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Information Minister, Lai Mohammed

But for his being a minister in President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet, Lai Mohammed, the once vociferous opposition spokesperson while the Peoples Democratic Party held Aso Villa, would have sent out a press release before close of business yesterday, ripping president Buhari into shreds and reminding Nigerians why it is dangerous to keep tolerating the ruling party.

Assume, for a moment, that this President was of the PDP – or another party called Change Is Coming (CIC)- and Mr Mohammed’s All Progressives Congress was still in opposition; hell would have been unleashed on the central government.

In driving narratives that cast the last administration as grossly incompetent, Lai Mohammed scored a distinction, daily getting under PDP and Jonathan’s skins, energizing the party’s critics and courting the interest of observers of Nigerian politics. Mr Mohammed was a good opposition spokesperson. I think he should have remained just that.

But the president his crushing propaganda machine helped install, in a fit of political reciprocity, pulled him out of the APC’s media unit and elevated him to a position far beyond his capacity. He is completely out of his depth, with countless flip-flops, barefaced lies and, sometimes, even blunt refusal to address issues of transparency and accountability in his own Ministry. In Lai Mohammed’s failure, we confirm the Peter Principle at work.

So what is the issue of the day? The Buhari-led Federal Government was to flag-off the clean-up of Ogoniland, following an Environmental Assessment of the place, conducted by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the report of which was submitted to the government in 2011 when, ironically, Goodluck Jonathan, a son of Bayelsa state, next door neighbour to Rivers, the state within which Ogoni-land is located, was Nigeria’s president. And for context, it was only in October 1996, 20 years ago, that Bayelsa state was created from Rivers. By September 1996, Jonathan was still an indigene of Rivers state. So, as we say in Nigeria, Jonathan is a son of the Ogoni soil.

The UNEP report was damning, stating that vast areas in Ogoniland are unsafe for human habitation due to oil pollution. In his foreword, Achim Steiner, the UNEP Executive Director stated, ‘’ The findings in the report underline that there are, in a significant number of locations, serious threats to human health from contaminated drinking water to concerns over the viability and productivity of ecosystems. In addition, that pollution has perhaps gone further and penetrated deeper than many may have previously supposed.’’ In one instance, the report said, ‘Pollution of soil by petroleum hydrocarbons in Ogoniland is extensive in land areas, sediments and swampland.’

It is instructive, that a report of this magnitude, which highlighted the danger such a polluted environment posed to thousands of residents in the various communities within Ogoniland was ignored by the Jonathan administration. That neglect is as inexplicable as it is inexcusable. But that is vintage Jonathan. It has since emerged that he ran a government without a head for thinking and a heart for feeling.

Enter Muhammadu Buhari. The choice of taking up such project within his first year in office hinted at empathy for a people long embroiled in the struggle for safe environment. Environmental pollution in Ogoniland dates back many decades. At one point, it attracted global attention after the face of the struggle for a better deal for the people, Ken Saro-Wiwa, got hanged on trumped up charges by the then maximum ruler, Sani Abacha. This history is why yesterday’s flag-off was important. Many had died for the cause. And the presence of the president there would have underscored its symbolism. But the president managed to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory, cancelling the scheduled visit on the day of the event and leaving his many supporters embarrassed. A president long seen as clannish by some sections of the country botched an opportunity to personally reach out to one of the sections which thinks the man does not quite like them.

So here’s a typical press statement from Lai Mohammed if he was still the opposition spokesperson. Note that the ruling party here is a hypothetical party called Change Is Coming (CIC):

‘’APC: Buhari’s botched Ogoniland trip shows Govt’s failure to unite the country’’

The All Progressives Congress (APC) has accused President Muhammadu Buhari and his Change Is Coming (CIC) party of failing to unite a fractured country and demonstrating so with his aborted trip to Ogoniland for the flag-off of the clean-up of the community.

In a statement made available to newsmen yesterday in Lagos by the its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said just as President Buhari had bungled the opportunity to demonstrate diversity in the appointment of his kitchen cabinet, the president and his Change Is Coming party ‘have also demonstrated amazing insensitivity in handling matters of the Niger-Delta’.

It added: ‘With this 11th-hour decision to withhold his presence from a hugely significant event, President Buhari has deepened the widely held suspicion by certain sections of the country that the he is clannish and sectional.’

APC said to worsen matters, the President and his party did not deem it necessary to quickly inform Nigerians through official channels the reason for the late-minute abortion of his visit to the epochal event.

The party drew a parallel with the president’s cancellation of a similar trip to Lagos state a fortnight ago, for the commissioning of projects completed by the state governor, Akinwumi Ambode. ‘A pattern is gradually emerging in the Buhari administration wherein the president abruptly cancels state functions in which his presence is required and his visit initially scheduled and widely publicized. Worse still, the announcement comes at the last minute, and often without cogent reasons.’

The party said the president has made his originally incompetent aides appear confused as they weren’t armed with sound reason for the cancellation of the trip and therefore could not send out official communication to that effect.

‘This decision, to stay away from the symbolic flag-off of the clean-up exercise shows again the President’s lack of understanding of how best to manage perception in a country as diverse as ours. His presence would have sent a strong message of love and unity to the rest of the country and assuage the fears of many in the regions where the cry of marginalization is loudest. Now, a visit that would have attracted him enormous political goodwill and help the people forget his divisive 97% Vs 5% votes gaffe on international media, was shelved without even the courtesy of formally informing Nigerians early enough. Clearly, a president that is demonstrably averse to success has once again snatched defeat right from the jaws of victory!’

‘But that is true to character of the Buhari and CIC administration. They’ve been tall on rigidity and short on flexibility. From foreign exchange policy to petrol subsidy regime, the president has paid deaf ears to the wisdom of the market, he’s rather advancing a bizarre and failed command and control economic regime that ties the economic fate of 170 million citizens to his whims. The result of that is that in just one year after taking the reins, Nigeria totters on the brink of economic recession, the worst in three decades, snatching jobs out of the hands of millions of Nigerians, shooting inflation to over 13%, stifling manufacturing and contracting citizens’ disposable income. First is that the administration has failed in providing the 3 million jobs it promised within its first year in office. Now it has added to the mass of unemployed Nigerians; hundreds of thousands of people who were working before now, but got laid off because the president simply failed to advance an economic direction’.

The party said even in the seemingly embarrassing situation in which the administration has found itself, it could still make amends “by immediately packaging a presidential visit to Ogoniland that would only be announced after the President must have gone and come back”, instead of one in which the President’s men leaked the trip to the world in the hope of gaining mileage, only to reap opprobrium when the trip was cancelled…..and then blame everyone but themselves!

It also advised the president to stop the application of antiquated economic policies that will not work, assemble a team of sound economic experts and listen to their wise counsel, as such is the only guarantee of recovery from the economic mess which ‘the president’s rigidity has thrown the country into’.

END

Alhaji Lai Mohammed
National Publicity Secretary
All Progressives Congress (APC)
Lagos, June 3rd 2016

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Follow Chinedu Ekeke on twitter as @Nedunaija

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In 2013, HelpAge International, a London-based non-profit organisation at the forefront of advocating for old people’s welfare, published a ground-breaking report titled the Global AgeWatch Index. Developed from international data-sets drawn from the United Nations, World Bank, World Health Organisation and others, the Global AgeWatch Index ranked countries according to the social and economic wellbeing of old people in each country. In the report, countries where old people fared quite well – that is – countries where treatment of old people came closest to the ideal – occupied the top slots. Of the 91 countries surveyed, Nigeria ranked 85, beating only six other countries, last of which was, you guessed right, Afghanistan! Sweden, Norway and Germany took the first, second and third positions respectively, while the likes of Canada, USA and United Kingdom fell within the top 15.

It is difficult being a senior citizen in Nigeria, a country with zero social safety net for old people. Yet by 2056, every 25-year-old today would have clocked 65, the official retirement age in Nigeria. By that year, there would have been more than 215 million people in Africa aged 65 years. If you’re 25 or more this year, and if you beat the 53-years life expectancy in Nigeria, then by 2056, you’d have started being addressed as ‘Baba/Mama’ by outsiders and ‘Grandpa/Grandma’ by your children’s children.

To remember old age is to take note of the challenges that come with it. At sixty-five, you have a high chance of developing some chronic health condition, which will in turn shoot up health related bills. If you know any old person, then you may have heard them complain of one or a combination of these health issues: arthritis, rheumatism, diabetes, high blood pressure, glaucoma, cataract, osteoporosis and many more. The list is endless.  At that point, you also need to maintain a decent standard of living, needing to pay special attention to your diets, eating more of fruits and vegetables to build resistance against illnesses and diseases. In some cases, consuming lots of fruits and vegetables reduces the necessity for medications over time. You also want to age with dignity, being able to afford all your needs and not convert your children to your breadwinners in their own complex world of a possible reduced disposable income.

