Saturday, 18 December 2010

Aspiring to the Nigerian Senate

Joachim Ezeji

Becoming a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria could be very glamorous. It could also be a prestigious achievement in some circumstances. However, from none senators or members of the public, it stirs sycophancy on one hand or outright scorn and envy on the other. I do not need to adumbrate the reasons for this as they are not farfetched.

Since 1999 that our so called democracy was restored, the conduct of the average Nigerian politician has been everything but salutary. And one bunch of the lot in this maze of political disappointment are members of the Nigerian senate. While some of them are crooks; villains and charlatans; a few are credible.

Mahatma Gandi seems to have had Nigeria in mind when he drew up a list of deadly sins that he felt were appropriate and apposite to humanity based on emerging realities. They consist of; Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Science without humanity, knowledge without character, Politics without principle, Commerce without morality, and Worship without sacrifice. This list captures the enormity of evil that has taken over the Nigerian polity especially the senate.

Generally, what we see in the average senator is a character that drives no vision. Our old men and women in the senate have no vision for the offices they occupy. They seems to have simply come to relax and enjoy their old age while the country burns. None of them seems perturbed that the country is in a hurry to develop. All their talks never move in tandem with their actions. Most things are lip service.

Fully constituting and dominating the Nigerian senate are retired military men, the class that looted and plundered the country while Military autocracy lasted. The bulk of these retired soldiers were kingpins of military coups who immensely benefited there from as Military Governors, Ministers and Members of the Military Ruling Councils that persisted then. They are all back again as senators, feeding fat on a nation they have out rightly parasitized and asphyxiated for the past 30 – 40 years.

Another group, now growing in number, are immediate past and past civilian governors. They have simply gone to the senate in order to remain relevant. Eight years in Government as governors seems not enough to give them perennial relevance and a sense of accomplishment. They still yearn to exercise authority and remain in the forefront.

One glaring nexus in both groups is their lack of vision for the job they were elected to do. They seems largely overfed, and one problem with over feeding is tiredness and the generally tendency to sleep. The result is relative inactivity and lack of progress.

On the other hand their could be elements of hubris amongst the rank and file of the senate especially in our type of milieu where poverty and unemployment is a persisting feature. The ‘lucky few’ would generally tend to look down on those struggling at the bottom of the pyramid as simply the poor folk.

With an age bracket averaging 50 – 60 years of age, one may be tempted to expect better things from the Nigerian senate. But this has simply refused to be the case.
Nigerian Senators to say the least are simply greedy, callous and arrogant. They are presently demanding from their leadership more than 100 per cent increase in quarterly allowance to finance their re-election. They want it raised from N48 million to N95 million every quarter.

A national newspaper had quoted: “There’s nothing like N48 million. Our allowance is only N45 million,” confirmed a Senator who did not want to be named. The demand for N95 million, a mere N5 million save from the initial N100 million sought in the first quarter of 2010, was circulated in a text message from a Northern Senator.

He justified it by saying, “This is an election year” and insisted the Senate can afford the increase as there are “enough padding in the budget” to effect it. But the Senate leadership reportedly ignored the request on the basis that, “This economy cannot sustain that kind of demand.”

Data at the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) showed that each Senator gets an annual basic salary of N2, 484, 242.50. Current built-in allowances are accommodation (200 per cent of basic annual salary), vehicle maintenance (75 per cent), and entertainment (30 per cent), and utility (30 per cent).

Others are personal assistant (25 per cent), wardrobe (25 per cent), domestic staff (75 per cent), recess (10 per cent), newspapers (15 per cent), and constituency (250 per cent). They also include furniture (300 per cent, payable only once in tenure), vehicle loan (400 per cent, repayable in six years), and gratuity (300 per cent). Each Senator is, therefore, entitled to a gross annual salary of N22, 606, 606.75.

The constituency allowance of the Senate President is N400 million every three months or N1.6billion a year. This currently translates to N4.44million a day. When increased by the same rate as that of senators, the senate President will be receiving N3.2 billion annually or N8.8million per day as constituency allowance.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives currently receives N3.84million per day or N350 million every three months or N1.4billion per annum as constituency allowance. When increased by the same margin as that of members of the House of Representatives, the Speaker will be pocketing N2.3 billion annually as constituency allowance.

In view of the fat package available in the senate all serving senators are insisting on being returned. I am yet to see any incumbent senator who has declined returning to the senate. As their desperation continues, those outside who has long been envying them want to take a birth at the cake. To make their case they dangle the politics of zoning or quota. None of them has spoken of the value he will add to the senate. The consequence is that every idiot wants to be a senator hence getting the list of senatorial aspirants longer. For example, in just one party, the PDP, there are a plethora of aspirants. In Orlu senatorial zone, there are already 6 aspirants in addition to the incumbent , while in Owerri zone there are 5 in addition to the reigning senator.

