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2023: Aso Villa, Not Sick Bay

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Even as its clinic may possess some of the best health facilities a Third World state house can possibly afford, I still doubt that the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja was designed to cope with some of the serious medical conditions our leaders discreetly convey to the place.
Chapter IV, Part I, Section 131 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) spells out the requirements for election to the Office of the President. They are as follows: citizenship of Nigeria by birth; attainment of 35 years of age; membership of a political party which must be the sponsoring party; and education up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.
But even a possession of all these still does not qualify anybody who engages in any one of a plethora of some other never-dos, including presentation of a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Or, election to such office at any two previous elections. Or even failing to resign from a civil or public service position at least 30 days before election. Disappointingly, in all of the nearly one dozen of these extra conditions, only one directly pertains to a candidate’s health status. And what does it say? Quite simply put – that the person is not adjudged to be a lunatic or otherwise declared to be of unsound mind. Really? Not even through a mandatory professional psychiatric evaluation? Haba, Nigeria!
I still recall that, as a prospective student seeking admission into a unity school in 1974, I was required to present a medical examination report from a government hospital. Also, as a JAMBite five years later, I was requested to go for medicals at my university’s medical centre. And of course, I couldn’t have secured my present employment in the civil service without satisfying a similar condition. It is also common knowledge that this is equally applicable in reputable private sector organisations. So, how come students and workers in Nigeria are required to compulsorily undergo medical examinations to ascertain their fitness for the tasks ahead whereas no such condition is listed for a prospective occupant of the highest and most prestigious office in the land? Have Nigerians opted to remain this naïve or are we indeed a cursed people?
Even in the twilight of military dictatorship in this country, it was mostly a handover of power from one sick leader to the other. In short, of the seven Nigerian heads of government that have so far taken up residence in the Aso Rock Villa since General Ibrahim Babangida hurriedly relocated the seat of power from Lagos in 1991(after a serious jolt from the Major Gideon Orkar-led coup the previous year), only General Abubakar Abdulsalami and Dr Goodluck Jonathan had stepped in there looking healthy and also exited the place in seeming good health.
Babangida was already on record as having been seriously injured in 1969 when a battalion he led encountered heavy Biafran offensive during a reconnaissance operation somewhere between Enugu and Umuahia. He was said to have declined surgery to remove a bullet shrapnel from his knee. But several years later, while in the Villa, the self-styled Evil Genius was known to have alternately travelled to France and Germany to seek medical relief. There were several pictures showing when he got stuck in-between strides with his trade mark gap-toothed smile failing to hide the agonies of a Nigerian military president. It was really pitiable, to say the least.
Next was his successor, late Gen. Sani Abacha, whom the then radical Tell magazine on September 8, 1997 reported as suffering from liver cirrhosis – a serious condition that often results to death. While Abacha’s secret police went after the magazine’s editor, Nosa Igiebor, and members of his household, The News, another dare-devil publication, picked up from where the former left off – reporting how medical experts were secretly flown in from Israel and Saudi Arabia to tend the nation’s seriously ailing but still pretentious generalissimo. Even marabouts from some North African countries were rumoured to have been brought in to pray for him. He reportedly died of suspected food poisoning in the hands of some young Indian belly dancers in 1998.
Abacha was succeeded by Abdulsalami whose administration is still reputed to be the second military regime (after Obasanjo’s in 1979) to successfully complete a transition process and hand over power to a civilian democracy in Nigeria. For want of a trusted person who would serve to assuage the Yoruba over Abiola’s death while in detention, Obasanjo was literally released from certain death (sorry, prison yard) by Abdulsalami to run for election on the ticket of the new Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), after the demise of Abacha who had incarcerated him for joining his NADECO Yoruba brethren to criticise the late general’s regime. Frankly speaking, and to those who knew him while he reigned as military head of state, Obasanjo was still a shadow of his former self when he moved into the Presidential Villa in 1999.
Then entered Alhaji Umar Yar’Adua and, a little later, General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) both of whose checkered medical stories we already know.
Now, with the 2023 General Elections fast approaching, there have been moves – even if still hazy – by individuals and groups touting the names of their political godfathers as promising presidential hopefuls. But I am seriously concerned that one or two of those names belong to persons who are already as old, sickly and looking worse than the incumbent president’s condition when he returned from his 50-day extended medical vacation in 2017. At that time, Buhari had looked rather too ghostlike that some Nigerians doubted their president and began to reconsider detained IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu’s Radio Biafra description of him as a surrogate Jubril from Sudan.
For me, and regardless of their professed leadership acumen, any seriously ailing Nigerian politician who conceals his affliction while campaigning to occupy the Aso Villa is like a confirmed HIV patient who opts to proceed on a raping spree. It is the height of corruption, criminality and wickedness.
Fellow Nigerians (yes, let me sound like them), there is no better time to wake up to this ugly reality than now. We’ve had it up to our neck. Thank you.

