By Sam Akpe
There is something you can hardly take away from Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State. He has a way with words. It’s a tradition he inherited from Obong Victor Attah and Godswill Akpabio—his predecessors. It is inarguable that as a state governor, people write speeches for him. That’s standard procedure. So, Udom may not take credit for the content of his speeches; but he could, for the delivery.
However, the first time I heard and saw Udom move a crowd to frenzy, he spoke extempore. That was five years ago when he addressed Obong Attah at an event organised by Senator Effiong Bob to mark his wife’s 50th birthday; in Abuja.
On that day, he sounded deeply emotional. Choice, poetic words simply flowed from his mouth in a regulated pattern, as if rehearsed. He spoke like someone inspired by unseen forces. He did not sound in anyway like a great orator in the mould of Marcus Tullius Cicero or Martin Luther King Jr.
But there was something captivating about his utterance. I could only compare him with Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, because Churchill had a way with words. Udom is definitely not in the class of the British war-time leader in terms of statesmanship. But in use of words, he seems like a good student of the inspirational grandmaster of statecraft.
A few weeks ago, Udom spoke to the people of the state on what I would call Politics 2023. You recall that once upon a time, I did observe that Udom is not a Nigerian politician in the traditional sense. He is a stranger on the scene. He does not belong to the old school of political engineering. To put it mildly: he has no political pedigree. He was never there. He simply emerged; unplanned.
Maybe, this accounts for his orchestrated tight-fisted policy when it comes to sharing money or enhancing stomach infrastructure. This has created a lot of enmity against him—even within his executive council. That is why information on government expenditure gets exposed to the public so easily by those who can’t wait to see him off in 2023 so that government money can go round!
These are the same people he does not want to take over from him at the expiration of his tenure. The general belief in the state is that Udom has a secret agenda regarding who he wants to succeed him in 2023. The name or full identity of that person remains a guarded secret; known only to Udom. He almost confirmed this speculation when he raised close to a dozen questions in the broadcast he made to mark his six years in office. From the manner he asked those questions, it could also be concluded that he knew those who must not take over from him.
This was how he started: “The tone and tenor of governance has changed from an all-knowing, all hectoring potentate to the one based on humility, in strength and Christ-centric disposition in execution and direction.” Then he went rhetorical: Let me now ask you my dear Akwa Ibomites: Do you want a successor who will cancel out all the great strides in industrialization we have started (or) the peace we currently enjoy and return us to the years when violence and kidnapping reigned and sowed fear in the hearts and minds of the people?
“Do you want a successor who will come with anger towards all we have done, as opposed to continuing with the great works we have started? Do you want a leader whose approach to testing his popularity would be to drive in a long convoy to Ibom Plaza and throw money at the hapless people, watching them scramble for the money….? Is that the kind of a successor you want? Is that the kind of empowerment our people deserve…someone who will bring out the worst in our youths rather than challenge them to cease the future and unleash their potentials?
“Do you want a successor who will relegate God to the background and assume an all-knowing power? Or do you desire a successor with a known e-mail address that the international business community recognises? Do you want a leader who will fritter away our commonwealth in search of cheap popularity or one who would utilize the resources and continue investing in projects with enduring value?
“Do you want a successor who would see Government as a cabal where our commonwealth would be shared among a privileged few or do you desire a leader who would continue to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of our people, a successor who understands the economic dynamics that shape our globalized space and would utilize those skills to advance our well-being? “
Those familiar with the identities and credentials of each of the 2023 governorship aspirants within the Peoples Democratic Party in Akwa Ibom, will not find it burdensome theorising on whose career or political pedigree fits the governor’s expected qualifications. So far, as apolitical as I am, and from the little I know, the cap seems to fit only one or two heads among the aspirants.
But the big question is this: Is Udom in a position to decide and handpick his successor? Before I answer that question, let’s find out: how did Udom emerge as a governor in 2015? Answer: he was handpicked; sold to the people and installed! Is it likely that we are going to have a repeat performance? Hold your breath!
Udom has always said, and a lot of people seem to agree with him, that he would not support the emergence of a cultist as his successor. But this position needs further clarification and serious amendment. Government needs to tell us, without any ambiguity, who a cultist is. If I were a member of social or cultural group like the Black Axe, Ogboni Society, the Vikings, Ekpe Society, Ancient Mystical Order of the Rosae Crucis (AMORC), the Seadogs, or the Eiye, among others, am I cultist? Is any of these a cult? What about the knife-wielding village-based traditional organisations?