One puzzle in this maze is that all incumbent senators want to be returned regardless of their lacklustre and scandalous performance while aspiring senators are mostly persons out of job who desperately need one and the relevance that goes with it.

Nonetheless, I am also desperate. My desperation is that a free and fair election be conducted so that the number of unpopular persons going to the senate be reduced. This is desired in order to enable a senate sensitive to the Nigerian people.

Agric: Targeting apposite investment

Joachim Ezeji

The agricultural sector is the major source of livelihood for more than 70 per cent of Nigerians. Agriculture is presently estimated to represent 42 per cent of the country’s GDP. However, many Nigerians are yet to see the gains of the enormous investments in the agriculture sector by the federal Government. It is estimated that more than 35 per cent of the population are suffering from malnutrition because they cannot attain the required calories level. It is also estimated that in 2009 alone that farmers were faced with series of challenges ranging from land insecurity to the lack of soft loans, grants and implements like tractors. Also, there are fears that the food situation in Nigeria could worsen since soils are becoming poor and degraded.

Also, the small-scale farmer is also faced with the dearth of quality seeds, fertilizer and agro chemicals. It is also argued that if all the projects, policies and initiatives are well implemented and supervised, there will be a significant difference in the agricultural sector of the Nigerian economy. There is also the need to reposition agricultural research institutes to make them more responsive to emerging challenges. However, stakeholders argue that it is time for government to review the agricultural policy and strategies to ensure development, efficiency, effectiveness and food for all. For every one of the government’s agricultural initiatives to be meaningful, it must embrace the right to food security, civil rights, good governance and implementation.

The ADB, in partnership with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), has supported agricultural development in Africa with investments of around $3.8 billion. In Nigeria, apart from its growing budgetary allocation from seven per cent in 2008 to 12 per cent in 2009, various special intervention funds had also been injected into the sector. More than N400 billion was injected into the sector in 2009 alone. A budgetary allocation of 3.7 per cent was made in the sector in 2010. (i.e. recurrent N34.4bn and capital 49.9bn). The Yar’adua government (2007 – 2009) also earmarked three per cent (N300bn) of the Natural Resource Development Fund for the development of the agric sector.

President Goodluck Jonathan also , has set aside N242 billion to stimulate agriculture growth. This is apart from the N200bn that was lodged in some banks in 2009.Other intervention programmes in the sector since Nigeria’s independence in 1960 include; the National Accelerated Food Production Project (NAFPP) from 1970 to 1974; Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) of 1976; Green Revolution Programme (GRP) of 1980; Directorate for Food, Road and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI) of 1986; National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA) of 1992; National Accelerated Industrial Crops Production Programme (NAICPP) of 1996; Agriculture Development Programme (ADP); National Seed Service Programme (NSS); the establishment of the Federal Agriculture Coordinating Unit (FACU), Agriculture Credit Guarantee Scheme (ACGS), the Nigerian Agricultural Corporative and Rural Development Bank (NACRDB) and the recently launched contentious N200bn Commercial Agric Credit Scheme, among others.

In Nigeria, increasing changes in rainfall patterns as a result of climate change is already threatening small –scale agriculture, making it pretty difficult to plough farm lands after the very first rains. This threatens food security and income – making for small scale farmers. However, beyond this challenge are those of supporting farmers with services that are underpinned by the principles of ecosystem-based management necessary to manage agricultural land in ways that are sensitive to the ecological health of the environment. The paper therefore canvasses that any worthy investment in today’s agriculture should aim to basically address these challenges in order to foster sustainable development. Using a social-ecological approach, it discusses case studies of small scale rice farmers in Uboma, South-eastern Nigeria who are partnering to secure markets through a process that rewards farmers producing quality crops as well as creating of viable networks that links farmers from local farms to critical markets.

Water mismanagement, inappropriate land use, as well as poor knowledge of anti-drought measures by farmers have led to land degradation such as soil erosion and loss of the soil’s productive capacity to produce food. Also the limited potential for dry season farming through soil and water conservation, the non-employment of rain water harvesting technology, as well as conflicts over limited water resources have not helped the situation. Consequently, local livelihoods are being jeopardized while increasing poverty for thousands of local farmers expands. It is feared that economic losses of about 5-20% of National GDP could be wrought and that the region may lose between 4-6% of its GDP, with some sectors likely to face greater challenges. Already the region is facing reductions in yields from rain-fed agriculture of 10%, which may climb up to 50% by 2020.

