Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How Strong is Nigeria? By Lekan Obademi

NIGERIA as a country turned 52 on October 1, 2012 and while listening to the speech of President Goodluck Jonathan, he said “despite our many challenges, Nigeria still remains a strong country”. Immediately I heard this, my mind went to an independent survey among Nigerians that I did though informally in an attempt to sound out their views about their belief in the Nigeria Project and their wishes. The responses from those I spoke to was quite disturbing and I deduced from my interaction with my respondents that every legitimate attempt must be made by all and sundry to salvage Nigeria from becoming history. Unfortunately, most Nigerians no more belief in the Nigeria Project and concrete efforts must be made to check this trend, especially from the side of the government. I am of the belief that President Jonathan means well for this country but there are fundamental issues that we must confront.

Let us not deceive ourselves by claiming that Nigeria is still a strong country, yes we used to be a very strong country and can bounce back to being strong again if the right things are done by our leaders at all strata of governance both in the public and private sectors, but much more in the public sector. Before going further in this modest attempt of mine to contribute to strengthening our country, it is imperative for me to make my readers understand what qualifies a country as being strong because an understanding of this will automatically make people realise then what a weak or fragile country is.

A country is adjudged to be strong if the following subsists: a strong economy that is export oriented and not import dependent for basic needs, a strong, responsive and responsible political leadership or government, a significantly high number of people who belief in their country, a country where there is respect for the rule of law with good reward system and a country where there is relatively equitable distribution of income among many others. The truth is that all these are lacking in Nigeria after 52 years of independence and as such Nigeria cannot be said to be a strong country as it is today.

A recent report on Nigeria put the percentage of Nigerians living within the poverty bracket at 79 per cent despite the enormous money realised from the sale of crude oil and other exports in the last 40 years. In the last 35 years also, the government has shown a lack of genuine commitment to the welfare of Nigerians going by the level of looting of our commonwealth and flagrant display of opulence by people who have been at the helms of affairs of our country. In instances where some of these looters of our commonwealth have been apprehended, they have only been given a “slap on the wrist” as punishment. I think we need to learn how to punish those who steal public and private funds from countries like China, USA, Malaysia, Britain etc if we must make progress as a nation.
Growing up as a young boy in Nigeria, I still met the Nigeria Airways, Nigeria National Shipping Line, a fairly good rail system, many textile factories, tyre manufacturing firms, the Volkswagen of Nigeria assembly and a highly functional Peugeot Assembly Plant (PAN) etc but all the aforementioned have gone under except PAN that is struggling to pull along. Other indices to show that it is not yet well with our country is the high level of mistrust/distrust among Nigerians, poor health facilities, high unemployment, insecurity, bad roads, high exchange rate occasioned by faulty policies, programmes and reforms that have not been properly sequenced. The fact that Nigeria still imports a greater percentage of her petroleum products (petrol, kerosene, diesel), generate insufficient power are evidences that Nigeria is not yet a strong country. What then must be done for us to become strong and great? Here are my thoughts.

First and foremost, the people in government who are calling on Nigerians to make sacrifices and tighten up must lead by example. The excesses in government and among politicians should be checked. What political leaders collect as salaries and allowances in Nigeria are not realistic for a country that desires to become strong. In addition, those who steal public funds should be appropriately punished and their loots recovered and returned to the public treasury.

Secondly, those responsible for the senseless killing of their fellow countrymen should be apprehended and punished. A situation where Youth Corps members were killed and no one was held responsible is making people lose confidence in the one nation slogan. Thirdly, there must be a deliberate and massive reduction in recurrent expenditure while capital expenditure should be scaled upwards to make room for genuine productive employment. It is needful to mention also that the unguided influx of foreigners into Nigeria to take over jobs that can be done by Nigerians must be checked. In many countries of the world, government policies are made to guard against their citizens losing out with respect to the labour market opportunities. In Nigeria many foreigners do nasty things that they can neither try elsewhere nor in their country because there is no legal check on them and this must change.

Fourthly, Federal Government development projects and appointments should be evenly spread all over the six geo-political zones as against what has been witnessed in Nigeria in the last 35 years where projects are implemented and appointments based on tribal and ethnic bias.

Fifthly, deliberate attempts must be made to build a learning economy and as such our educational system must be resuscitated to be result oriented, hence the curriculum must be reworked to accommodate skills acquisition, vocational training and problem solving research. Knowledge as it were must be for solution and total enhancement of human welfare.

Lastly, though the task of building a strong Nigeria is a collective responsibility, the government must show genuine concern for the welfare of her citizens wherever they live like the American government does for her citizens and which has engendered an uncommon commitment of Americans to their country. Lest I forget, we may need to grant amnesty to past leaders who have secretly repented of the wrongs they did to this nation and who are ready to return their loots to the national treasury by opening an account with the Central Bank of Nigeria where such stolen monies can be returned.


