Debate is not enshrined in the Nigerian constitution or the electoral law in Nigeria. Even in the US where we adopted key aspects of our presidential democracy, debate is not sanctioned by law. However, since 1960, televised presidential debates have become a major staple of the electoral process in the US. It has been a veritable avenue for both party members and the unaffiliated undecided voters to cut through the clutter of campaign noise in order to choose their preferred candidates based on substance. In Nigeria, we are still grappling with the apparent lack of debates, especially presidential debates between flag bearers of political parties; whereas in the US, there are series of debates within the political parties even before the primary elections. Not only that, the same applies to other elective positions, including Senatorial, and Congressional seats, and the position of Governors and Mayors. Debates also create avenues for candidates to do battle based on their authenticity, the veracity of their individual policies; and their position in key national issues.
The importance of debates in the current electoral cycle was amplified by the Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) when he stated recently in Abuja, that they are essential to the election process and are increasingly regarded as a tradition and the bedrock of a healthy democracy. According to him, debates “embody fundamental principles which ensure that the citizens are informed and actively involved in leadership choices and decision-making. At this critical time in our country’s history, it is now more important than ever to nudge Nigerians towards informed voting choices that result in transformational leaders with the knowledge and understanding of the issues that will steer our country toward shared economic prosperity.” The lack of debates, since the advent of the current political era, has compelled the electorate in most cases to caste their votes blind for the full spectrum of elective positions. In fact, the amount of money spent since 1999 to maintain both houses of the national assembly is not commensurate to their legislative output, in terms of volume of bills passed, or the level at which they have been able to fulfil their oversight functions on MDAs to ensure that they are not operating as independent silos without accountability.
Due to the lack of debates, the electorate has voted stark illiterates as legislators, thereby denying constituencies and senatorial districts the required robust debate on the floor before certain bills are passed. As a consequence, the country has been plagued by a rubber stamp legislative arm like the current 9th Assembly, and various state Houses of Assembly. Recently, the anticipation of most Nigerians to listen, and to interrogate the presidential candidates of the frontline political parties was rewarded with partial disappointment when the Presidential Candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Armed Tinubu and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) counterpart, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar did not show up at the Townhall Series. The debate was organised by the Nigeria Electoral Debate Group (NEDG), Nigeria Economic Summit Group, Centre for Democracy and Development, and others.
Nigerians anticipated a robust debate among major contenders for the highest office in the land, but only Peter Obi of Labour Party, and Rabiu Kwankwaso, of the New Nigeria’s People Party made themselves available for the debate; even though the Presidential Candidate of PDP sent his running mate and Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa in his stead. That robust debate never happened, and from the stated position of the Bola Tinubu’s campaign, Nigerians may never have the opportunity to scrutinise the next likely occupant of Aso Rock.
In 2011, the current President availed himself for the presidential debate, and he lost the election. Sadly, he avoided the debates in 2015 and 2019, but won both elections; and the past seven years have seen Nigeria heading to the precipice in every sector. No Nigerian leader, even in the days of the Military, mismanaged our diversity the extent President Buhari has in the past seven years.
In 2015, Nigerians voted an unrepentant former dictator into office, a tribesman who has given more attention to cows than 200 million Nigerians in the past seven years. Since our forced marriage in 1914, and the horse trading that occurred behind closed doors, between the North and the British before our independence in 1960, there have always been religious and tribal fault lines, but the past crop of leaders even from the North were able to manage it. But President Buhari failed woefully in this regard. His body language and policies in the past seven years have transformed hitherto fault lines to gaping tribal and religious chasms that are now threatening to swallow up the country. In this electoral cycle, Nigerians deserve the opportunity to hear the candidates outline their progammmes, and how they intend to manage our economy, security, education, health, foreign policy, but most importantly, how they intend to manage our diversity.
