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Opinion

Nation Building; Why Lawmakers Should Restructure Their Minds

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By Jerome-Mario Utomi

On Tuesday July 7th, 2020, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila led House of Representatives; going by reports introduced consolidated two bills that among other provisions, seeks to penalize law enforcement bodies that fails to arrest and compel the appearance of Ministers and Heads of Agencies who fail to honour summons of the National Assembly.

To add context to the discourse, the two Bills are entitled; A Bill for an Act to Amend the Legislative Houses(Power And Privileges) Act 2917 to Prescribe the Offence and Punishment for Contempt of Legislative Houses, to Provide Punishment on the Police or any other Law Enforcement Agent that refuses to Arrest any Person as directed by a Legislative House, to provide Exception to the kind of person to be compelled by a Legislative House, such as President, the Executive Governors and their Deputies, Diplomats and their agents, Representatives of international Organisations such as the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, ECOWAS.

At a glance, when one analyzes this latest Bill, it brings to the fore the role of foresight in leadership as well as leaves the analyst lost with the impression that such step was developed under the aegis of prophets as it appears so logical. It is a perfect way of restructuring the system and building the nation by extention. It did not come to many as a surprise as a peep into the 9th Assembly reveals that the present Assembly, going by the profile of members, is arguably filled with the best trained and most highly skilled in the history of NASS in Nigeria. But for identified personal interests that will be explained on the course of this piece have not allowed them do the job of lawmaking that will enhance the life chances of Nigerians.

Talking about the merit of the present Bill, aside from the fact that the National Assembly is empowered by sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution, to investigate all agencies and cause arrest, of those who do not cooperate with their enquiry on any issues, the most telling good intention about this latest Bill is signposted in its willingness to making law enforcement officers be alive to their responsibilities while promoting checks and balances among different arms of government.

Essentially also, there are more concrete reasons that made me marvel at the quality of their decision. First, separate from the fact that Nigerians have in the past witnessed situations where some Ministers and Head of Agencies ignored the legitimate legislative and judicial directives, thereby become a threat to the very structure they were appointed to protect, there is an accompanying believe that when leaders are not held accountable for serious mistakes, they, and their successors are more likely to repeat those mistakes. Such has in the past brought unwelcome departure from normal good sense and judgement in the country.

And so what this all means is that, today, and every day, Nigerians have as a responsibility to remember that enforcement of such checks and balances like AL Gore, a former Vice President of the United States of America (USA), noted, will definitely make us stronger by ensuring that decisions will be tested, studied, reviewed, and examined through the process of government that are designed to improve policies. And on the part of the Ministers and Heads of Agencies, the knowledge that their decisions will be reviewed prevents over-reaching and checks the accretion of power. For whenever power is unchecked and unaccountable, it almost inevitably leads to mistakes and abuse’ and in the absence of regorious accountability, incompetences flourishes, dishonesty is encouraged and rewarded.

But, in the pursuit of this new Bill, there is, however, something fundamentally new and different and has to do with moral argument.

Infact, there is a wide disagreement. Nigerians with critical minds are concerned about why the House is seeking obedience/compliance from the Ministers, Heads of Agencies and law enforcement agencies, to their directives whereas they (Lawmakers) have never complied to the detects of the masses that elected them to the office. The underlying premise of representative democracy, they argued, was that the voters in each constituency would be able to communicate freely within the public forum with their representatives and could rely on the free flow of information about their representative’s subsequent performance in the house in order to hold them accountable.

But what Nigerians have witnessed all this years is but increased use by the lawmakers, of sophisticated methods to manipulate public opinion and selectively controlled information relevant to collective decision making. A feat that has brought about on the part of the masses increased public apathy and declining participation in political activities, increased cynicism and distrust of the integrity of the country’s National Assembly. Of course, this explains why what is today said at the floor of the national assembly hardly matters to the people.

