In the early 1960s, around Ibikunle Street, Yaba-Lagos, there was a unique man, known by area boys as Baba Orinoco; he was a master of legerdemain. After every magical performance, to amuse youths, he always retired into the Army Engineers’ barracks (NAEME), close to Ibikunle Street. What is vital about Baba Orinoco is that he had a personal philosophy which he would share with those who would hear the story of his life. He would say that wise magicians rarely use same trick too often, because, the public can become wiser, soon.
The experiences of the Ogoni community in Rivers State under military rule, with special reference to the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), left lasting trauma and bruises on many people, not only the Ogonis. With the indictment, prosecution and hanging of late Ken Saro-Wiwa with some of his kinsmen for agitating, without arms, for a clean Ogoni environment, Nigeria had a unique experience of what power can do. Agitation for self-preservation through protest against environmental degradation, via oil and gas activities in Ogoniland by an oil company, turned MOSOP into an anti-government agency.
A Special Adviser on Legal Affairs to the then Head of State, ( late General Sani Abacha), Professor Auwal Yadudu, declared Saro-Wiwa as being “responsible for the murders” in Ogoniland. Of particular significance in the Ogoni experience was the allegation by late Saro-wiwa that “the communal clashes perpetrated by Nigerian troops were blamed on the Ogoni, so the murders are now being placed on innocent Ogoni men: Lt. Col. Paul Okuntimo’s ‘Wasting operations’ was said to be the means of destabilising Ogoniland as a prelude to bringing MOSOP and its leaders on trial.
To quite a large number of discerning Nigerians, what played out in Ogoniland prior to 1995, provided vital insight into the working of statecraft and what power can do. Apart from Okuntimo and his “Wasting operations” in Ogoniland, the Presidency and the Nigerian Judiciary also showed peculiar styles of statecraft and what power can do. At the heart of all the intrigues was the protection of economic interests which MOSOP had the audacity to challenge. Lives can be wasted in order to retain and stress the awesomeness of power!
A similar scenario comparable to the Ogoni and Saro-Wiwa experiences in 1995, under military rule, appears to be taking shape currently, with regards to Nnamdi Kanu, IPOB and Sunday Igboho. MOSOP, under the leadership of Saro-Wiwa, was an agitation for social justice, with regards to the environmental dangers arising from the oil and gas industry in Ogoniland. IPOB under Nnamdi Kanu is also an agitation for social justice, with emphasis for a referendum in view of perceived marginalisation. In the case of Igboho and the Yoruba Nation, there is a similar non-violent agitation against destruction of farmlands by cattle. Are rights of protests abridged?
The arrests of the two agitators, Kanu and Igboho, followed similar patterns, comparable to the arrest of Saro-Wiwa in 1994, all characterised by some controversies. Now, more controversies are rearing up, whereby possible charges of murders and aiding of terrorism are being contemplated against Kanu and Igboho. Is it not possible and advisable that a better step in these issues would be to look into and address the root causes of agitations in the country, rather than adopt the strategy of arms-twisting?
In the past 10 years, there have been more acts of violence and terrorism in the northern part of Nigeria which have brought about rising state of insecurity, than the situations have been in southern part of the country. There was also a suggestion that a woman in labour who was murdered by a lynching mob in Kano, December 1966, who in her last agony placed a curse on that part of the country, demanded some attention. Those who know and see better, would warn that no deliberate wrong-doing goes without some atonement, which includes genuine penitence, and a vow to live better.
But in a situation where more acts of violence are being committed, without recourse to penitence, then a state of instability would continue to increase. Let us not shy away from the fact that in the recent past, there were spirited clamours in Northern Nigeria for an implementation of Shariah Law. Even Shariah police had to be established in some states. Possible implications of that move included a suspicion across the country that some goal was meant to be achieved through some clever strategies. At the end of the day, someone opened up to tell Nigerians about Islamisation and Fulanisation agenda. That vital allegation has not been addressed hitherto.
