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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

Towards Maintaining Our Institutions

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Nigeria is a sovereign nation and all hands must be on deck to maintain its sovereignty. To achieve this, a number of infrastructural developement must be put in place. The ideology of sovereignty of any nation is to make things possible for the citizens. Since Independence till date there has been slow pace of development in the country. This is as a result of nonchalant attitude of the leaders in government and some citizens when projects are awarded for execution. Often times, when it comes to solving problems for the masses what you hear is that there is no political will to enforce the policy. One wonders the kind of political will our leaders need before things are put in place. The deposit of mineral resources in the land of Nigeria is a good omen for national development.
The education sector has been drifting from its original aims and objectives. This is because the system is no longer meeting the expectations of the nation. In any sovereign nation, education is the door way of achieving purposeful development. Through research works in education, other sectors are managed effectively and efficiently. The falling standard of education caused by neglect of the sector has caused emigration of Nigerian students to neighbouring nations, thereby, denying our educational institutions funds to upgrade their facilities. Today, most of the leaders and well-to-do in Nigeria send their children and wards to Ghana, the US and the UK for university education.
It is true that no nation is an island. But that does not mean we should abandon our country for foreign facilities.
Indeed, the power or energy sector is one of the sectors begging for massive improvement and upgrading of facilities. The federal government has said so much about improvement of power in the country. Yet no meaningful achievement has been recorded. And if the government is ready to improve power in Nigeria, there is no need for the federal government to budget for generators for Aso Rock or government buildings. That is suspicious! In Nigeria, generators have taken over the power sector. And so each time generators are mentioned in the budget there is need for doubt. Over the years, Nigerians have been complaining of poor power supply in the country. And to many the cry against epileptic electricity supply is waste of time. All the processing and manufacturing industries use electricity from generators to power their machines. But in some countries of the world there is constant supply for decades. No wonder some companies are relocating to neighboring countries where electricity supply is relatively constant. Recently, there was bidding for electricity facilities in the country. There is no need for further delay in ensuring efficiency in the power sector. Therefore, power should not be toyed with, if Nigeria wants to be one of the biggest economies in the world. Everyone needs electricity in Nigeria.
Nigerians enjoy pot holes-free roads in UK, the US and other nations of the world. But when road projects are awarded to some of them to construct as it is done in foreign nations, some siphon the funds or use poor quality materials to construct roads in the country. Today our federal roads are begging for reconstruction and rehabilitation, because they are very bad. And those who do the shoddy jobs are applauded and more multimillion projects are awarded to them to continue the bad jobs. Something has to be done to stop the ugly trend of events in the country. Because the roads are bad, motorists take the opportunity to charge commuters heavily. This also has led to high cost of commodities and has weakened the purchasing power of many Nigerians . Indeed, most of the staple foods we eat in the country are imported from foreign nations. For instance, Nigeria depends on imported rice till date when there are arable lands for rice farming in the country. Abakaliki rice is still under peasant farming system till today because government has not taken any proactive measure to improve rice farming in the country. There is need for concerted effort by all to change the state of things in the country.
Health for all has been a long time slogan which no one wants to sing or recite again because of the inability of the government to deliver health services to the people. It is still very sad to hear that Nigerians can only get better medical treatment abroad. Why? Nigeria has the resources that could make her health system the best in the world. Today, cancer screening machine is rare to come by in the country. Few months ago there was outbreak of Lassa fever in some states of the nation. And it was a difficult task to get treatment, because the machine to screen a victim’s blood sample is only in Benin. And it was reported that Lassa fever was first noticed before independence of our dear nation.
Indeed, today we fund foreign health systems and they keep on growing faster than ours. Almost every government functionary receives his or her medical check-up abroad. That is why our health sector is dying even when we have professionals to make it work. It is high time our leaders pondered anew to change some things. The national and state assemblies should enact laws that should make the government to improve its facilities. Over dependence on foreign institutions when we need to improve and develop the ones we have is a serious threat to democracy. Therefore, there is need for government at all levels to embark on an aggressive campaign on infrastructural development in the nation. Nigerians can enjoy the best if there is honesty and selfless service to humanity.

 

