Friday, January 16, 2009

Era of Silentocracy

Dear Mr. president, When you came into power on May 29, 2007, Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief. Despite the flawed electoral process that brought you into power (which you frankly admitted), Nigerians, in their desperate bid to put an end to the reign of your predecessor, received you with open arms. As soon as you mounted the saddle, you beamed a flicker of hope as you rolled out your Seven-Point Agenda aimed at making Nigeria emerge amongst the best economies in the world by year 2020. Nigerians applauded your purposefulness.

Further, you won our hearts with your strict adherence to the rule of law, which was the bane of your predecessor. Worthy of note was the return of the N10bn allocation (which was unlawfully seized by your predecessor) to the Lagos State Government. This emboldened the anti-graft bodies, especially the EFCC, to carry out their duties without fear or favour, as some hitherto sacred cows were arrested, prosecuted or, at least, publicly humiliated.

However, just as you have begun to win the hearts of Nigerians, you suddenly began to shift ground and began to bow to pressure from mostly corrupt party stalwarts and your unnecessarily numerous advisers who felt that your liberality would hinder their selfish and parochial interests. And you caved in. You turned against the EFCC that teamed up with you in your anti-corruption campaign, perhaps because the anti-graft body went too far to touch a very sacred cow. And with the collaboration of Police authorities, you forced the hard working EFFC chair-man into a hush-hush training leave.

Well-meaning Nigerians as well as the international community condemned your approval of this flawed redeployment, but you unleashed your infamous weapon of self-defence – silence. Even when the issue assumed a crisis dimension, you kept mute, only to break your silence with the appointment of a successor to the EFCC chairman (presumed to be on study leave) without following due process. Even when the Senate, including notable legal luminaries and the international community condemned your action, you stood your ground.

Before this was the “Etteh-gate” – a national issue that embarrassed the country. When the nation was waiting for her Number One Citizen to make a categorical statement to end the stalemate, you maintained your characteristic silence (which I term Silentocracy), using the rule of law as an excuse. Mr. President, your silence on each occasion was far from golden.

Mr. President, in the seven-point agenda, you promised to declare a state of emergency in the power sector within 100 days in office. About 600 days in office, and the situation of power is still deplorable. Yours sincerely represents over 75 percent of unemployed graduates who, in a frantic bid to make ends meet, engaged in small-scale businesses, but whose efforts have been hampered by epileptic power supply. Many industries have collapsed due to lack of power supply. How would Nigeria emerge among the top world economies by year 2020 the way we are going?

Security usually has the highest vote in annual budgets. But how can you secure a nation with over 75 percent of the population living below the poverty line, while a privileged few live in affluence?

Nigerians are very hard-working people with amazing survival instinct. Given the right atmosphere, the average Nigerian can be very productive. Stable power supply alone can make half of the population engage in meaningful productive activities and reduce crime to the barest minimum.

And the Niger Delta issue. The crisis in that region cannot be quelled through military intervention as you once advocated, before rushing to Britain to seek assistance from Gordon Brown who was ready to provide military assistance if you so desired. But at what cost? The Niger Delta question does not need further dialogue, let alone a summit. The facts are very clear. What we need is sincerity of purpose. Just mobilise Julius Berger and other construction companies to survey the area and commence infrastructural development of the region and the so-called militants will turn into vigilante groups that would assist security operatives to protect the facilities in the region!

Considering the stupendous amount of money we made from oil in the course of the boom, Nigeria has no business with poverty. Yet the common man has been pauperized in the midst of plenty. The prices of petroleum products have remained the same, even at a time that the neighbouring Ghana reduced the price of the commodity, though they don’t have it in abundance as we do. Tell me, how much will it cost this country to repair our refineries and build new ones?

Our roads are in deplorable state, with hundreds of lives lost daily there. The nation once lost 46 gallant soldiers who were returning from a peace-keeping mission in Darfur in an avoidable road mishap. Air travelers are regularly stranded for days in airports across the country as a result of blackout!

A United States-based global humanitarian organi-sation – Save the Children – once reported that one million children die yearly in Nigeria. The report therefore ranked Nigeria among countries with the worst basic health care for mothers and children world-wide (second only to India). Yet, ours is a country with some of the best medical experts in the world.

Mr. President, it is disheartening to hear you say that you are taking your time to plan how to fix the nation’s numerous problems, in your response to critics who rightly pointed out that you’re too slow. I pray you finish your careful planning during our lifetime.

Mr. President, you have an ample opportunity to write you name in gold, given the huge resources at your disposal. Nigeria must survive. Insha Allah!

I wish you well.

Oil sector and the politics of geography

Former United States President Bill Clinton was only stating the obvious at the ThisDay Festival of Ideas on Wednesday in Abuja when he said that Nigeria’s economic woes could not be overcome until the simmering internal conflicts, particularly in the Niger Delta, are resolved.

It is needless to remind ourselves that national socio-economic development, and, indeed, prosperity, cannot be achieved no matter the good intentions of leaders and policy makers, especially in a heterogeneous society like Nigeria, where the peculiar interests of the various ethnic nationalities are not subsumed in favour of the collective aspirations of the nation state.

The militancy in the Niger Delta, which started in the civil war era, with Isaac Adaka Boro’s revolt against the perceived takeover of the region’s oil wealth by the ruling elite in collaboration with oil multinationals, has only been kept alive and indeed strengthened by the utter disregard for the feelings of those who have had to bear the brunt of destructive oil exploration activities for the past 50 years or so.

Natural justice demands that a people should have a say in how their resources are administered; but since the collapse of parliamentary democracy in 1966 and enthronement of a powerful central government, controlled for the most part by the northern political and military elite, the oil producing regions have taken the back seat in resource administration despite the fact that those controlling the centre rely on oil wealth for sustenance.

Recent agitations have produced a still unsatisfactory 13 per cent derivation, but part of what galls the Niger Deltans most is the continued appointment of non-indigenes to topmost positions in the oil sector. While this seeming arrogance at the seat of power could be explained in the need to sustain the desperate and expensive search for oil in the Chad Basin (so that the North will have its own oil), the real damage that is being done is that despite all posturing to the contrary, this administration may be stoking the embers of discontent rather than dousing it completely.

It is against this backdrop that the South-South leaders kicked against the appointment of Mohammed Barkindo, the preferred candidate and a former personal assistant of Petroleum Minister, Dr. Rilwanu Lukman, as the new Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. While I would not really fault Barkindo’s credentials for the job, based on his “experience” and accelerated movement to the top of NNPC’s management ladder, tipping him to replace Abubakar Yar’Adua appears provocative, to say the least.

Chief Edwin Clark, National Leader of the Ijaws, pointed out that three of the seven directors of the NNPC are from the North; two are from the South West and two from the South East. No South South indigene sits on the board of the oil monolith, which is the Federal Government’s cash cow.

The head of the Petroleum Trust Fund is a Northerner. A Northerner replaced Sena Anthony, NNPC’s former Company Secretary, and there are rumours that another Northerner is set to replace Reginald Stanley, as the Managing Director of the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company.

People of the South South are angry that the juicy oil sector contracts and oil blocks are shared out to powerful northern interests or their fronts, while they have to make do with the crumbs.

In aggregating the frustrations of the South South indigenes, Clark said, “There is no justification in the appointments made in the oil industry so far. The President made the appointments to the exclusion of the Niger Delta and South South zone, who are supposed to play major roles in the industry. We produce oil and yet we are not allowed to take part in decision-making in the industry.”

I can only agree. The chief executive of an oil major said in December that government’s aspirations for the oil industry, particularly increasing production and oil reserves, cutting gas flaring, and boosting power supply through gas-fired Independent Power Plants will not be met until the Niger Delta crisis is resolved.

Removing the pervasive feeling of exclusion from oil sector control is an integral part of the resolution of this crisis that has kept Nigeria on the map of the world’s troubled zones, characterised by oil theft, sabotage of oil installations, random shooting, kidnappings and other acts of lawlessness being carried out under the pretence of agitation for “resource control.”

It is tragic that Nigeria was the only oil producer that failed to take full advantage of record oil prices last year due to the shut in of about 500,000 barrels per day as militants ran around the creeks blowing up pipelines and seizing production facilities at will.

While it is true that some of the Niger Delta leaders are a bunch of scoundrels that have squandered the more recent opportunities to bring about some development in the region by their rapacious looting of state funds, for which, ironically, their people praise them, it is the duty of the President to enthrone a regime of fairness and justice, which will neutralise the centrifugal forces that still threaten the existence of Nigeria as a nation state even after 48 years of our so-called independence.

If things were done right, and everyone had his own fair share of the so-called national cake, it would not have mattered how many Barkindos or his relations sat on the NNPC board.

True. The Yar’Adua administration has set up the Niger Delta Ministry, ostensibly to address issues peculiar to that region.

But it is appointments to sensitive national posts that are out of sync with Federal Character that continue to generate claims of “marginalisation” by virtually all ethnic nationalities, including those from the North.

There appears to be general consensus that a constitutional review is necessary to correct some of the imbalances in the polity, but our leaders appear to be scared of this, which is why, the last attempt by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration was sabotaged and the current regime is still taking a long winding route that is likely to postpone the inevitable.

Clark has promised to send a formal protest on behalf of the South South indigenes to Mr. President in respect of his appointments at the NNPC. While this is unlikely to result in a reversal of Barkindo’s appointment, the Presidency must, in future, abide by the principles of equity, which it claims to uphold.

