Friday, March 27, 2009

Obasanjo's bloated sermon on God

Last Sunday was a special occasion for members of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Lekki, Lagos. It was the day Olusegun Obasanjo regaled the congregation with tales about how God delivered him from the jaws of death during the period of his incarceration at Yola Prison. Obasanjo also told his audience how God transformed him from his pauperised childhood to a situation where he rose to become president for two terms, as well as his elevation to a position where he now owns a large-scale farm and other business interests, most of which have remained hidden from public knowledge.

Obasanjo told his audience: "If I say my life is full of testimonies, I mean it. Is it the fact that I was born insignificant from a poor background without hope of achievements? Is it that I went through prison for years with fear of death surrounding me every second?.. Is it that some of my co-victims did not survive the situation? ... But yet, I am what I am today. It is the Lord's doing through the power of prayers."

Prayers often work miracles for some people but to refer to God regularly in a misleading manner raises questions about Obasanjo's sincerity. In Nigeria, political leaders refer to God arbitrarily even as they commit adultery, even as they embezzle public funds, even as they plot the assassination of their opponents, and even as they conspire to manipulate election results. After eight years of arrogant leadership sprinkled with questionable public conduct, it is difficult to believe Obasanjo when he urged his audience to believe him. The problem is that Obasanjo's characterisation of himself as a man of God does not sit well with his bad habits in public life. In this context, it is important to scrutinise the level of dishonesty inherent in his endless references to God.

Whenever Obasanjo preaches about his faith in God, you feel like shoving at his face the contradictions and personal flaws that mock his moral character. Last Sunday was not the first time that Obasanjo would invoke the name of God to make himself look immaculate and harmless. Unfortunately, each time Obasanjo talks about his faith in God and his commitment to Christian religious precepts, he underlines the treacherous nature of humankind, in particular the difficulty anyone would have trying to read another person's mind by merely looking at the face.

In his sermon instructively entitled "Power of prayers", Obasanjo said: "My life is a bundle of testimonies and I can assure those who care to seek the face of God in prayers that there is nothing the Almighty cannot do". Perhaps it was this exaggerated faith in the power of prayers that compelled Obasanjo to ask Nigerians to pray to God if they wanted their electricity problems fixed.

When journalists ambushed Obasanjo at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, on Tuesday, 22 July 2008, they asked him: "Sir, what advice do you have on the power problem in the country?" Obasanjo's answer was as dubious as you can get. Hear him: "Anything you don't have or you cannot get, then leave it to God." Obasanjo's response confirmed to everyone that the bogus power project was set up to fail. That project never really got off the piece of paper on which it was written. It is this kind of attitude to serious national problems, this treacherous reference to God as a cover for personal failures, which gives the impression that Nigerian political leaders are certificated liars and conmen. A follow-up question to that conceited answer should have been: if Obasanjo knew that regular electricity had become elusive and unattainable, why did his government allocate so much money to the project? It is obvious from Obasanjo's response that the power project was set up to fail.

Anyone who really wants to understand Obasanjo's character trait should ask those who have had the opportunity to work closely with the man. In a two-part interview published in The Guardian on Sunday of February 17 and 24, 2008, former Defence Minister and Chief of Army Staff Theophilus Danjuma appropriately described Obasanjo not only as a celebrated coward but also as "the most toxic leader that Nigeria has produced so far". Although Danjuma cannot really describe himself as a Saint because of his own character flaws and policy blunders when he was in government, his vicious attack on Obasanjo's character forced many people to reconsider their impressions about Obasanjo. Could it be this same Obasanjo who has developed the habit of talking garrulously about his God? Could Danjuma have been exaggerating when he also described Obasanjo as a tribalist and a counterfeit version of a born-again Christian?

A true man of God should be evaluated by the extent to which he keeps strictly to what he preaches. Let's analyse Obasanjo's religious preachings against the background of his public conduct. During his term as president, Obasanjo preached peace but openly condoned violence and conflict in the states governed by politicians whom he did not like. The regular street fights and gun battles between Chris Ngige, former Anambra Governor, and Chris Uba, Obasanjo's errand boy, provide irrefutable evidence that Obasanjo is not a true man of God as he likes to project himself. Worst still, when Chris Uba confessed to Obasanjo that he (Uba) single-handedly manipulated the governorship election that enthroned Chris Ngige in Anambra, all that Obasanjo did -- as the chief law officer of the nation -- was to ask Chris Uba to leave his (Obasanjo's) residence. Just like that?

In Oyo State, Obasanjo shut his eyes and ears as Lamidi Adedibu -- the legendary strongman of Ibadan politics -- terrorised the elected government of Rashidi Ladoja. At the federal level, Obasanjo proclaimed transparency and accountability as the philosophical foundation of his government. Ironically, he regularly used his presidential powers to protect people of low character with whom he associated. When Obasanjo talks about the excesses of former military dictators such as Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha, he cleverly avoids mentioning the notorious dungeon at Ita-Oko, serviced by his military government and infamous for the torture and abuse of people whose views Obasanjo's military government did not fancy.

When you tally Obasanjo's appalling record in government - his unfulfilled promises, his double face, his vengeful style and his obsession with political power -- you get the image of an ungodly man who manipulated his people and the political process to achieve his devious objectives. No sooner did Obasanjo leave office than the entire nation realised - regrettably - how disastrous his government had been. And yet Obasanjo takes offence when his foes refer to him as the most treacherous man to have governed Nigeria.

In spite of all these contradictions and character flaws, Obasanjo continues to invoke the name of God everywhere he goes. It is perhaps good for Nigeria and bad for Obasanjo's ego that all efforts made by Obasanjo to cast himself as a God fearing man, or as the most accomplished president in the history of Nigeria, has been incinerated - thankfully - by his questionable conduct, his lack of moral etiquette and his secret ambition to extend his presidential tenure beyond the constitutionally approved two terms. Politicians and ordinary citizens who describe Obasanjo as a symbol of national disgrace may not be far from the truth. Here is the tragedy of Obasanjo. Rather than retire honourably like every true statesman, Obasanjo now defends himself publicly and privately against mounting allegations of abuse of office, sometimes bordering on corruption. Where his name is not being mentioned frequently at various investigative panels set up by state and federal parliamentary committees, his name would recur in various overseas agencies trying to unlock the secrets to executive corruption in Nigeria. Obasanjo has continued to deny vehemently allegations of corruption against him and key officers of the government he led for eight years.

In an essay published in the New York Review of Books on September 24, 1998, Obasanjo wrote in a self-righteous manner: "After my prison experience, I am committed more than ever to the ideals for which I have lived and suffered - democracy, peace, human rights, alleviation of poverty, transparent government, and popular participation." After eight years of political dictatorship, only a few Nigerians would agree that Obasanjo truly lived up to these lofty ideals.