This therefore underscores the need for the government to assign appropriate priority to the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors, in order to create opportunities to enable the world’s smallholder farmers and fishers, including indigenous people, in particular vulnerable areas, to participate in, and benefit from financial mechanisms and investment flows to support climate change adaptation, mitigation and technology development, transfer and dissemination. Agricultural systems must move in tandem with sustainable land management practices that positively contribute to the mitigation of climate change and ecological balance.”

Till today in parts of eastern Nigeria, the effects of worsening drought have continued to hamper farming activities. Water mismanagement, inappropriate land use, as well as poor knowledge of anti-drought measures by these farmers have led to land degradation such as soil erosion and loss of the soil’s productive capacity to produce food.

Also the limited potential for dry season farming through soil and water conservation, the non-employment of rain water harvesting technology, as well as conflicts over limited water resources had not helped the situation. Consequently, local livelihoods are being jeopardized while increasing poverty for thousands of farmers expands.

Getting farmers to enrich and share their knowledge of rainwater harvesting practices and soil and water conservation is often difficult because of dispersed nature of the farms and poor availability of time. A pool of different on-the-farm experiences is therefore desired to gain valuable experience amongst farmers in monitoring and evaluation and to formulate and agree upon a strategy on how to continue/advance in sharing and implementing rain water harvesting experiences as well as using the project to improve soil management and further options for land management and boost food harvests.

The concept of water harvesting has been around for many years through the use of reservoirs for domestic water supply. Water harvesting into small ponds or special devices as is currently the case should be consolidated as it remains the solution to water droughts because they reduce the consumption of mains or abstracted water and provide a secondary store of water for irrigation during dry season.

Farmers should be supported to use the World Overview on Conservation Agriculture Technology (WOCAT) questionnaires to document rainwater harvesting practices and soil and water conservation technologies.Farmers need to be exposed to gain valuable experience in monitoring and evaluation.Their is also the need for farmers to be assisted to formulate and agree upon a strategy on how to continue/advance in documenting, evaluating and disseminating rainwater harvesting experiences.

A wealth of SWC knowledge exists world-wide (scattered), but this is not documented and evaluated and thus being lost. Indigenous or local knowledge is not documented hence not easily accessible and thus hardly used; there has always been a heavy focus on documenting degradation but too little on sustainable land management (SLM) practices; experiences and lessons learned at global, national and local level should help to achieve better SWC and effective adaptation to climate change.

SWC specialists and decision-makers need better knowledge management. To adapt to climate change. WOCAT’s vision-that knowledge on sustainable land management is shared and used globally to improve livelihoods and the environment; should be mainstreamed. By the adoption of these measures farmers in eastern Nigeria underscored the need to maximize the potentials of dry season agriculture in order to boost food security, alleviate poverty, restore lost top soils and reduce point pollution of water sources from farms. But to achieve these would require putting in place pro-poor governance mechanisms as well as unleashing the creative ability of all farmers to participate fully in conservation agriculture measures under a framework of sustainable land management necessary in order to boost their livelihoods, reduce conflicts over water and enables a comprehensive understanding of human, and the natural environment.

Questioning the Land reform in Imo

Joachim Ezeji

All over the world there is a universal crave for good democratic governance mainly because of its immense advantages and by necessary implication, because of the negative consequences of bad governance. There is no doubt that Nigeria is, and must inevitably be part of, or join this universal crave. This aspiration or crave necessarily has to be guided by awareness, knowledge, reason and purpose that promotes sustainable development.

According to the UNDP, Nigeria is one of the twenty-five poorest countries in the world with about 48.5 per cent of the entire citizenry living below poverty line. Again, according to the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International (TI), Nigeria as at year 2000, was virtually the most corrupt in the world. Thus, Nigeria as at today, is paradoxically a country rich in immense natural resources but with her citizens lacking most of the basic needs of life like three square meals a day, adequate shelter, potable water and access to basic health care facilities.

Inadequate shelter attracts my attention today because of the growing insensitivity and seemingly outright greed by those whose job includes protecting and serving the interests of the poor in our midst. Among this concern is the current land reform happening in the Imo State Ministry of Lands and Urban development.

From most indices, the reform aims to open up Owerri, that is the Imo State Capital city, by deforesting, clearing , demarcating and allocating virgin plots in and around Owerri. Virgin areas such as areas ‘V’ and ‘W’ as well as Nworie and Otammiri layouts in Owerri are already massively being exploited in this regard. Also, land owners in various parts of Owerri in particular, and Imo in general have been directed to process /reprocess their Certificate of Ownership (CofO) under a new computerised system which is currently being implemented by a consultant for the Imo State Government.

