Archive for January, 2015

By Prince Charles Dickson

“Don’t ask the deaf man to beat a drum for you to dance”– Anonymous

Looking at the two most important men in Nigeria for the next few weeks sitting in front of me, was with mixed feelings, here was President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, and General Muhammadu Buhari…

I told them that whoever wins has a fight in his hands–as fellow politicians are doing anything to retain power and to remain relevant–The reason a supposed distinguished Senator wants to become an extinguished Governor irrespective of the seemingly demotion, could either men contain these men whose motto was “the power, the money, and the madness that comes with the office.”

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Many had seen how Jonathan handled some–However one looks at it, whoever wins, will deal with persons that simply lack principles, lack will, lack morals and purpose and that remains the bane of Nigeria politics and politicians.

I asked Buhari if he was aware that this is not military and decrees, and that the Nigerian politician is on one hand wanting to serve his people, and to serve, he breaks the bank vault, borrows money at cut throat interest, sell his birthright to a godfather and promises heaven on the road to hell. Interestingly when the becoming becomes unbecoming we are witnesses of the end product and they successfully keep us busy with analysis, which do little in changing the fact on ground.

The General nodded…

I looked at Jonathan and told him, part of your failure was you refused to acknowledge that the Nigerian politician is a crook, and you allowed them play illusionary politics and political geometry and arithmetic beyond the ordinary man.

So to both men, I told them, change and transformation–you both may want it, but do the people want it, and does the political class want it.

I explained to them that the Nigeria politician is always looking for avenues to explore the masses, not that they have to look far because we give them quite a number of them and so they openly exhibit gross greed, use our collective sweat to secure the good life and not blink an eyelid. After all what can we do?

Be it APC or PDP, I was sure both men were aware that for the Nigerian politician every elective position is a chance to come and chop, that is why they move from one party to another, one ideological bloc to another, and mind you the ideology is nothing but where the money is.

While both men looked on, I them that the Nigerian politician is an expert in his own type of mathematics where 2 plus 2 never gives 4, on the contrary, it could yield as much as 6, 7 and 8, while in cases you may have a task in getting back 1.

I asked them how many times they had lied because; our politicians lie with straight faces and bother less about what the people think. And that they must learn the art of lying as a skill, they are required to lie as a principle and they must does it even to the admiration of the devil and without a heart.

I asked them to be prepared because we are not anywhere far away from the politics of the stomach, its all about what we will chop…so its a compromise, concession and still we do not get a consensus. Rancor reigns supreme, the voice of the nays are loud yet we say the yahs have it. Everybody is related one way or the other and hardly has anything different to offer. We cannot spot the difference because the difference is the same.

I told them that all Nigerians are politicians one way or the other–and that on an average Nigeria is good, her people are a bunch of good Bananas, only that a few rotten, gives the whole bunch a bad look and that particular rotten smell.

I made them understand that they are to govern, the land of delinquents, both the ruled and the rulers, a very special breed of delinquents, we have them from all social classes, the politicians, students, youths, and parents that aid and abet exam malpractice, we have them everywhere and the common thread is a high level of irresponsibility, recklessness and total disregard for the norms of society.

I asked if they knew that the Nigerian big man makes the law, those wanting to be Nigerian or already big men proceeds immediately to look for a way to break the law, they explore loopholes and escape clauses, like the Immunity clause used for stealing. Ordinary Citizens would do it their own way, they will jump queues on no excuse, they will do u-turns on an expressway, stop in the middle of the road to say hello to a long lost friend without parking…correct them, and they will abuse your dog.

I then wondered what they could do about, the gateman at the state secretariat to the corporal at the police desk, who are ‘prayerfully’ waiting for that promotion that will take them to the next level where one can demonstrate that inherent skill at greasing and lining our pockets.

I hoped they knew that everything was for sale, admission is sold, employment is sold, political office sold, awards are bought, from government, churches, traditional institutions, with our guiding philosophy being “what is in it for me”.

While they looked bemused I told them for sake of those Nigerians who are not easily understood because they will not give bribes, for the few whose actions are in line with tradition, society’s good norms and rationality.

For the largely old now, and most times residing in rural areas, although a few still stay in urban areas. For the generally good and untribalized, who believe in the principles of live and let live. For these Nigerians who are neither the bottom power women nor the moneybag men. That strive daily to remain patriotic and committed to the Nigerian dream despite the reality, who are disciplined and are hardworking, that battle the stark reality that as patient dogs they may never have any bone left.

For these Nigerians I ask them to do it right, and get it right.

Because these set of Nigerians suffer the Nigerian experiment because of the larger majority’s inability to curb greed, inability for us to be fair and rational towards other people’s perspectives, opinions, positions and interest. The continuous inability to make sacrifices for the common good, an unwillingness to respect our institutions…

Dàda ò leè jà, ṣùgbọ́n ó lábùúrò tó gbójú meaning that Dada cannot fight, but he has a brave younger brother…will Nigeria change or transform, only time will tell

By Chukwuma Charles Soludo

I need to preface this article with a few clarifications. I have taken a long sabbatical leave from partisan politics, and it is real fun watching the drama from the balcony. Having had my own share of public service (I do not need a job from government), I now devote my time and energy in pursuit of other passions, especially abroad. A few days ago, I read an article in Thisday entitled “Where is Charles Soludo?”, and my answer is that I am still there, only that I have been too busy with extensive international travels to participate in or comment on our national politics and economy.

But I occasionally follow events at home. Since the survival and prosperity of Nigeria are at stake, the least some of us (albeit, non-partisan) must do is to engage in public debate. As the elections approach, I owe a duty to share some of my concerns.

In September 2010, I wrote a piece entitled “2011 Elections: Let the Real Debate Begin” and published by Thisday. I understand the Federal Executive Council discussed it, and the Minister of Information rained personal attacks on me during the press briefing. I noted more than six newspaper editorials in support of the issues we raised. Beside other issues we raised, our main thesis was that the macro economy was dangerously adrift, with little self-insurance mechanisms (and a prediction that if oil prices fell below $40, many state governments would not be able to pay salaries). I gave a subtle hint at easy money and exchange rate depreciations because I did not want to panic the market with a strong statement. Sadly, on the eve of the next elections, literally everything we hinted at has happened. Part of my motivation for this article is that five years after, the real debate is still not happening.

The presidential election next month will be won by either Buhari or Jonathan. For either, it is likely to be a pyrrhic victory. None of them will be able to deliver on the fantastic promises being made on the economy, and if oil prices remain below $60, I see very difficult months ahead, with possible heady collisions with labour, civil society, and indeed the citizenry. To be sure, the presidential election will not be decided by the quality of ‘issues’ or promises canvassed by the candidates. The debates won’t also change much (except if there is a major gaffe by either candidate like Tofa did in the debate with Abiola). My take is that more than 95% of the likely voters have pretty much made up their minds based largely on other considerations. A few of us remain undecided. During my brief visit to Nigeria, I watched some of the campaign rallies on television. The tragedy of the current electioneering campaigns is that both parties are missing the golden opportunity to sensitize the citizenry about the enormous challenges ahead and hence mobilize them for the inevitable sacrifices they would be called upon to make soon. Each is promising an El-Dorado.

Let me admit that the two main parties talk around the major development challenges—corruption, insecurity, economy (unemployment/poverty, power, infrastructure, etc) health, education, etc. However, it is my considered view that none of them has any credible agenda to deal with the issues, especially within the context of the evolving global economy and Nigeria’s broken public finance. The UK Conservative Party’s manifesto for the last election proudly announced that all its programmes were fully costed and were therefore implementable. Neither APC nor PDP can make a similar claim. A plan without the dollar or Naira signs to it is nothing but a wish-list. They are not telling us how much each of their promises will cost and where they will get the money. None talks about the broken or near bankrupt public finance and the strategy to fix it.

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In response to the question of where the money will come from, I heard one of the politicians say that the problem of Nigeria was not money but the management of resources. This is half-truth. The problem is both. No matter how efficient a father (with a monthly salary of N50,000) is at managing the family resources, I cannot see how he could deliver on a promise to buy a brand new Peugeot 406 for each of his three children in a year. Even with all the loopholes and waste closed, with increased efficiency per dollar spent, there is still a binding budget constraint. To deliver an efficient national transport infrastructure alone will still cost tens of billions of dollars per annum even by corruption-free, cost-effective means. Did I hear that APC promises a welfare system that will pay between N5,000 and N10,000 per month to the poorest 25 million Nigerians? Just this programme alone will cost between N1.5 and N3 trillion per annum. Add to this the cost of free primary education plus free meal (to be funded by the federal budget or would it force non-APC state governments to implement the same?), plus some millions of public housing, etc.

