Former Military President, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, has denied a statement in which he asked President Muhammadu Buhari not to contest the 2019 election.
Responding to the widely circulated statement issued by his spokesman, Mr Kasim Afegbua, Babangida said the statement did not tally with his views on national issues.
‘My attention has been drawn to a report making rounds especially online in which I was quoted as advising Nigerians not to vote for President Muhammadu Buhari in the coming 2019 election.
‘Not only is the said statement untrue, it is in its entirety, an inaccurate representation of my view of the state of our dear Nation’, he said.
He was quoted as asking President Buhari to step down for digital leadership in 2019.
With this denial, Babangida has tried to distance himself from the stance of another former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who late last month wrote an 18-page letter, accusing the President of poor handling of the economy and clannishness.
Babangida also said as a former head of state he had access to make his views known to the President without resorting to open letter.
Here is the full text of the letter:
My attention has been drawn to a report making rounds especially online in which I was quoted as advising Nigerians not to vote for President Muhammadu Buhari in the coming 2019 election.
Not only is the said statement untrue, it is in its entirety, an inaccurate representation of my view of the state of our dear Nation.
As a former President and an elder statesman, I have existing communication channels through which I reach out to President Muhammadu Buhari on topical issues of national importance, should there be the need so to do.
The media, both online or mainstream and indeed the unsuspecting public are advised to disregard such false reports.
Thank you and God Bless you all.
Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (Rtd) (GCON) Former Military President Federal Republic of Nigeria
Hilltop Mansion Minna, Niger state. 4th February 2018.
IBB urges Buhari to step down in 2019 for digital leadership
…laments ceaseless flow of blood
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Former President Ibrahim Babangida has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to step down in 2019 to allow a generational shift that should reinvent the wheel of leadership and spur healing in the land.
Babangida in a special statement issued on Sunday also lamented the failure of the All Progressives Congress, APC to advance its change mantra in several areas of the polity saying that the party failed to push ahead with the programme to restructure the country as canvassed to Nigerians.
Babangida in the statement issued on his behalf by his spokesman, Prince Kassim Afegbua particularly lamented the flow of blood in the country noting that the unity that himself and others sought to keep was daily being drawn to the seams by the killings across the land.
Babangida also lamented the herdsmen/farmers clashes as he called for the adoption of ranching as a way of stemming the crisis. He also fumed against the recycling of analogue leadership as he called for a more youthful and digital leadership to push the country in the comity of nations.
Babangida who governed Nigeria as military head of state between 1985 and 1993 while lamenting the recycling of analogue leadership said:
“In the past few months and weeks, I have played host to many concerned Nigerians who have continued to express legitimate and patriotic worry about the state of affairs in the country. Some of them have continued to agonize about the turn of events and expressly worried why we have not gotten our leadership compass right as a country with so much potential and opportunity for all. Some, out of frustration, have elected to interrogate the leadership question and wondered aloud why it has taken this long from independence till date to discover the right model on account of our peculiarities. At 57, we are still a nation in search of the right leadership to contend with the dynamics of a 21st century Nigeria.
Having been privileged to preside over this great country, interacted with all categories of persons, dissected all shades of opinions, understudied different ethnic groupings; I can rightfully conclude that our strength lies in our diversity. But exploring and exploiting that diversity as a huge potential has remained a hard nut to crack, not because we have not made efforts, but building a consensus on any national issue often has to go through the incinerator of those diverse ethnic configurations. Opinions in Nigeria are not limited to the borders of the political elite; in fact, every Nigerian no matter how young or old, has an opinion on any national issue. And it is the function of discerning leadership to understand these elemental undercurrents in the discharge of state responsibilities.
WHERE WE ARE.
There is no gainsaying the fact that Nigeria is at a major crossroads at this moment in its history; the choices we are going to make as a nation regarding the leadership question of this country and the vision for our political, economic and religious future will be largely determined by the nature or kind of change that we pursue, the kind of change that we need and the kind of change that we get. A lot depends on our roles both as followers and leaders in our political undertakings. As we proceed to find the right thesis that would resolve the leadership question, we must bear in mind a formula that could engender national development and the undiluted commitment of our leaders to a resurgence of the moral and ethical foundations that brought us to where we are as a pluralistic and multi-ethnic society.
Nigeria, before now, has been on the one hand our dear native land, where tribes and tongues may differ but in brotherhood we stand, and on the other hand a nation that continues to struggle with itself and in every way stumbling and willful in its quest to become a modern state, starting from the first republic till date. With our huge investments in the African emancipation movements and the various contributions that were made by our leadership to extricate South Africa from colonial grip, Nigeria became the giant of Africa during that period. But having gone through leadership failures, we no longer possess the sobriety to claim that status. And we all are guilty.
We have experimented with Parliamentary and Presidential systems of government amid military interregnum at various times of our national history. We have made some progress, but not good enough to situate us on the pedestal we so desirously crave for. It is little wonder therefore that we need to deliberately provoke systems and models that will put paid to this recycling leadership experimentation to embrace new generational leadership evolution with the essential attributes of responsive, responsible and proactive leadership configuration to confront the several challenges that we presently face.
In 2019 and beyond, we should come to a national consensus that we need new breed leadership with requisite capacity to manage our diversities and jump-start a process of launching the country on the super highway of technology-driven leadership in line with the dynamics of modern governance. It is short of saying enough of this analogue system. Let’s give way for digital leadership orientation with all the trappings of consultative, constructive, communicative, interactive and utility-driven approach where everyone has a role to play in the process of enthroning accountability and transparency in governance.
I am particularly enamored that Nigerians are becoming more and more conscious of their rights; and their ability to speak truth to power and interrogate those elected to represent them without fear of arrest and harassment. These are part of the ennobling principles of representative democracy. As citizens in a democracy, it is our civic responsibility to demand accountability and transparency. Our elected leaders owe us that simple but remarkable accountability creed. Whenever we criticize them, it is not that we do not like their guts; it is just that as stakeholders in the political economy of the country, we also carry certain responsibilities.
In the past few months also, I have taken time to reflect on a number of issues plaguing the country. I get frightened by their dimensions. I get worried by their colourations. I get perplexed by their gory themes. From Southern Kaduna to Taraba state, from Benue state to Rivers, from Edo state to Zamfara, it has been a theatre of blood with cake of crimson. In Dansadau in Zamfara state recently, North-West of Nigeria, over 200 souls were wasted for no justifiable reason. The pogrom in Benue state has left me wondering if truly this is the same country some of us fought to keep together. I am alarmed by the amount of blood-letting across the land. Nigeria is now being described as a land where blood flows like river, where tears have refused to dry up. Almost on a daily basis, we are both mourning and grieving, and often times left helpless by the sophistication of crimes. The Boko Haram challenge has remained unabated even though there has been commendable effort by government to maximally downgrade them. I will professionally advise that the battle be taken to the inner fortress of Sambisa Forest rather than responding to the insurgents’ ambushes from time to time.
In the fullness of our present realities, we need to cooperate with President Muhammadu Buhari to complete his term of office on May 29th, 2019 and collectively prepare the way for new generation leaders to assume the mantle of leadership of the country. While offering this advice, I speak as a stakeholder, former president, concerned Nigerian and a patriot who desires to see new paradigms in our shared commitment to get this country running. While saying this also, I do not intend to deny President Buhari his inalienable right to vote and be voted for, but there comes a time in the life of a nation, when personal ambition should not override national interest. This is the time for us to reinvent the will and tap into the resourcefulness of the younger generation, stimulate their entrepreneurial initiatives and provoke a conduce environment to grow national economy both at the micro and macro levels.
Contemporary leadership has to be proactive and not reactive. It must factor in citizens’ participation. Its language of discourse must be persuasive not agitated and abusive. It must give room for confidence building. It must build consensus and form aggregate opinion on any issue to reflect the wishes of the people across the country. It must gauge the mood of the country at every point in time in order to send the right message. It must share in their aspirations and give them cause to have confidence in the system. Modern leadership is not just about “fighting” corruption, it is about plugging the leakages and building systems that will militate against corruption. Accountability in leadership should flow from copious examples. It goes beyond mere sloganeering. My support for a new breed leadership derives from the understanding that it will show a marked departure from recycled leadership to creating new paradigms that will breathe fresh air into our present polluted leadership actuality.