In the US, political parties organise series of televised presidential debates bordering on key issues like the economy and foreign policy before party primaries. These series of debates go a long way to inform the American voter, especially voters who are unaffiliated to either the Democratic party, or the Republican Party such that, by the time the main debates come around voters are fully primed on what to look out for. The case is different in Nigeria even in 2022, where neither the APC, PDP, LP, NNPP, or any other party for that matter had debates before their various presidential primaries. Essentially, it means that we do not know these candidates the way we ought to. You may recall that during one of the APC’s presidential campaigns in 2015, candidate Muhammadu Buhari was quoted as saying that he was going to make $1 equal to N1, but today, that promise is considered a slip of tongue, or political misspeak. Therefore, going by this, almost everything a Nigerian politician says in the campaign trail is worth nothing. This is the reason why the current set of presidential candidates must be put on the spot in a debate setting to face the scrutiny of Nigerians. To be continued in our next edition.
By: Raphael Pepple
Averting More Hardship On Nigerians
Barring any last minute intervention, Nigerian workers under the aegis of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), will on Tuesday, October 3, down tools over the federal government’s failure to address excruciating suffering and socioeconomic hardships across the country, occasioned by the removal of subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), commonly known as petrol. Concerns have been raised over the frequency of labour strikes in the country and the fact that the previous strikes and protests hardly yield any positive results. Some people have observed that strike has become an easy way for the labour leaders to enrich themselves as they would suspend the strike as soon as the government greased their palms and left the workers, their followers to their fate.
Despite these, one would want to believe that the labour leaders cannot afford to dash the hope of millions of the citizens who look up to the labour unions to compel the authorities to sit up and take the necessary measures to bring the country and the citizens out of the current economic quagmire. A public analyst described Nigerians as “very nice and understanding people”. Perhaps that explains the quietness in the land, that despite the excruciating hardship, exacerbated by the floating of the Naira, removal of fuel subsidy and other economic policy so far put in place by the current government Nigerians – the poor, the middle class, the elite have remained cold. The youths are busy watching “Big Brother Naija” and seem to care little if the country is sinking or not.
So, Joe Ajero of the NLC and Alex Osifo of the TUC must restore the peoples’ trust and confidence in the unions, stand with the people and ensure that the strike yields positive results before it is called off. It has been four months since the unwanted pronouncement “fuel subsidy is gone” which has thrown the country into a severe energy crisis, ruptured the economy and made life hellish for the masses. Yet all the palliative measures promised by the federal government to cushion the effect of the removal are hardly seen. The buses to facilitate movement of government workers and other citizens are not there. The food items said to have been given to states to be distributed to the citizens are not within the reach of non-members of the ruling political parties in the states.
The free fall of Naira is unimaginable. It has passed the N1,000 rate against a dollar and there is no assurance that it will not get N1500 per dollar before the end of the year. Zimbabwe here we come. What about the scarcity of forex? People now pass through trauma getting foreign currencies to do their business, pay school fees, hospital bills and all that. One logical argument is that Nigeria’s woes predate Tinubu’s administration. That is a fact. But another undisputed fact is that Tinubu’s policies have worsened the situation. It is also true that the reason for having people in charge of institutions or entities is for them to direct the affairs of such bodies unto greatness and solve the problems that may arise.
Right from the time the debate on fuel subsidy removal was raging, some experts had warned that any policies that will throw the country into an energy crisis would have a devastating effect on the nation since everything in the country revolves around crude oil/ energy but little attention was paid to them. Nigerians rather believed the side of the story that stated that the cost of maintaining the subsidy was putting a serious strain on the country’s budget, and that removing the subsidy could free up funds for other critical sectors, such as healthcare, education, and infrastructure. Today, the country knows better. Has it not dawn on all and sundry that reliable and affordable energy is essential for the development of the country and well-being of citizens; that stable and secure energy supply is essential for economic activities, industrial production, and the functioning of critical infrastructure in the country; that fluctuations in energy availability or price volatility can directly impact Nigeria’s economic stability and that energy disruptions can lead to production slowdowns, increased costs, and economic downturns?
Therefore, the sooner the subsidy removal policy and the likes are reviewed with the aim of reversing the unworkable ones or introducing policies to stabilise things in the country, the better. The leadership of the country just has to find a way around these issues. It is a quality of good leadership not weakness to backtrack when a policy is not working or is causing more harm than good. And what better solution is needed at this precarious time than making the nation’s refineries functional. This has become the song of many concerned Nigerians including the labour unions. The refineries should be made to work as quickly as possible and new ones built so that the exportation of crude only to bring it back as a refined product must stop. In the international market crude oil is getting to $100 per barrel. Nigeria should be happy about it just like other oil producing countries instead of facing increasing hardship internally.