I have tried to cost some of the promises by both the APC and the PDP, given alternative scenarios for public finance and the numbers don’t add up. Nigerians would be glad to know how both parties would fund their programmes. Do they intend to accentuate the huge public debt, or raise taxes on the soon to-be-beleaguered private businesses, or massively devalue the naira to rake in baskets of naira from the dwindling oil revenue, or embark on huge fiscal retrenchment with the sack of labour and abandonment of projects, and which areas of waste do they intend to close and how much do they estimate to rake in from them, etc? I remember that Chief Obafemi Awolowo was asked similar questions in 1978 and 1979 about his promises of free education and free medical services. Even as a teenager, I was impressed by how he reeled out figures about the amounts he would save from various ‘waste’ including the tea/coffee served in government offices. The point is that at least he did his homework and had his numbers and I give credit to his team. Some 36 years later, the quality of political debate and discourse seems to border on the pedestrian. From the quality of its team, I did not expect much from the current government, but I must confess that I expected APC as a party aspiring to take over from PDP to come up with a knock-out punch. Evidently, from what we have read from the various versions of its manifesto as well as the depth of promises being made, it does not seem that it has a better offer.

Let me digress a bit to refresh our memory on where we are, and thus provide the context in which to evaluate the promises being made to us. Recall that the key word of the 2015 budget is ‘austerity’. Austerity? This is just within a few months of the fall in oil prices. History repeats itself in a very cruel way, as this was exactly what happened under the Shehu Shagari administration. Under the Shagari government, oil price reached its highest in 1980/81. During the same period, Nigeria ratcheted up its consumption and all tiers of government were in competition as to which would out-borrow the other. Huge public debt was the consequence. When oil prices crashed in early 1982, the National Assembly then passed the Economic Stabilization (Austerity Measures) Act in one day— going through the first, second, and third readings the same day. The austerity measures included the rationing of ‘essential commodities’ and most states owed salary arrears. Corruption was said to be pervasive, and as Sani Abacha said in that famous coup speech, ‘unemployment has reached unacceptable proportions and our hospitals have become mere consulting clinics’. General Muhammadu Buhari/Tunde Idiagbon regime made the fight against corruption and restoration of discipline the cardinal point of their administration which lasted for 20 months. I am not sure they had a credible plan to get the economy out of the doldrums (although it must be admitted that poverty incidence in Nigeria as of 1985 when they left office was a just46%— according to the Federal Office of Statistics).

We have come full circle. If the experience under Shagari could be excused as an unexpected shock, what Nigeria is going through now is a consequence of our deliberate wrong choices. We have always known that the unprecedented oil boom (in both price and quantity—despite oil theft) of the last six years is temporary but the government chose to treat it as a permanent shock. The parallels with the Shagari regime are troubling. First, at the time of oil boom, Nigeria again went on a consumption spree such that the budgets of the last five years can best be described as ‘consumption budgets’, with new borrowing by the federal government exceeding the actual expenditure on critical infrastructure. Second, not one penny was added to the stock of foreign reserves at a period Nigeria earned hundreds of billions from oil. For comparisons, President Obasanjo met about $5 billion in foreign reserves, and the average monthly oil price for the 72 months he was in office was $38, and yet he left $43 billion in foreign reserves after paying $12 billion to write-off Nigeria’s external debt. In the last five years, the average monthly oil price has been over $100, and the quantity also higher but our foreign reserves have been declining and exchange rate depreciating.

I note that when I assumed office as Governor of CBN, the stock of foreign reserves was $10 billion. The average monthly oil price during my 60 months in office was $59, but foreign reserve reached the all-time peak of $62 billion (and despite paying $12 billion for external debt, and losing over $15 billion during the unprecedented global financial and economic crisis) I left behind $45 billion. Recall also that our exchange rate continuously appreciated during this period and was at N117 to the dollar before the global crisis and we deliberately allowed it to depreciate in order to preserve our reserves. My calculation is that if the economy was better managed, our foreign reserves should have been between $102 –$118 billion and exchange rate around N112 before the fall in oil prices. As of now, the reserves should be around $90 billion and exchange rate no higher than N125 per dollar.

Third, the rate of public debt accumulation at a time of unprecedented boom had no parallel in the world. While the Obasanjo administration bought and enlarged the policy space for Nigeria, the current government has sold and constricted it. What debt relief did for Nigeria was to liberate Nigerian policymakers from the intrusive conditionalities of the creditors and thereby truly allowing Nigeria independence in its public policy. How have we used the independence? Through our own choices, we have yet again tied the hands of future policymakers. This time, the debt is not necessarily to foreign creditor institutions/governments which are organized under the Paris club but largely to private agents which is even more volatile. We call it domestic debt. But if one carefully unpacks the bond portfolio, what percentage of it is held by foreign private agents? And I understand the Government had removed the speed bumps we kept to slow the speed of capital flight, and someone is sweating to explain the gyrations in foreign reserves. I am just smiling!

In sum, the mismanagement of our economy has brought us once more to the brink. Government officials rely on the artificial construct of debt to GDP ratio to tell us we can borrow as much as we want. That is nonsense, especially for an economy with a mono but highly volatile source of revenue and forex earnings. The chicken will soon come home to roost. Today, the combined domestic and external debt of the Federal Government is in excess of $40 billion. Add to this the fact that abandoned capital projects littered all over the country amount to over $50 billion. No word yet on other huge contingent liabilities. If oil prices continue to fall, I bet that Nigeria will soon have a heavy debt burden even with low debt to GDP ratio. Furthermore, given the current and capital account regime, it is evident that Nigeria does not have enough foreign reserves to adequately cover for imports plus short term liabilities. In essence, we are approaching the classic of what the Shagari government faced, and no wonder the hasty introduction of ‘austerity measures’ again.

Fourth, poverty incidence and unemployment are also simultaneously at all-time high levels. According to the NBS, poverty incidence grew to 69% in 2010 and projected to be 71% in 2011, with unemployment at 24%. This is the worst record in Nigeria’s history, and the paradox is that this happened during the unprecedented oil boom.

One theme I picked up listening to the campaign rallies as well as to some of the propagandists is the confusion about measuring government “performance”. Most people seem to confuse ‘inputs’, or ‘processes’ with output. Earlier this month, I had a dinner with a group of friends (14 of us) and we were chit-chatting about Nigeria. One of us, an associate of President Jonathan veered off to repeat a propaganda mantra that Jonathan had outperformed his predecessors. He also reminded us that Jonathan re-based the GDP and that Nigeria is now the biggest economy in Africa; etc. It was fun listening to the response by others. In sum, the group agreed that the President had ‘outperformed’ his predecessors except that it is in reverse order. First, my friend was educated that re-basing the GDP is no achievement: it is a routine statistical exercise, and depending on the base year that you choose, you get a different GDP figure. Re-basing the GDP has nothing to do with government policy. Besides, as naira-dollar exchange rate continues to depreciate, the GDP in current dollars will also shrink considerably soon.

We were reminded of Jonathan’s agricultural ‘revolution’. But someone cut in and noted that for all the propaganda, the growth rate of the agricultural sector in the last five years still remains far below the performance under Obasanjo. One of us reminded him that no other president had presided over the slaughter of about 15,000 people by insurgents in a peacetime; no other president earned up to 50% of the amount of resources the current government earned from oil and yet with very little outcomes; no other president had the rate of borrowing; none had significant forex earnings and yet did not add one penny to foreign reserves but losing international reserves at a time of boom; no other president had a depreciating exchange rate at a time of export boom; at no time in Nigeria’s history has poverty reached 71% (even under Abacha, it was 67 -70%); and under no other president did unemployment reach 24%. Surely, these are unprecedented records and he surely ‘outperformed’ his predecessors! What a satire!

One of those present took the satire to some level by comparing Jonathan to the ‘performance’ of the former Governor of Anambra, Peter Obi. He noted that while Obi gloated about ‘savings’, there is no signature project to remember his regime except that his regime took the first position among all states in Nigeria in the democratization of poverty—- mass impoverishment of the people of Anambra. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, poverty rose under his watch in Anambra from 20% in 2004 (lowest in Nigeria then) to 68% in 2010 (a 238% deterioration!). Our friend likened it to a father who had no idea of what to do with his resources and was celebrating his fat bank account while his children were dying of kwashiorkor. He pointed out that since it is the likes of Peter Obi who are the advisers to Jonathan on how to manage the economy (thereby confusing micromanagement which you do as a trader with macro governance) it is little wonder that poverty is fast becoming another name for Nigeria. It was a very hilarious evening.