Rather, what we observe have ranged from an unstoppable, disturbing activities of Boko Haram brigands, to appointments in strategic positions which give some sections of the country cause to talk about marginalisation. The impression which anybody can have is that something is fishy in the way that Nigeria is being managed. A situation where the masses have the impression that they are not being told the truth on vital national issues, what would follow includes careless statements or speculations which can undermine public confidence or stability.
Those who knew Saro-Wiwa closely would testify that he was not a man of violence or meanness, but stood for justice. Perhaps, it may be true that “wiving and hanging goes by destiny,” but numerous friends of Saro-Wiwa felt quite sad that he died a dusty death. Whether a “state pardon” is granted him after 26 years of such dusty death, or not, the truth is that Saro-Wiwa did not deserve the kind of treatment and death that were meted out on him. What played out, with him as a scapegoat, was the show of raw power!
Now, a similar scenario must not be allowed to repeat itself, with charges of murders, terrorism and treasonable felony being trumped upon agitators for social justice. It is not social justice for any section of the country to use religion or any other opportunity and power, to foist some ideology or lifestyle on the entire country, without recourse to due process. Let us not leave the obvious causes of social unrest and agitation, and then adopt a strategy of intimidation, blusters and subterfuge, to achieve the peace of the grave yard. Awo’s trial for treason comes to mind too.
When my late friend and colleague, Professor Tam David-West, was in prison detention for “causing the economic adversity of Nigeria” by accepting a cup of tea and a gold wristwatch from foreigners, he made a statement that we are “not serious” in Nigeria. From David-West, Saro-Wiwa, Deziani Allison-Madueke, etc, to Kanu and Igboho, it is becoming glaring that Federal Character Principle is not being observed in the task of cleansing Nigeria. Someone described Nigerians as jokers. When we get serious, things would change for the better. Nigerians are much wiser now, such that Baba Orinoco’s tricks would not work any magic.
By: Bright Amirize
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer in the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.
Conditions For Sustainable Change
Crops planted in farmlands that have been properly tilled can be compared to structures built on firm and solid foundation, capable of withstanding storms and jolts. It is obvious that where and whenever there are mass clamours for change, there must be some cracks in the foundation and health of the nation. To continue to ignore persistent clamours for a meaningful and sustainable change, or to resort to padding and cosmetic measures, is comparable to postponing an inevitable stormy change. Those who can feel the pulse of the Nigerian masses, know that there is a diminishing sense of meaning, neither would duplicity and subterfuge be able to revamp the feeling of despair.
Like the Rome of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, a few embittered Nigerians have been heard to describe their country as “a wilderness of tigers”. Such symbolic tigers are comparable to a situation where a nation is helplessly held hostage by a faceless cabal; nor would any honest observer say frankly that no such situation exists in Nigeria. Such state of anomy is not new in history, but usually man-made.
It is gladdening to say that Nigeria is blessed with the presence of citizens who can be described as seeing and knowing, even when they would maintain a silent reserve in the face of gloom and social anomy. They choose such a posture largely because they know how unhelpful it can be to offer peal to swine. Therefore, the essence and principle of readiness as a precondition for a change that would be sustainable has to do with letting the masses stew in their own juice. Then value would be given to appropriate change at the appropriate time. In plain language, it can be said that Nigerians are not ready yet for a meaningful and sustainable change.
Even if a radical group of armed men and revolutionaries brings a forceful change in Nigeria now, such effort would be bloody and futile, because the ground has not been prepared to embrace and sustain such change. So long as there are Nigerians who are capable of offering themselves to serve dark purposes for a fee; and so long as there are Nigerians whose decisions, choices and actions do not arise from deep personal conviction, readiness for a sustainable change is lacking. It is also obvious that the cabal that has held this country hostage, deliberately use mass poverty and terrorism as tools for social control.
