Sunday, April 17, 2011

Between Nigerian Governors And Housewives

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

It is quite possible that before now not many people have taken time to seriously consider it, but there is no doubt that governing a state in Nigeria has over the years been reduced to one of the most unduly simplified jobs in town, which does not even require an average intelligence or any special qualities to perform. 

Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

Or, put another way: the overly simplistic interpretation most of our governors have given their jobs has so much reduced it to such a very unchallenging assignment that it no longer requires any special preparations or endowments to execute; in fact, any fellow can just walk in there and encumber the ground for another four years, and that would be all.

But my hope is that those who will emerge as governors through Saturday’s election will hasten to realize that a growing number of Nigerians are beginning to develop a highly critical taste and greater degree of discrimination in their assessment of governance, and have indeed lost significant patience for the old, perfunctory and uncreative way of doing things.

Every indication shows that more and more Nigerians are no longer content to merely watch their rulers grope and wallow in confusion and directionlessness in the face of humongous problems requiring urgent intervention, and indeed may go a step further with proactive actions to demand accountability from them.

This realisation ought to motivate our new governors to hasten to excuse themselves from any post-election bacchanals and devote quality time to fully appreciate the gravity of the very high office they are about to occupy and the high cost this time around of dismal outing.   

Now, let’s look at what it presently means to be a governor in Nigeria. Indeed, shorn of all the glamour, pomp and noisy convoys, what can we really say is the difference between what housewives do for their families and what State Governors do in Nigeria? The answer, if you ask me, should be obvious, but I am very reluctant, for a very obvious reason, to answer it with just one word: None!

Certainly, I do not want to start this beautiful morning with placard-wielding housewives thronging the front of my office, protesting the grave insult of an unfair comparison. 

And so, I will be fair. But, first, let’s look at one clear similarity: A husband labours, earns some money, invites his wife to one corner of their house, and gives her the “monthly allocation” for the family upkeep. Nigeria also takes its God-given oil, markets it, and then State Governors are invited to Abuja, to cart away their own “monthly allocations” for the upkeep of their respective States. So, is there any difference?

Yes, I think there still is. At least, we now have wives who are no longer comfortable with being just housewives but now go out to work hard to help diversify the sources of revenue for their families, unlike many Governors whose only understanding of governance is, like housewives of old, to sit still and eagerly await the monthly allocation from the Federation Account, a fraction of which they spend to make some impressions here and there, and then call press conferences and buy spaces in national newspapers to showcase their “wonderful performances.”

They do N1 work and advertise it with N1000!

It is really a great tragedy. Now, tell me: why should any Governor with any brains in his skull, and the slightest hint of self-esteem, expect me to clap for him for renovating (or even, in most cases, merely repainting) a few school buildings and filling a couple of potholes on some roads?

Even if he builds new roads, new schools and hospitals, has he done anything extraordinary? Shouldn’t all those form part of his routine duty?  What special intelligence or endowment is required to do that?

By the way, what is he supposed to do with the billions he carts away from Abuja every month? Hide them in his wife’s bedroom, and then begin to use them to gallivant about town, to increase the number of his girlfriends and leisure spots?

President Goodluck Jonathan (himself a former governor),
And Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, Governor Of Delta State

Now, what extraordinary talent is required to pay salaries to workers (out of the money duly packaged and given to a full grown adult) or clean up a few streets? Even my small daughter in Primary School can do better than that! Please, let’s stop turning ourselves into objects of derision before sensible and civilized people out there.

Now, assuming oil was not flowing beneath us here, and so no monthly allocations or “excess crude earnings” to share in Abuja, what then would be the work of a Governor in a Federal State like Nigeria? Or, are we to take it that no one would have agreed to become a Governor if such a situation existed?

Whatever happened to great ideas and insights that inspire well thought-out policies for the creation of jobs, opportunities and wealth with which talented administrators are distinguished? Why has Nigeria reduced governance to mere routine assignments like provision of power, potable water, roads and exercise books for pupils? So, if I pay my children’s school fees or fuel my car, I should expect any person to applaud my “great achievements”, even though I sweat out the money, unlike the Governors that merely receive theirs without labouring for it? Do our so-called leaders ever bother to listen to the vision statements of their colleagues outside Nigeria?