My advice to President Jonathan and his handlers is to stop wasting their time trying to campaign on his job record. Those who have decided to vote for him will not do so because he has taken Nigeria to the moon. His record on the economy is a clear ‘F’ grade. As one reviews the laundry list of micro interventions the government calls its achievements, one wonders whether such list is all that the government could deliver with an unprecedented oil boom and an unprecedented public debt accumulation. I can clearly see why reasonable people are worried. Everywhere else in the world, government performance on the economy is measured by some outcome variables such as: income (GDP growth rate), stability of prices (inflation and exchange rate), unemployment rate, poverty rate, etc. On all these scores, this government has performed worse than its immediate predecessor— Obasanjo regime. If we appropriately adjust for oil income and debt, then this government is the worst in our history on the economy. All statistics are from the National Bureau of Statistics.

Despite presiding over the biggest oil boom in our history, it has not added one percentage point to the growth rate of GDP compared to the Obasanjo regime especially the 2003- 07 period. Obasanjo met GDP growth rate at 2% but averaged 7% within 2003- 07. The current government has been stuck at 6% despite an unprecedented oil boom. Income (GDP) growth has actually performed worse, and poverty escalated. This is the only government in our history where rapidly increasing government expenditure was associated with increasing poverty. The director general of NBS stated in his written press conference address in 2011 that about 112 million Nigerians were living in poverty. Is this the record to defend? Obama had a tough time in his re-election in 2012 because unemployment reached 8%. Here, unemployment is at a record 24% and poverty at an all-time 71% but people are prancing around, gloating about ‘performance’. As I write, the Naira exchange rate to the dollar is $210 at the parallel market. What a historic performance! Please save your breathe and save us the embarrassment. The President promised Nigeria nothing in the last election and we did not get value for money. He should this time around present us with his plan for the future, and focus on how he would redeem himself in the second term—if he wins!

Sadly the government’s economic team is very weak, dominated by self-interested and self-conflicted group of traders and businessmen, and so-called economic team meetings have been nothing but showbiz time. The very people government exists to regulate have seized the levers of government as policymakers and most government institutions have largely been “privatized” to them. Mention any major government department or agency and someone will tell you whom it has been ‘allocated’ to, and the person subsequently nominates his minion to occupy the seat. What do you then expect? The economy seems to be on auto pilot, with confusion as to who is in charge, and government largely as a constraint. There are no big ideas, and it is difficult to see where economic policy is headed to. My thesis is that the Nigerian economy, if properly managed, should have been growing at an annual rate of about 12% given the oil boom, and poverty and unemployment should have fallen dramatically over the last five years. This is topic for another day.

So far, the Government’s response to the self-inflicted crisis is, at best, laughable. They blame external shocks as if we did not expect them and say nothing about the terrible policy choices they made. The National Assembly had described the 2015 budget as unrealistic. The fiscal adjustments proposed in the 2015 budget simply play to the gallery and just to pander to our emotions. For a $540 billion economy, the so-called luxury tax amounts to zero per cent of GDP. If the current trend continues, private businesses will come under a heavy crunch soon. Having put economics on its head during the boom time, the Government now proposes to increase taxes during a prospective downturn and impose austerity measures. Unbelievable!

Fortuitously, just as he succeeded Shagari when Nigeria faced similar situations, Buhari is once more seeking to lead Nigeria. But times have changed, and Nigeria is largely different. First, this is a democracy and dealing with corruption must happen within the ambit of the rule of law and due process. Getting things done in a democracy requires complicated bargaining, especially where the legislature, labour, the media, and civil society have become strong and entrenched. Second, the size, structure and institutions of the economy have fundamentally altered. The market economy, especially the capital market and foreign exchange market, impose binding constraints and discipline on any regime. Third, dealing with most of the other issues— insecurity, unemployment/poverty, infrastructure, health, education, etc, require increased, smarter, and more efficient spending. Increased spending when the economy is on the reverse gear?

If oil prices remain between 40- 60 dollars over the next two years, the current policy regime guarantees that foreign reserves will continue the precipitous depletion with the attendant exchange rate depreciation, as well as a probable unsustainable escalation in debt accumulation, fiscal retrenchment or taxing the private sector with vengeance. The scenario does not look pretty. The poor choices made by the current government have mortgaged the future, and the next government would have little room to manoeuvre and would inevitably undertake drastic but painful structural adjustments. Nigerians loathe the term ‘structural adjustment’. With falling real wages and depreciating currency, I can see any belated attempt by the government to deal with the bloated public sector pitching it against a feisty labour. I worry about regime stability in the coming months, and I do not envy the next team.

The seeming crisis is not destiny; it is self-imposed. However, we must see it as an opportunity to be seized to fundamentally restructure Nigeria’s political economy, including its fiscal federalism and mineral rights. The current system guarantees cycles of consumption loop and I cannot see sustainable long term prosperity without major systemic overhaul. The proposals at the national conference merely tinker at the margins. In totality, the outcome of the national conference is to do more of the same, with minor amendments on the system of sharing and consumption rather than a fundamental overhaul of the system for productivity and prosperity. President Jonathan promises to implement the report of the national conference if he wins. I commend him for at least offering ‘something’, albeit, marginal in my view. I have not heard anything from the APC or Buhari regarding the national conference report or what kind of federalism they envisage for Nigeria.

In Nigeria’s recent history, two examples under the military and civilian governments demonstrate that where the political will exists, Nigeria has the capacity to overcome severe challenges. The first was under President Babangida. Not many Nigerians appreciate that given the near bankrupt state of Nigeria’s finances and requirements for debt resolution under the Paris Club, the country had little choice but to undertake the painful structural adjustment programme (SAP). I want to state for the record that the foundation for the current market economy we operate in Nigeria was laid by that regime (liberalization of markets including market determined exchange rate, private sector-led economy including licensing of private banks and insurance, de-regulation, privatization of public enterprises under TCPC, etc). Just abolishing the import licensing regime was a fundamental policy revolution. Despite the criticisms, these policy thrusts have remained the pillars of our deepening market economy, and the economy recovered from almost negative growth rate to average 5.5% during the regime and poverty incidence at 42% in 1992.

Under our democratic experience, President Obasanjo inherited a bankrupt economy (with the lost decade of the 1990’s GDP growth rate of 2.2% and hence zero per capita income growth for the decade). His regime consolidated and deepened the market economy structures (consolidation of the banking system which is powering the emergence of a new but truly private sector-led economy and simultaneously led to a new awareness and boom in the capital market; telecommunications revolution; new pension regime; debt relief which won for Nigeria policy independence from the World Bank and Paris Club; deepening of de-regulation and privatization including the unbundling of NEPA under PHCN for privatization; agricultural revolution that saw yearly growth rate of over 6% and remains unsurpassed ever since; sound monetary and fiscal policy and growing foreign reserves that gave confidence to investors; establishment of the Africa Finance Corporation which is leading infrastructure finance in Africa; backward integration policy that saw the establishment and growth of Dangote cement and others; established ICPC and EFCC to fight corruption, etc). The economy roared to average yearly growth of 7% between 2003 and 2007 (although average monthly oil price under his regime was $38), and poverty dropped from estimated 70% in1999 to 54% in 2004. Obasanjo was his own coordinating minister of the economy and chairman of the economic management team— which he chaired for 90 minutes every week. I met with him daily. In other words, he did not outsource economic management.

We expected that the next government after Obasanjo would take the economy to the next level. So far, we have had two great slogans: the 7-point agenda and currently, the transformation agenda. They remain empty slogans without content or direction.

Let me suggest that the fundamental challenge for the next government on the economy can be framed around the goal of creating twelve million jobs over the next four years to have a dent on unemployment and poverty. The challenge is to craft a development agenda to deliver this within the context of broken public finance, and an economy in which painful structural adjustments will be inevitable if current trends in oil prices continue. Most other programmes on corruption, security, power, infrastructure, etc, are expected to be instruments to achieve this objective.

So far, neither the APC nor the PDP has a credible programme for employment and poverty reduction. The APC promises to create 20,000 jobs per state in the first year, totalling a mere 720,000 jobs. This sounds like a quota system and for a country where the new entrants into the labour market per annum exceed two million. If it was intended as a joke, APC must please get serious. On the other hand, President Jonathan targets two million jobs per annum but his strategy for doing so is a Job Board— another committee of sort. Sorry, Mr. President, a Job Board is not a strategy. The principal job Nigerians hired you to do for them is to create jobs for them too. You cannot outsource that job, Sir. Creating 3 million jobs per annum under the unfolding crisis would task our creativity and audacity to the limits.

