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Tuesday, 29 August 2017

UNITY OF NIGERIA: ACTIONS MUST SYNC WITH WORDS


   Since the Break out of the Nigeria-Biafra war in 1967, one theme has remained recurrent- Unity of Nigeria. General Yakubu Gowon harped on the theme: "To Keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done".In the long expected speech from the President last week after his long medical vacation, the central theme of his very short address was: "Nigeria's unity has been settled and all the trouble makers who are threatening the unity must be summarily dealt with".
  Gowon was the Head of State when the war broke out. I am not sure if he has written his memoirs because it will be nice to know if he showed any humility  by admitting that some of his actions contributed to the disunity of the Country and the subsequent civil war. Perhaps one may be charitable to assume that he did not deliberately take those decisions with the aim of precipitating the war. But after a cold and unbiased review of some of his actions, he must have realized that those actions helped to precipitate the disunity of Nigeria rather than promote unity.
  For example, it will be nice to know how his support for the counter coup of July 1966, that decimated the senior military officers of Igbo extraction on the ostensible reprisal for the January 1966 coup promoted Nigeria's unity? It will be good to know how his unilateral refusal to implement the 'ABURI accord' which he freely entered to in order to avert the war contributed to Nigeria's unity. It will indeed be important to know how his preference for military action as against political action for the resolution of the dispute helped to keep Nigeria united. Because if it did, we will still not be talking of Nigeria's unity 47 years after the war ended.
  The question is as a Nation, what lessons have we learnt? May be we have not learnt many lessons. But I will like to draw out a few. First,is that Unity is built and Not forced. Forced unity does not last. As I had said in the past, the unity between a slave master and a slave does not last, nor that between a kidnapper and his hostage. Though we have read the story of how an ISIS female hostage fell in love with her captors but eventually it unraveled. Enduring unity comes from mutual love and mutual willingness to see the benefits of being united. In every human relationship, when one party feels that he is carrying a disproportionate cost for the relationship, he begins to see either how to balance the cost or if that fails, how to walk away from such a debilitating relationship. It may happen by physical separation, or by recalcitrance or by full resignation. Relationships endure when all sides are enjoying proportionate mutual benefits.
  Secondly unity in a relationship must not only be built by willing partners but they must continue to service the relationship. It is in the nature of human relationships to suffer from the law of entropy which naturally affects physical( material) relationships. Without any deliberate efforts to continue to renew the relationship, most relationships will gradually drift apart and may eventually terminate. Even the marriage institution which God Himself set up and which in my faith is expected to last through life, often begin to fall apart, for several reasons but mostly when one party or some times both, begin to feel that they do not derive any more joy, happiness or benefit from the marriage or when one party becomes cruel or negligent to the other party or even when one party begins to take the other party for granted.
  Thirdly, relationships have been saved even when people thought that such relationships are said to have broken down 'irretrievably'. One party who wishes to continue the relationship makes the undue effort to try and understand what is actually causing the problem, first starting with himself and then goes out of his way to find ways to rebuild the relationship  including seeking external help. Some times, after such effort, the relationship is restored, often rekindling better affection,love and unity than was the case ante bellum. Therefore every quarrel must not end in a divorce, if one or both parties are willing to make sacrifices to restore the unity of the relationship.
  Fourthly is that bellowing out orders and issuing threats can frighten some criminals or those intent on causing trouble but it never fully resolves issues, quarrels, misunderstandings or deep seated feelings of alienation between parties in a union. Rather than solve problems, they help to harden positions. And so the unity of a Country can not be achieved by threats or even military options. That is why even after wars, peace and unity are only achieved by negotiation and the attainment of acceptable terms which make all sides comfortable.
  President Muhammadu Buhari is the current President of Nigeria and it is not surprising that he wishes Nigeria to remain one indivisible united Country. What is more, he fought in the Nigeria-Biafra war which in my book- "The PortHarcourt Volunteer" published in 2015, I called "Nigeria's war of unity". For those two reasons, his position and constant harping on this indivisibility theme is not only understandable but is justified .Indeed if I were in his shoes, I would probably hold the same position.
  However where we differ markedly is that I would not be bellowing threats when I see people protesting and complaining and wanting to divide the Nation, more so when the people complaining or protesting are not violent.I would call the people protesting and complaining and find out what their problems are. I would dialogue and negotiate with them and agree on an amicable solution. If I find them unreasonable I would invite other Nigerians to help me sit with this group or groups and work out amicable settlement. This is because If I want the unity of the Country so badly, I will do all in my power and ability to achieve it, realizing that I can not force it. In addition to not threatening, I will not deliberately discriminate against any group in the Country nor make any group feel unwanted or unloved.Because I want the unity of my Country, I will ask Nigerians who are talking of restructuring of the Country to come forward with what we need to do to restructure the Country to achieve unity and peace. Because I want unity, I will at least mandate the National Assembly to do the minimum possible to begin to respond to the demand of Nigerians for the devolution of power to the federating units and to make other constitutional adjustments that will create a true and balanced federation. Because I want a united and happy Nation, I will speak to Nigerians after a long medical vacation abroad in re-conciliatory tones and show by words, body language and actions that I need all Nigerians to feel happy and comfortable to belong to one Country. That is the challenge confronting President Muhammadu Buhari as he fully resumes from his long vacation, that is if Garba Shehu's  'Aso Rock rats'will not constitute a new danger. History is beckoning.

   Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

SUPPRESSION OF DISSENT: HOW FAR CAN WE TRAVEL?


   The hall mark of democracy is free speech and free association. Implicit in this,is the freedom of dissent or the right to protest against anything that the government has done or did not do as long as such protests are held in line with lawful conduct. When a government becomes intolerant of lawful protests or criticisms by citizens of the Country, that gives a dangerous signal. And it will not be morally right for men of goodwill to keep quiet when our democratic freedoms are being trampled upon.
  Some Nigerian citizens who were frustrated that our President had been out of the Country for over about 100 days on his second medical vacation this year, decided to express their frustration by holding some protest rally, first at the Unity centre in Abuja. Operating under the "Our Mumu done do" coalition, the protesters who were generally few in number gathered at Unity Centre, singing and requesting the President to 'resume or resign'. The first sign that our government was unhappy with any protests and would wish that we all remain as 'mumu' was that they sent the Police to tear-gas the peaceful protesters and to ruffle them. Reports had it that the co-Convener of the movement, Mr Charles Oputa( aka Charly boy), fainted from suffocation caused by the tear gas.
  When that did not stop the " Our mumu don do" group, the Government  went low to go and organize counter demonstrators called "Pro-Buhari " groups who challenged the right of the Charly Boy's group to complain that the President had stayed away too long. They abused the group and confronted them at the Unity Centre. The Presidential spokes persons berated the protesters as "busy bodies" They said that the President had not broken any law and so he could remain outside the Country for the next two years if he wished, perhaps only to return to stand for re-election in 2019! In effect, these men were outlawing every protest, except the Court decided. Because by our constitutional provision, only the court can determine that a law has been broken!
  When the Charly boy's group, felt that they were not making much impact as they were apparently overwhelmed by the "Pro-Buhari" group which actually should have gone by the name" Our Mumu never begin" group, they went to Wuse Market perhaps to see if they could recruit more sympathizers or supporters and that was where they met their Waterloo. How it was organized, I could never know, but they met a very stout and violent resistance that created havoc and pandemonium, with many bloodied including journalists who were doing their jobs. A Guardian Newspaper reporter escaped being lynched because one of the leaders of the Wuse Market resistance coalition came to his rescue, directing his army of cudgel-bearing and  stone-throwing counter demonstrators to let him alone. Charly boy had to escape on a motorcycle, abandoning his car at the market. The next day, Charly boy and his sparse group came to the Unity centre to announce that they were calling off their protests. With that The Government achieved its aim of suppressing dissent.
  Perhaps a 'congratulation'will be appropriate here for the government machinery that worked very hard to drown the voice of dissent and to drive away "trouble makers and busy bodies" from the Unity Centre. My special 'congratulations' go to Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu. I am waiting for Femi Adesina to finish his tenure and return to the Private sector and begin to sing as his predecessors Olusegun Adeniyi,Reuben Abati and Femi Fani-Kayode( before he got born-again)who in their time promoted and defended Governments' efforts to stifle the voice of dissent. What government office can do to otherwise normal citizens! Until  a few days ago, Steve Bannon, the erstwhile Chief Strategist of Donald Trump supported and defended every thing-good or bad which Trump said or did. Few hours afters after he was fired he tweeted" The Trump Presidency which we campaigned for and won is over!". The Presidency 'is over ', just because he has been fired! That is the calibre of many people who find themselves in the corridors of power. Because of the need for influence peddling and stomach infrastructure and patent opportunism, they defend the indefensible, but as soon as the supply is cut off, they begin to sing or tell cock'n'bull stories. God Help us!
   What would have happened if these spokepersons, had welcomed the protesters, acknowledged their rights to raise the issues they were raising and explained to them that the President had heard them and that all things were being done to get the President resume soon. Would they have lost their jobs? Would it not have enhanced their standing before the public and even before the President, who thanks be to God, has returned home and resumed duty this week. The tendency to be over zealous in 'protecting' the President from his constituents is frought with danger. It actually damages the relationship, because in pretending to love or own the President more than the citizens they further alienate him. I just wish these men and others like them would understand.
  My disappointment is worsened by the fact that these same people and their Principals presented progressive credentials when they were seeking for power. When the Nation found itself in similar situation with Umaru Yar'adua, they were so vociferous in 'defending' the People's right to know everything about Yar'adua's health. Some of them actually called on Yar'adua to resign! Now they feel that it is an act of treason for citizens to demand that their President resumes work, especially after many Nigerian Political leaders and office holders had undertaken the expensive pilgrimages to visit the President in his 'winter home' in London and reported he was now healed, hale and hearty. The President of any nation is not a private person, and the people who employed him have unquestionable rights to demand accountability from him on any issue including his health and work ethic. How many employers will allow their employee stay out of work for about 150 sick days in less than a year without knowing the name of the sickness?This can only happen to conquered people!
  My counsel to the government is that history has taught us repeatedly in Nigeria and globally that suppression of dissent is wrong strategy. You only force the people to suppress their feelings and frustrations and some day, they may just explode! It is usually a wrong road to travel, because governments come and go, but the People are always there. And usually they have the last laugh. Welcome home Mr President and may your return bring better tidings to our beleaguered Nation.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