However, the reform of Owerri lands by the government and its agents needs to be properly done to guide against hazards, and these includes hazards of corruption, graft and environmental mismanagement. This emphases needs to be further underscored because of the likely temptation to abuse the process simply because somebody wants to generate income for the government. Persons pursuing this objective should ponder awhile and understand that it is foolish to sale all the lands in Imo simply to generate funds for today, and in the process ignoring that there is a future whose needs and challenges must also be put into scope. For example, if our leaders past; particularly those of 1976 had sold all the lands in Imo State, what would we have had done today with our grown population?

It is germane to recall that the African Ministers responsible for housing and urban development had while meeting in Bamako, Mali, from 22 to 24 November 2010, discussed and considered the role of land in the process of sustainable urban development in Africa. Recalling the Durban Declaration of the inaugural conference of African Ministers of Housing and Urban Development in 2005, which resolved to champion and support innovative urban development and land management practices in Africa; the meeting also recalled the Abuja Plan of Action of 2008 which urged governments to use land for leveraging resources in the provision of housing and infrastructure.

The African Ministers’ meeting therefore committed themselves to promoting housing reforms that can make land available for sustainable urbanization and bring housing opportunities at scale as a key element in slum prevention. The meeting also recognized the centrality of land as primary base of sustainable urban development and as providing linkages between the economic, social and environmental developmental processes in our countries and the African region as whole.

Aware of the efforts being made by respective governments to introduce innovations and reforms for improving systems of land management and providing secure access to land for all segments of society; the meeting recognised the commitment of the African Union, working with the African Development Bank and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, which adopted the Land Policy Initiative Framework and Guidelines to encourage African member states to pursue land policy development and implementation, in order to eradicate poverty.

Four emerging concerns from the meeting are issues of poverty alleviation, innovation, environmental sustainability and overall sustainable development. In the Imo State context, all these concerns are apparently lacking, and therefore exposes the urgency and need to review the on-going land reform in Imo State in order to correct the inherent weaknesses.

I am keen to find out how the interest of the poor in Imo State is being taken into scope. The poor here includes all those currently trapped in the low income bracket such as informal traders as well as all low income civil servants. What plans have the government put in place to assist them access and own plots of land as well as developing same in other to own their own housing. From the look of things only the rich and elites are the ones buying up and developing all the available spaces in Owerri. The Imo poor have been relegated to mere spectators in this regard.

But, Governor Ohakim needs to be reminded that he owns Imo people the commitment to facilitate access to urban land for all citizens and to ensure security of tenure for the urban poor in line with the Millennium Development Target of improving the lives of slum-dwellers by 2020. Anything short of this tantamount to insensitivity and poor governance. One glaring consequence of this is the inevitable sprawl of slums.

In 1990, almost half the urban population in developing regions were living in slums. By 2005, that proportion had been reduced to 36 per cent. Slum conditions are defined as lacking at least one of four basic amenities: clean water, improved sanitation, durable housing and adequate living space. Despite some advances, sub-Saharan Africa remains the region with the highest prevalence of slums. Both slums and urban areas in the region appear to be growing at an equally rapid pace, and the living conditions among impoverished populations are severe, often involving multiple deprivations.

Also, the rate of deforestation currently moving in tandem with the so called land reform contrasts with the government’s slogan of ‘clean and green’. The prevalent felling of trees and associated vegetation, runs foul of global efforts to adapt to climate change. There is need to allow some of these undeveloped urban areas to remain as protected areas by conserving and leaving them unexploited. Over half the area of Sweden (especially Stockholm, its capital city) is so reserved as forest reserves, and that is the authentic ‘clean and green’. Protected areas are the cornerstone of efforts to conserve the world’s species and ecosystems as well as a key component in climate change mitigation

Even in Africa, despite economic and other pressures, many developing countries have managed to protect vast stretches of both land and water. In 2007, for example the Democratic Republic of Congo established one of the largest protected tropical rainforests in the world. However, the number of species threatened with extinction worldwide continued to grow. According to the Red List Index of the International Union of Conservation of Nature, mammals are more threatened than birds. But both groups are more endangered in developing than developed countries. Sustained investments and strategies are needed to effectively conserve biodiversity in Africa, starting from Owerri, Imo State.

Land reform in Imo State that merely derives its legitimacy from the mere use of exotic consultants whose competence is limited to electronic data base of allotted plots of land is grossly parochial. We need much more than that in order to build an egalitarian society that will not short-change generations yet unborn, leaving them in utter stupor, shock and anger.

Governor Ohakim should show leadership in this regard now!

