Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Promissory Jokes

My undisputed winner for word of the year 2011 is "transformation." It was amusing this year, to watch politicians infuse that word into their every breath and sigh. Equally amusing was watching critics make a mince-meat of it at every chance they got.

But my most instructive encounter with the word was a rather private one. It was one early afternoon, in that space between sleep and consciousness, that I saw it --a crowd in a stadium, enraptured and cheering uncontrollably as an overweight man, dressed in flowing agbada and a fedora hat stood on an elevated stage, addressing them. His incongruous dressing aside, the man was reeling a long list of promises to the people and they seemed to be holding onto his every word as they would their messiah. His words were like bread to them and they fed on it. "I will send all your sons to the moon and back," he said and they cheered. "I will build a bridge that will connect Sokoto to Bonny," he said, amidst more cheers. The overweight man went on and on until the people's hopes and expectations seemed to take a physical shape, hanging like a belt on his waist. He too was beginning to feel the weight of their expectations. "I will transform your lives, trust me, I will transform your lives," he said finally, before turning to leave. Then he made a blunder. Forgetting that there was an open mic on stage, he asked an aide by his side: "Why are they so passionate about this transformation thing? How can they believe I'll do all those things? Can't someone joke with these people?" On hearing those words, the stadium fell into a hush for about a minute or so. Then, without notice, the crowd descended on him till he turned into that which makes no speeches.

As far as I can tell, no politician in Nigeria literally campaigns on jokes. Yet whenever I ponder on my dream, I always come to one conclusion: Politicians don't take us seriously. We might be a joke for all they care. They make promises and issue deadlines, then flout it and move on to another as if their life's purpose lies in the next promise and deadline. If goals, targets and visions were ceramic bowls, those of Nigeria would have shattered into a million shards.

Still, of all our past presidents, none tantalised Nigerians with as much promise of lucky manna as President Jonathan and his Transformation agenda. In state after state, Jonathan proclaimed promises like a water fountain unleashes water. Rehashing them here again is unnecessary. Seven months into the dispensation, there is a realisation in the land that not much progress is being made towards achieving the pillars on which he campaigned.

Let me use an example to illustrate how recklessly I believe the Jonathan 2011 election train hobbled. On the issue of power, Jonathan's rhetoric didn't disappoint. His promises pertaining to the entire power supply chain can fill the entire CBN vault. So one would have expected that when Prof. Nnaji, the power minister, was asked a simple question like "how much power will guarantee round-the-clock electricity around Nigeria?" he would have had a ready response. Prof. Nnaji's response, however, was a stunner: "We are presently conducting a load demand study," he said, "and after that we can know what we need." Meaning that up till now, government doesn't even know how much power Nigeria needs, yet they threw around figures during the campaign, making promises, not knowing what they were promising.

One should therefore not be surprised that since the end of the election season, the picture has often been that of a baby's faltering steps as far as fulfilling the promises have been concerned. The government has carried on as though the idea of governance is startling to them. That's why the president has chosen to adopt an issue he never campaigned on, as his major policy thrust in the coming year: fuel subsidy removal.

Perhaps this would serve as a warning to us that in the future, any aspirant scared to take on fellow aspirants in a credible debate cannot and should not be trusted with the burden of leadership. For it is during debates like the NN24 debate which President Jonathan infamously evaded in the build-up to the 2011 elections, that candidates are asked how exactly they intend to fund their promises.

Americans would go to the polls to elect a president in November 2012, yet, a full eleven months to the D-day, the opposition Republican Party candidates have already locked horns in ten debates so far. It's in those debates that many stars have shone and faded based on the public's reactions to candidates' performances. It's in those debates that jokes packaged as ideas have been exposed under the bright glare of media flash bulbs and intense public scrutiny.

Jonathan did not debate other candidates. Jonathan promised us heaven on earth in stump speeches before boisterous crowds. He did not tell us that the carrot which would persuade heaven to relocate to Nigeria was subsidy removal. Yet he's pressing on with it despite its overwhelming rejection by Nigerians. It seems Aso Rock's opulent kitchen has learned a new recipe for disaster and is determined to try it out no matter what. Government must understand that it would be foolish of Nigerians to accept this proposed imposition of hardship. The definition of governmental delusion is demanding and expecting a tabula rasa from Nigerians, a clean slate to hand them another trillion naira when nothing in the far or recent past lends any hope that things would be different this time. Just their word? That's all? No thanks.

A time comes, and maybe it's here already, when grandiose statements on elevated podiums before rented crowds would no longer be tolerated; when the people suddenly realise that they're about to be the butt of someone's jokes yet again and avow that hitherto has this come but no further. When common men and women with rolled sleeves, shorts and wrappers would defy the agbadas and fedoras and say simply: Enough is enough. And they will mean it. That would be the real transformation.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


It’s become a familiar refrain: Whenever serious issues arise in the polity, Nigerians cry out to hear their president speak. But President Jonathan doesn’t talk much, which fires up his critics as they circle and slam. In the odd case when he decides to speak, it fires them up even more as they pass him for “clueless” and “uninspiring”. So how did President Jonathan perform in his latest Obasanjoesque media chat? Well... it depends. The president neither hurt nor helped himself based on his Monday night performance. It’s unlikely that any critic was won over, but for many in the president’s support base, it was a reassuring performance. By any standard, a media chat arranged by the presidency is a big deal. Hence, it would serve the cause of the president better in future, if notice is given to the public anytime a session like that is to be organized, especially if his aim is to reach the widest audience possible.

