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Faroukgate: Shame Of A Nation

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If you are wondering why Nigeria’s ailing economy has continued to defy all known solutions, or why Nigeria’s ruling class has deliberately dithered to maintain the nation’s refineries, or build new ones that would save the world’s sixth largest oil producing nation the economic misfortune of refining its crude oil overseas, the Hon. Farouk Lawan led adhoc committee’s report on fuel subsidy management has laid that puzzle to rest.

If Farouk Lawan  led committee’s report is anything to go by, Nigerians need not scratch their heads too far to know that with the present cabal of political and economic elite, it is not yet Uhuru for Nigeria and its downtrodden masses, and that all the preachments about Nigeria becoming economic haven by 2020 are just mere political rhetoric’s that are not worth anybody’s breath.

Notwithstanding the current episode that threatens Lawan’s hard-earned integrity, his committee deserves a standing ovation for letting us know some of the financial vultures in high places that have been fleecing the nation through the oil subsidy. The courageous revelations and the outstanding manner the public hearing on the oil probe was conducted made the committee an uncommon hero. The fuel subsidy probe is arguably, the most outstanding breakthrough the nation’s legislature has recorded in the past 13 years of our fledgling democracy.

The startling revelations that thundered forth from the probe report saw mind-boggling increases in payment under the subsidy regime; from N261.1billion in 2006 to N278.8 billion in 2007; and from N346 billion in 2008 to as high as N2.5 trillion in 2011. As if these increases are mere token to warrant public backlash, N999 million was allegedly paid out in a total of 128 cheques amounting to N127.872 billion within a 24-hour period on the 12th and 13th of January, 2009. It all looked like a fiction too surreal to believe.

But the fleece was not over yet. Further revelations from the report show that different departments of government could not agree on the exact  amount paid the oil barons within the period of probe . While the official quoted amount was N1.3 trillion, the Accountant-General of the Federation put the figure at N1.7 trillion. Then, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) came out with a different figure of N1.8 trillion. But the Lawan’s committee revealed that the actual amount paid the oil magnates was N2.5 trillion.

What other revelations do we need to ascertain that what was being subsidized over these years by the Nigerian State was not fuel subsidy, but high-level corruption of unimaginable proportion?

That Nigeria’s political class is infected  by moral leprosy is a bitter truth ordinary Nigerians have learnt to swallow on daily basis. What perhaps remains a puzzle and which might weigh heavily on people’s minds is the new episode the fuel subsidy probe has entered. The twist of event reads like a well-acted Hollywood movie. I doubt if the Hollywood stars would not extend their invitation to the major actors in what has become Faroukgate.

It is a sad irony to accept that the House of Representatives has become a victim of its own trap. The $3 million-bribery allegations dangling on the neck of the two principal officers of the probe committee has made the hunter the hunted. Or how do one situate the inglorious tune the committee’s chairman, Lawan Farouk and secretary, Anthony Emenalo  are currently dancing to, even naked, with their suspect, Mr Femi Otedola?

The video clip showing Farouk Lawan receiving $500,000 bribe from Femi Otedola at about 4am on April 24, and Emenalo, receiving another $120,000 bribe from the same man  four hours later, totaling $620,000 out of the $3 million bribe deal, represents the ugliest moments of a nation gripped by moral leprosy. Both men, Otedola and Farouk, made a mockery of purity the while clothes they wore in the video represent.

It was not the first time Nigeria’s legislature would feast on scandal, nor the only time the well-starched apparels of our lawmakers carved in different forms of babariga, kaftan, agbada and eti’bo would be soiled. The nation has lost count of such mess in both the upper and lower chambers of the legislative arm – the Buharigate, the Etteh  saga the Bankole scam and lately the pensions fund fraud and the capital market scandal that led to the fall of its investigative committee chairman, Herman Hembe. But none of these arguably, calls to question the integrity of the nation  as much as the current scandal. The Faroukgate reminds one of the Watergate scandal in the United States in terms of sophistication.

Faroukgate, I presume,  must be an interesting movie to watch. By the accounts given by Otedola and Lawan, both men have already whet the appetite of their prospective audience. We are not interested in who approached who for what. The two major actors have established the fact, that one approached the other and something exchanged hands. The sudden deletion of Otedola’s Zenon Oil and Gas Company and Synopsis Enterprises Limited from the list of 15 indicted companies that collected forex from PSF but did not import fuel, few hours after the ‘sting operation’, has justified the purpose. Zenon and Synopsis were said to have collected $232.975,385 and $51.449,977 respectively from the PSF without importing fuel.