Specifically, think about some of the trends Nigerians have seen in the hands of the members of the 9th assembly which comprises of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill, that sought a three-year jail term for anyone involved in what it calls the abuse of social media or an option of fine of N150, 000 or both. And also proposed a fine of N10 million for media houses involved in peddling falsehood or misleading the public. The Non Governmental Organization’s governance Bill (the NGO Bill), on its part contained far-reaching, restrictive provisions.

What about the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill 2020′ which aims at empowering the Minister of Health, the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and various other public health and allied institutions to regulate on quarantining, vaccination and prevention of infectious diseases in the country?

Away from the above unpalatable propositions, there are several reasons, both morally and socioeconomically that did so well to support the assertion that the lawmakers may afterwards not be better than or different from the people they propose the Bill for or accused of non compliance to the House’s directive.

The first example that comes to mind is the House’s recent but wrong push, through Honourable Odebumi Olusegun, of Ogo-Oluwa/Surulere federal constituency (APC, Oyo), a bill tagged; “Bill for an Act to Alter Section 308 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), which provides that: “no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against the President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors during their period of office.” And have same provision extended to accommodate/cover Presiding Officers of Legislative offices during their period of office.”

If they were so interested in transparency, accountability and compliance with set rule, why seek such protection? Such move was made worse by the fact that it came at a time average Nigerians were getting worse off, economically and materially, than he/she was in 2015. And when the list of actions not yet taken to better the life chances of Nigerians were still lengthy and worrying.

At this very moment also, Nigerians remember with nostalgia, the recent decline by the house the opportunity to promote local content–an expression that is daily preached within the government circle without compliance. As the house refused to patronize the locally assembled vehicles by Innoson Group, said to have been recommended for them; and in its place, opt for the 2020 edition of Toyota Camry which will not only double the price of the initially recommended but, will cost a whopping 5 Billion to purchase 400 of the Toyota Camry model needed by the house.

Essentially, aside from the rejection of Innoson brand of SUV’s initially recommended for members, and in its place, went for 2020 edition of Toyota Camry, that will gulp about N5 billion of tax payers money, and happening in the face of recent lamentation that the House is broke, what, however, made the development newsy is that the house going by report has before now been at the forefront promoting the local content laws in the country.

Finally, as the debate rages, another important point to make is that every generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it remarked Frantz Fanon. Now that lawmakers are faced with the role of nation building, and the nation cries for restructuring, so has their responsibilities graduated to double folds. First, it is time for them to use their pragmatic intelligence devoid of emotional attachment to ask solution oriented questions in a solution–oriented manner. Secondly, and very important is that the hour has come for the Honourables to become the bearers of ‘true’ restructuring flagship by conscientiously restructuring their actions and inactions via leadership by example as it will collectively add up to restructuring the nation.

Very importantly also, Nigerians on their part must develop a ‘war room’ using our resolve and powers to fight the undemocratic and criminal tendencies in our consciences and government in order to usher in a truly egalitarian nation we all yearn for. This pivotal step must be taken as a failure to achieve this may render our race to restructuring elusive and view our discourse as a body without a soul.

~ Utomi is a Lagos-Based Media Consultant.

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Opinion

Suffering Citizens And Buhari’s Phantom Regrets

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By Jerome-Mario Utomi

If there is any statement in recent times that portrayed President Muhammadu Buhari as a leader with understanding that ‘public order, personal and national security, economic and social programmes, and prosperity is not the natural order of things but depends on the ceaseless efforts and attentions from an honest and effective government that the people elect’, it is his declaration during an interview with The Signature 50 magazine, that he would only feel better as a president when lives of citizens improve.

Buhari in that interview among other things noted that looking back at his five years in office as President, his greatest regret is that despite international ratings, lives of Nigerians are yet to improve as he had expected.While Buhari as part of his achievements expressed happiness that the economy is no longer in the forlorn state that it used to be, he, however, regretted that the progress being made has only reflected on the international rating of the nation’s economy not on the lives of Nigerians.