I heard one politician argue that once we fix power, private sector would create jobs. Not necessarily! Well, this government claims to have added 1,700MW to the national grid and yet unemployment soars. Ask Greece, Spain, etc with power and infrastructure and yet with high unemployment. Structural dislocations play a key role. For example, currently in Nigeria, it is estimated that more than 60% of graduates of our educational system are unemployable. You can understand why many of us are amused when the government celebrates that it has established twelve more glorified secondary schools as universities. I thought they would have told us how many Nigerian universities made it in the league of the best 200 universities in the world. That would have been an achievement. Surely, creating millions of jobs in this economy would, among other things, require ‘new money’ and extraordinary system of coordination among the three tiers of government plus the private sector. Unfortunately, from what I read, the CBN is largely likely to be asleep at this time the country needs the most revolutionary finance. This is a topic for another day. Only the President can lead this effort. Moreover, we are waiting for the two parties/candidates to spell out HOW they will create jobs, whether it is the 20,000 jobs per state by APC or 2 million per annum by President Jonathan. Let us know how you arrived at the figures. Whichever of the two that is declared winner will have his job cut out for him, and I expect him to declare a national emergency on job creation.

Surprisingly, none of the parties/candidates has any grand vision about African economic integration, led by Nigeria. There is no programme on how to make the naira the de facto currency of ECOWAS or the international financial centre that can attract more than $100 billion per annum. Where is the strategy for orchestrating the revolutionary finance to power the economy during this downturn? For President Jonathan, I find it shocking that the most important initiative of his government to secure the future of the economy by Nigeria refusing to sign the ruinous Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union is not even being mentioned. President Obasanjo saved Nigeria from the potential ruin of an ECOWAS single currency while to his credit Jonathan safeguarded our industrial sector/economy by refusing to sign the EPA. Or does the government not understand the import of that? It will be interesting to know the APC’s strategy for exploiting strategic alliances within Africa, China, and the world for Nigeria’s prosperity.

If Buhari wins, he will ride on the populist wind for “change”. Most people I have spoken to who have decided to vote for Buhari do not necessarily know the specifics of what he would offer or how Nigeria would be different under him. I asked my driver, Usman, whom he would vote for President. He responded: “If they no rig the election, na Buhari everybody go vote for”. I asked him why, and his next response sums it: “The man dey honest. In short, people just want to see another face for that villa”. But if he wins, the honeymoon will be brief and the pressure will be immense to magically deliver a ‘new Nigeria’ with no corruption, no boko haram or insecurity, jobs for everyone, no poverty, infrastructure and power in abundance, etc. As a first point, Buhari and his team must realize that they do not yet have a coherent, credible agenda that is consistent with the fundamentals of the economy currently. The APC manifesto contains some good principles and wish-lists, but as a blue print for Nigeria’s security and prosperity, it is largely hollow. The numbers do not add up. Thus, his first job is to present a credible development agenda to Nigerians.

The second key challenge for Buhari and his team will be to transit and transform from a group of what I largely refer to as aggrieved people’s congregation to build a true political party with a soul from the patchwork of political associations. It is surely easier to oppose than to govern. This should not worry us much. After all, even the PDP which has been in power for 16 years is still an assembly of people held together by what I refer to as dining table politics. I am not sure how many members can tell you what their party stands for or its mission and vision for Nigeria. The third but more difficult agenda is cobbling together a truly ‘progressive team’ that will begin to pick the pieces. The lesson of history is that the best leaders have been the ones who went beyond their narrow provincial enclaves to recruit talents and mobilize capacities for national transformation. In Nigeria’s history, the two presidents who made the most fundamental transformation of the economy, Babangida and Obasanjo, were exceptional in the quality of the teams they put together. I therefore pray that Buhari will be magnanimous in victory – if he wins—to put together a ‘team Nigeria’ for the rescue mission.

If Jonathan wins, then God must have been magnanimous to give him a second chance to redeem himself. Most people I know who support Jonathan do so either out of self-interest or fear of the unknown. As a friend summed it: the devil you know is better than the angel you do not know. One person assured me that we would see a ‘different Jonathan’ if he wins as he has been rattled by the harsh judgment of history on his presidency so far. I just pray that he is right. In that case, I would just draw the President’s attention to two issues:

First, beside the coterie of clowns who literally make a living with the sing-song of transformation agenda, President Jonathan must know that it remains an empty slogan. His greatest challenge is how to save himself from the stranglehold of his largely provincial palace jesters who tell him he has done better than God, and seek out ‘enemies’ and friends who can help him write his name in history. Propaganda won’t do it.

Second, Jonathan must claw back his powers as President of Nigeria. He largely outsourced them, and must now roll his sleeves for a new beginning. I take liberty to tell you this brutal truth: if you are not re-elected, there is little to remember your regime after the next few years. On 7th January 2004, I made a special presentation to an expanded economic management team to set agenda for the new year (as chief economic adviser). The focus of my presentation was for us to identify seven iroko trees that would be the flagship markers for the administration as well as how to finance them. I use the same framework to evaluate your administration. What I say to you, Mr. President, is that your record of performance so far is like a farmland filled with grasses. Yes, they are many but there is no tree, let alone any iroko tree, that stands out. Think about this. The beginning of wisdom for every President in his second term is to admit that he is racing against time to cement his legacy. So far, your report card is not looking great. You need a team of big and bold thinkers, as well as with excellent execution capacity. So far, it is not working!

Under the executive presidential system, Nigerians elected you to manage their economy. You cannot outsource that job. Our constitution envisages a federal coordination of the economy, and that function is performed by the National Economic Council (NEC) with Vice-President as chairman. Indeed, the constitution and other laws of Nigeria envisage the office of the VP as the coordinator on the economy. All major economic institutions of the federal government are, by law, chaired by the Vice-President including the national planning (see functions of the national planning commission as coordinator of federal government economic and development programmes), debt management office, National Council on Privatization, etc. As chairman of National Planning (with Ministers of Finance, Agriculture, CBN governor, etc as members), the VP oversees the federal planning and coordination. Then the Constitution mandates the VP as representative of the federal government to chair the NEC, with only CBN governor and state governors as members—to coordinate national economy between federal and states. No minister is a member of NEC. Many people do not understand the logic of the design of our constitution and the role of the VP. Of course, the buck stops on the desk of Mr. President. Only the President and VP have our mandate to govern us. Every other person is an adviser/assistant. I bet that you will only appreciate this article AFTER you leave office. Now that you are in power, truth will only hurt! Be assured that those of us who are prepared to die for Nigeria will never spare you or anyone else this bitter truth.

Nigeria must survive and prosper beyond Buhari or Jonathan!

Chibok: The Untold Story

Posted: January 22, 2015 in Uncategorized

By Prince Charles Dickson

Despite coming from a poor home in the desperately poor village of Jajeel in Borno State, Hannatu Ishaku, 16, always had big dreams. As early as when she was 10, she promised herself that she would be the first lawyer from her village, something that made her parents happy.

Today, however, her parents’ happiness has evaporated because Hannatu’s bold dream looks like it is dead. Grief, anger and regret have replaced happiness in their home.

Hannatu is one of over 200 girls who were kidnapped by members of the outlawed Boko Haram sect from the Government Girls’ Secondary School, GGSS, Chibok, on April 14, 2014.

Rwanda 2007

For the Ishaku family, it was a double loss. Also abducted was Hannatu’s cousin, Anthonia Yohanna, 18, who lived with the family for years.

Adamu Ishaku, the patriarch of the family, spoke to our reporter shortly before last Christmas. He looked frail and sad-eyed, apparent consequences of the trauma her daughter’s abduction has brought on him.

“The five of us lived together,” Ishaku said. “Now it’s just me, my wife, and her brother. Without those two, the house is empty.”

Ishaku’s wife looks worse. The unfortunate event has sapped her of vitality. The little energy she has left was expended on weeping as she spoke with the reporter. Her daughter’s dream of becoming a lawyer no longer matters. What matters is for her to see Hannatu.

“I just want my daughter. I am not interested in her going to school anymore,” she said dejectedly in a tone that betrayed hope, not expectation.

What really happened in Chibok?

The world woke up one morning last April to the shocking news of the kidnap of over 200 girls who were writing their West African Examination Council, WAEC, examination at the GGSS, Chibok, Borno State.

Investigations by the icirnigeria.org in Chibok showed that there had been a lot of misrepresentation of facts about the kidnap of the girls.

First, our findings indicate that there were also male students in the school at the time of the incident. From the records obtained by this website, a total of 530 students comprising 395 girls and 135 boys had registered in the school for the examination. However, not a single boy was kidnapped or killed.