Let it not be forgotten that meaningful and sustainable changes, where they succeeded, had a long period of incubation and nurturing, which must be rooted and anchored in the minds of the people. Then readiness for a change would not accept gold for a bride, or be cowed and intimidated by Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC). The study of history would confirm that sustainable change of status quo does not come easily or quickly because oppressors and predators are not known to choose the line of class suicide. They always fight back!
The uniqueness of the Nigerian situation is that the game is not an exclusively Nigerian affair; rather, Nigeria is merely one of the theatres of action. Countries that pledge support and offer to help would not send their drones and weapons of mass destruction free of charge, neither would the loans they give be forgiven. They would insist on their “fair flesh, to be cut off and taken in what part of your body pleaseth” Shylock. The situation is such that 85 per cent of Nigerians are not aware of what is going on, neither do they see the benefits or dividends of democracy. Frankly, it is better for those who are ignorant of the realities on the ground, because the situation is scary.
Historically, wars of survival, especially class or ethnic ones, do not take the face of aggressive hostilities at the beginning. Rather, foundations are made long in advance to build bridges of support, understanding and partnership, whereby a trap comes in: “If you cannot beat them, then join them!”. Condition for joining them can include having to serve against the interests of your own people or constituency. Similarly, the political economy is skewed to service the game of monopoly.
The Nigerian version or variation of this cold war of wits has many interesting episodes, one of which has to do with the secrecy involved in oil blocks allocations. Another episode has to do with the structure of the nation’s security and intelligence arms of state. Long ago, Professor Omo Omoruyi had the courage to say that these arms of government were deliberately structured to serve the interests of a definite ethnic nationality. It may also interest readers of this material to know that the death of General Maman Vatsa as a coup plotter and Gideon Okars’ failed coup, raise a number of issues which we deliberately ignore.
Therefore, the issue of readiness for a meaningful and sustainable change goes beyond “restructuring” and the glib talks associated therewith. Neither would reviving Biafra address the jinxed situation. My late friend and colleague, Professor Tam David-West, knew so much about the issue of a sustainable change in Nigeria, that his verdict was that Nigerians are neither ready nor serious. According to him, so long as there are billionaire oil barons who rarely know what a barrel of oil looks like, and Nigerians whose conviction or conscience can be bought over with oil block allocation, we are not ready for any sustainable change. There predators hold sway!
So, the predators and caterpillars of Nigeria’s commonwealth know the game at hand and the strategies of setting asunder the ranks of those who are jealous of them, so that the coast gets free for them to cruise unchallenged. Their tentacles are numerous and strong, such that those who would not want to die a dusty death dare not upset the feast of the winning champions. Happy New Year to readers.
By: Bright Amirize
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.
Mr President Can Tweet Now
According to the announcement, Twitter could resume its services to Nigerians from 12.30 am on January 13, 2022 – having accepted all the terms and conditions presented to it by the government.
A number of foreign missions in Nigeria were said to have condemned the ban. They included Britain, Canada and Sweden. Organisations like Amnesty International, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) had also kicked against it; with the last two going ahead to challenge the action in court.
Twitter reportedly opened an office in Ghana sometime in April last year, from where it serviced customers in Nigeria and other African countries. Trouble started for the American tech outfit after it deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari wherein he reacted to the growing insurrection in the South East geo-political zone and warned the Igbo on a likely repeat of the 1967 Biafran War in which he played a very active role.
The microblogging blue bird, alongside Facebook and other social media platforms had, in keeping with their respective ‘abusive behaviour’ corporate policy, suspended Buhari’s accounts from their services following numerous complaints from customers who detested the tone of the presidential tweet. Recall that erstwhile US President, Donald Trump, was a victim of such action while in office. Reports said that he wasted no time in congratulating Nigeria for the Twitter ban.
Prior to its action against Twitter, the Buhari government had long romanced the thought of regulating the social media in the country. The All Progressives Congress (APC)-dominated National Assembly had made several attempts to pass an anti-social media bill. At a time, they even tried to introduce one to further tighten the noose on traditional media practice. But all were vehemently rejected by the rest of Nigerians who saw it as a way of gagging them while the government went authoritarian.
