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Assault On The Press Cannot Stand

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Rising from a recent meeting, the Nigerian Press Organisation took a resolute stand against fresh attempts to legitimise the ongoing assault on the press under President, Muhammadu Buhari, with the collaboration of the National Assembly. Taking its anti-democratic and dictatorial identity a step further, enablers within the parliament are rushing through two bills designed to asphyxiate freedom of the press and erode the fundamental rights of Nigerians to free expression. If the plot scales through, it will permanently obliterate the capacity of the media “to disseminate pluralistic views and news.” And that will sound a death knell for democracy and its attendant freedoms.

Hiding hypocritically under the desire to “remove bottlenecks affecting its performance and make it in tune with current realities in regulating the Press,” the NASS is seeing through two devious bills: ‘An Act to amend the Nigerian Press Council Act 1992,’ and the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission Amendment Bill. The sinister aim of both is to pave the way for the government to seize control of the media space and subjugate the free flow of information to the whims and direction of the state and its officials. But Adolph Ochs, the New York Times founder, once said: the fearless exchange of information and ideas is the surest means of resisting tyranny and realising human potential.

Since the advent of the Buhari regime on May 29, 2015, it has been steadily but vigorously rolling back due process and the rule of law with one hand while promoting arbitrariness, impunity and extrajudicial actions against the media with the other. The major problem with the regime and the pliable lawmakers is that they are neither democrats attuned to the ennobling principles of liberal democracy, nor are they guided by Nigeria’s turbulent political history and the heroic role and battles of the press since amalgamation. If they subscribed to the first, they would have known that a free, unfettered press is the oxygen of democracy. “Freedom of the Press,” declared Franklin D. Roosevelt, a former US president, “is essential to the preservation of democracy.”

America’s founding fathers, in framing the US constitution after which Nigeria’s is partly patterned, were unanimous in this belief. One of them, Benjamin Franklin, declared it as a “principal pillar of a free government,” so important that “when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins.”

Nigeria’s past is also replete with many attempts to subjugate the press and choke freedom of expression. All failed in the face of Nigerians’ determination to freely express themselves and the media survived to write the political obituaries of the successive administrations.

The NPC bill is typically odious; it attempts to control the media in a manner fit only for dictatorships. It seeks to regulate the print media through a press code and standards, proposes to grant or revoke publishing licences, register, or delist journalists and laughably “ensure truthful, genuine and quality services and media practitioners.” It empowers the new Press Council to solely determine ethics and “fake news,” investigate infractions and punish errant operators.

The fines prescribed are no less prohibitive. Individual journalists can be fined N250,000 and a publishing company N5 million. Harking back to an inglorious past, the bill goes further to prescribe jail terms of between one and three years and fines in the range of N250,000 to N5 million for journalists, news agents and media organisations. Purveyors of “fake news” are to be fined N2 million to N5 million, two years in jail and in addition, pay compensation, while the media outlet will be fined N10 million or shut down for one year; it will also pay N20 million as compensation to the aggrieved party!

Similarly, the NBC Act confers sweeping powers on the Minister of Information to make and enforce regulations to control broadcast content as well as online and offline material. In the words of the NPO, it transforms the minister into a “Monster Minister” with unprecedented power over electronic media and private business.

Both bills violate the 1999 Constitution by seeking to circumscribe fundamental freedoms enshrined in Chapter IV, and by going ahead with the legislation despite a subsisting court action. The legislators betrayed their mischief by the surreptitious manner they went about the NPC Act. Of the three-member groups of the NPO, two were never notified of the public hearing, the only one notified received its invitation on the day of the hearing, a move the NPO described as “a sinister, legislative ambush.”

The New Media Association, a United Kingdom-based media watcher, argues that freedom of expression is a universal human right. It is not the prerogative of the politician. Nor is it the privilege of the journalist. In their day-to-day work, journalists are simply exercising every citizen’s right to free speech. Nigerians should, therefore, not see the assault as the media’s battle alone. The media is a platform for all citizens, made even more so with new media and access to telephones and computers.

This assault of freedom is not new. The Nigerian media has faced official hostility– and survived. The colonial administration, uncomfortable with the independent stance of publishers, enacted laws to control the media; it jailed some journalists and jailed others. In the immediate post-independent era, the federal and regional governments retained some colonial ordinances and enacted new ones. In the old Western Region, harsh laws were rushed through as the region descended into political strife. Successive military regimes also enacted decrees when they were not detaining or proscribing media houses without one.