When our reporter visited the school in December, 2014, the name on the signboard of the school read Government Secondary School Chibok. The Girls had been deleted

Also, contrary to the general assumption, it was discovered that not all the students are from Chibok.

The school’s principal, Hajia Asabe Kwabura, would not speak with our reporter, .claiming that she had been instructed not to talk to the press. “I have been warned not to speak anymore to the media,” she said.

Incidentally, we also confirmed that other staff of the school, including the gateman who was on duty on the day of the girls’ abduction, had also been ordered not to speak to the press or anybody else.

Even then, it was learnt that most of the 530 students at the GGSS examination centre came from outside Chibok. A source, who cannot be named, said many schools in the area had declined being chosen as an examination centre because of threats of attacks from Boko Haram gunmen who are known to have targeted educational facilities in the past because of their opposition to western education.

So, when the school in Chibok was chosen, students from many villages and towns in the area were sent there to sit for their WAEC.

Apart from this, there are other details about the kidnap that are either distorted or falsified. Many of the people in Chibok and other affected communities expressed dismay and anger about some of the misinformation reported about the girls’ abduction.

One of the biggest controversies about the Chibok incident is the exact number of girls that were kidnapped at the school. Figures ranging from 200 to 276 have been reported in local and international media.

However, investigations by the icirnigeri.org indicate that of the 395 girls who were registered to sit for examination in the school on April 14, 2014, 189 were accounted for after the terrorists left.

If this is true, then it means that a total of 206 girls were kidnapped.

Besides, the actual number of girls kidnapped also is the controversy over how many of them are from Chibok. From all indications, although all the abducted girls are referred to as ‘Chibok girls”, not all of them are from Chibok. In fact, less than 100 of them might have come from that rustic, hilly community.

Samson Dama, uncle to one of the abducted girls, Maifa Dama, observed that there is so much that the public does not know, adding that “the secondary school here was what they call ‘Special Centre, so many of the girls were from other communities in Borno.”

Some of the Chibok girls’ parents confided that only about 70 of the girls in the video released by Boko Haram leader, Ibrahim Shekau, could be identified as coming from the community.

Even then, some of the parents in Chibok observed that they did not see their daughters in the said video.

When our reporter sat with some of the parents in Chibok to watch the video once again, one of them, Ibrahim, whose daughter, Ladi, was kidnapped, shouted: “My daughter is not amongst the faces and there are only a handful of our girls in this video.”

Also, considering that about 57 of the girls have so far escaped, there might be even fewer girls than previously assumed still being held by the Boko Haram.

Anger is palpable in Chibok and surrounding communities and there is a general feeling of betrayal and abandonment, not only by government but also the whole world.

Many of the parents who spoke to our reporter expressed disappointment over the handling of the kidnap saga by the government and the security forces. And, although they would not say it, it is obvious that some of the parents have lost hope of their girls ever coming back. But they all maintain a stoic public show of hope and strength.

Apart from getting their girls back, one of the things that anger the people of Chibok most is that no one has really explained to them what really happened – how hundreds of girls were kidnapped and transported over vast territories of land without being apprehended by the military forces.

No matter what anybody tells them to soothe their pain, the people say that too many questions have been left unanswered.

In the hours following the girls’ disappearance, there were reports that their abductors were keeping them in Sambisa Forest, but the military did not appear ready to investigate it.

At a point, the Chibok parents, in desperation, swore that they would defy the risk and go after the terrorists in the forest. The forest, which incorporates an abandoned wildlife park, had allegedly become a base and training camp for Boko Haram terrorists.

Buba, a parent whose daughter, Nguba Isone, is one of the missing girls, alleged: “Our daughters were in Sambisa for more than a week before they were moved to another of their camps.”

The girls who escaped
Perhaps, the most credible source of information about what exactly happened, how the girls were kidnapped and transported and where they were taken and are still being held, would be the girls who have escaped from the den of the insurgents.

In all, 57 of the girls are said to have escaped or been let go by the terrorists. However, getting to talk to the girls was a real Herculean task, as their parents now shield them from public attention, particularly the media.

Even when we eventually got some the girls to speak, they were careful and restrained, almost reticent, and it was obvious they had either been tutored to be circumspect or the psychological trauma inflicted by their experience made recounting their ordeal difficult

Rebbeca Isaac, one of the first girls to escape from captivity, speaking with icirnigeria.org, tried to reconstruct the day of the kidnap and after for us. “I only know that we were reading and then we heard shots. When they came into the school, we thought they were soldiers, because they were wearing uniforms,” she gloomily recalled.

Wriggling her hand and half closing her eyes momentarily as if to blot out the memories, she continued: “They marched us out into two big trucks and some small black vans. Initially we thought we were being rescued, not knowing that they were Boko Haram.”

At this point, Rebecca could not continue as she broke down in tears and was hurriedly taken away by her mother. Luckily, her father said, the poor girl has returned to school – though not to her former school in Chibok.

One of Rebecca’s aunts said that she was just lucky to have escaped. According to the account that she gave to her family, although Rebecca and the other girls never had any idea where they were held, they had a sense of their being in some remote village with mostly Fulani type houses.

The girls who escaped did so mostly because the Boko Haram men could not keep an eye on all of them at the same time. So, some of the girls strayed into neighbouring settlements and were able to flee from there. (The family of the girls asked that we do not publish further detail about their escape).

Bridget, (not her real name as she did not want to be identified), another girl who escaped and was a bit more forthcoming with information, perhaps, because her parents allowed her to speak with our reporter alone, said that there were many women and girls in the Boko Haram camp where she was held.

According to her there were more than 100 women and girls in the camp when they arrived there. Many were apparently members of the family of the Boko Haram men as they were lodged in separate buildings.

Bridget said the girls slept mostly on mats spread on bare floors and that many of them were forced to recite the Qu’ran many times daily. Many of the girls, including the ones captured in Chibok, agreed to convert to Islam because they feared the consequences of not doing so.

For those who refused to convert, however, they were given more work to do in the camp.

But for some who agreed to convert, however, a worse fate awaited them because a few of them were forcefully taken over as wives.

“We later learnt that the men refused to marry any of us who did not convert to Islam because they said they could not marry an unbeliever,” Bridget said.

She also confirmed that some of the girls were raped, but believes that these were only those who had been forced into marriage by the insurgents.

She said that there was no provision for medical care and any of the girls that dared fall sick was left alone until she got better or taken away from the camp to an unknown destination.

Another girl who was lucky to escape from her captors, Esther Ezekiel, also spoke to our reporter.

She said that it took days for the kidnappers to take the girls to the place where they were eventually held. She, like other girls who have escaped from captivity, did not know where she was.

“They took us into a room and they raped some of my friends,” she said, pausing for a while and then adding “till today I still have dreams about the whole incident.”

Esther, however, makes a significant disclosure when she observed “none of the boys with us were kidnapped or killed.”

It had never been reported that there were any boys in the school at the time of the abduction of the girls. Most people had assumed that there were only girls in the school because it is a girls’ school.

But our findings indicate that there were 135 male students in the GGSS, Chibok when over 200 girls were kidnapped. Apparently, students, both male and female, had been registered to take their WAEC examination in the school.

That would have been impossible in a predominantly Muslim community. But in a Christian town like Chibok, boys and girls in the same examination hall would not be too far-fetched a scenario.

However, it is still curious that the ruthless Boko Haram gunmen had absolutely no interest in scores of male students they met at the school when they abducted the girls.

Sorrow, tears and anger

The atmosphere in Chibok when the icirnigeria.org first visited shortly before last Christmas was really gloomy. Sorrow hung like a dark cloud over the hilly community where all now feel the tragedy of a few.

For every resident of this small town, life can never be the same again. Although they are trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, it is virtually impossible to do so with the unresolved matter of the abduction of the girls.

Watching many of the residents, particularly families of the abducted girls, life is a grim existence in slow motion.

For the Dama family, whose two daughters, Maifa and Gloria, are missing, one of their uncles said that the pain of their disappearance is unbearable.

“For some of us, it is daily becoming a reality that this December will be the worst ever, spent in tears and our daughters gone,” he lamented.

One thing is certain: Although many of the parents still hold on to a shred of hope that their abducted daughters would return home someday, many of them are realistic and entertaining the painful possibility that they might never return.

Pastor Mark Enoch, whose two daughters were kidnapped, is willing to face up to that brutal eventuality.

“I do not see our daughters coming back, at least not the way they left,” he said. Enoch explained that the best he hopes for is that more of the kidnap girls would escape from their captors and return home.