This is no doubt a constructive declaration that peripherally earned the president a height of respect. Mr. President’s worry becomes particularly more appreciated when one remembers that the challenge of development is one of the greatest problems that have dominated world history. As human beings have always been concerned about how to improve their condition of living and better confront the forces of nature and the environment.

Despite the concerns expressed above, a more constructive understudy of Mr. President’s policies, politics and speed in strategic decision making process in the past five years reveals that impeded improvement of lives in Nigerians was as a result of government’s poor leadership judgements and failure to perform the great roles of planning and acceleration of development processes.

This assertion comes in different forms and shapes.

Fundamentally, aside the ‘ignorance hypothesis theory’ which among other provisions ‘maintains that poor countries are poor because they have a lot of markets failures and because policymakers do not know how to get rid of them and have heeded the wrong advice in the past, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in their book; Why Nations Fail, provides a compelling understanding of what set the groundwork for Nigerian’s poverty.

The duo classified political and economic institutions as either inclusive or extractive; they argue that countries with extractive institutions tend to be poor, while those with inclusive institutions tend to be rich. While submitting that sustained growth occurs when countries move away from extractive political institutions and towards inclusive ones, they concluded that inclusive political institutions give rise to inclusive economic institutions, which then generate economic growth.

To further demonstrate this belief is the words of Professor Ndubuisi Ekekwe who recently wrote; today, our Vice President, Prof Osinbajo, gave a speech on improving the ease of doing business through reforms. A friend in New York sent me the link with this comment: “…your country does not know that the only reform Nigeria needs for foreign investment now is a stable currency. Your problem has gone beyond bureaucracy”.

Similarly, bearing in mind that good governance entails the diligent exercising of the economic, political and administrative authorities to manage a country’s affair at all levels within the rule of law in such a manner that delivers maximum dividends to citizens’, Mr. President need not ask question or regret why the nation’s economy is not impacting in the lives of the people. The reason is simple. By his continued refusal to heed the call by Nigerians that his security votes and other avoidable expenditures need to be slashed, President Buhari has not demonstrated good leadership example.

Going by reports, the 2020 financial estimate shows that Mr. President and His Vice will spend N4.2Billion. Out of this amount, travel will gulp N3.3 Billion, while catering will take N149.1 Billion. This high cost of governance has not only led to poor delivery of democracy dividends but its happening in a country where over 112 million Nigerians now live below the UN poverty line.

Even if Mr. President provides answers to the above source of worries, his inability to stamp out corruption in the country is another obvious reason why Nigerian masses could neither breathe nor their lives improve.

To explain this fact, graft according to Rudy Giuliani is nothing new; it may be the second-oldest profession. Powerful people and those with access to them have always used kickbacks, pay-to-play schemes, and other corrupt practices to feather their nests and gain unfair advantages. And such corruption has always posed a threat to the rule of law and stood in the way of protecting basic civil and economic rights

Corruption is, but a human problem that has existed in some forms. Its fights in Nigeria also dates back to Colonial governments as they (Colonial Overlords) sufficiently legislated against it in the first criminal code ordinance of 1916(No15 of 1916) which elaborately made provisions prohibiting official bribery and corruption by persons in the public service and in the judiciary. Also at independence on October 1, 1960, the criminal code against corruption and abuse of office in Nigeria were in section 98 to 116 and 404 of the code.

What is, however, new is that corruption has recently transformed into an instrument of national strategy. The development has gotten so bad to the extent that if what happened in the time past was a challenge, that of the present is a crisis.

Separate from the corruption crisis rocking the country, there are other legions of reasons why socioeconomic lives of citizens may not improve easily except the Federal Government takes theatrical steps to address the current situation in the country.

More particularly, the present state of poverty, insecurity, infrastructural decay, terrorism, a high rate of out of school children and youths unemployment, unchecked population explosion, technological backwardness, corruption, poor planning and implementation of policies, are but testaments that this administration like its predecessors neither understand nor possess the needed expertise to perform modern jobs of leadership.

