By Jerome-Mario Utomi
This piece gained its frames from a statement issued in Lagos, Nigeria by the Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), a Lagos-Based non-governmental organisation, as part of its programme to mark the annual World Human Rights Day held on December 10, 2020, themed Recover Better-Stand Up For Human Rights.
The right group, aside from chronicling how Nigeria as a nation ‘stands a better chance of not failing if it abides by the basic principle that has helped other countries progress; social cohesion through sharing the benefits of progress, equal opportunities for all, and meritocracy, with the best man or woman for the job, especially as leaders in government’, the statement posed but rhetorically these questions; how has Nigeria fared since independence in October 1960 in protecting the rights of its citizens? Secondly and more specific, how authentic has the present Federal Government of Nigeria been in keeping to its campaign promises made to Nigerians?
Indeed, while the first raises serious curiosity, the second left me lost in a maze of high voltage confusion as it elicits yet another question; what does being authentic in leadership entails?
Providing a sidelight to the meaning of authentic leadership, Bill George, Professor of Management Practice at Harvard University, United States of America, defined it as personalities at the helm of affairs of nations, societies, groups or organisations, reputed for demonstrating a passion for their purpose, practice their values consistently and lead with their hearts as well as their head, establish long term relationship and have the self-discipline to get results. They know who they are’.
Without doubt, Bill George definition did posture SEJA’s interrogation as apt and solution-oriented. It is more than one ways likened it to Russellian description of power as the presence of intention and production of effects that is transformative.
To this piece, it reinforced the age-long believe that advancing the course of the common good especially as it pertains to the economic good of the people should be the hallmark of every leader.
From the above explanation flows yet another concern; do leaders with such attributes exist here in Nigeria?
The answer may not be explicit. However, while this piece provides too short a space to explain and understand the above question, it is spaced enough to state that if committed to mind, and acted upon in this 2021, the question will act as a compass to building the Nigeria of our dreams. Particularly, as there are strong indications that Nigeria’s challenge is predicated on inadequacies of, and failure of public office holders to generate breakthrough ideas and exacerbated by comprehensive incompetence to learn what the job of leadership is all about, made worse by the total absence of creative/innovative thinking and superior leadership communication.
Further compounding the challenge is the lack of political will to domesticate leadership lessons learned abroad by the nation’s handlers.
To explain this fact, evidence abounds that Nigerians in the days of the oil boom in the 1970s witnessed the peak of economic successes. But when it seemed that the country would end up controlling the whole world, something suddenly prevented it, the problem is that we failed to apply what we have learned from this successes to inform national policies. This brought a marked economic decline and paved the way for other countries to overtake us both socially and economically.
This decline in Nigeria’s socio-economic growth and accelerated development of other nations are traceable to the existence of smart and banal leadership styles.
The smart leaders that held sway of now developed countries spelt out every detail of their nation’s growth strategies into the future. They planned everything; they knew the job of leadership. The banal leaders on the other hands never got the big picture but only concentrated on the boring little details. They are good at analysing the nation’s political and socio-economic challenges with clarity but could not see the solution.
This is a painful tale about our country.
To those who do not believe that the problem of poverty in Nigeria is caused by the failure in the leadership, the system should first take a glance at the next line.
Chinua Achebe in his book The Trouble with Nigeria wrote: “Nigerians are corrupt because the system under which they live today makes corruption easy and profitable; they will cease to be corrupt when corruption is made difficult and inconvenient…. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else…. The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.
Matthew Hassan Kukah, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese also shares a similar view.
Apart from his recent Christmas sermon entitled A Nation in Search of Vindication, where he among other things noted that ‘President Buhari deliberately sacrificed the dreams of those who voted for him to what seemed like a programme to stratify and institutionalise northern hegemony by reducing others in public life to second class status’, the Catholic cleric had in previous days expressed worry that government in Nigeria especially since the oil boom of the mid-seventies has deteriorated to banditry and outright robbery”.
This remark is based on the backdrop that the more money the country made from petroleum resources, the richer the leaders become at the detriment of the majority of the populace who become poorer with such wealth. This mismanagement of resources and poverty of the country is without doubt attributable to poor leadership.
