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Still on the True Meaning of Political Power

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Political Power

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve a purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, economic, political, cultural and religious changes.

What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anaemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demand of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.

From these words of Martin Luther King Jr, it may not be a wrong assertion to conclude that; there is nothing wrong with power; that power could be used both constructively and destructively; that for man to function well in any given position of authority, he/she must identify that power is not a complete end but looks up to something further; it cannot itself be the ultimate goal; that power is valuable according to the use to which it may be put.

And most importantly, power in the estimation of the Marxists is but the ability to protect one’s interest.

Chief among such examples of the destructive exercise of power include Pol Pot.  It was in the news that while in power in Cambodia between 1975 and 1978, he used his position to cause the death of more than two million people in Cambodia – a small country in Southeast Asia bordered by Vietnam and Thailand. This is a verifiable fact.

The story is not different here in Africa as it is factually backed by that late Robert Mugabe in his quest to hold on to power, massacred over 20,000 of his people and not animals, destroyed the nation’s economy and watched with disinterest while his wife looted millions of dollars.

Fresh in our memories are the Liberia episode in the early 1990s, Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire.

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Specifically in Africa, there are even more accounts of gradual and silent encroachment/abuse of power by those in positions of authority, than by violent and sudden usurpations.

Conversely, talking about constructive use of power, the thought of Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister of Singapore (as he then was), naturally comes flooding.

It is recorded that Lee grew fifteen times, independent Singapore with a GDP of $3billion in 1965 to $46billion in 1997 and its economy became the 8th highest per capita GNP in the world in 1997 according to the World Bank ranking.

Back home is a similar account, shortly after independence, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, then Premier of the Western region, Nigeria constructively used his position to better the life chances of his people of the region- infrastructurally, socio-economically. And through quality and affordable education, set the region on a hyper-modern pathway.

This feat or a combination of other people-purposed achievements, without doubt, explains why four decades after his reign, he is daily remembered and used in virtually all the primary schools (both public and private), as an example of a great leader

Indeed, they defined power in the image of their actions

But today, that narrative has changed. National development is not only in trouble; rather education, power, health and infrastructure are the worst victims of present ineptitudes.

On the contrary, when you build down precisely what went wrong, one thing seems to stand out. It is the shocking reality that the same qualities that created success in the past are the same qualities that undermine success today.

In many ways, the present administration may have a sincere desire to move the nation forward, but there are three major militating factors. First, there is no clear definition of our problem as a nation, the goals to be achieved, or the means chose to address the problems and to achieve the goals.

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Secondly, the system has virtually no consideration for connecting the poor with good means of livelihood-food, job and security.

Thirdly, though they constitutionally possess the political powers to improve the life chances of the governed, governments at all levels daily manifest non-possession of political will to perform their constitutional responsibilities. This is the only possible explanation for this situation.

Take the education sector as a living reality, globally, it is a well-considered belief that that; with sound and well educational institutions, a country is as good as made -as the institutions will turn out all rounded manpower to continue with the development of the society driven by well thought out ideas, policies, programmes, and projects.

Similarly, it’s being argued elsewhere that education is, in fact, an extremely valuable strategy for solving many of society’s ills.

In an age where information has more economic value than ever before, it’s obvious that education should have a higher national priority. It is also clear that democracies are more likely to succeed when there is widespread access to high-quality education.

But despite these virtues, attributes and exceptions about education, here in Nigeria, the sector remains in the ‘valleys of the shadow of death’ occasioned by perennial underfunding.

Standing as a telling proof to this claim is the budgetary provision for education in 2019 which got N620.5 billion (7.05 per cent), an amount that is far below the United Nations Educational Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommendation.

This failure speaks volumes and points at FG’s unwillingness to engineer national development and signposts an administration that is not interested in using the power properly. What about the state of the nation’s infrastructures-roads in particular? Definitely, it elicits but a similar response. Some years ago, it was reported that Minister of Works and Housing Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), instead of telling Nigerians about the efforts being made to fix the federal roads, told bewildered Nigerians that the roads in the country are not as bad as they are saying it.

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Indeed, it is responses such as this that have in the estimation of the global community characterized our democracy as ‘democracy turned upside down’.

To reverse this unpalatable demonstration of power, governments at all levels must develop the political will to use power creatively and profitably by recognizing that the need to have the future of this country discussed has become eminently urgent.

Education must be well funded to help lecturers carry out scholarly research, promote a smooth academic calendar; rid Nigerian schools of dilapidated and overstretched learning facilities and aid our tertiary educational institutions to produce graduates with the manpower needed by the nation’s industrial sector.

The nation must also come up with programmes to sustain the youths who for the moment have lost all fears of punishment and yielded obedience to the power of violence.

Their fathers and grandfathers embezzled millions of naira meant for development projects. They used the money to acquire arms for electoral purposes. They have armed the youths to unleash terror on their perceived enemies’.

The youths seem not to be interested in dropping guns so easily. Particularly, the Alamajiris in the north must be reintegrated back to school, so should challenges of the youths in the south-south whose farmlands and other means of livelihood have been destroyed through oil prospecting and explorations be addressed.

By Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He Could Be Reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.

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A PIB-Centred Telephone Conversation with Comrade Joseph Evah

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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

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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.

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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?

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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 jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.

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Citizenship, Immigration Quota, Economics, Conflict & Development

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Immigration Quota World Map

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.

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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.

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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.

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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:]

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Dysfunctional Federalism and the Centre Called Abuja

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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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