Words Not Enough

NIGERIANS delight in words. We adore them; we think that they are everything. The importation of that type of thinking into the conduct of government’s business has resulted in our belief that words answer all questions.
We are the most populous country in Africa. We are the giant of Africa. We are the most populous black nation. We are the fastest growing telecommunications market in the world. We import the highest number of used cars.

We import the highest number of generators. We have made the most number of changes in our Constitution for a country that is not 50 years old.

Most of the indices point at nothing positive. The fact remains that various Nigerian governments tend to seek excuses in place of actions that can correct anomalies. Where the World Health Organisation states that rate of maternal deaths in Nigeria is too high, we dispute the statistics, threatening to come up with our own figures. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo even disagreed with the inflation figures a government agency, the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, used in its master plan and refused to launch the document “until we get the figures right”.

These attitudes are important in the light of the efforts to re-brand Nigeria. Nigerians want to see actions that prove that governments are done with empty words. Whatever happened to Servicom, a service that was launched six years ago to improve public access to services of government agencies? Who did Servicom serve? Is there a better way to re-brand Nigeria?

“Servicom (Service Compact With All Nigerians) is a social contract between the Federal Government of Nigeria and its people. Servicom gives Nigerians the right to demand good service, the service claims in its website.

In a June 5, 2003 speech to the National Assembly, President Obasanjo said: “Our public offices have for too long been a showcase for the combined evils of inefficiency and corruption, whilst being impediments to effective implementations of government policies. Nigerians deserve better. We will ensure that they get what is better”.

According to Service Delivery In Nigeria: A Roadmap, a 2004 federal government publication, “Services are not serving people: they are inaccessible, poor in quality and indifferent to customer needs. Public confidence is poor, and institutional arrangements are confusing and wasteful. The need for a far-reaching transformation of Nigerian society through a Service Delivery Programme as a step in the process of moving to a government that is more in touch with the people”.

Obasanjo at the 2004 presidential retreat remarked: “The message should also be about leadership that has all these attributes selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and patriotism. It is also the message of leading from the front in the battle to sanitise our system morally, politically and economically. Above all, it is the message of leadership that the Nigerian people can trust”.

Nigerians are still waiting for governments that would lead and gain their trust.

Only $200,000 Missing

THE furore over $200,000 missing from the coffers of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, shows Nigerians still take accountability serious and expect governments and their agencies reflect this expectation in their conducts. No matter the exchange rate, $200,000 is not be the type of money you keep in an office safe, even if it is one that is now made to look impregnable. The money is lost, it would be another wonder if any part of it is recovered.

The police have been invited, suspects have made useful statements, and the NFF has kept assuring Nigerians that the theft would not affect the preparations for Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Mozambique. Suppose it does?

Nigerians may have shown tremendous interest in the game against Mozambique but it has no link whatsoever to a theft that should land some people in jail, if we were a little more serious.

Who decided to put that type of money in an office safe? Under what financial procedure was it possible to lock up $200,000 in an office? What happened to the banks? In today’s world with all the financial management ease it offers, does anyone have to lug $200,000, and supposedly all the way to Mozambique?

The main suspects are those who approved the withdrawal of the money. Other suspects would include those who decided to leave it in the office, as seems to have been the practice over the years. They provided the opportunity for the theft, it does not matter what their motive was.

In February 2001, Mallam Yussif Issah, Ghana’s Sports Minister lost US$46,000 meant for bonus of the Black Stars in a World Cup tie in Sudan. By July 2001, Justice Julius Ansah of an Accra High Court sentenced him to four years imprisonment with hard labour. He was to refund the money, pay a fine of 1,000 pounds sterling, or serve an additional year if he could not pay the fine within a month. He was charged for, “stealing the money, and fraudulently causing the loss of the money to the State”.

At current exchange rates, $200,000 is N29.5 million. It is a lot of money. The NFF depends almost entirely on public funds.

It is important that the investigations are handled well, not just to recover the missing funds, but to assist the NFF to adopt modern financial management systems to save Nigerians from further embarrassments.

The way the matter has been treated clearly shows “only $200,000” is missing. It could have been more and we would have still endured the refrain that the loss would not “adversely affect the game in Mozambique”.

NFF needs help if it is to be weaned from this manner of operation. The national economic crunch is a good opportunity to make NFF manage public funds with seriousness.

If this money is not recovered, NFF would draw another $200,000 from the public to meet the same expenses. Such waste is unacceptable and must be punished.

The Abandoned N4bn Asphalt Plants

One negative attribute of the Nigerian nation is its enduring capacity to sustain wastage even in the face of acute needs. That is why imported hospital equipment and drugs would be left to rot away at the ports or in warehouses while our healthcare delivery system suffers from inadequate drugs and other necessary equipment. It is also why hundreds of thousands of electrical transformers would lie waste in NEPA/PHCN stores while several towns/cities are perpetually in darkness for lack of transformers to service them.
The recent revelation that about 47 plants worth N4 billion procured by the federal government for the production of asphalt, a major input in road construction and repairs, are lying idle in various states of the federation is not very surprising. For, it is in line with a well-known culture of waste. What is however surprising is the crocodile tears often shed by successive works ministers over the poor state of our roads. For, is it not hypocritical for such public officials to continue to sulk over the dilapidated highways in the country when in fact right at the back yards of their ministry's zonal and state offices are the tools to rehabilitate those roads.
Those equipment were procured during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration and specifically during the tenure of Chief Adeseye Ogunlewe as Minister of Works. They comprise seven giant plants and 40 smaller ones. The giant plants were said to have been distributed to each of the six geo-political zones and one for Lagos while the smaller ones were distributed to all the 36 states of the federation.
There were plans to give the remaining four to some universities to use in the training of their engineering students. And that was the end of this great dream, as that equipment have remained idle ever since the completion of their distribution.
Apart from helping to reduce the domination of road construction in the country by foreign firms, the plants could easily and at reduced cost address the problem of bad roads and create jobs for thousands of Nigerians and other ancillary professionals in the roadconstruction sector.
In fact, it was partly to promote this direct labour policy in road rehabilitation that the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) was established by the Obasanjo administration. But the agency's officials, in whose care the abandoned asphalt plants were kept, appear to have been at a loss as to the usefulness or necessity of their purchase.
Apart from this, it was obvious that in some states of the federation, some politicians had other motives in setting up FERMA, as its operatives, especially in Lagos during the last administration, were engaged in duties other than road repairs or maintenance. This could have understandably caused a lot of distractions to the personnel, who were more visible on federal roads in the state controlling traffic or doing one battle or the other with Lagos transport officials.
We call on the Federal Government to demonstrate its sense of patriotism in handling issues of public welfare and societal necessity by taking urgent step to fix those crucial plants and immediately put them to use.

