By Festus Adedayo
When you listen to Nigeria’s Senate President, Ahmed Lawan’s skewed submission on Southern governors’ meeting in Asaba, Delta State last week, you will realise that people in high places too are not immune from marketplace waffles. Miniature logic can proceed from the minds of huge, prarchute-like babanriga wearers after all. More importantly, from the tragic Lawan ill-logics, the much talked about January, 1967 Aburi Accord will present to you as the quintessential Julius Caesar’s ghost promising to meet its nemesis at Philippi. Finally, you will find out that Nigeria is trapped inside this pit being because it lacks critically thinking leaders.
After the assassination of Caesar, Shakespeare depicts him appearing like an apparition to his friend, Brutus and telling him “thou shall see me at Philippi.” Literati say, killed before the maturation of his dreams, Caesar’s ghost was predicting further evils. Buffeted on all fronts by a Federal Government that has become pallbearer of her citizens and a Nigeria under Buhari that has transmuted into a funeral parlour, the fifteen Nigerian governors had gathered to halt the Nigerian burial party. For two days – January 4 – 5, 1967 – fifteen high-ranking Nigerians had similarly gathered in Aburi to deliberate on a Nigeria that was about to kiss the canvass. Why they chose this town in the Akuapim South Municipal District of the Eastern Region, South of Ghana that was famous for its Botanical Gardens and the Idwira Festival is yet unknown.
The 15 Aburi conferees were: Chairman of the Ghana National Liberation Council, Lt.-General Joseph Arthur Ankrah, who was the then Chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and chairman of the occasion; Lt. Colonel Gowon; Ojukwu himself; Major Mobolaji Johnson; Lt.-Col. Hassan Katsina; Lt.-Col. David Ejoor; Commodore Joseph Edet Akinwale Wey; Colonel Robert Adebayo; Alhaji Kam Salem and Mr. T. Omo-Bare. They were supported by bureaucrats like N. Akpan, Secretary to the Military Governor of the Eastern Region; Alhaji Ali Akilu, Secretary to the Northern Military Governor; D. Lawani, Under Secretary, Military Governor’s Office, Mid-West; P. Odumosu, Secretary to the Western Military Governor and S. Akenzua, Permanent Under-Secretary, who later became the Oba of Benin.
By then, it had become obvious that the legs of the dead body the British haphazardly buried in a 1914 makeshift grave had begun to jut out embarrassingly. The Hausa-Fulani oligarchy had come full throttle in its arrogant belief that Nigeria was its to subjugate. Its military wing, which rode on the crest of a July, 1966 revenge coup, was effectively coordinating this conquest mindset with clinical precision. Before then, Northern Premier, Ahmadu Bello, concluding that progenies of Uthman Dan Fodio could not effectively compete with the south in western education-propelled leadership, had arrived at the need to strengthen Northern hold on the military. Secession from Nigeria in July, 1966 through Operation Araba then became the immediate response of the north.
Togo had given Murtala Muhammed, Theophilus Danjuma and the putschists of July, 1966 the blueprint and the path to tread. This it did with its first coup d’etat in any French and British African colony since the wave of independence hit Africa in the 1950s and 1960s. Thus came the killing and ouster of Sylvanus Olympio as a model fitting for example. Aguiyi-Ironsi, beneficiary of an earlier revolutionary coup of January 15, 1966 led by Kaduna Nzeogwu, had bungled the opportunity to strengthen Nigeria on the path of her diversity and plurality. He sunk Nigeria further into an amorphous unitary rule. Olympio, Prime Minister of this tiny French neighbor of Nigeria’s, had shortly after midnight on January 13, 1963, been woken from sleep by soldiers who broke into his presidential home. By dawn, Olympio’s gruesomely mutilated body was discovered by Leon Poullada, America’s U.S. Ambassador, who saw it lying about three doors from the embassy building.
By June, 1966, Ojukwu and the East had confirmed the hostile and imbalanced administration of Nigeria under scions of the oligarchy in khaki. He saw how Eastern Nigerian resources constituted a huge chunk of the federal purse and its skewed deployment to the North. Igbo living in the North were subjected to a vile massacre typical of the bloodletting by 16th century Ethiopian Zimba cannibals. Joa dos Santos, a Portuguese priest living in Southeast Africa, had told the horrific story of how a warlike Zambesi tribe he called the Muzimba kaffirs, “had not only (eaten) the men they kill in war, but sell the surplus in market.”
The massacre of Igbo, labelled the 1966 anti-Igbo pogrom, was in that Muzimba kaffirs mould. It was a series of butchering committed against Ndigbo living in Northern Nigeria from May of that year which got to its peak on September 29. A total of between 8,000 and 30,000 people of Igbo descent were estimated to have been butchered like Sallah rams. This prompted about a million of their kindred fleeing back to the east. It was apparently a reprisal against the killing of Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa and Northern Premier, Ahmadu Bello a few months before. Pictures of the remains of Bello suddenly sprung up on the streets of the North, with Nzeogwu heaving his military jackboots on his head. This was after Bello’s flight to the bosom of his harem, a move that couldn’t rescue him from the bullets of a man who went by the Kaduna middle name.
With Ojukwu sharpening the machete of war in a bid to fight to redeem his people from the hands of the feudal North, the July, 1967 Aburi meeting was thus a last opportunity to reverse the slide into war. As has been written copiously by scholars, the Aburi Accord was a template for national redemption which, if faithfully implemented, would have saved Nigeria in 1967 and probably avoid the calamity of today. Since the governance structure was skewed in favour of the North, the agreements reached were basically to return Nigeria to true federalism, with devolution of powers being its overarching motive.
