Archive for August, 2012

By Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai 

 
Eleven thousand, eight hundred and eighty-six (11,886) abandoned projects that will cost an estimated N7.78 trillion to complete! These alarming figures are from the report of the Presidential Projects Assessment Committee (PPAC) set up in March 2011, by President Goodluck Jonathan to look into cases of abandoned federal government projects. If the government does not start any new projects, it will take more than five years budgeting about N1.5 trillion annually to complete them all – and that is assuming no cost-over runs or delays!

Ordinarily, these figures should compel the government to accelerate the completion of all ongoing projects, or at least focus on high priority ones. Unfortunately, this has not been the case: Government would rather continue the weekly charade of awarding new contracts or re-awarding old ones at higher prices during its weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meetings.

As trillions of naira are being wasted in the name of public projects, it is important to understand issues like how projects are initiated, bid for, negotiated and awarded and why they get abandoned. Who and what are really responsible for abandoned projects? Are poor planning, haphazard procurement, and incompetent project management the key causes or is it financial mismanagement? In spite of mobilization fees already paid, why is nobody held accountable when projects are not completed? How far can the Bureau of Public Procurement or other agencies with requisite mandate go to address the root causes of abandoned projects?

There is a need to briefly examine how projects are initiated and contracts awarded. The first step ought to be conception of projects that fit within a scheme of national vision, strategy and development programs. As we have stated in this column, a 27-page “transformation agenda” tucked away in the website of National Planning Commission falls short of this. This “agenda” is largely inconsistent with the Federal Ministry of Finance medium term sector strategies and budgeting priorities for 2011 and 2012. Most projects are therefore conceived out of nowhere and lacking in internal coherence and consistency with other programs.

Next is to plan and design the project in detail. Assume a road is to be constructed between two locations, the rights-of-way must be surveyed, levels taken, alignment finalized, road designed, and detailed drawings, bills of quantities and other bidding documents prepared prior to inviting pre-qualified engineering contractors to submit competitive tenders. The design development process can take anything between some months to more than a year, while it takes a minimum of 5 months from advertising invitations for bids to presentation to the FEC or other approving authority. This suggests that design and procurement processes for any project ought to start at least a year or two before being budgeted for. This only happens in a few foresighted agencies (MDAs).

Typically, nothing happens until the budget is passed and cash backed, then the implementing MDA begins the fire brigade work of compressing this timeline into a few weeks! Most MDAs wait until projects are included in budget or the budget passed before they start project surveys or design or the procurement process. When an MDA spends at least 5 months on procurement, how much time does the contractor have to execute the project and draw down the funds before the financial year runs out? This becomes a big issue as MDAs are required by law to return all unspent funds to the treasury by the year end.

To understand why projects get abandoned, we must also understand the pervasive lack of continuation in policies as occupiers of political offices change. Whether it is long term development plans or contracts for critical infrastructure, the repeated practice in Nigeria is that once new people are in office, policies or programs of the previous administration are abandoned. This unwillingness to ensure policy continuity is the root cause of nepotism, corruption and impunity, as officials often re-award such contracts to cronies and generous campaign donors at inflated prices.

In this regard, the “democracies” have not fared better than the military in policy consistency. From Obasanjo’s NEEDS, to Yar’Adua’s Seven-Point agenda, and now, Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda – there has been continuity of policy inconsistency within the same ruling party – and turning projects that would have ordinarily benefited the populace into drain pipes. Critical examples are the N52m Zobe dam in Katsina, commissioned in 1983 by the Shagari regime; not only has several times the original amount been spent on the project, it has not pumped up a single liter of water. And the Ajaokuta Steel Complex which has gulped about N675bn, but still not produced much steel.

When projects are abandoned, the usual reason given is lack of funds, though often it is the pre-contract mishaps already alluded to, and project management deficits that are the fundamental causes. How can funding constraints be blamed for project failures? Should one not wonder why a project is approved in the absence of adequate funds? In fact, section 4 (2) (b) of the Public Procurement Act 2007, states plainly that all procurement shall be ‘based only on procurement plans supported by prior budgetary appropriations; and no procurement proceedings shall be formalized until the procuring entity has ensured that funds are available to meet the obligations and has obtained a “Certificate of ‘No Objection’ to Contract Award” from the Bureau’. Simply put, the law requires that no contract should be awarded if funds are not available for it from the onset!

It is intuitive that abandoned projects fuel corruption and reduce public confidence in governance. The excuse of inadequate or delayed funding may sometimes be contrived. Such an inference could be drawn as abandoned projects are more often than not re-awarded at unjustifiably over-bloated sums. The increased costs are subsequently justified by blaming inflation, exchange rates, labour and materials cost increases amongst others.