Nigeria: Before 2011 dawns

Joachim Ezeji
The pervasive poor governance in Nigeria has once again come to the fore. The 2010 Human Development Report, compiled by UN Development Programme (UNDP) has ranked Nigeria 142 out of 169 least prosperous countries in the world. Nigeria was grouped among 41 countries considered to have the “least human development” in the 2010 Human Development Report.
This once again underscores the parlous decay in education and infrastructure coupled with incidents of high rising corruption across the country. For example, recently, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on MDGs, Hajiya Amina Az-zubair, expressed the fear that the slow implementation of the Millennium Development Goal, MDG, projects by many states may mar the country’s hope of achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) targets of 2015. She had accused states of unnecessary delays in project implementation, despite the fact that they had received the conditional grants.
According to her, conditional grants for 2009 were all released between November and December 2009, and March, 2010. The time frame was sufficient for the completion of projects which were intended to have six-month work plan, but as at the end of 2010 the average level of completion for 2009 was an abysmal 40%. Principal concern in this lapse is the challenge of governance which borders on the adherence to approval and due process mechanisms which are slow.
Yet, the performance of states under the 2007 and 2008 grants are necessary indicators among many of their capacities to effectively execute projects under the 2011 grant scheme. This became imperative because Nigerians can no longer afford further waste of time or resources in the march towards achieving MDGs.
Also, the Ecological Fund office is displeased with the ever increasing cases of ecological disasters ravaging states across the country. At the bottom of this problem is the profligacy in spending the money sourced from the Ecological Funds by states. In fact, most states spend the money in the same way they spend their security votes.
News sources hints that states collect money to solve ecological problems in their states but end up using the money to purchase fleet of cars and indulge in other frivolities. The result is that virtually all sections of the country is affected by ecological problems, ranging from coastal erosion in the South-West and South-South, soil and gully erosion in the North and South-East, desert encroachment in the North, as well as oil spill and pollution in the South-South.
Apart from misuse of the money from the Ecological Fund, Newspaper sources reports that some of the claims by states on their reforestation programmes were bogus and fraudulent. A Newspaper source had reported: “We have seen situations where some of the states announce with glee that they are embarking on tree planting campaigns for which billions of naira are to be spent but after the pomp and pageantry associated with the ceremonies and the photo opportunities that it offers, the exercise does not go beyond that.”
A former governor in one of the northern states was reported to have once spent millions of naira to import mango seedlings from Kenya for reforestation programme that would arrest the advancement of the desert but the seedlings were eventually shared out to government officials who used it to start their private orchids.
In most of these states that claim to have embarked on planting of millions of trees, the source said: “We see idle and unemployed youths whose services in such projects would have offered them temporary jobs.
Sadly, there are not functional forestry departments to monitor such tree planting programmes. The incidence of care-free logging is high and there are no visible signs of progress at the end of each tree planting season.“There are no benchmarks to measure the success of the programme. In fact, the whole exercise ends up as a sham and a charade. These are clever ploys by politicians to make money and we must check them closely.”
In the South-East where gully erosion is a major threat to socio-economic activities, misguided politicians and contractors are exacerbating the problem through inflated contracts, round tripping of contract awards and execution of shoddy jobs to create opportunities for re-award of the same contracts.
It has been reported that contract awards on gully erosion is hot potatoes for politicians at the federal and state levels. Contracts on the gully erosion problem top the list and you will be surprised by the calibre of politicians that scramble for it.
The 2010 report, entitled, “The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development,” examined progress in health, education and income over the past 40 years, featuring some technical adjustments of its traditional indicators for health, education and income, and illustrating the wide range of development achievements among 37 countries analysed in the region.
According to the report, Nigeria’s wealth —as defined by gross domestic product per head—has slipped, while its educational ranking has failed to keep up with that of other countries. The GDP per head in Nigeria is a mere 1,224 dollars, compared to 9,812 dollars in South Africa, 1,628 dollars in Kenya and 2,197 dollars in Cameroon.
In 2010, Nigeria’s life expectancy was 48.4 years on average, below that of Ghana (57.1.), Cameroon (51.7), Benin Republic (62.3), Uganda (54.1) and Lesotho, at 46 years, has sub-Saharan Africa lowest life expectancy, while the Comoros Islands leads the region at 66 years.
Mauritius ranked highest among sub-Saharan states — number 72 in the world — in the “high human development” category, followed by Gabon, 93 and Botswana, 98. The report said Ethiopia was 11th in HDI improvement since 1970, Botswana 14, Benin 18 and Burkina Faso 21, among the world 25 “top movers’’
In view of the gaps and problems militating against the growth and development of Nigeria, there are suggestions that the issue of governance is most crucial. Another area is education. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s education is not reaching enough students. Another crucial area is the need to improve infrastructure in the country. It is expected that if Nigeria focuses on these key areas, there is no reason that Nigeria will not become much more productive and grow much faster in the future.
The 2010 report had reported that Norway is the best country to live in, followed by Australia, New Zealand, U.S, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Japan, Korea Republic, Switzerland, France, Israel, Finland, Iceland, Belgium, Denmark and Spain.
We hope that Nigeria makes this list in the coming year.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