But what could have led Farouk Lawan into this shady affair given his high pedigree? Could it be fear of poverty? Certainly not. The diminutive lawmaker cannot be said to be poor having been serving his Kano Federal Constituency as a four-time legislator since 1999. Going by the jumbo allowances and other estacodes the lawmakers receive, Lawan must have saved enough wads in his local and foreign accounts.

May be, he was driven by greed. But common sense ought to have dictated to him that he who goes to equity must do so with clean hands. The pint-size lawmaker ought to know that the oil mafia whose toes he had stepped on would do everything humanly possible to get back at him, and if possible, cut him to size.

I sympathise with Lawan because of his past records. He had played the hero’s script several times. He is one man who had oiled the engine of a true democracy with his alluring,  sweet-sounding voice and people-responsive posture of an activist. His heroic role in the Etteh saga when his group spearheaded the removal of Patricia Etteh as the Speaker is still fresh in our memory. What then suddenly came over Farouk Lawan?

By the suspension order slammed on Lawan, the House of Representatives has tried to wash its hands off the dirty deal. The Kano-born lawmaker is now carrying his cross all alone. But the allegory of this scandal is that the Faroukgate is not just a shame of individuals. It is the shame of the entire nation.

The scam has merely extended the rogue appellation former President Olusegun Obasanjo used to designate the nation’s lawmakers to the entire nation. Of what use is a nation whose political elite are rogues and common criminals? The nation can only be derobed of this ugly appellation if the current scandal is not used as an alibi to either rubbish or overshadow the fuel subsidy probe report, as many people have speculated. After all, you don’t throw away the baby with the bath water.

There is no doubt that the Mafia’s net has caught Farouk Lawan. What is not certain yet is whether or not they would succeed in cutting the pint-size lawmaker to size. But if the $3 million scam turns out to be the curtain on Lawan’s promising political career and a final zeal on his gubernatorial ambition, Femi Otedola and his cabal of oil barons who had fleeced the nation through phantom oil subsidy must not be spared either. A bribe giver is as culpable as the bribe taker.

 