In his first outing as military head of state (1984/85), Buhari made no pretence of his aversion to free press and public scrutiny. Under his notorious Decree 4, two journalists, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Irabor, were jailed.

His successor, Ibrahim Babangida, who initially courted popularity by abrogating Decree 4, was to enact an even harsher version with the Newspapers Registration Decree 43 of 1993 as he sought to cling to power. The brutal military despot, Sani Abacha (1993-98), like Babangida, frequently shut down and proscribed media houses, hunted journalists and detained several indefinitely. The PUNCH, like some other media concerns, endured shutdowns under both dictators. But the media, as usual, triumphed.

Disappointingly, the liberal spring that civil rule was expected to usher in has been elusive, and liberty has been under siege, especially under the Buhari regime. The US State Department Human Rights Report 2020 details a decline in fundamental rights and abuses in Nigeria, including freedom of the press. Nigeria has ranked consistently low in the World Press Freedom Index compiled by the non-profit, Reporters Without Borders. It ranked 120 out of 180 countries in the 2021 edition, 115 in 2020, 122 in 2017. In their State of Media Freedom in Nigeria report by a coalition of NGOs in collaboration with the Nigerian Union of Journalists, no fewer than eight journalists have been killed in the line of duty under Buhari; about 300 rights violations and harassment affecting over 500 journalists, media workers and media companies have occurred across the country.

Following the example of the Presidency, the police, State Security Service agents and state governors serially maltreat journalists, hound them and file spurious criminal charges against professionals. Maltreated, detained, and tortured, Agba Jalingo, a Calabar-based journalist, has just won a N30 million award for rights violation at the ECOWAS Court of Justice against the Federal Government. Several state governors have been known to harass journalists. Police and the SSS personnel routinely brutalise journalists at events, seize their notebooks, phones and cameras and detain them while on their legitimate duties. Some FCT policemen did just that on Sunday, attacking a PUNCH reporter and a Roots TV reporter who had gone to cover an event at the Dunamis Church, Abuja. The police and SSS bizarrely think journalists need their permission to report some events or take photographs.

The lethal threat to liberty and citizens’ right to know should be challenged by all lawful means. Lawmakers with a good conscience should back out of this odious venture and shoot down the amendment bills. As the American statesman, Thomas Jefferson, said, “Liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

 

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Abba Kyari: Who, What Shot The Sheriff?

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 By Festus Adedayo

In the preface to my book entitled Ayinla Omowura: Life and Times of an Apala Legend (2020), I equated stardom and the zenith of the social ladder with the purport of a Yoruba wise saying that, “epo ni mo ru, oniyangi, ma ba t’emi je”. This literally translates as, “anyone who shoulders a heavy gallon of palm oil should avoid the destructive tendency of the stone-laced ground he walks upon.” I deployed this to explain the premature death of Omowura, one of Yoruba’s most evocative traditional African musicians, who was killed 41 years ago, at the apogee of his life’s attainment, in a bar room squabble in Abeokuta, Ogun State. Omowura’s fall, I said, was due to “his inability to positively evaluate the porcelain-like delicate but huge image he carried on his shoulders” because, if he did, “he most probably would have walked less in the neighbourhood of the oniyangi, which eventually ensured his (fatal) stumbling.”

The mortal fall of a high-calibre persons, as cited above, was rekindled last week when an American Central District of California Court fingered, among four others, a highly celebrated Nigerian law enforcement official, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Abba Kyari, as participating in a fraud ring. The anti-hero of the grisly drama is a man who has now pleaded guilty to a $1.1 million money laundering crime, Ramon Abass, alias Huspuppi. After the California judge unsealed the docket which revealed details of Kyari’s alleged involvement in the mess, tongues have wagged endlessly on how this celebrated cop could unconscionably get himself involved in such quandary. Among other revelations was Abass’ alleged instruction to Kyari to arrest and detain a fellow felon, so as to allow him (Abass) perfect a fraud binge. Kyari’s reactions to this allegation have been even messier, senseless and, at best, tepid. They reveal that, in their thirst for heroes and the peremptory and rigour-less manner such heroism is arrived at, Nigerians may have backed the wrong horse in Kyari. On the part of the top cop, it may also have revealed that tactlessness is the beast that kills the dream of many a high-flying celebrity.