The use of social media outfits, particularly Twitter, to mobilise people and fund for the EndSARS protest of October 2020 did also serve to frighten the government as to the power of microblogging. The platform was said to have handled 48 million tweets in just 10 days for the protest alone. Its then chief executive officer, Jack Dorsey, reportedly encouraged bitcoin donations to the protesters in defiance of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) suspension of accounts of groups that supported the protest and also the ban on transactions in cryptos.
The Twitter ban was with effect from June 5, 2021. While it lasted, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had bragged that the suspension would be lifted only when the firm agreed to a list of the government’s conditions. Meanwhile, all arms of government, including ministries, departments and agencies were directed to strictly observe the ban. Generally, Nigerians were instructed to avoid any further patronage of the Twitter platform. Even so, some there were – and mostly top state officials – who still circumvented the ban through discreet use of virtual private networks (VPNs).
It was also reported that businesses which rely on online transaction suffered the most during the stand-off, particularly the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) which use such media to showcase their products. In fact, it is being estimated that Nigeria may have lost about N500 billion in the seven months of the Twitter suspension.
Except for these people whose means of livelihood hinged on the services of Twitter, I doubt if many Nigerians had wished for Alhaji Lai and his federal government team to triumph in this matter. Frankly, I had not given them a chance in a stalemate with a firm that called the bluff of a sitting American president – the strongest human being on Planet Earth! I had also believed that even if Twitter did eventually capitulate in the seeming face-off, it would not happen so soon. Yes, somebody needed to cut an irritably loquacious Alhaji Lai to size. And here was a multinational firm well suited to execute the job; or so I thought.
In any case, I still think that, for once, the Buhari government has pulled out something for which it deserves resounding commendation. The President had in his Independence anniversary address, last October, read out the conditions on which Twitter’s suspension would be lifted. These include: open an office in Nigeria; employ a country representative, register with CAC, and obtain a licence from NBC; remit fair taxes; pay attention to national security and cohesion; and promote local content in IT and strategic intelligence.
Even as the Presidential Technical Committee which negotiated with the Twitter team is yet to submit its report to Buhari, any right-thinking Nigerian will agree that these are fair conditions. No matter how pissed off we may sometimes be with the conducts of our politicians in Abuja, I want to believe that no patriotic citizen of this country will condone a situation where a foreign firm stations its operations in Ghana or wherever, and for whatever reason, while it employs local labour, pays taxes to the host government and then stays there to leverage on our far larger market here. No, sir!
And just as SERAP had earlier requested, government should endeavour to widely publish the agreement it signed with Twitter. According to the rights group, “The government has a duty to demonstrate that the conditions for lifting the suspension of Twitter would not threaten or violate the enjoyment of Nigerians’ human rights online, and that the conditions are in pursuit of a legitimate goal in a democratic society…”
In all, the good news is that Twitter is back. The government will earn more taxes; some Nigerians will get employment; local contractors will be hired; and Mr President and the rest of us will resume tweeting, though more responsibly, this time around.
By: Ibelema Jumbo
Electoral Bill: Why Buhari Withheld Assent
Discernibly, the president amid the rebuff acknowledged the energies, nonetheless urged the lawmakers to review the objected clauses, and also requested it be transmitted back for his assent after review. Least expected, Buhari’s major critic, Dr Samuel Ortom, Benue State governor, overtly backed the president’s decline of assent over the direct primaries.
Irrepressibly, the president’s action has continued to generate controversies in the polity with the civil society organizations (CSOs) threatening fire and brimstone and many public commentators seething over perceived mischief and insensitivity. On the whole, three categories of thoughts exist.
Whilst one backs the president against mandatory direct primaries, the second group; mostly from opposition parties, endorsed it. Then, the third category which includes Chief Nyesom Wike, Rivers State governor, admitted the flaws but argued that the assent ought to have been given, notwithstanding the defects, for a review later as Buhari handled the Petroleum Industry Bill (now PIA).