At a time, he queried; could you imagine what Ajaokuta steel could have been like if Nigerian leaders had any sense of continuity and patriotism? Can you imagine the impact on our economy if the refineries have been working efficiently? Can you imagine what our railway system could have been like if those whom we have been saddled with have the presence of mind to carry on with this project? Can you imagine what our situation could have been like with the aviation industry today?
In the face of all these leadership challenges, another question that is as important as the piece itself is; what strategy can arrest these ugly narratives? Or allowed to go on together just for the nation to reap whatever fruit that comes in the nearest future? God forbids!
Beyond this mere rejection, the nation- leaders and masses alike need to reassess their priorities. The leaders/government must develop the ability to give every citizen a stake in the country and its future by subsidizing things that improve the earning powers of citizens- education, housing and public health.
This should be followed by placement of emphasis on, and understanding that the economy would look after itself if democracy is protected; human rights are adequately taken care of, and the rule of law strictly adhered to. The masses on their part must develop a keen interest in holding their leaders accountable.
This is the time to domesticate what we learned abroad.
Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos
A PIB-Centred Telephone Conversation with Comrade Joseph Evah
By Jerome-Mario Utomi
To help douse the swift and conflicting reactions, utter confusion and frustration raging in the minds of the Niger Deltans and other stakeholders, occasioned by the inexplicable and unexpected provisions of the recently passed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), I sought a telephone conversation with Comrade Joseph Evah, Coordinator, Ijaw Monitoring Group. That was a few days ago.
Essentially, on that day, at that time and in that place, I listened to him with rapt attention as his frankness made it very easy for me to be at ease in his presence.
After ‘watching’ him use analysis and well-crafted arguments to demonstrate among other concerns how the federal government is creating tension in the Niger delta that no human being can control, I concluded that what made the ‘meeting’ crucial was not its focus on the Petroleum Industry Bill, but how well the new awareness will serve the interest of the nation.
Beginning with the 3% allocation to the community, he said; well, as you can see, every normal human being from the Niger delta is against the 3% or 5%. They are in support of the community’s demand of 10%. Yes.
Although, like the Bible says; no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house Mark 3:27. Those who want to frustrate us or make nonsense of our heritage are now sponsoring some of our children who are betrayers to work against our common objective.
We are telling the Federal Government that they are creating tension in the Niger delta that no human being can control. This is the time the Government is talking about Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB. This is the time that the Government is worried about Sunday Igboho of the Yoruba nation. All these agitations are because of injustice. Instead of the Buhari government to do something to build our unity, he is by his actions encouraging the separatist movement. If it is at this time that this kind of bill is coming up, it means the government is also encouraging separatist movement in the Niger Delta
Providing direction to this conversation, I asked; how would you evaluate the role played by the representatives from the south-south region?
And just immediately, he gave this tragic-comic reply; we said they should come and give us a report of what happened, we are waiting for them. We have called their Telephone lines, and all their phones are not working. Yes! All their Telephone lines are not working; I have called some of them and their phones are not working.
Some of them at the National assembly are my cousins. Their Telephones are not working. They are all betrayers and they are hiding. They have put their names as Judas. They are the Judases of Niger Delta. We cannot fold our hands for something that in the next ten years will backfire on us.
In the next ten years from now, anybody can become Nigerian president and do whatever they like, because they believe that the Niger Deltans are the only people that send betrayers to the national assembly. We will not encourage that.
We expected them to walk out of the National Assembly. Other regions have in the past walked out of the national assembly. And there was reconciliation because those people walked out of the national assembly. What have they been sitting down like Mumu at that place for? What are they benefitting? So, we are angry. They are Mumu. People from other tribes see them as betrayers of their region. In Abuja, they are shameless people moving about.
On 13% derivation, he captures it this way; we are not saying 100% as our expectation but because we are human beings, we will continue to talk to our leaders, let this thing be workable.
In 1999, I made a submission to Chief Olusejun Obsanjo, the former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I remember telling him that the 13%derivation should be changed, and should not be given to the Governor because the governors see the 13% as a Christmas party.
Instead, he added, let us apply what Babangida did. Babangida used trade by barter to build Abuja. He started the 13% with Julius Berger because Julius Berger could not be corrupted. Julius Berger built the Aso rock; Julius Berger built 90% of all the facilities. It was Julius Berger that changed Abuja to London. So, if he gives part of that 13% to Julius Berger Construction Company, you will see that Niger Delta will change to London.