Among others, the Accord agreed that the Army be reorganized to restore discipline and confidence in the military and that military governors should have power over military formations in their regions. Also, commissioners of police were to be responsible for maintenance of peace in their domains and Area Commands under Area Commanders corresponding to existing regions should be created. After Gowon had agreed to all these in Ghana, it was reported that Akenzua had gone back to tell him that the Accord meant confederation and by implementing it, Jack was on the verge of signing off Nigeria. Scholars have also said that Akenzua was just a puppet and the real forces pulling his strings were from the UK High Commission and other western powers who stood to lose their patrimony were Nigeria to break up.
All those however became history with Nigeria plunging into a fratricidal 30-month war estimated to have cost three million people. The obstinate failure of Gowon to implement the agreement is held to be one of the major reasons why Nigeria has known no peace thereafter and why, 54 years after, the system could throw up a Buhari as president, a man whose obstinacy and arrogance of power is decidedly worse than Yakubu Gowon’s.
Asaba, it will appear, is a miniature Aburi aimed at preventing Nigeria from going into war. Virtually all actors in the macabre drama called Nigeria are today agreed that vultures and hyenas of war are howling, thirsty for blood and cadavers of the living. Even the Buhari beatification choral group has come to accept that Nigeria is at the precipice. We may not agree on the way forward but that Nigeria is about to go the way of falsely-soldered-together strange bedfellows, is not in doubt.
Swap the dates from July, 1967 to May, 2021 and you will see that the firmament retains same red colour. Calls for secession are ten a dime on Nigerian streets. The Nigerian Army has been so thoroughly emasculated that a ragtag insurgent army is killing its troops like chickens. In the first quarter of 2021, 400 people were reported to have been killed by Boko Haram. Ask parents of abducted Greenfield University, Kaduna whose wards kidnappers are as asking for multiple of millions of Naira whether Nigeria is at war or in peace time. Your guess would be as good as mine. Erstwhile peace of eastern Nigeria has been violently busted by “Unknown Gunmen” who are apparently stronger than an effeminate Nigerian state in the hands of Buhari. The cheapest commodities in Nigeria today appear to be death and blood. Hunger is wracking the bellies of the people so rudely as the economy groans in throes. Everywhere you go, it is weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The Asaba conferees, like those gathered in Aburi, could see further descent into bloodshed. They asked for restructuring, tenets of which look like the Aburi demands. Cynics knew however that with a government of the deaf that administers Nigeria now, the Asaba conference will never produce any meaningful fruits. Never however could the governors have expected Lawan to so narrowly view the horror that is today’s Nigeria. While fielding questions from State House correspondents last Thursday, like Gowon who put on the lens of myopia and thus saw only secession in the Aburi Accord, for Lawan too, restructuring approximated a dismemberment of Nigeria.
“I believe that as leaders, those of us who were elected must not be at the forefront of calling for this kind of thing because even if you are a governor, you are supposed to be working hard in your state to ensure that this restructuring you are calling for at the federal level you have done it in your state as well,” he waffled.
Since taking over power in the revenge coup of 1966, the North has so cleverly tampered with the structure of Nigeria, through demographics and allied institutional maneuvering, so badly that no other region can take any consequential decision about restructuring Nigeria, except with its imprimatur. This was apparently what emboldened the Fulani, serially fingered in the dastardly murders across the country, to audaciously talk down on the rest of Nigeria. On Friday last week, the murderously militant wing of the Fulani, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, through its National Secretary, Alhassan Saleh, threatened that Fulani would be the first to leave Nigeria, while insulting the rest of us. And nothing will happen, because Buhari, his fellow Fulani, is in power.
“Herders are insignificant when it comes to problem of this country, are they the ones looting the treasury? What damages (sic) are they causing to this country? Compare to the criminal activities of ‘Yahoo’ boys, kidnappers, political looters, bandits in power, vagabonds in power like Governor (Samuel) Ortom, do you think if there is no oil money, all these things will be happening? Today we are ready, let them divide the country; let them not wait till tomorrow. We are better prepared than any ethnic nationality. So we are ready, let them divide the country, let us die, we that don’t have the oil,” he had thundered.
Lawan’s waffle was to be followed by a similarly colourless doggerel, this time from the jokester in Lugard House, Lokoja, Yahaya Bello. Speaking last week on a Channels Television’s programme, Politics Today, Bello said that by seeking a restructuring of Nigeria to douse the tension in the land and calling on Buhari to address the people, his governor counterparts from the South were heating up the polity. Ostensibly, by asking Buhari to at least come out to address Nigerians by himself and not via proxy, the governors reasoned that he would be assuring all that he could still speak coherently, widespread belief of his cognitive hamstring notwithstanding.
“When we are talking of security, unity and national cohesion of Nigeria, as leaders and politicians, we should be careful about the words we use…When it is titled or when it appears as if you are fighting President Muhammadu Buhari, our father and our President, we are all getting it wrong because we got to where we are today as a result of maladministration of successive administrations,” the groveller-for-presidential-office governor said. This is a Bello under whom Kogi is a replica of Haiti’s Papa, Baby Doc tyrannical enclave and where the bridge that collapsed in his state recently euphemistically symptomizes governance that had fallen.
They said a people is deserving of its rulers. How did we deserve the trio of Buhari, Lawan and Bello, acting in cahoots with many other short-sighted rulers, whose reasoning is diametrically different from the rest of Nigerians’? Does Nigeria deserve frozen reasoning, like ones glazed in the Antarctica, which oozes out of her leaders? Why is it that the rest of Nigeria sees ominous signs of collapse, a Nigeria twirling on the precipice, while what the leaders see is north, Federal Hausa-Fulani Government, positions at the top and how they can rule till the morning of Armageddon?
