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)
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NDDC Audit Report, Scaremongers And Rabble-Rousers
By Akpandem James
A familiar drama is again playing out across the country since the completion and submission of the report of the forensic auditing of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). The theme as usual is based on the theories of two fallacies – Ad hominem and Straw-man. The cast is made up of the routine mercantilists who come in the mould of civil society organisations, youth groups, socio-cultural organisations, media hirelings and influencers. The script often leaves out the critical issue of the moment and dwells rather on tangential matters. The plot is to distract attention and help rogues escape public scrutiny.
The reason the Niger Delta region has remained underdeveloped till today in spite of the huge resources pumped into the area by the various governments, intervention agencies, international oil corporations, oil services companies, development partners, global foundations, other corporate entities, wealthy individuals and community development efforts etc., is simply because the people are more inclined towards defending selfish and parochial indulgences than insisting on fundamental growth and development.
The region receives arguably the highest amount of funds in the country from several sources, but it has very little to show in terms of development. Players often mouth the difficult terrain as reason why the huge amounts allocated to the region does not manifest in physical reality on ground. As partially true as that may be, it is often used as a cover up for the massive fraud that has become customary, perpetrated at all levels of governance – from the individual community level to the highest level of government.
Truth be told, the state of the region today is a direct consequence of deliberate mismanagement and mindless plundering of resources by the various actors. It has little to do with the difficult terrain often being blamed, given the amount involved. After all, most tourism resorts across the world are built on very difficult terrains, with lesser resources.
Unfortunately the NDDC that was set-up as an intervention agency for the region to be managed by indigenes became a corporate automated teller machine (ATM) for those with access to the password.
The Niger Delta is one region that has various layers of “governments”; each with its own authority driven by vested interests. It parades the largest number of interest groups whose focus is self than community; a region where the youths lead and elders play along. Both are more interested in primitive acquisition of personal wealth than the development of their communities. The region harbours the highest number of civil society groups whose interests are more pecuniary than civil challenges. Politicians are more interested in what is going on in the NDDC than in their respective constituencies and states. For a good chunk, politics is their occupation and contract is their goal. Supervision and investigation are hardly tolerated.
No meaningful development can take place in an environment where every move is driven by threats, protests, lockdowns and vandalism; where corporate blackmail has been elevated to an art. Even state governors in the region operate at the mercy of these tendencies. Only those who also wear the violent and stubborn toga operate with some level of authority. With these pack of tendentious elements all training their eyes on resources accruing to the region, visible community or regional development would be a miracle.
It was expected that with the submission of the NDDC audit report some interest groups will be jolted; and as is customary, would be up in arms looking for a fall guy and a means of escape. Campaign of calumny and blackmail is usually the first weapon. It has become a familiar trend.
Unfortunately, this unbecoming development is given impetus by the people of the region who not only willingly allow themselves to be used, but get easily distracted by the scheming of their plunderers. They leave the issue at stake and focus on personalities who, in most cases, may just be tangential to the issue in focus. The dress rehearsal for that familiar drama is already on; a flurry of the main stage play is expected in the coming weeks as the Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, moves to interrogate issues involved in the report.
Luckily the report got in while the National Assembly is still on vacation, otherwise we would by now be witnessing a wave of invitations of some critical players in the exercise, including the Minister of Finance to brief members on how the fees were paid to the auditors; the Niger Delta Minister to explain how the amount was computed; the lead auditors to explain how they arrived at their conclusions, and the Attorney General to explain why he received the report instead of the President. This would have been on till the federal budget is submitted in September. Work on the budget would be suspended until the Presidency explains why the forensic audit was instituted and why the Niger Delta Minister should not be sacked for allowing people who were elected to make laws to become contractors. Mercifully they are on break and Malami has this grace period to hasten up.
But the issue here looks quite straight forward if the people of the region and indeed Nigerians are really interested in accountability and development. The report indicates that between 2001 and 2019, the Federal Government approved N3,375,735,776,794.93 as budgetary allocation and N2, 420,948.894,191.00 as income from Statutory and Non-statutory sources to the NDDC. That brings the total to approximately N6 trillion. The report also indicates that there is on record 13,777 projects, the execution of which is “substantially compromised”. The NDDC operates 362 bank accounts and lack proper reconciliation. These are the critical issues that should interest the people. They should be interested in the veracity and the reality of these presentations. How come the area is still a stretch of mangrove belt after all this? Who are those behind the state of affairs? What happens next?