The more Kyari denies involvement in this cesspit, the more his hitherto cocaine-white police uniform is soiled with smelly excrement. To Kyari, the American Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) may have fished out alien crocs from a river far unknown to him in the very sophisticated manner it conducted the forensic sourcing for evidence it has hoisted against him. As such, when Kyari spurted out the bunkum of some clothes he claimed that Huspuppi had asked him to procure on his behalf, as the only magnet that glues them together, he most probably underrated the investigative prowess of the American security. Conceding to him that this claim wasn’t an afterthought, how naïve could Kyari have been not to know that his acceptance of this exchange spells out a self-indictment, which even the Police Act labels as ‘soliciting’. How does he rationalise the Dubai tryst, where he and the fraud felon allegedly had a pecuniary romance?

Kyari seized the klieg lights as a responsible, responsive and hardworking police officer. He swam ashore in a murky and brackish Nigerian Police river that is notorious for its unpleasant nauseating smell. Nigerians, assailed by a dearth of heroes, singled Kyari out as an example of the pitfalls in generalising the Police Force as a nest littered with bad elements. The first shock came with the Police officer’s self profile as one obsessed with the fripperies of life. His social media pages are said to be littered with material acquisitions, which projected him as entangled with the sugary icings of life. The final nail rammed into the coffin of his profiling was his appearance at the obscene showcase of apparently unearned wealth of the gangs present at Obi Cubana’s mother’s burial in Oba, Anambra State a few weeks ago. Shell shocked, Nigerians began to realise that Kyari was most probably a creation of their lack of thoroughness in the estimation of heroes.

At a more universal level, Kyari’s latest link with criminal elements may be a further confirmation that every man has a prize and is capable of falling flat in the face of his prized medal. Kyari, the tough cop, had fallen before his own prize. It reminds me of James Hadley Chase’s Have This One On Me, one of the British-born author’s Mark Girland series. This novel is the story of Girland, known to be a worthless, pleasure-loving secret agent, whose major and identifiable distinct weakness was the pleasure of money and women. If we dig deeper into his off-the-klieg life, we may shudder to realise that our hero may jolly well be an epicurean, another Girland, who hid behind the protective veneer provided by the Police Force and whose fall was a matter of when. Their oniyangi is always the trio of alcohol, women and money. Which was Kyari’s?

Good enough that the police top hierarchy is said to be investigating this matter, preparatory to extraditing Kyari to America to answer the charges preferred against him. The news said to have been attributed to an online news medium that Kyari reportedly threatened exploring the Samson option of collapsing the whole Police house if he is extradited had better not be true.

Many high net-worth individuals, oblivious of or mindless of the purport of the destructive powers of the oniyangi, have fallen fatally because they underrated its destructive ability. In 1974, three highly prized Yoruba, at the crest of their life engagements too, fell from fame to infamy, simply because they disdained the wisdom hidden in this nugget. In a reversed order of their fame, they fell. They were: Mr. Shitta-Bey, a legal adviser in the employment of the Federal Government; two Generals in the Nigerian Army, Brigadier Sotomi, a.k.a. Showboy and the biggest fish, Nigeria’s civil war hero, Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle. Adekunle, a celebrated officer of the Third Marine Commandos, who went by the sobriquet the Black Scorpion for his gallantry in fighting the Biafran war, was dreaded and revered for his gallantry at the war front.

These three had a mutual Oniyangi in a Lagos socialite and celebrity, 33-year old Iyabo Olorunkoya. Arrested on October 15, 1973 in the United Kingdom for importing 78 kilogrammes of marijuana, Olorunkoya, upon being questioned by the Metropolitan Police, immediately began to sing like a canary. She revealed that the three were her accomplices in the drug business. While she alleged that Adekunle and Sotomi had personally driven her to the airport with the contraband on her way out of Nigeria, salacious details of her relationship with the two were soon to festoon Nigerian newspaper’s front pages. Her dalliance with Shitta-Bey was discovered by investigators in a letter he sent to her and which was found in her custody at the time of her arrest that simply read, “send details as soon as you arrive in London.”

During this time in the life of Nigeria, the middle name of the government run by General Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria’s Head of State, was corruption. Though he was generally viewed as incorrupt, due to his austere lifestyle, like President Muhammadu Buhari, he was swamped all over by perceptibly corrupt people. His governors owned properties and assets that were far higher than their incomes. Indeed, it was estimated that, on the average, the governors owned commercial properties and farming estates of at least eight houses each, an amount that averaged between N49,000 to N120,000 by 1975 when Murtala Mohammed took over. To stave off this public perception, Gowon promulgated the Investigation of Assets Decree No. 37 of 1968, while frenetically engaging in the process of arresting the Toads of War, a la Eddie Iroh, that is, the inexplicable post-war wealth of Nigerian soldiers, mostly accumulated during the three-year civil war. In achieving this, in 1973, Gowon appointed Alhaji Kam Salem to head the “X-Squad,” a fraud investigation arm of the Police, which unearthed many scandals within the Force.