Tackling HIV/AIDS challenge

The 2008 UNAIDS report on the Global AIDS Epidemic is a mixed bunch of gradual success and fresh challenges. The report says 2.7 million people got newly infected with the HIV virus globally in 2007 with over 7,400 new cases reported daily–a decline from the 2001 figure of three million. The report also indicates that the number of children newly infected with the virus globally declined to 370,000 in 2007 from 450,000 in 2000. An estimated two million people died from HIV-related illness in 2007, a decline from 2.2 million in 2005.

Nigeria’s record sheet was even better. The report says the nation’s HIV prevalence record in 2007 slumped to 3.6 per cent in 2007 from 4.4 per cent in 2005 and 5.8 per cent in 2003.

Unlike UNICEF’s estimate of 3.9 in 2005, UNAIDS estimates that around 3.1 per cent of Nigerian adults between ages 15-49 were living with HIV/AIDS in 2007. While UNICEF estimates that 2.9 million Nigerians were living with HIV/AIDS in 2005, UNAIDS says 2.4 million had the scourge by the end of 2007.

UNAIDS says 58 per cent of HIV cases occurred among women (ages 15-49) by the end of 2007 while UNICEF puts the number (15 and above) at 1.6 million in 2005. The number of children (aged 0-14) living with AIDS dipped in 2007. UNAIDS puts the figure (ages 0-15) at 220,000 by the end of 2007, a slip from UNICEF’s 240,000 in 2005.

This decline notwithstanding, the world body says Sub-Saharan Africa remains “the epicentre of the epidemic”. According to the report, “Two-thirds of all people living with HIV are Africans. Three-quarters of the deaths in 2007 were in Africa. And if 100 random adults in sub-Saharan Africa were tested, the average number of those found to be HIV positive would be five.”

Another challenge facing Nigeria is the recent advent of man-to-man sex. The report says HIV prevalence is 13.4 per cent or 3.5 times higher than the national prevalence among men who have sex with men.

UNAIDS also says approximately 170,000 Nigerians died of AIDS in 2007 alone, adding that the development has hacked the average life expectancy for women to 46 years and men to 47 years, a tremendous decline from the 1991 figure of 53.8 for women and 52.6 for men. More worrisome is the submission that for every two people put on treatment globally, five others are newly infected.

Without doubt, the success recorded between 2002 and 2007 was largely as a result of the financial assistance from foreign donors. However, with the ongoing global financial challenges that may necessitate a cut in foreign assistance worldwide, the FG may have to look for other creative means to fund its HIV/AIDS programme. The government may have to increase its funding of the antiretroviral treatment programme from the current five per cent.

There is a need to step up public enlightenment on HIV/AIDS. Media campaign should be intensified for the use of condom, especially with the 2007 UNAIDS report saying that 80 per cent of HIV infections in Nigeria were transmitted through heterosexual sex. In the face of possible cut in foreign financial assistance, preventive measures should be intensified and emphasised to reduce new infection.

The Federal Government needs to fast-track its target on the National HIV/AIDS Strategic Framework, which aims to provide antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to 80 per cent of adults and children with advanced HIV infection and to 80 per cent of HIV-positive pregnant women by 2010; and to test 80 per cent of the population for HIV the same year.

The FG should also pay more attention to blood transfusion, especially against a report that it accounts for 10 per cent of new HIV infections in Nigeria. Also, mother-to-child transmission should be looked into to avert the recurrence of 2005 tragedy where most of the 220,000 children who contacted AIDS did so through their mothers.

While testing centres should be increased, the society should embrace voluntary testing and relate to AIDS victims with love as a precursor to making them to lead normal lives.

As Obama Becomes President (2)

Israel would seem to be comfortable with the personalities chosen by President-elect Obama to handle American foreign policy as well as other key appointments made in the White House, but whether the Israeli “connections” could be seized upon to move the frontiers of peace remains to be seen. Here, the only new factor is President Obama’s personality and the hope that he will be able to gain the trust of the belligerents as an honest broker to move mountains. The prospects do not seem encouraging in that Senator Obama during his electioneering campaign had made certain compromising statements and undertakings to various influential interest groups which he would find difficult to renege on without serious loss of face.
The U.S/Europe threat to build a missile defence shield in Russia’s neighbourhood has unwittingly set off a new cold war which has seen Russia foraging in American neighbourhood, as signaled by the Russian warships visit to Venezuela. The earlier test of will in Georgia resulted in an uneasy truce. Whether President Obama would proceed with the missile project or not and what Russia’s response to the perceived threat would be should determine the level of intensity of a new cold war and even a new arms race.
As the saying goes, when America sneezes the rest of the world catches cold. This truism has been amply demonstrated by the current economic meltdown in America, which has affected the rest of the world. The bubble seems to have burst in Britain ahead of others although the symptoms of the world economic dislocation had earlier manifested in America for months without any one in authority having the courage or sincerity to acknowledge the problem. It was after a lot of hide-and-seek and dodgy policies that the Bush administration swallowed its pride to confess that indeed the United States has been in a recession as far back as December 2007.
If a doctor could not diagnose an ailment and the patient refuses to tell the truth no meaningful prescription would be made. Hence the developed world had to put up with recession for nearly a year on misplaced prescriptions. President Obama would have to do away with the Bush administration’s absolute distaste for non-state intervention in the economy as soon as he takes office. Hopefully, given a new friendly face in America, President Obama would more easily get the much-needed international cooperation required to deal with the global recession. Such multilateral effort may work where Bush’s “go-it-alone” policy had woefully failed.
But even without a recession, the gradual shift of much of the world economy to the Far East, and more especially China, have been noticed by all. While the US dug herself over the years in resource-sapping wars in the Middle East, China has been quietly solidifying its dominance in the world economy. One may, therefore, dare to predict that in the next decade or so there will be a new world economic order and with it a new political order. By that time we would be back to a new multi-polar world and the new super powers would be any body’s guess.:
Needless to say that the economies of many countries, including the highly industrialised ones, continue to suffer from the severe travel restrictions imposed in the fight against so-called global terrorism. As a fallout, Nigeria suffered incalculable economic loss and severe damage.
To undertake from Nigeria a simple business, medical, academic or pleasure trip to a European country, for example, requires no less than 3 months preparation by which time the purpose of the trip would have lapsed or been overtaken by events at home or at the intended destination. And even when one finally succeeds in getting the permit to travel, one is subjected to indignity by literally being stripped to the waist at travel controls. Many other developing countries encounter similar travel restrictions by the West. Candidly, any solution to the world economic meltdown which ignores the damage done by undue travel restrictions is unrealistic. It is quite apparent that countries which take the risk to liberalize their travel controls are reaping economic fruits.
While we sympathize with the plight of countries which suffer acts of terrorism, there is urgent need for the G20 to seriously assess the impact of the travel restrictions as part of the package of efforts being made to find a solution to global economic recession. Unfortunately, given the recent U.S commission report predicting that terrorists using Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) would launch deadly attacks in the next five years, (P.II Daily Independent 4/12/08) America, and indeed the world, is likely to remain on maximum alert for all these years. Ironically, we now talk of the world being a global village while it is becoming more and more difficult for people to interact across it.
If there is anything President Bush’s critics conceded in his favour, it is his commitment to fighting the HIV/AIDS scourge in Africa, including Nigeria. All eyes will therefore be on President Obama to see whether he would match or even surpass President Bush’s HIV/AIDS programme in Africa.
Senator Obama’s victory has sent shock waves throughout the world. It has given hope and confidence to many minorities in all manner of circumstances that no condition is permanent. For its symbolism, some see Obama’s victory as finally nailing the coffin of slavery in America and also bringing into reality the ideals of the American constitution which says: “All men are created equal….” This is despite the fact that he is not a descendant of victims of slavery.
Oh, how wildly agog we all were over Senator Obama’s victory! This writer was warmly congratulated in streets, in restaurants and shops etc in a Far East country as if it was his presidential election. Senator Obama’s election has thus turned out to be more than a routine election in America. It generated hope and optimism across several sections of the world. Obama’s victory is so novel and unprecedented almost every conceivable group of people, including Nigerians, now see it as a symbol of light at the end of any tunnel of human disadvantage or oppression.
Interestingly, some current affairs commentators and a few functionaries attempt to draw not only inspirations from the conduct of public affairs but also make comparisons between the American election and elections in Nigeria. A few had stuck out their necks to say that the U.S has something to learn from Nigeria. Patriotism aside, the truth is that any objective assessment would admit that the basis of comparison is not there. We beat our chest to say that the last election had broken the jinx in civilian-civilian transition not minding how it was achieved, a kind of the Machiavellian principle of “the end justifies the means”.
Comparing Nigerian elections with the American elections is like comparing day and night. The difference is clear. On the one side is a high degree of transparency such that a nation-wide election was conducted in a country larger than ours in all ramifications without any serious disputes; candidates conceded defeat without any prompting; and the media gave electoral verdict without the slightest accusation of bias, while the incumbency factor had little or no impact. Prof. Akin Oyebode rightly asked: “Does any body know who the President of the Federal Election Commission is in America?” (P.37, Nigeria Tribune 8/12/08). “It is just a technical job,” he declared. Indeed, people hardly heard of the formal declarations by the electoral body, results were so instantaneously released and widely published by the media. Foreign observers seemed to have gone there more to learn of the procedural excellence than to act as a check on any perceived electoral manipulation or irregularities.
The recent electoral debacle in Jos is a clear indication that we still have a long way to go in our attitude to elections. Such attitude can hardly be brought about by new electoral regulations or even a new Constitution. Given the correct attitude to the rules on the ground as we have them today will be enough for us to govern the country meaningfully and that would have ended crave for a new constitution and additional electoral regulations. What is the need for more regulations if they can not be enforced and if each election can easily become a “do-or-die” affair? If the law provides for a special design of the ballot paper and someone did something else or the vote is not even counted, could that be the fault of the law? Saturday “Punch” columnist Joe said he could not find any significant “similarities” between Ghana’s recent Presidential elections and Nigeria’s April 2007 (P.64, Saturday Punch 13/12/08). You then ask: What electoral law does Ghana have in place that Nigeria does not?
It is quite apparent that often the urge for a new constitution is only to soothe the ego of those concerned with the form rather than the substance; satisfy the greed of those who want to carve out empires by splitting the country into more states and local governments; as well as satisfy the avarice for increased revenue allocation; or create the opportunity to squeeze in ill-conceived pet ideas like the aborted “third term” project. Ultimately a country is conditioned by the dominant political group’s morality which in several countries plagued by horrible electoral and socio-economic vices is quite low indeed.
As relates to Nigeria-U.S relations in general, President-elect Obama’s briefing will inevitably include criminal activities disrupting oil supplies in Nigeria which is of special interest to U.S. There is also the question of religious intolerance which evokes sentiment in the fight against so-called global terrorism. Of note is the recent U.S National Intelligence Council report (P.9, Sunday Punch 30/11/08) which has already predicted the likelihood of religious cleavage between the Southern and Northern parts of Nigeria. The report’s conclusions are, of course, questionable in that the religious dichotomy in the country is not all that clear cut between the North and the South, and is even harder to draw in the Western part of the country.
The authors could easily point to the recent disturbances in Jos over the local government elections as a pointer to the veracity of their conclusions. But it could be seen that electric power shortage in Nigeria has by far greater potential for more serious social dislocations in the country than any other factor in the coming years. Imagine a hitherto socially volatile area like Kano where recent reports revealed more than 500 factories have closed down as a result of power shortage. It is universally potentially dangerous to the social set up to have multitude of able-bodied jobless persons walking the streets in all parts of the Federation.
All in all, I think Obama’s greatest challenges as US President would lie within the US rather than outside it. The US electoral “establishment” is so transparently entrenched that Martin Luther King’s dream was so sweetly fulfilled in Obama’s victory. The question now is: will the ultra right-wing Washington establishment permit the fulfillment of Obama’s own audacious vision of a new liberal America of equal and attainable opportunities for all Americans and his aspiration for a US-led world founded on dialogue and multilateral action? This remains to be seen.