If we intend to check the abnormality of abandoned projects, the relevant laws have to be strictly adhered to. Section 63 (1) of the Public Procurement Act which states thus: ‘In addition to any other regulations as may be prescribed by the Bureau, a mobilization fee of no more than 15% for local suppliers and contractors and 10% for foreign suppliers and contractors may be paid to a supplier or contractor …’ must be firmly applied. According to the PPAC, it is not uncommon for contractors to be paid mobilization fees in excess of 50% of the contract sum, often in apparent violation of the law.

While the Executive arm of government is largely to be blamed for abandoned projects, it is not alone. The National Assembly (NASS) is liable as well by unlawfully and unconstitutionally inserting new, unplanned projects into Appropriation Bills expecting them to be implemented. The NASS has joined the executive branch in ignoring the funding needs of existing projects to completion and commissioning. Take the Zobe dam mentioned; does the representative of that constituency not have the responsibility to pursue and ensure the strict completion of projects in his constituency? If the focus of the government is on development and service to the people, why should officials seek approval for new projects when unfinished ones do not enjoy adequate funding and sound project management?

The Public Procurement Act 2007 established the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) with the National Council on Public Procurement (NCPP), as the regulatory authorities saddled with the oversight functions of monitoring procurement and implementation of federal projects across the country. These statutory functions have been hampered by lots of challenges, including the late passage of the annual Appropriation Acts by NASS and abandonment of the procurement processes by the relevant MDAs if favored bidders turn out to be unsuccessful.

If properly sustained, the Due Process and Certification Mechanism started by the Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit under Oby Ezekwesili, would have been one of the many benefits of the legislation. This has however not been the case because of policy discontinuities and the cravings of politicians to have unfettered discretion in awarding contracts.

The federal government needs to, as a matter of urgency, comply with the provisions of the Public Procurement Act. The government must curb the temptations or pressures to embark on new projects when so many remain uncompleted or abandoned. Desirable projects must be continued irrespective of whichever administration initiated them. The NCPP, which is yet to be constituted, should be urgently inaugurated to superintend the activities of the BPP, as opposed to the current scenario where the FEC usurps the Council’s statutory functions.

As you read this, the Federal Ministry of Finance recently announced the release of N300 billion for capital projects for the third quarter of 2012, bringing the total release for capital projects so far this year to N704 billion out of nearly N1.5 trillion for the year. Most citizens will not feel the impact of this amount because the planning, procurement and project management processes are still fraught with nepotism, corruption and impunity that many projects may end up on the abandoned projects list – after billions have been paid as fungible mobilization advances. Our nation must do better. We must demand that our leaders do better!

Abati’s Unnecessary Necessity

Posted: August 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

By Victor Ehikhamenor

As much as I cringed reading some of Dr. Reuben Abati’s words this past Sunday in The Guardian newspaper, a sense of eiyaaa overwhelmed me. It was so obvious that the task before the erudite ex-columnist was to catch a porcupine with bare hands.

Abati’s piece reminded me of my mother when I was in primary school. I was flogged silly by the labour master for not bringing “handwork” to school one time and hell almost broke loose.

Handwork required tedious work, and it was a necessity and part of the school program. At this particular occasion I came to school empty handed and the labour master could not bear my audacity of hoping he would not ask me for it.

When I had no tangible reason for not bringing handwork, he went berserk and finished an entire cane on my bare legs and sent me home. My mother, seeing the cane marks all over my legs as if I was a runaway slave, decided to go to my school and start a civil war.

She was literally flying out of the door when my father stopped her. And what I will never forget was he reminded her that -Yes it is true that the punishment was excessive, but Victor did not do what was required of him, hence the punishment.

My mother could not defend that position, she dropped the case reluctantly and treated my wounds. And I went to school with my handwork the next day.

Somebody, an editor or a personal assistant, should have stopped Abati’s “The Jonathan They Don’t Know” before it made it to the public space. Not that the president’s spokesman should be censored, but this particular offering was necessarily unnecessary.

I don’t know if Abati realizes there may be an incontrovertible “handwork” missing from “them” that is making his labeled “they” cabal i.e. “the cynics, the pestle-wielding critics, the unrelenting, self-appointed activists, the idle and idling, twittering, collective children of anger, the distracted crowd of Facebook addicts, the BBM-pinging soap opera gossips of Nigeria” scream and lash out like my labour master. Abati couldn’t have forgotten so soon that he was once a “they” before he became “them” and he should have a better communication stratagem to handle “they’s” restiveness.

I don’t know Abati personally; I have only met him through his writings, in the past as a hard-hitting fire spitting critic/columnist and in his current reincarnation as the president’s image Laundromat/megaphone.

The more I read him these days the more it is clear to me that it is not easy walking with a left-leg shoe on a right foot. Many people knew exactly where Abati stood in the past and now that his pendulum has swung to a different direction, they are not heedless either.

Nigeria may be a country that needs Lasik surgery for its myopic malady, but Abati’s potshots at government are too recent to recess into the abyss of the national sub-conscious.

When Dr. Abati joined Dr. Jonathan, if I knew him well I would’ve congratulated him with a handshake. I am not averse to serving one’s country under a democratically elected government, and Nigerians voted for President Jonathan en masse.