Of course Malami gave the major reasons for the audit exercise, one of which is to address the challenges militating against the delivery of the mandate of the NDDC to the people of the region. The other is to ensure probity and accountability in the use of public funds. The motive seems laudable, which is why it is highly disappointing to see those who should look forward to the fervent interrogation and implementation of the report from the exercise resorting to primitive sentiments and blackmail of the drivers.
For instance, one of the most ardent critics of the Buhari administration and supposed campaigner against the marginalisation of the Niger Delta region commented on one of the WhatsApp platforms: “My question is, why the concentration on NDDC investigation when North East Development Commission which is also enmeshed in corruption is not investigated”. She saw the exercise as political blackmail.
Responding to the post, a liberal commentator said: “My own question instead, chopping and burying the bones from the meal cannot go on forever. If forensic audit finally berths through selective abuse of political privilege, it is well. It sets precedent for the future. Before now, share, chop and clean mouth was the only unwritten rule”.
Incidentally both are from the Niger Delta region, with two perspectives. Unfortunately the former is the dominant mindset of a typical Niger Deltan who sees nothing wrong with what her people are doing so long as others are also perceived as guilty. And this is the mindset that always allows scoundrels to get away with their kill. Ironically, they are the ones who complain the most about how things are not working in the country. All their bile is directed at the centre.
Already a number of persons and groups are lined up to skin and dry the Niger Delta Minister, Senator Godswill Akpabio who is seen as the arrowhead of the forensic exercise. They are bent on exhuming all the debris about and against the man just to either distract attention or rubbish the report; but this is not about Akpabio, it is about the future and development of the region. In the first place, Akpabio did not instigate the probe, the governors of the region did. During a visit to President Muhammadu Buhari, they asked that janitors be sent to clean up the cesspit known as the NDDC. The governors cried out that their people were suffocating from the putrid fumes generated by the massive plunder in the establishment.
In setting up the probe, the President was only responding to a request by one of the most critical stakeholders in the region. Akpabio, as head of the Ministry overseeing the NDDC, had a statutory responsibility to drive the process. He had no choice. So an attack on his person from whichever quarter at this time, whether directly related with the exercise or not, is an attempt to give a dog a bad name just to hang it. The issue for now is the audit report, not the minister.
In today’s Nigeria where every normal probe is seen as a witch-hunt, those who believe that other establishments should similarly be probed have a responsibility to get the relevant stakeholders to make a case for it, instead of wallowing in the self-righteous perception of selective antagonism. It might not be the best approach, but that is what we have reduced the country to. The plundering in the Niger Delta region has been on for too long. It is not in the overall interest of the people for it to continue. The people themselves must help in putting a stop to it.
Malami in his speech captured the scenario that “the welfare and socio-economic inclusion of the Niger Delta Region is paramount to the development and security of the region and by extension the country. Funds spent on development activities should as a consequence promote political and socio-economic stability in the region. Citizens affected by these development projects should also exhibit the ability to contribute to the continuous progress of their immediate and wider communities by engaging in constructive activities that will sustain and support these developments”.
It is hoped that the Federal Government will walk the talk by applying the law to remedy the deficiencies outlined in the report while immediately commencing criminal investigations, prosecution and recovery of funds not properly utilised. It should also use relevant recommendations in the report to reposition and restructure the NDDC for efficiency and better service delivery. The Federal Government says it will, without hesitation, strategically implement all aspects of the audit exercise that will promote probity for the Niger Delta Region and Nigeria as a whole. The people are earnestly waiting.
Government must ward off every pressure and distraction from scaremongers and rabble-rousers, under whatever guise, who might directly or indirectly want the report compromised in any form whatsoever.
James, a communication consultant, lives in Abuja
590 total views, 6 views today
Tribute To Adeola Soetan; The Inimitable BABA SHO!
