May 31, 2016

Buhari and the Sacred Cows

Since the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari took over Aso Rock people have watched keenly the anticorruption fight. There are Nigerians who feel that the fight is biased and targets certain individuals, mostly from the opposition, and the fight is bogus as a result. 

Buhari’s critics feel that somebody like Rotimi Amaechi, the former Governor of Rivers State and Ahmed Bola Tinubu, former Governor of Lagos, are persons deemed to have been highly corrupt during their stints as governors, but whose issues the Buhari administration have chosen not to look into, for the mare fact that they helped his journey to the Presidency.  Generally, former governors who are major agents of corruption in Nigeria, are seen not remain untouched by the administration. 

Buhari did say, during his electoral campaign, that he will draw a line, and will not look into cases of corruption behind that line. Instead he will look only ahead of the line. This is because the filth behind is so overwhelming that taking time to clean all of it would end up consuming his time such that he will have little or no time for the other activities of nation building. But it could be true that President Buhari is been selective and overlooking glaring cases that should attract his attention. However, it said that governance is a process and not an event. This means that Nigerians succeeding Buhari as the President can always look into cases he failed to look into, either by omission of commission. The administration could also investigate the President, if it is deemed that his own administration was equally corrupt.

This column is personally of the view that the fight is a good start. Corruption is not a piece of furniture that one could just pick and toss away, especially in Nigeria where corruption has grown deep tap roots. If we consider corruption to be a hill that has to be pulled down, and someone comes around and takes off 60% of it, then we are making progress. This is because another person would come, and as long as he is committed to getting rid of that hill, he could bring his contribution towards its totally removal.

May 30, 2016

Nigeria, a Heavy Burden for One Man, II

As said in part one of this write up the Nigerian rot has become deeply entrenched due many years of its being and has become a culture. In order words, illegalities have gone unchecked for so long that they have lost their semblance of illegality. There are so many persons reaping bountifully from the filthy practice and have constituted themselves into cabals to ensure they fight anything that tries to stop them from enjoying what has made them first class citizens over the decades; what has helped them to ensure their children are born in Western hospitals thereby guaranteeing citizenship of those nations for the newborns, what has helped them to raise those kids in those nations so that when they return there is really nothing Nigerians about them. This, to me, is the highest point of treason.

The first visible cabal is the Nigerian Senate. Today, the Senate has proved that whatever is spent so sustain it actually goes down the drain. It has failed in its role of checking the excesses of the Executive. As a matter of fact they go hand-in-hand with the most notorious executive and sabotage the aims of a popular executive.
The cabal (in Nigeria) are people who have defrauded the nation so  much or have so much political power that they have become nations in themselves, deploying such wealth or powers to fight anybody who tries to take what they have acquired or what they wish to acquire. 

The Senate, as everyone knows, has the constitutional responsibility of legislating for the purpose of ensuring the prosperity of the nation. The Buhari administration came at a time when oil revenues (the backbone of the Nigerian economy) are the worst in so many decades. There is the need to embark on austerity measures but the Senators of the Federal Republic insisted on the purchase of 108 official SUV Toyota vehicles at the rate of about N 36 million each. To add insult to injury, this price is actually two times the actual price.

The governors of the 36 states are also among the powers in the country that have chosen to abuse political power against people who stood in the full glare of the sun to vote them. Currently, it is said that 26 of the 36 governors owe unpaid salaries, the least of which is four months. This is despite the bailout given the states by the Buhari administration to settle inherited salary arrears.  Some governors claim the crashing oil revenues are responsible for the accumulation. In the last four years of the Jonathan administration there weren’t enough issues bordering on poor oil revenues as to warrant the accumulation of the salaries. This lends credence to the general truth that this habit of holding back salaries is a tradition of the Nigeria governors which often the result of fraudulently managed reserves. 

While the governors point fingers at dwindling revenues as the cause of their inability to pay salaries, the Governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomole, a former labor leader, on 2016 Workers’ Day, announced a increase of the minimum wage in his state by 39%. This is despite the fact that Edo State is one of the poorest in the Niger Delta. What about wealthier states like Lagos, Kano, Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Delta, etc? 

States in Nigeria are places where corruption is conceived and bred at an alarming rate. A larger number of the governors come from the All Progressive Party, APC, which is a coalition of political parties that brought Mr. President to power. It is expected that they should have a common ideology and, hence, should be seen replicating the ideology of Mr. President. Sadly, there is hardly any meaningful anticorruption at the state tiers of the government. Could it be that corruption is nonexistent at the states? I don’t think so, and a lot of Nigerians will agree with me. 

It was obvious to politicians with the intention of becoming governors that the bus conveying Mr. President seemed strong, with the promise of taking the presidential aspirant to his political destination, beyond all doubts. They took advantage of the opportunity, despite knowing that their intending for the country and that of the presidential aspirant are divergent. The governors are expected to share the burden of the nation with Mr. President as he alone would not be able to carry it most favorably.