There is one puzzling point which Udom raised in his questionnaire. He mentioned a leader with a known email address which the international community would recognise! This is loaded with ambiguities. Is he referring to someone with international exposure and business connections? What has known or unknown e-mail address got to do with competency as a governor? What about a criminal with an internationally known e-mail address? By the way, which e-mail is local, which one is international?
Then he added another question: “Do you desire a leader who would continue to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of our people, a successor who understands the economic dynamics that shape our globalized space and would utilize those skills to advance our well-being?” This is a beautiful question. Akwa Ibom people need a governor with a sight on higher goals—someone whose priorities must align with the changing world. The old order of politics must give way to something new.
In all of these, Udom seems to be playing the amended version of the General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida game. The military dictator used to proclaim that he knew the category of people who would not succeed him but he was unaware of the person that he would eventually handover to. We all knew how insincere he was.
In Udom’s case, he certainly knows both the qualifications of his possible successor, and who the person would be. In attempt to keep his eyes on the ball, he is smartly trying to disqualify every other contender by raising the red flags pretty early. Someone told me a few days ago: If you think anything is wrong with what Udom is doing, find out from Lagos people how they elect their governors!
However, I completely agree with Udom that not just Akwa Ibom, but Nigeria, in 2023, needs a leader who will not fritter away the peoples’ commonwealth in search of cheap popularity; a leader who would diligently utilize available resources and continue investing in people-friendly projects with enduring value. That’s the leader we need. I will soon back.
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Delayed And Cancelled Flights
By Ehi Braimah
It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep appointments due to incessant delayed and cancelled flights by our local airlines. Delayed flights lead to scheduling difficulties and missed appointments for passengers. Do our airlines really care about their reputation? I doubt it.
From all indications, it would appear the airlines are doing us a favour because we do not have a choice in the matter. This perhaps explains why they are behaving badly. Delayed or cancelled flights come with their own costs and inconveniences to passengers. The airlines apologise which is the standard courtesy but it does not go far enough. Passengers who have paid for their tickets clearly deserve a better deal.
Creating the right customer experience is possible and the management of each airlineknows what to do in spite of the challenges in the industry. Passenger traffic has increased in recent times due to several factors that includeinsecurity on our roads.
Until last week, the Kaduna – Abuja train service was always a joyful ride. My friends and associates who use the service regularly attest to the wonderful experience for a ticket charge that is considered fair and reasonable.
A senior journalist and former editor of Daily Times, John Araka, told me in Abuja last week that he used the train service from Warri to Itakpe before heading to Abuja by road. Araka was full of praise for the train ride, describing the experience as “comfortable, convenient and affordable.”
“But the road trip from Itapke to Abuja was horrible and I feared for my safety,”Araka continued. “I’m flying back to Warri as I do not want to take the risk again.” Araka turned 70 years old on Sunday October 24, 2021. I’m also aware the Lagos – Ibadan train service is applauded by passengers.
With the terrorist attack on the train service from Kaduna to Abuja last week, I doubt whether passengers would be in a hurry to buy tickets on that service and feel comfortable. The attacktriggered apathy and trepidation. If the roads and the tracks are no longer safe, what should we do? Travellers have migrated to air travel which they consider to be the safest option at this time – that is for those who can afford the air fares.
The greatest beneficiaries of the “market shift” are the airlines. It is their luck as the spectre of insecurity of lives and property continues to loom large. Indeed, the airlines are quite busy lifting passengers to different parts of the country. On the several flights I have taken, I observed that most seats – whether in the business or economy classes – are usually taken up.
The attrition rate of our airlines is quite high. Where capitalisation of the business was not the problem, you could bet that mismanagement of available resources was responsible for the airlines that disappeared from the radar. Even the airlines that are still struggling to fly and the new ones joining them are not different – they are all behaving badly and passengers are left wondering what next to do.
After Nigeria Airways – what used to be one of the finest airlines in the world – ceased operations in 2003, Okada Airlines owned by Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, the Esama of Benin, became the first choice for passengers. Then it also flew into bad weather and disappeared.
By the last count, there are over 60 defunct airlines in Nigeria – some of them operating cargo services only — and still counting but we can immediately call to mind the following: ADC, Sosoliso, EAS, Chanchangi, Bellview, Triax, Slok, Skypower Express, Space World, Nigerian Eagle, Nicon, Medview, Kabo, IRS, First Nation, Dasab, Capital, Associated, Albarka, Air Nigeria, Wings and so on.
Aero Contractors had a favourable rating for keeping to their flight schedules regularly which endeared the airline to its community of frequent flyers. When Arik Air launched its service with brand new planes, there was excitement in the air and a rush of adrenaline followed. I used Aero a few times but Arik Air was my favourite.