Shrouded and Scripted
A big question on the lips of many is: Was the interview scripted? Were the questions vetted by the president’s handlers? We can’t be too sure. For one thing, the session wasn’t broadcast live, an attempt perhaps by the president’s aides to mitigate a primetime disaster. Many pundits agree that the president seemed more composed and confident during the chat than at any other time since he assumed office. For that, he had a very friendly and subpar panel led by Stella Din of Silverbird Television to thank. Most of the questions were decidedly softball. It seemed the journalists had an agreement not to press the president for any specifics or ask intelligent follow-up questions. At a point, as they discussed politics, they looked at each other, confused on what to ask, until the lead anchor signalled that they move on to agriculture.

Matters Arising
To his credit, President Jonathan touched a wide range of issues, as he wasn’t given to the sort of long, winding answers favoured by Obasanjo in media chats of yore. But despite its breath, the session was shallow on specifics. Nonsense was made of assurances by President Jonathan’s adviser on new media, Reno Omokri, that “Mr President is presently talking about detailed plans of the FG...”, as the president shied away from making commitments or giving timelines for performance. “I’m not going to talk on any megawatts by any time, but I can assure you that we are working day and night,” he said in response to a question on power. When asked about a particular figure, the president replied that, “I would have to ask my finance minister.” The only definite time-bound commitment made by the president was on rice. “By the end of this administration,’ said Mr President, “we won’t import some food items, especially rice. I tell Nigerians to watch out.”
One other clear fact that emerged from the session was that President Jonathan still doesn’t know enough. Ninety percent of his examples were based on his knowledge of “my constituency, Bayelsa.” Someone needs to tell him that his constituency now is the whole of Nigeria and not just Bayelsa. Two clear winners emerged from the session. The first was the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Adesina, who received glowing tributes from the president, which he capped with, “I believe in the young man.” The second winner was Africa’s richest man, Alhaji Aliko Dangote. The president referred to the businessman so often that, “Dangote says so,” began to trend on twitter in the moments succeeding the interview. The most quotable moment in the interview came when President Jonathan was asked if he regretted introducing the 6-year tenure proposal. "I have no regrets at all," said the president, "Transformation is costly, transformation is painful. There's no leader that wants to transform that won't be criticized." Never has a truer word been spoken, though it's doubtful if anyone outside the president's inner circle would agree that the happenings of the past 100 days resemble transformation. But then, they say 100 days is too soon to judge.
The chat also showed that President Jonathan and Mallam El-Rufai despite their much publicized differences, aren’t so far away from each other on some issues –actually on one issue: wikileaks. They both described it as "beer parlour" gossip or “goship” in the case of the president, which I assume is worse than mere gossip. The president also generously dished a lot of anecdotes. At different points, he tried to prove that in politics, “people don’t think”, by comparing politics to chieftaincy disputes, land issues and lawyers. The high point was when he inimitably described the Libyan issue thus: “It’s like you are carrying a pot, you drop pot and everything scatter,’ he said, as his interviewers nodded, perhaps in understanding. One of the biggest oversights by the media panel, was questioning the president on the Libyan crisis without doing a follow-up on the hundreds of Nigerians being assaulted and terrorised over there by the TNC.
The conclusion of the matter is that based on Monday night's chat, Nigerians did not really cover new grounds or gain better insight on the person of the president or the state of the nation. The president did just enough to rally his base one more time. The chat did not convert critics, turn-off supporters or inspire independents. It was just that –a chat. But at least it was on the record, not beer parlour goship.

Follow this writer on twitter @stanleyazuakola

Sunday, June 19, 2011

LAST WEEK IN THE NEWS (with a pinch of salt)5

1. Once again, the attempt to sell-off NITEL which began since the end of the civil war has failed as OMEN International Consortium couldn’t meet the deadline given by the BPE. Consequently, the FG has decided that the only remaining option is to dash the former national carrier to a lucky company. The DG of the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE), Ms Bolanle Onagoruwa, released a statement last week saying that a lottery will be conducted to choose the winner. Already, a NITEL-MUST-GO bag has been placed at the entrance of the BPE containing the names of interested firms. Some of the companies that have confirmed interest include Indomie, Emzor, PDP, Moukafoam and Geepee tank.

2. The Old Boys Association of the 6th Assembly National School held their inaugural meeting last week at the EFCC lounge. Unfortunately, only two members, Dimeji Bankole and Usman Nafada, were present. Top on the agenda was sports development for their alma-mater. They resolved to take out a ten billion naira loan to construct a bail-jumping complex for the school. They also expressed hope that in their next meeting, other Old Boys like Patricia Etteh, Iyiola Omisore and Ayo Arise will make themselves available.

3. Nigerian websites have been adjudged worldwide to be the most free-thinking and independent-minded in terms of browsing outcomes. A Pinch of Salt decided to investigate for itself, and the results were remarkable. When A Pinch of Salt visited the ASUU website, it was greeted with “This site is permanently on strike.” Boldly written on the website of the Federal Government of Nigeria was “President Yaradua is not around now, please try again later,” while that of the House of Reps said “Site on recess.” The Nigeria Police Force website carried, “Boko Haram is not our friend,” The last stop was the EFCC website where the EFCC eagle logo appeared, carrying these words on its beak, “Muahahahaha, you have been scammed.”