Boye Salau

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Opinion

Breaking The Jinx 

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A jinx is a bringer of bad luck; an unlucky influence. Ancient Romans as well as ancient African communities had a brief system that a cleansing ritual becomes necessary when a community becomes overwhelmed by continued crises and evil influences. It was based on that belief system that Jonah in the Christian scriptures was thrown into the sea from a jinxed ship, with Jonah as a scapegoat, being swallowed by a big fish. Thus, human sacrifice became a means of communal cleansing; an animal would suffice for minor tragedies.
What we call tragedies in literature are associated with “tragus” or goat, as a symbol of the sacrificial ritual involved in a cleansing process, undertaken as an annual solemn festive occasion. It is usually a sad occasion, largely because those who bear the brunt and imprecations of the cleansing ritual, are meant to be penitent and turn a new leaf. The custom of fasting is also associated with the cleansing process. Comedy, on the other hand, is a light-hearted and merry annual festive occasion, to express gratitude.
Long ago, individuals, communities and nations learned of the principle of duality in human existence whereby there cannot be a continued state of comedy without some tragedy, or vice versa. Similarly, old order usually gives way to a new order, in the cycle of life; whereby the baby of yesteryears becomes a parent today. However, this relay or rotary movement in life’s cycles, also has some unique features, of which resistance is a common one. But old order must pass away, allowing the new to come up.
Passage of the old order rarely goes without some opposition or bloodshed, usually as a result of a peculiar human weakness. Those who recognise the purpose of the dual and alternating system in life’s cycles are meant to enrich life in a more comprehensive manner, through a process of complementarity. However, complementarity must go with compatibility, for harmony to reign.
The old idiom that you cannot eat your cake and have it, is a valid admonition which cannot be ignored. Humans create blockages and haemorrage in the scheme of arrangement in life through stubborn willfulness, thereby creating crises and instability. In return, humans are forced to make atonements or sacrifices for the tragedies created, including bloodshed via banditry, terrorism, criminality, etc. This scenario is brought about because of the dual and alternating system in life’s operations whereby you cannot eat your cake and have it.
Once this inescapable fact of life is recognised, then other huddles would be easier to cross as we get there. Unfortunately, among humans, this principle of dual and alternating current operates and manifests everywhere. While some people are striving towards what is good and noble, there are also ill-disposed persons striving in the opposite direction. Unfortunately there is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face. It is also sad that ill-disposed persons in society rarely know or admit that they are the jinx in human population. Thus the culture of sanctimony is another social jinx.
In The Merchant of Venice, we are told that “the world is still deceived with ornament”, which means that sanctimony is a deceptive ornament. Human institutions and agencies where such deceptive ornaments wear the face and mien of honour include politics, academia, ecclesia and leadership generally. Thus the possibility of detecting the jinxed position of any nation or organisation becomes quite difficult. Since it is difficult to differentiate between or separate the “tares” from the “wheat”, the world can always be deceived with ornament, where hypocrisy and sanctimony rule.
Like a wheat farm, human society also harbours various weeds including ones which look like wheat. Thus the principle of dual and alternating influences must also operate in every country, calling for the need for eternal vigilance which is the price we pay for freedom or liberty. It is certain that the section of humanity which strives for nobility must pay some price and also exert enough power to remain untainted by the virus of the jinxed group of humanity.
There are various ancient admonitions about a time when humans must experience some severe crises of confidence and integrity. Therefore, there should be no surprise about the existence of counterfeits, fakes and manipulators in every sphere of life and activity. They must always be there, for the purpose of quality control and as litmus test in a final process of assessment. Like a farmland or a school process, a time of harvest or cumulative assessment comes, with wheat and tares contending.
Breaking the jinx is therefore a reference to the enigma involved in understanding the current state of affairs on earth. This also entails calling attention to the operation of the principle of dual and alternating system in the affairs of life. Do we not say that what has a beginning must also have an end? Towards the end of any programme it is normal to have an acceleration of activities, whereby past negligences, stoppages and haemorrage would be brought forward for resolution. It is also common that there would be some stiff resistance to the exposures of past ugly and putrid agenda hitherto hidden away from the eyes of unsuspecting public.
We live in a world where the things we see visibly are the representations of another sphere of existence that is usually invisible. This is another form of the dual and alternating system in the cycles of life. While the majority of humans rarely see the unseen, it is possible to decode the unseen from what is visible. This situation of humanity currently is that we stand at a cross-road, whereby the old order must give way to a new order, inevitably. By compulsion!
This situation demands that drastic choices must be made: dump Jonah into the sea to save a ship in crisis, or, get on with business as usual. Sadly, the scapegoat ritual sacrifice will not be acceptable. Pilferers, sanctimonious pretenders to the throne, conjurers and confusionists have taken too much and done too much, for the owner to know. There comes a time when human shenanigans, antics and blusters suffer ignominous defeat. 2023 marks a cross-road for Nigeria! Locusts have done much harm. Enough is enough!

Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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Opinion