To help make the conversation more rewarding, I (the author) asked this solution-oriented question; how will the region remedy the situation bearing in mind that Mr President is yet to sign the bill into law?
Let’s again listen to Comrade Evah; that is why we are appealing to the president to do the needful so as not to encourage the separatist movement in the Niger Delta. He should send the bill back to the National Assembly for them to revisit it again. Even the Supreme Court reverses itself when the need arises. So why can’t the National Assembly? That is our advice for him
Yet again, the author fired; what do you think is the holistic approach to the Niger Delta challenge?
Hear him; the holistic approach to the Niger delta challenge strictly depends on those who are ruling the country. It depends on their ability to assemble the nation’s first eleven for the purpose of development, as used after the civil war. It means selecting people who are focused and impeccable.
Politics has bastardized everything. No investments for our children, nothing, the universities are not working. How come Buhari who has been a former military Governor, former Minister and former head of state cannot assemble people who are credible, people who are productive? All we have witnessed is everyday borrowing? What kind of government is that? When they promised to change, we never knew that it was borrowing change.
At this point, the author urged that the conversation moves from an expression of grief to finding a solution. Can’t our electoral system address the present leadership challenge in the country particularly, the issue of the first eleven as mentioned above?
He responded thus; yes, elections can but our electoral process cannot be trusted. If we want to deal with and correct this situation, we must learn to spend less money on elections. Through that process, you will see the beauty of democracy. The best candidates will emerge. But will they allow it? It will not be allowed. We have some members of the National Assembly that go there to sleep. Some of them have been part of the National Assembly right from the government of Shehu Shagari. We have to confront these people. That is why we are confronting them.
He continues; I hope that all that we are saying on television and newspaper Mr President sees them unless the press secretaries will be hiding television from him because that is what some press secretaries do. Instead of the president watching news channels, press secretaries will tune to cartoon networks. Instead of them showing him newspapers on national matters, they show him any magazine that contains cartoon networks.
Those who are guarding the president give the president a fake opinion. They are blocking people from coming to tell the truth to his ears. That is the problem. All the press secretaries around the president need to repent. Give him newspapers on national matters to look at the opinion of the people. It will help the president to manage Nigeria.
The above scenario notwithstanding, Comrade Evah noted that leaders from the Niger Delta, particularly members of PANDEF have made a lot of moves. They are still making moves and the Ijaw National Congress leaders too; are still making moves to visit the Aso Rock to talk to the president. The problem is that, will the president be fair enough to do that?
On his thoughts about how the Amnesty programme can bear the targeted result, watch out for part two of this piece.
Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via email@example.com/08032725374.
Citizenship, Immigration Quota, Economics, Conflict & Development
By Nneka Okumazie
What does the country an individual comes from say?
Many nations of the world offer what can be called nationality neutrality, where not much can be thought of people from there in terms of risk.
But there are a number of nations where coming from there, with or without nationality is a liability of caution around them.
There are many who say they judge based on individuals – but it is not that simple because of how the memory associates one thing with another.
There are countries – across continents, not just obvious guesses, whose people are known for exponential horror.
There is often deliberate avoidance – by many – of certain places or people because they know what the people are capable of.
Yes, there are most things in every country, to differing degrees.
Countries have prisons, where their own people fill.
Countries also have cases where their own people do unspeakable stuff.
But the countries that ensure to do better per positives are hardly represented by their worst.
The countries of negativity may have a number of best to offer but are dwarfed by their sea of horror.
There is something pervasive in whatever country – where behaviour generation skews grim.
The people may not know, outsiders may not understand, but these countries where it is just bad news, darkness, evil, etc. are cases of obdurate societies whose priority should be doing better by the people, not anything else.
But most times, the people are careless, double-down, or use interpretations that justify their actions.
They forget that to advance, evil from within must be conquered.
They also forget that there is no procession with evil that does not lead to destruction.
These places, in how they think, behave, assume, and induce ruin, set themselves and their people – everywhere – back.
They have a pattern – and that, predictable about them makes them weak. It also makes them unwanted.
They most times carry negativity wherever they go and are veritably selfish no matter how they seem to have fake bonds or gatherings among themselves.
No don’t say this about that people, or don’t talk about it – consign many to almost a life of waste – reared in those places.