The current administration must do everything possible to meet the demands of the workers so that the proposed indefinite strike does not shut down the system. President Tinubu should personally meet with labour leaders and tell them the truth about the state of the nation and the measures he intends to take to pull the country out of the woods. In the past few days, the presidency has fed Nigerians with many lies – Tinubu is the first African leader to ring the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations (NASDAQ) bell, the United Arab Emirate (UAE) has lifted the visa ban on Nigeria and all that. Only for them to retract the information and say they were not true. Too bad. Government for once, should be open to the citizens. As noted earlier, Nigerians have the reputation of being good and understanding citizens. If they know the truth and see the sincerity of the leaders to make things right, they will be willing to tighten their belts for the betterment of the country.
But let the leaders both the president, the vice president, governors and their deputies, federal and state lawmakers, ministers and all those in government lead by example. You cannot tell the people to tighten their belts when they see you every time you loosen yours. The cost of governance and the cost of opulence in government must be reduced. As a matter of fact, many people had expected Tinubu to pick up Steve Orosanya’s report and merge some ministries, agencies and departments and have a lean and workable government. But the contrary is what we see. He has exceeded the constitutional requirement of 36 ministers. We now have 48 ministers and still counting with numerous Special Assistants, advisers and the likes. Must everybody be in government at the same time? If the system is working, political appointments and politics will not be seen as the ultimate because people will profit from any other thing they do.
To whom much is given, much is expected. The position of Tinubu as the president has just been further solidified by the presidential election petition tribunal. He has gone to the United Nations General Assembly and other countries to woo investors to Nigeria. It is time for him to sit down and draw a clear, workable roadmap on how to deal with the numerous challenges in the country so that investors will find the country attractive. The issue of corruption and insecurity across the country, economic hardship must top the list. All the states in the country have their unique endowments. It is time for the state governors to maximise these potentials so as to raise the economy of their domain instead of some of them folding their hands and waiting for monthly federal allocations. The states must be the drivers of Nigeria’s economy as it is seen in many countries of the world. It is said that he that seeks equity must come to equity with clean hands. Nigeria cannot be good as desired if all Nigerians at our various spheres of influence do not shun corruption and imbibe integrity. Patience and understanding are also required from the citizens knowing that what has taken a long time to destroy cannot be restored in a day.
By: Calista Ezeaku
Revisiting Animosities In Universities
That a criminal charge of sexual harassment against a Professor of Microbiology, ended in an acquittal, should not be a surprise to anyone. Section 353 of the Criminal Code Act would classify sexual harassment of a female student as indecent assault, while Section 367 deals with rape, defined as forcing a female of any age into the sex act without her consent, or inducing such consent by threat. In 1963, a female witness for a defendant told late magistrate Herbert Nwazota, that an unwilling woman would hardly be raped, because “her shouts and aggression would be such that the rapist cannot continue”. Similarly, such case of rape or harassment would be reported immediately, which is a vital point in the evidence concerning such matter. But when complaint about such assault comes a long time after, there is the possibility of an after-thought, or someone instigating the report, with a possible malicious intention to get even with someone. An alleged act done in a secret place, with no third party as an independent witness, would hardly hold water in a court.
Considering the level of animosities prevalent in Nigerian universities, it is possible that the Microbiology Professor acquitted by a court recently, may be a victim of a toxic academic environment. When a professor’s monthly salary was about N10,000, the academic environment was not what it became with current salary structure. Rot in the university system came in tandem with the gross devaluation of the Naira. Many lecturers moved out of the country as job satisfaction, productivity and integrity became rare values in Nigeria. As PhD became an acronym for “pull him down” syndrome, Nigerian universities became a toxic environment. In world-class universities, highly experienced and dedicated lecturers could become professors even with first degree certificates, but in Nigeria no one becomes a professor without a PhD degree. The result of this policy was that becoming a professor was characterised by fraud, chicanery, duplicity and malpractices, especially since one would retire with professorial salary as pension. It is quite human that nobody would want to slave himself to death for a system which does not reward diligence, hard work and dedication to duty. In the words of late Captain Elechi Amadi, Nigeria does not place value on naked honesty, hard work and personal sacrifices. But flattery pays!