4. A new world record was set in Kenya for the most people reading out loud from the same text in different locations at the same time (about 80000 students participated.) In retaliation, a Nigerian group, Piss for Change Nigeria (PFCN) has vowed that Nigerians would set a new record next week for the most people simultaneously peeing by the roadside. According to the National Coordinator of PFCN, Dr, Apiss Onyou, the aim of the initiative was to spark the imagination of our nation on “letting it all out and never keeping it in ever again.” He advised however that due to security concerns, women in certain states like Borno, Bauchi and Zamfara would not be allowed to piss. Interested participants are expected to take a picture or shoot a video that shows them happily peeing, and upload it on the PFCN website.

5. Last week Thursday was the International Day of the African Child. A pinch of Salt eavesdropped on the prayer made by a Nigerian girl child in the secrecy of her bedroom and was taken with her level of maturity. Here’s the summary:
§  Father I pray that you provide a fine, sweet, nice guy like Wizkid to ask me out. I promise to take care of him well and nothing bad will happen between us in the night.
§  I thank you for the corporate dinner President Jonathan organized for daddy and other business men. I also thank you for the lunch that he had with Uncle Dave and his fellow youths. Father, I pray that you touch his heart to organize a breakfast session for us the Nigerian children too. I know that he will give us money for sweets and it will not be tom-tom.
§  I commit Brother Chisom into your mighty hands even as he writes his JAMB this Saturday. I pray O God that the runs flow well-well in his centre so that he will make mummy and daddy proud.
§  I also pray that you touch facebook people so that they will remove age limit from their site and allow children to join too so that it’s not only Brother Chisom them that will be enjoying it alone.
§  Finally Lord, you remember the last time that there was voters registration exercise, I did not go to school for up to one month. I was very happy. Please Lord, let the INEC people find another excuse to do another one. And please make this one to reach like 90days. I will come back to return all the praise and glory to your holy name.

CROWNED CLOWN THE WEEK: The Cee-Cee for this week goes to Lagos preacher and running mate to Gen. Buhari in the last elections, Pastor Tunde Bakare. It would seem that the reverend has a severe case of malignant loquacity. He preached a message last week where he reportedly used words like “imbecile”, “bastard”, “nincompoop”, “son of a concubine” and many other unprintables, to describe a certain Yoruba politician. The revered reverend is hereby called to order. If he is angling to become the leader of the Yorubas, he should present his case and not resort to defamation. A Pinch of Salt respects the reverend but believes that his utterances this time are uncouth and only fit for a clown.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

LAST WEEK IN THE NEWS (with a pinch of salt)4

1. Representatives, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has decided to zone the “national poisons.” A breakdown of the poisons and the zones given are: power failure (S/East), unemployment (N/East), insecurity (N/West), bad roads (S/West), corruption (S/South) and illiteracy (N/Central). The PDP said the move is borne out of the desire to strictly obey their constitution which enshrines zoning as a pillar for national unity. Already different states within the zones have begun lobbying to be given prime place in the new zoning structure.

2. Since the fall of the IMF president, Dominique Strauss-Khan, some nations have been clamouring for the position to be zoned to the developing world. The Nigerian government on its part has thrown its weight behind the candidature of a veteran member of Any Government in Power (AGIP), Chief Ojo Maduekwe. Sources say Aso Rock sees the move as politically expedient since there might not be a seat for him in President Jonathan’s new cabinet. It is doubtable that any Nigerian has chopped as much national cake as Chief Maduekwe; now his sights are set on international cake. Some of his previous portfolios in chronological order include: Member of House of Representatives, Member of Constituent Assembly, Adviser to Minister of Foreign Affairs, Special Adviser on self-succession to Gen. Abacha, Minister of Culture and Tourism, Minister of Transport, Legal adviser to President Obasanjo, PDP national secretary, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Assistant DG Goodluck/Sambo Campaign organization. However, A Pinch of Salt can safely predict that based on projections so far, Chief Maduekwe will lose comfortably in the race to succeed Dominique Strauss-Khan at the IMF.

3. An interesting research by the University of Lagos revealed that the major hobby of 100 percent of the world’s males is lusting. The landmark research carried out by the University’s Institute of Gross Sexual Misconduct (I-GSM) showed that when a sexually appealing subject was placed before a man, the part of his brain in charge of lust –the blow-duct –produces an internal sound like the horn of an approaching train. The research head, Dr. Innocent Mann, was quoted as saying, “The result was conclusive for 100 percent of all men, 100 percent of the time. The particular act may differ –in-law banging, prostitutes cavorting, mass-servant whooping, hotel maids bonga-bonga or plain old lusting, but the truth remains that all men love their favourite hobby.”

4. The new speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal has assured Nigerians that it would definitely be business as usual in the House for the next four years. To prove it, his second task on assuming office was to adjourn sitting for two weeks so members could enjoy a well deserved rest after a gruelling lobbying process that culminated in him becoming speaker. But first, he set up a 37-member welfare committee to launch the new legislative onslaught on the nation’s resources. Afterwards, he ran to the office of the PDP chairman, where he begged to be forgiven for his “shameful audacity and grievous selfishness in accepting to become speaker.”