I became a frequent flyer of Arik Air on both local and regional routes that included trips to Ghana and South Africa, as well as a flight to New York. Arik Air was everywhere and it became the equivalent of our national carrier. Arik Air flew to many cities in Nigeria and you could plan business trips and holidays without too much hassle.
Unfortunately, these things don’t last for too long. Before we knew it, Aero and Arik Air became heavily indebted prompting the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) to intervene to save both airlines.
Although they are still flying, Aero and Arik Air can no longer provide the customer experience that they were known for; they are living on past glory. Arik and Aero are both on life support and they need more oxygen to remain in business. Generally speaking, passengers complain and grumble over delayed and cancelled flights but it is evident customer experience does not mean anything and that is the tragedy of our airlines.
Virgin Nigeria, enabled by Sir Richard Branson, the British-born billionaire and founder of the Virgin Group which includes Virgin Atlantic, commenced operations in Nigeria in June 2005. Let me make a confession upfront: I’m a fan of the global Virgin brand and because I know that a great brand attracts commercial value, I was happy at the prospects of Virgin Nigeria and what it will do for our aviation industry.
With Virgin Nigeria operating out of the Murtala Muhammed International airport in Lagos as their base, the intention as I found out was to make Nigeria the regional hub of West Africa. Flying with Virgin Atlantic was always a great experience and I knew the Virgin brand power – it comes at a cost in the pricing template – would rub off on Virgin Nigeria. And it did.
Initially, the airline was blessed with rapid expansion. Passengers were happy and they were ready to pay – even more – for the same experience they enjoyed when flying outside Nigeria.
But this airline of promise did not last the distance due to high-wired politics. Some “vested interests” wanted a pound of flesh from Virgin Nigeria but Sir Richard Branson refused. He opted to quit after constant “harassments” and he wrote about his experience in his book, “Screw it, Let’s do it”. Like Arik Air, Virgin Nigeria – which became known as Nigerian Eagle and then Air Nigeria – would have been the “perfect” national carrier. By the time Air Nigeria collapsed, there were 13 aircraft in its fleet. What a waste!
The vacuum created by Virgin Nigeria was filled by Air Peace which has shown great promise. Air Peace replaced Arik Air and Virgin Nigeria as my favourite local airline – and it has been so for more than five years.
But I have also suffered unpleasant consequences just like other passengers. Some of my friends and associates have also complained about Air Peace but I let them know that in spite of the numerous disappointments, Air Peace still has the advantage over other airlines and it can also be described as the national carrier we do not have. Air Peace airlifts more than 75% of the passenger traffic to different destinations locally and regionally but it appears this success has also become airline’s albatross.
Air Peace now has a bad reputation for not keeping to its flight schedules and my simple explanation is that the airline is biting more than it can chew. Last Saturday, Air Peace shifted a flight from Abuja to Lagos twice.
The passenger who complained to me is the editor of a national newspaper and he was forced to fly Ibom Air (he bought another ticket) to Lagos as he could not wait for the re-scheduled 9.50 pm flight. The editor, like many others, left Abuja after the All Nigeria Editors’ Conference ended.
I also headed back to Lagos last Saturday. My flight, originally scheduled for 11.05 am, was moved to 1.25 pm. The passengers waited patiently. There was no mention of this flight until 2.14 pm without any apology. We left Abuja at about 3.00 pm. Interestingly, Air Peace was one of the corporate sponsors of the Editors’ Conference.
In one of my trips to Benin City this year, Air Peace sent me a message cancelling my flight. I received the message on the same day – a few hours to the flight time. An Embraer 145 (Hopper) that was sent to Benin well past the scheduled flight time due to “operational reasons” could not airlift all the passengers.
I sent a text message to one of the senior management executives in Lagos but nothing good came out of it. While I was trying to figure out my next move, I received a text message from one of their staff apologising on behalf of the airline. I ended up spending another night at a hotel in Benin City at my own cost. I missed a crucial media engagement on the Sunday evening I could not arrive Lagos.
I have never flown Azman, Max Air, United Nigeria, Overland and Ibom Air. Hopefully, I get to fly them soon. I used to fly Dana Airlines before I switched to Air Peace but my friends speak well of the airline for its promptness and efficiency. I have also received good reports on Ibom Air; so on my next trips to Abuja and Uyo, Ibom Air will be my choice – to at least see things for myself.
The advantage Overland Airways has over other airlines is that it optimised its operations by airlifting passengers from the hinterlands to the cities. That’s a winning strategy for the airline.