If the best minds shun public offices, hoodlums and political agberos take over the country and turn it to a madhouse – and we have seen that happen too many times.

The only way Nigeria can begin to build itself from debilitating socio-political rubbles is when people like Abati accept public office and serve the entire country in truth and honesty, no matter the challenges.

Abati has a job to do and I respect him tremendously for attempting to do it the best way he thinks, but you cannot dance atilogwu to owambe drumming. He wants to maintain his old dance steps in a different disco hall and it is painful for many Nigerians to watch. And I do not want to believe that the arrival of an “attack lion” in the Villa has put peer pressure on the once calm and calculated intellectual.

The president’s spokesman cannot afford to be rattled to the extent that he lists the president’s table menu of boiled plantain and cassava bread just to prove a point. Or even direct vituperations at “they” that voted his employer to power.

Angry responses to critics do not shoo them away, it energizes them. This is a country where in the past, military guns and letter bombs couldn’t shut critics’ mouths. The pen is mightier than the sword, but both “they” and “them” are equally armed with that same pen now. And Abati’s latest criticism is like tying raw meat around one’s neck and walking around in a hungry lion’s den.

Words are too powerful to be misused and this is something Abati knows too well. The words -“The thing about the President’s critics is that they just cannot accept that someone with his simplicity can be President,” is way too pedestrian to explain away a people’s SOS cry for good governance.

The ever lingering woe with President Jonathan’s administration is simply and squarely miscommunication. I find this ironic, considering that he is Nigeria’s first Facebook commander-in-chief and the least unflappable. Trying to deflect beer parlour and internet “gist” and genuine criticism of President Jonathan in a day’s work will not cut it.

That Abati is an intelligent man is unquestionable, but he must help the president articulate some of his successes so far, not just in traditional media but also in the social media arena that was once courted by him.

Abati was not hired as an attack dog/lion and he should not suddenly be goaded into one. And for the record “they” do not particularly care if the president wedges his head in bed with a bottle of VSOP Ogogoro as long as the country he governs is moving towards the right direction.

Thisday|amebo|burningpot

There is urgent need for government to declare a state of emergency in the educational sector

The Nigerian National Office of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) recently released the results for its May/June 2012 examinations. The outgoing Head of the Nigerian National Office (HNO), Dr. Uyi Uwadiae, who made public the results said that 649,156 candidates representing 38.81 per cent obtained credits in five subjects and above, including English Language and Mathematics. A total of 1,649,156 candidates nationwide sat for the examinations.

Going by the figures released by WAEC, about 39 percent of the candidates were successful in the examinations, something Uwadiae described as “eight per cent improvement” over that of last year. Yet the fact not underscored is that of this number only 472, 906 candidates obtained five credits including English Language and Mathematics. That in effect means that on the overall, just 31 percent passed with five credits.

Against the background that over the past five years Nigeria has consistently recorded an annual less-than-40 per cent success rate in these examinations, such consistence in mass failure shows that something is dangerously wrong with the educational system and/or the environment that churns out annually a generation of illiterate young boys and girls. We therefore believe very strongly that the nation’s educational systems, especially the public schools system from the primary to tertiary, have failed the youths of this country.

Unfortunately, those in authority at all levels of government have only been paying lip service to the improvement of public education system in our country. Yet the advent of highly expensive and difficult-to-afford private schools (at all levels) had effectively sealed the fate of poorly funded public schools with the result that only unqualified teaching staff populate the public schools. Others who share in the blame for this ugly situation are the teachers as it has become standard practice for them to use the period of examinations as the best time to negotiate with the government. Most public school teachers also spend their time engaged in things not related to their job during official hours in the effort to make ends meet due to poor remunerations.

The students themselves have a good share of the blame for the woeful performances recorded in WAEC and Senior School Certificate examinations annually. Since the advent of the social media like Mobile Phones, Blackberry, Facebook, Twitter, etc., the Nigerian youth have become so addicted to these gadgets that they no longer have time for reading and preparing for their examinations. Also, the use of the social media short messaging system or texting language which permits all kinds of acronyms or abbreviated words has corrupted many that they sometimes assume that it is normal to use such forms of expression in real situations like examination. Furthermore, over dependence on “expo” has destroyed the confidence of many students.

In view of all these factors, we reiterate our earlier call that government should as a matter of urgent national interest declare a state of emergency in the educational sector. The government for instance has a duty to improve the working conditions of the nation’s teachers who must not always have to go on strike in order to obtain a favourable consideration of their plight. The schools themselves must be equipped to meet basic standards to adequately prepare students, especially in the sciences. Unless something drastic was done, and urgently too, the future of the nation’s human capital must have been seriously and irreversibly compromised while the negative social consequences can only be imagined.

Things must not continue this way as it is very obvious that not every parent can afford the cost of private school education for their children and wards. All stakeholders must therefore join hands to revert the ugly trend.