The bigger problem, many forget, with evil – hidden or known, is what it inspires.
There are many extremes in the world at present that were not this horrific couple of decades ago.
There are also horrors within the last century that continue to shape negative action.
In many ways, good offers leadership and bad offers leadership.
The world is not that complex to have so many sources of leadership.
There are a few, relatively, and many just follow. Some who follow cannot even see that they are.
There are countries that would hardly do anything prosperous for themselves unless nudged by external people in some form.
There are those whose objective is sabotage and pain transmission.
There are those who would copy, skipping key sequences – just to do what others are doing.
There are many who would follow digital currency because everyone is doing it, but forget that differential productivity and jobs are better valued than capital pegged against anything.
There are also those whose education offers no leadership, whose sectors offer no leadership, whose businesses offer no leadership, but to follow what is done elsewhere – while over predicting their distance.
There are those who cannot show real courage, who do not even understand what courage is and that without risk – to the extent of losing all, most times, progress may never be attained.
There is a difference in the courage it takes to move from a poor country to a better one, to the one it takes to move to a poorer or unstable one, or to a war zone.
There was some civil war at some location within the last century where foreigners came to fight for a side to defeat what they believed would be dangerous.
Many died, but courage in that arena, where those having it better, keep it aside to war on backwardness, may decide for them, how they progress.
Courage is to open a business or do something.
But opening a business with a market does not compare to opening one with no defined market or developing a new product that can be useful, but may fail in demand.
There are just so many who peak at the luxury a position offers – and have nothing they would ever make better.
It is possible to make progress in different ways, but a nation without its best – those who are super attitudinally extraordinary, trying, it may be difficult to find new methods to change from their situation.
Where are you from?
Those from weak countries who do not do their best – selflessly for their nations may not be too distant from their worst.
[Judges 20:13, Now, therefore, deliver us the men, the children of Belial, which are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death, and put away evil from Israel. But the children of Benjamin would not hearken to the voice of their brethren the children of Israel:]
Dysfunctional Federalism and the Centre Called Abuja
By Jerome-Mario Utomi
In the words of James Tar Tsaaior, Professor of Media and Cultural Communication, School of Media and Communication, Pan Atlantic University, Lagos, the circle looks harmless and innocuous’ but it is not. It is guilty of certain politics, inclusionary and exclusionary politics.
Every circle has its centre and margin, its core and periphery. The centre is the point of attraction because of its strategic position. Anything outside of the centre does not validly belong to the circle. It exists as a tangent, beyond its orbit or circumference.
It is interesting how the mathematical sign of the circle has become an idea for instituting cartographic domains, political hierarchies, economic zones and cultural categories in today’s global neighbourhood. These include the global North and South, the First and Third Worlds, the metropolis and the province, the centre and margin and the core and the periphery, among other binary oppositions.
Likewise, here, Abuja represents the centre. It is the capital city of Nigeria. It is in the middle of the political circle called Nigeria. The skyline of the city, which was built largely in the 1980s, is dominated by Aso Rock, an enormous monolith. It rises up behind the Presidential Complex, which houses the residence and offices of the Nigerian president in the Three Arms Zone on the eastern edge of the city. Nearby are the National Assembly and the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
The city overtly and covertly shares the above attributes of a centre.
In the spirit of the true federal system, Abuja and the federal (central) government, was originally meant to operate as a coordinating government and not as a controlling government and has the exclusive responsibility for the mutually agreed common national services.
But contrary to expectation, Abuja is guilty of certain politics as it presently ‘enjoys’ political obesity- welding much power to the detriment of the federating states. Laced with the spirit of command and control, and has asymmetrically cornered to itself responsibilities such as the Armed Forces, Nigerian Police, Citizenship, Customs, Central Bank of Nigeria/National Currency, Immigration, Foreign Affairs including Foreign Trade, National Education Standards, but not Educational Institutions (Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Levels, National Scientific, Technological and Industrial Goods Standards including Agricultural/Mineral Commodity Export Standards, Trunk A Roads or Interconnecting High ways of Nigerian Federation, among others.
Evidently, for the reason that the ‘constitution we inherited (1999 constitution as amended), from the military is as faulty as it is now outdated; and did not originate from “the people” but rather a product of imposition’, it made slanted provisions that mirrors government at the centre as both ‘captain and coach’ of other federating states thereby characterizing Abuja as a general surrounded by many lieutenants. This set the stage for the nation’s dysfunctional federalism.