Forty Years After Bob: Was He Greater Than Peter Tosh?
Last Tuesday, the world marked the 40th anniversary in the grave of foremost Jamaican music legend, Robert Nesta Marley, popularly known as Bob Marley. He had died of melanoma cancer on May 11, 1981 at the University of Miami Hospital And Clinics, UHealth Tower, Miami, Florida, United States. Born to a British World War soldier, Novan and mother, Cedella Booker, on February 6, 1945 at his maternal grandfather’s farm in Nine Mile, Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica, his death at the age of 36, placed side by side his global fame while alive and even much more in death, has buoyed that cliché that life is not how long but how well.
Tomes of works have been done on his magnificent stardom and impact on the transformation of the raw Jamaican Ska chant into a global musical brand that it would be a rehash doing that here. A major intellectual engagement however has been the argument: who is the greatest between him and his friend, brother and later sworn enemy, Peter MclnTosh, popularly known as Peter Tosh?
In terms of global acceptance, exposure and spread, there is no doubt that Marley is and was the toast of the world. While Tosh was still peaking in his native Jamaica, Marley had received a head start, principally from the early exposure given him by Christ Blackwell, the British owner of the international record label, Island Records. Blackwell’s choice of Marley among the trio of Bob, Peter and a recently deceased colleague of theirs, Neville O’Rilley, popularly known as Bunny Livingstone, has been put to racism and marketing strategy. While the trio, in 1962, decided to form a band which they named The Wailers, Peter was said to have taught the duo how to play the guitar. In their a little more than a decade of being together, The Wailers became a huge commercial success. The New York Times referred to them as “the most popular and admired of all reggae groups” and the band sold more than 250 million albums worldwide.
They however all went their ways in 1974, partly due to Blackwell’s preference for a mulatto Bob who would appeal to the western market, ahead of the two other weed-smoking, outlaw-looking musical urchins. Peter and Bunny had been shocked when, at their maiden UK tour organized by Blackwell, they had been confronted by the advertisement of their band as Bob Marley and The Wailers, as against their erstwhile The Wailers. Peter was to later lament that he “taught him how to play guitar and now they say he’s king of reggae.”
Peter was everything that Bob was and even more. For years, many people did not identify the raw talent and artistic bravura combined in the works of the 6.4 feet dreadlocked singer. This was due to his perceived arrogance and diffidence. For instance, immediately Bob died, Tosh had shocked the world in an interview where he claimed that Bob had peaked while he was decorating the stage. The truth is, Tosh was too assertive, too hot to handle and never hid his disdain for what he called Babylonian lifestyle of hedonism. Tosh believed in marrying words with action. Towards the latter part of his life, he cut a queer image of a revolutionary ready to carry arms. With his imposing height as he adorned a black beret, with a guitar that had the shape of an M16 assault rifle, Tosh didn’t mince words in projecting the narrative that he was a musical militant. He told those who underrated him that he was “like you are steppin’ razor” and asked, “don’t you watch my size” as “I am dangerous!” In comparison to others, Tosh said “I’m the Toughest,” an apparent reference to the trained karate belt holder that he was. He was once asked by an interviewer why he never smiled and he said that since he sang revolutionary song which was not love song, nor a tea party, he saw no reason to smile.
While they were both very spiritual, Peter was more. He was a strict Rastafarian, obeying its injunctions of not mixing with menstruating women, observing its strict dietary prescriptions and believed in doing good to his fellow man.. Apart from pursuing a path of goodness to his fellow man, his lyrics are laced with biblical quotations. Of the three original Wailers, though he didn’t have much education, he was the most cerebral. He could chant endlessly, quoting biblical verses with baffling mastery. The Mystic Man was perhaps the avenue Tosh used to showcase his spirituality the most. He had proclaimed his mysticism in that he doesn’t “drink no champagne…I don’t sniff them cocaine (as it) choke(s) brain… I don’t take morphine (dangerous)…I don’t take no heroin… I man don’t eat up your fried chicken…I man don’t eat up them frankfurters…I man don’t eat down the hamburger…I man don’t drink pink, blue, yellow, green soda” and the reason, he said, was because he was “a man of the past, living in the present and walking in the future.”
In terms of the depth of their songs, Tosh was deeper. He was what could be regarded as a linguistic gymnast and a poet. In his songs, you would encounter raw poetry, with alliterations and virtually all the figures of speech. The word “oppressor” Tosh called “downpressor,” imputing that those who committed such a heinous crime of oppression against blacks should not be dignified with any lifting up. The manager, to him, was the ‘damager’, the judge, a ‘grudge’, the system was ‘shit-stem’ and the Prime Minister, the ‘Crime Minister’ who ‘shits’ (sits) in the ‘House of Represent-a-t’iefs’.” Christopher Columbus was Christopher ‘Combulus’ and Alexander the Great was, “Alexander So Called The Great.” In one of his vinyl he entitled Here comes the judge, just like in Downpressor man, Tosh demonstrated how, on the last day, in the presence of “The Most High Jah,” oppressors of blacks on earth would face the wrath of providence, running to the rocks “but the rocks will be melting.” A great word user that he was, Tosh had told a 40-000-strong audience that he was not a man of peace as “peace” was “the diploma you get in the cemetery” because on the tombstone, it is written, “Rest in Peace!”