My intervention in the governance process of Nigeria wasn’t an accident of history. Even as a military government, we had a clear-cut policy agenda on what we needed to achieve. We recruited some of the best brains and introduced policies that remain some of the best in our effort to re-engineer our polity and nation. We saw the future of Nigeria but lack of continuity in government and of policies killed some of our intentions and initiatives. Even though we did not provide answers to all the developmental challenges that confronted us as at that time, we were not short of taking decisions whenever the need arose.
GROWING INSECURITY ON OUR HANDS.
The unchecked activities of the herdsmen have continued to raise doubt on the capacity of this government to handle with dispatch, security concerns that continue to threaten our dear nation; suicide bombings, kidnappings, armed banditry, ethnic clashes and other divisive tendencies. We need to bring different actors to the roundtable. Government must generate platform to interact and dialogue on the issues with a view to finding permanent solutions to the crises. The festering nature of this crisis is an inelegant testimony to the sharp divisions and polarizations that exist across the country. For example, this is not the first time herdsmen engage in pastoral nomadism but the anger in the land is suggestive of the absence of mutual love and togetherness that once defined our nationality. We must collectively rise up to the occasion and do something urgently to arrest this drift. If left unchecked, it portends danger to our collective existence as one nation bound by common destiny; and may snowball into another internecine warfare that would not be good for nation-building.
We have to reorient the minds of the herdsmen or gun-men to embrace ranching as a new and modern way to herd cattle. We also need to expand the capacity of the Nigeria Police, the Nigeria Army, the Navy and Air Force to provide the necessary security for all. We need to catch up with modern sophistication in crime detection and crime fighting. Due to the peculiarity of our country, we must begin community policing to close the gaps that presently exist in our policing system. We cannot continue to use old methods and expect new results. We just have to constructively engage the people from time to time through platforms that would help them ventilate their opinions and viewpoints.
THE CHANGE MANTRA
When the ruling party campaigned with the change mantra, I had thought they would device new methods, provoke new initiatives and proffer new ways to addressing some of our developmental problems. By now, in line with her manifesto, one would have thought that the APC will give fillip to the idea of devolution of powers and tinker with processes that would strengthen and reform the various sectors of the economy. Like I did state in my previous statement late last year, devolution of power or restructuring is an idea whose time has come if we must be honest with ourselves. We need to critically address the issue and take informed positions based on the expectations of the people on how to make the union work better. Political parties should not exploit this as a decoy to woo voters because election time is here. We need to begin the process of restructuring both in the letter and spirit of it.
For example, I still cannot reconcile why my state government would not be allowed to fix the Minna-Suleja road, simply because it is called Federal Government road, or why state governments cannot run their own policing system to support the Federal Police. We are still experiencing huge infrastructural deficit across the country and one had thought the APC-led Federal Government would behave differently from their counterparts in previous administrations. I am hesitant to ask; where is the promised change?
At this point of our national history, we must take some rather useful decisions that would lead to real development and promote peaceful co-existence among all the nationalities. We must be unanimous in what we desire for our country; new generation leadership, result-driven leadership, sound political foundation, demonetization of our politics, enhanced internal democracy, elimination of impunity in our politics, inclusiveness in decision-making, and promotion of citizens’ participation in our democratic process. The search for that new breed leadership must start now as we prepare for 2019 election.
I get worried when politicians visit to inform me about their aspirations and what you hear in terms of budgetary allocations for electoral contest does not cover voters’ education but very ridiculous sub-heads. A typical aspirant in Nigeria draws up budget to cover INEC, Police, Army and men and officers of the Civil Defense, instead of talking of voters’ education, mobilization and sensitization. Even where benchmarks are set for electoral expenditure, monitoring and compliance are always difficult to adhere to. We truly need to reform the political system. And we must deliberately get fresh hands involved for improved participation.
We need new ways and new approaches in our political order. We need a national rebirth. We need a rebranded Nigeria and rebranded politics. It is not so much for the people, but for the institutions that are put in place to promote our political engagements. We must strengthen the one man one vote mantra. It is often ridiculous for me when people use smaller countries in our West Africa sub-region as handy references of how democracy should be. It beggars our giant of Africa status.
The next election in 2019 therefore presents us a unique opportunity to reinvent the will and provoke fresh leadership that would immediately begin the process of healing the wounds in the land and ensuring that the wishes and aspirations of the people are realized in building and sustaining national cohesion and consensus. I pray the Almighty Allah grant us the gift of good life to witness that glorious dawn in 2019. Amen. I have not written an open letter to the President, I have just shared my thoughts with fellow compatriots on the need to enthrone younger blood into the mainstream of our political leadership starting from 2019
You know elections are close when politicians begin to confess their love for Nigeria. Suddenly strange bedfellows are walking side-by-side, arms locked, lovey-dovey. Arch rivals and sworn enemies are dining and planning and plotting and plotting and planning. Politicians who have contributed immensely to the underdevelopment of Nigeria begin to tell us exactly what we want to hear: that the country is drifting and they have arrived to rescue us. They become our new messiahs, the patriots who love Nigeria like Jesus loves his church. I bear witness that Nigerian politicians are very good at winning power. Pity, they don’t know how to use it for Nigeria’s progress.
I don’t really care what the politicians do or say. They are politicians and must politick. A footballer must play football. You cannot begrudge a fish for swimming or a dog for barking. The headache, for me, is our gullibility. It is so easy to sway Nigerians. We are too cheap. Our memories are so tiny and so short. Yesterday means nothing to us. You will see politicians that ruined us — politicians that we cursed and stoned just moments ago — come back to seduce us and, pronto, we are back in bed with them. We hail them as the new heroes, the saviours of our democracy. Don’t they just love our gullibility! We fall too easily for their gimmicks. It happens all the time. It works all the time.
In the first part of this “new mindset” series, I wrote on “The President Nigeria Badly Needs” (January 7, 2018). I officially announced my resignation from the committee of those celebrating false dawns and getting excited over new rhetoric and new rhyme anytime a new election is approaching. I have seen it all. I am done. As I said in my resignation letter, I am no longer excited by the permutations we do every four years. My personal resolve, after experiencing so many heartbreaks, is that I will, in my little corner, continue to constructively engage with whoever holds power — and insist they use it for Nigeria’s progress.
A senior colleague asked me: “Simon, I hope you are not saying you won’t vote again?” No, sir; that is not my point. But, then, I think we even overrate the voter. People can vote for the best of candidates who will turn out to be disasters in office. We seem to assume that if we vote on the basis of merit, howsoever defined, then our problem is about to be solved. I used to say that nonsense. But I have since realised that it is one thing to vote for candidates according to your conscience or best judgment, but it is another thing for the candidates to do the right thing in office. It is beyond us. You can choose to vote them out, vote in new ones and still get similar results.
I’ve been deceived too many times. People campaign passionately about change or transformation or whatever and hoodwink us to buy into their rhetoric. They win big mandates and begin to misrule once they get the job. Let’s stop fooling around: the voter has no way of knowing who is going to perform or fail in office. I have seen underrated candidates do well when elected — and highly rated ones fumble. I have seen illiterates, semi-literates, professors, medical doctors, engineers, journalists, accountants, Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, minority, Muslims and Christians hold public office, and I can hardly say the conduct of one is much better than that of the other.
So what? Shall we then fold our arms and do nothing? Shall we say we will no longer vote because we have been deceived and jilted by even the best? God forbid. But I am trying to make a point: if we have been doing something the same way for decades and the results are pretty much the same, shall we continue in it and expect progress to abound? Every four years, we get excited when we hear promises. In the end, we still import fuel, power remains on and off, the rich are still sending their children to private schools or abroad, the roads are still without form and void, kidnappers are still having a ball, insecurity lingers and cholera persists. Something is wrong. We need a rethink.
This is where the “Spirit of Lagos” comes to mind. Some years ago, the campaign was launched to promote some core values among Lagosians in the direction of attitudinal change, to engineer what was called a “new thinking in Lagos”. The campaign sought to promote four cardinal values: social justice, civic responsibility, citizenship and neighbourliness. There were conversations on radio and social media around these values. There was a series of “good citizenship” campaign, community engagement, “catch them young” contests, “do the right thing” re-orientation and the students’ challenge that encouraged conception of competitive projects and ideas.