In the July of this same 1974, buffeted on all fronts by the press, Gowon had to harangue his fellow Middle-Belter, Federal Communications Commissioner, Joseph Tarka, to resign from his position, after Godwin Daboh, allegedly in concert with Paul Unongo, accused Tarka of mind-blowing corruption. Tarka’s resignation was child’s play when placed side-by-side his snide comments, which indicated far more humongous corruption in the Gowon government. Tarka had said in a Daily Times newspaper interview, which revealed that he resigned under pressure, that “If I resign, it will set off a chain of reactions of various events, the end of which nobody could foretell.” This was followed by an affidavit sworn to on August 31, 1974 at the Jos High Court by one Mr. Aper Aku, who was a known protégé of Tarka. The affidavit contained accusations against the Benue-Plateau Governor, Police Commissioner Joseph Gomwalk, of corruption. Gowon, in a state visit to China, publicly exonerated Gomwalk but public uproar against this Police big gun seemed to have just begun afresh. He was eventually later executed by firing squad for his involvement in the 1976 Lt. Col Buka Suka Dimka coup against Murtala Mohammed.

Gowon retired both Brigadiers Adekunle and Sotomi, but Shitta-Bey, who was dismissed by the Public Service Commission, headed for the court. Shitta-Bey won at the High Court, lost on appeal but the Supreme Court, in a judgment delivered by Justice Chukwuwenuike Idigbe, in Shitta-Bey v Federal Public Service Commission (1981) 1 S.C 40, found discrepancies in his sack and returned him to the service.

More importantly, the world awaits the reaction of the Nigerian government, headed by Buhari, Kyari’s cousin, whose maternal ethnicity is Kanuri, from Borno State, to this U.S. indictment of the top cop. General Gowon had similarly tried to stave off the splurge of corruption indictments splattered on his Middle Belt kin while he was Head of State.

So many other Oniyangi episodes have been recorded in recent history. While President Bill Clinton was almost removed from office by his own Oniyangi, White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, a then Bendel State of Nigeria’s Deputy Superintendent of Police, Ize Iyamu, was consumed by a romance with robbery kingpins, Monday Osunbor and Lawrence Anini, the latter having confessed that Iyamu, who was later executed by firing squad, traded the Police armoury with them in their robbery operations. Jennifer Maduike, the society lady of the early-1990s also acted as the Olorunkoya of Police Commissioner Fidelis Oyakhilome. At the cusp of a stellar career as the NDLEA chairman, Maduike alleged an affair with Oyakhilome, which took his job.

Without prejudice to how the Kyari matter goes, one fundamental lesson to be learnt from it is that the DCP courted this huge public ignominy due to his inability to realise the ancient sense in the requirement for social comportment by persons who occupy his kind of office. Judges, magistrates, investigators and persons whose opinions matter in society are expected to, aside their qualifications and experience, weaponise the act of taciturnity in their personal armoury, as well as wear an asocial garb. What do I mean by this? This set of people should be seen seldom, eschew every tissue of greed for material acquisition and avoid being social butterflies at owambe occasions. These are dragnets that drag achievers to the gallows. They should also avoid the company of wayward characters. Those among them who are epicureans will sooner than later enter the dragnet because, in social and political history, these elements are always their graveyards. Kyari is perhaps learning this too late.

TEXEM

Good enough that the police top hierarchy is said to be investigating this matter, preparatory to extraditing Kyari to America to answer the charges preferred against him. The news said to have been attributed to an online news medium that Kyari reportedly threatened exploring the Samson option of collapsing the whole Police house if he is extradited had better not be true. If it is, it will be bringing back afresh memories of Tarka’s statement, cited earlier in the corruption allegation against him. So who said history is dead?

More importantly, the world awaits the reaction of the Nigerian government, headed by Buhari, Kyari’s cousin, whose maternal ethnicity is Kanuri, from Borno State, to this U.S. indictment of the top cop. General Gowon had similarly tried to stave off the splurge of corruption indictments splattered on his Middle Belt kin while he was Head of State. Head or tail, Abba Kyari, the redoubtable and affable police officer, can never be the same cop again.