While both ex-friends sang Get up, stand up, a song which the trio of erstwhile Wailers sang individually, they made mockery of Christian and Islamic religion, in both religions’ transference of succor for man to an unseen creator. The song asked man to seek redemption here on earth and proclaim that man was tired of the ism and schism of dying and going to heaven in Jesus name because “the mighty God is a living man,” a reference to Haile Selassie whom Rastafarians worship as God. Tosh’s own version of the song, which though wasn’t as high-tempoed and popular as Bob’s, is however unique for the introduction of a slow tempo into it. Same theme was also in Coming in Hot where Tosh demonstrated the fieriness of his song. Like the gun guitar image of a tough militant that he created, the lyrics of this song compared the ferociousness of the Tosh brand to a gunshot or explosives.
While Tosh was assassinated on September 11, 1987 after he had just returned to Jamaica from a US business trip and was relaxing by watching a TV satellite show at home with his common law live-in-lover, Marlene Brown, Marley had succumbed to cancer. Gunmen, led by Dennis “Leppo” Lobban, one of Tosh’s ‘boys’ whom he sustained as part of the communal Rastafarian injunction of brotherly co-existence. They had stormed his house at Barbican Road residence, St Andrew, Jamaica at about 7.30pm on this day. Within a twinkle of an eye, the gunmen had put a full stop to his 42-years of existence. At first, talks were rife that Marley’s wife, Rita who controlled his estate, had a hand in Tosh’s murder as the original Wailing Wailers friends of Marley made a legal claim to his multi-million dollar Tuff Gong studio on Hope Street in Kingston. This was exacerbated by interviews granted by the lone survivor of the triumvirate, Bunny who accused Rita of being a Jezebel and that Peter was actually sleeping with her while married to Bob.
While Bob Marley’s adaptation of Emperor Haille Selassie’s speech at the OAU in 1978 into a song he entitled War, attempted to rouse blacks from their mental slavery and dependency on the west, Tosh’s own Arise black man conjured the Socratic credo of “Man, know thyself.” It was one of the strongest messages from any musician wherein Tosh spelt the need for the black race to unite and fight for equal rights. Deploying violent imageries, Tosh also predicted that the end of mental slavery was near and attacked those who didn’t see this, stating that “heaven becomes your grave.”
At personal comparative level, this writer has severally claimed that Tosh was a greater talent than Marley. Though many of their endowments verged in each other, the former was far more endowed than the latter. No one can however dispel the fact that the duo contributed immensely to what is today reggae music, as well as their yeoman roles in the deployment of music as a liberation struggle weapon.
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Fani-Kayode On A Familiar Road
Only a casual observer of the unpredictable Nigerian political space will be surprised when the picture of President Muhammadu Buhari, governors Mai Buni of Yobe State, his Zamfara counterpart, Bello Matawalle and Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, flooded the social media on Thursday evening.
The news of the meeting, in a follow up to quench the curiosity of Nigerians, was that Fani-Kayode has defected or should we say, has returned to the ruling All Progressive Congress, (APC). The former spokesman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Presidential Campaign Council was introduced to the president formally at the Villa as APC member by the Yobe Governor, who is also the Chairman of the APC national caretaker committee, who was accompanied by the Zamfara state helmsman, Matawalle.
The loquacious former minister, said he worked behind the scene to facilitate the defection of three Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Addressing State House reporters Fani-Kayode, who explained that he had been a founding member of the APC, said he returned to the APC for the unity and togetherness of the country.
He further characteristically hinted that he was also working behind the scene to woo the governors of Oyo, Bauchi and Enugu states, Seyi Makinde, Bala Mohammed and Ifeanyi Uguanyi respectively, to also relinquish their current parties and join the ruling APC. The veracity of this revelation will be known in the next few days or weeks.
But it was vintage FFK in front of the cameras in Aso Rock, flanked by the two Northern governors, telling the unwary why he decided to leave the PDP at this point in time. Trying, albeit unconvincingly, to tell Nigerians that President Buhari, who he had hitherto called unprinted names; who he incessantly used every opportunity to abuse; is the best thing that ever happened to Nigeria.
This was a man who said in December 2019, when there was speculation that he was considering joining the APC who described it as a sinking party and a party in darkness. “I will rather die than join APC”, he famously said. And even though men of honour are becoming increasingly elusive in our political terrain, a decent party full of honourable members would find it difficult to reconcile FFK’s latest outbursts to what he said about the party barely three years ago.
I don’t think most Nigerians would give FFK latest indiscretion or political summersault the benefit of the doubt, because the man simply does not deserve it. This is a man whose main preoccupation is that of a rabble-rouser. Apart from being unprincipled, covetous and unpragmatic, he had shown over the years that he can be unreliable and cannot be trusted. Yes, even though we all knew that he has little regard for integrity and decency, his latest move is way too low and pathetic.
What political value is he even bringing to the table? FFK has never won an election since he became a prominent political figure in this country. He had always been a paperweight who finds solace in making a lot of noise. Unlike Patrick Buchanan, the vivacious American journalist and politician, who, apart from being an intellectual and a polemist, won election to the House of Representatives, FFK has never been on a major ballot for elections. Even in his native Osun State, he is not known to be a political heavyweight. Rather, many see him as someone who just wants to be noticed and not someone who wants to contribute to the well-being of the people.
It therefore amuses me that the APC leadership and the presidency gave him a red carpet and a presidential treat. There was no sign that the ruling party was in serious crisis and needed an FFK as a catalyst or a major asset to fill the void. Perhaps the APC leaders knew what they are doing that we don’t know and wanted to score a cheap political point that the vocal and opportunistically ranting fellow will be useful inside than outside their fold.