The last I heard about this laudable project was the Citizens’ Day award that was held in May 2015 to celebrate citizens who had positively impacted on their communities. We were told it would continue, but I doubt it did. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, who has performed quite impressively in office, has to revisit this campaign. It is a wonderful idea that must not die. I understand it was the original idea of the TBWA Consortium, executed in partnership with the state government under Governor Babatunde Fashola. The whole idea is “change your thinking”. As a man thinks in his heart, so he is. If you cannot change the way you think, you cannot change the way you act.
Although it was targeted at the general citizenry, in truth our leaders emerge from among the citizens. A leader with a backward mindset is a danger to the society. We must “recruit” everyone. In my first article, I argued that the leaders Nigeria needs are those who have a good mental picture of what the society should look like. It is called visioning, which I described as the “starting point”. No matter how good citizens are, no matter how sincere voters are, no matter the good intentions of leaders, we are headed in no direction if there is no vision of society. It is vision that drives action and passion. Leading without a vision is like driving without a destination.
Taking it further today, I will argue that Nigerians must also develop a new mindset if Nigeria is ever going to progress. The “Spirit of Lagos” focused on the shared history of Lagosians: what makes it home to everybody in spite of our differences. It harped on civic responsibility and good neighbourliness: how to look out for one another, solve problems together and think as an intimate community. It aimed to promote “new thinking”. It was NOT political. I am, therefore, suggesting a “Spirit of Nigeria” movement that will promote a new thinking in Nigeria. It will NOT be political. It will NOT be about ethnic and religious affiliations. It will be purely about a shared vision of Nigeria.
Some movements are springing up ahead of the 2019 elections. Things like this do not last because, from experience, they are motivated by the fleeting quest for political power and appointments. They sell their rhetoric to us, we buy it, renew our hope and vote for them. The moment they get what they want, they disappear into the system and normal service resumes. So Nigeria remains the same. I have seen it all. It is the same old mindset at work. To get a different outcome, we must start thinking differently. The idea of the “Spirit of Nigeria” is to construct a new Nigeria, but we cannot build a new Nigeria with old mindsets shaped by hate, prejudice, greed and ambition.
It is catastrophic that many leaders and citizens see themselves first and foremost as defenders of their faith and champions of their ethnic identities. These old mindsets have to give way to the “Spirit of Nigeria”. Nigeria is so sharply divided today along ethnic and religious lines largely because we have leaders who cannot see beyond their nose, leaders who cannot be bothered about the consequences of their action and inaction — and citizens who are not any different. The saddest thing is that even the young generation has been conscripted into the destructive frame of mind filled with bile and bitterness on the basis of religion and ethnicity.
We badly need a new crop of Nigerians — leaders and citizens — who will begin to consciously make Nigeria their primary constituency. It is a mindset issue. We need leaders and citizens with a mindset that treats nationhood problems, such as the farmers/herders clashes, as challenges that have to be confronted and resolved constructively. Those working very hard behind the scenes to set Nigeria on fire — by playing up one part against the other, by stoking hate through the circulation of fake news on social media to poison our minds against one another — have to be resisted with the “Spirit of Nigeria” henceforth. “New Nigerians” must stop getting excited by these raw primordial emotions.
By the way, I am not proposing a new association (before somebody registers “Spirit of Nigeria Movement” and starts giving “best governor” awards in exchange for a mess of pottage). I am just challenging our mindsets as individuals who want to see Nigeria prosper. We need to “change our thinking”. That is what should ultimately shape the political choices of citizens and the performance of leaders. We need to stop getting carried away by the seasonal “messiah” politicking. Change will not come in one day, but if we don’t change our thinking, we will never change Nigeria. I’m convinced there is a “Spirit of Nigeria” in us waiting to be tapped.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
BLAST FROM THE PAST
I must confess I was shocked that an article I wrote three years ago, “Obasanjo as Nigeria’s Moral Compass” (January 18, 2015), has resurfaced and gone viral following the former president’s blistering “special press statement”. I was more shocked that those who loved the article then now hate it, and those who hated it then now love it. The Buhari camp told me in 2015 I should forget the messenger and focus on the message; Jonathan’s supporters are now telling me in 2018 to forget the messenger and focus on the message. But truth is constant, no matter whose ox is gored. I am amused watching proceedings from my balcony, cuddling my pack of popcorn. Action!
There was a time in Nigeria when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would call politicians to order for jumping the gun in electioneering. Not any longer. For instance, supporters of President Buhari have embarked on an open campaign very much ahead of time. Alhaji Adebayo Shittu, minister of communication who wants to be governor of Oyo state, has even opened a “Buhari” office in Ibadan and was about to start sharing “Buhari 2019” fez caps at the cabinet meeting on Wednesday when he was stopped. This opportunistic political behaviour was popularised under Gen. Sani Abacha, I think, and it has now become a national culture. Sycophancy.
FARMER VS HERDSMAN
Amid the heat in the country caused by the herders/farmers crisis, and the stoking of ethno-religious tension by those playing snooker with the delicate state of the Nigerian union, it is gratifying that some Nigerians still find the time and space to offer us wit and wisdom to calm the tempers. When Ms Ayo Obe said Cain was a farmer and Abel was a herdsman to illustrate the age-old conflict between the world’s oldest professions, I had a good laugh as well as a great insight into this eternal rivalry. But someone completely killed it when he wrote: “Obasanjo is a farmer, Buhari is a herdsman, so the battle line has been drawn.” Smart!
Tragedy visited the house of football and Lagos state government on Thursday when Mr. Deji Tinubu, special adviser to the governor, died during a recreational five-a-aside match. He reportedly screamed, grabbed his chest and collapsed. When I was growing up in the village, I would have called it “apepa” (killed by “remote control”) out of ignorance but today, with the benefit of education, I would say it was apparently a heart attack. One major cause, doctors say, is a blood clot that suddenly blocks an artery. Doctors often recommend an aspirin a day for those above 40 or those managing high blood pressure. DT’s sudden death is so, so painful. What a loss. Devastating.
Full text of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s letter to President Muhammadu Buhari
THE WAY OUT: A CLARION CALL FOR COALITION FOR NIGERIA MOVEMENT
Special Press Statement
President Olusegun Obasanjo
—————————— —————————— —————————— —-
Since we are still in the month of January, it is appropriate to wish all Nigerians Happy 2018. I am constrained to issue this special statement at this time considering the situation of the country. Some of you may be asking, “What has brought about this special occasion of Obasanjo issuing a Special Statement?” You will be right to ask such a question. But there is a Yoruba saying that ‘when lice abound in your clothes, your fingernails will never be dried of blood’. When I was in the village, to make sure that lice die, you put them between two fingernails and press hard to ensure they die and they always leave blood stains on the fingernails. To ensure you do not have blood on your fingernails, you have to ensure that lice are not harboured anywhere within your vicinity.
The lice of poor performance in government – poverty, insecurity, poor economic management, nepotism, gross dereliction of duty, condonation of misdeed – if not outright encouragement of it, lack of progress and hope for the future, lack of national cohesion and poor management of internal political dynamics and widening inequality – are very much with us today. With such lice of general and specific poor performance and crying poverty with us, our fingers will not be dry of ‘blood’.
Four years ago when my PDP card was torn, I made it abundantly clear that I quit partisan politics for aye but my concern and interest in Nigeria, Africa and indeed in humanity would not wane. Ever since, I have adhered strictly to that position. Since that time, I have devoted quality time to the issue of zero hunger as contained in Goal No. 2 of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN. We have set the target that Nigeria with the participating States in the Zero Hunger Forum should reach Zero Hunger goal by 2025 – five years earlier than the UN target date. I am involved in the issue of education in some States and generally in the issue of youth empowerment and employment. I am involved in all these domestically and altruistically to give hope and future to the seemingly hopeless and those in despair. I believe strongly that God has endowed Nigeria so adequately that no Nigerian should be either in want or in despair.
I believe in team work and collaborative efforts. At the international level, we have worked with other world leaders to domicile the apparatus for monitoring and encouraging socio-economic progress in Africa in our Presidential Library. The purpose of Africa Progress Group, which is the new name assumed by Africa Progress Panel (APP), is to point out where, when and what works need to be done for the progress of Africa separately and collectively by African leaders and their development partners. I have also gladly accepted the invitation of the UN Secretary-General to be a member of his eighteen-member High-Level Board of Advisers on Mediation. There are other assignments I take up in other fora for Africa and for the international community. For Africa to move forward, Nigeria must be one of the anchor countries, if not the leading anchor country. It means that Nigeria must be good at home to be good outside. No doubt, our situation in the last decade or so had shown that we are not good enough at home; hence we are invariably absent at the table that we should be abroad.