Air Peace has so many aircraft – including brand new planes – in its fleet. None of the other airlines comes close in terms of fleet size but the operations of the airline are over stretched by flying to too many destinations. I’m sure Air Peace management may not have any need for agony aunts for their frustrated passengers each time they delay or cancel flights if they are able to optimise their operations for greater efficiency.
Airlines all over the world prioritise safety, convenience and comfort over every other consideration and it is the same thing here in Nigeria. NCAA provides that oversight responsibility. Most flight delays could be due to bad weather or unsatisfactory condition of the aircraft or security breaches.
An airline that is not fit to fly should not fly. This is understandable and it makes sense. However, more often than not, the delay or outright cancellation of local flights is always “due to operational reasons” or “due to late arrival of the operating aircraft”. It is just another irresponsible way of taking passengers for granted.
My advice to all the airlines is that they should under-promise and over-deliver. What this means is that they should aim at providing better services that are efficient and prompt. It is possible; so let them just do it!
Braimah is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng)
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Reincarnating Constable Ifeanyi At The Lekki Toll Gate
By Festus Adedayo
Oga, mek we kill am!, the gangling police constable had told my father. This was sometime in the early 1980s and the scene was the ever-busy Ilesa-Akure expressway, in the old Oyo, now Osun State. My father, an Inspector in the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), headed the Ilesa Signals Corps of the police. However, short of officers to lead police patrols, in the light of the ever-bludgeoning criminal activities in the Ife-Ijesa zone of the time, the Divisional Police Officer authoritatively yanked the Inspector from his signals unit office drudgery. He then drafted him to the road. On this particular night, armed robbers had reportedly snatched a vehicle and the expressway was their surest route of escape.
It was late in the night. Ifeanyi, (real name) the lanky policeman, was a member of the patrol. He was notorious in the Ayeso, Oke-Iyin police barracks for his constant alcoholic reverie. Always looking skunk-drunk and frail like a deboned chicken, this young cop, of about 30 years of age, constantly had his eyes dilated, almost all the time you encountered him. Dark, pitiably thin, with an aquiline nose and some eczema-looking graffiti bordering his nose, Ifeanyi’s dress sense too was inverted. He was also renowned for wearing his police uniform awkwardly. Curiously, about 35 years after and almost about the same number of years after Ifeanyi suddenly died mysteriously from an undisclosed ailment, his sadistic picture still hovers around my face like some grotesque apparition.
Ifeanyi was manning the road this night, the Inspector sitting some meters away. As usual, he was reeking of liquor and made a few totters he assumed were walking steps. As a symptom of this state, with scant provocation, he raised his voice at motorists. Then Ifeanyi walked up to his boss, seemingly trembling and agitated. He sounded very animated, his usual cheetah speed manner of talking making an even faster sprint. He had just stopped, searched a motorist, he told his boss. Alas, when he asked the man to open his car trunk, he found it loaded to the brim with cash. “Oga, mek we kill am… it is our chance to make money!” he whispered conspiratorially.
The Inspector was alarmed, shocked, and bewildered. How could such thought that smelled deeply like an odour from Mephistopheles, clamber up the mind of a law enforcement officer, a man born of a woman? Years later, my father told me that he, there and then, made some quick calculations. The first was, he assured himself it was not time to assert his boss role on this expressway at this critical time. If he did, forcefully preventing Ifeanyi from this consuming blood-thirst of his, armed with a police rifle and drunk, the lanky bloke could waste him and the motorist conveying the money. So, my dad told me he cleverly accosted the motorist, confirmed that he legitimately owned the money, and whispered to him in Yoruba to speed off.
The above impunity and brutality are as ancient as the Nigeria Police Force. Not minding its prohibition by national and international laws, a 2005 investigation of Nigeria police by the Human Rights Watch found out that torture, other cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatments are being meted on the accused. Last Wednesday, as some television stations beamed live videos of policemen of the Lagos Police command and men of the Neighbourhood Watch, torturing Uber driver Adedotun Clement, the notorious image of Ifeanyi came streaming back into my consciousness.
What seems to be unchanging and stagnantly hanging on the uniform of the Nigerian policeman is a long-held culture of lawlessness and impunity. Though they share a spatial affinity with the common man on the streets – being our brothers, fathers, friends, and all that – Nigerian policemen seem to be at war with the common people of Nigeria. I submit here that this brutality is borne out of the force’s ontological dysfunction, a genetic disorder if you like.
