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A National Insult Rejected By Okey Ndibe.


Okey Ndibe

Okey Ndibe

For those unaware of its source, I might as well state from the outset that the title of this column is not original. It’s adapted from a statement released last week by Wole Soyinka. The statement, which bore the Nobel laureate’s stamp of revulsion at moral impunity, chastised the Goodluck Jonathan administration for its bizarre line-up of 100 personalities worthy of honor at a ceremony marking the centenary of Nigeria’s amalgamation.

The centenary list, typical of such rolls in Nigeria, was a hodgepodge. It bracketed imperial personages, so-called “contributors to the making of Nigeria”—including Queen Elizabeth 11 of England and Lord Frederick Lugard, first British overseer of the forcibly amalgamated territory—with such notable nationalist fighters as Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, and Anthony Enahoro. It squeezed Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Michael Imoudu, Aminu Kano, Kenneth Onwuka Dike, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, John Pepper Clark, Chike Obi, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Dagogo Fubara, and Moshood Kashimawo Abiola into the same tent as Sani Abacha. In an even weirder development, Mr. Abacha shows up—along with Yakubu Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida—under the category of “Outstanding Promoters of Unity, Patriotism and National Development”.

How did we quickly forget that Abacha’s looting of public funds from the vaults of the Central Bank of Nigeria was a patriotic act? Or that he gave his cronies licenses to import toxic fuel into Nigeria because he so fiercely loved Nigerians and fervently desired their development? Or that Babangida’s annulment of the June 12 presidential election was a recipe for Nigeria’s unity?

Anybody who only followed the Aso Rock version of the centenary could have run away with the impression that Nigerians are ever grateful to the coalition of British merchants, bureaucrats, adventurers and royals who cobbled their country together—and named it Nigeria. But the deeper truth lies elsewhere. There were two sets of memory at play last week, two attitudes to Nigeria—a so-called nation bereft of a national spirit, a space that is unformed, ill-formed and malformed.

Those who preside today over the looting of billions of dollars of Nigeria’s resources may deceive themselves that the 100th anniversary of the amalgamation of Nigeria is an occasion for celebration. Many—I’d argue, most—Nigerians think otherwise. For several months, the Internet was abuzz with speculations that the legal instruments of amalgamation stipulated one hundred years as the event’s expiry date. With a great sense of expectancy, many looked forward to the formal cessation of the tragic, nightmarish, and blood-soaked experiment called Nigeria. Was the Jonathan administration unaware of this swell of hope that Nigeria should cease?

In the build-up to the centenary, the band of Islamist extremists known as Boko Haram carried out one of their most savage and outrageous attacks yet. They stormed a secondary school in Yobe under the cover of darkness, slaughtered 60 boys, and set their victims’ dorms on fire. In any serious country, one such act would forever scar the collective conscience, provoking a resolve of “Never again!” Not in Nigeria, a place where a human life is worth far less than a chicken. How did Nigeria’s “transformational” leadership respond to this latest callousness by Boko Haram? It responded in its accustomed soft, indifferent manner. It issued the same tiresome, obligatory condemnation of the carnage, nothing more. The Presidency did not consider the shocking abbreviation of so many innocent lives an occasion to devise and announce a bold, effective plan to assure the safety of all citizens, especially school children, in the Boko Haram-plagued, terror-infested areas. It was, as usual, a do-nothing stance.

But then the government did something even worse than habitual abdication. Apparently, Reno Omokri, Mr. Jonathan’s point man on social media, orchestrated a release that sought to link Nigeria’s suspended Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, with a spike in Boko Haram’s gruesome activities, including the Yobe slaughter. Apparently Mr. Omokri did not reckon with the fact that many Nigerians are quite adept at cyber intelligence, deft at the kind of detective work that can unmask those who exploit the seeming anonymity of the Internet to slander others. Mr. Sanusi is the Jonathan administration’s Public Enemy Number One. The sacked CBN Governor committed the unpardonable sin of telling the world that a major agency of the Nigerian state had failed to deposit $20 billion earned from crude oil exports. In response, the government accused Mr. Sanusi of squandering the funds of the bank he ran, awarding contracts without following requisite laws, and dispensing Nigeria’s funds as if they were his private treasury.

