Wednesday, September 30, 2009


So there I was last week, preparing to compose this special Nigerian independence anniversary post and then suddenly realizing that I was in a dilemma of sorts. You see, I desperately desired to write a motivating and optimistic piece about the ‘celebrant’, yet one that was truly newsworthy. I had been trying for over two hours, it was now 12.42am and I was nowhere close to a solution. I made a mental note never to criticize CNN again for its failure to report cheery news emanating from Nigeria. Cheery news is hard to find.

I tried all manner of permutations; sector by sector, region by region, and each time I came to the same conclusion- NOTHING GOOD IS HAPPENING. Power supply is as erratic as ever, staggering facts revealed this week that Nigerians spend as much on fuel and diesel as our entire 2009 capital budget; roads are in bad shape, a trip from Lagos to Benin by road averages 6 hours and 42 police check points; the knowledge sector is in shambles, universities are closed and have been so for over three months at a time when the knowledge industry in other nations is powering a ‘soft revolution’ by overthrowing mineral resources as the chief source of revenue and employment. Yet nothing good seems to be happening here. Amnesty was supposed to give hope but there are ripples already, some who dropped arms are threatening fire and brimstones as they claim that the government is reneging on key aspects of their agreement. The Niger-Delta remains ever contentious, with the only difference being that there now exist a comatose Niger-Delta ministry headed by an incompetent. Maurice Iwu still reigns supreme in INEC and continues to wreak havoc on our electoral system with the most recent example being the Anambra APGA about-face. Our national assembly has even become more toothless and corrupt. And now, sports and particularly football that used to be a periodic source of consolation for Nigerians has unsurprisingly caught the ‘Yaradua flu’. So nothing good is happening.

But football- that most cherished of all sports- taught me something about Nigeria. NIGERIANS STILL HOPE. That was an important lesson. Even though we are always the least prepared of all teams, Nigerians always watch every football match with hope and ridiculous optimism. We believe that on a ‘good day’ we can beat anyone; the fact that oppositions spend more in preparations mean little or nothing to us. We refuse to give up on our soccer stars even though the ‘good days’ come less often. We get disappointed for a fleeting second only to get set to cheer them on the next time with renewed hope and more ridiculous optimism. On the face of it, this does not seem like much but it tells me that Nigeria is not finished yet. That means, just as it happens sometimes in football, Nigeria and Nigerians have what it takes to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. We have ourselves. We have Nigeria.

But as we clock 49, it’s about time that we begin to match hope and faith with tangible actions. Let us remember that a country does not always get the government it deserves; it gets the government that it demands. The more I see the ‘people power’ in other nations, the more I conclude that it could happen right here in Nigeria, if only we could overcome our intense risk-averseness as a people. The power of the American people is being heard loudly in their ongoing health care reform debate, in their tea parties and in their uproar which led to the sack of a key Obama adviser, Mr. Van Jones; the power of the Iranian people in spite of the repressive regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad led to their voices being heard all over the world and shook the foundations of the Iranian political establishment after the June 12 fiasco; we still remember the power of the Ukrainians that fuelled the Orange Revolution which forced the hand of the government of the day in 2004 and placed the people’s choice, Viktor Yuschenko, in power. Remember that theirs was a revolution without a single gun fired. In Nigeria, the Macaulay’s, Azikiwe’s and Enahoro’s gave their all that we might gain it all. The best gift we can give to our nation in commemoration of our independence is a solemn commitment never to let the labour of our heroes past to be in vain. And that means doing all it takes including civil disobedience, bold actions, strikes, protest, hecklings, honesty, integrity, voting, being thrown in jail and citizen journalism (take pictures with phones and cameras and place same in the media and online in order to stimulate actions and reactions). Do not think for one moment that our actions will favor only the elected officials who might come in from our efforts; it will favor us all. Because even if the officials fail to live up to our expectations, our previous experiences will embolden us; it will cause us to ensure that we are heard again and again until gradually change begins to flow in droplets and trickles and then in torrents and downpours. Only then would we know what it means to be called free. Continued confinement in the cozy enclave of a cocoon will only serve to delay and frustrate the revelation of the magnificent butterfly. Cocoons aren’t beautiful, butterflies are. But the more we choose to love our comfort zones, never risking anything, never sacrificing anything for the greater good; the more things will remain the same- ugly and uninspiring. But if we choose to hope and act and give and live, soon the sun will rise and something good may come. Happy Independence Nigeria! God bless Nigeria.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