5. Meanwhile due to popular demand, A Pinch of Salt has released a compendium titled: Ten Sure-Fire Routes to Your Quick Financial Breakthrough. The ten routes listed include:
  • Become a militant, chop amnesty.
  • Become a legislator, chop treasury.
  • Become a youth leader, chop transport fare.
  • Become a pastor, chop offering.
  • Become a S/South governor, chop 13% derivation.
  • Become a FIFA committee member, chop bribe.
  • Become Nigeria’s power crisis, chop $12 billion.
  • Become a lecturer, chop blocking.
  • Become Buhari’s election tribunal lawyer, chop legal fees.
  • Become Bank-ole, chop loan.

The book will be coming to a bookshop near you. Make sure you grab a copy.

CROWNED CLOWN OF THE WEEK: The Cee-Cee goes to Muhammad Abacha, the son of the late dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha. He had some things to say last week about the recurring problem of the Boko Haram sect in the North. He believes that his father would have curtailed the menace if he was still in charge. To prove it, he asked the journalists to “check through your archive, one of the things he (Abacha) said he wanted to be remembered for was security.” I’m sure Nigerians can confess that we were very secure under the benevolent, watchful goggles of Gen. Abacha. A Pinch of Salt believes that Abacha would have probably joined Boko Haram to terrorise Nigerians and maybe extended their influence to neighbouring countries too. It’s a shame his son is too much of a clown to know that.


Monday, June 6, 2011

LAST WEEK IN THE NEWS (with a pinch of salt)3

  • The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has threatened to embark on an indefinite strike if the Federal government doesn’t immediately declare a new minimum age for the nation. The NLC said this has become necessary due to the alarming number of old men claiming to be youths these days. In a press release, the NLC president said, “In recent times, we have seen men like Nuhu Ribadu and Dele Momodu, both aged 51, claim to be youths. Now President Jonathan has appointed a 50year old man as the secretary to the government of the federation, and they are calling him a youth. The average Nigerian’s life expectancy is 48.4years. If we call a 50year old a youth, it means there are no old men left in this country. That’s nonsense; we must have a defined minimum age in order to progress.” It will be recalled that Nigeria is a signatory to the African Youth Charter which defines a youth as any person between the ages of 15 and 35.

  • An innovative recruitment drive has been launched by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). According to online news outlet, Kalahari reporters, top PDP members have been given targets to each get at least one leading opposition figure to come under the party umbrella. The president himself was asked to get Bola Tinubu; Gov. Babaginda Aliyu of Niger State is to get Nassarawa state CPC governor Alhaji Tanko Almakura; while Senate president David Mark was given the Muhammad Buhari account. Meanwhile, a PDP stalwart has defended the party’s decision to give the ‘Buhari target’ to David Mark instead of Vice-president Namadi Sambo. According to him, “We had to be realistic in order to avoid a situation where it is the VP himself who gets converted. You know he could not deliver his own polling booth in the last elections; is that the person you think can convince a man like Buhari?”

  • The Freedom of Information Bill has finally become law in Nigeria and already, the ripples are being felt. An activist, Comrade Vengeance Greene is invoking his rights under the law to know who actually moved the motion in the 1950s for Nigeria’s independence. There has been controversy in recent times over who (among Anthony Enahoro, Remilekun Fani-Kayode, S.L Akintola and Tafawa Balewa) moved the motion. Comrade Greene has written to Hansard (the official transcripts of proceedings in the British parliament since the 19th century) as well as the Department of Nigerian archives, demanding to see the records. When pressed on why he needed the information, Comrade Greene contended that “we need to know which of those men is responsible for the sufferings of Nigerians. Can you imagine where we would have been today if the British hadn’t left? That motion chased them away. The children of that person must be made to pay –no member of such a family must hold public office in this country again. Ever!”

In a related development, students of one of Nigeria’s tertiary institutions (name withheld) have written to their lecturers to release to them the questions for their forthcoming exams. The school authorities have asked for more time to respond.

  • British magazine, The Economist published an article (Hail The Useful Chief) about President Jonathan on May 26th, in which it said this: “When The Economist requested an interview with the president, we were asked whether we would contribute to his election campaign –or whether the president will pay us.” Following that report, A Pinch of Salt launched an investigation into what –if anything –did Nigerian magazine, Thisday Style pay to have that 2-day interview and breathtaking photo-shoot of first lady Dame Patience Jonathan which appeared in its May 29 Special Inauguration Edition. Our findings reveal that Thisday Style was asked to ensure two things. First, that they photoshop the first lady till she was creamer and finer than Mitchelle Obama and then, that they perform a miracle –publish an 8-page interview/photo splash in which the first lady doesn’t make one grammatical gbagaun. And they did.

  • After being messilessly walloped by the Super Eagles of Nigeria in an international friendly played in Abuja, the Argentine soccer team has petitioned FIFA for a rematch. According to Argentine coach Sergio Batista, the previous five meetings between the teams had the Argentines on top with an aggregate score of 4-1 which Nigeria cancelled in this one match, making them even. He therefore called for a one match decider that will crown the better team once and for all. The Nigerian FA has said that “it doesn’t respond to sore losers.”