If Mr. Sanusi committed these crimes, I’d like to see him prosecuted, convicted and punished. I’d also like to see the administration account fully for the funds that Mr. Sanusi alleged to be missing. Here’s what the government doesn’t have a right to do: sending Mr. Omokri, its cyber warrior-in-chief, to concoct and disseminate horrific lies against Mr. Sanusi or any Nigerian. Unless Mr. Omokri can demonstrate that he did not mastermind the craven forgery, he ought to resign immediately. Or be fired.

It’s tragic that the Nigerian government, from the president to his aides, continues to fiddle while the country burns. It’s shameful that President Jonathan and Nigerian legislators prioritize a phantom war—going after gays—when the country is besieged by mindless, well-armed zealots who see unarmed Nigerians, including children, as fair game. How does the targeting of gays solve Nigeria’s infrastructural problems? Are gays the reason elections are massively rigged in Nigeria; public funds looted with depraved greed; our educational system a shambles; our healthcare system ghastly?

Nigeria fought a civil war that claimed anything from one to three million lives. It was a war to defend a British-made idea, to uphold the sanctity of a space wrought by British imperial fiat. The mantra was: To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done. To their credit, the British had an excellent reason for keeping Nigeria one. Nigeria was their largest holding in Africa (and their second largest anywhere, after India). It was a prodigious source of raw materials for British firms as well as a huge dumping ground for British-made goods. It made sound sense, from the British point of view, to keep Nigeria one.

As British rule ended, the Nigerian elite who inherited the spoils of the state adopted as an article of faith the idea that Nigeria must remain one entity. But they shied away from asking the hard questions. What’s so sacred about Nigeria? Why should we remain one? What ends are served by remaining one? What does Nigeria represent? And—if unity was not negotiable—then what must be the irreducible terms of our engagement?

I’ve argued before that a central part of Nigeria’s tragedy arises from the fact that the country fought a costly war, but has never permitted the lessons of that war to inform its conduct, to shape its ethos. It’s as if we went to war to defend the right of a few to continue to plunder, to continue to feed fat at the expense of the rest of us, to perpetually rig themselves into power, and to add their contemptible names to every roll of honor, even though they refrain from doing anything that is remotely honorable.

As Mr. Jonathan feted the so-called giants of Nigeria’s centenary, a different, oppositional narrative played itself out. The collective memory of the vast majority of Nigerians beheld Nigeria, not as a splendid monument, but as a sordid, wretched edifice. They saw what Mr. Jonathan and his ilk refuse to see: that the Nigerian state is a provocation, a moral affront, a failed, misery-dispensing state.

Soyinka captured part of the spirit of that deep split in the way Nigeria is regarded. He acted bravely by excusing himself from the insouciant official ritual that amounted to an insult to the outraged sensibilities of the majority of Nigerians. In a statement of renunciation titled “Canonization of Terror,” Mr. Soyinka called attention to the wasted lives of the students in Yobe. He drew our attention to “the entire ethical landscape into which this nation has been forced by insensate leadership.” He would not succumb to the summons to collective amnesia, the only condition under which an ogre like Sani Abacha would be invited to arise, ghost-like, to accept national veneration as a patriotic champion of Nigerian “unity and national development.” Stated Mr. Soyinka: “Under that ruler, torture and other forms of barbarism were enthroned as the norm of governance. To round up, nine Nigerian citizens, including the writer and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa, were hanged after a trial that was stomach churning even by the most primitive standards of judicial trial, and in defiance of the intervention of world leadership.”

In the end, Soyinka spoke for me—and I suggest, for many other enlightened people—when he stated, “I reject my share of this national insult.”

Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe




The Theory Of A Great By Hannatu Musawa.