When United States president, Barack Obama made his historic visit to Africa and failed to touch down in Nigeria, it was widely reported as the ultimate snub. What credentials could Ghana boast of to deserve such an unprecedented honor at the expense of a true African giant like Nigeria? The reasoning among our political elite was that first, they ignored us when they invited the top 20 nations in the world to Washington at the height of the global economic crisis, then Obama fails to include Nigeria in his African itinerary, and just recently the US secretary of State, Hillary Clinton visited Nigeria and didn’t have a word of compliment for the nation’s leaders. So my guess is that as a form of pay-back for the cockiness of the Americans, Yaradua and his advisers decided to cancel- at the last minute- his state visit to America on the invitation of the UN, as well as the United States president and instead will now make a state visit to Saudi Arabia, the second time he would be visiting that nation in as many months. As I said the theory of a pay-back is just a guess, but the more I try to imagine a more plausible reason, the more confused I become as to the rationality of this move.

Over 100 world leaders would be in New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly meeting and yet Yaradua opts instead to shuttle to Saudi Arabia in order to ‘hold talks with Saudi King Abdullah as well as participate as a special guest of honor in the opening of the new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.’ The irony of it all is numbing. The leader of a poor, backward, third world nation has a rare opportunity of addressing an assembly of fellow world leaders as well as having a one-on-one with the most powerful leader in the world- who coincidentally is the leader of our most strategic trading partner. He spurns it in favor of attending the opening of a university in Saudi Arabia at a time when all his nation’s universities are on strike. I would consider it laughable if it were not so foolish. As a result of this warped placement of priorities, Nigeria will not only miss the opportunity to have our voice heard in the proper slot allotted to our president but we would also miss a lot of perfect negotiating opportunities. The opportunity to campaign for Nigeria’s election for a permanent seat in the UN security council by the president among his colleagues is lost; also the luncheon to be hosted by Obama for African leaders to strengthen African economic and social development especially in the areas of job creation, creation of a more conducive environment for trade and investment and agriculture would not have our president in attendance. Our president would also be absent when President Obama hosts member states of the UN which contribute to the UN international peace keeping missions. Even former president Obasanjo in spite of his many flaws, would have made a better choice. The questions that need to be asked and answered are these: What criteria were used to adjudge the meeting with King Abdullah as more vital and strategic than the ones President Yaradua would have held in NewYork? Why wasn’t the Vice-President sent to NewYork instead, considering that the UN hierarchical structure would have better recognized him than the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ojo Maduekwe who has been assigned to represent the president instead(The minister also represented the president last year at the UN general assembly)? Is this president still capable of making sound decisions on behalf of this nation? If he is, why does he fail to explain the reasons for these kinds of radical decisions? Do the president and his cabinet even know the details of their job description? And I ask this for a reason. During the recent festivities, the minister of the Interior, Dr. Shettima Mustapha said in an interview with the NTA that “As Minister of the Interior, I have to be close by the president as he celebrates especially as he performs the eid, otherwise I would have travelled to Maiduguri.” Obviously the minister thinks that the position of minister of the interior refers to the interior of Aso Rock. Another example of the kind of 'smart' guys that lead this nation.


As I mentioned on a previous post, WHY I SUPPORT THIS ASUU STRIKE, “…only a non-discerning optimist can delude himself into believing that this government will concede anything tangible once the strike has been called off and the lecturers are back in the classrooms.” As if to buttress my point, staff of the nation’s unity schools joined the striking party last week again because contrary to the promise made by the Minister of Labor and Productivity that consequent upon their calling off the strike, the education ministry would address their demands within 30 days, nothing has happened, more than 100 days later. I guess ASUU can learn a lesson or two from that.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


It’s been exactly six (6) weeks since the Nigerian government’s amnesty program for militants was kick-started. That means two (2) more weeks left before the expiration of the offer and a lot done already to effectively access the successes of the initiative so far or the lack thereof. To be candid, the visible effects of the amnesty offer have been mostly positive. Some key militants have dropped their arms and embraced the process, among them General Boyloaf, Soboma George and Young shall grow. According to the government, around 5000 militants have taken advantage of the amnesty program, surrendering more than 100,000 rounds of ammunition and hundreds of weapons. Nigeria is once again meeting its OPEC quota, not to mention the much needed revenue in-flow. Also, there has hardly been any incident of kidnappings and the usual blowing of pipelines and other oil and gas facilities has receded remarkably. The most notable of the militant groups, MEND, unilaterally declared a cease fire even though it (MEND) has not formally accepted the government’s offer. There really has been calm, but with 14 days to the close of the offer window it feels like it’s just a CALM BEFORE THE STORM.