Monday, April 23, 2012

A Nation and its Culture of Madness

These are unusual times in motherland, Nigeria. Things are just no longer at ease no matter how much we pretend to the contrary. Everywhere one looks, there seems to be frightening signs of lunacy all around. There seems to be madness everywhere and every time. The last time Her Excellency was around to ‘thank Lagosians’ at the Ocean View Restaurant, Victoria Island, Lagos, overzealous security men , whose attention was seriously needed in a certain of the country, were on hand to show Lagosians how not to say thank you. We are used to ‘powerful people’ spiting at us on a daily basis. Recently, we were trapped in a traffic log-jam for hours. It was so bad that nothing was moving. Nobody knew what was wrong. In the midst of the madness, there came the usually irritating noise of siren from the entourage of a ‘powerful man’. We were all amused because we were sure even the president would not be able to make his way through the crazy gridlock we were trapped in. How wrong we were! Like a scene from one of James Bond series, the security men on the entourage of the ‘powerful man’, in a fashion that looked like the biblical eyes of the needle riddle, riotously made a way for their principal to pass through the gridlock. And like the suckers that we have always been, the rest of us in the traffic were left bemoaning our fate.
Those that daily pass through the Lagos –Ibadan Expressway, Oshodi-Apapa Road among others, will surely be familiar with a new kind of madness in town known as the menace of trailers and tankers drivers. These are men who are above the law. Lords in their own special way. To further exhibit their newly found power, one of them recently crossed the Ibafo end of the Lagos –Ibadan Expressway with his tanker just because he had an issue with a commercial bus driver. Strangely, he abandoned the vehicle on the road for several minutes leaving behind an avoidable gridlock. We live in a strange country where madness has become an integral part of our daily routine. The sight of well dressed and seemingly educated men and women begging for as little as N20 is no longer unusual on our streets. These days is no longer strange for one to come across people who talk to themselves while walking. There are several sane madmen on the streets these days.
In the neighbourhood where I live, madness extends deep into the thick of the night. What with the irritating noise of generating sets of various shades? Where I live, your status is measured by the number of generating sets you have and how deep into the night you are able to put them on. When we were young, generating sets were quite alien to us. No one was in need of them. Those were the days when public power supply was stable and very predictable. Today, public institutions and corporations factor fuelling of generating sets into their annual budgets. At what cost you might want to ask? At a very enormous cost I will say.
In recent time, the National Assembly has become a good ground for students who are willing to research into the prevailing insanity across the country. Revelations from numerous public hearings organised by diverse committees of the National Assembly are enough to attest to the culture of madness currently pervading the land. The rate at which people that are entrusted with public fund breach the public code of ethic is one that can only take place in a land where insanity reigns supreme. We recently heard tales of public officials who kept cash going into billions of naira of public funds in their private homes. To further reinforce how deeply insane the society has become, one of them claimed she made the billions of naira found in her home selling bottled and ‘pure water’! Madness, Madness just everywhere. Recently, a 400 –seater Anglican Church building was donated by a construction firm, Gitto Construztioni Limited to Otuoke, hometown of President Goodluck Jonathan Nigeria contrary to public service code of conduct laws. Clergymen in the said church referred to anyone who criticized the gift as satanic. Presidential aides fall on each others to defend their principal. Today, many of those involved in the collapse of some banks and other financial institutions in the country are walking freely in the land. Yet, this is a country where thousands of less connected people are languishing in jails, across the country, for far lesser crimes.
Unfortunately, our children are beginning to be the direct ‘beneficiaries’ of several of our acts of madness. Not quite long ago, some holidaying teenagers coming from Enugu to Lagos were given a douse of the mental illness on prowl in the land. The luxurious bus conveying them to Lagos was reportedly attacked by hoodlums suspected to be armed robbers. When their assailants discovered that the passengers in the bus were school girls from whom they could get nothing, they vent their madness on the girls. The animals that we have become, these mad men reportedly raped the girls, most of whom were virgins, in a show of shame and undiluted insanity. How disgusting! Well, this is how low we have sunk as a people.
A nation that is built on falsehood and deception will continue to breed nutty and uncultured people. No matter how much we try to pretend, almost everywhere is rotten in the country. Even in religious places, where one expects a reasonable degree of uprightness, the story is not different. Pay a visit to government hospitals, where government spend a fortune to put in the right equipment and ensure the well being of medical workers, you will be amazed at the attitude of the workers there. On our roads the situation is not different. Everybody drives as if there are no rules governing traffic. Operators of the informal sector are not exempted from this culture of madness! If you have ever given your car to a mechanic to fix or you have had course to deal with plumbers, electricians, carpenters etc. you will understand the resourcefulness of the average Nigerian in cutting corners!
There is no point in passing the buck. We should stop the blaming game. If we are to fulfil our potentials as a nation, we have to collectively change our orientation. We have to change our value system. Everyone has to play his part well. The ruling class has a greater role to play in this respect. The way forward, is for every one of us to have a rethink. If some are building and others are pulling down, the building will definitely collapse. The political class has to eschew bitterness. No matter what happens, this is the only country that we can call our own. The major concern of those that rule us should be the good of the people. Politics, religion and ethnicity should not be used as platforms to divide us. It doesn’t matter where we are, we can get to where we ought to be if we are determined to build a new nation that will be the toast of coming generations. We can do it. We have the potentials. We have the resources. All we need is a strong resolve to start afresh.
source: pmnews