Megawatts Of Controversy

Posted: August 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

Image
The Verdict According To Olusegun Adeniyi

“I understand that Prof. Barth Nnaji is going to man the power sector. He is a man for whom I have tremendous respect (and he comes with impeccable credentials for the job). But he is also an operator in the sector which immediately raises a serious issue of conflict of interests…”

When I wrote the foregoing upon resuming this page after my return to the country in June last year, at a time names of ministerial nominees had just been sent to the Senate for confirmation, there were some angry reactions from supporters and friends of Prof Barth Nnaji. Yet it was obvious from the outset that his appointment as Minister of Power was fraught with risks. In terms of pedigree, he is one of the few round pegs in round holes in the Federal Executive Council. And he did the correct thing by resigning from Geometric Power and putting his interest in a blind trust, which is perfectly legal and transparent. The challenge, however, remained that in a society with a thriving rumour industry, Nnaji had unwittingly provided a weapon of blackmail for his enemies, especially in a high-stake sector like power where there are too many powerful interests to contend with.

Even when his efforts led to significant improvement in the power sector, and he was making the right calls, I have always believed that at some point Nnaji’s appointment would unravel. What I did not envisage is that it would unravel in such a dramatic fashion. By his own account, Nnaji was confronted on Tuesday afternoon by President Goodluck Jonathan with the allegation that he was using his company as a proxy to buy shares in one of the companies being privatized under his watch. Given my little experience in the corridor of power in Nigeria, when things get to that point for a minister, you either jump or be pushed. Nnaji, at least going by Aso Rock statement, was clever enough to opt for the former.

What happened, however, came as no surprise. Prior to Tuesday’s resignation, there had been reports that participation by two companies in which Nnaji has considerable interest had compelled the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) to cancel the technical bid evaluation process conducted for Afam power plant and Enugu Disco. To be fair to him, it was Nnaji who actually brought it to the attention of the council (of which he was a member) that O & M Solutions of Pakistan, one of the consortia bidding for Afam, had worked as a contractor for Geometric Power.

But aside the Afam Power station issue, Geometric Power equally has minority stake in Eastern Electric Nigeria Limited, which submitted technical and financial bids for Enugu Distribution Company Limited. So, effectively, Nnaji had interest, albeit indirectly, in two transactions in a sector which he superintended. There was no way that was not going to be a problem for the government.

What I find difficult to understand, however, is how Nnaji could imagine that all the intricacies surrounding these transactions would not have been exploited by government’s opponents (and his) if any of the companies to which he was associated had won the bid. When asked if Geometric Power would withdraw from the consortium bidding for Enugu Disco, Nnaji said: “As far as I am concerned, the bid is still alive. I know that they set up a new committee to re-evaluate the bids, but I don’t know if the process will still be fair after what has happened.”

What nobody should, however, take from Nnaji is his commitment to power sector reforms in Nigeria. It was this that, in the first place, led to his investment in Geometric. He was a hands-on Minister of Power who did the best he possibly could under a very hostile operating environment. Now that he has resigned, there is need for the president to move quickly to appoint a substantive, not acting, successor. Efforts should be made to get someone who not only understands the sector but who also has the capacity to drive the on-going reform in such a manner that will ensure transparency and quick consummation of the privatization exercise.

Whoever emerges as successor to Nnaji, there are still issues to contend with. The first one has to do with the ineffective coordination between stakeholders in the power and gas sectors, leading to delays in the implementation of the Independent Power Projects (IPP). The fact that the Minister of Power has no control over gas which is under the purview of the Minister of Petroleum has been a contending issue and the government must find a way to resolve that lacuna. To put it mildly, both Nnaji and Mrs Diezani Allison-Madueke had been working at cross-purposes in a sector as critical as power supply.

When THISDAY Editorial Board recently had an interview session with Nnaji, he alluded to this while speaking about his frustration concerning gas availability for which he has no control yet the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was quick to respond by disputing his claims. This lack of synergy between the two ministries would have to be addressed for the power reform exercise to work. If the government is serious, we may need to bundle electricity and gas administration as it is done in some other countries. For instance, the United Kingdom bundled the Office of Gas regulator and office of the electricity regulator in 2001 into OFGEN when it realized the inefficiency and lack of coordination of keeping the two intersecting points separate. This is more imperative in Nigeria given that most of the power projects depend almost entirely on gas for electricity. There is also need for the ministry to synergize better with the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).

What is perhaps the most serious issue and will require tact from whoever replaces Nnaji is that of labour. Union leaders in the sector, apparently with the support of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) workers, are currently at loggerheads with the government and had fought Nnaji to a standstill. The National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) had claimed that government had been deducting 25 percent of the workers’ salaries as pension over the years. They are therefore demanding the payment of an outstanding N443 billion which the Ministry of Power strongly disputes. Clearly,the issues go beyond pension, as there are interests within the union working against the privatization exercise but it is also clear that there is a breach in the implementation of the National Pensions Act by the Ministry of Power on the entitlement due the workers. All these are urgent issues which make the appointment of a Minister for Power very compelling.