Egwu’s reforms

DR. Sam Egwu, former Ebonyi State Governor, was a most unlikely candidate for a ministerial seat. He told the Senate, during his screening, that he farmed out electoral materials to members of the National Assembly during his party's primaries, without which, he said, some of them would not be in the National Assembly.
An allegation elicited this revelation. Someone said Dr. Egwu, as governor, did not relate well with members of the National Assembly. He flatly denied it, and used the electoral assistance he provided to some of them as a perfect score of his chumminess with national legislators from his state.

Many Nigerians were embarrassed. Today, he is the Minister of Education and decidedly taking wobbly steps in an important assignment.

This brief is part of the story of the man, who in his first meeting with a delegation of our university vice-chancellors, threatened to sack some of them. He said they were clogs in developments this administration wanted in education, something he called the reform agenda of this government.

What is the content of the education reform that Dr. Egwu would commence with sacking vice-chancellors? Would his new vice-chancellors come from places other than the same universities that endure the systematic destruction most of our public institutions face?

Universities have degenerated. Which of our institutions is sound? What specific reforms does Dr. Egwu have in mind? Which vice-chancellors are the obstacles to the reforms?

The most memorable thing about this government’s agenda for education is its mismanagement of a nationwide teachers’ strike last year. Many of our children missed their school certificate examinations over the strike. A government in which the President, Vice-President and the former Minister of Education were once teachers nibbled at some contrived constitutional provision as its reason for not negotiating with teachers. It still negotiated with the teachers after wasting everyone’s time.

Dr. Egwu, who taught agronomy at a university knows that even if universities run without vice-chancellors, government must fund them properly, discipline the workers who are its employees and ensure that university products are educated.

A wholesome condemnation of vice-chancellors and the belligerent attitude of the new Minister of Education are not solutions.

Unless Dr. Egwu has programmes to make education meaningful again at all levels, his tenure would end in anonymity like his predecessor’s. Changes are necessary in the educational system. Without changes, the system may finally collapse. However, the changes must be relevant to the needs of the people, otherwise they are useless.

If Dr. Egwu is perceptive, he will soon discover that sacking university leaders is the least of his challenges.

Stinking Police Stations and Courts

Court premises and police stations are places one expects to be neat. There is some sense in which justice reflects purity, but in Nigeria these are some of the most repulsive places to be.
A typical police station in Nigeria wears a disorderly, desolate and filthy appearance. Its surroundings is completely unkempt and uninviting. The entrance to the station is clustered with long abandoned dirty vehicles. On entry, one, in many cases, is greeted with a strong, uncomfortable odour. Furniture there looks old and rickety. If one is unlucky to be close to the tiny cubicles where detainees are cramped together, one is hit with a more repugnant odour. The dirty shelves of the station are littered with dirty case files and broken down typewriters.
Our court premises, especially the magistrate court premises, are no better. Many are littered with waste and property seized from court debtors. Most court rooms where justice is dispensed are equally dirty. The seats, air-conditioners and ceiling fans in the court rooms are broken down. Some magistrate court buildings look like places where animals are kept. In many court premises there are no rest rooms. Even when there are rest rooms they are so dirty that they cause revulsion. Consequently, many court litigants and visitors ease themselves in open places in the court premises.
It is ridiculous that our court buildings and court premises where justice is dispensed are that filthy. In today’s world, a lot of emphasis is put on clean environment. Therefore, we cannot continue to tolerate a dirty court environment. Sustainable development finds expression in a clean environment. Justice is rooted in confidence. A stinking court premises induces a loss of confidence in the judiciary as the bulwark of justice. The cleaning up of the corruption in the judiciary should begin with the cleaning up of the filth in our court premises.
The same thing applies to our police stations. We need to tidy up our police stations. A police station is not just any place. It is the principal operational formation of the police force charged with creating and maintaining records for the prevention of crime, preservation of law and order and protection of property. The Police Act demands that our police stations be kept tidy and that policemen must be clad in clean uniform.
We have heard about claims that the police and the judiciary are starved of funds. It is also argued that sometimes funds budgeted for the improvement of the judiciary and Police end up in many private pockets.
But we believe that cleanliness can be shown even when one is in poverty. It is habit that cannot be hidden when one has it. Cleanliness should not be compromised. We therefore call on the authorities in these institutions to devise effective ways of tidying up court premises and police stations. If it cannot be contracted to professional cleaners as it is the case in the private sector, a way must be found to ensure that such important places are kept clean. Training in garbage collection, sanitation works, flushing of public toilets, sweeping of public premises and cleaning of public seats should form part of the environmental training of staffers of our police stations and judiciary.
If the police stations and court premises of other countries are very tidy, why can’t ours be tidy too? By failing or neglecting to clean up our court premises and police stations, we are indirectly telling the world that nothing good can come from those two vital institutions in our criminal justice delivery system.

Ministry of Works and Returned Funds

Often, the stock complaint in government circles, is the insufficiency of funds to execute their many competing projects. It was therefore strange to hear that the Federal Ministry of Works returned a whopping sum of unspent N47 billion to the nation’s treasury at the end of 2008. For a nation dying to have its infrastructure upgraded and revamped, it smacks of aberration, somewhat, to return monies meant for given projects.
While we commend the honesty displayed by the ministry in the return of the funds, unlike what obtained in the past, we are at a loss to understand why the appropriated funds were not used for the purposes they were meant. Nigerians have long been treated to a cocktail of excuses from Ministry of Works officials. Once, it was zero allocation, then, we heard that “funds allocated is not funds released”, and now funds released are being returned.
Although we commend the returned autonomy of the Works ministry which was, last year, subsumed under the Transport ministry, it is yet unclear if the Ministry suddenly lost all its engineers and other workmen as to explain why work was not done leading to the non-utilisation of the allocated funds? Or did the ministry not get the job schedules for which the returned funds were allocated?
It is disturbing irony that with the degree of infrastructural decay in the country, the problem will be much funds and no work to do. With our highways, (remember Benin-Ore expressway, the East-West Road or the Onitsha-Owerri road) being almost impassable and public water supply completely not available, it is amazing how the Ministry of Transport remained idle in this area all through the year even when funds to implement the budget were available. So, if available funds cannot be well utilized, why the search for private partners?
But we are not exactly surprised. It has been the aged practice for some civil servants to frustrate the implementation of projects all through the year so there will be unspent funds which they often help themselves with at the end of the year. It is strange that even last December 31, reports indicated that civil servants, once again, stayed so late in office, even till the wee hours of the new year day. It is curious that contracts for supply of items were still being awarded on the last day of the year with payments effected same day, using backdated cheques all in a bid to circumvent the directive to return unspent funds. We wonder why such contracts were not awarded until the last day of the year, even after official hours? In a way therefore, the
civil servants must share in the blame of the under development of the nation.
While we blame both the presidency and the civil servants for the shoddy implementation of the year’s budget, we are wont to express worry over the seeming nonchalance of the federal legislature which should exercise over-sight functions over the Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government. If the legislature did their work propitiously, they would have blown the whistle both on the lethargy in the ministry.
All said, the new Minister of Works must rise from the state of inertia of the past and get the country going, by ensuring that appropriated monies are not only released, and timely too, but also that they are used for what they are meant for. Nigerians want, from this government, safe and smooth road network across the country. We need even the basic but yet scarce facilities like rail transport, water, stable electricity supply, and above all, food and security. It is only in doing these that the nation can experience the needed incremental growth.