Animosities in Nigerian universities started building up between 1974 and 1995, when strikes, “sorting” and other malpractices became more common. Military politics had a share in much of the rot in universities, as some female students with strong relationships with military officers could elevate or destroy lecturers. Through connections or calumnies, the process of elevation or destruction could make or mar any lecturer. The result of this trend was the use of female students to make connections and get contracts and appointments. Some lecturers became millionaires! The process of acquisition of university certificates is like anything else in Nigeria, characterised by malpractices and the ability to get away with serious pranks, so long as one has some connections in appropriate quarters. There were also situations where highly-placed moneybags and men of timbre and calibre would register in universities, attend lectures at their own convenience and let money and good relationship provide certificates that they have no need for, except for adornment purposes. Thus ego, meanness, envy and pettiness flourished among lecturers.
Sadly, the relationships between rich and high calibre students and lecturers resulted in using students to rubbish the reputation of some lecturers, especially those considered to be “too strict and rigid”. Also, between 1974 and 1985, cult phenomenon became more prevalent in universities as well as increasing cases of examination malpractices. Decree No. 20 of 1984 had to be promulgated to deal with examination offences in universities. Similarly, Decree No. 47 of 1989, was made to address campus cultism, as different from offences against public order and unlawful assembly. Statistics of campus cultism indicated that a large number of those who faced student disciplinary committee were children of highly-placed parents in society, especially children who grew up in barracks. Similarly, female students who reported high cases of sexual harassment against lecturers, were those who were most irregular in class attendance. Thus, cases of “sorting”, sexual harassment and other allegations about malpractices, were linked with poor examination performances and irregularity in class.
Cases of plagiarism and book piracy were also found to be linked with scramble to become professors, of which soured relationships between some students and lecturers, were traced to malpractices in publications. There were particular cases where female students who had little respect for lecturers they knew to be fraudulent coined such appellations like “Professors of Otularingology” spelling of medical specialists in ear-nose-and-throat discipline was deliberately altered for the purpose of this sly prank. There were also other derogatory names for various category of lecturers. Hypocrisy flourished! What is really disturbing about animosities in the universities, is the role of some Vice Chancellors in some campuses. There are some vice chancellors who adopt divisive strategies as ready tools of administering the campus environment. Either they surround themselves with boot-lickers and tale-bearers, some factions of student-cultists, or members of their religion or ethnicity. Thus, formation of cliques in universities is one major cause of division and animosities in the universities. This also goes along with listening to gossips, especially coming from female students against some lecturers who are not in the good book of vice chancellors.
Thus, the culture of collegiality gives way to paternalism and possible witch-hunt of perceived suspected rivals of vice chancellors or ill-disposed staff. The level of fascism in some Nigerian universities is unbelievable but real, and sometimes religion is used for divisive and surveillance purposes. In situations of divisiveness, prejudice and animosities, promotions can be selective and unfair, in spite of the fact that assessments for staff promotion is handled by a committee. There are also many interest groups whose purposes range from playing some advocacy roles, to serving as lobbyists and informants. There are lecturers who are more of politicians and would hardly be there to teach and supervise their students, but would spend lots of times with power-holders. Also, there has been some strained relationship between academic and non-academic staff in the university system, arising from many factors. While this is no attempt to condemn one’s constituency, the vital issue is that there is professional envy and animosities in universities. Sexual harassment is a ready tool to get even with rivals.
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.
A. I. are abbreviations for Artificial Intelligence, but it would not be enough to define artificial intelligence as the study of how to make computers do things which human beings can do; there is a need to describe A.1. Culture as a creeping darkness. A. I. Culture has advanced to such a sophistical level that humans, rather than computers, are becoming puppets, subservient to artificiality. Perhaps, unwittingly humans may surrender their personal volition and independence to artificially created intellectual monsters. The concepts of mastermind, artificial intelligence, robotics, altered state of consciousness, etc, have been fields of research activities, whose consequences do not begin and end with those engaged in them alone. In the recent times, fall-outs from such research activities have caused some panic here and there, without the full details of such projects being known to unsuspecting public. So far, speculations and opinions about Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and COVID-19 Pandemic, have died always, without the details all known to the public.