The Sad State of Our Prisons

President Umaru Yar’Adua was spot on when recently he expressed concern about the state of the country’s prisons. In equal, if not greater, proportion to the general decay in social infrastructure, the nation’s prisons have become so squalid that they can hardly reform any criminal serving jail sentence in them. Yet prisons are meant to reform their inmates, which is why they are often referred to as reformatories. Those convicted to serve prison terms are not expected to become worse criminals as a result of their prison experience.
Indeed, every penal system is ultimately aimed at improving the character of offenders even while making them pay for their deviant behaviour. Painfully, however, the Nigerian penal system tends to leave offenders worse than they were before they were brought to justice. The criminal justice system in the country has become altogether one that tends to breed hardened criminals rather than reform them into acceptable members of the society. It is no wonder that many critics of this system now see the nation’s penal system as a training ground where many detainees graduate from being miscreants to hardened criminals.
Clearly a lot is wrong with a society that allows a man to be thrown into jail for merely wandering. But even worse is the practice of putting such minor offenders in the same cells with violent criminals. Often prison officials blame this on lack of space in the jail houses. They say that the nation has not been building any prisons to cope with the high rate of crime and conviction.
In response, successive Nigerian governments have been proposing prison decongestion and reforms. From the Shagari administration to the present one, the number of new prison facilities has not grown significantly. Each government has nevertheless paid lip service to the need for prison reform and a general improvement in the nation’s criminal justice system. In the end, not much came out of all that. Conversely, the condition of our prisons has become increasingly more deplorable. In some instances, prisons that were built to house 100 persons now hold three to four times that many. The result is the incredible congestion in our prisons, which in turn breeds further criminality, squalor and diseases among the detainees.
President Umaru Yar’Adua was therefore right on target when recently he promised that his government will build more prisons across the country. He was reacting to recent reports about the squalid state of our prisons. It is our hope that the promise will not become another empty one. Even so, expanding the prisons is only a part of the solution. Other actions need to be taken.
To address this serious problem the government needs to adopt a holistic approach. There is the need to look at the major causes of crime and criminality in the Nigerian society. The indiscriminate arrest and detention of people for minor offences go a long way in fueling prison congestion. At the rate this is happening, expansion of prison facilities will hardly solve the problem. The law enforcement agencies need therefore to be re-orientated. Government must take measures to ensure that the nation’s criminal justice system is not abused by overzealous law enforcement officers. The prison should not be a dumping ground.
It also goes without saying that much of the criminality that plagues the Nigerian society is the result of unemployment among able-bodied youths. To tackle therefore the problem of criminality and prison congestion, the authorities should address the issue of unemployment.
Deterrence has always proved more effective in crime control than punishment. Therefore, the goals of our penal system must change. By subjecting prisoners to harsh conditions, some people argue, they will be convinced to avoid future criminal behavior and to exemplify for others the rewards for avoiding such behavior; that is, the fear of punishment will win over whatever benefit or pleasure the illegal activity might bring.
While that may be true, the deterrence approach, however, stresses the need to expose people less to factors that predispose them to crime. When there is less crime, there will be less number of convictions and less people in the prisons. This, we believe, is a more pragmatic approach towards improving our criminal justice system.

Need We Import Food?

For a nation so blessed with large expanse of fertile arable farmland, and yet suffers from persistent unfavourable balance of trade, the continued and even increased importation of food items becomes an irony.
A whopping sum of $27.97 billion was expended on food importation last year alone. The Economic Adviser to Mr President, Tanimu Kurfi, recently disclosed the figure when the Federal Government signed the Memorandum of Understanding with Popular Foods Ltd, a subsidiary of Stallion Groups.
According to him, the Federal Government spends as much as $300m on rice importation, $50 million on wheat importation, $650million on sugar importation, $2 billion on powdered milk and $2.5 Billion on fish and poultry, per year.
But need we spend so much on food imports? Here is a nation so profoundly endowed in such a way that it has all the potentials to be an agricultural giant that could even feed a large chunk of the African continent, if not beyond.
But the miscarriage of the Nigerian dream had long diverted its attention from its agro potentials to an easier and quicker crude oil wealth.
Were it not so, Nigeria will have just no business importing such large quantities of food item from anywhere. Which of the food items so listed, for instance, can Nigeria not maximally grow and export?
We therefore believe that President Yar’Adua got it right when he denounced the rate of food importation at the 30th Kaduna International Trade Fair. He noted rightly that “it is a paradox that despite our enormous human and natural resource endowments coupled with the comparative advantage which Nigeria enjoys in the agricultural sector, we still are a net importer of some essential food items”.
Correct as the President may appear, the solution is not in helplessly bemoaning the current practice. The challenge for government is to revive the agricultural sector by redirecting its focus to it – creating an enabling environment and encouraging small and large scale farmers in the cultivation of the diverse food and cash crops the nation has been blessed with. It must also be concerned about making and enforcing laws that will promote agricultural development and growth. It is such determination that has made Brazil to now even out-farm the United States of America. And for a nation experiencing the global economic meltdown, made worse by the crash in price of crude oil, need we be told to look towards agriculture for the long overdue diversification of the economy?
For the nation to experience marked improvement on this, its decaying infrastructure must also be revamped, because even the distribution of agro produce remains one of the problems being faced by farmers.
Loans and credit facilities should be made available to the real farmers, not the elite and privileged contractors who end up bungling the scheme.
If it will take subsidising inputs, as other countries do openly, to revive agriculture, we support it. If the National Food Security Programme (NFSP) of the Federal Government is to be taken seriously, the time to move is now, with the millions of unemployed hands and large expanse of arable land waiting. The idea of resorting to food imports as quick fix to score political points should be discarded for such programmes as Government’s new initiative to boost rise production across the country.

The e-payment of contractors

THAT Nigeria has now joined the list of countries in the world adopting payments of contractors by electronic means and halting an age-long practice of cash payment is a big step towards a cashless economy. To give teeth to the commencement of this practice, the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF) Mr. Abraham Dankwabo had last year directed all commercial banks to dishonour with effect from January 2009, all cheques emanating from all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the Federal government.