Friday, 11 August 2017

MARGINALIZATION OF THE SOUTH EAST IS MUCH MORE THAN JUST"APPOINT ME"



  I have heard the Acting President say on at least two occasions that those who are complaining of marginalization in Nigeria are actually only saying "please appoint me". The first time I heard him say so, I was taken aback and was not quite sure what to make of it. But when I heard him say so again last week, I became really bothered.
  Was the Acting President saying that the cry of marginalization by some ethnic groups or sections in Nigeria is a hoax?  Was he actually saying that there is no genuine case of marginalization in Nigeria and all those complaining about it were only making noise, seeking undue attention or just looking for opportunities for themselves? Or was he saying that indeed there are genuine cases of marginalization in Nigeria but those who are leading the cries are not truly interested in the holistic resolution of the matter but just interested in getting something for themselves? In which case, the moment they get 'settled' perhaps by an appointment, the cry will cease or they would abandon the truly marginalized people to continue with their pain?
 If what he meant is the latter scenario, perhaps my pain will be less, though not completely eliminated. Of course there are fake leaders who trade with the sufferings of the people, whose stomachs have become their gods. They are all over Nigeria,pretending to be pursuing group interests or causes, whereas all they seek is a platform to present their personal matters and as soon as their personal issues are settled, they quickly abandon the struggle. I am reminded of the many advocacy groups or protest leaders who appear in Aso Rock with their CVs in their pockets and after the fierce rhetoric for the benefit of the television cameras, on their way out drop their CVs or come out smiling, having been "settled" Even now, some APC leaders who were once champions of Restructuring the Nigerian Federation have lost their voices now that they have power! 
  But given the season we are in, when I believe that God in His infinite mercy has heard the cries of the oppressed and marginalized people or groups in this Country, it will be unfair for the Acting President or any one else to trivialize the genuine cries of the People by labeling it as just a cry for some people to be appointed to public offices. I can not speak for other groups, peoples or regions that feel marginalized in the Nigerian Federation as presently constituted and organized but I have a deep understanding and personal experience of the level of the marginalization of the people of the South East Region of Nigeria. Incase the Acting President has forgotten, the People of the South East Nigeria feel marginalized in the current Nigerian Federation for several reasons. Because of space constraints I will address just a few.

  1.  LEAST NUMBER OF STATES
Out of the six geo-political zones in Nigeria, the South East has the least number of States. It has only 5 States whereas as others have Six states with the North West having Seven States.
What that means is that the South East receives the least amount of allocation from the Federation account, and therefore has the least share of National resources. This anomaly has been recognized by the 2005 and the 2014 National Conferences which in their  desire to correct this marginalization recommended an additional State for the South East to bring it in line with most of the other zones that have six states.