Friday, April 6, 2012

James Ibori conviction: Conspiracy against ourselves

THE conviction recently by a London’s Southwark Crown Court of ex-governor James Onanefe Ibori on charges of false age declaration, corruption, embezzlement and money laundering amounting to a sum ‘that could exceed $250,000,000’ (N40b) has brought to the fore the parlous state of our nation in relation to the menace of corruption. The conviction is without a doubt, a damning indictment and a mockery of our own justice delivery system that once pride itself as one of the best in the continent in terms of courage and transparency in the quality of justice dispensed. If eventually dispatched to prison come April as in all probability he would, the Ibori saga/case would perhaps qualify to find its way into the Guinness book of records where in a set of related cases a man, his wife, his mistress, his sister and his lawyer were all hauled into prison to serve substantial terms.

The fundamental concern of this piece however is the discernible irony in the entire saga that it took a mere crown court in a foreign country to bring these fellows to book in relation to grave felonies that were essentially committed in Nigeria after it became almost clear that the fabled long arm of the law in our country would be unable to hold these fellows to any account in relation to their heinous crimes. They were tried and convicted within a space of two years for the ancillary offences of false age declaration and daring to internationalize their criminality by way of money laundering whereas the Nigerian authorities and judicial system have for almost 10 years been helpless and sometimes complicit in relation to the principal and substantive crimes of perjury, stealing, treasury looting and corruption against these persons.

The irony is particularly underscored when one recalls the summary discharge of the same Ibori by the Federal High Court first sitting at Kaduna and then Asaba in relation to 170 counts charge of corruption, embezzlement and financial pillaging brought against Ibori by the EFCC upon the expiration of his second term in 2007. It was partly the acquittal Orders from these courts that Ibori through the now suspended SAN, and former AG Aondoakaa sought to employ as a bar whilst investigations were on-going in the UK.

By the conviction, the Southwark’s court, using the very ‘best evidence’ (confessional statement and admission in court from the felon himself ) would appear to have given an embarrassing lie to all the important decisions and verdicts of our own courts even at the highest level in relation to Mr Ibori’s proper status with the law, the criminal law inclusive. Mr Sasha Wass, the prosecutor was on point when he declared that Ibori has accepted that he was involved in : ‘wide-scale theft, fraud and corruption when he was governor of Delta State… Mr ibori tricked his way into public office. He had tricked the Nigerian Authorities and the Nigerian voters…’

Therefore assurances by the Nigerian Authorities soon after the conviction that Ibori would be made to face trial in Nigeria in relation to the principal offences after serving his term in the UK come across as a feeble afterthought and must ring hollow in the ears and minds the discerning. The Authorities will do well to demonstrate sufficient earnestness in the prosecution and conviction of the tens of the other Iboris still strutting our terrain whilst flaunting their ill-gotten wealth.

The issues arising from this saga are as varied as they are mind-blowing and troubling.

The anti-graft bodies and lately the NBA itself have severally been heard to lament the perceived collaborative and even conspiratorial roles of prominent lawyers and some judicial personnel in frustrating the prosecution and conviction of thieving officials.

These come in diverse forms: in the distressingly slow pace in which these matters are handled, the collaborative role of defence counsel in stalling these trials most times on mere technicality , the unjustifiably indulgent role of a judiciary that is yet to come to terms with the modern jurisprudential philosophy of discarding the form once the substance is clear and lately we hear of ‘consultants’(mostly senior lawyers and retired judges) whose specialty is to act as conduits for transfer of bribe money from litigants to presiding judges.