As we move on to privatized electricity market, it is also important that whoever succeeds Nnaji should focus on rural electrification and renewable sources of energy as well as other major policy issues about energy efficiency and security. Aside the issue of privatization, the current reform in the sector, especially by the NERC, is based on cross subsidies. This means that the industry maintains a discriminatory tariff structure for different categories of stakeholders. The essence is to redistribute income, create access for the poor and fix market imperfections.

Unfortunately, the timing of Nnaji’s resignation is most inauspicious as it may not give confidence to investors in what is clearly a very capital intensive sector. So whichever way we look at it, Nnaji’s exit and the other issues around the sector may yet be one of the most debilitating controversies faced by this government; except the president acts very quickly to appoint a worthy successor to the former minister.

Who Shall We Believe?

There is this joke that Nigerian security operatives can make a person to admit to a crime he/she did not commit and we have seen evidence to that over the years. But the current situation where two different groups would “confess” to killing one man on the same date, at the same time but for different reasons is a new feat. Last week, the State Security Service (SSS) paraded for the second time a group of six men who have allegedly confessed to killing Comrade Olaitan Oyerinde, the Principal Secretary to Governor Adams Oshiomhole in an armed robbery operation gone awry. And on the same day, as a sign of petty rivalry, the Police also reiterated its claim that the men in its custody indeed “confessed” to killing the same man in an assassination operation sponsored by Rev David Ugolor.

For me, there can be no greater evidence of the state of our national insecurity today than this shameful situation. What is so galling is that the two agencies are playing this sordid game in the public, disgracing themselves and our country with nobody calling the institutions to order. Even if one refuses to join issues with the security agencies over this bungled homicide investigation, what is very clear to sane people is that in this matter, both the SSS and the Police cannot be right. Yet both can even be wrong.

I sincerely believe that President Goodluck Jonathan should wade in by calling both the DG of SSS and the Inspector General of Police for a meeting over this matter. That should help in determining who is lying and Nigerians should enjoy the benefit of being told the truth. If the two agencies cannot collaborate on a murder investigation, how do we then expect them to work together on bigger issues like terrorism?

Congrats General Dambazau

Lt General Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau (trd), the immediate past Chief of Army Staff and a doctorate degree holder in Criminology, has joined the Harvard University Weatherhead Center for International Affairs on a one-year Fellows Programme. As one of the 20 distinguished personalities drawn from 15 countries, and the only African, Dambazau becomes the 7th Nigerian (and the second retired military officer after the late Joe Garba) to be selected for the programme this reporter attended in the 2010/2011 academic session. Aside other activities, he will be conducting his research on “Current conflicts over land in Nigeria and the impact on ethno-religious crisis”.

While I look forward to joining Dambazau and his new colleagues next April when Harvard will hold the first reunion of former Fellows of the 54-year old centre (“to audit classes, hear from accomplished Ph.D. candidates about their thesis research, attend a dinner and participate in a conference entitled Searching for Balance in an Unstable World”), I wish the General and his family a most rewarding experience in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

By Olumide Goodness Adeyinka

The deadly bickering and the infernal acrimony that has bedeviled the relationship of Christians and Moslems over the years can correctly be traced back to the very seeming reductive understanding of the issues bordering around the story of Abraham who fathered both Isaac and Ishmael through two mothers called Sarah (being the only legal wife of Abraham) and Hagar (who is a resident servant to Sarah in Abraham’s house). The invidious and often fatal encounters of presuming that one religion is superior or more acceptable to God is another error of judgment that has blighted two brethren from the same father and their descendants over the years.

I believe the most portent instrument of world divide now is the two religions of Christianity and Islam. It has pitched the world into two factional and ever-increasing rancorous purview of history.
What God, the eternal creator and ever-knowing deity intended for a display of His powers and influence had been turned into plowshares of war and acridity. Let me say this without any equivocation that God has NO RELIGION and has prescribed none to serve him. God never appended one as a means of accepted service outside His eternal intent to have humanity served with all godliness. Jesus summarized it all in the two laws of love and faith – Love your neighbors as yourself and love God with all your heart. That fully comprehended is the “religion” of God and His Christ.

Please read: http://www.emnnews.com/2011/09/14/the-east-west-divide-indoctrination-and-our-destiny-as-a-people/

Very often than not, one sits to listen to how sermons or preachments are delivered within the enclave of the “Church” on the story of Sarah and Hagar, and my stomach turns in anger of how simple statements of biblical introductions of persons are general taken out of context just to satisfy the urge to prove a point of superiority. I have said it times without number within my realm of influence that the Church of Christ is not a CONDEMNING setting to prove anything. Christ was not condemning the world but RECONCILING the world to God (John 3:17), so the job of the followers of Christ is to reconcile and not judge to condemnation.