This however was not the first time that the Federal Government would focus on the e-payment initiative. In 2004, the Central Bank of Nigeria had established the Nigerian Payment System with the objective of encouraging the use of card technology for payments by Nigerians. Electronic transaction is a global phenomenon which Nigeria cannot afford to ignore. The adoption of the same for government payments is a welcome development. Close to three months later, however, the office of the Accountant-General should be in a position to review and assess the implementation of the e-payment system. The use of electronic payment system by government departments is still rather low.

Nevertheless, we commend the audacity of the Federal Government for taking this huge step that promises to herald unfathomable change and consequences in the Nigerian economy and polity. The Accountant General has started the implementation process in a consistent fashion since October 2008 and would appear that all stakeholders, including the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the commercial banks and contractors, have been carried along to ensure a smooth transition. This is clearly a huge effort coming on the heels of the Nigerian factor which tends to resist change, any change that challenges age-old way of life, customs and tradition. The AGF in fact sign-posted this change with an already familiar banking practice in Nigeria such as the ATM cards to buoy up confidence in its implementation.

The main challenge of this new policy however, still lies in its implementation. There are doubts that the necessary infastructure is in place to facilitate an e-payment system. Past attempts at the use of electronic technology by government agencies had failed. These include the idea of electronic voter's registration, electronic voting and the National Identity Card process. What are the guaranties that government will not similarly run into methodical crises as it grapples with e-payment? There are challenges of capacity also.

One of the objectives of the e-payment system is to help stem corruption and boost transparency and accountability. Government must introduce safeguards to make sure it does not drive itself in the opposite direction. Even now, evidences abound to the effect that ATM mechanism, the example cited by the Accountant General of the Federation, is hugely abused by fraudsters. Will the e-payment system not open up the economy further to the nefarious activities of fraudsters? If that happens can government provide the needed checks and balances or can beating a retreat be an easy option if things become awry? By the way, is there enough technical capability in the system to drive the process? To what extent has government prepared itself and stakeholders for any eventuality?

The e-payment process will involve huge money payment to contractors. How will government ensure that the system is not hugely abused by way of corrupt practices of government officials and the stakeholders? Although this stage involves only Federal Government payment to its contractors, how soon will it become a standard economy-wide practice? This should be the ultimate goal.

The questions are endless. Government is clearly adopting the e-payment system on a low key, highly restricted in its implementation for now. Indeed government can easily lay claim to a gradualist approach even within its own domain. It will only affect, as Mr. Dankwabo asserted, Federal Government contractors in relation to huge payments. Government has also made it clear that e-payment is part of its e-governance programme.

The adoption of e-payment is good in principle but extreme caution must be exercised. It must be noted that the adoption of electronic payment in the advanced countries is attended with billions of dollars loss to fraud. Yet that system still finds the practice useful in net balance. Government must therefore be prepared to accommodate or deal with the activities of fraudsters in the limited case of adoption of the e-payment system. Just as commercial banks are counting millions if not billions of naira losses in their adoption of ATMs, the tracking mechanism must be well developed from the onset, giving no room to fraudsters, matching them wit-by-wit and then surpassing them.

Even at this limited scale, a stage-by stage approach should be adopted to prevent serious mistakes and ensure effective learning from experience. There should also be regular training and sensitization workshops for public finance personnel on the implementation of e-payment in order to build capacity and to make the transition from the old manual payment of salaries, entitlements, and contracts smoother.

The re-branding Nigeria needs

A FORTNIGHT ago, most of the nation's dailies reported an attempt by the Federal Government to embark on another image shoring blitz ala the much-trumpeted 'heart of Africa project' that was the 'baby' of the previous administration. Reading between lines (which was something I was sure I did ), the Yar'Adua administration intends to deviate from Obasanjo's image laundering project in order to cut the picture of an administration intent on going about its own business and not kow-towing to the whims and caprices of the man from Ota. In one word, the administration intends to Re-brand Nigeria on a grander and more effective scale.

Branding has become such a mantra these days; it is fast becoming misunderstood. Branding, far from being a buzzword aimed at fixing any problem that is image-based, is a procedure aimed at entrenching certain beliefs about the brand in the prospect's mind. It connotes an attempt to create a lovely picture in the mind of the prospect about the brand. In other words, branding is first a careful and orderly process before it becomes a marketing appeal. The brand must have 'core values' which is in sync with those of the prospect or those which the prospect can relate with. Branding goes beyond the advertisement: An art that attempts to force the product into the mind of the prospect. A good brand does not necessarily have to shout from the rooftops to be heard, a good brand is self-selling and self- appealing. A good brand needs no hard sell.

'The heart of Africa' project even though laudable in its motive, violated all known laws of good branding. There is no gainsaying the fact that Nigeria needs more than a campaign designed by some agency to shore up what is internally and externally a blurred image. Grandiose campaigns aired on satellite television may appear to be effective on face value but could be counter-productive. The jury is still out on the gains derivable from the 'heart of Africa' project. But every day prospective investors shy away from becoming part of the Nigeria project, or we watch the news channels to witness another foiled attempt by our youths trying to get into Europe through the back door; any time we go through foreign tabloids to read about how badly the international community views this country and its citizens, we wonder if this country needs more than a re-branding to attract the gains of the free world.

There is a credibility crisis in the country's leadership at the moment and that is putting it very mildly. Apart from those who swoon around the corridors of power at all levels of government and their beneficiaries, it is debatable if the citizens of this country believe in their government. If we really intend to re-brand Nigeria, this would be the best place to start. For sometime now, the citizenry has become used to believing that what the government says is different from what it does. As one military regime gave way to another and one flawed election after another brought in a leadership without any moral substance, the basis for trust and accountability gradually flew out the window, giving way to cynicism and an utter distrust for whatever came out of government.

Add to this the ineptitude and an inability of government to fix anything, and you get the picture of a people completely at dissonance with the rulership. This widespread cynicism has become so endemic that it would take more than a mere 'academic re-engineering' of brand Nigeria to put things aright. Credibility is one of the pillars on which branding rests. If the government is really interested in re- branding the country, then a conscious effort must be made to restore trust among the citizenry. All forms of corruption which have over time contributed to the devaluation of brand Nigeria must be done away with. Credible elections at all tiers of government would also enhance the brand value of 'product' Nigeria.