Any attempt at evaluating the current state of the NPF without going into its historical foundation will be an exercise in futility. Erudite historian, Toyin Falola’s Colonialism and violence in Nigeria is an ample guide in this regard. It examines the spate of violence and instability in Nigeria, pre, and post-colony, and how these play a major dominant role in institutional relationships today. Among others, it also examines the conditions that created a legacy of violence bequeathed to Nigeria by colonialism and how violence is deployed as a tool of domination and resistance. In it, you will find out why democracy and all its appurtenances of civility, respect for the human person, and allied indices have failed abysmally in a democratic Nigeria.
Falola located the roots of the Nigeria Police Force’s inherent hostility against the Nigerian people in the wonky conception of the colonial police. It was an extension of colonialists’ brutish and selfish quest to protect themselves and their domination from native resistance. It was never a friendly apparatus for the protection of the Nigerian people, nor an organ to defend them. Confronted by initial resistance by the natives to its rule, the colonial constabulary was established to crush dissent of resistant natives, patterned to be above the law, and equipped with deadly weapons to crush resistance of any kind.
This is why, to date, due to its wonky conception, the police possess scant regard in the perception of the same system it serves and the Nigerian people it seeks its friendship. The abode of its officers and men is a little of worth than a pigsty and their pay, dispiriting. When I take friends to the pigeon nest one-room apartment that I lived with my siblings and parents at the Ayeso barracks in Ilesa for about ten years, they find it incredulous to believe. There is no way anyone will be born in that kind of environment and they will not be rebellious against the system, nor will a resident of this environment not develop complexity and anger against the same society that made such their lot.
At the Lekki Toll Gate anniversary of the bloody October 20, 2020, EndSARS protest, right under the tip of the nose of Hakeem Odumosu, Lagos State Commissioner of Police, his police team could not shroud its innate bestial underpinning. Even when these policemen saw a battery of journalists’ cameras pointed at them, they still could not stop themselves from inflicting a regime of brutal, wicked, and inhuman torture on Clement, identified as a Uber driver. I watched the macabre scene on Arise TV as police folded Clement like fish prepared for an oven grill, pepper-sprayed his eyes, and threw him on the floor like a heap of bags of beans. The scene looked indistinguishable from a grotesque drama.
Clement’s inhuman torture, in spite of his very plausible account of how he got to the Lekki Toll Gate that morning and even his non-involvement in the protest, gave Nigerians and the world at large a peep into the cosmetic disbandment of the SARS last year. While its physical structures were pulled down by the Inspector General of Police, the police establishment has retained SARS’ restless hyena and fox operatives who daily bay for Nigerian people’s blood.
It is a pointer to the fact that, unless some foundational surgical operations are done on the ontology, the total nature of the being of the Nigeria Police, the people will continue to grapple with this cruel and inhuman policy model. Force, violence, and sweeping criminalization of everyone in civilian clothing are the modus operandi of the Nigerian police. There is no gainsaying the fact that it is unapologetically corrupt and its policing model diametrically opposed to the wishes and aspirations of the Nigerian people.
As is customary with the Nigerian government to offer escapism and palliatives in place of thorough combat and mental exploration of issues, the earth-shaking EndSARS youth protests of last year were followed by the institution of panels. Just like a medic who abandons symptomatic manifestations of leprosy to diagnose treatment of eczema, the panels, either out of naivety or systemic ignorance, failed to realize that grief and reconciliation have a philosophy of their own. The panels ultimately ended up with a prescription of compensations to victims. Do they know that those panels are mini truth and reconciliation commissions? And that in seeking truth and reconciling aggrieved people, especially those whose loved ones were mortally cut down in their prime, commodification (reducing to cash) of grouses is misplaced.
Antjie Krog, celebrated South African broadcast journalist with the South African Broadcasting Cooperation (SABC) and poet, best known for her award-winning book, Country of my Skull, a chronicle of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) drew the nexus between truth, grief, being aggrieved and the ultimate, reconciliation. With a cover photograph of Joyce Mtimkulu holding a fist-sized mound of all that was left of her incinerated son, Krog said of truth: It “does not bring back the dead, but releases them from silence.”
Unlike the TRC, the EndSARS panels set up in Nigeria, purportedly in the context of responses to abuses of power by Nigerian policemen, so as to confront human rights violations of years past and make a new beginning, were just a façade. They were never set up to discover the truth or placate the aggrieved. They were some placatory measly meal to a barking dog to keep it silent.
In Nigeria’s EndSARS panels, governments believed that monetary compensations, rather than truth, contriteness, sobriety, or acknowledgment of guilt, will release the victims’ families from their burdens. Police perpetrators of the heinous crimes leveled against them feel no remorse and it is never demanded of them. From Krog’s experience in covering the TRC, however, “perpetrators need to acknowledge the wrong they did. Why? It creates a communal starting point. To make a clean break from the past, a moral beacon needs to be established between the past and the future.”