Nigeria, a Heavy Burden for One Man, I

Nigerians love to talk about their nationalist with a deep longing, wishing they were still with us in order that we continue to enjoy the benevolence of their rare traits. Those nationalists inherited a healthy baby-nation in 1960, from the British colonial administration. Six years later issued erupted and there was a civil war. 

The fact that there was a civil war in just six years of independence should tell us that perhaps those leaders were not exactly what we thought they were. Rather than simmer down our despicable issues continued to flourish, reaching a point where the nation is perpetually at war today. At different times, it is either Sharia Killings in Kaduna, tribal and religious conflict in Jos, or war of emancipation in the Niger Delta, or cattle theft and killings of revenge in Benue and Enugu, or voodoo killings in Nassarawa State. Yes, the revolt just gets relayed from one state to another like a baton in a tract event.

These continued problems underscore the character of every Nigerian, stretching back to the so called nationalists. If there was any good in the years directly following independence it was the remnant of colonial legacy. 

One man who saw and played a role in the politics of the years following independence, and who is still alive today, is Alhaji Maitama Sule. In his oratory speeches he constantly and flawlessly eulogizes the impeccable traits of his contemporaries, until he was cornered recently by a BBC journalist who noted that he had seen video footages in which the “saints” of Nigerian politics were said to have been seen carrying smoking guns. At that point the orator was compelled to make an admission in which he agreed that there were streaks of corruption there were, nonetheless, not as fanatical and crazy as what we see today. In the same interview a tape was played of another man who witnessed the politics of the early 1960s narrating how members of the opposition parties were denied agricultural loans, and even killed for their political views and beliefs. 

The most important thing to note about the revelation is that the issues we faced today were actually sown and watered by those pioneers of a politically independent Nigeria.  So, all Nigerians must address one issue: the lowest level of patriotism that is, perhaps, fantastically the greatest in the world. 

But our issue is deeply rooted and as treacherous as a land underlain by booby traps. It became so entrenched because it has been allowed to flourish for over half a century, and as such it has grown to be a culture, a lifestyle, a band wagon that everyone wants to be part of. 

Today, though, we have a rare personality who has the will and fearlessness to face and tackle our problem until there are just signs that it once existed. The patriotism and courage of President Mohammadu Buhari, for long, has been impressed in the consciousness of Nigerians, but it is just that we have pretended to be ignorant of it. It is often said that the taste of a pudding is in the eating. With Boko Haram bitterly marking the climax of our soaring complacency, it is clear that millions of Nigerians have now fully tasted the consequences and are now turning to Buhari while he is still alive.  

Buhari made promises: fighting terrorism, fighting corruption, improving infrastructures, reviving the economy and creating jobs. In the past, series of administrations serially fooled Nigerians, and at the end of the first year when there was nothing to show, people are simply fed with blinding rhetoric’s. Nigerians would aware that the persuasions were rhetorical, but would have no option than to fold their hands while hoodlums and gangsters continue to intensify the rot. In the first one year of Buhari as an elected president, however, there are things to show. All territories from Boko Haram have been retaken, and the refugees, the insurgency has created, are now returning to their homes. 

When the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, boss talked spoke on radio sometimes this month he said the anticorruption war has recovered more loot than the commission has ever recovered since its creation in 2003. Extraordinary men do extraordinary things. 

However, the burden of Nigeria is still too heavy for one man. Luckily, Nigeria is a nation of 170 million men and women and should be able to carry the burden, with unanimity and concentration of efforts.

May 29, 2016

Review – Genesis –Tope Folarin

For weeks I had visited the website of the Caine Prize for African Writing, hoping to see the publication of the 2016 shortlist. I kept seeing only the new face of the website. Eventually, I became tired and decided to take a break. It was only at that point that the shortlist was published, behind my back. I stayed for days without knowing, until I ran into the notice on Facebook. 

My attention was drawn by the story, Genesis, by Tope Folarin, whose story, Miracle, won the prize in 2013. Should he win again he would become the first writer to have won the prize more than once.

Genesis, a single story with two conflicts and two resolutions, is, thus, a double-edged sword. It is about a Nigerian couple in the United States. The first conflict is played up when the wife became mentally ill, forcing the breakup of the marriage. The result: two homes, with the man left in the first and the wife and their two kids in the second. Since the first child resembled his father he became his mother’s victim of constant violent abuses. Resolution came when, before a judge, the kids chose to stay with their father. 

The first kid, in whose voice the story is narrated, was often accompanied by an old white woman midway as he trekked to school. As they walked she would tell him that she would like him to serve her in the afterlife; she believed that all white people would be served by black people in heaven. This is the second conflict of the story. 

When the boy’s parent learned about the old woman and her notion the boy was made to understand that, in heaven, there is flawless equality for all races. The boy’s mother, while still sane at the time, started walking the boy to school. When old white granny caught up with them she was told of the racial equality of heaven. This point marks the resolution of the second conflict. 

The story writes another story outside the margin of its pages. I find myself using a microscope to locate the African component of Genesis: it is the mere allusion to the Nigerian origin of the couple and the fact that, eventually, the mentally sick wife returned to Nigeria with nothing more heard of her.
Folarin perhaps found himself in a tunnel where he could neither see the sky nor light at the end, as he tried to play up the Africa element in his story; he was not only born and raised in the United States, but lives there –I think that it is much easier handling a story that is set in a locality you have known very well.