More disheartening is the mannerism with which two wonderful creatures of God became separated with one praised and the other condemned through generations. God never created Sarah superior to Hagar but the situation of life subjected Hagar to become a slave to Sarah at a time. That in itself, as we know through history, does not mean a servant is out of God’s eternal plan or destiny. Joseph was a slave at a time! Reading Hagar and her son in the Bible is sound wisdom enough to propel the understanding of how God evolve destinies and separate men all for His own glory altogether.

What preachers of the Bible had over the years transferred through generations to mean God’s rejection of Hagar and her son Ishmael is ridiculous and preposterous in the middle of the abundance of documented evidence to suggest otherwise. To insinuate or proffer that Hagar and Ishmael were abandoned or rejected is fraught with manipulative opinions to applaud an agenda of diminutive expression of the generations through that line. The attempt here is to justify the scriptures as inerrant and infallible in upholding the truth and correcting the errors of the past presently been heralded as facts.

Genesis 16:1-15

The first misreading and misinterpretation in the story is the general assumption that the intimacy between Abram and Hagar is ungodly. There is nowhere in the scripture to suggest that except an agenda to bring that understanding as scriptural in context. The practice at that time was for mistress or masters to obtain children by their maids or servants. Hagar was one maidservant out of many that Sarah wanted to have her children by. To now assume that the move by Sarah to give Hagar to Abram was not divine is to accept a shallow understanding of the total picture of God’s word in eternal purpose in creation. Why do we then apportion blame on Abram except to diminish the import of the big picture that became clearer later? Isaac, no doubt could not have been the first born-child of Abram if he will be the fore-bearer of the second Adam who is Christ (a life-giving spirit). I remember preaching a sermon on this topic in 1996 called the “Mystery of the Second Birth”.

That mystery was operating from the beginning through the first Adam and the second Adam, Cain and Abel, Moses and Joshua, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Manasseh and Ephraim etc. It was all about Christ and His prominence in birth. Allegorical exegesis of their birth is deeply spiritual than literal.

For as long as we preach the unknown and the predetermined assumptions of our desire to fault and judge we miss the divine insight that such rich stories provided us in the first place.

The second misreading and misinterpretation in the story is the literal description of Hagar as a bondservant or maidservant of Sarah by the Bible. The truth is that is what Hagar was to Sarah. That in itself does not interpret to mean that is the true state of Hagar to God. Hagar, as far as God is concerned is NOT a bonded woman, even though that was her situation or position as it were. God never created a bondservant; He created precious beings that carry His purpose to fulfillment. Until we realize that Ishmael and Isaac were all fulfilling the mandate of God in all humanity so that both the “free” and the “bond” will have their destiny in God ultimately.

When Sarah referred to Ishmael and his mother as Bondservant and her son, it was a statement of fact as it relates to their identity then at that time. God never called Hagar or Ishmael as bondservants. No!

The privilege Isaac had was by grace, and accentuated by the mystery of God’s choice in election.

Another misreading and misinterpretation is about Ishmael himself. He was a legitimate SON of Abram. The politics of survival and relevance played by both mothers not withstanding, God had a purpose in both Ishmael and Isaac. At birth, what Ishmael will be has been set aside before he was even given to Abram and Hagar.

In Genesis 16: 9-16, clearly was it stated in very noble choice of words what destiny awaits Ishmael. Two words came to mind in the expression “Multiply” and “Exceedingly”. The characterization of Ishmael and his generations as a “wildman” is as a result of the past and foreseen abuses he will face.

In Genesis 17:15-27, God had to visit Abram to change his name alongside Sarai. The past errors were erased and a new beginning was to start. Here was where God elucidate His intention to have a second son for Abraham through Sarah in the name of Isaac. However, the reference purpose of God was to make Isaac carry an eternal covenant through redemption will come to man. Even at that, Ishmael will be blessed, will be fruitful and will multiply exceedingly. He will actually become a great nation with 12 princes (as Isaac through Jacob). The eternal wisdom of God surpasses out short-circuited tale of condemnation.

The question then becomes, who among us will make God change what he has already written in purpose to make Ishmael become great? Why then do we ask and pray for a people blessed of God to diminish or be erased from the planet of existence? Are we praying the mind of God or wishing God will approve our agenda to make a religion superior to others when He has only asked that we understand His eternal purpose in diversity yet ONE world of God’s people.

The final misreading and misinterpretation is when we are more disposed to claim our space in religious piety all in the name of practicing Christianity. Islam has become a target of hate, and invariably the people of that religion have become a emblem of severe hatred.

It must be stated clearly here that Jesus Christ NEVER left us a religion. No! That was what He fought when he was alive on the earth. Remember, God gave Moses the commandment and instructions, but never gave them a religion of Judaism that they made to be exclusively theirs without incorporating any other people. They become proud and arrogant in it, thinking it is acceptable to God. Jesus came and demolished all their emblem of religious rites in order to set in motion the true worship of God. Christianity has gone into the same exclusivity where only ours is right and none other. Christ is right, none other, but the mistake has always been that since Christ is included in the nomenclature of “Christianity’ the assumption is heavy to play the game of divine acceptance.