To explain, regardless of the field, for one to do any job creditably well, certain steps must be followed. This step in the words of Lance Bettencourt includes; defining what the job requires; identifying and locating the needed inputs; preparing the components and the physical environment; confirming that everything is ready; executing the task; monitoring the results and the environment; making modifications and concluding the job. Because problems can occur at many points in the process, nearly all jobs require problem resolution steps. Some steps are more critical than others, depending on the job, but each is necessary to get the job done successfully.

Regrettably, such logic doesn’t hold-up here.

For example, if the present Government is in the habit of identifying and locating the needed inputs, preparing the components as well as confirming that everything is ready before introducing new policies as specified above, the FG would not have come up with recent order directing all property owners and their agents to charge 6% Stamp Duty on all tenancy and lease agreements they enter into with all leases and remit promptly to the Service

What is more, if Mr President had expressed a little interest in monitoring the outcome of his past actions with the hope of making modifications, maybe, he would have considered as misguided priority the 1.6 billion dollars taken to fix Lagos to Ibadan, the request for 5.3 billion dollars to fix from Ibadan to Kano, 3.2 billion dollars to fix Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, and Lagos to Calabar which is about 11.1billion dollars, If Mr. President had had the interest of Niger Deltans at heart, he would not have declined assent to the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) as recently passed by the 8th Assembly nor ignored the deafening call by well-meaning Nigerians to have the future of this country discussed. Or better still, have the 2014 national confab report implemented; as the content of that report has the capacity to make this political entity and its integral parts, more efficient, more acceptable, more productive, more functional and above all, more equitable.

Most importantly is the revelation that the solution to our national poverty goes beyond showing mere regrets, to include tackling tragic leadership gaps.

Utomi, a Lagos-Based Media Consultant could be reached on: jeromeutomi@yahoo.com.

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Opinion

Social Housing And The Spirit Of Jakande In Cross River

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By Jerome-Mario Utomi

Justice according to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is centrally a matter of how individuals are treated, it is also possible to speak of justice for groups – for example when the state is allocating resources between different categories of citizens. Here each group is being treated as though it were a separate individual for purposes of the allocation.
Here there is a contrast with other virtues: we demand justice, but we beg for charity or forgiveness. This also means that justice is a matter of obligation for the agent dispensing it, and that the agent wrongs the recipient if the latter is denied what is due to her.

Definitely not a false argument but there is an important distinction to make.

In a country like Nigeria, the position of justice when allocating resources, in absolute terms, is not a substance of obligation, but largely a function of behaviour, character, habits, of the personality in public office (the agent dispensing justice).

Using as focal points the right to adequate housing which is both a human right and one of the basic needs of man borne out of desire for security, privacy and protection from negative impacts of the environment, it was Alhaji Lateef Jakande as executive governor of Lagos State in 1979, that his administration was sincerely effective, open and implemented the four cardinal policies of; housing, education, transportation and infrastructure.

It is factually documented that he introduced housing and educational programs targeting the poor, building new neighbourhood primary and secondary schools and providing free primary and secondary education. He established the Lagos state University. Jakande’s government constructed over 30,000 housing units. The schools and housing units were built cheaply, but were of great value. Some of the housing units include low cost estates in Amuwo-Odofin, Ijaiye, Dolphin, Oke-Afa, Ije, Abesan, Iponri, Ipaja, Abule Nla, Epe, Anikantamo, Surulere, Iba, Ikorodu and Badagry.

To fund some of the projects, Jakande increased the tenement rates and price of plots of land in affluent areas of Victoria Island and Lekki Peninsula and the processing fees for lottery, pools and gaming licenses. He also completed the construction of the General Hospital in Gbagada and Ikorodu and built about 20 health centres within the state. As a governor, he established 23 local government councils which were later disbanded by the military. He also started a metroline project to facilitate mass transit. The project was halted and his tenure as Governor ended when the military seized power on 31 December 1983.

Since that date, the spirit of social housing-an umbrella term used to refer to rental housing which may be owned and managed by the state, by non-profit organisations, or by a combination of the two, usually with the aim of making it affordable, departed the country.