The sum total of this malaise is a near-total collapse of the subsector in relation to the quality of justice dispensed especially in corruption cases. A system that would spend billions of funds every year taking care of its legislators and other stakeholders at all levels in the guise of making and enforcing laws for ‘the peace, order and good government of the federation’ but is unable to concretely punish incorrigible but powerful felons who flout these costly and expensive laws with the rudest of impunity is a system that is certainly on a time bomb.

Every lawyer knows that even though the law is not common sense or even logic, the courts habitually employ the metaphor of ‘a reasonable man’s test’ in arriving at decisions. For it would be a sad day indeed when the law starts being at variance with common sense.

Therefore, if we take a cursory look at recent corruptions cases in our courts can we honestly declare to ourselves as dispassionate observers and using the self-same ‘reasonable man’s test’ that justice had been done or is being done or will even be done in 90% of these cases using the parameters of speed/delays, dubious plea bargains, use of technicalities, judicial indulgence etc.?

In this context we recall that even though the principal and substantive crimes in the Halliburton, Siemens and Securency scandals were perpetuated in Nigeria and whilst we are still shielding the powerful Nigerians that perpetuated them, the ancillary and inchoate offences have since been thoroughly prosecuted and culprits severely dealt with in the US, UK, Germany and Australia respectively.

We are similarly not likely to forget in a hurry the spectacular case of the ex-governor of Rivers state, (whom we are obliged to presume innocent by the combined effect of both our substantive and adjectival laws) who approached the courts soon after his tenure ended, asked for a perpetual injunction to restrain law enforcement agencies from investigating him under any guise or disguise. Strange as it seemed, a court in the land granted it. Thenceforth a law enforcement agent would only come near him on pains of standing in contempt of that court!

If a system cannot punish then obviously it cannot deter. If it cannot deter then it would certainly breed a culture of impunity. Certainty of punishment and not necessarily the severity is what deters. Where there is a culture of impunity especially in relation to official corruption most other remedial measures no matter how well- intentioned including the endless call on the masses of the people to make their sacrifices available for the good of all like the recent removal of petroleum subsidy would amount to ‘all labour lost’. Impunity would only give rise to many more Iboris who would syphon any real or imaginary gains of any such sacrifices to their private purposes . A society that allows its criminals to get away with their deeds is a society that lives to fight another day. For sooner or later it would take its toll on us all.

THE goal of every proceedings in a court of law is to achieve substantial justice in a tripartite whole, justice being in fact a holistic concept: justice for the accused, justice for the complainant and justice for the society/victims of crime. Hiding under long- discredited legal technicalities and other ill-motives to allow known criminals walk the street freely whilst depriving millions of fellow citizens their own right to life, meaningful life is certainly an out-moded notion of justice, if it ever qualified to be so called.

Consequently, some stakeholders notably the erstwhile Chair of the anti-graft body Farida Waziri, have posited that the best way out of the logjam is to remove graft cases from the regular courts where they must of necessity take their turns in courts that are already overcrowded and case-weary and file these cases in courts that are specially created for that purpose. The envisage salutary results would be speed, bite, specialization and overall efficiency. Indeed everywhere one turns, specialization seems to be the norm: the Federal Revenue Courts in time past, the refurbished National Industrial court, the Armed Robbery Tribunals, the present Election Petition Tribunals, the Rent Tribunals/courts, in some jurisdictions like south Africa, the Constitutional Courts and even the ICC established by the Rome statute of 1998 to specially try cases of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

We endlessly talk about creating ‘an enabling investment climate’. An investment climate can only exist within a proper legal framework where good laws are not only made but respected and enforced across board.

Again opinions are rift that Ibori found himself in this pickle precisely because there emerged a ‘pharaoh on the thrown who did not know Joseph’ and that if the late president who is rumoured to have been substantially bankrolled into office by Ibori had not died and Aondoakaa had tarried, the convict would still be walking this land a free man whilst flaunting with every swagger at his disposal his ill-gotten wealth. He therefore found himself in this predicament because he is simply not on the same page with the present powers that be.

A practice that has recently taken the toga of a subculture in this clime is that on rare occasions when courage has been demonstrated and some of these high profile suspects are arraigned on grave corruption charges, the next macabre spectacle you behold is a horde of ethnic, political and other loyalists storming the court’s premises in aso-ebi to protest their son’s/godfather’s/mentor’s innocence even before any opening speech by the prosecutor! One can indeed imagine the threat to the person of the judge or even orchestrated protests on the street/court premises if the proceedings at the Southwark court had occurred in Oghara or Asaba or Abuja or even elsewhere in the country.