Government’s Austerity Measures

The Federal Government is living up to its word by cutting its 2009 expenditure through the introduction of austerity measures in the executive arm.
Presenting the 2009 budget at the National Assembly last month, President Umaru Yar’ Adua had noted that ‘The decline in international oil prices has compelled Government to make some exceptional adjustments in our spending plans and priorities. In this regard, this Administration is introducing certain policies to curb inefficient spending in MDAs.’
To further demonstrate government’s determination to implement an austere budget the President announced the introduction of new Public Spending Efficiency Policy Measures, under which, recurrent expenditure by way of overheads is being frozen, in the main, at the 2008 level or substantially cut, in a number of cases. Investments in non-priority capital outlays such as the acquisition of new vehicles, and the construction and furnishing of new headquarters for MDAs, have been suspended; and excessive expenditure on international travels and training has been curbed by 50% with expenditure on local travels slashed by 25%. Also payments for goods and services will be discharged through the e-payment system to increase efficiency and reduce avenues for corruption.
Last week, some more details of the measures emerged. They include a two-year ban on procurement of new vehicles and suspended foreign training for civil servants.
These are commendable first steps at living the reality of the times, and the fact of the size of the civil service. With so many countries deep in recession in a globalised world, Nigeria cannot go to sleep.
We also support the proposal of the House of Representatives Committee on Finance that the austerity measures embedded in the document should be brought to bear on all facets of governance including the semi-autonomous revenue generating agencies.
But we wish to go further: To be effective, all arms and tiers of government should move quickly to reduce expenditure to make the Federal government’s efforts at cutting cost effective.
However, the experience from similar efforts in the past shows that it is easier to announce such measures than to implement them. Many of the plugged holes have been channels through which some people in government enrich themselves. For example, the average civil servant would want to travel overseas as often as possible because of the allowances they get for such trips.
The fact that such avenues to enrich themselves exist, the only plausible reason some people go into government as middle-class citizens and turn out to be billionaires overnight. As much as Presidents wish to control such tendencies, news loopholes are discovered and exploited. We therefore charge government to introduce an efficient monitoring system to ensure that the measures are not abused.
It would be very convincing to know what Government saves from these measures and how the proceeds are otherwise used to the benefit of the nation.
We are however frightened by the possibility of extending austerity measures to the impoverished average Nigerian, who is in desperate need for government to turn his fortunes around this year. The average Nigerian remembers clearly examples where she has been told to tighten his/her belt only to turn around to see government officials flaunt big tummies without belts.

Remembering the heroes

IT is time once again to remember those who rendered service to their fatherland as members of the Armed Forces, in peace and in war. Service in war or combat is more glorified and is the stuff of epic films. Service in peacetime is less glamorous but no less important. It was popular in the olden days to lionise war heroes, possibly out of fear than genuine adoration. Nowadays, service in peacetime also provides opportunities for heroic performance and selfless achievement.

My father served in Burma during the Second World War. I recall as a little boy the stories he told me about the experience he and his colleagues had in some remote parts of South East Asia. Perhaps, those stories inspired me to join the army as an officer cadet at the tender age of 17. For a long time, my father's medal from his service in Burma was one of my precious possessions.

Throughout my service and the opportunities to study military history, I have searched records for the exploits of Nigerians and Nigerian units who served with the West African Frontier Force and British forces in the First and Second World Wars. Till today, I have not found any. Perhaps, this is because of the perspectives of those who wrote the history. They would not have considered the contributions of those Nigerians of any significance. Or did they?

Service rendered by these valiant men to the colonial powers was commemorated with such monuments as the statue of the Unknown Soldier accompanied by his African carrier in Idumota. Our heroes, whom we remember today, continue to be anonymous and uncelebrated. This is in contrast with what we see in other parts of the world where monuments are erected to honour specific heroes, regiment or units. Why must our heroes be anonymous? Succeeding generations may consider them all part of a pack rather than outstanding elements of different segments of our national journey. Why can't we have memorials dedicated to specific campaigns and major engagements, to honour that participation helped to protect our collective interest, as defined in their era?

My visit to the Arlington National Cemetery in 1975, as a young subaltern on course in the United States (U.S.) was most memorable. Walking through the thoughtfully designed and well-manicured park was an excursion into the history of a country that values and celebrates service, both military and civil. Anyone walking through its hallowed precincts would be suffused with a feeling of pride and a sense of appreciation to heroes past. It is easy to command from such a person a willingness to pay the supreme sacrifice, if and when necessary, knowing that such sacrifice would be appreciated by a caring and grateful nation.

Compare this experience with visits to similar places in Nigeria, one always comes away from such visits disappointed. The environment never gives the impression that these are places for hero's worthy of reverence and remembrance. Our heroes living or dead deserve better. They and their experiences represent a heritage we will do well to preserve and immortalise. Their examples can inspire others now and in the future. What better way to immortalise our heroes than to honour those who are alive and encourage them to feel like icons that are celebrated and appreciated! Many who participated in some of the major obligations of our national life, such as the civil war, peacekeeping and major internal security operations are still alive but practically forgotten. How many Nigerians below the age of 30 know about the Black Scorpion and his exploits? Even my son who grew up within the military environment has never heard of him.

Many do not know why we remember or celebrate service at this time. Therefore, if the celebration is to have deeper meaning to the general populace, it should embody dissemination of knowledge about those we are remembering and celebrating. There is a duty to research and document their exploits, maintain good archives and repositories for formal and informal accounts of their deeds, collectively and individually. Their activities and worldview can be discussed at lectures and symposia. Of course, erection of befitting monuments as memorials to specific attainments would serve as living history.

Conflict in human affairs is inevitable but war is not to be celebrated. Those who advocate not drawing attention to the exploits of our heroes in conflict do so for good reasons. However, it is important to recognise that armed conflict is sometimes imposed by necessity. Human beings who involve in such situations face circumstances over which they have choice. Some may run and hide in the face of fire while others choose to stand and fight fulfilling their obligations beyond the call of duty. We therefore recognise that not everybody who served is worthy of honour. This is an occasion to reward good conduct, to honour and remember those who served well.

We are reminded that the celebration of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day is not just an occasion for alms for veterans and the sale of poppies. More important than that, it is to celebrate the honour and glory exemplified by our heroes. We are supposed to remember them for the sacrifice they have made and to honour their memory in appreciation of their valuable contributions.

Some find it curious in this global age that Nigerian veterans celebrate on a date - January 15 - which is different from others worldwide - November 11. The date is informed by our history. However, some of us miss the sense of identification with the league of veterans worldwide, which the old date symbolised. Why can't we celebrate the two? The fulcrum of stability in the world has changed from war mongering to the culture of peace. Forget the occasional violent outbursts in isolated places. Today, peacekeeping and peace-making help to advance conflict resolution. Consequently, a contemporary General Grade officer in the armed forces might serve a full tour of 35 years without ever fighting any war. Making and keeping the peace is now more important than war.

Nigerian troops have excelled everywhere in peace-keeping operations and observer missions, from the Congo, Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Liberia, Somalia to Darer and so on. The exploits of Nigerian troops in these engagements are legendary. This is an occasion to salute the veterans who have brought honour to Nigeria through peacekeeping engagements all over the world. Those who are currently engaged in such operations, which occasionally expose them to personal danger, should be assured that the nation appreciates and cares for them.

The Gaza War

Images of mangled bodies, soldiers and civilians alike, from Gaza, though familiar, are horrifying. Those morbid pictures, it must be admitted, are sad products of the long-drawn conflict between the two sides that rightfully lay claims to provocation. Now, it takes more than rhetorics for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) cease-fire resolution passed last Thursday to end this gruesome run.
Israel whose military action has caused more of the destruction, has remorselessly pointed to the consistent pounding of its southern territory with rockets and mortar bombs by Hamas since it (Israel) evacuated its army and settlers from the Gaza Strip three years ago. It also has plausible reasons to believe that those weapons were smuggled into Gaza long ago and that more are still being brought into the area to torment it. On its border with Lebanon, Israel already faces formidable danger in the form of Hezbollah, the militant group it waged an unsuccessful war against in 2006. The ferocity with which it is prosecuting the present hostilities could be traced to the determination of the Jewish state to redeem its bruised ego and institute an atmosphere of deterrence in a region. Ordinarily, these grounds are cogent.
On its part, Hamas hinges its belligerence on the fact that Israel has tightened Gaza’s borders, thereby hampering its economic progress, while enhancing that of West Bank , controlled by Hamas’ political and more secular rival, Fatah. Even while the truce which was shattered by the on-going conflagration lasted, Israel permitted the delivery of only a token of the humanitarian aid meant for Gaza. But despite the heavy losses they have incurred (nearly 800 casualties as against Israel’s just above one dozen), the Palestinians have continued to insist that their foes must open up Gaza before they would stop the bombardment. The organisation’s spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, said in response to the UNSC resolution thus: “This resolution doesn’t mean that the war is over. We call on the Palestinian fighters to mobilize and be ready to face the offensive, and we urge the Arab masses to carry on with their angry protests.”
That threatening declaration did not come as a surprise to watchers of the precarious life in Palestine. After all, Israel’s Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, had equally voiced the combative stance of her government at the beginning of the war two weeks ago, long before the UNSC proposition. As she put it, “Israel has acted, Israel is acting and will act only according to its own considerations, the security of its citizens and its right to self defence.”
Both Israel and Hamas have credible excuses to fight but they should learn from their own past that is littered with failed attempts at armed prosecutions. Israel ought to know by now that the gun alone is not strong enough to subdue a people. The Palestinians should also come to terms with the futility of prompting the annihilation of Israel . The earlier both sides embraced the fact that they will be neighbours forever, the better.
It is instructive that the UNSC move is overwhelming. With 14-0 vote (only United States abstention), the warring parties should be clear about the expectation of the rest of the world.
In the light of this despondency, therefore, the UNSC’s direction to the international community to “intensify efforts to provide arrangements and guarantees in Gaza in order to sustain a durable ceasefire and calm, including to prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition and to ensure the sustained reopening” of border crossings is timely. Everyone, particularly the United States and the other countries that have traditionally taken part in the peace process, has key roles to play in healing the sore that has plagued humanity since 1948 when Israel’s determination to actualize its nationhood started.