All these led me to take the unusual step of going against my own political Party, PDP, in the last general election to support the opposite side. I saw that action as the best option for Nigeria. As it has been revealed in the last three years or so, that decision and the subsequent collective decision of Nigerians to vote for a change was the right decision for the nation. For me, there was nothing personal, it was all in the best interest of Nigeria and, indeed, in the best interest of Africa and humanity at large. Even the horse rider then, with whom I maintain very cordial, happy and social relationship today has come to realise his mistakes and regretted it publicly and I admire his courage and forthrightness in this regard. He has a role to play on the side line for the good of Nigeria, Africa and humanity and I will see him as a partner in playing such a role nationally and internationally, but not as a horse rider in Nigeria again.
The situation that made Nigerians to vote massively to get my brother Jonathan off the horse is playing itself out again. First, I thought I knew the point where President Buhari is weak and I spoke and wrote about it even before Nigerians voted for him and I also did vote for him because at that time it was a matter of “any option but Jonathan” (aobj). But my letter to President Jonathan titled: “Before It Is Too Late” was meant for him to act before it was too late. He ignored it and it was too late for him and those who goaded him into ignoring the voice of caution. I know that praise-singers and hired attackers may be raised up against me for verbal or even physical attack but if I can withstand undeserved imprisonment and was ready to shed my blood by standing for Nigeria, I will consider no sacrifice too great to make for the good of Nigeria at any time. No human leader is expected to be personally strong or self-sufficient in all aspects of governance.
I knew President Buhari before he became President and said that he is weak in the knowledge and understanding of the economy but I thought that he could make use of good Nigerians in that area that could help. Although, I know that you cannot give what you don’t have and that economy does not obey military order. You have to give it what it takes in the short-, medium- and long-term. Then, it would move. I know his weakness in understanding and playing in the foreign affairs sector and again, there are many Nigerians that could be used in that area as well. They have knowledge and experience that could be deployed for the good of Nigeria. There were serious allegations of round-tripping against some inner caucus of the Presidency which would seem to have been condoned. I wonder if such actions do not amount to corruption and financial crime, then what is it? Culture of condonation and turning blind eye will cover up rather than clean up. And going to justice must be with clean hands.
I thought President Buhari would fight corruption and insurgency and he must be given some credit for his achievement so far in these two areas although it is not yet uhuru!
The herdsmen/crop farmers issue is being wittingly or unwittingly allowed to turn sour and messy. It is no credit to the Federal Government that the herdsmen rampage continues with careless abandon and without finding an effective solution to it. And it is a sad symptom of insensitivity and callousness that some Governors, a day after 73 victims were being buried in a mass grave in Benue State without condolence, were jubilantly endorsing President Buhari for a second term! The timing was most unfortunate. The issue of herdsmen/crop farmers dichotomy should not be left on the political platform of blame game; the Federal Government must take the lead in bringing about solution that protects life and properties of herdsmen and crop farmers alike and for them to live amicably in the same community.
But there are three other areas where President Buhari has come out more glaringly than most of us thought we knew about him. One is nepotic deployment bordering on clannishness and inability to bring discipline to bear on errant members of his nepotic court. This has grave consequences on performance of his government to the detriment of the nation. It would appear that national interest was being sacrificed on the altar of nepotic interest. What does one make of a case like that of Maina: collusion, condonation, ineptitude, incompetence, dereliction of responsibility or kinship and friendship on the part of those who should have taken visible and deterrent disciplinary action? How many similar cases are buried, ignored or covered up and not yet in the glare of the media and the public? The second is his poor understanding of the dynamics of internal politics. This has led to wittingly or unwittingly making the nation more divided and inequality has widened and become more pronounced. It also has effect on general national security. The third is passing the buck. For instance, blaming the Governor of the Central Bank for devaluation of the naira by 70% or so and blaming past governments for it, is to say the least, not accepting one’s own responsibility. Let nobody deceive us, economy feeds on politics and because our politics is depressing, our economy is even more depressing today. If things were good, President Buhari would not need to come in. He was voted to fix things that were bad and not engage in the blame game. Our Constitution is very clear, one of the cardinal responsibilities of the President is the management of the economy of which the value of the naira forms an integral part. Kinship and friendship that place responsibility for governance in the hands of the unelected can only be deleterious to good government and to the nation.
President Buhari’s illness called for the sympathy, understanding, prayer and patience from every sane Nigerian. It is part of our culture. Most Nigerians prayed for him while he was away sick in London for over hundred days and he gave his Deputy sufficient leeway to carry on in his absence. We all thanked God for President Buhari for coming back reasonably hale and hearty and progressing well in his recovery. But whatever may be the state of President Buhari’s health today, he should neither over-push his luck nor over-tax the patience and tolerance of Nigerians for him, no matter what his self-serving, so-called advisers, who would claim that they love him more than God loves him and that without him, there would be no Nigeria say. President Buhari needs a dignified and honourable dismount from the horse. He needs to have time to reflect, refurbish physically and recoup and after appropriate rest, once again, join the stock of Nigerian leaders whose experience, influence, wisdom and outreach can be deployed on the side line for the good of the country. His place in history is already assured. Without impaired health and strain of age, running the affairs of Nigeria is a 25/7 affair, not 24/7.
I only appeal to brother Buhari to consider a deserved rest at this point in time and at this age. I continue to wish him robust health to enjoy his retirement from active public service. President Buhari does not necessarily need to heed my advice. But whether or not he heeds it, Nigeria needs to move on and move forward.
I have had occasion in the past to say that the two main political parties – APC and PDP – were wobbling. I must reiterate that nothing has happened to convince me otherwise. If anything, I am reinforced in my conviction. The recent show of PDP must give grave and great concern to lovers of Nigeria. To claim, as has been credited to the chief kingmaker of PDP, that for procuring the Supreme Court judgement for his faction of the Party, he must dictate the tune all the way and this is indeed fraught with danger. If neither APC nor PDP is a worthy horse to ride to lead Nigeria at this crucial and critical time, what then do we do? Remember Farooq Kperogi, an Associate Professor at the Kennesaw State University, Georgia, United States, calls it “a cruel Hobson’s choice; it’s like a choice between six and half a dozen, between evil and evil. Any selection or deflection would be a distinction without a difference.” We cannot just sit down lamenting and wringing our hands desperately and hopelessly.
I believe the situation we are in today is akin to what and where we were in at the beginning of this democratic dispensation in 1999. The nation was tottering. People became hopeless and saw no bright future in the horizon. It was all a dark cloud politically, economically and socially. The price of oil at that time was nine dollars per barrel and we had a debt overhang of about $35 billion. Most people were confused with lack of direction in the country. One of the factors that saved the situation was a near government of national unity that was put in place to navigate us through the dark cloud. We had almost all hands on deck. We used people at home and from the diaspora and we navigated through the dark cloud of those days. At that time, most people were hopelessly groping in the dark. They saw no choice, neither in the left nor in the right, and yet we were not bereft of people at home and from the diaspora that could come together to make Nigeria truly a land flowing with milk and honey. Where we are is a matter of choice but we can choose differently to make a necessary and desirable change, once again.
Wherever I go, I hear Nigerians complaining, murmuring in anguish and anger. But our anger should not be like the anger of the cripple. We can collectively save ourselves from the position we find ourselves. It will not come through self-pity, fruitless complaint or protest but through constructive and positive engagement and collective action for the good of our nation and ourselves and our children and their children. We need moral re-armament and engaging togetherness of people of like-mind and goodwill to come solidly together to lift Nigeria up. This is no time for trading blames or embarking on futile argument and neither should we accept untenable excuses for non-performance. Let us accept that the present administration has done what it can do to the limit of its ability, aptitude and understanding. Let the administration and its political party platform agree with the rest of us that what they have done and what they are capable of doing is not good enough for us. They have given as best as they have and as best as they can give. Nigeria deserves and urgently needs better than what they have given or what we know they are capable of giving. To ask them to give more will be unrealistic and will only sentence Nigeria to a prison term of four years if not destroy it beyond the possibility of an early recovery and substantial growth. Einstein made it clear to us that doing the same thing and expecting a different result is the height of folly. Already, Nigerians are committing suicide for the unbearable socio-economic situation they find themselves in. And yet Nigerians love life. We must not continue to reinforce failure and hope that all will be well. It is self-deceit and self-defeat and another aspect of folly.