“We located one of the girls recently in a village in Taraba,” he disclosed as if to rationalize his hope, adding that there had been similar cases of discovery of the girls in the past.

“We refused to let the authorities know; we only hope that once in a while there may be cases like that one,” he said.

In Chibok, there is a constant need of hearing words of hope. While in Chibok, our reporter attended a meeting of few parents of the abducted girls at which a pastor from Maiduguri, who did not want his name mentioned, was preaching and encouraging the parents to believe that their daughters will return.

Stephen, whose daughter, Hannah, is amongst the abducted girls, said: “We get such visits. Sometimes, they give us money and food items, but we tell them, all we want are our daughters.”

Looking at the faces of many of the parents, it was obvious that it would take more than preaching faith for them to keep hope alive.

For some of the parents of the kidnapped girls, the situation is now irredeemably hopeless as quite a number of them have died.

Pogu Bitrus, a Chibok community leader, disclosed that a total of 11 parents of the abducted girls have died of heart attack resulting from the frustration with the loss of their children.

“One father of two of the girls kidnapped apparently had his mind scrambled as he kept repeating the names of his daughters until life left him,” Bitrus said.

Chibok girls as suicide bombers?

While speaking to Festus Musa, a medical doctor and native of Chibok, he raised a fear that even he is not ready to broach with others in the community.

Musa expressed the fear that some of the schoolgirls kidnapped by insurgents might end up being used as suicide bombers by the Boko Haram.

“Imagine that these girls have been sold, others married off to Boko Haram fighters. Worse still, imagine that each female suicide bomber could be one’s daughter,” he said.

Musa’s fears might have been kindled by a recent development, which has seen children being used in suicide bomb attacks in the Northeast. Girls as young as 10 are believed to have been used in suicide bomb attacks on markets in Maiduguri, Borno State capital, and Damaturu, capital of Yobe State.

The explosive devices were strapped to the girls’ bodies and are believed to have been remotely detonated.

Anger at the President

When the icirnigeria.org returned to Chibok in January, the community was quaking with anger. The people’s ire had been raised by an unscheduled visit by the Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan to Maiduguri on January 15, ostensibly to identify with Nigerian troops on the Armed Forces Remembrance Day.

Chibok elders were infuriated that President Jonathan, who had failed to visit the mourning town since the kidnap of the girls last year, did not deem it fit to say anything about their missing wards.

Many people in Chibok and around the world had criticized the President for failing to show empathy with the Chibok people through a visit. It took a passionate appeal by Malala Yousafza, the Pakistani child rights activist, who visited President Jonathan in mid-July, 2014, to compel the President to agree to have an audience with a delegation from Chibok.

Those who attended the meeting on July 22, 2013, inside the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja included 51 of the escaped girls, parents of escaped girls and those still in captivity as well as opinion and community leaders from Chibok.

The President assured that his government was doing everything possible to get back the girls.

But many of the girls’ parents and elders of Chibok who spoke to our reporter are not convinced that the President is sincere about making genuine efforts to find and rescue the girls.

They are also disappointed that in spite of special funds that were set up with the help of international donor agencies, not much has touched the lives of the people of the community, except for a few parents of the escaped girls.

Lydia Habila, mother of one of the girls, was scornful when she recalled the visit to the President by some parents in Abuja.

“We are told that there are people that are trying to make sure the government does not forget us, but when we selected some of us to go to Abuja, they came back sharing money. Have our daughters been sold,” she queried angrily.

There is also a spiritual angle to the pathetic story of the missing girls. In traditional Chibok society, the family of a deceased person mourns for several days, wearing sombre clothing and performing solemn rituals.

But here, like in many African cultures, you can only mourn the dead and for you to do that there must be a corpse.

The big dilemma of the Chibok people is that although they are in deep mourning, they cannot grieve properly because their daughters are, technically, missing, not dead. Without a corpse, they cannot perform the funeral rites that go with a lost one

So, for the people of this community, tradition is on hold and life cannot go on.

“Had it been our daughters were killed we would have since moved along. We cannot go on as if all is normal”, Habila observed, adding, “to know that somebody is alive, you need to see them.’

The Women of Chibok

Little was known about Chibok, a hilly town in Chibok local government, southern Borno State but it is a fascinating, picturesque community with a rich culture and a people with great deal of pride.

It has great potential, one of the reasons its secondary school was designated as a centre for WAEC exams when many other areas refused to take the extra burden.

However, every facet of life, including agriculture, the mainstay of the economy, has suffered these past few months. Terrorist attacks had impacted on the economy of the community before the kidnap saga as men and women stayed away from their farms for fear of attacks. That has worsened after the April 14, 2014 incident.

But the women are the most affected by it all. Apart from the emotional stress of the kidnap of so many of their daughters, meaning that they have fewer hands to help with household chores, they also have to bear a greater burden of the economic impact of the situation, being the ones responsible for providing the meals for their families.

Naturally, therefore, they are the most angry. Apart from the sense of loss that is noticeable among many of the women, also obvious is a sense of deprivation.

Jummai Madaki, a young Chibok woman, complained bitterly about a lack of equality for women in the community but is particularly angry because in spite of so many promises by both government and civil society organizations, no particular assistance has been given to women in Chibok to help them cope with their situation.

“You only hear about women in the news as body count and the human element of this conflict, while focus is on the military operation.” she lamented.

She continued: “The violence and suppression experienced by women in Chibok, has not been well documented. Some NGOs came in the early days and the government, through representatives, promised heaven but we cannot see even the earth. Instead, we have been attacked twice since.”

Another angry Chibok woman is Margaret Sule, who is in charge of one of the few small co-operatives in the town. She complained that at a time when the residents are mourning and need all the help they could get, people who came to the community were only interested in what they could get.

She lamented that the foreign journalists or researchers who have come to Chibok are only interested in “pictures and data of the missing Chibok schoolgirls”.

“There are things we cannot tell outsiders about, we have taboos, there are restrictions, we are grieving and people are insisting that we talk, how can we talk”? she wondered.

For Rehab Tashia, another Chibok mother, her grouse is what she calls the absolute abandonment of the people of Chibok, particularly by the state government.

She pointed out that despite no project has been sited in Chibok by the government or office of the First Lady in Maiduguri. She also said the state Miinstry of Women Affairs has launched no initiative to inspire the Chibok women.

“That is the reason why most of our girls take to education despite the risks and limited opportunities,” she explained.

Madaki’s anger is more global. Apparently referring to the #Bring Back Our Girls group that attracted international attention to the Chibok incident, she wondered how so much “noise” is being made in Abuja without it resulting in practical benefits for the people.

“There is no initiative for the purpose of women participation, we only hear of Chibok groups in Abuja,” she observed.

But while women like Madaki, Tashia and Sule complain of the government not doing much to help the people of Chibok get back to their feet, for parents like Hannatu’s mother, nothing else makes sense other than the return of their missing daughters.

This project was supported by Ford Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative reporting, ICIR.

Once again, Nigeria is at a crossroads—unsure which way to go. It is threatened by an intractable insurgency, unprecedented carnage, a rise in the menace of riots, communal violence, cattle rustling and sundry criminality in several states. This unfortunate situation, which is daily being made worse by a display of immaturity on the political scene, calls for sober reflection, frank talk and the telling of uncomfortable home truths to each other. At such moments, it is the duty of leaders at all levels to tell truth to power in order to help correctly identify and diagnose the causes of disaffection and anger in the land—and do something about them. And, today, we need to do this very fast.

General-Abdulsalami-Abubakar

There is palpable desperation everywhere in the land: we are in a situation in which everyone is dissatisfied with what is going on, but nobody is sure what to do, or what is going to happen next. And there are many dangers facing the polity today—danger from an intractable insurgency, danger from elite mistrust, danger from poverty and penury as a result of glaring economic hardship: so much so that we have today reached a time when the rich cannot sleep because the poor are hungry, angry—and awake.

What exactly is happening? And why should matters be allowed to deteriorate to this level? No doubt, on the issue of the insurgency, this nation has suffered greatly and lost thousands of lives to the Boko Haram insurgency, with more than a million people displaced within the country, and tens of thousands have been forced across our borders into neighbouring countries. In one of the most senseless attacks, more than 2,000 people were said to have been killed in a single attack in Baga town of Borno State last week. This is clearly unacceptable, and we feel the time has come to restore people’s confidence in the ability of government to confront, repel and put a stop to the impunity of the insurgency; and reassure them of its capacity and readiness to protect them at all times.

In order to be able to do this, the government must continue with its efforts to ensure that all its military and security forces are sufficiently equipped to confrontthe task at hand. In such a situation, the government may wish to consider the mobilisation and re-absorption of all retired able-bodied security personnel, and undertaking fresh recruitment into the police force and other paramilitary agencies.