To get to the bottom of the truth and reconcile those aggrieved by Nigerian police brutality, we cannot lump police perpetrators together as “the police.” We must put names and faces to the SARS human rights violators who committed grievous inhuman crimes, right from SARS’ founding in 1992. This is because, in the words of Jurgen Habermas, collective guilt does not exist; “whoever is guilty has to answer individually.”
I am emboldened to accept the need for individual transgressors to personally show acceptance of guilt, judging by the example of Alan Michael Lapsley. Lapsley, originally born in New Zealand, was a South African priest and social justice crusader during the anti-Apartheid era. As national chaplain of South African Anglican students during the 1976 Soweto massacre, Lapsley fought the apartheid lords, leading to his expulsion from the country. He then moved into exile in Lesotho and became a member of the African National Congress, (ANC) travelling all over the world to mobilize global support for the liberation struggle.
Lapsley later moved to Zimbabwe and in 1990, three months after Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, he was parcel-bombed like Dele Giwa. Just as Giwa thought his parcel “must be from the president,” Lapsley ostensibly thought his was from the Civil Cooperation Bureau which, unknown to him, was an underground outfit of the apartheid security. The bomb was concealed in two religious magazines. The blast shattered his two hands and left eye, seriously burning him. At the TRC, with two prostheses replacing what used to be his arms, Lapsley said he was ready to forgive those who bombed him but he wanted acknowledgment and sobriety from them. Of Lapsley, Mandela said: “Michael’s life represents a compelling metaphor: We read about a foreigner who came to our country and was transformed by what he saw of the injustices of apartheid. His life is part of the tapestry of many long journeys and struggles of our people and… part of the tapestry of the many long journeys and struggles of our people.”
Nigerian elite and leaders have merely been playing the ostrich with our lives. Since 1966 when the military struck, successive governments have been bothered only about the now and never, tomorrow. That was why, in spite of the trillions of Naira accruing from petrodollars in about six decades, there were no mental projections or planning for today. Never did it occur to Nigeria’s past leaders that a time would come when the country would be in the hands of a clueless leadership like now that cannot distinguish its left from the right hand, as it is said. Nigeria is so unlivable, so much that its restless youths prefer to die in the Mediterranean than be trapped within. Hundreds of them have so perished due to our collective contributions over time to the dross that is Nigeria today. Neither us nor our leaders feel the sense of guilt that German theologians, after World War 11, formulated. One of them, Karl Jaspers, said that in our kind of national travails, we should be sobered by what he called metaphysical guilt. If I survived, while my brother is killed, I am a victim of metaphysical guilt.
Each of the émigrés who successfully left Nigeria, labeled the japa generation, having taken unimaginable risks to escape the country of their birth, celebrate their exit with orgies. Japa has successfully been incorporated into the Nigerian lexicon. Slang derived from a combination of ja which in Yoruba means running swiftly from danger and pa signifying “in totality,” parents cough out life savings to emigrate their wards from the calamity to come.
Unfortunately for us all, except we collectively address the Nigerian problem, especially as it relates to the tomorrow of our youths, those children we send out to Harvard, Oxford, and wherever will come back someday, at the zenith of their success to meet their waterloo in the hands of their angry, unsuccessful and bitter compatriots who are pining away at home. When Chief Obafemi Awolowo told us that the problem of born trowey – apologies to Mrs. Patience Jonathan – children of the North called almajiri was a collective national problem, we laughed him to scorn.
Now, those born trowey children have come of age, maiming, raping, killing, kidnapping us, downing fighter jets, blasting rail tracks, and hiding in the Sambisa forests as Boko Haram insurgents. Yet, we learn no lesson!.
The revolt of the youths in the EndSARS protests should have been an awakening to a sensible leadership that is not possessed by a pit-hole mentality. Virtually all families in Nigeria parade victims of successive leaders’ closet-mindedness. On the streets, you will see them early in the morning, jobless, unemployed, and many unemployable.
The EndSARS protests were a clarion call on us to put the Nigerian house in order, atone for the blood spillages that Constables Ifeanyis have committed, and find ways of evacuating the massive hopelessness in the land. We however slipped into a deep slumber and dirty compromises after October 20, 2020.
On compromises, Krog had quoted Chilean lawyer, defender of human rights during General Augusto Pinochet regime, and ideological purist, Jose Zalaquett, who said “it is better to suffer longer under a tyranny when there is hope for a politically purer outcome than to progress by messy compromises.”