What has emerged from the opposition has shown no better promise from their antecedents. As the leader of that Party for eight years as President of Nigeria, I can categorically say there is nothing to write home about in their new team. We have only one choice left to take us out of Egypt to the promised land. And that is the coalition of the concerned and the willing – ready for positive and drastic change, progress and involvement. Change that will give hope and future to all our youth and dignity and full participation to all our women. Our youth should be empowered to deploy their ability to learn, innovate and work energetically at ideas and concepts in which they can make their own original inputs. Youth must be part of the action today and not relegated to leadership of tomorrow which may never come. Change that will mean enhancement of living standard and progress for all. A situation where the elected will accountably govern and every Nigerian will have equal opportunity not based on kinship and friendship but based on free citizenship.
Democracy is sustained and measured not by leaders doing extra-ordinary things, (invariably, leaders fail to do ordinary things very well), but by citizens rising up to do ordinary things extra-ordinarily well. Our democracy, development and progress at this juncture require ordinary citizens of Nigeria to do the extra-ordinary things of changing the course and direction of our lackluster performance and development. If leadership fails, citizens must not fail and there lies the beauty and importance of democracy. We are challenged by the current situation; we must neither adopt spirit of cowardice nor timidity let alone impotence but must be sustained by courage, determination and commitment to say and do and to persist until we achieve upliftment for Nigeria. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and we believe that our venturing will not be in vain. God of Nigeria has endowed this country adequately and our non-performance cannot be blamed on God but on leadership. God, who has given us what we need and which is potentially there, will give us leadership enablement to actualize our potentiality.
The development and modernization of our country and society must be anchored and sustained on dynamic Nigerian culture, enduring values and an enchanting Nigerian dream. We must have abiding faith in our country and its role and place within the comity of nations. Today, Nigeria needs all hands on deck. All hands of men and women of goodwill must be on deck. We need all hands to move our country forward.
We need a Coalition for Nigeria, CN. Such a Movement at this juncture needs not be a political party but one to which all well-meaning Nigerians can belong. That Movement must be a coalition for democracy, good governance, social and economic well-being and progress. Coalition to salvage and redeem our country. You can count me with such a Movement. Last time, we asked, prayed and worked for change and God granted our request. This time, we must ask, pray and work for change with unity, security and progress. And God will again grant us. Of course, nothing should stop such a Movement from satisfying conditions for fielding candidates for elections. But if at any stage the Movement wishes to metamorphose into candidate-sponsoring Movement for elections, I will bow out of the Movement because I will continue to maintain my non-partisan position. Coalition for Nigeria must have its headquarters in Abuja.
This Coalition for Nigeria will be a Movement that will drive Nigeria up and forward. It must have a pride of place for all Nigerians, particularly for our youth and our women. It is a coalition of hope for all Nigerians for speedy, quality and equal development, security, unity, prosperity and progress. It is a coalition to banish poverty, insecurity and despair. Our country must not be oblivious to concomitant danger around, outside and ahead. Coalition for Nigeria must be a Movement to break new ground in building a united country, a socially-cohesive and moderately prosperous society with equity, equality of opportunity, justice and a dynamic and progressive economy that is self-reliant and takes active part in global division of labour and international decision-making.
The Movement must work out the path of development and the trajectory of development in speed, quality and equality in the short- medium- and long-term for Nigeria on the basis of sustainability, stability, predictability, credibility, security, cooperation and prosperity with diminishing inequality. What is called for is love, commitment and interest in our country, not in self, friends and kinship alone but particularly love, compassion and interest in the poor, underprivileged and downtrodden. It is our human duty and responsibility so to do. Failure to do this will amount to a sin against God and a crime against humanity.
Some may ask, what does Obasanjo want again? Obasanjo has wanted nothing other than the best for Nigeria and Nigerians and he will continue to want nothing less. And if we have the best, we will be contented whether where we live is described as palaces or huts by others and we will always give thanks to God.
I, therefore, will gladly join such a Movement when one is established as Coalition for Nigeria, CN, taking Nigeria to the height God has created it to be. From now on, the Nigeria eagle must continue to soar and fly high. CN, as a Movement, will be new, green, transparent and must remain clean and always active, selflessly so. Members must be ready to make sacrifice for the nation and pay the price of being pioneers and good Nigerians for our country to play the God-assigned role for itself, for its neighbours, for its sub-region of West Africa, for its continent and for humanity in general. For me, the strength and sustainable success of CN will derive largely from the strong commitment of a population that is constantly mobilized to the rallying platform of the fact that going forward together is our best option for building a nation that will occupy its deserved place in the global community. May God continue to lead, guide and protect us. Amen.
I got a call from a senior northern politician recently. He’s generally a man of peace and often calls to commend me anytime I write on “peace and unity”. But this was a different call. His tone was remarkably different and harsh as he spoke about the Benue killings. He spared little time for the obligatory I-like-your-article ice-breaker and rushed into a conversation. “Look Simon,” he half-shouted, “you journalists must put pressure on the president to act quickly and decisively. The herders are very confident he has their back. The security agencies are treating them like kings. Our people will have to start defending themselves. Nobody has monopoly of violence.”
My head dropped. Sadness overpowered me. These are the moments that test my faith in the precariously complex Nigerian project. It is particularly saddening that the Benue tragedy has provided a perfect setting for people to play politics of opportunism (2019 is around the corner, just your know), for people to rev up ethnic and religious sentiments, for people to queue behind those they perceive to be their kith and kin. Yet, for all you care, what we need most urgently is to prevent further bloodbath. Reprisals and more aggression will only turn Nigeria into another Somalia, the global capital of anarchy. We can do without that.
The point has been well made that President Muhammadu Buhari’s reaction to the killings has been too slow and too poor. The previous killings by Fulani herdsmen in Agatu (Benue) and Nimbo (Enugu) did not merit a stern response from the president, very unusual for a retired general who keeps celebrating his exploits in “keeping Nigeria one” during the civil war. Compare his attitude with how President Olusegun Obasanjo dealt decisively with the OPC menace in the south-west in 1999-2000 and you will see a world of difference. Buhari’s fire-brigade to the latest Benue killings, apparently in reaction to so much public outcry, is seen as a reluctant afterthought.
It is not as if the Fulani have not been at the receiving end too — they were victims of massacres in Bachama, Adamawa state, and Mambilla, Taraba state, last year, in which hundreds were killed. Curiously, these tragedies went unnoticed by the national media. Photos of dead Fulani bodies did not make the front page of newspapers, neither did the killings trend on Twitter. Sadly, Nigerians have reduced human lives to football, playing home and away matches in massacre. Who scored more goals? Who killed more people? How can “my people” protect themselves? Or how can “my people” revenge? That is the unfolding story of Nigeria. What an apology for a human society!
After the blame game, where do we go from here? How do we pick up the pieces, heal the wounds and prevent the next bloodbath? In preparing this article, I did a little internet search on clashes between farmers and herders in West Africa — in order to better understand patterns, undertones and antidotes. The findings were absolutely terrifying. On April 9, 1989, in Diawara, eastern Senegal, Fulani herdsmen and Mauritanian Soninke farmers clashed following a drought that created grazing challenges. Hundreds were killed. Over 250,000 persons were displaced. The ensuing Senegal-Mauritania Border War lasted for two years.
In March 2016, a violent clash between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in north-east Cote d’Ivoire led to 17 deaths, AFP reported. In May 2016, armed Bambara and Fulani groups clashed in Tenenkou, west Mopti, Mali, leading to 20 deaths. In November same year, 18 persons died in clashes between herders and farmers in Bangui, Niger Republic. In November 2017, nine persons died in the Kwahu East District of Ghana following clashes between Fulani herdsmen and villagers. A commenter named Yaa Nyamekye wrote on Ghanaweb.com: “Why should foreigners take over our lands! Fulani, Chinese and Nigerians have taken over Ghana!”
Back to Nigeria, farmers and herders have perennially clashed. As a kid in my village in the 1970s, I witnessed some of these confrontations. Herders seasonally invaded our farmlands to audaciously feed their cattle. At some point, village hunters were put on guard to repel them. Aggression, clashes and deaths have scaled up all over Nigeria in recent years. The herders are now acting lawlessly, destroying people’s livelihood, taking over public places and going scot-free. These incidents have become more highlighted under Buhari, who is also of the Fulani stock and a cattle rearer to boot. The conspiracy theory is complete.