Infrastructural decay in Nigeria is legendary. A near comatose health care system, a non existent railway system, deplorable state of inter-state roads and poor state of public schools would remarkably increase the brand equity of the country in the eyes of the international community and at home. The government has to show that things can work in Nigeria beyond the endless cabinet re-shuffling and jumbled portfolio designations. Outside of our borders, the perception that nothing works in Nigeria is so entrenched that it would take more than an ill-fated image laundering campaign to correct same. A year ago, I found myself in the unenviable position of trying to woo a friend to set up a small-scale business in the country. He acceded to my constant pressuring as we chatted on a social networking site and flew into the country almost unannounced. He wanted a detailed view of the Nigerian business terrain and felt it would not be a bad idea to visit the middle belt region which had a certain proximity to Lagos. We rode off to Benin in a private car at 7am and got into Edo state at 3pm. The roads were in a bad shape and the traffic situation left us perspiring embarrassingly in the heat. We got into Lagos the next day with my friend spending a week with me. He took off to England and never returned. I thought he was enjoying himself while his sojourn lasted, but with the benefit of hindsight, I now know he never enjoyed the power interruptions and the agony we had to go through each day on the roads as we embarked on feasibility studies.

It is common knowledge that our hospitals have for a long time remained mere consulting clinics. Whenever I pay a visit to my cousin who is a doctor at the university of Calabar teaching hospital, we would discuss to no end on how the hospital had become something of an eyesore. And while the president and a privileged few can disappear out of the country for medical reasons, the nation's healthcare situation is groaning under the weight of poor management and a dearth of basic equipment. As the nations of the world brace up to enter into a new age of medicine hinged on biotechnology, we are still groping with how to stock our hospitals with the basest of equipment. Little wonder, brand Nigeria is gradually eroding right under our noses.

Nothing taints 'brand Nigeria' like our epileptic power supply. No nation can be truly called 'industrialized' without a steady power supply. Our 'big brother of Africa' moniker which we delude ourselves with daily is under threat as we watch 'smaller' African countries in the west coast take giant strides towards economic boom while our generator driven economy takes several steps backwards. Branding Nigeria? Come on!!! If we can fix the power situation in this country, our brand equity would take further notches up the scale. Power is such a catalyst for economic growth that it is surprising that regime after regime boast about an illusory 10,000 megawatts and yet cannot achieve a paltry 2000 megawatts before their tenure expires. The world knows we are still struggling with power generation and some folks in the industrialized nations of the world still wonder if power outages are a possibility.

One of the enduring images of 'the heart of Africa' commercial was that of a smiling president Obasanjo well bedecked in his babariga with the visuals of some serene places in the country giving the picturesque feeling of a tourist haven. True, Nigeria's tourism is not completely dead yet thanks to the efforts of a few state governments, but it would be self delusionary to think the watching world did not realize that side by side those images are suburbs bearing the mark of under-development, the militancy in the Niger Delta, one of the lowest per capita income in the world, high level of insecurity and a people bruised from the effects of failed government policies.

While the relevant government agencies grapple with the idea of another image laundering blitz at tax payers' expense, it is worth noting that marketing and brand experts are deviating from traditional branding practices to what is now called 'experiential' branding and marketing; which is what can be seen and felt. There is a limit to how much advertising can project a brand. Sound branding practices are hinged on positioning and recourse to gaining a considerable mileage in the prospects' mind. The real brand ambassadors on whose shoulders the bulk of 'brand Nigeria' falls upon is disenchanted with the state of affairs of their country and is jetting out in droves for pastures green. Wherever and whenever you meet a Nigerian, the first thing you are most likely to hear is that righteous indignation with the state of being of the Nigerian nation.

That is the Re-branding the country needs. A re-branding that would first attempt to tackle the myriad socio-economic challenges facing the country. Only then can the Commander-in-Chief afford to look at the cameras with a grin and a throaty laughter and all the babariga in Kano and say 'welcome to Nigeria, the heartbeat of Africa'.

Re-branding Nigeria is a good idea

IN helping to reposition our national image, rekindle the passion of patriotism, make us believe more in the beauty that lies in us and in our country despite the challenges of the global economic downturn; beside poor governance and weak infrastructural facilities, Prof. Dora Akunyili is trying to re-brand Nigeria. But then, will the re-branding part with the do or die attitude to politics and politicians? Will it stop electoral malpractices and thuggery? Will it enhance the rule of law and its application? Will it help the EFCC, ICPC and NDLEA fight corruption at all levels? Will it change the assertion that laws are supposed to be obeyed by the poor and ordinary Nigerians and not by the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary?

As said by the Information and Communications Minister, the 'Heart of Africa' project was jettisoned because it was mainly overseas-oriented, not cost effective and did not make considerable impact. Let us hope that the new project is going to re-brand and correct the negative perception of Nigerians, both locally and internationally. Let us welcome the plan with a new image for Nigeria. Let us polish our behaviours and subscribe to the basic tenets of decent human and leadership conduct, probity and accountability. Let our leaders and their leadership styles be consistent with our aspiration to build a great country. Let us take our mistakes as past and ensure that such mistakes are not allowed to happen again.

Re-branding is not all about what the country is doing or going to do but what you stand for as a person in the country. We need to embark on collective effort to make things happen and do something positive and be known for it. In this regard, re-branding will work. Let the re-brand Nigeria project see to the workability of the seven-point agenda, millennium development goals (MDGs), NEEDS, SEEDS, LEEDS, FSS, Vision 2020 and other developmental programmes and strategies.

One of my favourite columnists Mr. Ray Murphy would wish us to believe that we have no other place like Nigeria and so, we must struggle to make it great. Nigeria has what it takes to change its image and take on a new identity. Some Nigerians will say this is one of the millennium dreams, but let us pray it turns into reality, let us hope Nigeria is still one great country that very little effort with genuine interest on the part of all of us will re-register it as a foremost nation globally.

Therefore, Nigeria as a country should embrace the concepts of place or destination of the branding exercise instead of confusing members of the committee or not accepting the idea completely. We must actively seek to market our country as a favourite destination for tourism, trade and investment. We must tell our own stories and seek to shape the agenda of both local and international media. If we don't, then we should not complain when the media, particularly the international media only showcase the negatives about us. We must believe in our capacity to effect changes because that is the central message of the programme.

Let us hope and believe that this time, with the same zeal the former NAFDAC boss has put in place, the spirit will remain strong in re-branding Nigeria with professionals like Hilda Dokubo, Pete Edochie, Mrs. Bilkisu Yusuf, Alhaji Garba Bello Kankarofi, Prof. Chukwuemeka Nwosu and so on. We should believe that Nigerians can do it. Image is everything; the image of Nigeria and Nigerians should not be a matter of mere words but action. Our leaders must carry out their God-given responsibilities without fear or favour of any kind as it is said that charity begins at home.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mimiko and the sack of local councils in Ondo

ALMOST soon after his assumption of office as Governor of Ondo State upon his judicial victory at the Court of Appeal, which affirmed the ruling of the lower election tribunal in his favour, the new Governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, dissolved all the 18 local government councils in the state, "sacking" all their chairmen and councillors. Soon thereafter, the "sacked" chairmen and councillors reinstated themselves allegedly at the instance of the Presidency as evidenced by heavy police protection afforded them.