The Federal Government saw the EndSARS protests as a regime battle that it, “through the help of Almighty Allah” vanquished. It compromised feeble-minded persons and a captive media into projecting its narratives of a conquest from the hands of EndSARS protesters comprising “haters of Fulani, Hausa, and the North.” We then returned to our peace of the graveyard. And, as a country, we woke up lost, gaining nothing and learning absolutely nothing. But we trudge on still in our nothingness, full of trashy ego and false wellness. The future, our future, sadly waits to bear the brunt of our serial failures. And still, we walk mindlessly on, in the dark alley of our common woes. Totally lost.
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A Re-Union Weekend In Benin City
By Ehi Braimah
It was time to head back to the ancient city of Benin recently – that was from September 23 to 26, 2021 – for the re-union of my classmates. We attended Government College, Ughelli (GCU), now in Delta State, previously in Bendel State. Edo and Delta States were created from the old Bendel State.
Such gatherings bring back old memories for “boys” who have now become “men”. It was truly a priviledge to have attended GCU – a public secondary school for male students only. When my set gained admission into the school, J.E. Jones, an Englishman, was the Principal.
I was quite young at the time and we grouped into two arms – A and B – of not more than 20 students each. My class teacher who also doubled as Art teacher was M.D .Asoro. He was tall and lanky. I completed my primary education at Eserophe Primary School, Ughelli, which reverted to its former name: Nigerian Baptist Convention (NBC) Primary School, Ughelli. I was at Payne Primary School, Upper Mission Road, Benin City before we shifted base to Ughelli where I ended up spending 10 years.
After scaling the entrance examination successfully into three secondary schools, I chose GCU for its reputation. We were required to sit for another test and interview in the hallowed premises of GCU. Only those who made the final shortlist were given letters of admission.
To the best of my knowledge, no one was bribed to facilitate the admission of students into GCU, one of the best public secondary schools in Nigeria in those halcyon days. Admission was purely on merit and the experience in a productive learning environment was awesome. Nothing compares to that anymore except in the elite schools funded by the rich and affluent amongst us.
Today, you’re forced to weep at what public schools in Nigeria have become. They are not different from the general decay that is prevalent in every segment of society and it explains why parents and guardians who can afford the fees send their children to private schools. But paying school fees is no longer a stroll in the park due to our current economic circumstances.
From poor sanitary conditions to lack of desks and chairs, broken doors and windows, suffocating classrooms that are overcrowded without ceilings and electricity, the conditions in public schools (primary and secondary) are pathetic. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what happens to the yearly appropriations for education – both at the national and subnational levels?
We are not exactly strangers to the games people with access to opportunities and power play. Funds that are meant for the development of educational infrastructure are stolen and diverted. When contracts are awarded, there are no performance bonds to hold the vendors accountable. Even where such bonds exist, they are bloody pieces of paper that are thrashed for profit by all the parties involved in an egregious display of greed because there are usually no consequences.
The interventions by philanthropists and humanitarian service organisations as well as alumni groups have helped to mitigate the rate of decay in public schools. Rotary clubs in 532 Districts all over the world have continued to make strong interventions in Basic Education and Literacy – one of Rotary International’s seven areas of focus.
The late sage, Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013), said education is the most powerful weapon which we can use to change the world. He was right. According to information available at Rotary International website, over 775 million people over the age of 15 are illiterate – that’s 17% of the world’s adult population.
There’s even a far more sobering statistic based on UNICEF data: over 40% of the world’s children are not accessing basic education and Nigeria occupies the unenviable 6th position out of 10 countries in the world with the highest rates of out-of-school children. We are grouped with Liberia, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Sudan and Niger in the Hall of Shame.
When we gathered in Benin City to reflect on the days we spent together in GCU, we counted ourselves lucky. There was regular electricity and pipe borne water flowed non-stop. The laundry took care of our school uniforms and bed sheets, while the sick bay attended to the sick. GCU was not a military school but there was orderliness and everywhere was clean. Sometimes, I wonder whether those days in GCU will ever return.
GCU was a training ground for future leaders. In addition to our studies, we had extra-curricular activities aimed at developing our talents in different areas. Students were encouraged to develop interest in at least one sport and take part in it in order to avoid being called a “waste pipe”. We had the Literary and Debating Society, Drama Society, Cadet (the para-military group), Scout, Boys’ Brigade, Red Cross, Mariners’ Dance Band and so on.
Speaking vernacular was completely forbidden and siesta was compulsory. However, it wasn’t all work and no play. We also danced to soulful music on Saturday nights and generally enjoyed ourselves.