Hannatu Musawa

Hannatu Musawa

The 19th century historian, Thomas Carlyle was a promoter of the Great man theory, the philosophical concept that the history of the world was primarily shaped by the individual decisions and orders of great men and personalities. His viewpoint was based on the premise that every event in history stems from the choices made and the acts done by influential individuals who used power in a manner that produced an important historical impression. While the majority of modern day philosophers diverge from this Great man theory with the idea that several world events emerge from a series of separate developments, it goes without saying that those separate developments must have been created by the decisions of individuals. Proponents of this chain of thought tend to attribute a character of inspirational personal attributes and almost a heroism to those individuals that may have shaped history. Among the men who shaped history, it is those that exhibit a sense of decency and struggle for the betterment of the majority that time will inevitably judge as heroes.

One man of such greatness was the late great Chief Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi, who died four year ago on the 5th of September 2009 at age 71. Only a handful of times in recent history was Nigeria thrust into the throws of great grief and mourning than with the passing of this great and wonderful beacon of truth. As we mark the four year anniversary of his passing, Nigerians are still united in despair and desire to pay utmost respect to this ordinary, yet extraordinary man who soared above his peers and dedicated his life to altruism and candour. Like very few in this country, Chief Fawehinmi stood as a brilliant, bright shinning light in a land literally and morally steeped in darkness. He was the very essence of duty, of compassion, of justice and selfless humanity. He represented hope to a people sinking deep in despondency and became the role model of what a good leader and a good Nigerian should be.

For much of his adult life, Chief Fawehinmi stood his ground on all that he believed in. He stood tall and confident against a decayed institution because he was one of the very few Nigerians who actually ‘came to equity with clean hands’. Oh and how solid the ground Chief Fawehinmi stood on was! His ground was his ethics, his knowledge was his power. And he used that power to do good, alot of good, to shun evil and take individual responsibility for his actions. Up till the time he faced death, he never abandoned any of the qualities that made him so great or the elements that were to become the basis of his life and legacy. In many respects, Chief Fawehinmi belonged to an exceptional, almost extinct few, such as Herbert Maculey, Aminu Kano and Micheal Imodu, whom had the creed and represented the remnant of an old specie of true nationalists that stood up for the marginalised and fought for the heart and soul of Nigeria.

There is an old saying that goes; ‘a person never misses the water till the well runs dry”. Whereas this may be the case in most situations where people do not appreciate what they have until it is gone, this wasn’t the case with Chief Fawehinmi. Through his work, from his struggles, due to his sacrifices, we have always known the gem we had in this precious Nigerian son. From the time he took up his first case in 1965, it was evident that he was aware of the need for social justice and he used the rule of law to advance this cause. He was an unrepentant democrat and an advocate of a better Nigeria for the greatest majority of the people. His whole life was given over to helping the poor, the needy, the downtrodden and standing for the truth.

Not only was he largely responsible for the mass registration of political parties in our system by taking INEC to court for failing to register smaller parties, he made giant strides in the legal practice, that was his mainstay in life. The greatest contribution arguably to have been made to Nigerian legal practice is the establishment of the Nigerian Weekly Law Reports, which he researched and developed for the enhancement of the jurisprudence of the practice. But for Chief Fawehinmi’s contribution in this respect, Nigerian court practice would still have been left at the mercy of foreign law reports, which he has always asserted as being not relevant or helpful to the development of our autochthonous case law. Without doubt, Chief Fawehinmi did spectacular things, wonderful things. One wonders what the story of Nigerian legal practice and sincere human rights development will eventually be now that he is gone and one hopes that his contributions to the practice of law and human rights will continue to endure.

This grand commander and defender of human rights did much to advance the cause of Nigerian students throughout his career; even having a rule in his chambers that no student would be charged fees when they came for help. Whenever a student was unjustly expelled for challenging certain policies in our universities, Chief Fawehinmi was always ready to face the institution and enforce the student’s right through the court of law. From the University of Nigeria, NSUKKA, to the the University of Lagos, to the University of Maiduguri, Chief Fawehinmi provided students in distress with the legal, financial and ethical support they needed, and even at a time he converted his chambers into the headquarters of the of National Union of Nigerian Students.