Obviously there have been various research projects of very sensitive nature and involving studies in virological and brain substances. At the end of the day, whether the results of such activities are published or not, there are often some aspects of high-stake research works that have far-reaching consequences. No matter the level of supervision and security provisions, a number of research projects have resulted in widespread poisoning of human environments and injuries which are not physically verifiable. Thus are a large number of unsuspecting people exposed to various chemicals and radiations dangerous to humans. With particular respect to research projects in artificial intelligence, there is little need to warn that there are lots of implications, ranging from security to sanity. Human brain has been abused grossly in the process of ascertaining what it is capable of doing, so that computers can be programmed to do those things the brain is capable of. Strategies used by various authorities and agencies to subject humans to such experiments are as unbelievable as they are shrouded in secrecy. Purposes of such research experiments range from economic to military power, of which less than ten percent of the realities are known to the public.
Be it for monetary, military or ego purposes, few of the available information on artificial intelligence create the impression that AI culture has become a cult. It is described as a cult in the sense that there is a definite tendency towards modifying human genetic structure, albeit surreptitiously. Under the commercial services of artificial intelligence, promoters of e-trading and wealth-creation entrepreneur organise training programmes on how participants can become millionaires by the magic of AI. There may be nothing wrong with wealth creation. The cleverness and ruthlessness of artificial intelligence include the fact that it serves without compunction, feeling or conscience, like a human being would exhibit. Thus while one man smiles to the bank as a millionaire; thousands of unsuspecting participants in the cult system grow poor, with expectation to win in the next round of gambling. Like a gambling system, those trapped in the wheel of the artificial intelligence culture, would have to choose between enlarging the network of customers, or forfeiting their investment. The system is so programmed that a vicious circle is created, leaving no option for those trapped therein.
Another aspect of the viciousness of the artificial intelligence culture is the gross diminution of the humanity of the individual participants, whereby they become subservient to an impersonal cult system. The difference between a human being and animals or artificial mechanism, is the personal volition that man is endowed with, which also gives him the freedom to make personal choices and decisions. But a situation where an individual subjects himself to the control of an artificial intelligence, under whatever guise or reason, then he deprives himself of that humanity which makes him a human being. Artificial intelligence and those held captive therein, are described as an impersonal cult system, because, the individual surrenders his personal volition to an impersonal entity, under the guise of being served by the wonders of intellectual science. Advocates and votaries of artificial intelligence would boast that humanity has arrived at the apex of development, where robots replace humans in every service. We are told that cars can be driven by robots in such a way that no accident can occur, and that men can have such partners that would do everything for them, without any refusal or nagging that can cause hypertension.
There is even the claim that governance can be delegated to robots that would not steal or loot public funds or engage in corrupt practices. Thus, there is the admission of gross failures by humans which the artificial intelligence culture would eliminate, by taking over the functions and services of imperfect human beings. What a wonderful level of technological development where the artificial products of human brain would become perfect and better performers than humans! While spirited competitions rage among developed nations in research projects towards creating maximum comfort and security for humans, developing countries usually serve as ready markets and poaching territories for raw materials and cheap collaborators. Once upon a time it was suspected that African children were good enough to serve as guinea-pigs for the testing of various drugs manufactured in developed countries. There had also been some allegations about secret population-reduction moves, aimed at checking production of babies like rabbits. Perhaps proliferation of arms and light weapons in developing countries may be an alternative strategy.
“Trovan” controversy may have come and gone, and drug producers would not want to face any litigations or allegations of testing their drugs on African children. But, the artificial intelligence culture is not being propagated by developing countries, rather, like “Smart phones”, developing countries provide large markets. The process of marketing of wonder-products manufactured in developed countries, usually aim at developing nations for consumers. So also is the wealth creation campaign whereby artificial brains are deployed for quick services.All said and done, the body-language of the artificial intelligence culture is a message that humanity is drifting towards a state of languor. The trappings and glamour of AI culture are a part of the tentacles of a global virus which seeks to narcotise humanity. The trend is to install an artificial monster that humans would bow to. There is a need for Nigerian Intelligence Services to pry into the circulation of robotics in Nigeria.
By: Bright Amirize
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer from the Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.
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