And, unfortunately, as the election approaches and as politicians get busy criss-crossing the country to sell their party programmes and their candidates, the spectre of violence is already rearing its ugly head. Needless to say, this is an election Nigeria cannot afford to mess: whatever happens, it must get it right. So far, the government has committed itself to conducting a credible, free and fair election. This is the least expected of any government; and the greatest legacy it can bequeath to the nation is to help entrench a democratic culture of free and fair elections.

The same is expected of all Nigerians. So, I would like to urge all Nigerians to do whatever is necessary to ensure that peace and normalcy prevail before, during and after the coming elections in February. Political parties must ensure that their members avoid campaign of calumny, character assassination; and that they shun and condemn the developing culture of political violence as they strive to enthrone an ethic of politics without bitterness.

Towards this end, I call on all Nigerians to sit up and live up to their civic responsibilities and protect and safeguard their future. Political and communal leaders must be made to watch and weigh and guard their utterances; and if they don’t, we should all rise as one and condemn them, along with whoever preaches, threatens or practices violence in Nigeria. It is at these times that the nation’s security agencies are called upon to live up to their responsibilities and not shy away from dealing with whoever threatens the peace and unity of this country.

Along the way, we must force our politicians to accept and learn to play by the rules; and, in their politicking, adopt the highest ethical conduct, especially during campaigns and the conduct of the elections themselves. The inordinate ambition of some of our politicians, especially their do-or-die attitude in their quest for power, their way of subverting the electoral process in order to get to power must be checked by this nation or else they will terminally checkmate it. All Nigerians of goodwill must therefore rise to tell politicians and, indeed, all Nigerians that Nigeria is greater than the ambition and ego of any of its citizens; and at every encounter with whoever, this nation must prevail.

And at this juncture, I would like to seize this opportunity to offer my heartfelt condolences to the families of all the victims, the governments and people of all the states of the Federation that have been hit by insurgency. Yet, despite our pain, we must be able to realise that what is happening has nothing to do with any religion; and it should be obvious enough by now that satanic forces are at work to set us against each other.

It is therefore in our own interest to learn to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers; because, to begin with, we have nowhere else to go: and, in the end, there will either be security and safety for everyone or there will be security and safety for no one. In the circumstance, I therefore call upon all our people to draw close together irrespective of religion, section or ethnicity and defeat the forces of darkness. So that Nigeria finally gets a chance to realise its full potential.

General Abdulsalami A Abubakar, GCFR

By Prince Charles Dickson

Another way to look at conflicts is to try to find a WIN-WIN solution, in which both sides can benefit. In this way, conflicts are turned into opportunities to grow and make things better. This approach is the cornerstone of “conflict resolution” – an important tool for bringing peace into our personal lives, our communities and to our world. — Robert Alan Silverstein

I decided to visit my local jujuman last week and before one starts to frown, Nigerians are one of the most religious people around planet earth. However when it comes to religious tolerance we are also way down low the rating, with each of the two major faiths having something to say about the other…

In the course of all the in fighting we seem to forget those of us that visit the ‘native doctor’. And before someone starts to muscle me, “is this about native doctors?” No…so let me go quickly to my admonishment for this week.

The Nigerian elections are just few weeks away, and the camps are visible, the tension is building, the hate and pre-election violence is on, some believe the elections have been won and lost.

crossroadd

It is as tense as it is interesting, one of my friend say’s one of the early losers is ‘truth’ and I cannot but agree, with the kind of lies and illogical reasoning out there, one should be afraid, which necessitated my visit to my local jujuman.

While I sat in his consulting room, glancing around, Baba Gloria, my jujuman, my voodoo consultant, call him a magician, a witchdoctor, all rolled into one, had improved over the years—Now he even had the benefit of IT–a laptop, several handsets and other electronic apparatus he used for looking into the future and one he used when he needed to go back into the past.

Before I tell you why and what I had gone to ask him, he was showing me the past via a white bowl of water, it was our local “Skype” at its best –A younger Buhari, and Idiagbon in 1983, he showed me Nigeria, and how many celebrated when they were overthrown by IBB.

I watched past elections and how Obasanjo would ask Professor Iwu to give him a copy of election results even before the elections were conducted.

I saw a young and naive Jonathan as governor of Bayelsa was promising Bayelsans electricity and he never fulfilled it.

At some point I was lost, I was thinking, was Buhari really too old to govern Nigeria, was he strong or just political gimmicks, how about the goofs of Mr. Jonathan, whoever told him that Jim Nwobodo (the first bleaching governor) stole “small”…and why was Buhari knowing his GSM phone number an electoral issue.

I thought of Jonathan’s TAN, and the Buhari’s CAN…I was troubled because I believed that “CHANGE and TRANSFORMATION’ was really the same thing, just that I felt that conductors in public transport never had “CHANGE”, same way that many a “TRANSFORMER’ in Nigeria had no electricity in them.

I was lost in thought about Buhari’s daughter, a beautiful damsel I must confess, and then the loose news of Jonathan’s long lost son that just appeared. I asked would I miss Dame Patience, which was better a general without school certificate, or a PhD without accomplished papers…?

I questioned my head, is it true that from his mother’s lineage Buhari had blood ties with Borno, and what was it Jonathan was doing in Maiduguri with soldiers, was it simply election #things or compassion?

So Buhari wants to Islamize Nigeria, and Jonathan in turn is using Boko Haram to decimate the Northern population. How about most of us that are pagan worshippers, and the atheist amongst us, fact is, we are in a state of conflict, and darkness.

In my mind I wondered what was behind the laughter of both men, as they signed the Abuja peace accord that supporters of both camps will not kill us all.

Baba Gloria’s voice pierced into my head–This is what the ‘gods’ have to say about your question, but before I give you, my son I have two questions for you

Before I give you Baba’s answer from the ‘gods’–My question that took me to Baba was, “Who would win the February 14th 2015 General Elections?”

Baba, put a few cowries on the floor, arranged them, rearranged them,…Looking up, he asked me this riddle, a black dog was standing in the middle of an intersection, very close to street light, none of the street lights were working, they rarely work in Nigeria. A car with two broken headlights drives towards the dog, but turns in time to avoid hitting him. How could the driver have seen the dog in time?

While I scratched my head, Baba Gloria, continued and revealed the message of the ‘gods’. My son, the answer is, “It was daylight.”

The ‘gods’ say it is daylight in Nigeria, either way the obvious would happen—Jonathan will win, Buhari would loose, or Buhari would win, and Jonathan will loose—The only female candidate will loose, but win too, however the truth is that it is daylight in Nigeria.

Nigerians will be the ultimate winners—Our slow but tortuous journey towards good governance will not halt, there will be a few casualties, those that the ‘gods’ want to kill they first make mad—so a few will pay the ultimate price but Nigerians will win.

APC will be a strong opposition if it looses, PDP wont be any different if it looses, we are making difficult intangible steps but they are steps…

This is how I would sum up my admonition, a young peasant wanted to marry the king’s daughter. The king didn’t like the idea of his daughter marrying a peasant, but he wanted to appear to be fair in front of his subjects. The king said he will put two pieces of paper into a hat, one reading EXILE and the other reading MARRIAGE.

Later that day, the peasant overheard the king saying both pieces of paper would read EXILE, thus ensuring that the peasant would be out of his way for good.

The peasant remained undaunted and, as arranged, arrived at the king’s court where a large crowd gathered for the big event.

The peasant then did something that assured him the hand of the king’s daughter—What did he do?

The peasant picked one of the pieces of paper and tore it up. He then asked the king to show him the other piece of paper, which, of course read EXILE.

Now whether Jonathan can campaign in Kano or not, or Buhari is too old, Nigerians will win, we have that enduring capacity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory vice versa—and what happens on February 14th—Only time will tell.

By Prince Charles Dickson

“The People have a right, an indisputable, inalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge- I mean the character and conduct of their rulers. John Adams

Come February 14th, which also doubles as St. Valentine Day, it would be another day in the annals of Nigerian history as we attempt to go forward or again backward in electing our next President.

So whom will I vote for? Before I tell us, let me share the following admonition.

Not loosing hope on Nigeria

Not loosing hope on Nigeria

We have all come to the conclusion that the problem of Nigeria is the lack of political leaders with the will to pursue the right path to success, Some schools of though think otherwise…they say we have the men that can do it, the only problem is that these men do not have the money or the fraudulent political machinery to get to the top, in a phrase “they are clean”, infact too clean. Others think that we deserve what we get, some feel we are confused and others see hope.