Of all the ironies about the life of Chief Fawehinmi, maybe the greatest was the fact that at the time he died those who disagreed with him ideologically and in principal were the first to position themselves as chief mourners. One can only imagine how Chief Fawehinmi would have felt at the flood of foes and friends that trooped to his residence to pay homage to his memory and eulogize him, especially those that were responisble for his incarceration, persecution and maltreatment while he was in the flesh.

Despite the fact that in his lifetime, he had on one occasion disagreed with the Nigerian Bar Association, he was a staunch and dedicated member of the goals of which the association was established for. The Nigerian Bar Association owes Chief Gani Fawehinmi a compelling obligation to ensure that all the good work he did in his lifetime would not become otiose. The history development and struggle of student unionism cannot be complete without mentioning his unrelenting and unflinching support for them. The leader and lone voice of opposition in Nigeria is well and truely gone! It is our hope that the community of the present day nationalists will not be dismembered due to the exit of this great humanist.

One of the greatest legacies left by Chief Fawehinmi was the path of truth, honesty, nobility, selflessness, patriotism and integrity that he laid for us; that he showed us.

Late chief Gani Fawehinmi belonged to the largest human family, his immediate biological family, the student unions, the Nigerian workers, the courageous voices of the genuine opposition in the political spectrum and the international human rights community that recognised him for his unaloid pursuits of the rights of every human being. As we mark the anniversary of his passing, we thank God for the life of this great Nigerian and it is our hope and prayer another Gani-like personality will continue his legacy. May his soul and the souls of all the faithfully departed rest in perfect peace.

“Chief Gani Fawehinmi, only now that you are gone do we truly appreciate what we are now without. The strength of the message you gave us through your struggles compels us to be grateful that you came along. Without your God-given sense of passion for your beliefs, Nigerians would likely be wrapped up in ignorance and unmitigated deception. Continue to rest in peace, Chief Gani Fawehinmi. You truely did the best you could. Those of us you touched will never forget you. May your friends and family continue to feel God’s peace on them and may your legacy help Nigerians change their destiny. We give thanks for your life”.

The critics of Carlyle’s Great Man theory were staunch in their belief that reducing history to the decisions of individuals is utterly primitive reasoning because every man in history was a product of their social environment and before a man can remake his society, his society must make him. Perhaps this is a more likely notion, especially when one considers other aspects of life such as economic, societal and enviromental influences which are just as or more significant to historical change. However, despite one’s view as to what determines history, it is without question that once every so often humanity is blessed with the highest specimen of man. Without more reasoning Chief Gani was truely one of those men. While we don’t have to wait for history to tell us his effect on this country or the legacy he left us with, the general theory is most likely be that, “Chief Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi will simply always be one of the greatest men Nigeria has ever seen!”

Article Written By Hannatu Musawa

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The Revolution We Need By Omozuwa Gabriel Osamwonyi.

By Omozuwa Gabriel Osamwonyi

Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno state spoke truth to Nigeria’s self-absorbed political elite during the week, when he received a 32-member Senate Joint Committee on the Massacre in Baga. It is reported in mainline media, he told the committee, which was in the state on a fact-finding mission that, “the nation can be consumed by a revolution.” Noting that, in the near future, Nigerian “youths will chase politicians out of power,” if the socio-economic malaises fuelling violence in the country are not adequately addressed: “Only and until we address some of these issues, believe me, the future is very bleak for all of us as the current crisis is just an appetizer of things to come. Very soon, the youths of this country will be chasing us away.”

He further noted that, the political class is indifferent to the plight of the poor, but animated by “sit-tightism” and the desire to acquire more things: “How we can perpetuate ourselves in power. How much we can steal, how many mansions we can buy in Florida, Dubai and London, this is what agitates the minds of the elite of this country, including you and I.”