CROWNED CLOWN (CEE-CEE) OF THE WEEK: The Cee-Cee goes to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who accused Europe of keeping rain away from Iran. What a schlep! Here’s what he had to say: “They are emptying the clouds so that they will not move our way. This is a premeditated event. We will not permit such a disgraceful thing to take place.” Really, I don’t blame the guy; it’s the dehydration.

You can follow this writer on twitter @stanleyazuakola

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


The story of Emmanuel Bamidele Orevba, the man who died for President Jonathan, is uncommon in these parts. Mr. Orevba wholeheartedly supported and campaigned for the president’s victory in the last elections, saw his dreams come true, but alas his heart gave up in excitement. His was one of the stories President Jonathan expertly wove into an inauguration speech long on inspiration and talking points but a tad short on specifics.

Unlike his predecessor four years ago, President Jonathan spoke like a man with a credible and broad-based mandate. He ran the gamut of the nation’s problems –economic development, power sector reform, infrastructure rebuilding, job creation, quality education, improved healthcare delivery, food security, fiscal responsibility, Niger Delta and national security. Those who waited to hear specifics on strategy though, were left disappointed as he papered the speech with grand rhetoric and high-sounding inspiration. Personally, I found the positive beat of the speech quite fitting.

Just as in his campaigns, the president continued with his transformation catch phrase. “The leadership we have pledged is decidedly transformative.” “The time for lamentation is over. This is the era of transformation.” “The day of transformation begins today.” I agree with the president that we need national transformation. I want to believe in the president’s sincerity and his ability even. But a word of caution –efforts which aren’t total, complete and dramatic, cannot count as transformation. And there my doubts come alive.

The president’s sincerity to transform will be judged on the issue of national unity. “We will not allow anyone exploit differences in creed or tongue, to set us one against another,” he said. Nigerians will be looking up to him for example, hoping that as has been the case sometimes in the past, he will not don the ethnic toga when it suits his politics. That he would fish out and punish the conspirators in our midst.

In the speech, he thanked his wife for “galvanizing and mobilising Nigerian women for democracy.” We would be waiting to see him fulfil his pledge of thirty five percent ministerial and ambassadorial positions to women as a show of appreciation. The president also said that “all Nigerian diplomatic missions abroad are to accord this vision of defending the dignity of humanity the highest priority.” He has the opportunity to show how seriously he meant that by how he deals with the issue surrounding the Nigerian ambassador to Kenya, Ambassador Chijioke Wigwe, who bruised and battered his wife, soiling Nigeria’s image in that country. The man should be removed and his diplomatic immunity stripped so that proper investigations can take place.    

We would judge President Jonathan’s sincerity to transform on corruption and placing the “common good before all else.” He must be the first enlistee in the fight against corruption. The wealth of the nation should be for the commonwealth and not to be indiscriminately and lawlessly doled out to associates and sycophants. We would expect him to dissociate himself from those who have pauperized the nation in the past. We will not stop reminding him of the ceaseless promises he made on the campaign trail. Common good must guide him as well, in his choice of ministers.

President Jonathan said: “Being a Nigerian is a blessing. It is also a great responsibility.” I am sure that Mr. Jonathan knows that it is even more so for him. I agree with him that the “moment is right” for Nigeria’s transformation but I don’t agree that “the signs are heart-warming.” How he handles himself and the economy in the coming months would go a long way in changing the signs. Personally, I would endeavour to heed his call when he says: “Cynicism and scepticism will not help our journey to greatness.” I hope he wouldn’t mind my constructive criticism though. The president ended his speech by saying that he will “never, never let you down.” I can imagine the family of Mr. Emmanuel Bamidele Orevba hoping earnestly that that will be the case. I too am hoping.

LAST WEEK IN THE NEWS (with a pinch of salt)2

1.     The Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, surprised the nation on Children’s day when he announced a nation-wide kids’ storybook writing competition. The emirate is calling on aspiring authors to submit their entries for a kids’ story book titled ‘Sambo, the Latecomer.’ The spokesman of the emirate has strongly denied claims that the book title was chosen to shame Vice President Sambo who arrived four hours late for a meeting with the emir last week. He claimed that the only interest of the emir was to encourage writers to write books that would give readers of all ages, “thought for food.” The winner of the competition will receive a free copy of the book –‘Time Power’ by Brian Tracy.

2.     In the build-up to the 2011 elections, Nigerian youths organized a presidential debate tagged: “Legislators dey chop, D’banj dey chop, what about us?” The president chose then not to debate, but it seems he caught the bait, as he hosted ‘youth leaders’ to a pre-inauguration lunch last week. After the lunch, ‘transport fare’ ranging from N50thousand to N150thousand was given to the visiting youth leaders. The president’s strategist, Mr Oronto Douglas defended the extravaganza. He said: “...considering the severity of the traffic jam expected to follow the president’s presence at the lunch, the youth leaders deserved a private chopper ride home.” Meanwhile, one of the youth leaders and speaker at the event, Mr Chude Jideonwo –who conveniently failed to mention anything about the event to the youth followers he represents –posted a facebook update saying, “I thank God for the grace to speak truth to power and still be paid mega-fully for it.”