In an earlier editorial, we had congratulated Governor Mimiko on his judicial victory but had counselled him to focus his attention on good governance, not on a punitive expedition and on forgiveness, not on revenge. His peremptory dissolution of the state's local government councils and the sacking of their chairmen and councillors, without reference to the State House of Assembly, verges on a certain imprudent and unjustifiable unilateralism, which flies in the face of the rule of law and the due process of the law.

Section 7 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 unambiguously provides that "the system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Government of every State shall... ensure their existence under a Law (to be enacted by the State House of Assembly) which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils". Section 8 (3) (a) - (d) delineates how Local Government Councils may be created, that is, by the State Houses of Assembly.

Quite clearly, therefore, a state governor is not seised of any constitutional power or right to create, and accordingly cannot, a fortiori, dissolve, any local government council, a creation of the State House of Assembly. Dr. Mimiko should have done what he belatedly decided to do - approach the courts to decide whether the elections which produced the "sacked" councillors were validly conducted in view of the alleged fact that the former governor of the state, Dr. Olusegun Agagu, had ignored a pending court order and proceeded to organise the said elections.

But if the action of Governor Mimiko in "sacking" the local government chairmen and councillors, legally regarded as having been duly elected until their election is set aside by a court of competent jurisdiction, was ill-advised, their "reinstatement" by the police, presumably at the behest of the Presidency, was diametrically antithetical to the tenets of federalism and the dictates of the Constitution. It should be realised, to start with, that the governor of a state is the chief executive officer of his state, and is also the chief security officer of the state to whom the police owe a high degree of responsibility, even though the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) is ultimately responsible to the President of the nation.

Secondly, the "establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions" of local government councils are according to the Constitution, the preserve of a state government. That being so, the nature of the intervention of the Federal Government, represented by the police, in forcefully reinstating the sacked local government chairmen and councillors, amounts to questionable interference in the internal affairs of a federating unit, which is not afflicted with a state of emergency. The explanation of the IGP at a press conference of the action of the police to the effect that the latter reinstated the sacked council chairmen and councillors "based on the rule of law" is nebulous and smacks of a brazen invasion of, and incursion into, the judicial province.

According to the IGP, "what the police have done was to make sure that nobody was unduly cheated and we did our best to prevent a break-down of law and order..." That was in answer to a question as to why the police compulsorily undid what the state governor had done. It is not the duty of the police to correct or deal with an erring governor for his mistakes. Section 188 of the 1999 Constitution takes care of that.

The police should shun overzealousness and allow the rule of law and due process, which, incidentally, is the mantra of the Umaru Yar'Adua administration, to hold sway. The action of the governor in "sacking" the elected council chairmen and councillors, without reference to the State House of Assembly, and the ultra-vires reaction of the police in theatrically "reinstating" the "sacked" council bosses, reek of political violence, an unhealthy development that could be detrimental to a fledgling democracy.

According to recent media reports, about 30 local council chairmen were sacked in Osun State by the Court of Appeal, not by the governor or even by the House of Assembly of that state. That, in our opinion, is the only democratic path to tread. It is instructive that both the state government and the embattled local government administrators, also invariably representing the partisan interests of the Labour Party and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ondo State are now in court over the dispute.

We appeal to both the Federal and State Governments to appreciate the fact that Nigeria is a federation, comprising federating units and three arms of government - the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary at both Federal and State levels - with a separation of powers that is entrenched in the Constitution. A cavalier breach of this doctrine of separation of powers cannot serve the interest of democracy; it could be deleterious to it.

The limits of aluta

TWO reported incidents last week - two days apart - about students in higher institutions have forced a painful conclusion that many students have lost focus. In the quest to acquire knowledge, they want to live big, by whatever means. They have so abused their privileges and have brought their families into disrepute. Perhaps, this should not be stressed too far because we all know the materialistic society we find ourselves. It is bewildering the rate at which boys and girls, men and women are pursuing wealth or ostentatious lifestyles on the campuses, and how they drive themselves to the extreme in search of money to satisfy the ego.

The taste of an average student has changed completely to one of life on the fast lane. There is so much peer group pressure that a little success makes another want to belong. An average male or female student now wants to ride not just a car. He would rather cruise around the campus in a flashy car. He or she wants to compete with bankers or some well paid oil company workers at restaurants; she doesn't want to be left out of the latest in the fashion world, yet the he or she is not in paid employment! From the parents too come barely enough to sustain them in school because most families are currently going through tough times, dancing to 'meltdown', a hit album every family (and country) is enjoying so much now.

It is not as if great students are totally extinct, no. They only come far in-between. Memories are made of the days of Segun Okeowo and other leaders of the banned National Union of Nigerian Students (NUNS) which later transformed to the present bastardized National Association of Nigerians Students (NANS). Those were the days when students talked in unison and the government listened because they are dealing with articulated, progress-minded youths. At the individual level, the country has witnessed also the era of students whose commitment to the fatherland brought them and their families honours. Many have deservedly taken a place on the roll. For example, Felix 'Owo Blow' Owolabi, Member of the Order of the Niger(MON). An ambassador of the University of Lagos as a student of Physical Education, he shone brightly as a member of the Eagles which brought Nigeria her first gold at the 1980 Cup of Nations. So was 'Chief Justice' Adokiye Amiesimaka (MON), from the same institution, noted for his penetrating runs on the left flank in the same team. This article is by no means restricting the achievers list to the sports circle. They cut across socio-economic spheres. In the same vein, Unilag is not alone in the production of notable leaders. The premier university(Ibadan) and others such as Ife, Nsukka, ABU, Benin, Calabar and more have been excellent, too.

It is unimaginable therefore that from the same great institution (Unilag) today comes the likes of one Lawal Nurudeen who was reportedly jailed for a love scam by an Ikeja High Court for 19 years, specifically for obtaining $47,900 from an Australian woman, Pee Leo Rosalind Summers by false pretence and forgery. The convict, a final year student of the Survey and Geo-Informatics Engineering department was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment on each count. Nuru had met Summers,56, on the Internet in 2007 and introduced himself as a Briton working in Nigeria. The lady was looking for a husband and Nuru fraudulently filled the gap. He invested part of the proceeds in plots of land and a car which were recovered by the EFCC. The rest is history, as they say.