Our reforms must start today if our goals of launching ourselves in the league of serious nations must be realized. The malaise is no doubt a systemic one and a bye product of failure of the entire governance mechanism in the country. The reforms must therefore be fundamental and structural. All pending Bills relating to the justice sector must be passed without further delay. White papers from commissions of Inquiry in relation to the justice subsector must be released and implemented. The EFCC must be overhauled. Creation of special courts to try corruption cases must by now be obvious to all as an idea whose time has come for purposes of speed, transparency, bite and efficiency.

Giving the grim reality it may well be in place to take a second and critical look at section 308 of the constitution. That nebulous section of doubtful constitutional/social value that shields certain office holders like the president his vice, governors and their deputies from prosecution whilst in office. Did anybody really have to wait for an Ibori to pillage the treasury and conceal his loots in all nooks, corners and crannies of the globe for 8 long years before moving in on him? It pretty looks like shutting the stable after the horse has bolted.

The NBA ought to be tired of shouting itself hoarse over influential colleagues who are known to have compromised its ethics in such fundamental and highly prejudicial ways as to bring the profession to ridicule and infamy. The NBA and indeed the legal profession cannot continue to act the toothless bull dog in relation to grave professional infractions by senior, well-connected and powerful colleagues only to be quick to wield the big stick against small fries in relation to trifling and inconsequential professional infractions. The NBA should go beyond sanctimonious platitudes and take precipitate and concrete steps against all its members involved in this unsavoury development in the justice subsector. The rules and extant statutes more than provide for what must be done.

As for the judiciary one can only commend the words of that pre-eminent jurist, Chukwudifu Oputa to the powers that be when he declared in his Magnum Opus In The Eyes Of The Law at page 12 that:

‘ ..Honesty and judicial rectitude are therefore the very minimal requirements of the judicial office. Less than that, no disciplined and responsible judiciary should accept; and less than that, no disciplined society should tolerate.’

Justice and the ability to do justice to all manner of men irrespective of position, political connections or stature remain the bedrock of countries we sometimes hate to love. A justice delivery system that is perceived as weak, corrupt and incompetent is anathema to progress and growth.

In recent times, the health subsector of the economy has been practically outsourced to well- equipped medical facilities in South Africa, Egypt, India, Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK especially for privileged Nigerians who can afford it. Brain drain from the academia is a byword amongst teaching staff. Nigerians would prefer to send their children abroad where they are sure of facilities and the quality of staff. The Ibori case may well signal the beginning of outsourcing our justice delivery to other countries to help prosecute and send to jail our powerful criminals on grounds that our justice delivery system is too weak, too compromised, too corrupt and therefore too unreliable to deal with our own criminals. Outsourcing our justice delivery system as we have done in the Ibori’s case is but a short step from outsourcing our law-making powers, the ultimate sign-post of sovereignty. There cannot possibly be a greater conspiracy against ourselves and a clearer evidence of a failed state than that. A time for action is clearly now if only to avert an evil prophesy that is already hovering over us like a sword of Damocles.

•Ehiwele is a Lagos-based legal practitioner

Source: guardiannews;  by Barth Ehiwele

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

State Police and a multi-ethnic Nigeria


If there is any quixotic issue that has generated an unending controversy in Nigeria in her 52 years of existence as a sovereign nation, it is the continued agitation for state police. Proponents and opponents have come up with brilliant reasons in pitching their tents either for or against this issue.

So far, the 1999 Constitution recognises only the federal police; this thus constitutionally empowers the Federal Government to have absolute control on policing in all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

The proponents strongly believe that citizens’ lives and properties would be better secured by state police. Obviously, this is likely to make them familiar with the people at the grass roots vis-à-vis their historical background, tradition and culture, leading to the effective policing, with the attendant security of life and property of the people.

On the other hand, those rooting for the retention of the federal police will be quick to argue that it is suicidal for Nigeria to introduce state police, considering the volatility associated with the use of religion as a means of achieving parochial interests by power-hungry politicians. Worse still is the crude and uncivilised winner-takes-all syndrome that has remained the hallmark of governance, irrespective of the political party in power in a state. They may cite Kogi State as an example, where one senatorial district has been lording it over the other two since the creation of the state in 1991. During the tenure of ex-Governor Ibrahim Idris whose administration was brought to an abrupt end by the Supreme Court on January 27, 2012, the workforce was 31,000; but out of this figure, the East Senatorial District had 26,000 (84 per cent), while the remaining two senatorial districts – West and Central – had 5,000 (16 per cent). For now, the predominantly Yoruba-speaking Okun people of the West Senatorial District and the Ebira/Ogori people of the Central Senatorial District wait to see if the new Governor Wada Idris will reverse the trend by giving the West and the Central senatorial districts a sense of belonging in the state.

