Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Xmas, dons and other matters

IT'S time again to celebrate Christmas, a season like no other, for its universality. More importantly, it would be time to celebrate Jesus, literally the greatest brand in the world. There's something unique about the season that seems to make it so special to humankind, adults and children alike - the year-end activities, festivities, the spiritual content, change in weather, discounted sales by businesses and other factors. By about December 15, the hustle and bustle in towns and cities are enough signs that Christmas is in the air, preceded by the Thanksgiving festivity in the United States. Many companies too wind down at that time of the year to take stock. For kids and the parents, there's always an unwritten rule that the former must update the wardrobe by at least a piece of whatever material, to make a difference among peers.

For many, travel to the native place used to be the norm. But then, things were relatively and economically more convenient. Not any more. They have been so traumatised by economic meltdowns at every level that all they do is to live for the day. The present is so bleak they don't even want to contemplate tomorrow for some fleeting moments; they only hang on to hope which is always deferred. The essence of Christmas is lost on them because the season is not accompanied by the expected joy. Even if it comes for some, it soon fades away like the morning dew.

Times like these try men's souls. Against our wills, we, the people, have been forced to a situation we are compelled to celebrate this season of goodwill in darkness because some faceless people have mismanaged the huge resources once allocated to boost electricity throughout the country. Worse still, our representatives in Abuja who investigated and submitted reports on how the allocated funds disappeared are no longer bothered about what happened to their findings even though the people are still much interested in knowing the truth and their oppressors. A culture of silence is being nurtured gradually to cover up suspected misdeeds.

Over the years, quite a number of us have made it a tradition to return home to reconnect with our roots and acquaintances. That tradition is seriously threatened not because Nigerians are tired of travelling but because the roads have become death traps. If many of the travellers manage to overcome the ordeals, there is the problem of time it takes to get to the destination. It is also assumed that there would always be plenty to eat and drink for everybody in the spirit of the season but it has remained at the level of assumption. Things are so difficult for most families that there is not enough to share again.

Yet, by God's design, Nigeria is a land of plenty, one in which her citizens have no business to beg for food. But that is the reality. Our leaders are virtually vision-less, only self-serving. That leadership touch has been the missing link in the nation's affairs and regrettably would continue to be until the system throws up a man or woman of character who is worthy to take the people to that promise land. Not jokers or peddlers of penury who see the exalted seats of power as birth rights for a minimum of 60 years. They are mere men without honours.

Since inception in 1963, no fewer than 3,447 persons have been decorated with national honours in recognition of their contributions to, and faith in the enterprise called Nigeria. That is commendable. But it is doubtful if a few names that featured here and there actually deserved to be recognised although that is a matter for another day. It may interest the committee saddled with screening and recommending potential recipients that there are people of lesser status in the society who have equally done marvellous things to lift their country's image positively. In this light the government may to consider a sub-committee to monitor events all the year round and to search diligently around the country to make a case for such persons who don't have people to recommend them for honours. The dragnet must be spread wider than what obtains at present. This I think is what President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua meant as he urged the committee to uphold the principles of integrity and scrupulous adherence to the pursuit of excellence.

Last weekend was the 36th convocation ceremony of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife. The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, Mr Goke Adegoroye, who represented Yar'Adua as the visitor to the institution in a speech purportedly given by the president lashed university teachers for alleged corruption plaguing the academic system and sexual harassment of female students by some of the dons. The speech had alleged that some lecturers collect monetary reward from students - about N250,000 in return for unmerited grades.

The bombshell was almost becoming a statement of truth until the president, himself a member of the constituency, disowned the speech. Had he not done this, one would have thought that Yar'Adua has seen a lot while he was in the system to make such declarations. But Adegoroye too was reportedly once in the system. So, the smoke from Adegoroye must have come from a sure fire.

It would be unacceptable to totally throw away his claims. It is not impossible he has one or two evidences to back up the claim. I was expecting the teachers to fight back almost immediately but that won't be necessary again as the president has saved the permanent secretary and the government the embarrassment of providing evidence. Let's face it, Adegoroye might not be totally off course or blabbing. The allegation of corruption can not be proved easily but we have seen instances of female students who have been so harassed coming out in the open to expose some lecturers. A general interest national publication Daily Sun once published the case of a student who was forced to set up a Lagos State University(LASU) lecturer in an hotel where they fixed as the meeting point. Of course, the randy lecturer was caught, pants down. Photographs they say don't lie because the images were telling enough.

The permanent secretary may have been indiscreet in presenting a speech that was not vetted. That was unfortunate. But he has provided a lead for the government to work upon. That could save the majority of the dons in the academic world still with integrity the seeming blanket accusation Adegoroye made at Ile Ife.

Power indeed is transient. Or how else do we describe the lot of Fani-Kayodes, the el-Rufais and before them the Ribadus of this world? These are some of the men of yesterday who held power as a matter of life and death for their mentor. Can you imagine a one time special adviser on public communications whose verbal assaults on critics of his master almost became issues for psychiatrists to examine or a minister of the FCT who does the master's bidding of unwittingly pulling down structures of certain institutions like AIT in the guise of contravention of planning laws. Why are they all now targets of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC),an agency of government once headed by one of those under the searchlight? They all probably forgot tomorrow could come. That is a lesson for incumbents of the offices.

Kidnappers are gradually turning the country into a place of fear, and themselves into a terror force that cannot be tamed, just like the so-called militants in the creeks. What could an eighty-two year-old man have done to warrant murder after he was kidnapped, in anticipation of a ransom. But that is the trauma they have inflicted on the Odivwri family in Emonu Orogun in Ughelli North local government area of Delta State. Octogenarian Chief Jacob Odivwri Edjesa had his head smashed with a sharp object according to his family who said the body was discovered later in the neighbourhood. But who are the kidnappers trying to settle scores with? The nation needs a tough sanction against this madness, and urgently too.