Well, what more can I say? I was making these points the other day and somebody just looked me in the face and bellowed: You should be grateful that there are some Governors who are even willing to spend some bits of the money to fill potholes and repaint school buildings; what about those who don’t bother to do anything, though they also receive the money? What are you going to do about that? So, just praise those who agree to do something.

Can you beat that? Does anyone see what our country has become? Maybe, Nigeria would become better if the Governors are immediately replaced with housewives – even the uneducated, rustic ones. Indeed, most husbands have little or nothing to complain about how their wives manage the “monthly allocations” in their homes.

They return virtually everyday grateful that their homes are in good hands, and that virtually everything that ought to be done had been done. The housewives not only buy into their husbands’ visions and aspirations for the prosperity of the homes, they also generate their own ideas which any husband spurns to his own hurt, and would readily contribute their own lot to ensure the realisation of those ideas.

But what majority of our Governors do is to just sabotage our hopes and aspirations with their boundless greed and callousness. They could be likened to irresponsible housewives who alienate themselves from their husbands’ good dreams, and ensure they never come to fruition. Instead of investing the “monthly allocations” to move the home forward, irresponsible housewives stash them away to prosecute their selfish agendas. This is the situation in many States in Nigeria today.

President Goodluck Jonathan In Anambra State 
With Governor Peter Obi

It is sad that most Nigerians do not think too highly of their governors but regularly dismiss them as mostly wayward and underemployed; fellows that are incapable of thinking beyond how to secure their personal comforts and leisure.

I am not bothered that some people may laugh at my position today, but several of our Governors have failed us so much that I keep wondering if Nigeria’s political class is capable of ever producing more than very few committed, altruistic and visionary leaders with sound, workable ideas.

Some of them appear so blank and unprepared that one is left wondering whether they were just woken up one morning and told they had become Governors. One searches in vain for the slightest hint that many of these governors ever lose any sleep at all because of the enormous problems plaguing their States; men without the gravity of mind to appreciate the enormity and even sacredness of the high responsibility placed on their shoulders.

All these must change this time around. Our new governors should see the building of roads, provision of safe, clean water, electricity, quality hospitals and schools as mere routine duties, just like somebody waking up in the morning to brush his teeth.

Some Nigerian Governors At A Nigerian Governors
Forum Meeting

From today, any governor that purchases some taxis and buses for public transportation or even tractors to motivate vibrant farming and goes on to buy newspaper pages to advertise them as “great achievements” must be compelled to pay the advert fees from his pocket! The intellectual bankruptcy and mediocrity that classifies such routine efforts as “great achievements” to be applauded should be hastily consigned to our inglorious past.

Governors should be thinking of how to grow the economy of their respective domains by judiciously husbanding the natural and human resources available to create wealth and jobs. They should hasten to identify the mineral deposits in their domains, create enabling environments and the right policies, and engage the relevant agencies, corporations and investors in constructive and beneficial deliberations to see how the deposits and opportunities can be exploited to drive the economy of their states to create prosperity, mass employment and better life for the people.

 We must do away with the old retrogressive style and adopt a more creative approach to governance for the good of all.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Nigeria: This House Is Not For Sale!

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye  

“Why do I ever think of things falling apart? Were they ever whole”  Arthur Miller, Late American playwright and essayist    

I am forced by some very discomforting thoughts to remember today Bessie Head, the late South African writer and her 1989 collection of short stories entitled, Tales Of Tenderness And Power. I remember particularly one of the stories in that collection captioned,  “Village People,” especially, its opening lines which reads: “Poverty has a home in Africa – like a quiet second skin. It may be the only place on earth where it is worn with an unconscious dignity.” 
*Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

Now, this is one assertion that immediately compels one to start visualizing images of scenes and objects that readily constitute benumbing evidences of “dignified poverty” spread all over Africa, where people try to give some form of shine and panache to a very horrible situation they have somehow convinced themselves would always be with them. In those two brief lines, Ms. Head states a truth about Africa which we may find very demoralizing and objectionable, but which would remain extremely difficult to contradict. 