Ordinarily, state police is not a bad idea in states that are peopled by one ethnic nationality and where there is religious tolerance such as Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti and Ogun states, all in the South-West. The same applies to the South-East geo-political zone comprising Anambra, Imo, Abia, Enugu and Ebonyi states, which are predominantly Igbo.

Considering the rampant threat to the unity of Nigeria, as exemplified by the wanton killing of Christians in some parts of the north by Boko Haram which currently threatens the unity of the country, having a state police may not be advisable; at least for now.

The of Oba Lagos, Rilwanu Akiolu, a retired Deputy Inspector-General of Police, when asked whether he would support state police in an interview in the Saturday PUNCH of March 19, 2011, seemed to suggest that Nigeria is not ripe politically for state police. He said: “Up till when I was Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Lokoja, I still believed and advocated that we should have one united, vibrant police force; but the event of modern Nigeria has proved otherwise. Most of the requirements of the police are not provided by the Federal Government. They are now being provided by state governments and, as the saying goes, ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune.’ I’m in full support of state police so that you know where you pump in your resources, but at the same time, it should not be used as a political weapon.”

There is no doubt that one important lesson could be drawn from the Oba’s response, and it has to do with the dire need to pay more attention to adequate equipping of the police by the Federal Government, instead of the present arrangement where the burden has been passed to the state governments and private individuals and corporate organisations.

The harrowing experience of helpless Nigerians and foreigners who often take refuge in police stations and barracks during upheavals and religious strife in some states can be understood if the control of police were to be left in the hands of state governors, especially where the Federal Government had declared state of emergency.

Since Nigeria has adopted the federal system of governance in the 1999 Constitution, and considering the fragile unity in our country, having a state police may be a catalyst for the disintegration of our nation.

Source: punchng

Tuesday, January 17, 2012



The Good people of Nigeria.

The Nigerian Bar Association Ikeja Branch strongly and unequivocally disassociates itself from the recent announcement of the suspension and truncation of the protest and strike of the Nigerian people against the hike in fuel price by the NLC/TUC. Even before Monday, the 9th day of January 2012, the Ikeja Bar had started a campaign against the said hike in line with the directives of the National Executive Committee meeting of the NBA held at Eket in November 2011. From the 9th till today the 16th January 2012, the Ikeja Bar was in the forefront of the protest against the fuel price hike using the platform of the organised labour as well as that of the Civil Society Groups whilst not losing our lawyers identity.

Much to our chagrin, grave disappointment and unimaginable shock, labour which had appeared seemingly resolute in the stand against the hike in fuel price suddenly capitulated, dramatically somersaulted and shamelessly backpedalled on the very popular stand that the pump price of PMS remains N65.

We make bold to say that the announcement by Labour that it has accepted the N97 per litre price of PMS as unilaterally fixed by the repressive Federal Government of Dr Jonathan is completely unacceptable to us. We consider the acceptance by Labour to be a betrayal of the masses of Nigerian people and an unholy compromise of the sovereignty of the people of Nigeria with a Government that has shown gross insensitivity to their needs, demands and yearnings.

Our position on this matter is that the Nigerian masses should ignore Labour and continue their peaceful opposition to the increase in the pump price of PMS. We have said it before that Government cannot be above the Governed since the former is the servant of the latter and the vast majority of the Nigerian people after listening to all manners of argument on the issue have remained resolute that pump price should remain at N65. We call on all other professional groups whether blue collar or white collar to join us in continuing the peaceful protest and resistance to the increase in pump price. Nigeria belongs to all of us and not only to the cabal and their cohorts in Government who believe that they have a monopoly of wisdom and are the Encyclopedia of knowledge. The blockade, the invasion and unlawful occupation of the Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Square Ojota and several parts of Lagos like Yaba, Ojuelegba, Palmgrove, Anthony and Maryland by military personnel and other security forces is unconstitutional, oppressive, obnoxious, abuse of power, reckless, provacative and a disturbing throw back to the fascism of the military years. Likewise, the tear gassing of our colleagues, Bamidele Aturu, Ebun Adegboruwa and other citizens this morning whilst in a peaceful procession along Ikorodu Road as well as the prevention of Femi Falana from accessing Gani Fawehinmi Park Ojota and the NLC Secretariat, Yaba by the military is equally unconstitutional and condemnable. Nigerains have a right to go to every part of Nigeria in peaceful assembly and without participation in any criminality. Both Sections 40 and 41 of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 supports this contention.

Finally, our passionate appeal is that the protest against increase in pump price MUST continue. N65 or nothing!