HRH Eze Desmond Ogugua – Salute to Courage

By Joachim Ezeji As the rampaging menace of kidnapping continues to ravage the south-eastern part of Nigeria, one man who towers shoulders above his contemporaries in confronting the menace by speaking out is HRH Eze Desmond Ogugua, the traditional ruler of Eziudo autonomous community in Ezinihite Mbaise Local Government Area. After reading his story in a recent SUN Newspaper weekend edition I made up my mind to re-echo his voice by devoting this column to him. He is a man of courage. If every octogenarian in present day Nigeria is to tell the raw truth at all occasions, then, Nigeria will surely be a much better place. Sadly, in Nigeria today, while many so called old men are keeping quiet as evil thrives, some are simply part of it. In reaction to a recent ugly incident of kidnapping in his community, HRH has had the opportunity to say the truth as it is, and I hope the government of Imo State led by Ikedi Ohakim heard him. The governor must take the message very seriously. Eze Ogugua emphatically holds the view that there are two reasons kidnap has become a scourge among our people. He says that one is political, and the other is economic. He argues that the poverty created by the government through neglect in communities has made some idle and evil minded youths to resort to kidnapping as means of making themselves heard and as a weapon of retaliation to society for abandoning them. According to him, the result is the proliferation of the art as even robbers have diverted their art to kidnap for better returns. Eze Oguguo pointed out that in the beginning; government didn’t take the issue serious until it developed into this bigger problem. He also argues that the police have not been equipped to handle the kidnap problem; insisting that that there is no way that you can climb the iroko tree without a rope. In his words “Police can’t chase kidnappers who are more sophisticated in arms out of town with just their bare hands.” Arguing further, Eze Ogugua explained that politicians are a remote cause of kidnapping. He argued that the kidnappers are youths the politicians used in their desperation to win elections; and , in his own words; “Today, these armed men the politicians gave birth to have turned the arms against unsuspecting persons in the society, including the same politicians. I am sure they must have found out that they sired a clan of hoodlums they can no longer control. The horde of hooligans they created have gone out of control and turned terror on all of us”. HRH Eze Oguguo then recalled an ugly incident of kidnapping in his community: “I have a good instance at hand on a kidnap that took place in my community on July 27, 2009. I was overseas for medical attention when the incident occurred. When I came back four months later, not much had been done by the police who literally left the matter unattended to. The victim had neither been found nor his condition known talk less of identifying the kidnappers”. He continued: “The victim was Pius Onyeremadu. After his kidnap, a report was made at the police station. When I came back, I summoned the community leaders to tackle the abomination. In the course of the interrogation of some people, I suspected two persons who I later handed over to the police for further investigation. The police in Alagbon, Lagos, were later invited and CID from there interrogated the suspects who confessed to the act and named nine others who were part of it, including the owner of a dangerous hotel in the town”. According to the Monarch, it was in that dangerous hotel the victim, Onyeremadu, was kept with a signpost on the rooms where he was barring people from coming closer there. The nine persons were later arrested and taken into custody by the police while they continued with investigation during which it was found that the victim died on August 20, 2009, barely a month after he was abducted. By the time Eze Ogugua returned in November, his community devised several means to track down the kidnappers and possibly release their victim not knowing he had died. One of their strategies was community prayer sessions. They assembled at village squares in all the villages of the Eziudo community and prayed that God should apprehend the kidnappers. Ironically, the suspects were part of the prayers. They joined as the prayer train moved from one village to the other. As the prayer leaders voiced their petition to heaven, they all joined to chorus a loud amen.