Mala Buni and those the gods want to destroy

Even with the cacophony of calls for him to relinquish the chairmanship or be relieved of it by learned lawyers, who are also APC faithful, Buni and his travelers in the same accursed boat have obstinately held on to this prone-to-snap twine. I pray this won’t be a case of who the gods would destroy that they first make mad. In my own inflection, those the gods want to destroy, they first take away their ears.

Sometimes, the writer could wear the apparel of Nostradamus. In a May 2 piece I titled, “Buni and APC’s 40 years in power grandstanding”, I sounded a note of warning that unless Yobe State governor and All Progressives Congress (APC)’s Interim National Chairman, Mai Mala Buni, excused himself from the atypical dual office he holds, his party could be digging its own grave. Since he came on board the party in June, 2020, riding on the crest of a welter of condemnations against erstwhile party chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, whose garrulousness had assumed unbearable notoriety in the party, Buni has worn on his lapel the oddity of his dual offices.

I wrote in the said piece: “Buni’s choice unsettled so many party bigwigs. The main cause for worry was why a sitting governor would be chosen to superintend over the affairs of a party which has so many worthy party faithful to man that position. Since then, the implication of Buni being in office for the overarching party interest has been subjected to acute grilling. Even the PDP called on the Yobe governor to resign his dual positions as governor and APC’s Interim National Chairman, citing a pronouncement of the Supreme Court, which labeled the leadership of the party “irresponsible and reckless.

“Two major states have fallen in the Supreme Court as a result of technical discrepancies. While Zamfara State’s APC, on May 24, 2019, fell to the intra-party dispute in the party, Bayelsa was to follow suit later. On the Zamfara issue, the court had held, among others, that the APC did not hold valid primaries preparatory to the 2019 general election. It thus voided the APC’s erstwhile victory in the 2019 governorship election, while making a consequential order which directed the party which had the second highest scores in the election to step into the office. In Bayelsa as well, the Supreme Court, on February 13, voided the APC victory just a day to the governor’s swearing in.

“With the casualty that the APC has been facing, rather than a boastfulness of its staying in power for the next 40 years, what the party ought to have safeguarded was its continued hold in its 19 controlled states, which is under serious threats. Methinks that putting its house in order by showing Buni the door should have been the most pressing decision on the card of the ruling party. Recently, APC escaped being axed by the whiskers when the election petitions tribunal sitting in Ondo State said it had no jurisdiction to remove its elected governor. This should be a wake-up call for the party. If the tribunal had granted the prayers of the PDP, by implication, every action – and they are plenty, including the recent registration exercise – taken by the APC since Buni became caretaker chairman would have been voided, thus ending Buni’s peacock claim of the party being in government for the next 40 years. Unless it wakes up from its self-inflicted slumber, shows Buni the gate and reorganises itself, a stitch in time may not be able to save the boastful APC from the catastrophe to come.”

The judgment of the Supreme Court last week, which the APC government in Ondo State won by the whiskers, in a suit instituted by the PDP’s Eyitayo Jegede, and the hoopla that has surrounded it, are perfect indications of the arrogance of power that threw Buni up and the same that is sustaining him in the office, in a party that is apparently filled with, perhaps, even more capable persons. Already, the Anambra APC candidacy for the governorship election is dangling on the precipice, imperiled as well by the arrogance of Buni being the nominator. Even with the cacophony of calls for him to relinquish the chairmanship or be relieved of it by learned lawyers, who are also APC faithful, Buni and his travelers in the same accursed boat have obstinately held on to this prone-to-snap twine. I pray this won’t be a case of who the gods would destroy that they first make mad. In my own inflection, those the gods want to destroy, they first take away their ears.

 

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Punch Editorial: Without Reform, Nigeria May Be Headed For A Break-Up

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As violence, state capture and separatist agitation threaten to spiral out of control, influential voices are warning afresh that unless immediate steps are taken, Nigeria could break up with unforeseen consequences. In a perceptive analysis of the precarious state of the union and its unravelling, a pressure group, Voice of Reason, deplored the descent into state failure, while in his latest intervention to the national discourse, a Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, declared that unless power is urgently decentralised, Nigeria had no chance of remaining a single entity. Today, the future of the union is so uncertain.

In an advertorial, VOR, a group of concerned professionals, recalled the commitment of Nigeria’s founding fathers to federalism, where the self-governing federating units managed the country’s diversities in an inclusive, self-reliant federation. Indeed, Nigeria’s amalgamated units prospered mightily before the 1966 military intervention. In the run-up to independence in 1960 and up till 1966, the three (later four) regions delivered rapid development in all spheres such as sub-Saharan Africa’s first free primary schooling scheme in the West, the fastest roll-out of road networks in the East and effective exploitation of agriculture in the North.

