trusted and Mr. President can attest to that by his frequent medical check-ups overseas. Our robust employment market is at the mercy of chronic unemployment with high criminal and militant tendencies. The fight against corruption is vigorously fought on the pages of newspapers while the looters of public treasury walk freely the streets and din with the government as the anti-graph agency chases their shadows in an endless show of shame. The challenges are endless, and these have continued to becloud the ray of hopes of the ordinary masses.
Our university educational system has been conscientiously grounded to a halt in an administration where the president, the vice-president and the Minister of Education are all products of the tertiary institutions. The battle line has been drawn and had reached a face-off between the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government which points to eminent collapse. At the last count, while the federal government staged a walkout, ASUU maintained it is ready to “die fighting”. Regrettably, the plight of the helpless students is no worry to either of the parties.
Alas! Anger is on the land. The comments of Mrs. Hillary Clinton, the American Secretary of State is steering some nerves. Mrs. Clinton left her own geographical territory, landed on our own soil here in Nigeria, the giant of Africa and stood before our elder statesmen and looked us in the eyes and told us the naked truth of a clear disconnection between the government and the governed arising from unfocused leadership tinted with disjointed policies and failing institutions.
On the Cable News Network (CNN), Mrs. Clinton had earlier told the world that Nigeria is badly governed. According to her, “Nigeria is the fifth oil producer in the world and still imports oil”. “This is an example of bad governance" she stressed. The American Secretary of State further identified the cancer of corruption as the singular reason why Nigeria, despite her potentials and resources, has nothing to show for the welfare of its citizens, and pleaded for the reinstatement of a vigorous corruption fight rather than blowing hot and cold at the same time.
The Senate President is among those who are bitter over Mrs. Clinton's comments. It is a sad commentary to run that Senator David Mark told journalists in Lagos that - the country is ours, we will decide what form of democracy we want...we will decide for ourselves what we want as a democratic system. The Senate president ranted that "how can somebody be sitting in the United States and be telling us how to solve serious crises in this country? Have they got the solution to their problems? How did they find themselves in Iraq? What solution have they got for the Niger Delta problem? If we need assistance, we will ask for it."
The Senate president is the number three citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a soldier turned "democrat" and an apostle of home grown democracy who only managed to substantiate the credibility of his electoral mandate after the tribunal had set it aside because of irregularities in the electoral processes at the first instance and ordered a re-run which many still consider his victory as muddled with controversial circumstances of a failing and unchanging INEC. This is the crop of leadership in Nigeria.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the acclaimed largest party in Africa that seemed to be taking Nigeria to her early grave is also on the angered side. What do you expect from such a political symbol of darkness over light where stolen mandates take predominance? It was reported that the Party's National Publicity Secretary, Prof. Rufai Ahmed Alkali, claimed that Clinton's observation of the failure of leadership in Nigeria does not reflect the reality on ground “where a committed leadership operating within the realm of the rule of law holds sway".
Upholding to falsehood is the commonest characteristics of a typical Nigerian politician. Our politicians are a bunch of hungry men and women. Coupled with the negative effects of joblessness and hardship in the society the so-called politician can be desperate to do anything just to sustain a living. The situation is so bad that even professors and the elites of our time are afflicted. Prof. Rufai Ahmed Alkali is a reflection of a typical Nigerian politician. But I know that deep down to the consciences of the PDP (if it has any), the likes of professor Alkali knows the real truth that Mrs. Hillary Clinton was right after all.
It is commonly said that there must be a gathering of foolish men for a wise man to emerge. Clinton's observations and bravery ordinary ought to have pointed to some clear positive changes, renewed commitments and systemic overhaul rather than continue living in a fool's paradise.
It would be recalled that the US President Barack Obama on his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa said that development depends upon good governance. “That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long particular in Africa. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans. Obama maintained that "Africa doesn't need strongmen, it needs strong institutions". Institutions like EFCC which Mrs. Clinton observed needs to be reinvigorated.
Obama praised Ghana's own progress, governance and economic growth, saying Ghana's achievements were less dramatic than the liberation struggles of the 20th Century but would ultimately be more significant. Ghana was chosen as the destination for the president's visit because of its strong democratic record. According to Obama, "no person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny."