As the need to increase expenditure rises, your capacity to earn decreases. In old age, you are either no longer working or you are just working little – as your strength can carry you – with its attendant reduction in income. You will be needing most money at a time you are only able to make the least of it. This means the only time to take care of that future is now, when you are still young, strong and less prone to ailments that will limit your capacity to earn.

But how many people think there’s a need to save for their old age? Not much. And we have statistics to prove this. By the end of March this year, only 7.01 million Nigerians have registered with the Nigerian Contributory Pensions Scheme, a social safety programme aimed at catering for the retirement needs of workers. The law establishing the pension scheme, called the Pensions Reform Act 2014, mandated employers in the formal sector to also make contributions for each of their employees, making available same percentage (or even more) as the worker, into the worker’s Retirement Savings Account. But so far, only 6.9% of the total labour force in Nigeria has enlisted to the scheme. In context, if you take a 2011 figure by the National Planning Commission, that 51.1m Nigerians were employed, then 7.01m of 51.1m is just about 14%. Getting a more recent employment data from the National Bureau of Statistics was difficult, but if I’d gotten, the number of employed Nigerians would reasonably have been higher than 51 million; in which case the 14% figure would have been less. In simple terms, only very few people save for their old age needs.

If those in the formal sector have not bothered about saving for their old age needs, then imagine what it is like in the informal sector, which constitutes 70% of Nigeria’s working population. Who is having a conversation about the bus driver’s needs, the barber, the vulcanizer, the mechanic, the electrician, the hairdresser, the tailor, and vast majority of players in the informal sector who have zilch knowledge of the contributory pension scheme? Worse still, they may not be able read this essay, either because they are not educated enough, or the educated ones among them have stopped reading since they no longer face exams, or because the essay may not even get to them.

If we imagine it – the reluctance of the informed young person to plan for his retirement needs and the ignorance of his fellows working in the informal sector – then the reality of old age poverty in Nigeria becomes inevitable. A vast majority of Nigerians will fall into old age poverty if we don’t change the course of things as they stand.

But it’s not entirely a hopeless situation. If you are in the formal sector, and you haven’t started making contributions towards your old age, then you should start today, now. Look for Pension Funds Administrators in Nigeria (actually, just a bit of a google search will give you the answer) and inform the HR and Accounts units of your organisation that you want them to start making monthly contributions to your Pension Savings Account. That also means the company (your employer) will start making their own contributions (which should be 10% of your salary, but not deducted from your salary. It’s simply an amount from your employer that is worth ten percent of your salary.)

Right now, only 26 out of the 36 states have adopted the Pension Scheme and are at various stages of implementation.  And even in the states that adopted it, there are doubts that many of them still remit the contributions given Nigeria’s current economic quagmire. One would have expected the trade unions and the Nigerian Labour Congress to raise such questions and do well to put the erring state governments on their toes.

For those in the informal sector, PenCom has some good news. By the way, PenCom is National Pension Commission, the body that regulates pension operations in Nigeria. The regulatory body has concluded plans to roll out what it calls Micro Pensions, a long-term financial plan for the provision of pension coverage to organisations with less than 3 employees (the current pension law captured only organisations with 3 employees and above) as well as players in the informal sector. The features of the Micro Pension scheme include flexibility in contributions, such that the typical player can conveniently save for his old age. The micro pension scheme will also make it easy for participants to make withdrawals even before retirement age.

People may nurse some fear about their savings disappearing at the point where they’ll be needing them. This fear, while valid, has been taken care of by PenCom’s institutional controls that limit the capacity of Pension Fund Administrators to fritter away pension savings. By the end of March this year, the total value of pension savings was N5.46trillion. Interestingly, government and investors have been seeking to access the funds for investments. But the stringent guidelines set by PenCom has prevented access to the funds. The pension regulatory body insists on safety of funds first, before returns. This is good news, and should assuage the fears of the people who may be concerned about the safety of their savings.

Sometimes it’s good to mind our business. Other times, it becomes a show of empathy to mind other people’s businesses. If you’ve understood the benefits of the contributory pension scheme, then consider sharing it with your family and friends. And you may want to pay more attention to those you know who operate in the informal sector. Some of them make money that they spend on frivolities now, when they can easily enrol in the contributory pension scheme and save up for their future.

Tell everyone you know to be ready, because Micro Pensions will kick off soon. Remind them that it is a duty they owe themselves: to prepare with their own hands an old age that will be spent with sufficient monthly income, as well as dignity.

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Chinedu Ekeke is on twitter as @Nedunaija

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Only if there is a country left for us
(for Chiedu Ezeanah) – By Obemata

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there are no days anymore, no sunshine, no daylight,
only nights filled with ghosts rapping the doors of our homes.
don’t ask me how it is going tonight.
it hurts to walk in the dark and for one ghost to trip me up.
i hear ghosts are mean- but, please, don’t whisper my name.

i suppose we didn’t bargain for these nights
darkening our sleeping quarters, emptying the hours of dreams
where nightmares lay their pillows and blankets of fear.
God, give us the strength to go through the nights.
our country is a deathbed- don’t lie on it.

nights inhabit nights, all things, and darken places-
there is no place to return daylight,
without darkness swallowing the day, without the nights revealing
themselves, blinding us with more nights, spreading fears
on the beds of the floors. if only there are days

i can draw the map of our country, skirt the borders,
only if there is a country left for us.

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don’t show me the river weeping towards the sea,
leaving bare sand where you distill memories
of the time you cast your fish net,
pushed your right leg to test the river’s depth.

don’t tell me this is the season of migration to the south,
season of trees losing their leaves, branches,
bitter woodpeckers pecking what’s left of bitter woods,
don’t point to the dead branch at the foot of a dead tree.

don’t gather your memories by the empty shoreline,
don’t push your right leg forward to measure the sand,
don’t point at the hills of fallen branches,
don’t show me those woodpeckers with bruised beaks,

this season is a barren woman; she isn’t hurrying to pass,
simply tell me how I can feed my wife and children.

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For one whose father was robbed of his pension, it’s a bit of an irony being an advocate of pensions these days. I took interest in the Nigerian Pensions regime recently, after years of refusing to acknowledge even my own Retirement Savings Account balance as a personal asset. Scared of having to emotionally invest in the money and later in old age lose it to the regular suspects, I mentally parked my 8% (initially 7.5%) pension contribution alongside my monthly Personal Income Tax: money that will never come back.

But my trust in the Pension administration got bolstered by a report I read in Vanguard where Mrs Chinelo Anohu-Amazu, head of the pension regulatory agency, the National Pension Commission (PenCom) minced no words in insisting that every laid out guideline must be met before Pension Fund Administrators can lend out Nigeria’s pension funds. She was responding to concerns, that 11 years after it took off, and with a balance in excess of N5.3 trillion, governments and investors have been unable to access the funds for the development of infrastructure. Among other interesting responses, Mrs Chinelo said; “If the PFAs per chance invest in something they ought not to have invested in, it would read on its radar that instant and they have two options; either to rescind the transaction or we will take our license back. Very simple.’’

The report said state governments who had been eyeing the huge funds for ‘investment in infrastructure’ were turned back by the Pension Fund Administrators who insisted that any state government desirous of accessing the funds for such use must first float infrastructure bonds as the guidelines stipulated. In January this year, Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola advocated the investment of pension funds in critical infrastructure to speed up the country’s development. It was therefore not a surprise to read in the same report that Fashola later approached the PFAs for access to some part of the funds but was turned down for not meeting the requirements.

The desire to invest the pension funds is commendable, given that other jurisdictions like Canada, Singapore and even Brazil have successfully done so to the benefit of their countries and citizens, yet for pension funds, the most important element in its management is safety. Old age isn’t the time to take investment risks, likewise savings set aside for old age. The logic for this thinking is understandable. The pension funds are contributions made by people in anticipation of their old age needs. At the least, the funds should remain the way they are so their owners can still have them back at the right time. Investing these funds is admirable since they have the capacity to make returns, but these funds shouldn’t be put at the slightest risk of a loss. It is this thinking that necessitated the stringency of the guidelines for investment set out by PenCom.

This message, about the determination of both Pencom and PFAs to stick to the rules, should be put out to more Nigerians. Knowing that the custodians of their retirement savings have the will to not cave in to pressure from any quarter will cause a hitherto reluctant workforce to start rethinking their suspicion of the contributory pension scheme.