But is poverty the only thing we appear to have accepted as inevitable component of life in this part of the world? What about crime? How come crime appears to have gradually become too natural with us in Nigeria here, that we even go ahead to put up notices to moderate its operation? We appear to relish more the very unpleasant job of merely alerting people to it than doing anything to stamp it out. Now, if I may ask: what usually occurs to your mind each time you enter a hotel room in Nigeria and on the wash-basin, dressing mirror, bed-sheet or towel you see the following inscription: “Hotel Property, Do Not Remove!”   

If you ask me, this warning simply takes it for granted that guests would naturally wish to remove those items, and so to forestall that, care is taken to advise them not to remove those particular items as the hotel is still in need of them. In other words, the absence of such a warning on any other item should be construed as an automatic authorization any guest requires to move those things together with his personal effects, if he so wishes, at the expiration of his stay.  That’s just the implication.  Or have we not also thought about that? What are we then, by this practice, telling numerous foreign visitors that use those hotel rooms daily about ourselves?  

Yet such warnings abound everywhere, but I doubt that it in any way bothers anyone, even those public officers spending billions of naira on their so-called efforts to manage the nation’s image. Indeed, it no longer shocks us to see daily on virtually every building, even rickety, dilapidated ones, this inscription, usually written in very bold letters, even at the risk of seriously defacing the structures: “This House Is Not For Sale!!” And in most cases, they usually add, for maximum effect: “Beware of 419! Beware of  Fraudsters!” For goodness sake, is Nigeria the only country that fraudsters can be found?

 Is this the only country with records of incidents of people selling properties that do not belong to them? Are there no better, more decent, less socially destructive ways of protecting people from fraudsters than screaming on virtually every house out there: “This House Is Not For Sale, Beware of 419!!” Are these houses not properly registered at the appropriate offices where prospective buyers can go and verify their real owners? Today, almost every undeveloped, refuse-ridden land on every street hosts at a prominent spot an imposing signpost informing people the land is not for sale, plus the usual warning screaming to prospective buyers to beware of fraudsters and 419.

The impression the continued proliferation of these warning signs can only convey is that most Nigerians do nothing else than wander all day looking for each other’s properties to sell to unsuspecting buyers; that our society is filled with so many rich, dumb buyers without the slightest awareness that checks ought to be run on properties before paying for them; that the system here is so chaotic and unreliable that people prefer to rely only on this very crude, people-diminishing method of discouraging potential property buyers with mostly badly written notices.    

Out there, my beloved sister, Dr. Dora Akunyili, is shouting herself hoarse in a determined effort to convince us that she is re-branding Nigeria or its image; she claims that she is striving to give Nigeria a positive image, but I doubt if it has ever occurred to her that this unwholesome phenomenon alone can easily destroy the best cultivated image. What for instance would a foreign visitor think of us, after observing this inscription on virtually every building he saw on a particular street he visited?

There are some crooks in Nigeria, like in every other nation, but, for goodness sake, this is NOT a nation inhabited by only fraudsters! Decent people like me also exist here, okay! And it is somebody’s job to ensure that this point is cleared underlined to every ear that can hear.  

And because we appear to demonstrate through our indifference to the whole thing that these vulgar displays are in order, foreigners living among us have gone ahead to add some really ruinous sophistication to the ugly    phenomenon. In front of even some hardly known, struggling foreign companies today, you must find notices screaming: “No Waiting; No Loitering.” The next time you visit an embassy, try and look at the kind of notices placed in front of the buildings.  Indeed, United States Embassy in Lagos here appears to be the most enthusiastic offender in this regard.

 Only recently, while visiting the US embassy, I was suddenly moved to look at the number of large, gleaming notices in front of the compound warning people against patronizing touts, submission of fake information and documents etc.