But centralising forces have since created a monstrous unitary contraption, facilitating, as the VOR argues, “the surreptitious, premeditated and relentless pursuit of dominance over all other Nigerians by a small group of oligarchs.”

A natural federation of over 250 major ethnic groups and sharp diversities in cultures is run like a mono-cultural, single ethnic polity. The military-imposed 1999 Constitution perversely has 68 items on the Exclusive Legislative List and only 30 on the Concurrent Legislative List. Thus stripped of resource autonomy, the 36 states are beggarly appendages of an all-powerful central government, relying on funding allocations from federally collected revenue for survival. It cannot work.

Disastrous outcomes have followed. Politically, national cohesion has broken down while economic growth has been crippled. The concentration of power in the centre allows a tiny elite to acquire overwhelming advantages to advance narrow, sectional, sectarian, and private interests. This has grown into insufferable impunity.

Now, centrifugal forces, once restrained, have broken out in fearsome force; alienated ethnic nationalities, angered by prevailing pervasive injustice and marginalisation, are campaigning for self-determination. The state is fast losing its legitimacy and its monopoly of the means of coercion.

Though the incumbent regime led by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), inherited the quagmire, he has worsened it. Buhari exacerbates the divisions, mismanages the diversity, and stands resolutely against reforming the crumbling edifice into a sustainable polity. Epitomising the elevation of mediocrity over merit, marginalisation and ‘state capture,’ the Buhari regime has, by its skewed appointments, blatant exclusion, religious extremism, and selective law enforcement, reawakened other ethnic nationalities into questioning the continued relevance of the union.

On Buhari’s watch, sectionalism and religion override rational decision-making, and national consensus, even in the face of existential threats, can no longer be achieved.

Insecurity is unprecedented. In Buhari’s Nigeria, safety has taken flight. Boko Haram/ISWAP Islamic insurgents in the North-East and heavily armed bandits in the North-West, control ungoverned territories, forcing a weakened state to negotiate with criminals. An insurrection is taking shape in the South-East, and leaders and militants in the South-South region have given notice of possible resumption of an insurgency in the oil-rich Niger Delta as new laws entrenching federal appropriation of resources extracted in the regions are being enacted by the centre.

The central law enforcement system has broken down beyond repair. Denied policing powers by the constitution, the states are at the mercy of criminals, unable to design and fund security systems suitable to their peculiarities. Worse still, the Nigeria Police Force is not only understaffed, under-funded and under-equipped, it is also highly politicised and sectional. About 70 per cent of its 371,800 sworn officers, including the best trained, are attached to VIPs, from the President down to some top transport union officials; many areas in the country remain ungoverned. The Abuja-based Beacon Consulting said 1,031 persons were killed across the country in June and 390 were abducted. Boko Haram/ISWAP, Fulani herdsmen/killers and bandits are reckoned among the world’s five deadliest terror groups.

Economically, the country has retarded. Nothing works again. While the centre is stuck in a medieval economic model, the states are uncompetitive, unable to act as drivers of economic production, investment, and job creation. Altogether, both levels of government continue to deliver monumental poverty, unemployment, and insecurity as “dividends of democracy” to a docile society.

State collapse, therefore, becomes inevitable. Nigeria was ranked 12th most fragile out of 179 countries in the Fragile States Index 2021. Displacing India, the country has since 2018 retained the disgraceful title of World Poverty Capital with over 90 million persons living in extreme poverty. Some 13.2 million children lack schooling, the world’s highest, and the Norwegian Refugee Council lists Nigeria as having the world’s seventh-highest number of IDPs.

The country is clearly at a tipping point. Militant separatists and once moderate voices are aggressively bent on self-determination. A mood is running across great swaths of the country for minorities to assert their identities, to claim perceived rights. As Soyinka said, the signs are visible; “unless the government is decentralised, Nigeria cannot continue to survive as a single country.” The VOR adds that since the military-imposed constitution had subordinated the rights and aspirations of most sections of the polity, there is no alternative to restructuring and self-government by the ethnic nationalities and regions.

They are right. Sitting on the fence is no longer feasible; indeed, it is dangerous. And the Buhari regime’s strong-arm tactics is like postponing the evil day. It appears that there is still a broad window for talks as many patriotic voices have advised. Abubakar Umar, a former military governor of old Kaduna State, noting the futility of the government’s ferocious assault on self-determination activists, declared that “justice, fairness and equity are the best means of building a united and virile nation, particularly one as diverse and fragile as Nigeria.” But those opposing peaceful resolution of the national crisis through unfettered negotiation are making separation inevitable. It is a matter of survival; alienated, and with the state unable or unwilling to protect them from terrorists and criminals, recourse to the exit door is natural.