Available facts say it all about confidence, or lack of it, in the scheme. As at March this year, only 7.01 million people have been registered in it. That figure represents just about 6.9% of Nigeria’s total workforce and 4% of the national population. Worse still, these are majorly workers in the formal sector. Those in the informal sector haven’t quite been covered; yet that sector represents about 70% of Nigeria’s total working population.  The over N5.3 trillion pension fund assets appears huge when viewed in absolute terms, yet relatively, it is paltry, being just 5.06 percent of the country’s GDP. Compare it to those of other developing countries like South Africa which stands at 87.96 per cent of GDP; Namibia, 77.03 per cent; Botswana, 40.05 per cent; Kenya, 13.25 per cent or Ghana which, although equally low, still stands higher above Nigeria’s at 5.35 per cent of GDP, and the picture gets a lot clearer.

Fortunately, there’s an association of Pension Fund operators called the Pension Fund Operators Association of Nigeria (PenOp). This body has its job clearly cut out. There’s an immediate need to mount an aggressive campaign targeted at working Nigerians and urging them to open up to the Contributory Pension Scheme. Of course, in doing this, relevant information has to be broken down to understandable bits. The operators may be tempted to rely solely on the frailty of old age in designing their message, hoping that such reality might be scary enough to sway workers. But it is doubtful that this alone can drive the maximum impact. Yes, we all know people get weak at old age and would require steady income to cater for their expenses at such time when the strength to work would have waned, but that fear alone will not cause people to willingly surrender their hard-earned money to the fund custodians in a country where people fear their pension funds could be stolen. There’s something scarier than the frailty of old age: the idea that old people drop dead in queues while waiting for their pensions. Such images, which my generation grew up with, are powerful, and can only be tempered by verifiable assurances of an unlikelihood of a repeat. This is where the institutional controls that limit the capacity of operators to fritter away the pension assets should be pushed as the most important narrative.

The message has to be clear; that every worker’s pension savings is safe, and will remain so because the regulations restricting access to them are stiff and the custodians of the assets have an incentive to not breach these regulations. As the PenCom boss stated; if a Pension Funds Administrator breaches the guidelines on how to invest these assets, then its operating license is instantly withdrawn.

The other issues around the scheme, such as eligibility for drawing funds from the account, the percentage of the initial lumpsum to be drawn upon retirement, annuity of the balance, notifying one’s PFA months before retirement, as well as all other technical matters, can come in as additions to the key message of trust. It is only when people believe in a system that they will care about its modus.

PenCom has announced an ambitious target of pushing for the coverage of 20 million persons by 2019, just three years from now, under a Micro Pension scheme (a topic I’ll be addressing in a different article) that specifically targets the informal sector and those not covered by the provisions of the extant Pension Reform Act 2014. This target cannot be met in an atmosphere of distrust for pension funds custodians. Good enough, there’s a genuine chance that the pension funds cannot be mismanaged given the facts I mentioned earlier. This message, of people getting to indeed benefit from their retirement savings when they eventually retire, just because the money is sure to be there, is all that operators need to harp on. If industry stakeholders begin now to sell the message, then PenCom’s target will be met, or even surpassed, by the end of 2019.
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Chinedu Ekeke is a public affairs analyst. He writes from Lagos. He can be reached on twitter as @Nedunaija

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In the last two weeks, we have watched the custodians of a stolen mandate in Abia state mount the most aggressive onslaught on truth and morality. And they’ve spared nothing in this war: money, honour, conscience.  The typical vote robber thinks all is fair in war, and that war time propaganda knows no rules. They say anything, including the unimaginable, to paint their victims as the oppressors. This is what Alex Otti, his party and their supporters have been through in the last one year.

To prosecute this war, they’ve enlisted a couple of voices in the media. One of such people is Amanze Obi of the Ikedi Ohakim infamy. Mr Obi, a supposed editor and senior journalist, in a recent back page commentary in Daily Sun titled ‘Judiciary on trial again’, took umbrage at the learned justices of the appeal court for granting Alex Otti of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) his prayers in a petition against Okezie Ikpeazu in the April 2015 governorship elections.

Mr Obi, a man who wrote his way into Ikedi Ohakim’s government in Imo state and got appointed Commissioner for Information, must have been dreaming of another four years with Ohakim when Imo voters disgraced the petulant former governor out of office. Thereafter, Amanze Obi’s next hope of political relevance got tied to former President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election bid. He thought Ohakim’s dead political career had a chance of resuscitation by a Jonathan second term. And, of course, as the perfect courtier who hailed Ohakim while he went about physically assaulting Imo residents as a sitting governor, Amanze must have seen Ohakim rewarding him again with recommendation for a federal appointment upon Jonathan’s re-election.

But that didn’t happen, and Amanze’s sadness was dripping out of his latest back page outing. He took it out on the APC, and offered beer parlour gossip as expert opinion; claiming that the APC is planning to unleash a political earthquake in the polity. He said the party had moved into Rivers and Akwa Ibom states with a plan to topple the apple cart.  Not done with his outlandish claims, he proceeded to accuse INEC of padding up figures for Buhari in Northern states and then accused the Igbo elite of naivety for not equally playing the game of numbers to favour Jonathan.

As I read those lines, I quickly remembered why I stopped reading Amanze Obi a long time ago. Nobody should take a senior political analyst who reasons like a market woman seriously. On most national issues, the only difference between Amanze Obi’s views and those of motor park touts is that his is written on the pages of national dailies.

How can we listen to a morality crusader who didn’t feel pained by the deaths of innocent citizens occasioned by PDP’s rigging machinery in Rivers and Akwa Ibom states? How do we take seriously a man who supports a political party that flouted rules on the strict use of Card Readers meant to improve our electoral process?

Who should waste precious minutes reading the rantings of a journalist who doesn’t know that the key Northern states had much lower voter turn-out than their Southern counterparts in the last presidential election? In that election, the national voter turn-out average was 42%.  Mr Amanze claimed figures were padded in the three Northern states of Kano, Kaduna and Katsina. But voter turn-out in those states were 47.8%, 51.9% and 55% respectively. Compare that to Akwa Ibom, Delta and Rivers which turned out 62.5%, 62.8% and 66.9% respectively. If there’s any need for suspicion, where should we begin? States with higher deviation from the national average or states closer to the national average?

But I shouldn’t concern myself with our man’s vacuous insinuation. My interest is his attack on the appeal court judges for doing a thorough job on the Abia governorship election.

First, I can bet that Amanze Obi hasn’t read the judgement. He must be cut from the same cloth as Mr Mike Ozekhome, another senior professional: a lawyer who didn’t know to shut his mouth over a court judgement he hadn’t read. Spewing mendacity on national TV with so much boldness, Ozekhome agreed that he hadn’t read the judgement he was criticizing. One lie Mr Ozekhome told with a straight face was that INEC allowed for manual accreditation during the gubernatorial elections of April 2015. I’m surprised Mr Amanze didn’t include that assertion in his tirade.

But then, he said worse.

Hear him; ‘The people of Abia state, or at least, a sizable chunk of them, are at war with the courts…against the judgement of the appeal court … which annulled the election of Okezie Ikpeazu.’

But for the seriousness of the matter this hack is toying with, the above line would have been plain ridiculous. Who are these Abians at war with the courts? Was he referring to the millions who, upon hearing the news of Alex Otti’s declaration on 31st December 2015 as the duly elected governor, thronged the streets and broke into songs and dance? In Obingwa, the local government area which Mr Obi and his friends in Abia PDP want us to believe is Ikpeazu’s stronghold, thousands of people sang and danced, happy that their votes finally counted.

Mr Obi only saw a rented crowd of less than 200 people, led by Adolphus Wagbara, a tainted former Senate President of the N55m saga, who has relapsed into rent-seeking and godfatherism. While the celebration by millions of Abians was spontaneous, it took Amanze Obi’s protesters two days to realize that there was a judgement.  Two days – that was the time-frame needed for their contractors to arrange for logistics and protest fee of N1000 per person.

Amanze might want to ask Ikpeazu his friend why he banned peaceful protests in the state just hours after nearly a million Abians locked down the streets of Umuahia in support of the appeal court judgement. The real owners of the state, the masses whose votes were stolen, braved the odds and registered their support for Alex Otti before the world. The vote robbers couldn’t stand the sight of genuine protests. They quickly decreed a stop.

Our journalist did not cringe that the learned justices of the appeal court discovered such level of corruption in the Abia election. Here’s a man who, bound by the dictates of the ethics of his acclaimed profession, should pursue such universal truths as fairness and justice. It did not trouble him that there was incontrovertible proof of infraction on the electoral process. He was not worried with the discovery of the learned justices that three local governments where 93,369 voters were accredited returned 160,252 votes.