“NOBODY IS IN THE CAMP AGAIN. EVERYBODY IS IN THE COMMUNITY WAITING FOR REHABILITATION.” Those were the words of the second in command to ex-militant leader Young shall grow on AIT’s FOCUS NIGERIA. And he is right. What normally should happen after a package like this is rehabilitation and reintegration into the society. It is not for nothing that rehabilitation of criminal offenders is a huge deal in many nations; according to daily Texan online, more than 50 percent of all crimes are committed by re-offenders and only 35 percent of inmates do not make their way back to prison upon their release in America. For most serious offenders, the reason why they do not return to jail is that the time spent in incarceration was spent productively in changing vital aspects of their personality and in education. Thus, the way the Nigerian government handles the rehabilitation and reintegration stage of the amnesty program would determine if the successes recorded so far have come to stay or if we shall yet return to the pre-amnesty days. Let us not be deceived, a lot of arms are still out there, some belonging to those who have supposedly dropped their guns. I don’t believe that the few arms collected so far have been all that was used to unleash the terror the past. The ex-militants have not been totally honest and for good reason too- our government lacks integrity, just ask the unions like NLC and ASUU which have entered into negotiations with them in the past. As a rule of thumb, our government mostly says what they don’t mean and mean what they never say. So the militants are playing fair game in their skepticism of the government. But Yaradua’s government has a window of opportunity to prove that it is sincere by its handling of the rehabilitation. The situation now where already some ex-militants are protesting on the streets over the government’s failure to keep its own side of the bargain is dangerous.

The militants should not be treated like refugees, remember that most are used to easy cash since they realized the power of the muzzle. The present rehabilitation camps- at least the ones I have seen- are an eye-sore with over packed hostels and over grown weeds. As usual the government approach is steeped in confusion. There already is some finger pointing between the Bayelsa state government led by the governor, Timipre Sylva and the federal government led by Mr. Timi Alaibe who is Yaradua’s special adviser on Niger Delta issues as to who did what and who should be doing what. And of course there is the usual dearth of ideas. Mr. Alaibe says the government will engage the militants in focus group discussions and one-on-one discussions as to their aspirations and will do for them whatever they want. According to him, “If your aspiration is to go abroad on a scholarship, the federal government will grant you a scholarship.” Really? Such grand statements amount to placing the cart before the horse and can only come from an ignorant government. We seem to forget that some of these boys have psychological issues now as a result of their long romance with violence, some are drug addicts or sex addicts and yet nothing is being mentioned about rehabilitation counseling and psychological assessments to test for mental or physical disabilities. What programs are being planned to teach them values and principles before you load them on the next flight abroad and then expect that they would simply embrace honest work and do you proud.

Mr. Alaibe also mentioned that the government would ask the communities about what their aspirations are and then would meet those aspirations. Note that he said this in a place where there is no access road to that community from the state capital; a place where the militant whose surrender prompted Mr. Alaibe’s visit is the highest employer of labor. What other aspirations could such a community possibly have than the obvious? One of the road cleaners in the employ of this ex-militant put it succinctly, “You want our children to drop their guns, so now you must come and take care of us.” By now, the tractors should have begun to move in to prove government’s good faith and perhaps cause the more pessimistic of the militants to reconsider their hard line stance. But the tractors are in Abuja- with Mr. President- sick from idleness. The truth remains that no matter how many ex-militants you send abroad, as long as the root causes of the militancy remain unattended to, it’s only a matter of time before more bitter youths fill the vacuum they leave. As long as the government remains on strike, there will be more jobless undergraduates to recruit. Yaradua’s government has never been known to seize the initiative or even ride on the crest of a momentum. But it doesn’t take a hero to see and perform some of the immediate and strategic things that should and must be done in order to ensure that the meteorologists are proven wrong this time and the present calm brings not turbulent storms but ushers in even more calm.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has never been strong candidates to win a popularity contest in Nigeria, and honestly their present strike action would not help matters at all. They are no saints. But then, neither is Yaradua’s government. As the back and forth between ASUU and the Federal government continues, it is ASUU- not the government- that is being picketed, pressured and lampooned by most, thanks majorly to government’s effective propaganda as well as ASUU’s general inarticulacy. Suddenly, ASUU bashing has become a fad. ASUU’s position may have been disjointed sometimes but they are not fools. If they dare call off the strike before their demands are met, it is highly improbable that they would be able to muster again the kind of widespread compliance that they have managed this time, if and when this government reneges. That would be rather unfortunate because only a non-discerning optimist can delude himself into believing that this government will concede anything tangible once the strike has been called off and the lecturers are back in the classrooms.