For goodness sake FFK is not the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, whose defection to the ruling party will be a masterstroke and will shake the nation’s politics to its foundation and even change the political dynamics of the country; and he does have the weight of the governor of Delta or even Sokoto States, whose exit from the opposition party would badly damage their political fortunes. Why then would Buhari undignified his office by giving FFK and company a photo-op and red carpet that he badly needed to redeem his unenviable and battered image?
Are the handlers of PMB mindful of the damage such an itinerant hustler will do to the image of the presidency? Must the president give FFK such an important audience when the reception can always be done by another senior government official? Or was it a set up to embarrass the president? These are some salient questions that need to be answered so that the issue can be given proper perspective.
For sure, his return to the fold of the ruling party cannot be a plus, it would indeed, be a big minus to its electoral fortunes. FFK will ultimately be judged by what he said in the past and if what he said is anything to go by, then, it is easy to conclude that his inconsistencies would have a negative impact on both himself and his new party going forward.
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Hurray! It’s Naija Times’ First Anniversary
By Ehi Braimah
It was on September 15 last year that we invited family, friends and associates to the launch of Naija Times. It was a hybrid event. All too soon, Naija Times has completed one full circle of 365 days – it’s our first anniversary.
We thank God for keeping us alive because Covid-19 is today’s grim reaper. So many lives have been lost to the deadly virus. It is indeed an irony that it was at the height of the lockdown last year that we decided it was time to launch Naija Times.
The clock keeps ticking – a constant reminder that time waits for no one.
The idea of floating an online newspaper had always been on my mind but I kept it in the can. When I informed Jahman Anikulapo, art enthusiast and former Editor of The Guardian on Sunday, that it was time to launch the newspaper, he told me he was in retirement.
Somehow, I managed to pull him out of his self-imposed retirement from journalism practice and he agreed to work part-time as Editorial Director. But Jahman has been doing more than our part-time agreement because he wanted us to produce a “complete” digital newspaper – no newsprint, printing press, circulation vans or vendors. Technology has enabled us to operate a virtual suite for Naija Times.
I’m happy to report that Jahman’s commanding influence in the newsroom and rock-solid commitment to the project has been beneficial to Naija Times and the team of reporters, writers, researchers and contributors. Jahman has been doing a yeoman’s job – he’s a workaholic and newshound of the first rank. I still do not know how he manages to juggle his role at Naija Times with his other numerous engagements.
In order to achieve our goal of producing a “complete newspaper”, I contacted Akpandem James, another senior and experienced journalist who lives and works in Abuja, to join the team and he gladly accepted. Like most Nigerians, Akpandem and I are passionate about a Nigeria that works for everyone but we also believe Nigerians must learn to take responsibility for their individual roles.
Although leaders are the conscience of society, a country can only get the leader it deserves and we must understand that the leaders are not going to drop from the moon. They live amongst us. This was why we decided to work together on another “Proudly Nigerian” project.
Previously, Akpandem was Editor and later CEO of Daily Independent before his appointment as Assistant Secretary, Media and Communications of the 2014 National Conference inaugurated by former President Goodluck Jonathan, and subsequently as Special Adviser (Media) to Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, former Minister of Budget and National Planning.
With Jahman and Akpandem agreeing to support the dream, I knew I was the luckiest guy in the world. This was even more so because I have enduring relationships spanning several seasons with both of them.
In any event, I was not going to do the job alone; Jahman and Akpandem made it possible for us to build a great team from Day One – and we are having plenty of fun working together. I’m grateful for their friendship and goodwill.
To kick-start the project, I created a WhatsApp forum on July 25, 2020 for seamless sharing of information. After welcoming them to the forum, I wrote this: “Naija Times is planned to be an online newspaper and the vision is for the paper to become an easily recognisable brand in Nigeria within 24 months. I welcome ideas on how we can build a strong Naija Times brand that can be trusted.”
That goal looked like a tall order but our Zoom meetings commenced immediately. We discussed the editorial policy and direction of Naija Times bearing in mind the overarching objective of publishing stories that are “factual, balanced and credible to achieve the highest standards of ethical journalism.”
Even choosing the name Naija Times was deliberate. It went through a thoughtful and iterative process to enable successful branding. What we had in mind 12 months ago was to position Naija Times as Nigeria’s voice for news around the world and it explains the choice of colours and dot ng domain.
No newspaper is complete without well researched and interesting contents. We went ahead to create multiple and diverse sections because of our vision for a “complete” newspaper. We also publish weekly editorials and the Editorial Advisory Board, chaired by Akpandem, holds two virtual meetings monthly.
Let me confess that we are truly blessed with a great team of distinguished professionals in different fields serving voluntarily on the Board. They include business persons, university dons, media practitioners and public policy analysts in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Jos, Ottawa (Canada), Austin, Texas (USA) and Boston, Massachusetts (USA).
At the last Editorial meeting, the Board members unanimously agreed to write articles on key Nigerian issues from different perspectives to mark our first anniversary. It turned out to be the icing on the cake and they are highly appreciated.
In addition to being Chair of the Editorial Advisory Board, Akpandem uses his network of high profile contacts to source and send materials regularly to the newsroom from the presidency, state governments, political parties, MDAs and development agencies. He also interfaces with opinion writers and contributors to Naija Times – including the ones he invited to write for us.
I must especially commend the contributions of Dan Amor, lead editorial writer; Bankole Wright, assistant lead writer and our founding staff, Kolawole Ojebisi (News Editor), Paul Otaigbe (Copy Editor) – they have moved on to other assignments – and Prince Toby Udo, our Assistant Editor who works round the clock. He is a rare gem and he is ably supported by Hollins Esegba, our Assistant Content Manager who doubles as a reporter.