Instead, what bothered Amanze Obi was the refusal of the appeal court judges to toe the line of the trial judges who had earlier upheld the charade that brought in Ikpeazu. Again, you can be sure that Mr Amanze Obi never read that first judgement by the tribunal judges. I read the haphazardly scribbled forty-something-page disaster delivered by Justice Usman Bwala which the PDP celebrated as judgment. It was a complete mess and didn’t require any special skills in logic to know that it cannot stand the legal scrutiny of any unbiased judge. Amanze Obi has to be the only editor in the world who does not understand that the reason for appealing a judgement is for it to be reviewed by a higher court, and if found to be perverse, set aside. He is obsessed with his friendship with the riggers. I don’t begrudge him.

Having discovered massive fraud in the result of three local governments, Mr Amanze wants the appeal court to simply order a rerun. And he quickly dropped the Bayelsa and Kogi analogy. Clearly, all he knows about elections in Nigeria is sandwiched within 2015 and 2016. The only one outside of these two years he remembered was Amaechi, the man he loathes. His dislike for Amaechi is understandable. Amaechi helped APC oust Jonathan through whom Ohakim would have been resuscitated politically. Of course we know what Ohakim’s resuscitation will do to Amanze Obi.

He described the judgement that made Amaechi governor as legal aberration. In Amanze Obi’s thinking, a man whose victory in his party primaries was stolen shouldn’t have been declared the duly nominated candidate for the election. Amanze clearly has a skewed sense of justice. Thank God he is not a judge.

Our guy also wants a rerun because the judgements in Akwa Ibom and Rivers ordered for rerun elections. Amanze Obi doesn’t know that when you prove your case in court, the court is bound to grant you your prayers. He wants Alex Otti who prayed to be returned by the courts as the duly elected governor to be given a rerun after he proved his case.

This hack needs to be reminded about that often used word called ‘research’. Journalists are expected to research on facts before saying anything to their readers. If he was not all about showing full working to his paymasters, he would have recalled that in November 2008, the same appeal court returned Adams Oshiomhole of Edo as the state’s duly elected governor in the April 14, 2007 elections. In taking that decision, the learned justices of the court, headed by the then president of the court himself, Justice Umaru Abdullahi, cancelled (Yes, CANCELLED) the results of 2 local governments – Akoko-Edo and Etsako – for rigging, and exorcised them from the overall result. In the case of Oshiomhole, he was lucky. The tribunal that handled the matter refused to be bought by Professor Oserheimen Osunbor, the then impostor. Unlike Abia, the tribunal returned Oshiomhole in their judgement.

Then, just like it’s happening right now in Abia, the Amanze Obis went to market; attacking the judges, hurling innuendos at Oshiomhole and insulting his party. The hoopla generated by the judgement forced the president of the court of appeal to personally head the appeal panel, to avoid anybody rubbishing the judiciary with the matter. The outcome was that the learned justices determined massive over-voting and immediately cancelled the votes from the two local governments. They did not order a rerun. They knew it was wrong to order a rerun in such circumstance.  The logic was sound. People had exercised their franchise, but the criminals sneaked in and corrupted the votes. The job of the court was to yank off the corrupted votes to return the process to sanctity.

Mr Amanze Obi might also want to go further and interrogate the judgement, again by the same court of appeal, that brought in Rauf Aregbesola as the governor of Osun state. Results in ten local governments were cancelled, the initial figures recomputed, election of Olagunsoye Oyinlola nullified and Rauf Aregbesola returned and sworn in. These senseless talks of disenfranchisement did not stop the judges.

Is it possible that Mr Amanze Obi hadn’t started showing interest in politics when these judgements were delivered? Or does a career in hackery blur the memory?

He also bought into the ‘disenfranchisement of 300,000 voters’ falsehood being broadcast by Ikpeazu and his supporters. Well, it is already established that Amanze Obi has no respect for facts. But he may want to ask his people to tell us the exact figure they claim will be disenfranchised: 150,000, according to Charles Ajunwa? 200,000 according to ACB Agbazuere? Or 300,000 according to Eziuche Ubani? When they settle for the particular figure, they can revert to Mr Obi for the second part of his commentary. But while he is on it, it bears saying that the 17 LGAs in Abia state gave about 381,700 at the presidential election. Yet only three LGAs, in Amanze’s imagination, excluding Aba North and South with the highest voting populations in the state, have 300,000 voters.  This is an evidence that the Amanzes of Nigeria’s journalism thrive on the publication of fables for facts.

Indeed, the judiciary is on trial. I’m curious to know if the courts will bow to falsehood or facts. The Supreme Court has a duty to prove to the Amanze Obis of Nigeria that justice is not given to the loudest noisemaker and most unconscionable liar. Justice is justice and should be done in this matter, irrespective of threats from the quantities fighting for free money from Abia’s principal custodian of a stolen mandate.

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Chinedu Ekeke lives and works in Lagos. You can follow him on twitter as @Nedunaija

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There is a reason Abia state broke into songs and dance on New Year’s eve, celebrating the landmark judgement by the Appeal Court which declared Alex Otti the duly elected governor of Abia state in the April 2015 election. Many Abians voted for the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) candidate in the election. The judgment was therefore an affirmation of the choice they made at the polls.

Hugely popular in the state, every pollster prior to the April 2015 election projected Alex Otti the winner of the election. NOI Polls Limited, founded by Nigeria’s former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, projected Alex Otti to win Ikpeazu with at least 27 points. Otti’s chances were 45% while Ikpeazu’s were 18%. Here’s the link to the poll result. It was released by the company in December 2014. (http://www.noi-polls.com/documents/05040233abiagovernorshipelectionspoll-pressrelease.pdf)

Also, VenturesAfrica in a report published in February 2015, placed Alex Otti far ahead of Okezie Ikpeazu.  Again, here’s the report. (http://venturesafrica.com/nigerias-2015-elections-how-aba-traders-plan-to-vote/).

These are apart from the sentiments on the streets against the Peoples Democratic Party in the state. This may be termed subjective, but a casual conversation with anybody in the state will confirm that people are not happy with the party – at the state level –  and saw that election as the only legitimate way of serving a just dessert to a party that treated them badly in eight years. The party is seen by millions of citizens to have underdeveloped the state, stripped it of its God-given potentials and impoverished its people.

But ever resistant of popular will, the PDP, led by the immediate past state governor, rigged the system and fraudulently foisted an unpopular candidate on the state. And so began the legal battle; the second leg of which the appeal court dispensed with on December 31st.

The appellate court judgement was everything Abians had asked for: a breath of fresh air, a departure from a past dictated by two tainted dynasties, a future that holds the promise of prosperity for everybody. That explains why the streets erupted in jubilations.

However, two days later, a few PDP big men in the state recruited willing hands and asked them to protest the judgement. The crowd, rented from an ever available stock of youth rendered unemployed by PDP’s 16 years of economic heist in the state, blocked the Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway, asking vehicles to turn back. In the midst of the chaos they stirred, one struggled to get hold of the essence of their externally-induced rage.

I have read the judgement of the learned justices of the Appeal Court and can confirm that it is flawless. But the rented protesters, including those who contracted them, hadn’t read a line of the judgement they were protesting. One then wonders why a people who have the option of appealing at the Supreme Court will take to intimidation and blackmail. Do they intend to instigate violence as a tool to sway the justices of the Supreme Court to their cause?

For the avoidance of doubt, let me summarise the reason for the judgment. The Appeal Court’s argument is that INEC, which was defending its declaration of Ikpeazu as Abia governor in the suit, was the same body which presented the Election Petition Tribunal with evidence of accreditation in the election. The INEC official who was subpoenaed by the tribunal said the accreditation report she brought was conclusive, and that every accreditation that took place in that election was captured in that document. When this witness said these, Ikpeazu’s lawyers did not cross-examine her to fault her claim. And in law, once you don’t fault a witnesses’ claim with cross-examination, you have agreed with her testimony. It was based on that evidence which Ikpeazu’s lawyers acquiesced to with their silence that the Appeal Court judges established a case of over-voting in some areas in the election.

Now, here are the figures. Accreditation in those areas, according to INEC accreditation report was 93,369.

Number of votes from those areas was 160,252.

The unanswered question then became how 93,369 people manufactured 160,252 votes. It was evident that people sat in their living rooms and manufactured election results and then allocated votes to candidates as they wished.

Because voting can only be exercised by those who went through accreditation, the learned justices determined that the results from those areas were concocted, fictitious and fabricated. The votes are unlawful. And our laws have it settled, that when over-voting is established, the election is nullified and voided. A null and void action is without validity, it lacks the force of law. As at the time the election held, it had already produced a clear winner in Alex Otti. The learned justices then held that there would only be a need to call for a rerun if there was no clear winner. Alex Otti met the constitutionally required 25% of votes cast in two-third local governments of the state, as well as garnered majority of votes cast.