There were friendship and cultural exchange programmes between GCU and two female schools in Ughelli: Anglican Girls Grammar School and St Theresa Girls Grammar School. It was an experience that helped us to grow as young men and it sharpened our worldview on relationships with the opposite sex.
Lights out was compulsory at 9.30 pm; it meant you must return to your bed and sleep. From your first day in class until you wrote the final exams, everyone was groomed to be strong, focused and independent.
GCU also had the Higher School Certificate (HSC) programme which lasted for two years but it was not compulsory. It was an Advanced Level course where only three subjects are taken before proceeding to the university.
We were also trained to develop a winning mindset. GCU gave us a wide canvass where you could splash your own colours with the brush of your choice. We were allowed to make our mistakes and learn from those mistakes.
Whether it was a Treasure Hunt game that required all participants to think on their feet by decoding clues or General Inspection which was a contest for the cleanest House (hostel), the competitive spirit was alive and well in GCU, preparing us for a world of competition in the years ahead.
In sports, GCU was ahead of its peers because the facilities were available and maintained regularly. Football, cricket, athletics, table tennis, lawn tennis, badminton, handball, volleyball and basketball were the dominant sports.
Over large swathes of land, we had the administrative and classroom blocks, dining hall, hostels, well-manicured lawns and shrubs, parks and gardens, junior and senior staff quarters, sick bay, sports complex, assembly hall, metal and woodwork sections, laundry and tarred roads that left a memorable and charming picturesque on our minds.
No one can foretell the future but the bonds of friendship and fellowship that we shared as young students back in the day are celebrated each time we meet in a convivial atmosphere – we generally exude good humour and bonhomie. The Benin re-union ticked all the boxes. There’s also plenty of yabis time but the cheerful friendliness displayed anywhere old boys meet has created an enduring vibrant fraternity.
With a new EXCO in place after our AGM/Elections, our next re-union will hold in Abuja in 2023. Fidel Oke, our classmate and senior executive of FBN Insurance, chairs the Abuja Branch. He told us he was returning to Abuja to swing into action for a befitting Abuja re-union.
Two classmates (Osaguona Ogie and Amos Agadaigho) celebrated their birthday on Friday September 24. There was cake and wine to the delight of the palate. Osaguona, by the way, is the twin brother of Osarodion Ogie, Secretary to the Edo State government (SSG).
It was the weekend of our re-union that the long awaited list of Edo State commissioner-nominees including two special advisers was released by Governor Godwin Obaseki. A classmate joked that Obaseki knew GCU old boys were in town for their re-union and he decided to honour their presence with the announcement.
Osaguona returned to Nigeria after about 18 years sojourn in the United Kingdom and he has adjusted well. He was a member of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) of the Benin re-union which was chaired by Godfrey Okobaroh. They did an excellent job hosting the class. Initially, some classmates expressed security concerns and the spread of COVID-19 infections. They wanted the re-union cancelled but that was not to be. It turned out to be a glorious get together.
The diaspora arm of our class is very active and they support the welfare package of the class with generous donations. They are able to join our meetings from time to time using the Zoom app. With greying hair as our everyday companion, it means we are growing older by the day. That explains why the rank of retirees is swelling, even though they may not be tired.
Apart from the standard welfare package for classmates through voluntary donations, we also have a Group Life Insurance policy for the class – for both permanent disability and death. Indeed, we have lost some classmates to the cold hands of death, most of them not yet 60 years old. May their souls rest in peace!
Besides our class, we also have the broader alumni group: Government College, Ughelli Old Boys Association (GCUOBA) with different branches – both at home and in the diaspora. For a term of two years (2019 -2021), Sam Omatseye, my classmate, essayist, poet, journalist and chairman of the Editorial Board of Nation newspaper, was the president of the Lagos Branch of GCUOBA while I served as the vice president.
Being an old boy of GCU in general and my class in particular is a thing of joy and pride. The experience gave us the kind of confidence we needed to move ahead in life. The discipline and orderliness in GCU were unmistakable, making it possible for us to establish our credentials and competencies with authority at every station of life that we found ourselves.
When it was time for the election of officers, there was no rigging or ballot snatching – it was smooth and orderly. It was a mark of GCU excellence. The previous EXCO led by Omatsola Vincent as chairman was largely returned for another term of two years due to their excellent performance. Vincent led by personal example and I’m not surprised that he, alongside members of his team, recorded a huge success to the admiration of his classmates.
The class chair always acted with courage and that is what leaders need to make the right decisions without fear or favour. Nigeria needs that tribe of leaders who can lead from the front as we prepare for another election cycle in 2023.
Braimah is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng)
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