But however resurfaced recently after about three decade’s this time around in Cross River state, Nigeria.

Its first manifestation in the state was on Friday, May 29, 2020; at Ifiang Ayong- a sleepy riverine community in Bakassi Local Government Area which came alive as dignitaries from all walks of life gathered to witness an epochal and life- changing event. The commissioning of an ultra-modern Estate comprising 52 units of 2- bedroom bungalows built by Governor Ben Ayade. ‘He did not build it for commercial purposes; the sprawling Estate, fully furnished and complete with essential amenities, is the new home to the displaced Bakassi people who lost their ancestral land, homes and livelihoods to the Republic of Cameroon in 2002 following the ceding of the Peninsula to the Central Africa country’.

Looking at commentaries, one major reason that triggered plaudits and encomium for the state government from various quarters across the nation is that in the early 2000s, the Federal Government inaugurated a Special Committee on National Social Housing Scheme (NSHS) with a presidential mandate to provide housing for its less privileged citizens. In the pilot phase of the scheme, the committee was to build 18,000 units of houses across the country before the end of 2006. However, the Committee could not deliver because the principles of social housing and values were yet to permeate the “development and management” of government’s housing plan and delivery systems. And since then, little has been done to translate such objectives into actionable plans. Or clarify processes and opportunities for citizen’s participation in the development and management of social housing in Nigeria.

But before the happiness elicited by the development at Ifiang Ayong could settle, another was up this time around at Obudu Ranch Resort in Obanliku Local Government Area.

Worried by the squalid and deplorable living conditions and abject condition, highlighted by shanties and dilapidations of the host communities of the Obudu Ranch Resort in Obanliku Local Government Area, Cross River State governor, Sir Ben Ayade who was on a one-week working visit to the Obudu Ranch Resort, promised to change their situation with the provision of social housing.

“We are here at the Ranch and when you look to the left and right, what you see in the entire place are the aborigines, the original owners of Obudu Cattle Ranch. “They are relegated to the worst form of human existence; reduced to want, in body, in spirit, in soul and in the most sub-human living conditions with collapsing roofs and huge massive temperatures that run your blood chill and your bones cold.”

And so my government is committed to constructing social housing to change their course and prove to them that God uses humans as a vessel; to make your town and your place look beautiful as well. So, for us as a state, we are committed to exterminating this kind of extreme poverty.

On his one week visit to the Ranch, he disclosed that the visit was meant to give him the opportunity to see things for himself as his administration gets ready to revamp the prime jewel of hospitality in the state.

“I decided to take a guided tour to spend one week with the people to feel their pulse as we prepare to make the Ranch the most attractive centre for visits in Nigeria. I want to see how the citizens, the aborigines have been living side by side with the glaring reality of the luxury of the ranch resort.

In what could be likened to a tale of two cities, Governor Ayade lamented: “It is a shame that where I live which is the presidential Villa is as if am in Europe and just a few minutes walk from there, this is what you find. The contrast is unacceptable to my conscience because I have a background akin to this people and so I understand the feeling. I understand the pain.”

“My performance efficiency should be measured by how much I have lifted people from extreme poverty to comfort not by how many culverts, how many bridges, how many superhighways, how many deep seaports I have built. The real growth is human growth and that is why I do not believe in Gross Domestic Products (GDP).

“I believe in human happiness index. I want to be assessed on the basis of how happy these people are with the onset of me being governor. When I leave office, what will be the difference I have in their lives? Until I make such a difference, I would have failed as governor.”

On his determination to reposition the ranch, Ayade hinted: “Very soon the ranch will be the biggest attraction in this country because we are building an international airport to support the ranch for export of potatoes and export of ornamental flowers.

“So, if we are going to do that, and go into commercial farming in Obudu cattle ranch and industrial tourism, where does that leave the host communities? That is why we are here today to assure them that they have a critical role to play. We had a meeting with the leaders of the community and have assured them that the squalor and the sub-human conditions will be exterminated in the next six months. We will be here and you will see the difference.