I can’t really recall now how many notices I saw in front of the same embassy gate saying the same the thing in the same words, and standing gallantly near each other, in silent competition.
Robin Sanders: Former US Ambassador
To Nigeria

I have not tried to investigate whether this is what obtains at the US embassies in other countries, but I am willing to guess that this proliferation of demeaning notices may not be the case in other lands.  Inside the US embassy building itself, the rooms are generously splashed with well illustrated notices warning people that fake visas or passports or false information or documents can open many doors and but close one permanently. Even warning notices meant for the blind and deaf could not have been so generously pasted! 
Indeed, the thing is so gratuitously done that I am forced to wonder if the aim is really to discourage fraudsters or to advertise a well-cultivated opinion about Nigeria to visiting Americans and other foreign nationals who also visit the embassy as often as Nigerians. 

 I am tempted to suspect that the latter is the prime motivation, and as I look at Ms. Robin Sanders, US Ambassador to Nigeria, and observe the facial features she shares with me, I am forced to wonder how she is able to allow this clearly unhealthy profiling and stereotyping to continue flourishing during her tenure against the land of her ancestors.    

Yes, we can say that after all we asked for it by failing to contain the vile activities of some Nigerians that clearly portray here as a country of crooks. Indeed, there are fraudsters in this nation, as in any other country, but this is by no means, a nation peopled by ONLY fraudsters. It ought to be clear that fraudsters constitute only a negligible minority in this country, but their evil deeds seem to speak louder than the good works of the decent, hardworking majority.

And although the fellows ruling us are mostly very low characters who care very little about reputation and self esteem, and whose understanding of being in public office is to loot the treasury pale, I refuse to accept that any nation’s politicians should form the basis for judging the people’s character.

Else, why do Americans still speak contemptuously about the “Washington crowd,” and yet hallow their country at any given opportunity?

Yes, we have the Dimeji Bankoles out there, the Iboris, the Bode Georges, Governor-General Alams, Big Tafas, Obasanjos, IBBs, Dariyes and the rest of them, who know only how to rubbish the country and give it a monstrous image, but for goodness case, this does not automatically consign all of us to the refuse dump reserved for low, dishonourable characters. The time to do a rethink and act accordingly is now.

Enough of this debilitating profiling, please.       

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Campaigns Deadlier Than AIDS

By Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye
Now, assuming you wake up tomorrow morning and hear that an effective, duly tested and proven curative and even preventive drug for HIV/AIDS is now available in every chemist shop, what would be your first reaction?
Or rather, do you think that everyone should just celebrate profusely, and then draw with immense relief a huge curtain against a horrible scourge that has for some years now distinguished itself as the worst and most traumatic nightmare of this part of the world, aside poverty, irresponsible leadership and corruption?

I think we should be wary of oversimplifying the whole matter.
For me, if a vaccine is found for HIV/AIDS today, it will now be time to brace up for the real, arduous work, more herculean, and more complicated than the search for a cure for the killer disease.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Meal From A Dustbin In Lagos

Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

It was a very beautiful evening in Lagos. I had parked the car in front of my wife’s office, and was inside the car waiting for her to get her bag from her office so we could go home together.

And then, I saw the man as he passed, looking very hungry, haggard and harassed. It was quite clear that he was not mad. At least, not yet. What was easy to notice was that he was greatly traumatized by the impossible conditions under which he struggled each day to exist in this impossible place called Nigeria, a country so richly endowed, but where life for the majority has become hellish. 

Victim Of Corruption And Failed Leadership

Recent studies have shown that due to boundless plundering of the public treasury flourishing in Nigeria, about 99% of the country’s resources are in the hands of just 1% of the population, and more than 85 per cent of Nigerians live below poverty level.

Well, suddenly, the man’s hungry eyes caught the dustbin outside the office complex, a few meters away from where my car was packed. He appeared so elated at his clearly delicious find. His face creased into an awful gesture, which he probably meant to be a smile.

Then, with a quickened pace, he made for the dustbin, and began to desperately rummage in it, among its decayed, putrid, stinking contents. He seemed afraid that someone might come out to drive him away before he was through. His diligence, meticulousness, and sense of urgency would have been very infectious were it not that were deployed on the clearly diseased contents of a refuse bin.