My intent is not to approve any faith but to assuage a more profound understanding of what we read in the Bible, and know that Christ did not leave us a religion of condemnation but a faith of God where all men are linked back to God (not in our Churches) but in their hearts through the laws of love of God and our neighbors.

I will continue on this later.

Olumide Goodness Adeyinka can be reached at nigardgroup@yahoo.com

By Olumide Goodness Adeyinka

Within the drapery of the dark violent years of Nigeria’s history when evil reigned around governance and the masses, it will be said that the torchbearers of the campaign to settle evil with evil are the comradeship of the masses, those who flag the banner for regional balance of evil and violence are those trusted with the voice of the people. (OGA).

When a nation loses her voice, and the voice of any nation are the voices of the few radicals within that only see how things can be done differently and better, then such land becomes a stable for the gatherings of vultures. The dead is the place for the vultures!

I remember very vividly the POLITICS of the agitations of the Niger/Delta militant forces sponsored by the then undemocratically selected executive governors of the South-south states led by the Governor-generals then, James Ibori and Alams, to cause untold hardship on the Nigerian people by blowing up oil installations and making the nation lose several billions of dollars in earnings. I remember when it became a national concern, when several other splinter militant groups came up one after the other when some of their principals were arrested. I remember when the popular voice in the South-south then was that of support and solidarity to the legitimate plight of that zone. When some of us also supported by default the kidnapping of oil expatriates in that area just to sensitize the foreign oil companies of their brazen neglect of the people in the oil zones.

I remember it was within reasonable accommodation then to ensure fairness, especially with the attitude of the multinational oil institutions. It wouldn’t have been necessary if we had a government that knows its duty to the Nigerian people. Alas! We do not have one. The simple justification then was to empower the people to fight for their existence, and ensure that what is expedient is done to alleviate the sufferings of the people of that zone. It was when it got to the scale of rascal absurdity that some of us felt it was time to get the militants to drop their selfish anti-masses agenda of enriching themselves while their people were still suffering in silence. However, behind the scene was an agenda by the then South-south governors to ensure that they used the militants to score a political point that has ensnared us as a nation and blighted us as a people.

The agenda then was to force the government to dialogue and negotiate with the militants so as to calm the frayed nerves of the notorious gangs called militants. The government of Yaradua then, which was heavily indebted to James Ibori, kow-towed the selfish agenda with the magnanimity of his gentle heart and succumbed to the heavy price of paying the comradeship of violent men and women billions of dollars to keep them abroad in schools. Unfortunately, the foot soldiers of the militancy that were sent abroad were NOT the problem. The price of amnesty is of eternal value to Nigeria because it will forever be a reference point of setback to the unity and peace of Nigeria.

Unfortunately, the death of Yaradua in the middle of the confusion became an absolute minus to any sensible solution to the quagmire. Goodluck Jonathan was part of the whole scheme of things as the deputy governor of Bayelsa state. He was in the knowing from the get go! More unfortunate was his ascension to the acting position of the presidency. Most unfortunate for Nigeria was his threatened selection and eventual comic victory at the presidential election. It is an election that has defied logic and simple arithmetic. It was a victory for the rogues and rapscallions of the militancy in the South-south, but was laundered as a victory for the people of the region. What an absurdity of history today!

Now, in the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan, it is wearying to see that some of the wise Nigerians are caught unaware of the fact that Tompolo, Asari Dokubo, Tom etc were more active in the selection process and eventual victory of GEJ; and so deservedly should reap what they have sown. Frowning at their reward now is sickening, when it should have been foreseen in the months preceding the election. It is hopeless crying over spilled milk! Guys, we cannot do anything about it, actually there will be increases in their allowances and stipends at the damnation of any reasonable voice in Nigeria.

That said, the notoriety of the on-going dialogue and negotiation between the Islamic sect, Boko Haram and the federal government is not strange. It is a script well written by the Northern elites to score a balance in the economic game of impoverishing our commonwealth. Should it not make sense for them to feel a good turn deserves another? If Yaradua could approve settlement for the militancy of the oil fields, why shouldn’t GEJ settle the Northern Boko Haram insurgency even though the only field of agitation possible is religion? It would have some sense if the Boko Haram malady were about the moribund textile industries of the North or the abandoned agricultural mien of the zone. But since the urge for a dogmatist portentous economic balance was more superior to collective reason, religion became the only banner for agitation.

Suffice it to say that the Boko Haram palaver was a creature of necessity doctrine put in place to balance a South-south tilting economic superiority over the North.

What is good for the goose should be good for the gander is the prevailing argument that is popular now within Northern elites and leaders. The old voices of reasons within the enclave of the North are disappointingly leading the clamour for dialogue and negotiation with Boko Haram. Preposterous, to say the least!