The Benue killings, in which 73 farmers and family members were killed by herdsmen “because our cows were stolen”, have accentuated many issues. There are allegations that the president tacitly supports the activities of the herdsmen by failing to act with the same enthusiasm and determination he displayed in dealing with the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The killings have also offered opportunities for politicians to play 2019 politics — the same way Buhari’s APC used Boko Haram killings to slaughter President Jonathan in 2015. Those who enjoy toying with ethnic and religious emotions are also having a ball, particularly on social media.
Beyond the politicisation of the killings, however, there are matters we need to be dispassionate about if our interest is to resolve the crisis. The immediate causes can be traced to these factors: (1) geography/ecology (2) culture and (3) insecurity. But, evidently, leadership failure is at the centre of it all. I will try my best to explain my thoughts within the space constraints. My major objective today is to call for reason. If we are going to build lasting peace, we must disrobe ourselves of the pervasive political, ethnic and religious emotions currently at play. We need an open mind. More bloodshed may look appealing in the heat of the moment, but nobody will be safe in the end.
One, in terms of geography and ecology, climate change has forced a vast majority of the herdsmen to migrate downwards in search of fresh pasture in recent years. In an essay by Malcolm Fabiyi and Adeleke Otunuga, they said Nigeria has 22 million cows that consume about one billion gallons of water per day and 500 million kilograms of grass and forage crops. Lake Chad is drying up. Desertification and Boko Haram war have combined to drive herders increasingly southward since 2012. They are seeking survival. However, this has huge security implications. A proactive government would usually anticipate the consequences and develop appropriate plans and policies.
Two, culturally, the Fulani herders are nomadic. Ranching is alien to them. In the days when there was law and order in Nigeria — and I mean in the colonial era — we had grazing routes, complete with water supply, security, tax collectors and veterinary medical facilities. Now that all these have collapsed, the herders think they have a divine right to graze anywhere and nobody can stop them. Invading farms and wrecking the economy of farmers has become very normal for them. A proactive and responsible government will work at re-orientating the herders to embrace modern practices, deploying all moral suasion strategies to deal with the inefficient, outdated nomadic system.
Three, herders are at the mercy of rustlers who ambush them and steal their cattle. These criminal gangs are hardly apprehended or punished. Our security agencies are more competent in arresting bloggers and handcuffing them for “libel”. They have little competence in protecting the citizens despite the billions they get in budgetary allocations. Herders resort to arming themselves and deploying self-help since there is effectively no government. Unfortunately, both the criminal gangs and the menacing herdsmen never face the full weight of the law. The primary reason for having a government is to prevent anarchy. So where is government?
These are the things I think responsible leadership should offer. One, address the grazing crisis. The idea of creating “colonies” will work well in some areas but fail woefully in other areas because of historical divides. Government must get the buy-in of host communities. We must avoid trying to solve one problem and creating another. I repeat: government must tread carefully. Two, the herdsmen must be re-orientated to understand that we live in the 21st century and their “roaming culture” must be within the law. They have no right to carry on as if everywhere belongs to them. If everybody does what he likes, there will be no country left at the end of the day.
Three, those who fail to play by the rule must face the law. Nobody should ruin someone else’s farms or take lives and go scot-free. Four, conflict management must be central to policies and measures aimed at solving these problems. Government should design a system of early warning and a complaint/grievance management mechanism for herders, farmers and villagers. Aggrieved parties must be able to channel their grievances in a civilised manner rather than resort to self-help. Above all, leaders must genuinely work to promote justice and equity. They must cast aside their prejudices. If our leaders keep sleeping on the job, Somalia is sure to happen to us.
And Four Other Things…
NORTH MY WILL
With Alhaji Ahmed Abubakar’s appointment as the DG of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the navy now remains the only security service not headed by a northerner (and for those who don’t know, chief of defence staff heads no service). Could it be that President Buhari can’t find any northerner yet to lead the navy? Even the major paramilitary services, which used to be manned by middle-belters for regional balancing, are now headed by the “core north”. I think this is a record. I’m not aware of any other time in our history when security has been so northernised. As someone who supports “balancing” because of our delicate national make-up, I’m scandalised. Insensitive.
When I heard that rice exports from Thailand to Nigeria dropped from 1.23 million metric tonnes in 2014 to 23,192mt as at November 2017, I was over the moon. It was a confirmation that our rice policy is working, I concluded. But a colleague drew my attention to the figures coming from Benin Republic: as Nigeria’s imports were decreasing, Benin’s imports were increasing. To the best of my knowledge, most people in Benin eat local rice. The logical conclusion is that Benin’s imports were meant for the Nigerian market through the land border (complete the sentence!) By the way, contrary to my assertion last week, Thailand and Vietnam have missions in Nigeria. Apologies.
And so, only 24 candidates from Zamfara state passed the 2017 November/December senior school certificate examination of the National Examinations Council (NECO). In fact, the examination was taken by only 186 candidates in the state. The governor, Alhaji Abdul’aziz Abubakar Yari, is also the chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum. He spends most of his time in Abuja and Saudi Arabia, and blames fornication for epidemics. He is a young man by some definition — he was elected governor in 2011 at 43. Maybe age is not the super solution to our leadership crisis. Yari will leave office next year, proud of himself that after eight years, only 24 candidates passed NECO. Disaster.
The erratic US President Donald Trump never has any kind words for Africa. Reported to have called Africa a “shithole” (he denied using that word but said he used a “tough” word which he refused to disclose), Trump has come under attack from African leaders. As disgusting as Trump’s words are, maybe we also have to look in the mirror. Most Nigerians who migrate to the US do so for economic reasons. If our country was working — just the basics of stable electricity, good roads, quality education, security and good jobs — who cares about America? The ultimate solution to tackling racist countries is for us to put our house in order. Trump’s words really hurt. Demeaning.
I join my fellow citizens this morning to welcome and celebrate the New Year 2018. This year promises to be pivotal in our quest for CHANGE.
Unfortunately, I am saddened to acknowledge that for many this Christmas and New Year holidays have been anything but merry and happy. Instead of showing love, companionship and charity, some of our compatriots chose this period to inflict severe hardship on us all by creating unnecessary fuel scarcity across the country.
The consequence was that not many could travel and the few who did had to pay exorbitant transport fares. This is unacceptable given that NNPC had taken measures to ensure availability at all depots. I am determined to get to the root of this collective blackmail of all Nigerians and ensure that whichever groups are behind this manipulated hardship will be prevented from doing so again.
Such unpatriotism will not divert the Administration from the course we have set ourselves. Our government’s watch word and policy thrust is CHANGE. We must change our way of doing things or we will stagnate and be left behind in the race to lift our people out of poverty and into prosperity.
My address to fellow Nigerians this morning is devoted mainly to informing you about the intense efforts this Administration is putting to address our country’s huge infrastructural deficit.
We are going to make significant in-roads in advancing road, rail and power projects across the country.
The Ministry of Power, Works and Housing is one of the drivers of this Government’s commitment to renew and increase Nigeria’s stock of infrastructure in order to achieve global economic competitiveness as targeted under the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan.
With regards to Railways, we have set ourselves ambitious targets. Already in construction stage is the Lagos-Kano Standard Gauge Railway.
The line should reach Ibadan from Lagos by the end of 2019 and will carry two million passengers per year and five million tons of cargo will be transported every year giving a substantial boost to the country’s economy.
Construction of the Kano – Kaduna segment is expected to commence this year and reach Kaduna by the end of 2019. By the end of 2021 the two ends will be joined so that we will have standard gauge railway across the main North-South trading route.
The Abuja – Kaduna route will be boosted by additional rolling stock next Thursday and will be able to handle one million commuters annually.
At the same time I have approved and negotiations will be concluded in the first part of this year for the Port Harcourt to Maiduguri line covering Aba, Owerri, Umuahia, Enugu, Awka, Abakaliki, Makurdi, Lafia, Jos, Bauchi, Gombe, Yola and Damaturu. The Abuja to Itakpe line will go through Baro and terminate in Warri with construction of a new seaport at Warri.
Negotiations are also advanced for the construction of other railway lines, firstly from Kano to Maradi in Niger Republic passing through Kazaure, Daura, Katsina, Jibia to Maradi.