Kanayo Ume is one of the best graphic designers in town taking charge of our Creatives and projecting the right visual image for Naija Times. I salute Frederick Agbi who produced our Naija Times branded T-shirts and shipped them from the United Kingdom.
I’m thankful to an amazing team comprising of Manuella Igori, Vincent Braimah, Bola Okoromadu, Mary Soremekun, Ifeoluwa Odunlade, Blessing Obi and Nkechi Njoku who provide back office support.
We also have a long list of regular contributors, opinion writers and columnists, wonderful people who are supportive of the Naija Times dream. They include Armsfree Ajanaku (who is also on the Editorial Advisory Board), Joseph Afamhe, Nurudeen Obalola, Oyindamola Lawal, Jane Peters, Ubongabasi James, Moses Ebong, Samuel Benjamin, EnemonaAtamodu, MajaFawole, OlayinkaOyegbile, Benson Idonije, Femi Odugbemi and others.
My wife, Oluwakemi, a first class care-giver, has been managing the last line of defence, ensuring that we did not score “own goals”. We have received tonnes of constant encouragement and we remain grateful to her.
We also thank our advertisers who have been there for us. They include, UBA, Access Bank, First Bank, Fidelity Bank, Nigerian Breweries Plc and NASCO Group. But like Oliver Twist, we want them to do more.
In our first year, we set out to create rich and interesting content that would be supported by a user-friendly website. In today’s digital world with millions of websites, a robust digital marketing strategy that can enable a meaningful global ranking is inevitable.
That was how Ayo Banjo, a website architectural professional, joined the team and he initially supervised MacDonald Chigozie and Deji Oluwadare – two creative and hardworking web designers.
Ayo who studied Computer Science at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa practiced journalism in the 90s. He brought to the table his wealth of experience in robust website security architecture and outstanding user-interface experience for our readers.
His role is basically to oversee the functionality of Naija Times website, evaluate and manage its performance, facilitate hosting and server management. In addition, he develops, maintains and updates Naija Times website content with critical oversight responsibility for internal and external security against malware and any other infection.
Ayo and I, by the way, have also come a long way together as friends, brothers and associates. We are both Rotarians and we belong to the same Club – the Rotary Club of Lagos, the oldest Club in Rotary International, District 9110, and the second oldest Club in Nigeria (after the Rotary Club of Kano, District 9125), having been chartered on May 30, 1961.
As a deliberate policy, we targeted Nigerians in the diaspora. They are a key audience. Apart from having a “Diaspora News” section and “Diaspora Files” (from contributors around the world), we also launched “Naija Times Diaspora Conversations”, a virtual colloquium, on April 17, 2021 with the following objectives:
Engage our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora and give them a voice on issues that affect us;
Find a common ground from the discussions and make recommendations to the government;
Promote patriotism amongst this demography — we do not have any other country to call our own, and
Publish summary of the conversations on Naija Times website for the benefit of our readers.
As we look ahead to the next cycle of elections, our 3rd Naija Times Diaspora Conversations will discuss the leaders we want in 2023. We have in mind visionary and competent leaders that can be trusted. Who are they? I’m using this opportunity to appreciate all our previous discussants and participants for their various contributions to the task of nation building.
Part of our strategic positioning is to tell the Nigerian story as it is without fear or favour and promote a developmental agenda. All Nigerians, regardless of where we come from, must take on the patriotic duty of selling the positive attributes of our great country to the rest of the world, no matter our circumstance.
It is true that Nigeria is blessed with abundant human and natural resources which confer unique advantages on the largest black nation in the world. Apart from being the most populous country in Africa (208 million people), Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa.
It is being projected that by 2050, Nigeria’s rapidly growing population will be about 400 million, making it the third most populous country in the world after China and India. However, our burgeoning population will also become our albatross because of poor local productive capacity.
If there’s no incentive to produce locally, our appetite for imported goods will continue to grow. The downside will be further devaluation of our currency thereby reducing the purchasing power of the Naira which is already in a free fall.
Due to current economic hardship and uncertainties (it is difficult to plan and the security challenges are unhelpful), there is an exodus of our best and brightest out of the country but the trend can be reversed, and we cannot give up because Nigeria is too big to fail.
History has shown that nations rise out of the ashes of difficult periods; all stakeholders – including journalists – must come together to fast-track the renaissance process for a “New Nigeria”.
In reporting the news, Naija Times will continue to expand the frontiers of development journalism by using such reports to shape public policy to build strong institutions for a better society. This explains why we adopted the slogan: Journalism in the service of society.
As stated in our Vision Statement, “Naija Times is committed to building an egalitarian society that is founded on equity, justice and respect for fundamental human rights”. To achieve these noble objectives, Naija Times needs to be strong and independent.
As we begin another circle of 365 days, what do we want to achieve? Ultimately, we want our footprints to be on a solid ground. We intend to use the platform for advocacy to control our birth rate because population explosion is a time bomb waiting to go off. The federal government should begin to articulate and implement policies on birth control as a matter of national emergency.
Secondly, we shall promote transparency in the implementation of government policies and spending — it is the only way we can win back people’s trust. Our reports will therefore highlight the essence of building social capital and its numerous benefits; good governance mechanisms, gender equity and social inclusion.
Another area of interest will be reviewing the impact of yearly appropriations on the development of healthcare and education. The measurement of human development index in any society cannot ignore the well-being and literacy rate of its people.
Finally, we cannot run away from reporting the devastating impact of climate change in all its ramifications – a clear and present danger threatening our common humanity.
In Nigeria, for instance, we have seen how increased flooding from heavy downpours is wreaking havoc across the land. The story is not different in Europe and the United States with ravaging tornadoes, extremely high summer temperatures, horrific storms, wild fires, record rainfall and floods.