Today, Abuja means different things to different people.
To some lazy state governors, who are clueless about increasing their state’s internally generated revenue (IGR), and depend solely on federal allocation, Abuja, means a ‘dispenser of goodness’.
For politicians outsmarted in their states, Abuja is the ‘wilderness of consolation and a desert of hope’. For those that lost elective positions in their states/constituencies, Abuja is the centre where the sweet phrase; ‘weep not child’ can only be heard via political appointments and contracts.
This inglorious disparity in the power-sharing arrangement has rendered as unabated the need for restructuring the relationship between the centre and the states to reflect true economic and political federalism that will allow for resource control by the varying states while paying the constitutionally stipulated taxes to the centre.
Compounding this present national challenge is the posture of President Muhammadu Buhari, who presently sees nothing to restructure in the political edifice called Nigeria.
To add context to the discourse, represented by the Executive Secretary, Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, Alhaji Mohammed Bello Shehu, at the launch of Kudirat Abiola Sabon Gari, Zaria Peace Foundation which took place at Ahmadu Bello University Hotels, Zaria, Mr President said as follows; “Again, those who are discussing restructuring, my question is, what are you going to restructure? If you ask many Nigerians what they are going to restructure, you will find out that they have nothing to talk about.
“Some of them have not even studied the 1999 Constitution. The 1999 Constitution is almost 70 to 80 per cent the same with that of the 1979 Constitution.”
Unmistakably, there exist two reasons that qualify Mr President’s latest position on the state of the nation as a crisis and deeply troubling.
First, it is coming a few years after the same Mr President noted while delivering a nationwide broadcast on Monday, January 1, 2018, that ‘no human law or edifice is perfect. Whatever structure we develop must periodically be perfected according to the changing circumstances and the country’s socio-economic developments.’
Identifying those imperfections and catalysing the process of reforming this changing circumstance as muted by the president should be the preoccupation of all at the present circumstance.
The second concern is that Mr President is not alone in this deformed argument.
Recently, some Nigerians argued that President Buhari was elected by Nigerians and he is the symbol of the sovereign many talked about. Therefore, asking him to convoke a Sovereign National Conference for the purpose of restructuring Nigeria is to ask him to abdicate the high office of the presidency of Nigeria, that is, to surrender his powers, office to a group of elected or selected persons who now determine the tenor of the federation.
While this piece accepts the above reasoning is true, the argument is, however, plagued/deformed by its decision to remain silent or failure to remember that Mr President is also constitutionally empowered to demand from the national assembly via executive Bill, amendments of the constitution according to the changing circumstances.
In simple language, this is what Nigerians want/demand and will appreciate if Mr President performs this function at the most fundamental level.
Supporting this claim is a statement credited to the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Prof. George Obiozor as it lays bare what Igbos and the generality of Nigerians demands.
He said in parts; fundamentally, what Ndigbo really want is some form of internal autonomy based on a restructured Nigeria.
Categorically stated, we are of the view that the federation of Nigeria must be a union of equals and the composite units must have the ability to stand without begging the centre for survival. That is a federal system of government with its characteristics of decentralization and devolution of power among the federating units”.
From the above reason flows yet another concern which has to do with justice. Globally, there exists a veiled agreement that justice has two different faces, one conservative of existing norms and practices, the other demanding reform of these norms and practices.
Thus, on the one hand, it is a matter of justice to respect people’s rights under existing law or moral rules, or more generally to fulfil the legitimate expectations they have acquired as a result of past practice, social conventions, and so forth.
On the other hand, justice gives us reason to change laws, practices and conventions quite fundamentally, thereby creating new entitlements and expectations.
While those of us who believe in the unity of Nigeria may not agree with the campaign of any group or ethnic nationality to dismember Nigeria, the truth must be told to the effect that the whole gamut of restiveness and resurgence demand for the dissolution of Nigeria stems from mindless exclusion, injustice and economic deprivation.
The best way to reverse this trend is to first acknowledge that the constitution we inherited from the military is as faulty as it is now outdated. And most importantly, we must make Abuja/the government at the centre shed some weight via power devolution. Call it restructuring, you may not be far from the truth!
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