In all the noise I’ve heard from the custodians of a stolen mandate and their cheerleaders, none has boasted of having won the April election. Listen to the arguments, they all have implicitly owned up to having rigged. And rather than plead that we don’t jail them, they are pushing for a rerun, as if robbing Abians of their mandate wasn’t bad enough.

Although their arguments have majorly come off as incoherent, yet I’ll try to interrogate some of the falsehood they’ve been selling to the world:

That the cancellation of the lawful results will be a disenfranchisement to voters in those parts of the state. Well, every declaration on election matters by any court or even INEC disenfranchises people. There’s no way every registered voter will vote in an election. The declaration of the appellate court was to achieve punitive ends. It was meant to discourage election rigging in the future as declaring a rerun will empower a vote rigger who, having stolen another man’s mandate and having used same to appropriate the state’s resources, now seeks to benefit from his robbery. Aware that he was never the winner of the election and knowing there’s a chance the courts will sack him, a beneficiary of electoral theft would naturally go populist, while his lawyers at the same time labour to lure the courts into conceding him a rerun. That is the game of Abia PDP which all lovers of justice should condemn.

That the disenfranchised people in those areas are over 350,000 in number. This is laughable, because first, I heard Mr A.C.B Agbazuere, the state’s Commissioner for Information say on Channels TV  that the number of disenfranchised people was 200,000; later Charles Ajunwa, former S.A. to immediate past governor T.A.Orji published in ThisDay newspaper that the disenfranchised people were over 150,000. Finally I heard Eziuche Ubani, another Commissioner in the state claim on Ray Power that the number being disenfranchised was 350,000. For them, depending on the speaker’s level of comfort with falsehood, the more the number is exaggerated, the more they stand a chance of winning public sympathy.

To puncture this claim, we will need to know how many people voted in Abia during the 2015 presidential election. First, all core Igbo states were hugely supportive of President Goodluck Jonathan. Secondly, his wife, Patience grew up in Umuahia since her own mother hailed from there.  It therefore stands to reason that Abians came out en masse to give Jonathan their votes; yet he got only 368,303 votes while Muhammadu Buhari got 13, 394. The total was about 381,700 votes. This is the true voting strength of Abia state, not the over-bloated pre-Card Reader figures bandied around by Abia PDP.

Now, Abia has 17 Local Governments. If Only 3 local governments have more than 350,000 votes as the PDP claims, where was the votes from the rest 14 local governments including Aba North and South, Ohafia and Bende all of which have the highest voting strength? How come President Jonathan, in spite of the love Abians have for him, could only poll 368, 303 votes? You see, no matter how fast falsehood sprints, truth will overtake it at a point.

That accreditation of voters was not with Card Reader alone. This argument was advanced by the noisy lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, in a bid to flaw the appeal court judgement. It is not certain that Mr Ozekhome was on earth when the governorship elections held in Nigeria. If he were here, he wouldn’t have boldly made that statement on national television without any scruples. I will assume the lawyer was out in space exploring novel areas in electoral jurisprudence when INEC issued a guideline for the governorship elections, insisting that ONLY card readers would be used for accreditation. INEC went further to insist that if any card reader failed at any polling unit, the device would be replaced, and if the replaced one failed again, the election would be postponed to the next day so another card reader would be brought for accreditation. That way, INEC made it impossible for anybody to write fake results under the guise of card readers not functioning well. It is worth repeating to Mike Ozekhome that INEC gave no room for manual accreditation.

So it is evident that the learned justices of the appellate court were right to decide the matter on the strength of the evidence by INEC which gave the concluded accreditation figures in the areas where unlawful votes were exorcised.

That the justices of the Appeal Court should have called for a rerun. Of course, Alex Otti will win Okezie Ikpeazu any day in Abia state, but does it serve the course of justice that someone who won an election be made to go through another round of elections while the person who stole his mandate is allowed to benefit from his crime? At what point do we as a society put a stop to incentivizing crimes?

In any case, the learned justices of the appeal court unanimously stated that ‘’ordering a fresh election will only arise where a clear winner did not emerge after the deduction of the illegal votes.’

There was a clear winner, and he should be allowed to exercise his mandate. Those who disagree with the judgement should face the court, not the streets.

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Chinedu Ekeke writes from Lagos. He can be reached on twitter as @Nedunaija

 

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At last, one Election Petitions Tribunal last Saturday rose to the defence of Nigeria’s democracy.

 

The tribunal empanelled to determine the issues and complaints that trailed the Rivers state governorship election, headed by the very Honourable Justice Suleiman Ambrosa, took a clear departure from the onslaught his colleagues in so many other governorship tribunals had been mounting on Nigeria’s efforts to deepen her democracy, with very laughable pronouncements.

 

In judgements that pretended that the matters before them were about 2003 or even 2007 elections, the judges completely disrespected the kernel of the historic 2015 elections: Card Readers and INEC’s guidelines on their use.

 

In a jurisdiction where lots of judges had been compromised by politicians in the past, it is difficult not to conclude that many of the tribunals sold justice to the highest bidder and thereafter sought to tie their judgements to technicalities.

 

Take as example the same case of Rivers state election tribunal. Justice Suleiman Ambrosa was not the original chairman of the panel. It used to be headed by a judge called Mu’azu Pindiga. But he was later removed by the President of Court of Appeal. (The Court of Appeal President is the officer who constitutes members of state election tribunals). And that removal was not for want of what to do. Sahara Reporters reported that Mr Pindiga was bribed by Nyesom Wike, the PDP governor of Rivers state whose declaration by INEC was being challenged by the APC candidate in the election. That report by Sahara Reporters stated that Pindiga was bribed with N200 million to thwart justice and uphold Wike’s election. The report also said that the Department of State Security had a proof of this bribery, and they showed it to the Court of Appeal President before he got convinced to remove Pindiga as the tribunal chairman.

 

Curiously, such publication bothers on defamation of character, and a judge so accused, if innocent, would be expected to seek redress in court. Justice Pindiga hasn’t uttered a word since then, which suggests admission of guilt. It is likely that the evidence against him is weighty, and to save himself further embarrassment, he took to silence, hoping the news gets forgotten soon. You can tell that if Muazu Pindiga had been allowed to continue with the case, he would have upheld Nyesom Wike’s election – adjudged by both local and international observers to have fallen short of every known standard for a free and fair election. And in upholding it, he would have had the law as an easy excuse. ‘The petitioner could not prove his case beyond reasonable doubt’.

And as has always happened in the past, the rest of us will be advised to look elsewhere for whom to blame, that the law is an ass, and that the justices of the tribunal did the right thing.

 

Since the judgements started pouring in, one could sense that some sections of the judiciary are reluctant to cleanse themselves of their immediate past; a past steeped in corruption.   It is inconceivable that with the success we made of the 2015 elections, certain tribunals boldly rejected a special recognition of the single factor behind the success of that election.

 

When Justice Theresa Egoche of the Ebonyi governorship petition tribunal was reading her judgement upholding the election of the PDP governor in the state, she made a strange pronouncement that would have been laughable, but for the seriousness of the matter. Her tribunal held that the INEC electoral guidelines were mere instructions and had no force of law against the offenders/defaulters and as such cannot be a ground to challenge an election. She noted that a breach in the electoral guideline as alleged by the petitioner cannot be a ground to nullify the election.

 

In other words, INEC guidelines should be discountenanced in an election that only INEC is the only lawfully empowered institution to organize. Nobody should bother to heed INEC’s rules. If you can kill everybody to get elected, please do; the courts are there to help you insist that only the wordings spelt out in the Electoral Act have the force of law. See how far people can go in trying to justify the unjustifiable!

 

Apart from Justice Theresa’s pronouncement, another tribunal of interest was that of Akwa Ibom. Ishaq Umar of the governorship petition tribunal, while reading his judgement of confusion, made a pronouncement that reduced the card readers to naught, dismissing INEC press statement that mandated the use of card readers as the only legitimate means of voter verification. This judge declared before an open court, that INEC’s ‘’press release concerning the card reader report is null and void, as it offended (?) the provisions of Section 49 of the Electoral Act which deals with the process of accreditation in an election.’’

 

Of course he went ahead to nullify elections in 18 out of 31 local governments of the state, but remained silent on whether or not the governor – who doesn’t have the constitutionally required 25% of votes cast in two-third of the constituent LGAs of the state – should vacate seat or not. In a state with 31 LGAs, a governor needs to have scored 25% of votes cast in at least 20 Local Governments, as well as the majority of valid votes cast, before being declared winner.