An idea occurred to me immediately. Nigerians ought to share this heart-rending image with me, to see one of their own reduced to such a sorry spectacle in a country that was overwhelmingly prospering from crude oil exports. Perhaps, a few would weep and think deeply about the unbearable condition that years of abysmal misrulership have reduced many Nigerians.  

President Goodluck Jonathan Of Nigeria And Other
 African Heads  Of State: What Are They Doing
About Widespread Poverty

Yes, my camera was at the backseat, I remembered. I quickly reached for it, and with a greater part of me hidden behind the windshield, I took two shots of him while he was still busy searching and collecting some items triumphantly.  Then my third shot caught him as he made to move away with his booty. 

And within a few minutes, he went down the street and was gone.  Perhaps, very fulfilled that for that day, he would not, like countless other impoverished Nigerians, go to bed (Did I say bed? Could he afford one?) on an empty stomach.

That man, too, is a Nigerian, with flesh and red blood running in his veins, like you and I. Like President Goodluck Jonathan, whose daily campaign expenses, as Professor Pat Utomi has told us, and which no one in the Presidency has convincingly denied, exceeds a hundred million naira daily!

     Just Enough For One Evening

Yes, that scavenger is a human being just like our distinguished Senators whose annual allowances have been put at $1,500,000 (You can convert that to naira and see what it amounts to!) Yes, the man is a human being like Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo (the man that loves to be called founder/father of Modern Nigeria – whatever that means) whose multi-million dollar farm is flourishing somewhere at Otta in Ogun State. 

Indeed, our dustbin man is not less  human than our State Governors, ministers and Super Special Advisers and Assistants, Local Government Chairmen, many of whom are now incredibly wealthy after just a few years of “self-less service to the nation.”

Now, if this hapless Nigerian ever heard that sometime ago, specifically under the tenure of a certain lady called Patricia Etteh, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, that a house was renovated in Abuja with the “paltry sum” of N628 million, he didn’t show it.

Nigeria's Former Heads Of State: Ibrahim Babangida,
Olusegun Obasanjo And Muhammadu Buhari 

If he had heard that some $16 billion dollars that were sunk in the power sector only succeeded in generating uninterrupted darkness, he never betrayed. He was just content to invade the dustbins, to fill his stomach with its putrid contents, until life, his life, reaches a T-junction, where, his candle would be cruelly extinguished by the violent wind of the unspeakable callousness of Nigerian leaders.

By the way, is Mallam Umaru Dikko reading this? Then he should rejoice that his prediction had come true, for Nigerians are now feeding from dustbins. Where are our rulers and former rulers? They should rejoice because that proud scavenger out there is a living evidence that their many years of altruistic, selfless leadership in Nigeria had yielded far greater dividends than we had imagined.

 That is the reality of present day Nigeria. And make no mistakes about it, there are several others like that man, who would never have anything to eat today, until they are able to find a dustbin rich enough to yield them a meal.

His condition is like that because those who are supposed to take care of him are out there in Abuja and other points of power engaging in unspeakable profligacy, with the commonwealth, from which they have carefully insulated him. While he dies slowly, and miserably – a victim of boundless greed and callousness among the ruling elite. 

Indeed, everyone appears to accept this very glaring truth that any day Nigeria is able to make up its mind to end its obscene and ruinous romance with the stubborn monster called “Corruption”, this country will automatically witness the kind of prosperity no one had thought was possible in these parts.

 Just imagine the amount of public funds reportedly (and un-reportedly) being stolen and squandered daily under various guises by too many public officers and their accomplices, and the great transformation that would happen to public infrastructure and the lives of the citizenry if this organized banditry can at least be reduced by fifty percent! 

Can Nigeria ever drag itself out of the muddy waters? Can we ever destroy a monster we have all clearly identified and agreed constitutes our worst undoing? Let’s hope that post-May 29, 2011 will usher in some fresh air.

Hope did I say? No! What I actually mean is that Nigerians can strongly desire that change, insist on getting it and never give up until it materializes. It is quite possible, if not very easy.

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