 As The Rains Intensify …

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As  the rain   gathers  momentum with every  day that passes, the ground wears a saturated posture. Needless to say that flooding, which had remained  a major challenge  to residents of Port Harcourt and its environs every year, precisely July to October, needs be checked.
For those who live in flood prone areas,  the rainy season is a  premonition of trouble because of the ugly experiences of past years. The essence of history is to prevent reinventing the ugly past, and to use the past experiences to reconstruct a better tomorrow. Unfortunately, history repeats itself because people are not willing to learn from the past or use the past to improve the future.
It is pertinent to state that  the rainy season is exclusively an act of God. But the havoc that the flood waters cause is more often than not, a response to hostile and uncomplementary human activities to the environment which God in his infinite wisdom has created to be the habitat of humans. Humans are the architect of the environment related hazards.
Going by the sequence of creation, on the third day God created the earth for humans and some animals though scientists postulate that animal life actually begins in the water.
The sovereign God who is omni benevolent (wholly good), created the day and night as well as dry and rainy seasons.
It is essential to state that even  the global warming with the attendant changes in times and seasons, atmospheric condition and cosmic radiations, the dry and rainy seasons are constant, though they may not come at the time that is usually known of them. Human activities, unfriendliness to the environment can only alter the timing of the occurrence of seasons but their certainty is tied to the laws of nature which function on the infallible word of God. Only God or his servant whom he chooses to vindicate, has the power to alter the course of nature, like Joshua declared that the “sun should stand still” and Elijah decreed that there should be no rain for “a season” in the then northern kingdom of Israel under the leadership of Ahab and there was no rain for three years. That is amazing.
The rains must come, even if it delays or by divine intervention it was interrupted . The earlier people live in anticipation of this stark reality, the better for them. Knowing that something is going to happen helps to prepare the wise person to grapple with the challenges that are associated with such expectations ahead of  the time. When people feign ignorance of the reality of negative events, it is a state of delusion and fatalism. Fatalism is denying what is real. It is a state of delusion and should not be misconstrued for faith because it has nothing to do with faith. Rather, it is a state of mental and psychological imbalance.
With the torrential rainfalls that are evident in the last few days in some parts of the State, it is a clear signal and a tell-tale sign that flood is imminent. No doubt, the rainy season is a blessing to mankind. God designed it to foster food production, growth of vegetation, stabilisation of weather and a balancing in the natural equation of creation according to the incomprehensible wisdom of God.
But the sordid experiences of previous years have shown that human antagonism to the environment has created avoidable mishaps, pains and sorrows for humanity.
For example, for six consecutive years, flood is common and endemic in some local government areas of the state despite the forewarning of meteorologists. These local government areas which are predominantly coastal in location have always been fraught with devastating flood which resulted in colossal loss of lives and property.
Some communities in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni, Ahoada East, Ahoada West, Abua/Odual, Andoni, Degema, Akuku Toru, Asari Toru, Local Government Areas, even the upland Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor Local Government Areas have their tale of woes to tell as predicted by meteorologists.
Last year, the flood situation was so bad that even the Station Road, the Government House axis, down to Azikiwe Road were hit. SPAR, situated along that road was forced to close shop because of the invasion of rain water.
Residents of some communities were evacuated, some who heeded the warning relocated to other environment, while those who were not fortunate enough, were victims and counted their losses.
Even with such sordid experiences of the immediate past, that reduced those affected to a state of near less human, it is baffling that people forget in a hurry, that is why history repeats itself.
The narration of historical events is an intentional and conscious effort to enhance welfare of humans and the development of our society.
When people therefore fail to learn from the past, they wade dangerously into the future and ultimately meet a waterloo. The essence of the knowledge of the past is to secure the future.
It is pertinent to state that flooding does not happen by chance, neither is it a demonic architecture. Flooding is majorly caused by human acts that are repugnant to a decent society.
Environmentalists have time without number told what residents should or not do, to avoid flooding. Some of the things to avoid as recipe for a flooding-free environment, are blocking of water channels, dumping of refuse in gutters/drainage, building on water ways and construction of road without deep drainage system that links to a flowing rivers. It is necessary for residents of the state, especially the flood prone local government areas to cultivate and imbibe the culture of environmental cleanliness. The environment is one of God’s best gifts to humanity, so should not be treated with levity and degraded.
For some months running,  the Rivers State Waste Management Agency has not conducted monthly Sanitation Exercise, the non-conduct of sanitation exercise should not determine whether or not drainages and gutters in the Port Harcourt, Obio/Akpor and neighbouring Local Government Areas should be cleaned. Cleaning of our environment should be instinctive and inborn. No right thinking and level headed person should be tutored on the need to clean place of residence or their environment. Cleanliness, it is often said, is next to godliness . It saves the environment from mosquito and other rodents and reptiles infestation, and their negative consequences such as, malaria, snake bites, etc.
Monthly Sanitation Exercise should be a stimulant and a booster rather than a substitute to intentional commitment to personally clean our environment.
Now that the rain is here, the people of the State should ensure that drainages and water channels are cleared and cleaned and the refuse evacuated to approved dumpsites.
To guard against the repeat of the pains that flooding caused to numerous residents in the State.