By: Frank Ogwuonuonu

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Opinion

Stemming Noise Pollution In Nigeria

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Noise is hazardous to human health. It is an enemy of the environment as it pollutes the surroundings.  Experts have regularly warned about the dangers of constant exposure to noise.
In recent years, many studies have shown that noise is an issue that must be taken into serious consideration. Not only has noise pollution been associated with hearing loss, there are other harmful effects on the human body.
According to an article in British Medical bulletin,  other issues resulting from noise include hypertension, social disorder, psychological and psychiatric disorder, among others. “It is generally believed that noise disturbs activities and communications, causing annoyance. In some cases , annoyance may lead to stress responses, then symptoms and possible illness”, posits the article.
The question, is what is being done to tackle noise pollution in the country?  Two years ago, the Lagos State Government announced the sealing of about 53 churches, mosques and hotels across the state over noise pollution and other environmental offences.
That action reportedly followed series of complaints received by the State Environmental Protection Agency from residents who were fed up with the uncontrolled increase of noise pollution in the state.
The action received wide commendation from Nigerians especially given the fact that ours is a society where many people in authority find it difficult to take necessary measures to correct  or stop certain anomalies in the land.
Ours is a country where everybody claims to be very religious to the extent that any criticism of a religious leader or a religion no matter how constructive is considered as persecution or even an attack on God.
However, during a recent visit to Lagos, it didn’t seem as if the 2015 action has deterred religious organizations and individuals from polluting the environment with noise.
Not much has changed as far as the issue of noise pollution is concerned. The churches and the mosques still disturb their neighborhood with blasts from their mega phones. In fact, it was difficult to sleep.  Not with the noise from a nearby church which had a weeklong night vigil and a mosque which speakers would start blaring from 4:30am.
The situation is not different in every other state across the country. In some streets in the cities, there could be two or more worship centers disturbing the peace of the people leaving in that neighborhood in the name of worshipping. Sometimes, you will see a small church of not up to 20 members polluting the environment with the noise from huge loud speakers mounted outside, the high tuned musical equipment and the minister shouting on top of his voice.
Compare what happens in places of worship here in Nigeria with what obtains in other climes; one cannot help but wonder whether we are truly worshipping the same God.
This is because while noise of unacceptable decibels boom from our places of worship day in day out, worship in other civilized countries is associated with peace, quietness and serenity.
Is it that our God in Nigeria is hard of hearing that he requires this much debilitating noise to get his attention while the ‘oyibo’ God only needs a serene and peaceful atmosphere to hear them?
Could it be that with so much noise in the country – generator, traffic and others- one must shout to get the attention of “Nigerian God?”
With the growing number of worship centers in the country, one would have expected that the authorities concerned would have ensured that there is strict adherence to the laws on noise pollution and building of houses, but incidentally, that is not the case.
Religious houses are cited anywhere in the country irrespective of whether the place is meant to be strictly a residential area or not.
At passengers loading parks, high density residential areas, industrial areas, construction sites, on the traffic, music stalls, virtually everywhere, we are exposed to excessive noise pollution.
The truth is that the more little or no attention is paid to the control of noise pollution in the country, the more risks the people face. It is important, therefore, that concerted efforts be made by relevant authorities and individuals to combat noise pollution in our society.
Yes, we know that noise is considered part of city life which no country  can evade completely, but it behoves the authorities to control it in the interest of the people.
Religious houses, clubs, hotels, event centers and other public places must be made to abide by the rules of the land. Ours cannot continue to be a country where anything goes. In many other countries, churches, mosques, clubs and other public places are sound proof. Why can’t ours be like that? Why can’t we worship without causing pain to the people around us?
Some psychologists have postulated that better education, tougher enforcement and changes in individual habit and behaviour can make a great difference. If more people are aware of the effect of noise pollution on their health and know that they have the right to report the individual or organisation causing that pollution to relevant authorities as the residents of Lagos did, and if the authorities are willing to take necessary actions against the defaulters not minding whose ox is gored,  then ours will be a better place.

 

By:  Calista Ezeaku

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Opinion

Curbing Violence In Our Society

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The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary defined violence as “a behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage or kill someone or something”.
The above definition describes what goes on in our society on daily basis. Terrorism, robbery kidnapping and all kinds of social vices have characterized our society. Youths are no longer concerned with creativity and thinking about the future. They no longer worry about dreaming great dreams and aspiring after great minds and role models. What they are after is criminality.
Even our higher institutions are not spared. They are culpable of all kinds of negative behaviour.
In those days, students in higher institutions were regarded as future leaders with a desire for excellence. Many of them hardly involved in crimes and were considered as epitome of morality. But today, that has changed completely. Students now abandon the purpose of their stay in the various schools and engage in cult activities that usually unstill in them the tendency to commit crime. They have gone dangerously far to be involved in kidnapping, assassinations, evil theft and all manner of crimes.
The question many people readily ask is what has led to this abysmal state of degeneration of our youths? Why do youths commit crimes without qualms? Why do our students, particularly those in higher institutions not interested in studying anymore but rather take to crime as a way of life?
The answer to the above questions are not far-fetched. It is simply greed, the love for money and a breakdown of moral values.
One good thing education does for a society is the preservation of moral values and the promotion of good conduct. When education cannot guarantee the existence of these virtues, the result is what we have at hand.
What then are the solutions to these problems that have the potentiality of ravaging our society? The first step is the improvement of our education system, I mean the quality of education we offer our children.
As I said earlier, in those good days, crime rate was low largely because education then was qualitative. But today, I think the high crime rate is attributable to the low quality of education in the country. Therefore, the government has to focus properly on this sector and invest massively in it.
Another solution to violence in our society is what we all know about but have demonstrated weak will to execute, especially the government. That is, the creation of jobs for our youths. There is no country where joblessness does not result in higher crime rate. And so, Nigeria cannot be an exception. if our government does not create jobs, it risks being plagued by crimes and the youths are the most vulnerable group in this respect. One way jobs can be created is for the government to gradually hand over the economy to the private sector to run while it concentrates on its traditional role of regulating the economy.
Another solution to violence is good governance. This point is being emphasised in virtually every discussion on this subject. When governance is free of corruption and deemphasises materialism, its effect will show positively on the society. Our nation is too corrupt and about 90 percent of the corruption is perpetrated by those in power. Our leaders must show good examples. This would impact positively on youths and reduce the crave for illegal accumulation of wealth.
Youths should be engaged in various programmes to be fashioned by the government and voluntary bodies in order to divert their attention from crime and other forms of wrong-doing. Football competitions and other sports tournaments could be organised for our youths so that their minds could be engaged.
Parents have a huge role to play in all these. The Bible says in Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it”. I think this is a big challenge to parents. Parents ought to play their God-given roles effectively to train their children while they are young.
I believe everyone should be involved in checking violence in our society. The responsibility of doing this must not be left to the government alone. Everyone must be involved lest it may consume us.
Siko wrote from Port Harcourt.

 

Furotubo Siko

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