Secondly, Lagos to Calabar the “Coastal Rail” through Ore, Benin, Agbor, Asaba, Onitsha, Sapele, Ughelli, Warri, Yenagoa, Otuoke, Port Harcourt, Aba, Uyo and Calabar. In the next few years, all these Nigerian cities will be linked by functional modern rail systems, giving enormous boost to the social and economic life of our people.
With respect to the Abuja Capital Light Rail, progress has reached 98% completion, as at 64% completion when we assumed office. Only test runs remain before start of operations.
This train service will stimulate economic activities in the Federal Capital and provide residents with an efficient and safe transportation system. Twelve railway sub-stations around the capital over a 45.2 kilometre route will serve as a catalyst and a pull factor to the economy of the area. The Light Rail System will reduce traffic congestion and carbon emission in line with the Administration’s policy on climate change.
Management of the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) has been reconstituted and has been charged with a 12 week rapid intervention in road repairs to cover all the geo-political zones. Government is undertaking repairs and maintenance of 44 roads within the six geo-political zones.
Twenty five major highways will be funded under the N100b SUKUK facility. Each geo-political zone will benefit by an equal amount of N16.67b. The following major highways are to receive special attention:
a. Oyo – Ogbomosho,
b. Ofusu – Ore – Ajebandele – Shagamu,
c. Yenagoa Road Junction – Kolo Otuoke – Bayelsa Palm,
d. Enugu – Port Harcourt Dual Carriage Way,
e. Onitsha – Enugu Expressway,
f. Kaduna Eastern Bypass,
g. Dualization of Kano – Maiduguri Road,
h. Dualization of Abuja – Lokoja – Benin Road,
i. Dualization of Suleja – Minna Road.
In addition, Government has approved work to start on the re-construction of Abuja – Kaduna – Zaria – Kano road which is in a state of disrepair. Work will soon start and is expected to be completed in 2019.
More Nigerians across the country are experiencing improved power supply to their homes and businesses. However, power remains a concern to this government because too many people still do not have regular and reliable supply.
The Payment Assurance Guarantee Scheme which started in January 2016 has enabled the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trader to raise so far N701 billion to assure Generation Companies of at least 80% payment for any power delivered to the national grid.
Consequently, generation has now reached 7,000MW. On December 8, 2017 the country achieved 5,155MW of power delivered to consumers, the highest level ever recorded.
Several moribund projects have been revived. Repairs of Afam Power Station added 110MW in 2017 and another 240MW will be added this year through a private investment partnership.
Katsina Power Project is now being tested and producing 10MW of power from wind for the first time in Nigeria. It should be fully operational this year.
The Zungeru 700MW Hydroelectric Power Project, stalled by court cases is due for completion in 2019. The transmission and other requirements to operate the 30MW Gurara Phase 1 Hydroelectric Plant, the 40MW Kashimbilla Hydroelectric Plant and the 215 MW Kaduna Gas/LPG/Diesel Power Plant will also be completed this year.
A landmark project, Mambilla Hydroelectric Power Project is at last taking off. This project has been on the drawing Board for 40 years, but now the engineering, procurement and construction contract for the 3,050MW project has been agreed with a Chinese joint venture Company with a financing commitment from the government of China. Completion is targeted for 2023.
As I mentioned earlier, the Transmission Company of Nigeria can now distribute all the 7,000MW that can be generated. TCN and the Niger Delta Holding Company have added 1,950MVA of 330 down to 132KV transformer capacity of 10 transmission stations and 2,930MVA of 132 down to 33KV transformer capacity of 42 sub-stations including Ikot Ekpene, Aba, Alagbon, Ajah, Ejigbo, Funtua and Zaria.
This Administration is working with the privatised distribution Companies to overcome the continuing challenges of distribution.
These massive public works should spearhead the recovery and lead millions back to employment. You will recall that it was not until last year that we got out of the economic recession into which the country had fallen as a consequence of past unsustainable economic policies which projected short-term illusory growth.
The government is slowly stabilizing the economy.
It was in order to change the steady and steep decline that we adopted the more sustainable policies and programmes captured in the Economic Recovery Plan. Diversification efforts have resulted in improved output particularly in agriculture and solid minerals sectors. The relative exchange rate stability has improved manufacturing sector performance.
We have got to get used to discipline and direction in economic management. The days of business, as usual, are numbered.
Two years ago I appealed to people to go back to the land. I am highly gratified that agriculture has picked up, contributing to the government’s effort to restructure the economy. Rice imports will stop this year. Local rice, fresher and more nutritious will be on our dishes from now on.
By the same token, I am today appealing to enterprising Nigerians with ideas and unemployed graduates and other able-bodied and literate men and women with ideas not to just sit and wait for employment from the government or the Organized Private Sector. Great nations are built by enterprising people who turn their hands to anything that circumstances dictate.
In respect of political developments, I have kept a close watch on the on-going debate about “Restructuring”. No human law or edifice is perfect. Whatever structure we develop must periodically be perfected according to changing circumstances and the country’s socio-economic developments. We Nigerians can be very impatient and want to improve our conditions faster than may be possible considering our resources and capabilities. When all the aggregates of nationwide opinions are considered, my firm view is that our problems are more to do with process than structure.
We tried the Parliamentary system: we jettisoned it. Now there are shrill cries for a return to the Parliamentary structure. In older democracies, these systems took centuries to evolve so we cannot expect a copied system to fit neatly our purposes. We must give a long period of trial and improvement before the system we have adopted is anywhere near fit for purpose.
However, there is a strong case for a closer look at the cost of government and for the public services long used to extravagance, waste and corruption to change for the better. I assure you that government is ever receptive to ideas which will improve governance and contribute to the country’s peace and stability.
As the electioneering season approaches politicians must avoid exploiting ethnicity and religion by linking ethnicity with religion and religion with politics. Such must be avoided at all costs if we are to live in harmony.
In this respect, the rest of Nigeria could learn from the South Western States who have successfully internalized religion, ethnicity and politics.
Political discourse should be conducted with civility, decorum and in a constitutional manner. We all have a collective responsibility to strengthen our democracy and entrench the rule of law. We should draw encouragement from the series of bye-elections conducted by INEC last year which were generally violence-free and their outcomes adjudged to be free and fair.
Before I conclude my address I must reassure my fellow citizens that security of life and property is still top of our government’s agenda. We have since beaten Boko Haram. Isolated attacks still occur, but even the best-policed countries cannot prevent determined criminals from committing terrible acts of terror as we have seen during the past years in Europe, Asia, Middle East, elsewhere in Africa and in America.
Our government remains determined to protect all Nigerians in line with our election pledge and promises. On behalf of all Nigerians let me offer our thanks to the Armed forces, the Police, other para-military forces and traditional authorities who are working round the clock to ensure that you and I go about our normal business in reasonable safety.
Terrorism and urban crimes are world-wide phenomena and our security forces are continuously adapting their responses to changing threats.
With regard to rampant cases of kidnappings, we are taking immediate short-term measures to combat this new evil creeping into our societies. Tighter police methods and swift and severe punishment for those proved to be engaged in kidnapping are on the way.
With respect to Niger Delta, Government is still engaging the responsible leadership of the Communities to help in identifying and addressing genuine grievances of the region. Our clean-up programme in collaboration with the United Nations is making satisfactory progress.
I am grateful to all the Governors and other Political & Community leaders of the Niger Delta States for their part in bringing relative peace to the areas.
Finally let me again express my heartfelt thanks to all Nigerians who prayed for me during my illness last year. I feel deeply humbled by your prayers and good wishes and I am more determined than ever to serve you to the best of my ability.
Good morning. And I wish everyone a Happy New Year.
By Simon Kolawole
It is time to confess my sins. All my adult life, I have never feared for the continued existence of Nigeria as much as I did in 2017. Anybody who knows me very well knows where I stand: I believe in one, united Nigeria. It is not that I am an incurable optimist or that I am the most patriotic Nigerian alive. It is just that after assessing all the issues that so easily bog us down, I have always come to the conclusion that we do not have irreconcilable differences that should inevitably lead to divorce. I have always believed that every ingredient, every resource needed to make Nigeria work is here with us. I’ve always concluded that we have been terribly let down by the ruling elite.