Sunday, January 15, 2012

Jonathan grapples with expanded protest agenda

By kunle fagbemi
President Goodluck Jonathan has not only united his opponents against himself in a way no president or head of state before him has done, he now faces the distinct possibility of either being impeached or swept away through a revolutionary wave of popular protests. From Lagos to Abuja, Ibadan to Kaduna, and in many other cities in Nigeria, West, North, East and South, hundreds of thousands of protesters stormed venues designated for rallies against the removal of what the Jonathan government described as fuel subsidy. The protests were both remarkable and eye-opening, not only for the revival of Fela’s music in Lagos, and its restoration to its place of genius and primacy as protest music, but also for the seething public disdain for government’s ineptitude.
The call for change was less strident in Abuja than in Lagos, but it was no less meaningful and poignant. From Femi Falana to Tunji Braithwaite, from Ganiat Fawehinmi (Gani’s widow) to Pastor Tunde Bakare, and to hundreds of well-to-do professionals, musicians, and Nollywood actors, the message was the same, as if by a prior consensus. Braithwaite and Falana put it very eloquently and forcefully that the protest had gone beyond the reversal of the fuel price to N65/litre. It was time to reclaim the people’s mandate so that power could reside with the people, they thundered. From one speaker to another, it was call for Jonathan to resign. If the call takes root, Jonathan may find himself fighting battles on three fronts – Boko Haram, fuel price hike, and calls for his resignation.
In Abuja, though rally speakers were more restrained in calling for the kind of revolutionary change that is sweeping through the minds and sentiments of the Lagos protesters, they left no one in doubt that their frustrations with the inertness of the Jonathan government were equally volatile and intense. There seems to be a sense of apprehension in both Lagos and Abuja that the Jonathan government had misread the mood of the moment, and might also have underestimated the anger of the people. Speakers drew attention to the government’s subsidy arithmetic and undermined its basic assumptions. They followed this up by pointing at the very many contradictions in the system, the decadence and laxity in government, and they then summed up their presentations by demanding the restoration of subsidy before any negotiations could take place.
The mere fact that the protest rallies were attended by mammoth crowds of the young and old, and male and female everywhere it held should underscore both their popularity and the depth of alienation in the system. The Jonathan government obviously failed to appreciate and measure the anger out on the streets. Many government officials reportedly poured scorn on analysts who condemned Jonathan for poorly timing the fuel subsidy measure. But it is now clear that the burgeoning menace of Boko Haram terrorism and the yet-to-abate Arab Spring have deeply influenced and inspired the Nigerian protests. Many speakers in some of the rallies made references to both Boko Haram, which is on the verge of instigating a civil or sectarian war, and the Arab Spring, from which the battle cry of Occupy Nigeria was coined.
If Jonathan heeds the House of Representatives motion asking the president to reverse the price hike, he may still be able to douse the incipient calls for his resignation. This is, however, only a possibility; it is not assured. But if he fails to take the window of opportunity opened by the Reps and decides to stick to his fuel subsidy plans, the call for his resignation or impeachment, which is still limited to whispers in many rallies, could start to blossom into non-negotiable calls for the fall of his government.
The massive protests have presented Jonathan two terrifying and unnerving dilemmas. First, if he fails to revert to the old fuel price, it seems clear he will not be able to govern well again or at least do it in an atmosphere of calm. He was really never in his elements even in time of no protests, what with series of goofs and gaffes. In times of crisis, he has even more difficulties. Worse, if the protests continue, his government may very well be swept away, for even now, the organisers are finding it difficult to keep a handle on the protesters who are yearning for a firmer and more assertive show of force. Second, if Jonathan reverts to the old price of petrol, the positions of members of his economic team would become untenable. The reason is that leading members of the team have sworn that without subsidy removal, the economy would crash. With the return of subsidy, it would sound contradictory to entrust the management of the economy into the hands of those who have concluded that the economy could not be salvaged without subsidy removal.
Just as no one could tell where the Arab Spring would lead when it began, it may be difficult on this first enthusiastic day to determine how it will all end for both the protesters and to the increasingly unpopular Jonathan government. It is, however, beyond doubt that the massiveness of the protest in some parts of the country showed the popularity of the cause. It is indeed a historical first to find Nigerians from all professions and from all corners of the country unite against an unpopular policy, and to some extent, an unpopular government. Jonathan has not inspired anyone; it is hard to see anyone inspired to defend him when the chips are down, for in the end, the people have drawn a line between Jonathan and democracy.

Protests Paralyse Nigerian Cities

Nigerian cities were groaing yesterday under a crushing weight of strikes, protests and rallies to force a reversal of petrol prices.

The protests were staged in more than 30 state capitals and towns.