Various arguments have their own merit, but in the next couple of lines I beg to introduce us to a man called Character, he is that “beautiful” man among the present set of people chanting around with the “Transformation”, and “Change” slogan.

I do not need any ex-Governor, ex-General or ex- PDP, ACD, DPP, PPP or P candidate, all I need is a chap called Character, of the present lot masquerading how many of them have the name Character.

The man called Character is my, and should be our, President come May 2015, that man has no ethnic affiliation or any regional bias. He is first a man of himself, no godfather, nor mother. He is the right man, think right, act right, be right man.

In one sweeping statement you can tell a lot about a men’s character by the way they eat beans. We know how these men eat beans both publicly and privately, so I will spare us the agony of whether Buhari has a birth certificate, PHCN bill and Jonathan’s flippant statements on corruption.

We need a leadership with the right perception of what we want, where we are going, because despite the fight against corruption, we can all see in leadership right from Aso Rock to a tiny ward in far away Birnin Kebbi, Characters with essential tendency of corruption in the way they lead, act, treat citizenry, and the conclusion in bitter words is exhibited through the structure of their bones, the blood that runs through the veins of those that are (s)elected to lead the affairs of this nation have become engine oil black from their treachery against the masses.

The unarguable truth is that try hard as these men feel that they can and want to lead us; it should be on our own terms not their own terms. For the association of ex-this and that, be it Governors, Senators, Generals, the fact is that Nigerians needs and want a man of Character and indeed positive Character. We should let all the forerunners to elective posts know that change of time cannot repair the defect of Character and that Character is easily kept than recovered.

We should ask seekers of elective offices to show us their public resume that contains a score on their Character, it is not strange that persons have called for psychiatric test for our leaders because their actions while in office smacks of nothing different from the abnormal.

In compensating the Yorubas we forgot to look for a leader that had Character of purpose, we turned the position to that of emotions, let us compensate…. like now it has become an emotional one for a lot of us, and we seem to forget that a good, leader with a strength of character and purpose will deliver the goods, and so also will a bad leader without character will do worse than Idi Amin, Mbotu and Obasanjo put together irrespective the person be South-South, East-North, or Middle Belt and Shoe.

We again want to sacrifice Character for ethnicity; the last experience was to settle Abiola and the Yorubas, unfortunately many Yorubas will tell you truthful that they benefited nothing from an Obasanjo Presidency, how much has the south Soauth benefited from Goodluck?

Today as the search for who governs who goes full throttle we need someone from anywhere that has a grasp of the issues, that knows where there is a “NEED”…For example the entire energy sector has been a big fraud and failure under the present REGIME, while it has done a lot on roads, agriculture and the trains that I have not seen.

A leader that is like an angel with one wing and knows that the masses are the other wing and together we can fly embracing each other. We need that man called Character, a man above mediocrity, and a man who like the present bunch is not part of the problem because we can never solve a problem on the level, which it was created.

If we had a leadership worth its Character, what we have earned in the last seven years is enough for us to have a Nigerian State that is worth and as good as its promise to its citizenry, rather continuously the question of the debt to times, debt to countrymen, debt to neighbors has been the essence of all the PDP and its paraphernalia has left or will leave us with as national character and trust me the APC is not any better.

I end by saying that he that is cheated twice by the same man is an accomplice with the cheater…Where do we stand as part of this enterprise of Nigeria, is it ours, or theirs or for all of us and them. What we are afraid of doing is a clear indicator of what we need to do, our worries in the lack of leadership gradually is becoming a master to us.

As the elections draw close, may we have the character to act, and the man who will act with character… in Nigeria a word is never enough for the wise, because he is really not wise in character… I make case for the candidature of Mr. Character for the position of President, for the position of governors, as Senators and Members of the lower chamber–I will vote Character and will there be change–Only time will tell

By Prince Charles Dickson

Emi ni poun kan

Je n ra bata poun kan fun e

Sho le wo aso poun kan

Mo ni ife re gidi gan

Omo iya ile okan, mo ni ife re gidi gan

Ayanfe, a ni mo ni ifere gidi gan

Fun mi ni poun kan

Ki n lo je iyan poun kan

Ki n je sere poun kan

Ikun mi fuye gidi gan

Omo iya ile okan, mo ni ife re gidi gan

Sho le se be poun kan

Ayanfe mi gangan ah

Sho le se be poun kan

Ayanfe mi gangan

Sho le se be poun kan

Ayanfe mi gangan

Lyrics of Brymo’s – One Pound

Will the 2015 February 14th General elections be peaceful, will General Buhari defeat incumbent Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, and are we currently discussing the issues or just mudslinging and clowning. Is it about Buhari’s academic records or the very little shown by Jonathan’s own records…

The questions are so many; answers have come tainted in religion, faith, and ethnic cleavages are more. However in the next few lines, my admonition is just a one-Pound worth of advice to our leaders.

I waited patiently through the entire yuletide season to see if Jonathan would visit Chibok, whether it was a scam or not…He did not! I waited patiently to see if Jonathan would visit the military, pay a surprise visit to one or two of the barracks in charge of combating the terrorists, encourage them, talk with the soldiers, ask about their problems, what government is doing and will do, but…He did not!

I was believing that the President will visit Internally Displaced Persons, in Gombe, Yola, Maidugiri, Jos, even in Kaduna and Kano—Through an interpreter, speak directly to these persons who have lost all they call theirs–Ask them how it felt, hear their stories first hand–Sadly Mr. President did not!

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The All Peoples Congress APC concentrated on its primary aim, resting power from the Peoples Democratic Party–Did they they any better, sadly no! Rather but parties engaged each abuse for abuse, mud for mud, and it is only shocking that all these politicians away from the pages of newspaper and the general media are friends–Friends to themselves and not the poor.

They attended the wedding of their sons, and daughters, funerals and graduation but no one bothered about Chibok, none of them really bothered about #bringbackourgirls, whatever the motive of Oby Ekwesili and co were.

Tell me which governor visited the poorest of the poor in his state, tell me which governor shared his BIG and FAT salary with an indignant citizen, I hear many say, how about Rochas, how about XYZ, …with a wry smile, I am talking about those who shared their offices and love without the camera.

To the our leaders post February elections, when will Nigerians feel that governance is theirs, when will an ordinary Nigerian have the privilege of my governor was at my school, he sat in our classroom and taught us Math–Well sadly these are leaders who know no Math–and off course do not know English, or even their native tongue.

My one pound advice is for leadership that has empathy, is it not funny that even the Borno governor cannot safely visit Chibok, or that the Adamawa governor cannot go to Mubi, or that Dankwabo of Gombe is yet to step into Ashaka.

My one pound advice is that until we get it right we will keep fighting and hating each other over Buhari and GEJ simply because our leaders have failed…and in this case, leaders at the lowest level.

I care not what becomes in the Abuja FCT if my local councilman works; the local government chair lady does her bit. I do not care what happens to the University of Jos, if the local Plateau State University is run devoid of nepotism, favoritism and on the basis of merit.

I know Americans that have never been to Washington DC, it is the land of bureaucracy, and really who cares about that bureaucracy when things happen at his small county. In our Nigeria we will continue to kill ourselves, go to shrines as long as public officials earn Zombie like salaries in Abuja…

Till we stop our feeding bottle democracy and revert to fiscal democracy, till Kano knows it does not need the oil money to be shared, till Bauchi and Zamfara get their acts and leave Tobacco VAT for the smokers’, we are just wasting our time.

My one pound advice is that for 36 states we need 36 revolutionary leaders, and not one President–I will apologies when the time comes, but quote me neither Buhari, nor Jonathan have the wand, until good governance is not only defined and practiced, we will be dancing like the village masquerade.

In the run up to the elections…we have discussed everything but no one has talked about good governance.

We have refused to cultivate a regime of leadership that has shown a knack to develop a mental magnitude, as clear as our problems are, there seems a lack of ability in appreciating and grasping the salient details as well as most of the temporal and practical implications, of a given situation or problem, and in our own case the problem is a lack of good governance, so much so that even good man are incapable of good leadership and governance.

My one pound is we will even after the elections keep debating on the morals or otherwise that good governance cannot be attained or not definable and the problems will remain because good is platitudinous rather than obligatory on our leaders.

Our problem of political in-direction, thus an economic morass in the polity, our lack of anything good will continue because of our inability to have an ideological notion of destiny, a lack of coherent body of thoughts; no heroes, nobody to look up to, good governance exists only in a vacuum.

Better a pound in the pocket than an empty pocket, a man in two minds does not kill a lion–Nigerians need to decide–are they ready–Only time will tell