Unknown to them, prayers get answers, and as they unknowingly prayed against themselves to be caught and exposed, so they were later caught. Indeed, they were later caught and in their confession had told the police that they dumped the body of the victim in Imo River after he died in their custody. But when they were taken to the river with divers, they recapitulated on the earlier confession and accepted to say the truth on where the body was discarded. They asked the police to take them back to the community that the man’s body was stuffed inside a soak-away pit in church premises in Eziudo. As they got there, this time, their tale was right. They pointed at the cesspit that has not been in use for sometime in the premises. The police commenced a dig of the pit. A video recording of the expedition showed four policemen from Alagbon cracking the concrete slab on the pit with pickaxe to make it wide enough for someone to climb in and confirm the testimony. The man’s remains were squeezed into the pit via a little gap and the smaller slab replaced. As the police gained access into the pit, they beckoned on the villagers to come closer and see the man’s bones littered all over the place. His dress was first picked up from the moist earth and shown to family members who confirmed it was his. Painstakingly, the policemen harvested Onyeremadu’s bones like in Ezekiel’s vision in a yellow polyethene bag. With that they climbed off, displayed the odd specimen before the people before taking them away as exhibit and for forensic analysis after which they would be released to the family. Since the investigating police came from Alagbon, the suspects were taken to Lagos for proper interrogation and investigation, after which they were brought back to Owerri for trial. Eze Ogugua in this story revealed that his community is defraying the cost of everything that has been done so far on behalf of the community; yet, the police are asking the community to defray the forensic analysis of the bones at a cost of N250, 000 before that could be handled. In his words, he lamented “The problem has cost us much money, and it is not yet over”. Curiously, neither the government nor the police are helping the community to defray the enormous costs involved in exercise of this nature. Cases of this nature have become goldmine for police officers as they see it as opportunities to make money. Why should communities be left to defray the entire cost of security incidents of this nature? What is Governor Ohakim doing with the colossal security funds he allocates to himself every year? Incidents of this nature are often the purpose of security votes. I therefore use this medium to call on the Imo State Government to quickly refund all expenses incurred by the community without any further delay. This is the only effective way to encourage and motivate people and their communities as otherwise dispirits them. Also, a pathway should be created to couple the security vote of the governor to the security issues in the dispersed communities. Such coupling will enable communities to handle what is required to uphold peace through their Chiefs and local vigilante bodies. Eze Oguguo had recalled “I know how much I have spent in organizing security groups, summoning meetings of elders and youths and assisting the police in its efforts so far”. He continued “If a monarch has no money, he can’t handle this and things will get worse”. That is true! I hope the Governor is reading this piece, if not let his aids take this piece and show him. The gospel truth as told by HRH Eze Oguguo is that the society can’t effectively tackle kidnapping and other dangerous crimes without the cooperation of the local leaders in the communities. To do this the government must be fair and transparent, using public funds for the public, not otherwise. Despite the fact that government collects a lot of revenue and maintains enormous resources, what else is stopping government from extending appropriate support to local communities? It is a sad revelation, but it takes courage to say it. HRH Eze Desmond Oguguo had revealed and I quote him “Government (both state and local government) has never assisted my community in any way in this ugly incident. It has been my people and the police. I would solicit the support of the government for traditional rulers and community leaders in this wise.” What a tale!