Forty eight hours after the publication on Nuru's misadventure, another Mathematics undergraduate of the University of Ilorin, a certain Kadiri Aliu was being sentenced to three years imprisonment for trafficking in illicit drugs. The NDLEA had arraigned him for allegedly trafficking in cocaine, heroin and Indian hemp to which he pleaded guilty. Aliu's conduct, the judge of the Federal High Court ruled, was despicable. He brought disgrace to his parents who may have invested so much in return for nothing, the judge added. He was described as a danger to the society.

Lawal and Aliu are not the only greedy students with insatiable appetite for luxury living on campuses. We have had cases of students who see virtue in armed robbery, kidnapping, drug peddling, 'Yahoo Yahoo'(Internet scam), cultism and prostitution and are parading the campuses as big boys and girls because of the spending power or the wealth they are exposed to. They flaunt it to the envy of colleagues. So long as they have not been caught, they are still students. In all fairness, this is one area the private universities are trying to make a difference probably due to the tight screening processes they subject their students to before admission. The missionary bent of many of these institutions is really working in their favour for now. The public institutions have not succeeded much in this direction owing to the set-up and limits to intrusion of privacy of students.

WE can hardly divorce the students' craze for material things or instant wealth or a life of luxury from the general malaise in the country. The rot is so deep-rooted everybody wants to ride in private jets, everybody wants to stay in duplexes at the least, no one is interested in being seen as a pauper any longer. An average Nigerian worker is no longer contented with monthly earnings; he wants to register a company with CAC to actualize his contract dreams. It is no longer fashionable sending children to public schools; private schools would be a lot better and if possible keep all the children abroad as status symbols. An elected political office holder starts working from the first month in office to amass wealth to fight the next election four years away. To do this successfully, he has to hold the people hostage and suffer the 'fools' who gave him the mandate until he requires their services again.

It goes without saying that when corruption is promoted in high places to give a few the means to loot the treasury blind, there's little left for the masses to do than to join them if and whenever the opportunity presented itself. Once students for instance realize that the billions of naira that could have been pumped into the education sector are being wasted by a few greedy fellows, the society is indirectly preparing a set of aggrieved souls for ignoble life in future. They just can't wait to graduate before they buy their own cars and build mansions, assuming they resisted the temptation to belong to the group of fast guys on campus.

Life has turned full circle in parenting too. Parental influence has waned completely just as the larger society has failed to check the loss of core values. The multiplicity of religions and worship places has had very marginal effect on these anti-social acts. The society celebrates only the famous and the wealthy. Vanity prevails everywhere.

For students, it is quite normal to struggle or - in their parlance- make runs, but any runs outside of open, legitimate small business ideas to support pocket money from parents or guardians is unacceptable. A prostitute is not a pride of any family but that's what you find among many girls on campuses today. Cultists relish taking lives of fellow students in the competition for power and influence. If a student utilizes his precious time to surf the net all through the night to ensnare innocent people, it is a misadventure. Such people are nothing but a disgrace to the nation.

Every student sees himself as an activist while passing through the higher institution. The battle-cry is always aluta continua (the struggle continues). But there should be a limit to the aluta. A student that ventures into robbery, drug peddling, kidnapping, Internet scam or prostitution is a potential danger to society. His taste for the big apple is one gone awry.

Rescuing the overvalued naira

IT is important to bear in mind that the slide of the naira predates the present global financial crisis. When the naira recorded its highest value relative to the U.S. dollar in 1980, the annual average naira exchange was N0.5464/$1. But the rate climbed steadily (with the value of the naira falling monotonically) to N133.50/$1 in 2004. Then followed the much celebrated four years of mock naira stability and contrived slight appreciation which saw the naira exchange rate dip to about N117/$1 by the third quarter of 2008. Thereafter came the global financial meltdown in September 2008 as well as the officially proclaimed deliberate naira devaluation (changes in the value of the naira have not been otherwise) which has pushed the official naira exchange to N150/$1 today. Yet, despite losing 99.6 per cent of its value since 1980, at the current exchange rate, the naira still remains overvalued.

The inherently overvalued naira goes back to 1971-73 when the major trading economies dumped the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates and began to float their currencies. But our government has shied from floating the naira on ground initially that the financial system was weak. Do financial institutions not become strengthened through practice? That faux pas and the attendant problems which became intractable since 1974 when oil proceeds supposedly assumed dominance in the annual budget are, in what has become a ritual, restated in the two opening sentences of Chapter 2 of the 2007 Central Bank Annual Report and Statement of Accounts as follows: "The persistent excess liquidity in the banking system was a major challenge for monetary management in 2007. This development arose from the monetization of excess crude oil sales receipts and the distribution of enhanced statutory allocations to the three tiers of government, huge autonomous inflows and pre-election spending as well as supplementary budgeting".

In truth and to Nigeria's economic ruin, however, the three tiers of government do not monetise or convert Federation Account oil proceeds into naira for public expenditure in line with economic, fiscal and monetary best practice. In contrast, ways and means naira advances are substituted for the distributable public dollar receipts at officially determined but nonetheless artificial exchange rates for sharing among the statutory beneficiaries in utter contempt of Section 38 of the CBN Act 2007. That persistent wrong government action, which shatters the very foundation of an independent national currency, swells money supply to levels that are inconsistent with the core function of the apex bank as contained in Section 2 of its enabling law.

As a result, ample inflows of official and autonomous foreign exchange, which ordinarily are a blessing and the economic managers' delight, annually transform into unsafe levels of budget deficit thereby making the naira overvalued. The unhealthy budget deficits account for the persistent excess liquidity, persistent bloated demand for foreign exchange that induces persistent fall in the value of the naira excepting when the slide is officially halted or temporarily reversed, persistent high inflation, persistent prohibitive lending rates with all culminating in persistent hostile economic environment.

Because official fixing over the last 38 years of artificial naira exchange rates resulting in 99.6 per cent diminution in the quondam value of the naira has merely kept the economy in persistent coma, the time is overdue to abandon the faulty fiscal/monetary framework that has brought about three decades of economic malaise. As practised by successful economies, there is need to transparently transact public sector foreign exchange through deposit money banks based on available supply and demand predicated on established national economic need within the ambit of optimal money supply. That will promptly evolve a market-determined floating naira exchange rate that will open the economy to the benefits of its ample supply of foreign exchange.

By way of illustration, in 2007, the Federation Account Allocation Committee distributed N3.973 trillion among the three tiers of government. With oil export receipts accounting for about 85 per cent of the disbursement, a sum of N3.377 trillion out of the total represents ways and means advances substituted for public dollar proceeds, which swelled money supply as well as created excess liquidity and the persistent problems cited earlier. To combat the liquidity surfeit, the CBN among other contractionary measures mopped up N1.73 trillion in the form of treasury bills or unproductive bank credit on which the apex bank made high unearned income payments to the sinecure banks that were preoccupied with granting over-the-limit margin loans that have helped destroy the capital market.