Reflections on essence of university education in human development

BEING the address delivered by Dr. Goke Adegoroye, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education on behalf of the Visitor, The President, Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of The Federal Republic of Nigeria, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, GCFR, on the occasion of the 36th Convocation Ceremony of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria on Saturday, 20th December, 2008.


IT is my pleasure to address this gathering at this occasion of the 36th Convocation Ceremony of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. I note with delight that the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Ms. Amal Pepple and a number of my Permanent Secretaries, including the Permanent Secretary Federal Ministry of Education, Dr. Goke Adegoroye, who is representing me here today, are products of this University. There are countless others in government appointed positioIns and in the private sector, all doing outstanding work in diverse areas of human endeavour. Accordingly, this is one university that is "Great", not in name only, but in the quality of its products whose contributions to national development have been so remarkable that you cannot but doff your hat to this institution as a truly Great citadel of higher learning.

I wish to congratulate His Royal Majesty, Alhaji Abdulmumini Kabir Usman, the Emir of Katsina who was earlier in this ceremony installed the new Chancellor of this great University. Your Royal Majesty, this is a distinct honour, and we pray that the Almighty Allah will mercifully grant you the grace to impact upon this University your amiable endowments, for its advancement to greater heights.

I also congratulate my brother President, His Excellency, Dr. Thomas Boni Yayi, the President of the Republic of Benin, who was conferred with the honorary degree of Doctor of Science in Political Economics. The honour is an acknowledgement of your contributions to the cause of humanity, particularly in the West African sub-region. I have no doubt this recognition will further forster the fraternal bond between our two peoples and advance the cause of the development of our two Nations.

I have noted the strides being made in this University. For this year, in particular, I note the performance of the Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE), who for the second year, have represented our great country enviably in SIFE global competitions. When viewed against the numerous challenges facing our universities, these types of achievements are commendable. I also commend the Vice-Chancellor and his Principal Officers for their efforts in ensuring normalization of the university academic calendar and also for the various initiatives that he has embarked upon to mobilize funding support for this university. The Lecture Theatre and the lift (Elevator) earlier commissioned during this Convocation are the result of some of these initiatives.

Your Excellencies, Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Graduands, Ladies and Gentlemen; In the tradition of our university system, as President and Head of State of Nigeria, I occupy the ceremonial position of Visitor to all our Federal Universities. Accordingly, at every Convocation of each of these Universities, I am duty-bound to make a statement. On receipt of the Convocation notification and formal invitation to today's Convocation of the Obafemi Awolowo University, I noted a number of important points:

(i) First, this University is situated in Ile-Ife the cradle and epicenter of the Yoruba race;

(ii) Second, the Convocation itself is taking place in a Hall named after Oduduwa the progenitor of the Yoruba race;

(iii) Third, over the years this University has stood out both in the quality of its products and the courage that its members have displayed in contributing to public discourse; and

(iii) Four, today's convocation is the last in the National Universities Commission's calendar of Federal Universities convocation, and it falls on the last Saturday before the Christian festivities of Christmas.

Arising from these four important points, this Convocation, in terms of the venue and timing, offers itself as the most appropriate platform and point to reflect on the very essence of education and, in particular the university as an institution, in human development so that we all can wake up to a new Year in 2009 in a new frame of mind and commitment to what we must jointly do to address the challenges that face us as a nation in a globalized world. In this regard, therefore, Mr. Vice-Chancellor, I take you as the point of contact, not only with your fellow Vice-Chancellors but with all other heads of educational institutions, public and private, great and small; from tertiary through secondary to the basic, in this overall reflection on our educational system and the charges arising therefrom which, later in this address, I shall pass to all of you.

Over the past 18 months of my Administration, I have noticed that in the course of my performing the role of Visitor, certificates, particularly the first degree certificates and Diplomas are presented to graduands with the usual statement of conviction of having been "found worthy in learning and character". I recall that the same statement proceeded my being handed my own certificate when I graduated from the Ahmadu Bello University some 33 years ago. I invite everyone in this congregation to now take this statement again and ponder why in spite of our citadels of higher education's conviction of producing graduates who have been found worthy in learning and character the human society, including ours in particular, continues to face the myrids of challenges that now beset us. What percentage does character contribute in the award of the Certificate? Who imparted it and how was it assessed in the course of the student's programme of studies?

Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Members of the University Senate, Honorary Graduands, Graduands, Ladies and Gentlemen; At no time in human history has the human society faced as many challenges as what we face today. The past 200 years, spanning the industrial revolution and the post world war quest for development have left in their wake not only such grave environmental consequences as global warming but socio-economic challenges that manifest as endemic poverty and cleavage between rich and poor. Arising from the challenges of globalization and interconnectivity are the larger accident of artificial systems and the very recent yet-to-abated rattling of the global financial system. There are, yet still, the modern evils of terrorism, drug and human traffic, cyber crime and the mega city problems of solitude, suicide, etc.

Scientists, social scientists and philosophers are all in agreement that these challenges combined can obliterate the human society from the face of the earth. But they are also in equal agreement that the key to the survival of human society lies in the appreciation of, not only the concept but, both the genuine pursuit of knowledge and the deployment of strategies that promote the principle of sustainable development.

This calls for the overhaul of the world's socio-economic systems as well as efforts at the national and individual levels aimed at transforming, not only knowledge, but the way we think and relate to one another, the skills we emphasize to be acquired and deployed to the society, as well as our values, attitudes and lifestyles. What we need are fundamental changes in the quality, type, orientation and focus of the education we place at the disposal of the society to drive development.

It was Albert Einstein who said that no problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it and that a new way of thinking is required to solve such a problem. As a former teacher now in governance, with the benefit of the appreciation of education within the vortex of the overall national yearning for development, I am beginning to appreciate that the difficulty of the direct impact of education to development comes largely from too much separated systems of knowledge and knowledge creation.

The orthodox education that the whole world has relied upon over the last two centuries is yet to achieve a good balance between knowledge acquisition and the appreciation and consequent internalization of human values, including respect for the environment, in the pursuit of development. There is excessive disciplinization of knowledge. Arising from this, the choices that orthodox education has so far placed at the disposal of our students have compelled them to study such disciplines as Chemistry, Physics, Architecture, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, English, French, Spanish, Yoruba, Hausa, etc. These disciplines address single and fractionalized issues and hardly allows their products to think out of the box. This is in contradistinction to the realities of the larger society where the challenges and issues are inherently inter-disciplinary and hence require a holistic approach.

Disciplinisation therefore has robbed humanity the benefit of appreciating and deploying knowledge within the holistic and inter-disciplinary practical approach of, close to life, problem solving, values-driven, respect for others, local relevance and participatory decision-making as well as providing a wide range of skills, including critical thinking and questioning skills and learning about and from the environment. In other words, acquisition of sheer knowledge alone is not enough to address sustainable development. We need the infusion of skills, attitude and values.

Chancellor, For Learning and Culture is the motto of this great University. How far has the university gone in ensuring that our intangible cultural heritage and values of society have been infused in the individual disciplines of this University to enable them put us at the fore-front of Education for Sustainable Development?

Like all nations of the world our country Nigeria faces the challenges that I enumerated earlier. We also face additional challenges of our socio-cultural and religious plurality as well as such syndromes of under development as corruption, inefficient management of public utilities etc. My Administration is poised to squarely face these challenges so that we can bequeath to the generations coming behind us a better society, built on justice and rule of law, equity and the achievement of human security, peace and prosperity. It is towards the realization of this goal that I have enunciated the 7-Point Agenda as the platform for the achievement of our vision of becoming one of the 20 most developed economics in the world by the year 2020, (Vision 20:2020).

Over the ages, in times when it appears that society, nay humanity, has strayed, the human societies have always turned to the academic and spiritual sanctuaries. Being removed from the hurly-burly of the larger societies and as groups that place premium priority on knowledge and spiritual wisdom acquisition, members of such sanctuaries have succeeded in living above board, in terms of being inflicted by the ills of the larger society. Accordingly, they are imbued with the natural moral courage to profer solutions to the problems facing the larger society.

Rather sadly, the academic sanctuary epitomized by our Universities are today plagued by the same ills of the larger society. The Federal Ministry of Education and the National Universities Commission are daily inundated by reports of various vices being perpetrated by those to whom the nation, not only looks up to for answers to its ills but, have entrusted with the responsibility of moulding the knowledge and character base of our children for the future development of our nation.