President Obama while in Ghana said we are our own problem. And we really need to address issues of governance, because he believed it is the mediocrity with which Africa has been governed that is responsible for our backwardness today. The US president stressed that we have the power to hold our leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people because our destiny lies in our own hand.
Africa must take charge of its own destiny in the world, president Obama declared as he addressed parliament in Ghana during a one-day stay that good governance was vital for development. The US president's trip came at the end of a summit of eight of the world's most powerful nations, held in Italy.
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) during its annual general conference declared its own scorecard over greed and graft that grow in leaps and bounds with successive governments through its president, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu. He was worried that the government is no longer keen on prosecuting corrupt officials, in negation of earlier assurances. In his words, "the NBA has serious doubts concerning the commitment of government in combating the menace of corruption.”
The NBA chief recounted that there has been the Siemens bribery scandal in which some government officials were indicted. The government, in its grandstanding moment, blacklisted the company. But soon after, the blacklisted company won a multi-billion Dollar contract from the same government. This speaks volume for itself.
Mr. Akeredolu also commented on the Halliburton scandal. He observed that after a widespread condemnation by Nigerians, and the Halliburton scandal became a public knowledge, the federal government, may be, out of frustration on how to muddle the circumstances surrounding the matter managed to set up a panel with all the security chiefs as members. Until this moment, there has been no report, either interim or full, ever since. As it now seem, all the noise about the Halliburton stuff has died down following the retirement of the former Inspector General of Police, Mr. Okiro who headed the panel like a predetermined end.
On the rule of law, Akeredolu observed that the federal government lacks the potential to pull Nigeria out of doldrums, noting that the latest extra-constitutional order issued by President Umaru Yar'Adua to the Lagos State on the dispute over the creation of Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) supports this assertion. He explained that "an academically average law student knows that if there is any dispute between the Federal Government and any of the f units the court is the only arbiter that interprets the law. We can only hope that all parties will allow the court to discharge its Constitutional responsibility."
Security situation in the country is pathetic. Only recently, Pete Edochie, Nollywood actor, and Chairman of the Re-branding Nigeria Committee being championed by Prof. Dora Akunyili was kidnapped in broad day light by gunmen at Nkpor, Anambra State with a ransom of N10m placed on him. An incident the Information and Communications Minster, Prof. Dora Akunyili described as having made Nigeria's bad image worse.
Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State is among those expressing concern over the current socio-political and economic challenges in the country, saying true commitment on the part of the president and other levels of government would help reduce the current tension. The governor challenged the President Yar'Adua to carry out the necessary political reforms that would guarantee true democracy in 2011 elections.
It would be recalled that Governor Oshiomhole was rigged out of the Edo state gubernatorial election by the largest party in Africa, PDP, until the court reversed and restored its mandate. He was very passionate for us to get it right this time, declaring that Nigeria had the "final chance" in 2011 to get the political system right, saying that the people might not have the zeal to wait for courts to determine who wins elections in 2011 because of the recurring failures in the system. Oshiomole cautioned those who are preparing to rig elections in 2011 to think twice, adding it would be a situation of "you pull your gun and I pull my gun".
It would be recalled that the United States military had in May 2008 conducted a war games test called “Unified Quest 2008” to ascertain how its military might respond to a war in parts of Africa including Nigeria and Somalia. According to an article written by Director of the African Security Research Project in Washington, DC and Guest Columnist of AllAfrica Global Media, Mr. Daniel Volman, the Nigerian scenario was predicated upon a possible war in 2013 two years after the much-talked about 2011 elections.
If we must federate, we must be ready to tolerate the principles of true federalism and give peace a chance by entrenching the true democratic doctrines in our system that can guarantee purposeful and qualitative governance. No matter how angered we may seem to be, we don't need Mrs. Hillary Clinton's observations of failure in leadership in Nigeria to know that the government has derailed. The amnesty running in the Niger Delta is nothing but a first-aid apparatus meant for a medical condition that required a surgical operation. For any headway, the core and primary issues needed to be addressed by the federal government and urgently too. As a matter of fact, true and fiscal federalism will definitely address the fundamental issues of our problematic situations and restore our failing institutions. May God help us!
Edoreh F. Edoreh