3.     Annoyed by the over N1billion earmarked as expenses for President Jonathan’s inauguration, a group of hackers shut down the NDDC website, threatening to do worse if the “waste” continued. The group released an online statement saying, “WeNaijaCyberHactivists are therefore joining voice with other well-meaning Nigerians and we say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.” An activist, Barr. Old News however dismissed the hackers in a telephone chat with A Pinch of Salt, saying “The ones chopping lunch now, is that not how they started? Enough is Enough ko, Enough is Enough ni! Abeg let me hear word jor.” Then he hung up. Efforts to get a reaction from Aso rock failed, but considering the inauguration expenses, they probably do not give a hoot.

4.     A fight broke out last week between Lola Shoneyin (author of the well received Baba Segi’s wives)/Eghosa Imasuen (author of To Saint Patrick) in the blue corner and Dr. Seyi Adigun (ANA Abuja president)/Ikechukwu Okeke (ANA Abuja PRO) in the red corner. The bone of contention was the Abuja launch (not lunch oh) of President Jonathan’s Bring Back the Book Campaign. Ikechukwu Okeke drew first blood by accusing Lola (who was a consultant to the FCT administration for the launch) of three things –shaming Abuja authors at the event by not properly recognizing them so students could clap clap clap for them; elevating Nollywood over Abuja’s Bookyworld and importing mercenaries like Eghosa Imasuen from Benin to come and read for the kids in their Abuja home zone. Lola fired back, describing the man’s grammar as terrible and arguing that ANA lacked understanding of what they are supposed to do, talk less of what her role as consultant was. Eghosa supported her by hollering “Gboyah!” Dr Adigun said Lola did not try and should be called to order, while Lola told him “same to you.” Meanwhile the Nigerian Guild of Readers, Writers and Fight Spectators has called on the FG to immediately constitute a 23-man panel to look into the immediate and remote cause of the brouhaha and submit the findings so that a new committee can draft a white paper on it.

CLOWN OF THE WEEK: The crowned clown for this week is Nigeria’s ambassador to Kenya, Chijioke Wigwe who is accused of bruising and battering his official wife. Despite picture evidence that shows the brutality of this diplomatic pugilist, the man continues to deny it, saying, “I know she wants money which unfortunately I don’t have; I am just a humble civil servant.” In another breath, the humble civil servant accused her of “breaking into his bedroom and taking away some of his Rolex watches.” I wonder how many humble civil servants have Rolex watches stashed in their bedrooms. Pinhead!   

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

LAST WEEK ON THE NEWS (with a pinch of salt)

  • .      Former President Olusegun Obasanjo declared last week that he was retiring from active politics because he expected to be “raptured with the saints,” and there wasn’t any room for partisan politics in heaven where he was headed. He argued that with all his good works plus a degree in theology from the Nigeria Open University, heaven would be making a huge mistake not to take him along on the rapture cruise. It remains to be seen what happens now that the rapture has been postponed indefinitely. Already, politicians from the Southwest have been pleading with the Owu chief to perish the thought of retiring so soon, especially now that the ACN hurricane is sweeping through the land.

  • .      In furtherance of his ongoing consultations with critical stakeholders in the national project, president-elect Goodluck Jonathan hosted ex-convict Lucky Igbinedion in the state house last week. According to the presidential spokesman, ex-prisoners were too powerful a constituency to ignore if the nation must achieve quick transformation in the next four years. It would be recalled that the president had shown a strong commitment to engaging ex-cons when he attended the homecoming thanksgiving of famous Lagos ex-con Chief Olabode George. Goodluck Nigeria!

Still on the 2011 elections:
  • .      OandO SHARES PLUNGE BY OVER 50%: In the aftermath of the April 2011 general elections, it has been discovered that the stocks (votes) of OandO (not Oando) nosedived by over 50% in the presidential elections. OandO (aka Okotie and Owuru), the candidates for FRESH Party and Hope Democratic Party (HDP) respectively saw their votes plummet by more than 50% compared to 2007, when they also ran. Okotie’s votes dropped 54% (74,049 to 34,331), while Owuru’s dropped a whopping 58% (28,519 to 12,023). Already, Owuru has filed action to contest the result at the tribunal but analysts agree that it is an unwise move that would most likely end in futility. Looking ahead to 2015, many have suggested that OandO hang their political boots. Or better still, consolidate and merge into the Fresh Hopes Party (FHP).

  • .      Still basking in the euphoria of their strong showing in the 2011 elections, the Invalid Votes Party (IVP) has released a statement in Abuja saying that “with projected better voter turnout in 2015, the IVP would give the winning party a run for its money.” With total invalid votes of 1,259,506, IVP performed better than every other party apart from the PDP, ACN and CPC. In fact, all the other parties combined managed only 3.6% of the votes, while the IVP alone got 3.2%. The question that arises is that if the IVP wins the elections, who becomes the president? A renowned activist, who did not want his name disclosed for this piece argues that if such a situation were to happen, the INEC chairman would have to randomly pick a president from one of the many Invalid Peoples Home in Nigeria. Meanwhile some have argued that the expected strong showing of the IVP in 2015 is responsible for the clamour that David Mark remains as senate president in order to invoke a doctrine of necessity when the need arises.