These reports have graduated from the usual sexual harassment and sexual temptation to the bizarre: e.g. Certain Universities recruiting and forwarding the names of hawkers and touts to the National Youth Service Corps for national service, while scores of genuine students who have completed their programmes of studies are denied places and have to wait, sometime up to 2 years after graduation, before securing a space; Some Lecturers supervising students projects demanding between N250,000.00 and over N500,000.00 from their students before their Final Year Projects and Theses can be accepted. There are reports of swapping of grades, and awarding of grades and even whole degrees to students that do not appear in an examination hall.

Compounding these bizarre acts is the problem of incessant closures of our Universities and the disruption of the academic calendar. In the process, it had, in the recent past, taken some of our universities upwards of 6 - 7 years to complete their 4 year programmes. Graduates from such programmes are sentenced to a life long academic record stigma of spending 6 - 7 years to earn a 4 year degree. On the contrary, their lecturers earn their full 6-7 year pay. For the University community, particularly, the academics, this is a moral and ethical burden which the hackneyed excuse of being also engaged in research and administration cannot wipe clean.

The emergence of private universities can be seen as a logical response to fill the demand gap created by the inability of governments to meet the number of universities required. However, the current success of private universities as the preferred choice for students that put premium on quality education and predictable calendar, even by children and wards of Professors of the older Federal Universities, is a sad pointer to the realities of what we have jointly failed to do. For too long our joint energies and efforts have been directed largely on Government-Teacher relations, in terms of funding and conditions of service. I agree that funding is important. But if all of the funding we require is provided, would the university community be able to resolve all the issues that I have enumerated above? I believe that the answer is no. We therefore need a deeper and more encompassing reflection of our realities.

As a former teacher of a tertiary institution myself, I know that the academic community is populated largely by sincere, hardworking, committed and self-sacrificing people and therefore that the ills of the type that I highlighted above are perpetrated by a few individuals. But it takes only one little dash of a wrong ingredient to spoil a whole pot of soup, or as they say, "little foxes spoil the vine".

Recognizing the fact that most university undergraduates are still in their impressionable age, have we wondered how the ills of these few lecturers have influenced the attitude and values of the graduates that pass through them and the consequence for the society? When at Convocations some of this group of lecturers end up at the podium in their capacity as Deans to present their students and make the usual introductory statement of presenting students who "have been found worthy in learning and character", are we being honest to ourselves and to our nation? What character could such group of lecturers impart to our students? When will the Certificates and Degrees that universities award on the basis of having been found worthy in learning and character begin to live up to the highest level of the content of its intentions?

Your Excellencies, Chancellor, Mr. Vice-Chancellor, Members of the University Senate, Honorary Graduands, Graduands, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen; Coming to the concluding part of my Address, the essence of all that I have tried to say is this: The challenges of the 21st Century are different and more complex than what human society has faced in the entire history of mankind. The results of the industrial revolution and the pursuit of abundance from the 18th to the 20th Century are atavistic, manifesting as environmental consequences and the development challenges that we currently face. Because they are atavistic we can and, indeed, we have been able to, identify the causes through accumulated knowledge, and so are able to fight these challenges. On the other hand the challenges of the 21st Century, which I call the "modern evils" do not present us with easily identifiable enemies to fight, outside us as individuals. Rather the consequences of modern evils lurk behind our intentions or actions, ready to attack before we notice. This therefore makes it difficult to fight against. By way of example, take the evil of cyber crime; What does society do when the expert that has been trained to fight cyber crime, for one reason or the other, turns against the system?!

This is the nature of the challenges of the 21st Century, where the legitimacy of human actions are going to be assessed, not on the basis of experiences of the past but largely on the basis of the expected consequences for the future. Accordingly, a whole range of new integrated knowledge will be required to address sustainability of the human society. And the time to evolve this new integrated knowledge is now! This is the essence of the declaration of 2005 -2014 as the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.

The form of education that the world needs in the 21st Century is one that will put emphasis on the development of a "New Being" - a whole, total- packaged human being, whose university training is based not on discipline but on the full integration and internalization of human and societal values and respect for the environment, in a holistic interface that seeks to achieve justice, equity and world peace.

For us as a nation, and indeed for Africa, this truism translates to our ability to recognize our intangible cultural heritage as the bedrock of our education. Judging from the experience of other stable cultures, I believe that it is through this path that we can achieve sustainable development in this increasingly competitive globalized world. We must go back to the basics and recognize that our strength lies in the rich values of our diverse cultures which stress the need to take care of the under privilege, to respect elders, shun greed and promote harmony and peace.

My Administration is committed to providing the necessary support to the academic community to enable it play its crucial and indispensable role in this new venture. Only last week the Federal Executive Council considered that a Bill be sent to the National Assembly (NASS) amending the Education Trust Fund (ETF) Act to enable it focus on tertiary education, with particular emphasis on universities as originally intended. Now that the new Ministers have been sworn-in, we will announce the newly constituted Governing Councils for the Universities and other tertiary institutions of the Federal Government. Thereafter, I would expect the universities to swing into action by addressing the ills that I highlighted earlier. Already, the Minister of Education has been directed to ensure that the National Universities Commission supported by the Security Agencies fish out and extricate the bad eggs in our universities.

The next step is to commence the overhauling of our curriculum to ensure that the learning psyche of our students is reoriented towards sustainable development. Even our Basic Education would have to be reoriented to address sustainability through expanded curricula that include critical thinking skills, skills to organize and interprete data, ability to analyse issues that confront communities and ability to make life-style choices that neither erode the natural resource base nor impinge on the social equity and justice of neighbours. There is no doubt that in addition to improved funding from Government, the University system still requires considerable autonomy to enable it take responsibility, not only for the content and quality of its programmes but, the mobilization, channeling and management of the resources it requires for its growth and development. This is the only way it can aspire to compete with world acclaimed Universities and be relevant in the knowledge-driven society of the 21st Century.

Mr. Vice Chancellor, Visiting Vice Chancellors, Members of the University Senate; As members of the Academic Community, to whom the society looks up for direction, you carry the burden of a moral responsibility to live above board in order to be able to advise on the direction of governance and nation building. You also carry the professional responsibility, not only of understanding but, of putting to practice what you intend to impart into your students. Sustainable development is anchored on the principle of societal integration and acceptance. Esoteric research and paper publication for the sake of numbers and accelerated promotion is shallow academic pursuit and runs against the principles of sustainable development. I therefore, charge you to quickly find the missing link between research publication and societal development and let your Appointments and Promotions Committee begin to bridge the gap between peer review acceptance and societal relevance and acceptability of the research findings published in academic journals and assessed for the promotion of your members.

Finally, let the Certificates and Degrees you award on the basis of having been found worthy in learning and character live up to the highest level of the content of its intentions.

We have an urgent joint task, not only of restoring the lost glory of our universities but, of overhauling our entire education system through proactive strategies that will guarantee our march towards sustainable development. Arising from the motto, For Learning and Culture, which places on this University a moral responsibility, and its academic records as one of the very best in Africa, I have the confidence that this University can blaze the trail and mobilize its counterparts to henceforth produce for our nation, Graduates of the 21st Century, the New Beings, who are true products of an education based on learning and character. This is a task for which we cannot afford to fail.

Abati, Yahoo Yahoo boys and diarrhea

THURSDAY, January 8, 2009, must now assume a special place in the biography of our dear brother, , Dr. Reuben Moses Olubodun Adeleye Abati, Chairman of The Guardian Editorial Board. It brought out the good and the ugly in our beloved nation, Nigeria, and our people. In a manner of speaking, it was a day the social critic, journalist, columnist, dramatist, lawyer and the prolific writer that many love to hate, read his own obituary as it were. On a day that the wicked and evil ones set out to destroy his hard-earned name and reputation, Abati also got an idea about how much he is loved. He should count himself lucky, especially remembering that he added another year to his age just two months ago. Very few people are that fortunate.

But it was also a day that exposed the human frailty of a man who could fell the Iroko tree with his mighty pen! Abati's account of his taste of the bitter pill administered by the internet scammers, known in Nigeria as Yahoo Yahoo Boys, and his allergy to the pill was appropriately titled, The scam that failed in his column of Friday, January 9. Incidentally, this writer was among the recipients of the scam mail soliciting money on behalf of "a desperate" Abati!

True, the scam might have failed but the grammar-challenged fraudsters sufficiently "rattled" our dear Abati that he ended up needing "medical solution" for an "instant diarrhea" unleashed by the scam. By his own standards, our renowned wordsmith friend was rendered largely unproductive on January 8, 2009. He spent much of the day on crisis management and fire fighting, trying to minimise the damage intended by faceless "idiots," who had wanted to turn him into "a cash cow."

Having successfully hacked into his e-mail address, the thieves were soliciting N250,000 from Abati's contacts they could reach with his compromised e-mail address, under the pretext that (God forbid) his daughter had been involved in an imaginary accident and needed urgent medical attention. In their e-mail, the bold but unintelligent criminals "sent" Abati on a conference in India (thank God, not in restive Mumbai!). They had the audacity to supply a telephone number and an e-mail address for the execution of their criminal activity.

Needless to say that many unsuspecting people have fallen victim of similar scams, for which Nigeria has become notorious. The cost of this crime in goodwill, financial and human relations capital to the country and its citizens can only be imagined. The outside world today sees every Nigerian as a potential fraud; the nation is stigmatised and demonised as a country of criminals. Whenever and wherever crime is committed in the world, the first names that come to mind are those of Nigerians. The situation is such that criminal-minded nationals of some other countries even claim Nigerian nationality in perpetrating their nefarious activities.