Indeed, all is not well in Nigeria. For instance, governance is a practice of smoke and mirrors. The fuel subsidy crisis showed how our politics elevates falsity, impoverishes the masses and debases our common humanity. Leaders at various strata of our society seem to have chosen an education in corruption, instead of one in service. As a result, the Nigerian state is weak.  Public institutions are inefficient and seen as mere “avenues for chop-chop.” And public servants are perceived as parasitic sleazebags.

The recent report by the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, entitled, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012” lends credence to this popular perception. The report, which was presented to Congress, noted that Nigeria is steeped in “massive, widespread and pervasive corruption.”

It is hilarious that the factuality of this report is now a subject of debate in certain circles. One would have thought it would strengthen our collective resolve to urgently extirpate corruption and ingrain probity in all facets of our national life. We do not promote our national interest by discarding such reports without due consideration. They deserve objective scrutiny, even when they do not capture some of our seeming successes in the fight against graft, or if they are manifestly inspired by Euro-American pessimism about our prospect for self-determined development.

Let it be said: We do not need violent revolution to move Nigeria forward. We do not need youths to chase politicians out of offices before everyone can truly enjoy the dividends of democracy. We do not need a campaign of violent negativism to bridge the high income inequality between the haves and have-nots. We do not need ethno-religious warlords to determine our secular orientation as a nation state.

What we need is simple. We need leaders who are responsive to the legitimate aspirations of the citizenry. We direly need leaders who are animated by the desire to elevate the socio-economic status of the poor. We need leaders who will approach youth empowerment and wealth creation from a programmatic stance and not the occasional doling out of handouts. We need leaders who will massively revamp our dilapidated infrastructure.

One way to ensure Governor Shettima’s prophetic  warning does not become a reality is for us to concertedly work at creating a society that elevates principles above people, justice above tribal sentiments, work above wealth and the common good above the narrow self-interest of the political elite. Toward this end, it will be profitable for leaders to glean wisdom from the political legacy of Aminu Kano.

The enlightened politics of Aminu Kano gave hope for a better life to “Talakawa” (common people).  We need leaders like him who are dealers in hope. For him, the purpose of power was to empower people to pursue their concepts of the good life.  Alan Feinstein noted that Aminu Kano knew “the ultimate in self-gratification is self-denial for the common welfare.”  Sadly, many leaders do not know this truth, or cannot practice it.  Therefore, many Nigerians are disillusioned. People without hope are likely to engage in violence for mere bread and butter.  It takes hope to cope in times of economic crunch and social turmoil.

The revolution we need is of the mind. Our national psyche is skewed in favour of the immediate. We need to do away with “present-mindedness.” This is imperative because, a people who cannot see beyond now, cannot work together and create a better future.  No nation has ever developed significantly by getting overly fixated with gratifying the immediate needs of the power class, or the underclass.

The revolution we need is ethical. The present ethical basis of the Nigerian society cannot foster sustainable economic development for all. The impudicity of Nigeria’s elite, which is well-known around the world, has entangled us in the web of poverty, backwardness, social injustice, crony capitalism and political instability. Our checkered political history shows: Sustainable national advancement is elusive, when the ethics of transparency and public spiritedness do not sufficiently influence policy formation and implementation. I dare to say that as long as many public programmes and projects are conceptualised and executed to advance the narrow self-interest of the power class, Nigeria will keep descending the slope of self-annihilation.  We need to collectively, urgently and hugely revamp the ethical framework of state-society and leader-follower engagements.

The revolution we need is respect for differences. In a multi-cultural and multi-religious society, like ours, provincialism breeds animosity and debars progress.  Every one of us, even the grassroots man must cultivate the attitude of a savvy player in the global arena. By so doing, we will pleasurably cross social, political, ideological, religious and economic borders without changing our identities, or feeling our sense of wellbeing is threatened.


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