Monday, March 28, 2011


Everyone’s talking about the presidential debates –who impressed, who flopped, who weren’t invited, who shunned it, who organized it, who---. It feels suddenly like a debate bug has bitten deep into our national fibre. Politicians, being what they are, have begun scheming and play-acting, masking their fears behind a veneer of tough-talk. The outcome is an intense propaganda war between Team Umbrella (President Jonathan-PDP) and Team Coalition (Buhari-CPC, Shekarau-ANPP and Ribadu-ACN). Let’s examine some questions raised by contending camps in this debate wahala.

1.  Was it wrong to host a debate on the NN24 platform?
     Verdict –NO.
Team Umbrella’s argument that to participate in a debate organized by NN24 –a 24-hour news station hosted exclusively on a foreign network, DSTV –denigrates our own institutions is disingenuous. The location (Lagos), ownership (Tony Dara- founder/CEO), management, programming and staff of NN24 are Nigerian through and through. If our leaders have no qualms delivering breaking news to foreign media outlets, flying to foreign hospitals for treatment, importing foreign toothpicks, leaking information to foreign embassies and stashing money in foreign banks, why then is it difficult to have a debate on a TV station simply because it is hosted on a foreign network? 

Team Umbrella made a good point, however, in mentioning that many Nigerians don’t have access to NN24/DSTV. But even that is insufficient excuse because the contestants could easily have attended the NN24 debate, as well as that of any other organization with a wider reach. What’s the big deal? 

2.     Did President Jonathan have a right to abstain from the NN24 debate?
     Verdict –YES.
Debates aren’t the only avenues available for separating the positions/visions of candidates. Manifestoes, campaign events and the antecedents of the contestants are others. There’s no law binding contestants to face off in televised debates. When former US president Franklin D. Roosevelt declined to take on his Republican challenger Wendell Wilkie in a debate, the heavens didn’t fall; he still won. Obasanjo and Yaradua did not debate anybody. By abstaining, President Jonathan did no wrong, technically or legally.

However it solidified people’s perception of him as being intellectually inept and idealess, especially given the inconvenient revelation that he sought to obtain the debate questions (expo) beforehand. 

3.     Did the opposition have a right to shun the NEDG/BON debate? 
     Verdict –YES.
Well, if the PDP candidate has the right to pick and choose, surely other candidates have same rights. Some pundits have accused the opposition of being reactive and immature. I beg to disagree. The PDP candidate is the incumbent but he is still just another candidate. It would be a psychological blow to opposition supporters if their candidates bend over at his every whim. It was disrespectful of President Jonathan to ditch the NN24 debate without an apology even though his team had actively participated in the pre-debate negotiations.

However I think the opposition’s reaction was overdone. Saying that they “will not honour any debate session with President Jonathan in the 2011 elections,” was a bad move. Let’s face it –they need the free airtime the debate provides more than the president whose campaign has more resources and hence more visibility. They should have shunned only this particular debate, and then publicly hinged future participation on the condition that all parties involved meet again to decide on a date, format and organizers acceptable to all. That would have given them the upper hand –more visibility and more positive press. It would also have been an important service to the electorate who are desperate to see the debate happen. 

4.     Did the opposition have a right to suspect the president’s embrace of the    NEDG/BON debate?
     Verdict –YES.
Reno Omokiri, one of President Jonathan’s fiercest supporters, argued that the opposition candidates showed their lack of national pride by their refusal to participate in the BON debate. That is balderdash. The US presidential debates used to be sponsored by the League of Women Voters (LWV). They withdrew in 1988, saying: “the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign trail charades, devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The league has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”

Withdrawing is an honourable path to take when one suspects an uneven playing field. The president had attempted in the past to lay hold on the debate questions beforehand, what is the guarantee that he wouldn’t/didn’t try again? The opposition must have reasoned that in a country where even judges are not above reproach, prevention is better than cure. As they said in their joint statement, it’s not like the people running the agencies under BON lack integrity, “but the awesome power of the presidency may be too much for them.” I agree.

PS: Are debates not overrated? Mallam Shekarau is touted to have won the last two debates, yet we don’t see any real upsurge in his favour. Do the debates really matter?

Thursday, March 24, 2011


For what it’s worth, President Jonathan is my friend (thanks to facebook). I’m not friends with any of the other leading candidates in this year’s polls. In April, however, my vote would not be going to my friend. Nigerians are desperate for something Goodluck can’t bring –a change of the old order. Four more years of President Jonathan would be four years of more of the same. Here are four reasons why. 

1. To change the old order is to challenge those who benefit from it.
President Jonathan has not challenged them; he has revived them. Under his watch, we’ve seen senile veterans quit retirement and begin to call the shots again (read Obasanjo and Anenih). We’ve seen ineffective state governors ramrod their way through the PDP primaries. He shocked us by sending a representative to the scandalous homecoming of the unrepentant ex-convict, Bode George, and confounded us by withdrawing (or about to withdraw) corruption cases against the Vaswani brothers, Kenny Martins, Julius Berger, Nasir El-Rufai and the Minister of State for Health, Suleiman Bello. In short, under this president, the old guards have waxed stronger and laughed the loudest, an anomaly bound to continue if he wins in April. 