If writers, like Folarin, born and raised by African parents outside of the continent must write stories with a good African presence then they must have to take occasional visits to the continent. Living and mingling with Africans for just a month can throw up a good number of story ideas, exploring virgin territories with related nuances. 
I wish Genesis and all the other stories the best.

May 23, 2016

S. B. Gyel Dies at 96

Late S. B. Gyel

The Berom tribe of Plateau State has again lost one of its prominent sons. Sambo Bashi Gyel, most known as S.B. Gyel, died on Friday 20th May, 2016, after a long battle with a combination of high blood pressure and Cancer.

Sambo, according to sources, was born sometime in 1920, in Gura Riyom, Gyel District of the present Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State. He went to the Native Authority (NA) Primary School Gyel, later becaming a teacher in the same school, having finished as an exceptional student. He did go around helping out with adult education in the villages around. It was his involvement with education that earned him the title of mallam, which, in Hausa, means “teacher.”

Sambo later left the teaching service and ventured into mining, buying from petty miners and selling to other buyers higher in the hierarchy. Since he didn’t have a lease of his own, the business was not flourishing the way he wanted it to. It was the reason why he took up a job with the wealthy and famous D. B. Zang (late). As the Chief Security Officer, he went around the mining leases of his employer, ensuring that whatever was mined from those leases were not diverted and sold to other buyers other than the lease owner. After working for a good number of years for D B Zang, he felt the need to move on but thought it wise to discuss it with his employer, to ensure a harmonious break up. D. B. Zang eventually granted Sambo’s request, but not after two rejections. The break up worked the way Sambo had wanted it, amicably, with his boss rewarding him with a Mercedes with a famous number plate of “8888” that had become part of Zang’s identity.

Sambo went into business with a weak financial base, buying construction materials on credit from his suppliers and paying back only after he himself had been paid by his patron.  Eventually, he grew and started bidding for the big contracts, too. He won bids to construct public buildings, feeder roads, and the bridges connecting them. Some of the most notable contracts he won from the government and executed them included the Bukuru Abattoir, along Shen Road, in Jos South, the Ganawuri Market, and the Bachit Bridge. The climax of his work as a contractor came with his election as the Chairman of Plateau State Association of Contractors.
For six years, he supplied the nutritional needs of the animals at the Jos Wild Life Park. At times, he supplied for months to be paid in arrears. He also pushed his way to become the auctioneer of government vehicles to the public. That was sometimes in the early nineties. Sambo was also associated with kerosene and petroleum distribution. 

The keen investor from Gurah Riyom believed so much in investing his money on land and tenements. This he did in the form of long term investments, buying his lands and erecting his properties in the outskirts of town and playing up his patience until development crawled to such locations. The conflict in Plateau State did become his silver lining, suddenly pushing people from the heart of towns to the outskirts and ensuring that he never waited as long as he had envisaged for his investments to appreciate.  The buildings always had “S. B. Gyel” inscribed in dripping red paint. These inscriptions helped in building his reputation as an avid land developer. 

Politics eventually became one of Sambo’s passions. He did participated in the politics of the First Republic (1960 to 1966), but his political ripples started becoming perceptible during the second Republic (1979 to 1984). With the coming of the Second Republic, and the emergence of Zang, his erstwhile boss, as the Chairman of the Nigeria’s People’s Party (NPP), Zang drew Sambo closer again. The two men drove in the same vehicle during political campaigns. Driving in the same vehicle was designed to tell the world that the end of their working relationship wasn’t a result of a dispute, and that they were still faithful friends. Having made their point, Sambo bought a brand new car in which he was driven behind Zang, each time they went out on their vigorous political campaigns that heralded the Second Republic. Eventually, the NPP won the gubernatorial election, setting up a government, with Late Solomon Daushep Lar as the most powerful man in Plateau State. 

While the Second Republic lasted, Sambo served as the NPP Chairman in Gyel District. Decades later, he became the Plateau State Chairman of the All Nigeria’s People Party (ANPP). His political principles were endearing, ensuring he was chosen as the Northern Senatorial District Chairman of the Berom Tribe on political matters. Under this role, he helped to ensure the Berom brought out a single candidate to contest the seat of the Plateau State Governor. The result was the presentation of Jonah David Jang, who eventually became the first Berom man to become the Governor of Plateau State since the creation of the state in 1976. 

His children insist that their dad never benefitted financially from politics, but the public argue that political benefits are, usually, not handed out in raw cash. Rather, they are given in the form of contracts, something that made their father wealthy and prominent. The most powerful Berom body is the Berom Cultural Organization, BECO. Its leader is usually powerful and respected among the Berom tribe, but Sambo’s son, Honorable Davou, contested against Chris Mancha, a serving BECO Chairman, and won. People say that Davou was voted to reward his father for his role in the politics of Plateau State.

The long Sambo died, leaving behind a scary number of land titles, tenements, and other investments. He also left behind a widow and nine children to inherit his properties.

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