The Naija Times project has not been a bed of roses — we had our challenges and disappointments but we summoned the courage to forge ahead. Getting to the first anniversary finish line and crossing it is like winning a gold medal but Naija Times is still work-in-progress and the future is bright.
We definitely hope to do more in our second year by God’s grace and with the support of our readers, advertisers, well-wishers and other stakeholders. God bless you!
Braimah is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng)
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Tale Of VAT, The Lazy Grasshopper And The Ant
By Festus Adedayo
There is this ancient fable of the ant and grasshopper that best explains the Nigerian fiscal federalism duel. Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, amplified it recently. Ants, you know, are one of the most hardworking, organized and purposeful animals on earth. Extremely hardworking and industrious, myths that have existed for ages about these insects talk about their tireless industry and empathy for one another. Ants are also seen as the closest neighbor of man. In them is a unique prowess and organizational power that have survived centuries.
The pervasive presence of the ant makes the world to believe that it has turned the globe into one huge colony. This is reinforced by the fact that ants exist in almost every landmass on earth, except in the cold Antarctica and some other few islands whose weathers are inhospitable to the ant’s existence.
So, there was this epicurean Grasshopper who was also a musician. Given to a life of pleasure, liquour and women, he spent every time of his life guzzling alcohol and hosting the best women in the neighbourhood. In the perception of the world of his time, musicians and entertainers belonged to the rung of the ladder of society. They were seen as unserious and lazy roam-about. While hardworking persons in the village were farmers like ants who left for their farms at cockcrow, the morning was time for entertainers to snore. Having spent night times at shindigs, they spent the morning sleeping. By evening time, Grasshopper and his ilk would then take their baths, comb their hairs, apply pancake, spray perfumes that natives called lofinda on their bodies and get set for their entertaining activities.
Working together in unity and non-aggressively as a group, ant societies exploit resources for the common good and come to the rescue of one another in trouble. In their colonies, they take decisions collectively, communicate these within individuals, allocate and divide responsibilities according to individual strength, move out cohesively to achieve these decisions, thereby solving otherwise complex problems. One of the manifestations of this cooperation is the building of their habitats, the anthills.
Now, to the fable: It was now farming season. Though he had a farmland inherited from his late father, Grasshopper spent the season singing, chirping and swabbing liquor every evening, Conversely, Ant worked tirelessly on his farm, gathering and storing up foods in his barns, in anticipation of the dearth of the dry season. By autumn, it was time of plenty and relaxation for the Ant and other hardworking farmers. However, for the Grasshopper, it was a season of hunger. Unable to contain the hunger, Grasshopper gathered his wife and children to the home of the Ant, begging and prostrating to be given food for the family’s survival. Ant mocked the Grasshopper’s idleness and lazy disposition and asked that Grasshopper should eat his hair comb, perfume and dancing steps. Denied food, Grasshopper and his household eventually died of famish.
The moral the story is the virtue of hard work and the perils hidden in improvidence. The bible gives this teaching its notoriety through its rebuke of laziness in the Book of Proverbs, to wit, “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, which having no captain, overseer or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest.” Morals like working today to avert hunger tomorrow, hunger waits at the end of the tunnel for the idle soul and sundry others lace that fable.
In a Nigeria where the general perception of political office holders is that of bullies with inflated ego like that of a peacock, it is very difficult to like Nyesom Wike. The logic of his arguments, often times muddled by his exceptionally gruffy voice, the inkling one gets is that he romances despotism. This makes Wike’s bully picture perhaps the strongest of his public impressions. If you add these to another perception that he battles to manage a short fuse and high-pitched temperament, essences and morals of most of his public interventions are oftentimes drowned. Last week, however, rather than these impressions, Wike’s message that the Ant cannot continue to feed the fancy of the Grasshopper loomed larger, its essence and the moral of his arguments escaping out of the loop. It jolted Nigeria and became the most dominant discourse in debates about Nigerian fiscal federalism, which I have chosen to liken to the ant and grasshopper fable above.
Debates on the fiscal relationship between Nigeria’s central and state governments have endured since the amalgamation of Nigeria’s southern and northern protectorates. Indeed, the amalgamation idea by Major Fredrick Lugard was said to have been borne out of Britain’s quest to take off its shoulders the burden of bearing the financial task of administering the Northern protectorate from its taxpayers’ money. With a buoyant southern protectorate which had a robust economy, amalgamation was the most logical step to take by imperial Britain.
Since then, back and forth arguments on the relationship between the central and state governments have continued. In 1914, Lugard enacted the Mineral Ordinance of 1914 which vested all minerals in Nigeria on the Crown, a move which the Tafawa Balewa government which took over from the colonialists read to mean that at their exit, control of minerals was sine qua non under the purview of the central government. With self-government granted to them in 1957, power of exploitation and control of minerals in their jurisdictions was never granted to these regions in the constitution. Earnings from tin and columbine, which were excavated from Jos- Plateau area (North) as well as coal in Enugu (East) demanded licenses for exploitation from the federal government. Royalties from these resources only went to the regional governments. The governments however got foreign exchange earnings each from groundnuts, hides and skin and palm oil respectively, no thanks to the 1951 Macpherson and 1963 constitutions.