The onus is now on the majority of innocent Nigerians to prove that they are not guilty like few of their compatriots causing the untold damage. Abati's experience only adds to the growing list of victims, both within and outside the country, and so much has been said and written about cyber crime. Some of the recent examples included those involving Prof. Pat Utomi, the News Agency of Nigeria and the Punch Newspaper, whose addresses were hacked into.

But given the magnitude of the damage caused the country, its image and people by this bunch of criminals, are Nigerian security and anti-crime agencies living up to public expectations? True, a number of arrests and prosecutions have been reported, but is that the best we can do? Granted that no country, not even the advanced, industrialised nations with their sophisticated anti-crime machinery, can ever eradicate crime, hence, the Bernard Madoffs of this world and his fraud network can boast an award-winning $50 billion in a string of bank hedges.

But one of the key functions of government is to protect law-abiding citizens from crime and criminals. Crime may be difficult to eradicate, but it can and must be curtailed, with criminals put in their proper place so that their nuisance value does not compromise the smooth functioning of society. Even by Nigerian standards, the anti-crime agencies ought to do better in clipping the criminal wings of the Yahoo Yahoo Boys before it is too late. For instance, an effective and efficient Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) could, through forensic investigation, track down, prosecute and shame the seemingly amateur scammers that caused Abati a traumatic diarrhea. It is possible for an achievement-motivated anti-crime agency to use the telephone number and other details left behind by the scammers in their track to nail them.

As with the nation's touted fight against corruption, more concrete prosecutions and convictions are required, not only to serve as a deterrent to the criminally minded, but also to convince the world and potential victims, whose scepticism is fast turning into cynicism, that something can be done. This, to me, is the only way to save the nation and its law-abiding citizens from avoidable "instant diarrhea" and further loss of hard-earned reputation, money and goodwill.

Citizen Abati might have stepped on some toes in his enthusiastic, free-wheeling but necessary writings. Still, we need him and others like him to remain well focused and undistracted in the unrelenting interpretation of the complex Nigerian polity and ceaseless interrogation of the leadership question in national governance, especially the fight against corruption and other prevalent crimes. With a flourishing but damaging kidnapping-for-cash enterprise in the Niger Delta and widespread corruption, Nigeria can ill-afford to be hostage to a treacherous band of internet fraudsters with all their apparent amateurism and grammar deficiencies. Whatever happened to Project Re-branding Nigeria?

Soldiers and the use of sirens and horse whips

THE Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Marshal Paul Dike, recently issued guidelines to improve the conduct of military personnel in and outside the barracks. According to him, his dispensation is out to make a difference and he particularly zeroed in on the use of sirens and some other misdemeanours, such as the use of horse whip on the public often attributed to military personnel, whether on duty or not. The CDS should be commended for his response to these issues that have tended to damage the image of the Nigerian military and create a serious backlash from the public.

The whole of the guidelines handed down by the CDS fundamentally addresses basic indiscipline of the military and seeks to improve the relationship between the military and the Nigerian public, whose interest soldiers are expected to protect in the first place. Military men and women should be respected because they have vowed to lay down their lives for the country's sake. However, when the same people are accused of perpetration of inhuman behaviour and nuisance, something is basically wrong. Perhaps this is not the first time a military chief has addressed this problem. But it is the first time a striking paraphernalia of military conduct in public has come under very serious hammering.

Surely, any military personnel visiting violence on an innocent member of the public should not be allowed to go scot-free. It is not enough to condone such behaviour with the explanation that soldiers are not supposed to live close to the civilian population. Whether or not they do, the fact remains that they are after all human beings and professionals who must adhere strictly to the rules of decorum.

The use of sirens has never been an all-comers' privilege in the military. But the impression has since been given over time that military personnel are superior to civilians and must be given the right of way in traffic situations. This mentality does not only permeate the psyche of military personnel, unfortunately the people themselves accept this to be a tradition. This should not be so and while our military must be accorded due respect, they must be made to realise that the rights of the people are also sacrosanct.

At the same time, the Nigerian society must realise that the bad eggs in the military are duly to blame for the ugly perpetration of violence on innocent civilian population. The CDS has now restricted the use of sirens to only the service chiefs. Does this extend to their relatives when a service chief is not present in a vehicle? And what of GOCs, and other principal officers who may need to use the siren for security purposes? There is certainly a need for clarification. Otherwise, the guideline will be subjected to foul interpretations that sideline the original objectives.

Obviously, the CDS must seek to encourage improved military-public relations whereby military personnel are seen as friends and defenders of our rights and freedom. The people must also realise that military men and women are trained people with intelligence, many with high Intelligence Quotients (IQs) in a noble profession and therefore they deserve our respect. The people must at the same time have easy access to a means of reporting cases of military misdemeanour to the relevant authority. In this way, no soldier gets away with a violation of his code of conduct. Most of what we see today in this respect is the result of the hang-over of decades of military rule. This is why military personnel will benefit from regular re-orientation.

All this notwithstanding, military authorities should resist the temptation to enforce discipline on the pages of newspapers other than pleading with the public for collaborative partnership in enforcing discipline of the personnel. There ought to be Military Community Relations Committees across the nation to ensure mutual understanding and assistance, with identifiable complaints desks. The old mindset of mutual subjugation and destruction should stop and an era of public-military partnership should be encouraged for the benefit of the nation.

Okada helmets and road safety

WHATEVER may be the challenges and contradictions in the Nigerian society, one basic redeeming factor remains the capacity of the Nigerian to laugh at himself, to draw a comedy from the most unlikely situations and to push up lessons in the process, even if these may be lessons he or she does not intend to take seriously. But the good thing about comedy is that it makes us think. The burlesque, the farcical, the incongruous of daily living ultimately challenge the intellectual aspects of our being. And so it has been with the recent introduction of safety helmets as a compulsory tool for riders of commercial motorcycles and their passengers on Nigerian roads.

The Federal Road Safety Commission's (FRSC) regulation on safety helmets is in direct response to a tragic situation, namely the terrible accidents that have resulted from commercial motorcycling in Nigeria. Last year, the FRSC reported a radical surge in the number of road accidents, a significant percentage of which was traced to commercial motorcycles or what is known in Lagos as Okada, and in other parts of Nigeria as Going, Along, or Akauke. At the Orthopaedic Hospital in Yaba, Lagos, and other hospitals across Nigeria, there is what is called the Okada ward, a ward for patients with broken limbs and skulls, all resulting from a sudden tumbling down from the back of the okada. The mortuary is similarly filled with okada corpses. The real tragedy is that the majority of Nigerians find themselves helplessly forced to ride commercial motorcycles.

This is not England or Washington DC, where there is an efficient public transportation system. This is not a country where the cities and communities are well planned and every part is easily accessible. The Okada phenomenon, and what I have described before now as An Okada Economy, are both products of the failure of leadership in Nigeria, the failure of urban planning, the anti-intellectual nature of the governance process and the widespread corruption in the land. Because urban planning officials grant approvals for building constructions without visiting the sites, new neighbourhoods and communities spring up in Nigeria every day, every year, without access roads, without potable water and without electric poles. Vehicles cannot access such locations, so the people have to depend on motorcycles, which have earned a great reputation for their capacity to navigate through bushes and potholes.

Because nobody, over the years, has paid enough attention to population explosion and the standards of existing infrastructure, even in cities and towns that are accessible, the roads are congested. Easy movement is impossible. And so, Nigerians have come to depend on the commercial motorcycle as an escape mechanism to meet an urgent appointment, to catch a flight or to simply escape the stress of a traffic hold up.

In Lagos, ordinarily, a traffic hold up can last for a minimum of one hour. Because there is no efficient public transportation system and network, no metro system, no subway, no public bus system, no alternative means of urban transportation other than the road, and not enough taxis, or buses, Nigerians are compelled to hop on to the back of the okada to be able to get by. For these reasons, the commercial motorcycle has become a necessity for most Nigerians: it has helped so many to realise their Constitutional right to the freedom of movement! Without the okada, many Nigerians would be constructively and literally rendered immobile.

The FRSC regulation on the safety helmets is at best an attempt to rescue an already embarrassing situation: to save a few more limbs and to signpost the importance of safety for both passengers and riders of commercial motorcycles. The safety helmet rule is therefore in the public interest. But Nigerians, two weeks later, see it as a joke. The natural cynicism of the average Nigerian is on full display. The ThisDay newspaper has already published on its front page a celebrated photograph showing an okada rider wearing a paint bucket as a helmet. It invites instant laughter, except that when you look at the same photograph closely, it will be seen that the motorcyclist actually has a real helmet he has chosen not to use. What point is being made? That point is much clearer on the streets of Nigeria. There have been reports of persons who wear painted calabash helmets. It looks like a helmet alright, but it cannot provide any security in the event of an accident.

Every day, you would also notice that most of the helmets being used are factory helmets or jockey caps. But the ludicrous is in the attitude of both okada riders and passengers towards the helmet. Even when the helmet is available, there is really no attempt to use it as prescribed. Most okada riders and passengers wear the helmet on top of a cap, headgear or a turban. The people benefiting most from the okada helmet rule are the sellers of handkerchiefs, toilet rolls, baseball caps and polythene bags, which people first use to cover their heads before putting on the helmet when they decide to use it. The excuse is that it is risky to allow a helmet that has touched another man's head to touch yours. In our cultures, there is a superstitious belief that the head must be protected, because it is the home among Yorubas of ori or ayanmo and among Igbos of one's chi.