This is my beef. That the trusted voices of reason have all sounded the crooked call for ‘amnesty’ using other verbiage that is not only strange but also ludicrous. The once-upon- a- time voices of hope and balance, the voices of reason and truth are now in the camp of posturing for a total dialogue with a group that has committed more evil than every other gang of its equal status in the past put together.

Where is the justice in balancing the evil of the past, no matter how disheartening and offensive it is, with present evil going into the future? Where is the patriotism or nationalism in it? It is so clear to anyone who can see that the evil done with the granting of amnesty to the fake and cowardice regime of oil militancy in the South-south will live with us as a bad taste in the mouth for generations yet to come.

To now add to that injury with the present behind-the-curtain dialogue and negotiation with the Islamic religious sect (what they call themselves) Boko Haram will be to quicken the process of tearing this nation to pieces in few years time. I can tell you the Ndigbos will come up with theirs and OPC will champion one for Yoruba too. Igbiras are already telling us they can act too, so will the middle belt lend their voice. The spiral domino effect will not only outlast Nigeria but will send us out as refugees in Ghana, Cameroon, Niger republic and Chad.

As a people, we must endeavor to be upright and just in issues bordering our common existence. Regionalism and ethnicity is a bane of any community of diverse people, so we must frown at the argument that makes us popular with our people at the expense of the Nigeria entity that we all claim to fight for in the past.

As it is now, my least concern is the billions of dollars rolled out to Tompolo, Asari Dokumbo and other GEJ boys since I know all they will do with it is buy common toys all over the world. Somehow, it will enrich the economy of other nations, and may be lift them out from the present global economic meltdown. My concern is the repeat of the mess within the very weak and delicate economic structure we now have.

The question to be asked is, how much development has come to the South-south since GEJ’s term of paying billions out to few entities? None! Nana. Zero. If we pay the Northern Boko Haram to stop unleashing terror on the people, the Northern people will NOT benefit from such, only few individual will!

Finally, it is not what you have done in the past that will count for you but what you did to the end. Regional politics should be dropped when serious national issues are been tabled for decision. The voices of the people should not be drowned by the agenda of the few people who are filled with greed and avarice to enrich themselves at the expense of the masses.

It will be said that I spoke!

Image

It first came as a rumour a few weeks back when a national newspaper broke the news that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was to introduce the N5,000.00 ‘super note’ to the Nigerian currency. The apex bank’s official promptly discountenanced it, stating that there was no such plan. However, it is now official that the board of the CBN has decided to introduce N5,000.00 note as Nigeria’s highest denomination of currency. Also in the offing, is the restructuring of the Nigerian currency which entails the conversion of the N5, N10 and N20 notes into coins. The new coins are expected to complement the existing 50k, N1 and N2 coins which though, have been long out of circulation.

So many rather disquieting issues have arisen from this decision of the CBN that a welter of condemnations and controversy have trailed the announcement. The first question being raised is, what is the point of a higher denomination note now and why such a costly review of the nation’s currency?

The CBN noted that higher currencies are more economical. But opposition parties, labour unions and financial experts have risen as one to query the rationale for what is considered a wasteful venture in the face of numerous pressing national problems and an obvious paucity of funds. What major economic value would this imbue the nation? That seems to be the refrain from every quarter.

Many have also pointed out that the new ‘super note’ flies in the face of a key component of CBN’s on-going reform which advocates a cashless economy. For about six months, the apex bank had embarked on a massive campaign designed to make Nigerians carry less cash and, in its stead, use virtual money products such as cheques, ATM card, debit and credit cards as well as online cash transactions. Limits were even set on the amount bank customers could withdraw or deposit. The entire purpose is to reduce the use of cash which is very expensive to produce and even more so to distribute and manage on a daily basis by the apex bank. Nigerians are just beginning to get attuned to dislodging cash from their consciousness and now CBN is about to throw in an alluring big ‘note’.

There is also the concern that the new note will only drive inflation. It has been suggested that the introduction of higher face value notes by any country signposts inflation. Examples of countries like Argentina, Peru, Zaire, Angola and Zimbabwe have been cited where raging inflation had driven currency notes to be printed in higher and even higher notes to no avail. Time was when the highest note in Nigeria was the N20 and coins were in common use. But coins disappeared in Nigeria as the currency denomination got higher. Attempts to reintroduce the coins a few years back failed because they could hardly give value anymore. And they are so cumbersome to carry, to boot. They disappeared naturally out of disuse. Why would CBN spend so much money to mint new coins when it had not determined why the last ones failed?

We dare say that this is another disappointing move by the CBN under the headship of Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. We have witnessed too many policy flip-flops under his regime of a seemingly endless reform in the last couple of years. More worrisome, neither the banks nor the financial system has been the better for it. We therefore urge Sanusi and members of the board of the CBN to take another look at this higher currency policy and indeed all others that seem inimical to the system, with a view to acceding to the will of the people.