 

Let’s ignore the error and move into his reasoning of INEC’s guidelines being a nullity.

 

There are two issues here: INEC Press Release concerning Card Reader use and provisions of Section 49 of Electoral Act. Now, the Press Release in question is the one by INEC, emphasizing the content of its published Manual For Election Officials wherein it insisted that voter accreditation would only be performed with the use of Card Readers. A judge declared that null and void. And then his reason for so doing was that it contravened Section 49.

 

First, the bedrock of voting is voter verification. If a voter is not verified, how will an electoral officer know that he registered in the particular polling unit where he wants to cast his ballot? It is the process of this verification that is called accreditation. During accreditation, the INEC presiding officer wants to first ascertain that you are the true owner of your voter’s card and that the Polling Unit where you intend to cast your vote is actually where you registered to vote. INEC also wants to make it impossible for people to vote in more than one polling unit. In summary, the idea was to institute the practice of one man, one vote.

 

To achieve this, INEC insisted, for the sake of transparency, that it would perform its accreditation with the help of technology. And in doing that, INEC derived its powers from Section 153 of the Electoral Act. Here’s what that Section says; The commission (INEC) may, subject to the provisions of this Act, issue regulations, guidelines, or manuals for the purpose of giving effect to the provisions of this Act and for its administration thereof.’ From the above, we can agree that INEC has the powers to make guidelines.

 

Let’s then look at Section 49 which the Akwa Ibom tribunal claimed INEC’s guidelines contravened.

49 (1). Any person intending to vote with his voter’s card, shall present himself to a Presiding Officer at the polling unit in the constituency in which his name is registered with his voter’s card.

      (2) The Presiding Officer shall, on being satisfied that the name of the person is on the Register of Voters, issue him a ballot paper and indicate on the register that the person has voted.

There’s no provision as to ‘how’ to be satisfied in this Section.

INEC, with sixteen years’ experience of voter verification had become certain that the capacity of some Nigerian politicians for mischief was limitless. The Commission had conducted many elections that turned out to lack credibility because of cases of impersonation during accreditation. This led to their decision to convince the Nigerian government to invest massively in technology to aid in voter verification during the 2015 election; hence the introduction of Card Reader.

 

The card reader machine is a device used to scan the Permanent Voters Card (PVC) to confirm its ownership by the presenter. It stores the voter’s information such as physical attributes, thumb prints and others. These information can only be read and accessed electronically with the card reader. If you throw away the card reader, the permanent voter’s card is useless, because the information it has cannot be read/accessed by just looking at it with your eyes.

 

It was for the purpose of giving effect to the provisions of Section 49 that INEC insisted on procuring the ‘’how’’ of satisfying their officers that a voter’s name is in the voter’s register.

 

How then did the use of technology to verify voters contravene a section of the Electoral Act that gives INEC officers the powers to allow only those verified as having their names in the register to vote? How does enhancing the electoral process contravene the Electoral Act?

 

And, in any case, what is wrong with the INEC guidelines? Will any party in the election get hurt if INEC properly accredits voters first before allowing them to vote? From the standpoint of the society, will it hurt Nigeria to insist that only genuine voters be allowed to vote? Why should anybody seeking to govern any part of Nigeria have issues with INEC’s rules insisting that only those properly accredited will be allowed to vote?

To underscore the weight of the powers INEC has to issue guidelines and rules for elections, the Supreme Court in 2011, in the case between CPC Vs INEC, declared; By force of law, the Independent National Electoral Commission has the duty of conducting elections.  Besides the constitutional provisions, it is guided by the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and the Election guidelines and Manual issued for its officials in accordance with the Act.  These documents embody all steps to comply with in the conduct of a free, fair and hitch free election.”

The Supreme Court has the final say on these issues, and it already had said that in 2011. By next year when these cases drag to the apex court, the Justices there will be bound by the earlier pronouncements of the same court. The Supreme Court will not reverse itself, especially when doing so will make mockery of the efforts of the entire nation for democratic evolution.

 

Our yearnings for credible elections is facing its final battle in the hands of the judiciary. It survived the other two tiers of government before the election. The executive under President Goodluck Jonathan initiated it. The legislature approved of it. Some elements in the judiciary are bent on frustrating it. This is why the Supreme Court has a duty to save the country from receding into the dark days of massive electoral fraud by the political class.

 

But while we await the apex court to play this patriotic role, we must first thank the progressive judges of the Rivers governorship tribunal for their foresight and the courage to do the right thing. At the end of the day, it will become clear to those who still doubt the soundness of the judgement that it was the best thing that happened to the 2015 elections, after Card Reader itself.

 

Chinedu Ekeke can be directly engaged on twitter as @Nedunaija

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Tanko Al-Makura, governor of Nasarawa State

Last Thursday, Governor Tanko Umaru Al-Makura of Nasarawa state didn’t like what he saw.

 

For the first time since he became a governor, he saw a lady talk to him like he is human, bursting his god complex and getting him properly jolted. It wasn’t like the lady, Lois Iorvihi, insulted him in any way. It was the guts, the boldness to ask the Nassarawa GOD why the unruly policemen in his motorcade destroyed her car, beat her brother to stupor and shattered her sister’s mobile devices after running them out of the road.

 

The governor has never been questioned before. Who questions a governor in Nigeria? Who questions GOD? So it was in the process of trying to fathom the real culprit for such un-Nigerian behaviour that he saw that Lois dressed like a prostitute. “Young girl, you are so rude. Look at how you’re dressed like a prostitute.” The governor scoffed.

 

Lois’ dressing was the most important thing to the governor at that moment. Seconds before then, right in his presence, the overzealous policemen traveling with him unleashed unbridled brutality on Lois, her younger Sister Joi and brother Jerry, for not disappearing from the Nasarawa-Eggon expressway as soon as they heard the governor’s siren. Wondering what their offence might have been to deserve that kind of treatment from the governor’s policemen, she went to complain to their principal who, as the report goes, was already awaiting her arrival. As she approached, he only saw her dressing.

 

Of course she asked him how she was dressed, before going into a justifiably full rant, asking if it was fair; what she and her siblings were being subjected to. And as a citizen who understood the weight of her votes, she wondered if Nigerians voted for Al-Makura so his convoy would run them out of the road. Then the governor snorted; “You can take the case to wherever you wish or go to hell.” You could feel the irritation, Al-Makura of all GODS, being reminded of fairness. Fairness is as determined by Al-Makura himself. No one else should be accorded that prerogative.

 

Then enters Ringim, Al-Makura’s ADC. Oozing of arrogance, he boasted to Lois, ‘’ You can go to any length you wish.  We are equal to the task. We will handle you.’’ And then added for good measure, ‘’Rat!” You could see that in the eyes of Al-Makura and his political police officer, the rest of us are rats.

 

The story is published here. You can read it to have the whole picture of what transpired between the governor and the unfortunate family traveling from Makurdi to Abuja the same day Al-Makura was also using the road.

 

On matters of recklessness of convoys, Al-Makura is a person of interest. In September 2012, the governor missed death by the whiskers in a fatal accident that killed 3 of his aides. Even his son was in the convoy and sustained serious injuries.

 

Some days before that, a driver in the governor’s convoy had ran into a commuter bus along Keffi-Akwanga road. 19 people reportedly died in that unfortunate incident. The motorcade was said to be conveying the governor’s wife. None of these experiences has caused a change in Al-Makura’s attitude. None of them has taught him the transience of life.

I’ve read a statement signed by one Ahmed Tukur who claimed to be the governor’s Special Assistant on Media and Publicity and saw a feeble attempt to heap the blame on Lois and her siblings. And I’ll publish the kernel of their side of the story here, in their exact words, without editing even if to punctuate: “For the avoidance of doubt and to set the records straight, on Thursday 10, September 2015 about 3.pm when the convoy of His Excellency was approaching Nasarawa Eggon Local Government a vehicle was right on the middle of the road and inspite of several efforts by the police outrider and the pilot to slow the car down, the vehicle remained right in the centre of the road refusing to make way for the convoy which nearly caused an accident.

 

The action of the vehicle gave room for suspicion considering the fact that it was at the same area in 2003 that the convoy of former governor of Benue state George Akume now a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was attacked.

 

A close look at the vehicle, the Escort commander noticed a women driving with a minor in the front seat and directed the convoy to track her with caution not to push her car by the shoulder.

 

This took up to 3-5 minutes before the Escort commander managed to halt her. She stopped abruptly on the road forcing the convoy to also stop and other road user causing heavy traffic along the high way.

 

As She came out, she began to rain abuses on the Police boasting that she is a lawyer and a daughter of a police Commissioner and has the right to drive the way she wants.