In 2007, total imports according to the National Bureau of Statistics stood at N4.128 trillion. In effect, by means of the dirty or managed floating exchange fixing system of pegged exchange rates, beneficiaries of the Federation Account could have swapped their dollar proceeds via the banks for some N3.377 trillion actual revenue from importers using funds and productive bank credit within existing money supply volume.

This approach clearly, one, eliminates unnecessary addition of ways and means advances to existing money supply which predisposes the system to excess liquidity and high inflation; two, cuts down to the barest minimum treasury bills which ordinarily should attract only processing cost of less than 1 per cent; three, ends the crowding out of productive sectors from bank credit, which is left fully at the disposal of investors at competitive rates to grow the economy; four, prevents abuse of foreign exchange, blocks undesirable imports and subjects all imports to full payment of going tariffs; and five, facilitates conducive economic environment that responds to appropriate control measures.

This method of infusing official and autonomous foreign exchange into the system provides the basis for a stable and, with fine-tuning, realistic (as against the present whimsical) exchange rate needed for sound economic management as in successful economies. The time is long overdue to adopt this beneficial method.

Pastor Adeboye's private jet

MEDIA reports that the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) has purchased a private jet worth almost N4 billion (different news sources have quoted different figures) for its General Overseer, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, have provoked a minor public storm. I am of the opinion that the matter ought to be utilized as an opportunity to bring to the table and open up for discussion broader issues centering on the relationship between religion and society in Nigeria.

In proceeding, I think it is only fair that I declare my bona fides: I am, of course, hardly a believer, but as a student of society, especially its postcolonial African type, I take religion very seriously; and like many African public intellectuals, especially those of a humanistic temperament, I am genuinely alarmed at the way in which Pentecostal Christianity has run riot in Nigeria. If religiosity in general comes with the capacity to numb the intellect, the brand of Christianity that has been on the ascendance in our country for the past decade and more fosters a certain incuriousness that borders on total intellectual surrender. Beyond this piece therefore, my project is to see how we might begin to advance the cause of intellectual skepticism in our country, with the ultimate aim of reclaiming the public sphere of critical deliberation, and our common understanding of public morality, from the forces of religious superstition.

So, what are the issues that, I suggest, demand our attention? The first critical issue, to my mind, is what both the decision of the Redeemed hierarchy to purchase a private jet, and the Redeemed Church itself as an institution, tell us about both the Nigerian state, and the state of things in Nigeria. For the truth of the matter is that in its practices and dynamics, the Redeemed Church itself has become an expression of the Nigerian state. In the current configuration, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Adeboye, operates more or less like a megaphone of the state, and these days, it is no coincidence that he is more likely to be seen mixing it with the political elite (governors, ministers, the vice president, the president), than with ordinary members of the Nigerian public. Such is the social proximity between the Redeemed Church and the state elite that the Redeemed Christian Church of God has virtually become the Redeemed Christian Church of State. Pastor Adeboye, in a dynamic that works quite well for the state and serves the ends of holders of political power, attends their (office holders') birthday ceremonies, blesses their respective families, and, at the end of each year, unfailingly prophesies positive things for the country they so spectacularly misgovern.

How has it come to this? How did we arrive at a situation where a man who was (and in some quarters, still is) widely respected for his personal austerity and moral courage, has now become the handmaiden of political power? And why does he now acquiesce in a decision to buy a N4billion private jet in a country with 80 percent youth unemployment, and where the majority of the population (including most of his own congregation) continues to wallows in absolute immiseration?

Part of the answer-and this is my second point- has to be found in the evolution and transformation of Nigerian Christianity in general, and the Redeemed Church in particular. I think it is fair to say that both are actually imbricated, and that to a large extent, the transformation of the RCCG from a backstreet church to a global brand (yes, brand) mirrors key developments in the evolution of Nigerian Christianity. The crucial milestones in the development of the Redeemed Church, and the important role played in it by the mathematician-turned-pastor, Enoch Adejare Adeboye, are now available in the public domain, so I will not allow it to detain me here. For the sake of clarity and because of its centrality to the argument I am trying to make here, I want to highlight the (Redeemed) Church's passage through three distinct, though quite inseparable, moments.

The first was the early period when the Church was literally under the spell of the austere pietism of its founder, the Reverend Josiah Akindayomi. During that period, the Redeemed Church, with its emphasis on a rigorous, no frills personal regime for its members, was very similar to what the Deeper Life Bible Church was- and still largely is. The unflattering apothegm, Ijo Elekun (literally, the church of the grieving) is recalled here as a testament to the perceived doctrinal severity of this early period. This image was to change with the ascendance of Pastor Adeboye in 1981- and the Church's rapid transition into a new era. The significance of Pastor Adeboye's ascendance lay in the departure from this somber model and the development of a new, less abstemious, theological outlook for the Church. We now live in a critical third moment in which that model has apparently triumphed.

The problem of course is that in taking its message to the world, the Redeemed Church has also, almost predictably, taken in a considerable part of the world. Today's Redeemed Church, with more than 6,000 parishes worldwide, is no doubt a successful religious brand, but like all brands, it has had to forge all sorts of shabby accommodations with corporatist 'sponsors' and 'the rulers of this world'. This is why, today, it has become difficult separating the leaf of the Church, from the soap of the world it was established, and still purports to, transform. Obvious material success, and a fatal conflation of ethos with corporations and politicians means that the Church that redefined Biblical economics (at least in this part of the world), is now in clear danger of being consumed by its creation.

But this is not just a problem that is unique to the Redeemed Church alone, and it is imperative- my final point- that we properly understand the broader formation in which the Adeboyes and Oyedepos of this world, and other members of what, elsewhere, I have described as a 'theocratic class', are produced by, and themselves reproduce, the logic (and illogics) of the postcolonial Nigerian state.

Because space is at a premium, I will flag this issue by posing a single question: Where did the RCCG get the money (N4b) to buy a private jet? Partly, no doubt, from the sale of the Redeemed 'franchise' and the fruits of its amorous affair with the state elite. And where does state money in Nigeria come from? Oil of course. So, the point is that the material preservation and sustenance of the political elite and the theocratic class in Nigeria are traceable to the same source, and to the extent that oil extraction in Nigeria is subtended by the logic of plunder, the (Redeemed) Church in Nigeria is directly implicated in it. It partly explains why the religious elite (with a few distinguished exceptions) is loathe to antagonize the state, and it comes as no surprise that, as in the current instance, the leading lights of the Pentecostal class, have adopted one of the worst aspects of the political elite's rampant consumerism.