The meaning of these anthropological concepts is more spiritual than physical. Many Nigerians insist that sharing the same helmet with another person could result in the transfer of bad luck. I have seen ladies who hold the helmet above their heads without allowing it to touch even a strand of hair. When they see policemen or FRSC officials in the distance, they bring the helmet closer to their heads, but keep it apart by using their palm to prevent any contact. Other ladies rely on the protective shield of toilet rolls, handkerchiefs and polythene bags.

Okada passengers also complain about kidnappers on the prowl for whom the helmet could become a ready weapon. I have been told that there is a band of kidnappers called alajaale, who use human body parts for ritual purposes. They were reportedly exposed in a television programme, Nkan Mbe, once anchored by Kola Olawuyi. People are afraid that the members of this secret, underground cult can use the helmet to kidnap innocent people. Nobody has been able to unmask this criminal, occultic syndicate. Kidnapping is a major social phenomenon in Nigeria and the perpetrators are hardly ever found. In the meantime, okada passengers do not want to take any risk. When you come upon these spectacles daily, you can't but laugh. Even the policemen and FRSC officials who are supposed to enforce the regulation can't help laughing.

But the humour is of the dark, macabre variety. The introduction of the safety helmets may be endangering more lives than hitherto was the case. With one hand holding the helmet and another supporting the toilet roll, or poly bag shield, most okada passengers no longer hold on to the machine in any way. The roads that these motorcycles ply are pothole-ridden. One wrong manoeuvre and the machine, the rider and the passenger would find themselves in one huge heap on the ground.

The true test of law lies in its implementation and acceptance. The helmet regulation was also introduced in 1984, but after this kind of initial cynical response, Nigerians soon went back to their old ways. The agencies and regulatory authorities, should not just be interested in enforcing penalties for non-compliance, public enlightenment will be necessary, as was the case when the compulsory use of seat belts was introduced. People have to be reminded that it is in their best interest to use the safety helmet. Standards must also be prescribed. How to use the helmet must also be properly stated. It won't be right to assume that the motorcyclists and okada passengers are incorrigible and that the only way forward is to impose penalties. Many okada riders are college graduates, and the owners of those motorcycles belong to some of the most important classes in society.

All motorcyclists should be registered and given uniforms and numbers for easy identification. What can be done about the threat of kidnappers? This is so metaphysical and confusing. But Nigerians are addressing this by buying their own safety helmets. So many people now go out these days, carrying their own helmets. Due to the sudden surge in demand, the price of helmets has risen from N750 in December to as high as N6,000 in the second week of January. The cheapest for now is the factory helmet at N2,000 per unit. Every helmet, except the locally improvised caricatures, is imported. Things are so bad in Nigeria, we can't even manufacture crash helmets! The helmet-use directive is only one part of the bargain though. The FRSC and the municipal authorities must also insist on safe riding, and wage war against drunk driving and the use of sub-standard motorcycles.

I get the impression that commercial motorcyclists are having fun. They are beginning to obey the new regulation. Politicians are now buying motorcycles and safety helmets for okada riders. Companies are also now cashing in on the helmet-rule for advertisement purposes. Already, the company that produces Indomie noodles has turned many okada riders into mobile billboards. Commerce, humour and opportunism predominate. The problem is with the superstitious passengers. The onus is on government to create an efficient public transportation system that will rescue Nigerians from the terror of commercial motorcyclists. Our leaders may not know how serious the problem is. Afterall, their wives and children do not use the okada

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Burden of ‘Take-a-Bow’

This week, we present a rhapsody of sorts, beginning with a matter of urgent importance. We have received a lot of reactions to our work, Government of Indecision, which appeared in this column some two weeks back. Perhaps unwittingly, the first reaction came from the Presidency. As if to confirm everything we said, just about when that material was hitting the newsstand, our Government of Auto-Reverse Gear started the car by engaging the fourth gear and just as the car was struggling into speed, it was abruptly returned to Gear One. Your guess about what happened is as good as anyone’s.
Outsiders have no way of knowing fully what is happening in Aso Rock Villa. Knowing our President for the smooth operator that he is, he may be quietly pointing his men to order each time they commit a faux pas. Or, he might as well have given up on them since they are prone to a lot of mistakes. He, may not want to spend all his time correcting mistakes, thus, acquiescing to the saying, it is folly to be wise where ignorance is bliss.
Otherwise, why would one Presidential Adviser jump into our airwaves and announce to the entire world that the pump prices of petroleum products in Nigeria were going to be brought down by at least 25 percent, citing the downward journey of crude oil in the world market as the justification for the announcement? Just about when we were beginning to celebrate the relief, another independent announcement came from another Presidential Aide, not to correct the earlier announcement, but to inform us that pump prices of petroleum products would remain unchanged because whatever the Nation is now making from the low price of crude oil in the world market would only be used to cushion the effect of the enormous subsidy which Government has been putting in for the citizen.
Who will save this nation from itself? Who wants to coordinate the affairs of the country so that it can sometimes speak with one united voice? In any case, which of the announcements is authentic? Could it as well be that this taciturn man, our President, is busy developing a third and final position on this issue? The issue is important enough to elicit the Administration’s concrete official position. After all, when the prices were on their way up, at every bend there was an increase in pump price, which took the said pump price of petrol from about N22 per liter to its present N70 within a very short time during the Obasanjo years. Again, the logic is simple: The price of crude has fallen to about $45 per barrel from the giddy height of about $148. It is now left for us to remember what we paid for a liter at the pump when crude sold for $45 on its way up. And the pump price should now automatically relocate itself to that level without any debate. Where this position cannot be sustained, it is left for the Administration to tell us why, instead of just remaining silent or dishing out its usual equivocations.
Distinguished Senator Uche Chukwumerije is our Legislator of the Year. On a number of occasions, he has distinguished himself from that big crowd. He has demonstrated beyond measure that the majority is not always right, even where it is able to bully its way through. In just the same way that he endeared himself to all people of goodwill during the Third Term debacle, he rounded up the past year with his noble stand on the bold attempt of his colleagues to place all Senators above the Law: “… Bow and go is anti-intellectual. Bow and go is animation of secret society methods”. (THISDAY, Thursday, December 18, 2008, p.72). On this issue, Senator Chukwumerije fought the Senate to a standstill. We salute you. We salute your courage.
The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has succeeded in shooting itself on the right foot by reducing the “Take a bow” procedure to the point of absurdity. We saw it coming. That was when we issued the early warnings. Yes, in a few exceptional cases, a very prominent nominee who has clearly distinguished himself in society could be asked to take a bow and go without questioning, as a mark of respect. We warned that this favour must be sparingly used or it would lose its lustre. During those early warnings, we opined that perhaps the only person who had merited the honour since 1999 was late Bola Ige. We are a bit reluctant to add the name of Chief Earnest Shonekan to this list, not because the man does not merit the favour but because all those who ideally merit such favour have no business running around, going for presidential messages. Such people should render their advice to Government quietly. They should be seen and not heard. In any case, such men should not be dispatched on errands that require their coming before smaller men. Let’s face it; the power to confirm also implies the power of rejection. Suppose a former Head of State appears before a stubborn Senate and the Senate rejects his nomination, where does that place such a man? Or, at the end of such an assignment the President rejects the report of the Committee headed by such a man, where does that place him? Would it not be better, therefore, to quietly obtain whatever you want from the man and also quietly give him whatever you want to give him?
It is more than five years since we advised the Senate to quickly go and amend that part of its Rules which automatically extends the “Take a bow” to all Senators. It is unjust and undermining of fate in our entire system to ask a man to take a bow and go in what is supposed to be the hallowed chamber of the Senate simply because he was once a Senator; perhaps a failed Senator and particularly in an era when some senators have done some mean things, having been caught in one corruption web or the other. Essentially, the Senate screening is not meant to provide an esprit de corps for the distribution of unmerited favours.
In a recent Address at the convocation ceremony of Anambra State University, Awka, His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, wondered if “It is not time we asked ourselves how and why we allow our sanity to take leave of us at very critical moments of our nation’s history”. This question is very apt. We are aware that the creation of the Ministry of Niger Delta Development came as an answer to the yearning of the people of the Sub-Region for the development of the area. The original argument has been that the only way to avert the crises in the area was to create the Ministry to develop the area like Abuja and Lagos. If the Ministry will not do that, of course, it is not too late in the day to ask them to take their Ministry. At the budgetary level, history is aware of how Abuja was developed to its present enviable level. We have copies of the annual budgets of the Federal Government in the telling years of Abuja's development, principally from 1979 to 1983. Every budget has its tricks. So does every development. The budget trick that was used to develop Abuja did not lie principally in the annual allocation to the FCDA but more in those sums that were carefully tucked away in the budget of every Ministry for its infrastructural development in Abuja. All those provisions under every Ministry – from Agriculture to Zoning, put together, easily reduced the allocation to the FCDA to fritters. Are we not going to do the same for the Niger Delta sub-region?
Again, history has it that no Niger Deltan, and no Southerner, for that matter, has ever been Minister of Abuja. Why would we now walk history on its head by attempting to make a non-indigene of the area the substantive Minister of that Ministry? It will not work. If we want to be honest about enveloping that Region, indigenes of the area must always head the Ministries of the Niger Delta Development and Petroleum Resources. It can’t be done otherwise.
Here is wishing our esteemed readers compliments of the season and a New Year full of contentment. In this New Year, we promise to keep the menu fresh and crisp. Remain