By: Igbiki Benibo

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Opinion

Where ‘Enough Is Enough’ Truly Belongs

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During the era of Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), under the Presidency of Army General Ibrahim Babangida, the Academic Staff Union of Universities in Nigeria (ASUU) raised some alarm, pointing out the shape of things to come. Despite every clandestine effort to weaken and destroy the solidarity among lecturers then, Nigerians were given some hints that military regime was putting the future of the country in jeopardy, perhaps unwittingly, by installing a system of an oligopoly.
Without going into details of what transpired then or the hostility shown towards radical members of the academic community, the following hints were given: (1) A monopolistic or gangsteristic allocation or sale of oil and gas resources and other national assets going on then, secretly. (2) Declining value of the Nigerian currency and the precarious state of the economy and reasons or activities behind such trends (3) Structural imbalances being put in place, deliberately, for some political and economic purposes. (4) Systematic but gradual destruction of the middle class, which is usually a nation’s stabilising group. These antics were revealed by the lecturers.
Reactions of the military regime towards the alarm raised by university lecturers included an admonition that “undue radicalism” would not be tolerated from lecturers, and that they should focus on teaching what they were being paid to teach. As at that time, monthly salary of a professor was less than N20,000 whereas military officers were building 5-star hotels and other structures. “Nosy” lecturers were targets for witch hunt.
It became obvious to members of the ASUU that military regime was not interested in strengthening, but rather in weakening, the culture of higher education in Nigeria. It was not a surprise that most frequent and lingering strikes by university lecturers took place during the military era. It also became obvious to a large number of Nigerians, as late Captain Elechi Amadi said, that the society does not place any value or emphasis on naked honesty, hard work or sacrifices of individual Nigerians. What resulted from the series of anomalies created by the military regime, which included an unfair reward system, reflected in a lukewarm attitude of public servants towards labour. Patriotism declined also!
Who would want to labour throughout life and then die in penury when others can become millionaires in a few months’ time by selling oil block allocation papers? The periods of military regime characterised by frequent closures of the universities, enabled some lecturers to veer into various business ventures, including becoming taxi drivers. Despite threats of “no work, no pay”, lecturers took such threats as mere jokes, all resulting in a diminution of the zeal to serve or labour to build up the nation. Thus began the rot we know today.
When President Muhammadu Buhari was quoted recently as telling striking university lecturers that “enough is enough”, as an appeal to make them go back to the classrooms, that was not considered as anything new. Lecturers have discovered much to their chagrin that they have been wasting their energy and brain resources talking in classrooms.
If former military officers can afford to own private universities, airlines, build several houses including 5-star hotels, before the age of 60, then what would move striking lecturers about enough being enough? With the current value of the naira falling drastically as it has, is there any public servant who depends solely on salary, who is not complaining now? Since we operate a system which does not care about productivity or probity, it takes very little for any public servant to join the system or club of social parasites.  But for the fact that there are still a few Nigerians who place value on probity and integrity, the country would have been worse than it is now. Who’s fooling who?
Therefore, the “‘enough is enough” slogan from the President of Nigeria to striking lecturers, can be said to have missed the most appropriate target. Yes, to stay away from the classroom for close to six months, forcing students to be home and idle, is long enough a period to resolve the issues which resulted in the strike. For striking lecturers to be so unyielding and unmoved by threat or cajole, is quite vexatious enough. But can any impartial arbiter in the matter say that the attitude of the federal government is ideal enough? Are lecturers the sole problems?
Nigerians were introduced many years ago to the legal concept of “Imperfect Obligation” arising from the federal government’s inability to fulfil its own side of agreement reached with university lecturers. The style and attitude of the current government is not different from a re-introduction of the theory of imperfect obligation, attributable to a learned Professor, Ben Nwabueze. Today it is Dr Chris Ngige.
“Enough is enough”, like “no work, no pay” or resort to the theory of imperfect obligation, may not be a threat; but more likely the use of a hackeyed strategy of evading rather than confronting an issue in a transparent manner. To resort to the old argument that the country does not have enough money to meet the demands of ASUU, is to remind the lecturers to dig out the claims of profligacy and mis-placed priority pointed out long ago as accounting for the nation’s current plight. Was ASUU’s allegation that Nigerian senators earn about four times the wage of the President of the United States of America, wrong?
Was Senator Shehu Sani wrong when he disclosed that “every Nigerian Senator gets N13.5 million monthly as running costs, about N200 million as constituency, while the salary is about N750,000”.  Are there not several other allowances paid to political office holders, running to millions of naira monthly, all of which make striking lecturers say that education is being deliberately undermined? Certainly lecturers know a lot more than what they say in the open!
Rather than President Muhammadu Buhari telling any labour union that “enough is enough”; or any-one make a joke of some people labouring till they die, with nothing to show for their efforts, Nigerians can also tell their leaders that the masses have endured enough jolts. Nigeria may not be Sri Lanka, but the plight of a family in Kandy is not different from a family in Kano. Nigerian masses may be cowardly and security agents unfriendly, but surely a wind of change is currently blowing across the globe. There is a strong need for positive changes and less of parasitism! Enough is enough!

By: Bright Amirize

Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.

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