This idea isn’t bad. However, the big question is; what will be the fate if after giving assent, the anticipated review hits the brick wall? It must be carefully noted that the Electoral Act, if flawed, can set the polity ablaze unlike the PIB due to vast interests.
In the legislative zone, the experience is not different. While some accepted the development in good faith and progressively prepared for a critical review, the other side seemingly insisted on a supremacy battle to override the president’s veto. However, the leadership of the two chambers so far, astutely arrested the situation, and opted for wider consultations. Be that as it may, Section 59(4) of the 1999 Constitution, Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended provides a window to override the president by the National Assembly where he withholds assent to a bill presented to him after 30 days.
Buhari’s divergence is the clause for mandatory direct primaries for political parties citing the financial implications on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to monitor primary elections across all the wards. There are 8,809 wards in the federation. Buhari also argued that political parties must be given a free hand to determine how to elect their flagbearers within their strength, and also, that security factor must be put into consideration underlining that security agencies could be overstretched in ensuring hitch-free primaries which may overheat the polity.
Ostensibly, many frowned at Buhari’s objection — having vetoed the Bill earlier in 2018 ahead of the 2019 General Elections principally on grounds of wrong timing. In fact, a lawmaker while reacting on Channels Television fumed that a bill, overwhelmingly passed by the two chambers after legislative processes which he participated in was ‘insensitively’ rejected by the president; just one man. Logically, his concern was an ego thing, widely far from objectivity. Incidentally, that’s the rule of the game – democracy.
Besides, the oversight of the lawmakers is glaring as the reasons adduced by the president against adopting mandatory direct primary are compelling.
Possibly, the lawmakers didn’t look at it broadmindedly. For instance, if signed into law, it will require INEC to seek a larger budget on logistics and allowances to monitor primary elections across the 8,809 wards in the country for each political party to validly choose a presidential candidate. Let’s say 20 political parties plan to field presidential candidates respectively, it will require INEC’s workforce to go round all the wards for each of the registered political parties to ably elect a valid candidate which has a heavy financial implication. To conduct the 2023 General Elections alone, INEC demands a whopping N305 billion from the treasury.
Sensibly, for INEC to monitor the primaries of all the political parties across all the wards in the country, the task could push the commission’s budget up to many trillions of naira. Then, where there are security challenges that discourage public gatherings, people must notwithstanding embrace direct primaries at the risk of their lives or end up in an inconclusive primary election. In other words, failure to conduct direct primaries across all the wards may deny a political party an opportunity to field a valid candidate in any election.
Deductively, these arguments strongly suggest that mandatory direct primaries could spontaneously force smaller political parties into extinction due to financial constraints and also create unmanageable logistics and security crises.
Another strong fear is beating the time frame for primaries by political parties. As known, primary elections follow INEC’s timetable, and it is rare to find any political party that produced its candidate without internal squabbles which, most times, resulted in late primary election leaving members to resort to any possible means; direct, indirect or consensus to be able to field a candidate within time. If the law should exclusively endorse mandatory direct primaries, practically, it will lead to inconclusive primaries in virtually all political parties. Government is a team work and that’s the strong reason laws must pass through the two arms – Executive and Legislature.
In fact, the bureaucracy for INEC to mobilise workforce alone including ad-hoc staff, managerially allocate tasks can frustrate many political parties due to time. It will also put a heavier burden on the Judiciary to entertain frivolous lawsuits from wards where direct primary perchance didn’t hold by circumstances beyond the control of political parties.
Thus, primary elections should logically, remain flexible and at the discretion of political parties. To be emphatic, the financial implications on the treasury, overstretching security agencies, operability to political parties and also, overstraining the Judiciary are cogent reasons to reconsider the Bill in overriding public interest.
By: Carl Umegboro
Umegboro is a public affairs analyst.
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