By: Ibelema Jumbo

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Opinion

 Electoral Bill: Why Buhari Withheld Assent

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On 21st December, 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari alarmingly declined assent to the long-awaited Electoral Act Amendment Bill through a letter to the President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila. From the tone of the memo, Buhari exuberantly, largely aligned with the Act amendments except the clauses that provided for mandatory direct primaries for all political parties.
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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Opinion

Stop This Begging Attitude

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Are Nigerians all turning to beggars? What is going on? At every institution, many public places, you see well-dressed men and women subtly begging for money. I went to a shopping mall for a business transaction recently and at the gate was a well-dressed, cheerful security guard who zealously ushered me into the compound. I wanted to park my car at one end of the compound but he insisted that I should go another direction which truly was more spacious. And in my mind I was like, “what a dutiful staff?”
He was not done yet. As soon as I switched off my car ignition and was about to open the door to come out, he rushed and did it, smiling from one side of his mouth to the other, offering unsolicited information and a guide on my whereabouts in the facility. I sincerely thanked him, hoping all the VIP treatment will not be a subtle way of begging for gratuity.
Behold, I was wrong. As I made to step into the building, he whispered “Madam, no forget the favour way l do you oo”. I had just encountered another corporate beggar. A day before, I had a bitter encounter with one, a pump attendant, at a petrol station who called me names for refusing to part with my hard-earned money. Having enquired about the well-being of my family, admired my car and showered all unasked encomium on me, he expected a monetary appreciation which was not forthcoming and the next thing I heard was “stingy woman”.
They are everywhere. At petrol stations, banks, offices, both public and private hotels, you see a lot of people begging while on duty. At the airport, train station and in practically all-important offices in the country, “anything for the boys, your boys dey loyal oo”, seems to have become part of the official language.
Of course, this shameful attitude did not start today but it has taken a more serious, disturbing dimension in recent times. Many people, particularly the security personnel, front desk officers, customer relations officers have turned their duty posts to begging offices. They would always blame the current economic downturn for their unbecoming attitude which cannot be totally true because, at least, they are working and earning salaries, no matter how little.
What about the millions of people who are jobless and have no means of livelihood? Have they all taken to the streets to beg?
One thinks it is a social malaise which has a lot to do with our ethical values. A lot of people in the country value money and other material things far and above integrity, self-respect and self-dignity. And so, they will do anything, no matter how shameful, to acquire them.
A teacher once made an analogy of two families, one has four members and the other was a family of 11 people. Both families were given N200,000 each to spend for a month. According to her, half way into the month, the family of four almost exhausted their money and could hardly pull through till the end while the other family of nine comfortably made do with the amount they had and even had some balance. What was their secret? Prioritisation and prudent management.
Therefore, it is not so much about how much we make through our salaries, begging and other means but how we manage the money. There is hardly anybody in the country today that is not feeling the economic bite and the only thing that will help everybody both the low- and high-income earners is to set their priorities right and learn how to live within their income instead of hoping on tips from some “big men and women” and doing all kinds of ridiculous things to attract their attention and the crumb. And we forget that the so-called big men most times also have loads of financial responsibilities.
On the national level, we also have to consider the damaging impact of official begging and do something about it. Obviously, taking little tips from people would make officials skimp on their responsibilities, thereby making some unscrupulous elements have their way, exposing the country to avoidable vulnerability.
It is, therefore, imperative we must begin to build a new ethos that places emphasis on self-respect and dignity of labour. As part of the country’s 60th Independence celebration, the National Ethics and Integrity Policy was launched. It contains the nation’s core values of Human Dignity, Voice and Participation, Patriotism, Personal Responsibilities, Integrity, National Unity and Professionalism. All these values and how they will be practised to make for a better country and more cordial relationship among the citizens are thoroughly spelt out.
For instance, section 4.5.2.5, talks about Honour under Integrity states, “We shall at all times maintain uprightness of character, personal integrity and pride in ourselves as individuals, as one community, and as one nation. Therefore, in all spheres of life, we shall do what is demanded by our common values and laws that we hold to be true, in accordance with our national identity and in accordance with the values enshrined in our national laws and practices as one country. As Nigerians, we shall stand up to challenge those vices that impede the pursuit of our existence with uprightness. We shall celebrate those Nigerians who are upright”.
But then the big questions are: how many Nigerians are aware of this policy? What efforts are being made to educate the citizens on these core values? We have the National Orientation Agency, the Ministry of Information at various tiers of government, what are they doing to educate people about this code of conduct so that the people internalise it and make it a true guide for the citizens,
It is not enough that time, energy and resources were spent in packaging the booklet, let adequate sensitisation be carried out, using the media, both conventional and social media and other means of communication to reach to people at every nook and cranny of the country because many Nigerians are losing it when it comes to integrity and the time to get them back on the right track is now.