I support this strike for equity sake. Common sense would tell you that when individuals determine whether the compensation they receive is fair compared to their coworkers’ compensation, any perceived inequality will affect their motivation, thus they will act in a way that restores the sense of equity. This strike action is intended to rectify the disparity and inequity between Nigerian lecturers and their African counterparts as well as other Nigerian public servants.

INEQUITY IN COMPARISON WITH OTHER AFRICAN UNIVERSITIES: It is funny how successive Nigerian governments love to label Nigeria as the ‘giant of Africa’ on every single issue apart from those relating to the government’s responsibilities towards its citizens. ASUU has argued- and I agree- that the wide gulfs between lecturers pay in Nigeria and other African nations is unfair and is responsible for the mass exodus of smart lecturers from Nigeria to countries like Kenya and Botswana for example. The salaries of academic staff in this nation are among the least anywhere in the world. How sad! Even though the strike action affects and disturbs me just like every other Nigerian student, I cannot in good conscience argue that ASUU’s clamor to be paid at least up to the African average is too much to ask. The inequity and subsequent brain drain is responsible for the saddening fact that the University of Benin for instance which is ranked as the best Nigerian University is only 61st in Africa and 6662 on the world rankings. That’s what you get when your best minds are herding away in droves in search of greener pastures.

INEQUITY IN COMPARISON WITH OTHER NIGERIAN PUBLIC SERVANTS: This is where logic is turned on its head. Let me explain and maybe you would have better luck making sense of it. An average university professor earns about N321 589.88 monthly and ASUU is demanding that this is upped to about N525 010. Huge leap, you might argue. That is until you consider that local government councilors -many of which are stark illiterates- earn about N1 129 647.92, more than double of what ASUU is demanding for the PROFESSORS and about 251% of what PROFESSORS earn now. Special advisers to President Yaradua earn about N1 902 742, over 400% more than PROFESSORS. You will rethink your stand when you realize that the Minister of Education, Mr. Sam Egwu earns about N2 659 650; yet he begrudges ASUU for demanding that their professors earn up to a quarter of what he earns. Not to mention our ‘distinguished’ senators and ‘honorable’ members. So where is the justice and why must our dons wait until they get to heaven before they receive their due reward. Things have got to change. Nigerians should stop whining about ASUU and start demanding that our government do the right thing. If the extravagant pay of some of these public servants is cut, we would not even need to bother about further depleting the nation’s already lean purse.

And this is not to say that increased pay is all our lecturers are demanding, but on the face of that alone, they are fighting a just cause. Let us understand these facts and start rallying behind ASUU. How long would we be satisfied to just turn around and be whipped? Dr. Andrew Efemini is a lecturer in the University of Port-Harcourt and has a Phd in philosophy. He is also the chairman of ASUU in that university. Thanks to our government’s insensitivity, he now spends this free time working as a bus conductor. I do not care whether his action is just a mere public relations ploy. What I do know is that there is a cause. A nation that despises its academicians must be ready to watch from the sidelines while other serious minded nations set the pace and blaze the trail. Traditional rulers, concerned parents, distraught students, everyone should start calling on our government to wake up from their slumber and call off their strike because in reality, ASUU isn’t on strike- our government is. We should be ready to make sacrifices and endure pain for future gain. If we don’t pay, subsequent generations will pay; either way, to chart a new course for this nation in the education sector or any other sector for that matter, somebody’s got to pay.