 

Noticing her unruly behavior, the Governor directed the Escort commander to invite the Police from the nearest police station to handle the matter to avoid further congestion and obstruction of traffic on the Highway while the convoy continued on its journey to Abuja.’

 

The story from the governor’s camp is what it is; a weak attempt to project the governor as the victim of Lois’ aggression. And the magnitude of the lies simply befuddles the mind. It doesn’t matter to say the truth; Nigerians are never respected by their leaders to be considered worthy of hearing the truth.

 

The press statement from the governor’s office is an incomplete story. It doesn’t take any special intelligence to see the falsehood. Now maybe the author of that press release can go back and flesh it up to respond to these posers: Since the peace-loving governor simply asked that they invite the police from the nearest police station, at what point was Lois’ car vandalized? Was it when the peace-keeping policemen from the nearest police station arrived or before? How about their phones and iPad; at what point where those smashed on the ground and broken into pieces? Was it when the police from the nearest station arrived or before? Since Lois’ refusal to stop was ‘suspect’, and thank goodness, she ultimately was made to stop, was her car searched by the policemen? Were guns and bombs found in it?

 

What happened to the Iorvihs is the routine daily torture Nigerians are subjected to by their governors and the policemen who serve them. First, the governor is GOD, and the policemen around him take it upon themselves to enforce this GOD-status acknowledgment on everybody unfortunate enough to be on the road while the governor is passing.

 

Lois’ offence was her believing she was human and therefore expecting that those her society gave power  had a responsibility to carry it with grace. She was wrong. Here, if a governor’s motorcade meets you on the road, you stop being human. You become a piece of damaged toy that must be hauled into the nearby bush to make way for the proper human being. And you must realize this, by first taking the initiative to throw yourself into that bush or have ready policemen help you do it.

 

It is an indictment on this society that the same people who are voted into office by humans later seek to turn these humans into animals – worse still, inanimate objects.

 

Ironically, just one day after Al-Makura’s star performance on that Nasarawa Eggon road, President Muhammadu Buhari was in the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, warning graduating officer cadets against human rights abuses in the Armed Forces. The President was on his own. The Nigerian police is not known for respecting human rights. Agreed, the police is not part of Nigeria’s armed forces, but that should even be why respect for human rights should matter most to them. It doesn’t.

 

President Buhari’s job is cut-out for him. Does he value respect for human rights as he has so far professed? Then he has to cause the Inspector General of Police, Mr Solomon Arase, to question that haughty ADC to governor Al-Makura for supervising such brutality against innocent Nigerians. And that will be the first step. The second will be to punish him commensurately, and then redeploy him. Ringim should go back to proper policing. He should be replaced with a new officer who understands that a governor’s ADC is first a policeman whose duty should be to maintain law and order and keep the peace. Mr Ringim is clearly not that person.

 

And every action taken against Ringim must be made public. We want to be sure that those who perpetrated this act, those of them who are not covered by that thick Nigerian impunity balloon called immunity, are given their just desserts immediately.

 

And then to governor Al-Makura. He has immunity, but his party, the APC, has to first caution him. The civil society will have to pressure the Nigerian legislature to take a second look at the immunity clause in our constitution. There must be some offences immunity should not cover. For instance, an offence like this should have a sitting governor facing the courts and answering to his cruelty.

 

But in the meantime, members of civil society organizations can help in naming and shaming such an indecorous public officeholder. If this goes without the governor receiving enough embarrassment for his ill manners, other governors will not learn to behave properly.

 

And it’ll be ridiculous for anybody to blame the APC for Al-Makura’s impropriety. We have been in this country since 1999. We know this convoy madness runs in all the parties that have produced governors.

 

Follow me on twitter. I am @Nedunaija

 

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My friend Nnaemeka (real name) is a one-man riot squad: energetic, spirited and follows his convictions. In 2011, at the peak of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s massive national goodwill, Nnaemeka and I had concluded that a vote for Jonathan would be a mistake too costly for Nigeria. So, as that year’s presidential election approached, we embarked on intense sensitization, urging family, friends and enemies alike never to throw Nigeria into harm’s way by permitting Jonathan remain in Aso Villa after serving out late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s tenure. Our perfect assessment of the man explains why, for the years he presided over the heist on the nation’s treasury – now to his embarrassment – our focus was on doing more to ensure that a second time of Jonathan never happened. During the last campaign, Nnaemeka, from Abuja where he is resident, made countless calls, knocked on doors, preached in churches and argued in beer parlours for the election of Muhammadu Buhari.

He did this without noise, without seeking any personal benefit and without belonging to any political party. He neither knows Buhari personally nor the man’s friends or relatives. He has a good job and for his age, is financially stable. He only was acting out his conviction: that retired General Muhammadu Buhari was the last chance Nigeria had at healing…and progress.

Then two months later, after our dream of a President Buhari came through, Nnaemeka called me, with distress lacing his voice, disappointment in his tone. ‘’Have you seen that video?’’

I knew what that was about. I’d seen the video. It was, to say the least, troubling.

The video was a clip of the president’s July visit to the United States. In one of his interactive sessions with an audience of mainly, I should think, journalists, the president responded to a question about his plans for amnesty, curbing oil bunkering and government of inclusiveness in the Niger-Delta, with an answer that had my stomach roil. Without any struggle, the president moved swiftly to address the question on inclusiveness and then his response went; “Going by election results, constituencies that gave me 97% cannot in all honesty be treated, on some issues, with constituencies that gave me 5%. I think these are political realities.’’ And then he struggles to think, then stutters and add; “While, certainly there will be justice for everybody but the people who voted, and made their votes count, they must feel the government has appreciated the effort they put in putting the government in place. I think this is really fair.

Many who loudly support him on social media struggled to defend that unfortunate gaffe. I am one of his very loud supporters, but I refrained from offering any defence for such unstatesmanly presidential utterance. You see, it is bad enough that a candidate you worked for has acted improperly, but it’s even worse that you want to shut up people who feel genuinely bad about your candidate’s impropriety. You can’t beat a child and force him not to cry.

My take is simple: You are not permitted to think in certain ways if you are a leader. In fact, if you are fair in your dealings, there are certain ways you are not expected to think. I shouted myself hoarse during president Jonathan’s time when his body language suggested the insurgency in the North was a them-against-us situation. For the humanity we share, nobody’s pain should be glossed over. A private citizen can afford to make light of people’s sufferings, a public figure is not permitted that luxury. As an individual, there are certain thoughts you don’t let creep into your head because you should consider them inappropriate. And close friends know I take strongly conversations that conveniently seek to tar groups with a certain brush of predetermined behavioural pattern. Igbos love money. Yorubas are cowards. Hausas are lazy. Tivs love sex. Ogojas love meat. And all other shades of disgusting stereotyping.

My suspicion is that, being his first direct response to that question, President Buhari must have been brooding over the fact that the whole of Nigeria did not vote him. I mean, our president thinks everybody in this country should have believed in candidate Buhari. That thinking, that citizens don’t have the right to prefer candidate A for candidate B, troubles me. And that the exercise of that right has the capacity to attract them retribution even scares me. People may not have voted you, but you are their president anyway, and you are under oath to WORK for every one of them! The summary of that response was like, look, political reality dictates that I don’t treat all Nigerians equally.

Which is why I refuse to hinge the diversity-deficient appointments of the president so far on the argument of competency and capacity. Clearly, there appears to be a nexus between that infamous reply to the Niger-Delta question and the appointments we’ve seen so far. Again, my fellow Buharists have been all over the place, mouthing ‘’qualification, capacity, competence’’ and all the technical jargons that can help in forcing the conversation out of where the president unwittingly (or even wittingly, who knows?) centred it. It appears it’s about those who voted more for him.

At this point, I have no need to prove to anybody that I am detribalized. Those who will not be happy with this essay will hurl stones at me, orally, I hope. In fact, I expect people to come at me with the charge; ‘’We know you’ve been pretending before now! Time has laid you bare! You are a…err…that word again…bigot!!” Such is what comes with the terrain. But I really wouldn’t care. Unlike the president who now has to prove that he is not sectional, I have nothing to prove.

Now let’s get it. There’s a reason President Buhari should have searched for competency and capacity in other parts of Nigeria before making those appointments. And I’m afraid that he has lost that chance, because, the other appointments come with constitutional compulsion to choose from each state. It therefore can be argued that appointing ministers from the South was done because the president was left with no choice. I am from the South East and I know lots of Southerners who worked really hard for President Buhari’s emergence. Agreed, they are in the minority compared to many more who were comfortable with the extension of Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure. During the campaign, while we bragged about candidate Buhari’s anti-corruption credentials, many of these people who didn’t want him insisted that the retired general was clannish, that he was running on an ethnic agenda and that they’d rather have another Northerner than Buhari; in the absence of which they’d stick with Jonathan. I’m sure a lot of other Buhari supporters were told this too. And, candidate Buhari, who I hear has a history of reading the dailies first thing every morning, must have been aware of this perception of him in the South.