By: Calista Ezeaku

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Opinion

Shape Of Things To Come

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In monitoring and surveillance activities, there are two abbreviations that are given priority attention, namely: STC and DEWS, which stand for Shape of Things to Come and Distant Early Warning Signs. From aviation, to health and security industries, shape of things to come and distant early warning system are taken seriously, with appropriate precautionary measures sought and put in place immediately such alert features. Whatever may be the nature of issues concerned, various activities and organisations put precautionary measures in place, and people given some orientation on how to respond to alert.
The Tide, Friday, January 7, 2022, Opinion: Page 9, “That Buhari’s Interview”, by Calista Ezeaku, contained more information than an average reader would grasp. A President’s interview with a television house is obviously not a domestic affair, hence there was a detection and comment about “a close-minded approach to serious national issues”. It was not enough also that someone would say: “From the economy, to insecurity, killings of innocent farmers by terrorists … and other sundry issues, President Buhari honoured his calling as a president who has nothing new to offer”.
It is needful to add that the task of managing affairs that affect millions of people demands that when such a manager has nothing new to offer, what would follow should be an honourable resignation from the task. With regards to the tenure and performance of Buhari, distant early warning signals had long been ignored, denied or distorted, such that one man’s interests can override and become more important than those of millions of people who must bear the brunts of political amnesia.
Management failures do not always arise from wrong decisions and policies, but more often from the intrigues and shenanigans hatched and padded into a management system by a cabal or sapiental authority are not answerable to the masses but always cause great harms for which they are rarely held accountable, nor would the big boss have the courage to dismiss or detach himself from such political parasites. The result of this system of political administration is the installation of weak institutions and structures.
This is why a public analyst would observe and say that “all the abuses of powers by the governors are possible because of the flawed electoral system in the country”. From the refusal to allow for a state police as a complement to the federal police, to the lethargy involved in introducing a fraud-free electoral process, there are parallel forces in government that would not allow leakages and flaws in the system to be closed or checked effectively.
When “administrative banditry” becomes institutionalised, the result would be the situation which we experience currently in Nigeria. Since this anomalous situation had been going on, long enough for more and more Nigerians to know the tricks, it would not be hard to predict the nature of mass reaction to the malpractices. Especially when each federating unit which should be independent and able to have state police and manage indigenous resources cannot be allowed to do so, it is easy to see the shape of things to come in the near future.
For the information of obtuse members of the Nigerian ruling elite and the groups or institutions that shield and protect them in their malpractices, there are glaring signals that the Nigerian masses are wiser now. Even if new tricks are introduced to create a semblance of change from the old system, that would not be enough to avert the shape of things to come. There was a distant early warning signal that the movement of cattle and herders Southwards was a ploy to pursue some hidden agenda.
To quote Mrs Ezeaku again: “It is also worrisome that in this age, the president still believes that establishment of grazing routes would solve the persistent problem of farmers-herders clashes in the country”. Rather than admit that there was a definite hostility against farming communities in Southern parts of Nigeria by herdsmen, President Buhari told American audience that the issue was a cultural one, rather than acts of terrorism. Check all the antics and shenanigans, from Ruga to the quest for allocation of land and huge donations to patrons of cattle business in Nigeria by the federal government, it is easy for anyone to see and read the “handwriting on the wall”.
To have a mindset that all Nigerians can be fooled and bamboozled all the time, would be to cultivate “a close-minded approach to serious national issues. The worsening state of insecurity in Nigeria requires a more broad-minded approach to address the challenge. Not a few Nigerians suspect a possible re-enactment of the Afghan/Taliban experience in Nigeria, whereby a section of our security forces can be described as complicit. General T. Y. Danjuma raised such alarm long ago.
Recently, a Nigerian professor was quoted as picking holes with the observance of New Year on the ground that it is associated with Christian calendar. The idea is that since Islam has a different calendar and new year, the Julian Calendar introduced in 46 B.C. by Julius Caesar, with 365 days in the year, should cease to be. The other alternative would be to recognise and observe the Islamic calendar alongside. Already, there is a similar move to make Friday a work-free day, like Sunday.
There are a few zealots and fanatics carrying these issues too far, to the extent of sponsoring terrorism as an act of proselytism, with recognition and implementation of Sharia law as a mission. This is where the influence of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) needs to be examined, to ensure that democracy and secularism are not placed in jeopardy.
There are glaring pitfalls which Nigeria must strive to avoid, if the nation must survive current challenges. There is a need to re-organise the security and intelligence organs of the nation, revisit the issue of the true federalism and ensure that no ethnic group or power bloc boasts of being Born to Rule. There is more to the glib talks about corruption than what we put emphasis on. To allow current imbalances and inequities to continue would be chaotic!

By: Bright Amirize

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

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