Professionals, activists, workers, students, artisans and ordinary Nigerians hit the streets, carrying placards and singing anti-government songs. They heeded calls by the Nigeria labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), which asked workers to shun work indefinitely, in response to the sudden withdrawal of subsidy on petrol on January 1. The government’s action sent petrol price jumping from N65 per litre to between N138 and N200.

The government said the cash to be saved from the subsidy that has been withdrawn will go into infrastructure, jobs and diversification of the economy. Labour disagreed.

The seat of government in Abuja was grounded by the protesters who prevented government officials, including ministers, from getting to their offices. The rally was addressed by labour leaders.

In Kano, the protest was hijacked by hoodlums, who attempted to break into the Government House. In the ensuing melee, a 15-year-old boy was reportedly killed. Many others were injured, hit by stray bullets, it was learnt.

Four people, including three in Benin City and one in Lagos, died.

Two ex-governors - Balarabe Musa and Hamid Alli-led the protest in Kaduna.

Protests and rallies were held in Abeokuta, Minna, Ibadan, Ado-Ekiti, Osogbo, Awka, Enugu, Owerri, Port Harcourt, Makurdi, Bauchi and Gombe and Oyo, among other state capitals and cities.

Businesses were shut down in Lagos. Airports and seaports were grounded.

The economy lost billions of naira.

The Federal Government pleaded for peace, saying dialogue remains the best way to resolve the matter.

In Lagos, the Labour team took off from the NLC Secretariat in Yaba with a fairly large crowd, which grew as they trekked along, sensitising the people on the reason for the protest.

The team was led by NLC Deputy President Joe Ajaero. TUC President General Peter Esele was represented by Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI) President Sunday Olusoji Salako.

A Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) ambulance with registration number FST 564AA followed the crowd.

The crowd was massive but it was little compared to those already at the Gani Fawehinmi Park in Ojota, where the long walk terminated and speeches were delivered.

The Save Nigeria Group (SNG) organised the rally at the Gani Fawehinmi Park. The crowd gathered there as early as 8.00am.

They moved through Ojuelegba to Jibowu, Fadeyi and Palmgrove, where a group of hoodlums tried to cause trouble, pelting the protesters with stones and other objects. But they were prevented by the police who employed force to stop the protest from being hijacked.

Save for the face-off with the hoodlums, the police were civil as they accompanied the protesters.

The SNG team was led by Pastor Tunde Bakare, the vice presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in last year’s presidential election.

Apart from Bakare, there were pro-democracy activists, such as Lagos lawyer Femi Falana, activist Yinka Odumakin and Dr. Joe-Okei Odumakin, Chief Dele Momodu, elder statesman Tunji Braithwaite, Mrs Ganiat Fawehimmi and her son, Mohammed, among other activists. There were musicians and actors – its members. Femi Kuti, Seun Kuti, Wasiu Ayinde, Ras Kimono, Dede Mabiakwu and others.

The crowd was so large that it stretched as far as the Maryland Bridge.

Ajibola Wahid, a lawyer, could not understand why the government could not arrest its members.

“I am protesting because the government cannot punish us for its inability to arrest 41 Nigerians who are behind the subsidy rackets.”

There was a huge podium from where the leaders addressed the crowd. A big electricity generating set was installed. The protesters threatened to remain at the Park for days to come, should the government fail to revert petrol price to N65.

At a point, a helicopter hovered over the crowd of protesters. But they were unmoved.

Songs of Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was booming from the giant speakers and the crowd sang along.

Bakare said with or without subsidy, poor Nigerians would still lose out. He urged the government to tell the people how much the country is making from oil daily and make available the cost of daily production.

He said successive administrations paid for Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) of refineries with nothing to show for it.

“The problem is corruption. More than 70 per cent of Nigeria’s earning is spent on their salaries and emolument. The corruption has to be removed,” the pastor said.

Salako said he could not say how long it would take but he knew that the people’s will would prevail. He warned banks against opening during the protests.

To Ajaero, reversal to N65 per litre is not negotiable.

Lagos Lawyer Femi Falana, accompanied by his son Folarin, said the people are angry because successive administrations have denied them the benefits of democracy. He said if they resolved to revolt, nobody can stop the revolution. He insisted that the people have the right to protest, saying inspite of having to address protest rallies for over 35 years little had changed in the polity.

Elder-statesman and Second Republic presidential candidate Dr. Tunji Braithwaite said “the revolution has started” and it cannot be stopped”.

“We have been ruled for a long time by mosquitoes. It is not only about fuel price, what about corruption. This is going to be a mother of all revolution. We will re arrange our affair,” said the 76-year old lawyer.

The widow of the late activist, Chime Ubani, Ochuwa, also attended the rally.

There were also leaders of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and Air Transport Workers, among many others.

source: thenation newspaper