2.     To change the old order is to accept responsibility and hold people responsible.
In a facebook note entitled “tangible reasons to wish you a merry Christmas,” President Jonathan scored himself high on security because according to him, “while there was tension in some parts of the North last Christmas, this Christmas those tensions have eased.” That note, as it turned out, arrived too early, just 48hours before the 2010 Christmas Eve bomb blast which maimed and killed scores of Nigerians in Jos and Maiduguri. Arrests were made as usual; nothing came out of it as usual. Unlike the way he tried to lap up the credit a few days prior, President Jonathan did not take the blame for the security lapses. Nobody was queried or fired. And the security situation continues to worsen. He has not taken responsibility for the roads he’s not constructing or for the non-improvement in power supply under his watch as de facto power minister. Neither has he fired any among his bunch of idling ministers and advisers. Yet the wheels of development appear to be clanging to an inevitable halt. 

3.     To change the old order is to wholly embrace the new.
“Rather than say the youths are the leaders of tomorrow, I am more comfortable in saying that they are the leaders of today and tomorrow,” said President Jonathan in another one of his notes. Yet he declined the invitation by an umbrella youth coalition–WHAT ABOUT US?–to come address youth issues in a debate to be anchored by the award winning Chimamanda Adichie. In fact, he consistently exhibits an inexplicable distaste for debates and intellectual jousts. In February, a group launched an online campaign in which they asked Nigerians to flood President Jonathan’s facebook page with questions on why it seemed nothing was being done to check the recurring senseless killings in Jos. About two hours into the campaign, the page was blocked and made inaccessible for comments, the same page on which the president had previously declared that “opinions on issues, policy and governance can be expressed in an unedited, uncensored way by citizens.” It is clear that President Jonathan is only comfortable in a selective, half-hearted embrace of the new. That’s why he chooses ‘D’banj’ over ‘What about us?’ That’s why he exalts social media only when it is used to proclaim him as Nigeria’s long awaited messiah. That’s why he’s not the kind of president Nigeria needs in 2011. 

4.     To change the old order is to always put Nigeria first.
Any man who seeks to lead this nation must put Nigeria first, over the generator lobby, the toothpick lobby, the rickety car lobby, the multinational firms lobby, the Iranian lobby and so on. He must put Nigeria first over political party or political ambition. President Jonathan puts Nigeria first only sometimes. He has listened to the governors’ forum and stripped the excess crude account from over $10billion to less than $500million, but has refused to listen to his advisory committee’s recommendation that the government’s over-bloated bureaucracy be stripped to reduce the recurrent expenditure. He looks the other way as illegality is perpetuated in Ogun, where minority rule prevails in the state assembly. Putting Nigeria first is more than writing it on the walls of facebook or reciting prepared speeches. President Jonathan doesn’t seem to understand that, or as some people argue, he’s too weak to be strong for Nigeria.

Being a Southern Christian doesn’t disqualify President Jonathan. Neither does his being married to a dame who speaks damn poor grammar nor his membership of the PDP for that matter. What disqualifies him, in my opinion, is that he hasn’t shown himself to represent the break from the past that Nigerians yearn for. So, for all those who keep asking, “No, I would not vote for Goodluck.” 

Saturday, January 15, 2011


The management of the University of Benin dispelled rumours last week that it intended to suspend ongoing semester examinations in order for students to participate in the voters registration exercise. Their decision to proceed with the exams could well mean that most of the over 60000 students of the university would be unable to register and hence denied the right to vote in the April elections.

During the last voters registration exercise in 2007, some friends of mine opted to register in the university campus. On the day of the elections, the school wasn’t in session and their voters’ cards were useless in other polling stations. Even those who resided in Benin could not make it to the campus to vote because movement was restricted. It would be foolish to repeat the same mistake but as it stands, students are left without a choice. The two weeks of the registration is the peak period of the semester exams. For non-indigene students like me, travelling out of Benin would be a suicide expedition.

I first raised this issue in November with a professor of mine. His response was, “Go and be voting nah. We are talking about writing exams, you are talking about voting. It’s like you don’t want to graduate abi?” I told my friends then that he did not know what he was saying. He obviously did.

I can understand why the management would want to carry on with the exams. The university calendar was significantly affected last year by strikes, coupled with some poor planning and sheer bad luck. Besides, the university also intends to host the next NUGA Games sometime in March, after which would be the April elections. It is obvious that there is very little room to manoeuvre and I understand that. But I disagree that my franchise should be sacrificed on the altar of a balanced calendar, no matter how painful the alternative would be.

I think it is bad judgement to manoeuvre with my right to choose the leaders who would act on my behalf for the next four years; the leaders whose policies would largely determine if my calendar would be further disrupted these next four years. The option of registering in Benin leaves me at too great a disadvantage. The governorship candidates of my state, Rivers, would not be on the ballot in Benin. Neither can I vote for my senator nor my representative in Benin. I lose either way.

The university management’s haste in dispelling the rumour on the purported suspension of the exams tells the students that we have two unfair choices: Shut up or bear the consequences aka fail/forfeit the exams. None of those choices suit me but they don’t seem to care. I am just another voice in the wind. All I can do is whisper and plead and expect that the university authorities rescind their decision and do the right thing. Suspending the exams, even for only ten out of the fourteen allotted days, would go a long way. I and all the other students who would be disenfranchised if this edict is seen through have only one vote each in April. But the vote is ours. It should not be taken away.