His first duty was to burst that perception. And this is worth emphasizing. President Buhari’s first task as a president was to change the perception of him seeking Northern domination. And that should have happened with the very first set of appointments he made. If that diversity wasn’t going to reflect in his appointments then, he should have held on until he has all the names ready so he releases them at the same time. His first job is not to fight corruption. His first job is to unite a divided country and assuage the fears of a section who feel conquered. I do not suggest he does this on the altar of federal character or whatever constitutional or conventional arrangement. The president should do this to change the strong negative perception of him in the South.

Nnaemeka’s call was the first of a deluge of calls I received after the president’s United States ‘97% votes’ gaffe. His supporters and critics alike call me to register their disappointment after each perceived insensitive action. Somehow, the president’s supporters who call me tend to seek assurances that they hadn’t made a mistake, while his critics mock me for having been blinded by patriotism.

I honestly don’t think our choice of this president was wrong. With Buhari leading, I’m hopeful about the prospects of a rejuvenated Nigeria where impunity – and the penchant of public officials to cut deals – will be gone for good. I think the president will do well, especially when he begins prosecution (not this media anti-corruption fight we see on the pages of newspapers) of those who pillaged our resources.

In his first hundred days in office, President Buhari has not disappointed the election and pre-inauguration political divide. His supporters knew him as an anti-corruption champion and elected him to stab the monster in the heart. It’s looking like he will certainly defeat that Nigerian cancer. His critics distanced themselves from him because they saw him as an ethnic and regional champion. So far, his appointments – those that do not constitutionally compel him to pick people from every state in the country – have vindicated those critics. ‘We told you so!’’, they’ve continued to gloat.

Now his genuine supporters want him to disappoint the critics by showing a bit more sensitivity to the nation’s diversity. A Babangida wouldn’t need to do this. An Obasanjo wouldn’t need to do it. They both have a history of reaching out to all parts of the country in appointments. A Buhari must do this; because he has something to prove.

There’s a reason I’m writing this publicly: we – the president’s supporters – should not destroy President Buhari with sycophancy. We saw what that did to Jonathan. We can’t let that happen to Buhari.

Another friend who was an aide to a former South Eastern governor of the Jonathan-must-be-returned tribe was in near tears when, about 10 hours before Buhari was declared by INEC, I had told him, based on the information I gleaned from the projected result my APC friends had sent me from their situation room, that Buhari had won the election. The projection was certain that, worst case scenario, Buhari would win with some hundred thousand votes. My friend had worked for Buhari’s victory secretly, telling me the idea of a Jonathan re-election appeared repugnant to his conscience after the former president allowed 59 boys butchered in Yobe state and Chibok girls kidnapped the next month. He said the love he had for his kids at home wouldn’t let him support such a president.

As if I was INEC’s Jega, my friend kept calling me, hour after hour, to be sure our projection was still valid. I assured him, and then reassured him many more times.

Last week, after president Buhari’s latest appointments, my friend called. Distraught, he asked me why the president is subjecting his Southern supporters to shame. And then, without waiting for my response, continued; ‘’This president is an extremist! Making these appointments even after so many people had complained about his previous ones confirms his disregard for public opinion.”

When, as a president, your supporters are unable to defend many of your actions, then it’s time to listen more.

President Buhari needs to listen more or lose the conversation completely. And it won’t be an exciting experience for him.

*Follow me on twitter. I am @Nedunaija

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PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI TAKING OATH OF OFFICE IN ABUJA ON FRIDAY (29/5/15).WITH HIM IS THE WIFE, AISHA.

“I, Muhammadu Buhari, do solemnly swear…”, as those words rolled off the lips of Nigeria’s new president, the country’s peculiar predilection for rousing her past to lead her future quickly came to memory:

In 1999, weary of prolonged military dictatorship and in search of a new direction, Nigerians travelled 20 years into the past, picked up a man who headed the junta that ruled the country for 3 years and installed him president. The man, retired General Olusegun Obasanjo was commissioned to stabilize the ship of state, rid the country of the vestiges of military rule and lead the country into prosperity. The first two he could achieve; but his inability to achieve the last one (partly because of his pretensions about fighting corruption and partly because, in political succession, he gives premium to malleability of candidates over competence) culminated in why Nigerians, eight years after the departure of the first general, travelled again into the past, this time 30 years, to commission another general to pull the country out of doldrums. In the two remarkable cases, antecedents spoke for the two men. Olusegun Obasanjo was the first military Head of State to hand over power to a civilian president. So, in 1999, when the military needed an ally to hand over government to, Obasanjo was an easy pick.

Muhammadu Buhari’s history revolves around that of a man who never stole a kobo from public treasury, despite having unfettered access to it at different times as a former state governor, former oil minister, former Head of State and former chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), a federal government agency that oversaw the use of excess funds from crude sales for intervention into the development of critical infrastructure nationally. In a country where the boundary between public treasury and the private pockets of those it’s entrusted with is slim, this testimony is weighty. His lifestyle, intolerance of ostentation, has been attested to by friends and folks alike. A close friend of his told me the president often wonders why people will need too much money to live well. He harbors strong repugnance for sleaze, and believes that bad behaviour must carry consequences to serve as deterrent to members of the society. It is on this premise that the new president’s anti-corruption stance, while he ruled with the gun about thirty years ago, derives conviction.

Apart from the brutal onslaught he mounted against corruption as Nigeria’s military leader, Buhari’s CV equally boasts of dealing decisively with an insurgency in Northern Nigeria that appeared to be the forerunner to present day Boko Haram. Maitatsine, a destructive Islamic sect founded by a Camerounian who migrated to Nigeria, went on rampage, killing and slaughtering people. Buhari chased them out of Nigeria upon assumption of office.

Where Nigeria is right now bears perfect resemblance to where it used to be during Buhari’s first coming: insecurity – to some degree that has got the attention of the international community, official corruption and financial recklessness of the political class, youth unemployment, poverty, total darkness in the absence of electricity and many more.

“We are going to tackle them head on,” he said in his inaugural address to the nation, referring to the legion of problems his administration had just inherited. “Nigerians will not regret that they have entrusted national responsibility to us.”

That is a matter for the next four years, and a promise which, if kept, holds the key to Buhari’s reelection if he seeks a second term. His victory was made possible by the woeful performance of his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan who caused Nigerians to regret ever entrusting national responsibility in his care. 47% of those who voted for the former president four years ago indicated readiness to switch their support for Buhari in an online poll conducted by Malcom Fabiyi and Adeleke Otunuga which was published by Sahara Reporters. Grossly underestimating the enormity of his job, Mr Jonathan played the victim from day one, evaded responsibilities, abandoned grieving victims of terror, politicized the military, discreetly stirred the nation’s fault lines and labelled critics enemies or workers for the opposition.

All living former Presidents and Heads of State heard president Buhari allude to some past leaders who made a detour from the standards of governance set by the country’s founding fathers, behaving like spoilt children, “breaking everything and bringing disorder to the house.” Part of the huge expectations on the new president borders on the application of the cane on some of these men before him and any other ‘child’ in the current regime who goes breaking the Nigerian plate. With the memes that have taken over the social media space since Buhari’s victory, there is no doubt that many Nigerians want corrupt past leaders prosecuted and jailed.

But the political class, many of whom are guilty of helping themselves to Nigeria’s treasury when they held public offices, may have set the agenda for the president: just draw the line and forget the past. Their argument is that asking questions of what happened in the past will distract the president and stop him from doing the job for which he was elected. Such logic stems from the assumption that President Buhari will sit in his office daily personally questioning individuals accused or suspected of corruption.

Nigeria has laws, it just doesn’t have courts that are in sync with the dictates of the 21st century zeitgeist. If we enforce our laws, the president wouldn’t be distracted one bit by the trial of even a million Nigerians. Thankfully, the new Vice President is coming to the job on the back of solid experience and track record in judicial reforms. If the administration begins now, an improved justice system and a reformed law enforcement system can, on their own, fight corruption without the president’s involvement. The most important contribution the president owes them he already has made: political goodwill.

If Buhari accedes to the wishes of the political class, he would have scored a zero in his key performance index, throwing away decades-old reputation on the altar of “not losing focus”.

The choice is entirely up to the new president, while the duty to report the consequences of his choices in the next four years will be ours.

*Chinedu is on twitter as @nedunaija