The recent judgment of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, which ruled that states and not the Federal Government had the right to the collection of the Value Added Tax (VAT) has rekindled the fiscal debates in Nigeria which began since the time of amalgamation. Beside VAT, the court also ruled that states and not the central government had the authority of the Nigerian Constitution to collect personal income tax. These pronouncements have also revved up narratives of fiscal injustice that has been the story of Nigeria from inception. Spearheaded by the Rivers State governor, Wike, last Thursday, Wike also instantly went ahead to sign into law a bill that was meant to action this disgust with the generally perceived inequity of the unitarized federal government system being practiced by Nigeria. In the bill, Rivers State government was given a force of law to thenceforth collect VAT in the state. Lagos State also followed suit with the signing into law of a bill with same texture.
Wike roused up the anger of the centrifugal advocates against the current equation in Nigeria. While signing the bill into law, he had said: “States have been turned to beggars. Hardly will any day pass that you won’t see one state or the other going to Abuja to beg for one fund or the other. In this (Rivers) state, we awarded contracts to companies and within the last month we paid over N30 billion to the contractors and 7.5% will now be deducted from that and to be given to FIRS. Now, look at 7.5% of N30 billion of contracts we awarded to companies in Rivers State, you will be talking about almost N3 billion only from that source. Now, at the end of the month, (the) Rivers State government has never received more than N2 billion from VAT. So, I have contributed more through the award of contract and you are giving me less. What’s the justification for it?”
Rolled into one in this tale told by Wike is the indolence and laziness of Nigerian states due mainly to the doll-outs they collect from the center monthly and the palpable injustice, akin to the ancient saying of a Big Brother who robs Peter to pay Paul, in the Nigerian mis-federal fiscal arrangement. The moment a truly federal comb is run through this iniquitous system and states start to get what they strictly deserve and truly work for, governors will then realize that gubernatorial administration is not a tea party; and that they are elected to think out of the box.
The current fiscal battle over VAT is one between forces I call centripetal and centrifugal – those who believe that Nigeria’s federalism should revolve around the center and those who hold that the states ought to control the levers of the Nigerian economy as it operated in the 1963 constitution. It is also a battle for the soul of and proper definition of what should constitute Nigeria’s federalism. For antagonists of the centripetal argument, they claim that majority of the problems of existence being faced by the country emanate from the excessive powers of the central government. Runners of the central government are exposed to humongous funds which make their offices attract a rat race to occupy by all and sundry, regardless of their competence.
The news of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) acting like a desperate little urchin by running to the National Assembly to have the federal collection of VAT pushed on the exclusive list is one of the sickening fallouts from this whole VAT mess. It gave the impression that the central government, through the FIRS, was under pressure to perpetuate an unjust status quo.
More fundamental among the criticisms is that because the funds that FG superintends over are actually not its money, though the money is for all, it actually belongs to nobody, thereby legitimizing the ease and the rapaciousness with which it is filched. Opponents of fiscal centrifugal forces also claim that, with the high level of irresponsible governance and theft of public money in the states, FG should be left to play some Big Brother, patrimonial role over national assets and wealth. Again, for an adequate protection of weak states which do not have the huge resources of the “big” states, they argue, the FG should warehouse the wealth of the state and dispense to all according to its equitable wisdom.
This last argument was canvassed last week by the Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello, represented by Kingsley Fanwo, his Commissioner for Information, on an Arise TV programme, as well as Muhammad Magaji, Gombe State Commissioner for Finance. They both represented the centrifugal voices in favour of a federal paternalism on the wealth of the country. Magaji, at the Technical Workshop on the development of the Gombe State’s Medium-Term Sector Strategy, (MTSS) appealed to Southern State governments to step down their push against the VAT proceeds regime.
“The VAT issue will have adverse effects not only on Gombe State but almost all the states of the federation. I was part of the discussion few weeks ago by all commissioners of finance across the country. The realisation was that only Lagos, Rivers and probably Delta states would be able to pull through without this VAT being administered centrally, and it is our appeal that we all put sentiments behind and work towards a federation that is one, by being our brothers’ keepers and ensuring that what is pulled together at the center is distributed to be able to balance resources across the country,” he said. To the Kogi state government, “We are not created equally, and God that created us did not give us equal potential, and we have to support one another.”
The VAT proceeds debate goes beyond the issue of tax and strikes at the core of the Nigerian situation and existence. Those who try to explain it as the complication of federalism or a tax procedure facing a lacuna just don’t get it. The debate is reminiscent of the Grasshopper and Ant fable above. A lot has been said on the ignominious situation where northern states who contribute very little to the central purse have the temerity to destroy alcoholic drinks sent to their jurisdiction, in the name of Sharia. They should have acted like the Afghan governments now and before now who, in the bid to follow the tenets of Islam on borrowing that frown at paying interests, refused to accept IMF loans and are likely to be opening their fiscal doors to China which probably will borrow them money without interests.
The VAT issue is the question of how Nigeria should be run in a proper federalism and who runs it – the states or the federal government? Though arguments subsist that huge heists will be perpetrated by the states if they lay their hands on such huge sums, it is defeated by the fact that huger heists are going on at the federal level now, concealed from view and anger of the law by region, religion and godfatherism. Since the military hijack of power in 1966, Nigeria has sought a resolution of this volcanic and complex issue, to no avail. Perhaps the Supreme Court would help Nigeria answer it once and for all.
The issue goes beyond Magaji’s pleading with the “wealthy states” to support the “weak” states. It is a question of justice which will also force states to think outside the box on methods of their economic survival so that they could wake up from being the sybaritic Grasshopper. It asks the equity question: Should the hardworking Ant subsidize the slovenly Grasshopper? At the core of the question is also the umbrella question of restructuring. Once the judiciary helps Nigeria to answer the question federally, other questions on Nigeria’s federalism would need answers as well. Then, Nigeria will be on the road to proper restructuring.
(Published by The Cable on September 12, 2021)
1,304 total views, 28 views today
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