What is next? The starting point is for all stakeholders to admit that Nigerians are not all the same. The various ethnic nationality groups have their history, institutions, cultures, languages, interests, cleavages, and worldviews. Some look eastward, others westward; some are secular, others put religious considerations above all else. This diversity cannot be accommodated in a centralised system. It requires a substantial devolution of power to the constituent units.

There should be no let-up in the drive for restructuring to save the lives, property, and destiny of all 206 million Nigerians. A truly federal polity is a win-win for everyone as it has been for the 24 other federal countries in the world listed by the Forum of Federations, which include some of the largest and most sophisticated democracies, among them, the USA, Brazil, India, Germany, and Mexico.

Even separation is never a taboo in the resolution of national crises. Every nation has the right to choose an independent future. We have consistently and fervently argued that the only viable way out of an imminent disintegration is the fashioning of a political structure that will push more powers out and down from the centre to the constituent units. Singapore was a backwater until it separated from the Malaysian Federation in 1965. Between 1991 and 1995, two multinational states fell apart: Yugoslavia broke up in a civil war that killed 150,000, while Czechoslovakia broke up peacefully following referendums in both of its constituent parts. The Czech Republic, detached from old Czechoslovakia in 1993, has become a high-income economy, boasts the lowest poverty rate in the European Union and is ranked the 11th safest and most peaceful country on the Global Peace Index; Nigeria is ranked 146th out of 163.

The fanciful belief that Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable should give way to an empirical reality that no country on earth is sacrosanct. Nigeria is one of the many post-imperial constructions that emerged from the ashes of British colonial rule. Today, even the same United Kingdom’s four-nation union faces a breakup. Financial Times argues that for a variety of reasons, the break-up of the UK is now a possibility.

Unless Nigeria can find a meeting point to regain the loyalty and trust of self-determination movements, a breakup, either peacefully or forcefully, will be hard to stop. Maintaining the status quo is no longer an option.

 

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Legislative Rascality By National Assembly Members

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By Monday Ubani

The furore in the national assembly over the recent amendment of the electoral bill has not escaped the attention of millions of Nigerians who have been following the said exercise with religious interest.

The process of recruitment of leadership in Nigeria has been a big problem with the country having a fair share of mis-governance as unintended consequence flowing from unfair electoral process over the years. You cannot plant maize and reap mango says an African proverb.

The affliction of bad leadership stems from defective electoral process that is devoid of any iota of fairness. We are besseted with electoral manipulations, ballot snatching, result-falsifications and all manner of electoral frauds from desperate politicians and their thugs who pervert the process to ascend to power.

The consequence is that those who emerge and occupy political positions in Nigeria do so fraudulently without any mandate fairly donated by the people, thereby breaching the fundamental term of the famed social contract theory propounded by early philosophers that led to formation of modern society.

For us as a nation, life just like in the beginning, has remained short, nasty and brutish despite being on the historical side of modernity. Is any one in doubt in Nigeria that our leadership has deliberately kept the country retarded, visionless and crisis-riden since independence? Why, you may ask.

The answer is not far-fetched, you cannot give what you do not have. Leaders who know nothing about governance and the attendant responsibilities attached to it, unfortunately find themselves in corridors of power and have not failed to dish out mediocrity as their valuable asset.

All critical infrastructures are in total decay while our Institutional services are non-existent.

While pursuing my first degree in Univeristy of Nigeria, Nsukka I saw British, Americans and some African brothers in my respected Alma Mata either for their first degrees or pursuing their post graduate studies.
As at today, you will not see any of our African brothers or sisters in our universities let alone other students from other continents. Again the reasons are not far-fetched and does not require any elaboration.

The truth remains that we have had enough share of misgovernance, lack of development or progress due to inept leadership and the recruitment process is clearly implicated.

Stakeholders and patriots have diagnosed Nigeria’s sad historical trajectory and agreed amongst other solutions that we need to holistically tinker with our electoral legal framework which needs realignment with modern realities and international best practices.

One of these desired broad electoral reforms involves the deployment of technology in our electoral process.

It is shameful that Nigeria with her size, resources and sophistication are even starting late on this, because other nations smaller in size, resource, sophistication have deployed this system years ago and here we are in the year 2021 debating whether we should deploy technology in the transmission of our electoral results.