My stand on Nigeria — in the face of campaigns for its balkanisation along ethnic, religious and other sectional lines — has earned me plenty enemies. I know people who have stopped reading me because of that. In fact, one “egbon” I used to look up to accused me of pandering to certain sections of Nigeria as “a tactic for personal advancement, like Obasanjo (or Tinubu’s failed 2015 plan)”. He as much as said I was not a Yoruba “freeborn”. I was amused at the personal attack over differences in worldview. Of course, there is always a price to pay if you refuse to play the ethnic and religious card in political commentary, if you do not go with the flow — and that I know.
But I will be honest and confess that there were two events that shook my confidence in the unity of Nigeria in this outgoing year, so much so I got to the point of throwing up my hands in surrender and saying “it is all over”. One, the politics over the grave illness that befell President Muhammadu Buhari and kept him away in the UK for months. Two, the October 1 deadline issued to Igbo people to leave northern Nigeria because of the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), led by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. I had never been so scared about the possibility of another nationwide bloodshed and the risk of another civil war as much as I was in 2017.
Sometime in February, I was inside a bank when I got a call from a woman who lives in Jos, Plateau state. She sounded frightened. Let me paraphrase her: “There is a message going round in the north that Yoruba people have poisoned Buhari so that Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo would take over as president if he dies. They said the poison was placed on the curtains in Buhari’s office, that the Yoruba want to take power through the back door. The Hausa people here seem to believe this rumour. If Buhari dies, we are in trouble. They will start attacking and killing us. You know killing human beings means nothing to these people.”
I was confused. I didn’t know what to tell her. She spoke to me in a way that suggested I could do something about the rumours or the backlash that would follow if anything happened to Buhari on the hospital bed. As soon as we ended our conversation (I only said “I have heard you Ma and I will tell some contacts”), my head went into a spin. I started imagining things. If Yoruba were attacked in the north, there would be reprisal in the south-west. There would be turmoil again in the country. We could be back to the June 12 calamity of 1993 which effectively shut down Nigeria for five years. The damage to our economy is yet to be assessed and quantified.
In Buhari’s absence, things were happening at a dizzying pace. Different shades of rumours and theories flew all over the place. Far-reaching changes were effected in the military high command to such an extent that allegedly favoured northern officers. The word in town was that the military would rather take over than allow power to return to the south so “quickly”. Chief Bisi Akande, a senior member of the ruling party, issued a statement warning that what happened in 1993, when Bashorun MKO Abiola’s victory was annulled by the military, must not repeat itself. There was fire in his eyes and his words were really clear, to borrow a line from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”.
Akande fired: “Let me warn today that those who wish to harvest political gains out of the health of the president are mistaken. This is not Nigeria of 1993. We are in a new national and global era of constitutionalism and order. We hope Nigerians have enough patience to learn from history. My greatest fear, however, is that the country should not be allowed to slide into anarchy and disorder of a monumental proportion.” Speaking in Lagos a few days later, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu advised the military against staging a coup, warning that “Lagos will resist you”. Those who were in Lagos in 1993 would understand the implications better.
I intensified my prayers for Buhari to regain his health and come back to Nigeria alive. This had nothing to do with the fact that I am unashamedly one of Buhari’s admirers, in spite of his obvious weaknesses. My concern was for Nigeria. If Buhari had died, the crisis would be unimaginable. Killings and counter killings. We all know that the biggest undoing of President Goodluck Jonathan, for some people, had nothing to do with his performance in office but the fact that he “usurped” power when President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua died. Jonathan could never do anything right in the eyes of those who wallowed in this mindset. I never wish to see a repeat in my lifetime.
While we were at it, the 50th anniversary of the declaration of Biafra was marked with pomp. The cries of marginalisation by the south-east reached a crescendo. Kanu enjoyed enormous airtime on TV/radio and lengthy inches in the newspapers. He was everywhere on social media. And then a group called Arewa youth whatever came up with the reckless declaration that all Igbo in northern Nigeria should vacate by October 1, 2017. I froze. We normally don’t run reports that promote ethnic hate and warmongering at TheCable, and I remember the editor, Mr. Taiwo George, asking my opinion on whether or not to run the story. I advised him it was too important to ignore.
I was fearful of the likely outcome of the ultimatum. If the Igbo did not quit as demanded, would they be attacked and killed in the north? Wouldn’t the Igbo also retaliate in the south-east? Would the tit-for-tat stop there or degenerate into a bloodbath that would bring back memories of 1966-67 and lead us into another civil war? My biggest fear was that even if the Arewa youth eventually withdrew the quit notice, the people on the streets might still go ahead and attack Igbo people. The group was playing a very dangerous game and toying with emotive issues whose consequences no one could predict. In all honesty, I was really, really scared.
I began to review my positions on the unity of Nigeria. In my mind, I started moving away from “One, United Nigeria” to “anybody that wants to go should go”. After all, South Sudan left Sudan. Eritrea ditched Ethiopia. Soviet Union broke up. Yugoslavia disintegrated. Deep down my heart, I still desired one Nigeria — a rainbow coalition whose strength is in its diversity. But I came to the conclusion that while ordinary Nigerians have learnt to live with, and tolerate, one another, the political gladiators — including their intellectual sidekicks — are bent on pursing the agenda of balkanisation. The political class has continued to disappoint and manipulate the ordinary Nigerians.
In the chaos though, I was comforted by the moves made by prominent Nigerian leaders to douse the tension. As a journalist, I was privy to some of the underground peace moves made by prominent statesmen. Many of them do not talk openly but are selflessly working day and night to prevent ethnic and religious conflagration in Nigeria. In the end, the Arewa ultimatum was withdrawn and Igbo were not attacked in the north. My fears melted. Well, the elites are masters of brinksmanship. Most importantly, though, Buhari did not die. I honestly can’t say if Nigeria would still be in this shape if Buhari had not returned alive. God be praised.
Okay, Nigeria has survived another turbulent year. There is peace. But the best conclusion would be that this is the kind of peace you find in a graveyard. The issues always exploited by the political elite are still there. It is only a matter of time before these sentiments are whipped up yet again in the competition for political power and patronage. We have survived yet another turbulence that tested the foundation of our nationhood. I continue to wish that the unity of Nigeria would be strengthened. I wish the agents of balkanisation would have a rethink. But I am intelligent enough to know that we have not seen the last of it. Nevertheless, I remain a believer in one Nigeria.
I first heard of the name George Weah in 1988. Iwuanyanwu Nationale had defeated Tonnerre Kalara of Yaoundé, Cameroon, 2-0 in the first leg, second round of the African Club Champions Cup (now called CAF Champions League) in Owerri. They were suddenly gasping for breath as the Liberian mercilessly terrorised their defence in the return leg. Iwuanyanwu still managed to beat them 3-2 after all the drama. Weah would go on to Europe to do great things. He has now been elected president of Liberia in the most fascinating fashion — including returning to school to get university education after his first failed presidential bid in 2006. What a strike! Sensational.
ON YUSUF BUHARI
My prayers and wishes are with the First Family over Yusuf Buhari’s motorbike accident on Tuesday night. From what we are hearing, the president’s only surviving son suffered serious injuries in the accident. Biking and car racing are dangerous sports that are not yet properly regulated in Nigeria — even though they have been with us for a while. It is usually the children of the rich who engage in these sports here. I would suggest that, if possible, the useless velodrome at the national stadium, Abuja, should be converted to a racing arena so that people can exercise their hobbies in a safer environment. Government could even earn revenue from it. Commonsense.
The time has come for us to finally admit that Nigeria is a country like no other. It is the only OPEC member that imports petrol! It is the only country that has refineries that are not working! It is the only country that regularly spends billions on “turn around maintenance” of its refineries without results — and yet continues to hold on to those refineries! It is the only country in the world, bar warzone, where fuel scarcity and fuel queues are integral to national culture! It is the only country in the world that does not have the competence to import petrol! It did not start today. It won’t end today. That is why we are Nigerians. Jokers.
BROUGHT IN DEAD
Nigerians have been having fun on the social media over the latest round of appointments by President Muhammadu Buhari. Far from the usual ethno-religious analysis, the interest this time is in the comical inclusion of names of dead people on the list. You call that posthumous national service! Something tells me most of the appointees were nominated in 2015 when Buhari’s supporters thought he would hit the ground running, but somebody did not bother to do due diligence before throwing the list to the media in 2017. If the list was indeed prepared in 2015, does it mean it took over two years to make it public? Killjoys.