By Francis Abayomi
Comrade Adeola Soetan a.k.a Baba Sho roundly fits into the rank of cadres driven by conviction and passion for the enthronement of egalitarian society. There is no pretence or prevarication regarding his stance on issues; it doesn’t really matter if at variance with popular mood. You may not necessarily agree with him but you can be rest assured of his dogged commitment, consistency and boldness when the clarion call is made! His activism is neither conditioned by convenience of the moment nor defined by the urge for relevance and selfish motives. He could have stayed the course of a promising career with the prospects of becoming an elite broadcast journalist. As it turned out however, his innate passion for activism was ignited by the stark absurdities of governance and the looming rots in the society which became palpably visible during his voyage as a broadcast journalist.
Rather than being consumed by early exposure to the limelight offered by broadcast journalism; engaging the sharp contradictions in the society became his passion notwithstanding direct access to the high and mighty in the society as well as actors in the corridors power. It is therefore not strange he has committed almost four decades of his life to the struggle for social justice with dedicated enthusiasm. Baba Sho is ever conversant and versatile as the Northern Star when it comes to grappling with societal realities and contradictions which make popular struggle against anti-people forces inevitable. As the President of the Students’ Union of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Baba Sho distinguished himself as a man of the people worthy of trust of leadership. He provided leadership at a most critical era and remained resolute in spite of persecutions. Little wonder his name still resonates with the authorities of OAU close to three decades after his eventful era as a student leader.
I came across Baba Sho in the theatre of the struggle and my admiration for his tenacity has been strengthened over the years. It was an era that gave no room to luxuries; and we just got along regardless of differences in our ideological camps. Baba Sho was accessible to the less visible cadres who readily found comfort in his company. Rather than being restricted by the largely artificial walls of sectarianism that became an identity for most cadres of the left on campuses at that time, Baba Sho was always eager to identify with positive struggles regardless of who are at the forefront. It didn’t take long for me to appreciate the uniqueness of the man Adeola Soetan; the essentials of his activism much more than the aesthetics of his persona. It is gratifying that Baba Sho remains a committed Marxist genuinely guided by the philosophy of dialectical materialism. I recall with nostalgia Baba Sho’s numerous ‘nocturnal’ appearances at most inauspicious times; when his presence on campuses was bound to trigger meddlesomeness of state security operatives. Baba Sho was always with us in sprit and in flesh at the campus in Abeokuta to lend support and encouragement to our movement. His Ijeja abode in the heart of Abeokuta was often at our services whenever we needed to engage in deep strategic thinking on the next line of actions during the numerous struggles we waged at UNAAB (now FUNAAB) and across in campuses in Ogun State.
It is indeed fitting that we are celebrating Baba Sho at graceful age of 60! A well-deserved “Sixty Gbosas” to a thoroughbred cadre, grassroots mobiliser, fearless organizer, culture enthusiast, proud ‘devotee’ of traditional masquerades and a jolly great connoisseur of ‘freshly minted’ palmwine who exudes revolutionary activism; the perfect blend of pragmatic intellectualism and active engagement at the barricades! Baba Sho has a deep appreciation of the place of culture, tradition and communality in contextualizing the struggle of Nigerian people amidst harrowing failure of the State. His resourcefulness is manifest in his highly engaging social media commentaries; and glaringly attests to the profundity of his presence of mind; his contentment as a focused and committed revolutionary cadre. Notwithstanding, there is no doubt Baba Sho could easily be misunderstood by people who never related with him at close quarters. But I can boldly attest to his open-mindedness; his readiness to be amenable to consensus on issues and strategies; provided such would not be counter-productive in the immediate or in the long run.
On the auspicious momentous occasion of his Diamond Jubilee, we can only wish that his strength be continually renewed with fresh grace to finish well and strong. I celebrate Baba Sho and wish him long life in good health in continuation of his avowed commitment to the struggle aimed at impacting genuine change in the Nigerian society and on humanity at large.
Sixty cheering ‘Gbosas’ to the Emperor of Olumo Republic; the nightmare of the Abobakus and one and only ‘landlord’ of the faceless but ubiquitous Iya Seki!
1,742 total views, 1 views today
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