I feel humiliated by such scenario playing out in the hallowed Chambers of our National Assembly. Who does that, if I may ask.

The macabre dance over this started in the National Assembly with confirmed allegation that the Bill which passed third reading under the chairmanship of Senator Kabiru Gaya of INEC Committee has been altered to block electronic transfer of election results.

The Senate President called Nigerians every printable names for daring to challenge the alleged alterations. They had to restore the electronic transfer clause, and I am sure, it was done grudgingly.

During the clause-by-clause consideration of the bill, their treachery could not be hidden any longer as one Senator Sabi Abdullahi, Deputy Senate Whip proposed that the Nigerian Communications Commission(NCC) must certify that national coverage is adequate and secure while the National Assembly must approve before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) can transmit election results.

This was promptly countered by Albert Bassey, Senator representing Akwa Ibom North-East who insisted that the initial proposal which provides in Section 50(3) that: “The Commission may transmit results of elections by electronic means where and when practicable” should stay.

After division of the whole house in plenary, the result was 52 in favour of subjecting INEC to undue interference in the performance of their mandatory duty of organising elections in Nigerian by Nigerian Communication Communication and the National Assembly contrary to the express provision of the constitution, while 28 Senators voted for the retention of the original clause that gives INEC discretionary power in carrying out its constitutional responsibility in transmission of results.

The situation in the House of Representatives was not different but more dramatic as the man who presided over the plenary did not hide his disdain to observance of the very rules that guide proceedings in the House. The Deputy Speaker, Hon Ahmed Wase to say the least is a big minus to democracy who does not believe in adherence to rules and procedures of the House. He and his majority leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa are in the world of their own. By their attitude they own Nigeria, House of Representatives and everything in it, to say the least.

WHY THIS AMENDMENT SHOULD NOT SEE THE LIGHT OF THE DAY.

What the National Assembly members did by passing a bill that clearly violates the constitution they swore to uphold is the biggest embarrassment of the century. It is more shocking and depressing to see those who claim to be lawyers amongst them running around all over the place to defend the absurd illegality. Who did this to us as a nation?

How did we get here, many are asking.

A cursory look at the provisions of the constitution will give each observer a clearer view of the sordid absurdity in the passage of the bill by the National Assembly on the 16th of July, 2021.

Section 78 of the 1999 constitution as Amended provides:- “The registration of voters AND CONDUCT of elections shall be subject to the DIRECTION AND SUPERVISION OF INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISION,(INEC).

The same constitution in the Third Schedule, Part 1, F, S.15 provides that: “INEC has power TO ORGANIZE, UNDERTAKE, AND SUPERVISE ALL ELECTIONS”. The constitution further provides that in carrying out the aforementioned responsibilities, “INEC operations SHALL not be SUBJECT TO THE DIRECTION OF ANYBODY OR AUTHORITY”.

The question then, is the so called affirmation of network coverage and its security by NCC and approval of the National Assembly(a party to an election) not an undue interference to INEC’s power to transmit the result of an election which falls squarely under their constitutional power?
How did the members of the National Assembly see their role in approving the issue of network coverage as proper under our constitutional democracy when the role assigned by the constitution to them is LEGISLATION and not EXECUTION of the laws they enact?

I shudder to think that our legislators who are law makers have turned themselves into law breakers.

Prior to now, INEC without any legislative backing have successfully conducted elections with card readers and have transmitted results electronically in several constituencies in Nigeria without any of these “alarmist drawbacks” being trumpeted by these backward-thinking legislators that voted for that provocative amendment. Why are these set of legislators in the 9th Assembly trying to set the hand of our clock backwards? What have come over them?

Nigerians insist and I join them in insisting that INEC be given a fair and less restrictive legal framework to carry out their constitutional duties of organising, undertaking and supervising elections in Nigeria.

The present manipulative treachery to keep us stranded as a nation in our electoral improvements will be resisted with our last strength and we have the final hope placed on the third arm of the government( the judiciary) should these set of legislators persist in their doomed journey of interfering on our progressive electoral journey as a nation.

Nigeria has two years to ensure 100 per cent network coverage in the whole country, after all, the Nation is alleged to have voted over 4 billion naira recently to monitor Nigerians on social media platforms. I see no reason why we cannot vote more billions of naira for development of our key tele-comunication infrastructure that will restore our dignity as the biggest country in African continent. #SayNoToLegislativeRascality.

Dr Onyekachi Ubani is the
Chairman, NBA-Section on Public Interest and Development Law(SPIDEL).

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