2.   LEAST NUMBER OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREAS
 The South East zone has the lowest number of local government areas in the Nation. See below the local governments in each zone:
North West-186; South West-137; South South- 125; North East-113; North Central-112 and South East-95 which is about half of the number of LGAs in the North west. And National resources are allocated to LGAs directly. Is the marginalization not evident?
Yet these local governments were created by fiat by the military administrations without any defined and verifiable criteria. Someone once joked that at a point in our history,local governments were created as compensation for Generals. And since the South East had the least, it was natural that they would have the least no of LGAs.

 3.   LEAST REPRESENTATION IN ELECTED AND APPOINTED POLITICAL OFFICES
Representation in the National Assembly and in the Federal Executive Council is based on states. It therefore follows that the South East Region that has the least no of states would have the least number of Reps in the National Assembly, least no of ministers in the Federal Executive Council and in all most all organs of government constituted on representation basis. 

 The South East Zone has the least no of Ambassadors, the least number of heads of  Government  Parastatals  and other extra ministerial agencies. Very few chair Federal Govt Boards or Councils. Among the three dominant groups in Nigeria, the South East is the only one that has not been allowed to produce the President of Nigeria since 1970.

 4.   POOR REPRESENTATION IN THE FEDERAL PUBLIC SERVICE
The South East is poorly represented in the Public Service of Nigeria. Many Public servants have been retired prematurely and very few are being admitted into the service- immigration, customs, FAAN,etc.There was the case of Mrs Chinelo Anohu-Amazie who headed the PENCOM, who was prematurely retired and her replacement came from another zone in contradiction to the PENCOM act. Many people remonstrated but nothing happened and that travesty still stands. Is this not discrimination and marginalization rolled into one?

5.  THE ABSENCE OF THE SOUTH EAST IN THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL 
  South East is the only zone missing in the security Council leadership- Defence, Army, Navy, Airforce, Police, Civil Defence, NIA, DSS, EFCC, ICPC, FRSC and National Security Adviser. Security issues are discussed in Nigeria and no voice from the South East is heard. Here the Federal character principle has been jettisoned. Many promising Security officers from the South East have been retired prematurely. We have complained endlessly but nobody cares.

6.  UNBEARABLY POOR STATE OF FEDERAL ROADS IN THE SOUTH EAST
It is known by the whole World that the worst federal roads are located in the South East, many of them abandoned. This did not start today. For example, Reporters from Thisday Newspaper and the Channels TV have described the Arochukwu Road in Abia State as the worst in Nigeria!

7.   SHUTTERING OF THE GATE WAYS TO THE SOUTH EAST
The Eastern sea ports are shuttered by official policy. The inland Ports are abandoned . The so called international airports are not sufficiently national, to talk of international.Nobody is talking of developing the allocated Dry Ports while some of those in the other zones are up and running.

8.  EXCLUSION FROM THE MODERN RAILWAY INFRASTRUCTURE 
 It took the resistance of the South East Senators who opposed approving a foreign loan for the new standard gauge rail line that nicely excluded the whole of the South East, for anybody to remember. The Federal Government is building several new obridges with funds from the budget, only the 2nd Niger Bridge is to be built by PPP so that it would be tolled!

9.   DISCRIMINATION AGAINST SOUTH EAST YOUTHS IN SCHOOL ADMISSION 
  It is well known that most of the South East States have about the highest cut off points in common entrance examinations to Unity Schools and Federal Universities. Many Igbo youth including those protesting openly today, were denied admissions to federal schools while their classmates from some other zones ,who scored much lower marks were admitted. How do you explain to such a youth that both of them have equal citizenship rights?

 10.   REFUSAL TO RECONSTRUCT THE SOUTH  EAST 
   We have the Niger Delta Development Agency (NDDC) to deal with ravages of oil exploration in the Niger Delta and to reverse the long neglect of the Region and rightly added the Ministry of Niger Delta. Recently we have created the North East Development Agency to help rebuild the North East following the ravages of the Boko Haram insurgency. But since the Nigerian civil war ended with all the destruction that took place in the South East, no Development Agency has been created. Even the recent effort by the South East Legislators to create a South East Economic Development Agency that will not even be funded by the Federal Government was thrown out in the House of Representatives!
    I could go on and on but because of space I will stop here. Can any one then in good conscience declare that these are not acts of marginalization? When you beat a child, can you also deny him the right to cry? As I said, the South East Zone is not the only zone suffering from these acts to some degree or the other. What then is wrong for people to point out these manifest acts of discrimination that is destabilizing the Nation? I pray that the Country focuses on how to remove these acts through fundamental constitutional reviews or preferably the writing of a new one, rather than demonizing the agitators. Calling them Names or even intimidating them will not solve the problem.!

Mazi Sam I. Ohuabunwa OFR