“Cross River does not have enough but I care enough to make a difference for them and we surely will as a state.This is my commitment.”

Indeed, this is true justice coming from a man who similar to Pa.Lateef Jakande, loves his people and is passionate about their development. Interestingly also, Ayade in my estimation stands out at the forefront of the crop of patriots wanting the best for his community, state and country, Nigeria.

Utomi is a Lagos-Based Media Consultant. He can be reached on jeromeutomi@yahoo.com.

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Opinion

‘Mr. Thomas Osuji Tells The Greatest Lie About The Igbo’

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By Benjamin Obiajulu Aduba

He wrote:

I am from Owerri; I think that Igbos behavior has to do with our specific psychology. The Igbo is very competitive. He works for his self, not for the collectivity. He wants to succeed at all costs and does not care about other people. In Igbo society you are rewarded if you work hard and compete and succeed. If you fail you are considered a bush animal (anuohia), a no-body, so every person works hard to succeed and not pay attention to the rest of the people.

Mr. Osuji was born in Lagos, grew up in Lagos except for a few months spent in Owerri during the war. He went back to Lagos immediately after the war and went Lagos primary and high schools and from thence to USA. He probably lived in Igboland for a maximum of four years. And did not get any schooling (primary or secondary) in a school with majority Igbo pupils. And therefore very little street education. His further studies has been mostly science with occasional dabbling is philosophy and religion. But no Igbo studies not even as a hobby.

Having not studied Igbo formally or indirectly by living and going to school with his peers, Mr. Osuji often uses his “common sense” to tell incredible stories about the Igbo. Common Sense can be very much misleading. There are many real things that do not conform to Common Sense. The concept of “Evil Forest” is one example, but more on this at a later paper.

The great lie in the Osuji’s thesis (extract above) is this:

In Igbo society you are rewarded if you work hard and compete and succeed. If you fail you are considered a bush animal (anuohia), a no-body, so every person works hard to succeed and not pay attention to the rest of the people.

It is true that the Igbo society encourages hard work and success and rewards people accordingly. But it is absolutely false that Igbo people do not pay attention to the rest of the people.

The truth is that part of the measure of one’s success in Igbo land is “how much one contributes to the welfare of others”. Here are some proofs:

1. The first young people that went to secondary schools from my town and almost all other towns were sponsored by the Town Improvement Union.

2. Nationwide there was Igbo Improvement Union to take care of those living in faraway places like Kano and Lagos. Igbo Improvement Union (IMU) built and managed schools for every town resident in those faraway places for all Igbo or non-Igbo.

3. Most of the first Igbo university students were sponsored by the town unions or by a wealthy brother, uncle, or cousin of nth degree separation.

4. A successful Igbo merchant in Kano would be expected to take with him many from the village to teach them how to succeed and after several years of apprenticeship will “settle” them. To settle here means give them capital to start on their own.

5. Everywhere you go to in Nigeria one would see clusters of Igbo from one SE town. If you probe further one would see the “Big Brother” that brought them there. This applies to all major cities around the world.

6. A common Igbo title name is “O chili O zua” one who gathers (people) and trains them.

7. Many of the pre-war secondary schools in Igboland were founded by town union. There were levies (taxes) imposed on all able residents (at home and abroad) to fund such projects. Not just schools but also hospitals and Town Halls. In some towns there are age grade projects. It is still going on even in USA and EU.

8. There is a negative side to this. The Igbo is likely to support another Igbo even when the support is not merited. Most corrupt politicians are supported because of their contributions to town projects even when the money comes from the constituent budgets and not from the politician’s pockets.

I suggest that Mr. Osuji should do a little research on Igbo people before accusing them of selfishness. It will help if he would join the prominent Imo Organizations that abound in most US cities or even Owerri town union. He will see the serious competition that goes on as towns try to fund development projects. Of course sometimes a crook gets hold of the fund and the project will not be completed.

The Igbo is one of the most patriotic nations in Nigeria. I can attest to that.

~ Aduba writes from Boston, Massachusetts.

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