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Joachim Ezeji
One governor in the current political dispensation in Nigeria that radiates high level mediocrity and ineptitude is the Abia Governor, Mr. Theodore Orji. Events in recent times portray this governor as a man who is very much unfit to remain a day longer in office in whatever capacity. I will rather suggest that the man deserves to be in jail for wasting the time and resources of Abia State.I would have preferred to refer to him as a well fortified fool sake for decency. The man possibly thinks that the rest of Abians’ are as foolish as himself. In civilized societies Mr Orji would have immediately resigned upon the revelation he made recently. While addressing the new commissioners he appointed in Umuahia recently, the Governor had described the ceremony as a crucial chapter in the life of the government and another step towards the consolidation of the government.He had also said that with the liberation of the state from political bondage, what they now have in the state was government of the people, for the people and by the people, and urged the new commissioners to work hard as the state was in a hurry to develop. He unequivocally stated that he was now in full control of the affairs of the state; saying that if it were in the past, all the commissioners would have been handed over to him from certain quarters. What a revelation! Prior to that event Mr. Theodore Orji had dissolved his cabinet which was reconstituted just about one year ago. The dissolution affected all commissioners and all other political appointees such as Special Advisers and Personal Advisers, including about 300 advisers that were appointed in May. Political observers in the state saw the action of Governor Orji as a step towards freeing himself from the alleged stronghold of former governor Kalu and his mother who had been having huge influence in the governance of the state since he came to power. But at what cost, who lost? Abians of course! And shortly after dissolving his cabinet, the governor quit his original party for the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA). Speaking to newsmen in Umuahia, his aide on Print Media, Mr Joshua Ogbonna, had said the governor left the People Progressive Alliance, (PPA) as a result of the irreconcilable and crises that have bedeviled the party in recent times.The climax was that on July 2, the leadership of the party led by DIM Odimegwu Ojukwu, Peter Obi and National Chairman of the party, Chief Victor Umeh, all gathered in Umuahia to receive Governor Orji into their party. According to Mr. Joshua Ogbonna….. “Since they have made the party uncomfortable for him, he had no choice but to find solace in a more disciplined focused and people-oriented party which is APGA.Yet again, within a few weeks, the same man did quit APGA for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In doing so, he rubbished the personalities that graced his return to APGA on the previous occasion such as DIM Odimegwu Ojukwu. What we hear now is that the move was proper in order to realign Abia to national politics and optimize political benefits for the state. Some loyalists of the governor are also using every opportunity to blast our eyes on the need to keep Abia on the mainstream of national politics.Nevertheless one thing that is clear from this macabre dance is the desperation to remain in power at all cost, and this is irrespective of the wishes of the people. Governor Orji and his loyalist are fanatically inclined to the PDP ballot rigging machine and are hopeful of benefiting from there. The desperation to still remain in office despite woeful performance as governor is largely responsible for this so-called return to the PDP.This is synonymous with events in Imo State, two years ago when Mr. Ikedi Ohakim quit the PPA for the PDP. The same reasons adduced in Abia were also adduced in Imo. On both occasions, people of these two states were told that this was the only way to facilitate the actualization of the Igbo presidency. But these are fairy tales, good only for gullible minds as they need to be reminded that Igbo presidency can never be possible in an environment dominated by political underachievers and harlots whose only guaranty to victory is ballot fraud and judicial merchandise.I have never really taken Governor Orji serious because I had always seen him and his brother- governor Ikedi Ohakim as backwater governors who came into office through the back door without any iota of public scrutiny. Their coming to power was a catastrophic accident that took all and sundry by surprise. No sane political mind ever imagined that it could happen in the 21st century Nigeria. But it did, and we are collectively paying the high price.My consolation however, is the lessons to be learnt from this accident. One of them is the fact that the defection of these governors is a showcase of the nature of their characters, affiliations and backgrounds. And these consist of greed, avarice, lust and poverty of morality. On the surface one may query what actually took them to PPA in the first instance? And what level of relationship they did have with Orji Ozor Kalu the founder of PPA prior to and before defection? For Mr. Theodore Orji, one may also want to know why he defected to and quit APGA within a few weeks. An analysis of these questions will reveal these men as birds of the same feather that needs isolation from the civilized world. Behind the veil of government authority are politically amorphous men, enormously lacking in character, morality, genuine followership and social capital.Another lesson to be learnt is that as the Igbo nation remain hopeful of Igbo presidency, characters to look up to are those similar to, and proportional to those of the likes of Mr. Peter Obi of Anambra State. Governor Peter Obi understands very much how he came to power and has to a large extent lived up to the expectations of his people. His actions have facilitated enormous goodwill for him and his party in Anambra State which subsequently ensured his re-election as governor last year. He did not need defection to achieve re-election. To Peter Obi what should really matter while in political office is performance, not jumping around and making bizarre confessions without genuine atonement as we currently witness in Abia. Do Governors Fashola, Oshiomole and Mimiko need any defection to secure re-election? What then is actually the problem with these Igbo governors other than gullibility? Again, the PDP as a party in self denial is again in big dilemma as the events of 2011 unfolds. It has to subject itself to real democratic ethos which includes making the political field open, free and fair to all contestants. By this, it has to contend with organizing fair and free primaries as well as subjecting itself to free and fair national and state elections thereafter. But can this be possible with all these compromises here and there particularly with the influx of non- performing Governors Orji and Ohakim defecting to its fold?I am of the strong opinion that the likes of Governor Theodore Orji should out rightly be disqualified from presenting himself for re-election under any political platform, the PDP inclusive, based on his recent confessions that his government since 2007 has been serving the personal interests of himself and those of his godfather – Orji Uzor Kalu. The implication of those revelations are damning as it shows to the extent Abia State has been short-changed in the past 36 months. Well meaning Abia citizens should stand up and throw their gauntlet into the 2011 race and get this inferior man unelected as he attempts to re-present himself for the 2011 elections. Please fellow Abians’ let’s put a stop to this cascading stupidity.
Abia Kwenu!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Case studies of outright looting of public funds in Nigeria (1)

N400m cash in septic tank
•Opposition groups demand probe of Bayelsa sanitation agency

Opposition parties and civil society groups in Bayelsa State have demanded a probe into the alleged disappearance of over N400 million at the country home of the Chairman of the Environment Sanitation Authority, Mr. Reginald Dede. The robbery, which reportedly took place penultimate week at Kongo community, Akassa, Brass Local Government Area of the state was carried out by boys who were armed to the teeth. Eyewitness account said when the boys got to Dede’s house, they headed straight to the septic tank where they discovered both hard and local currencies. After the robbery, some people were said to have been arrested by the police. An impeccable police source confided in Daily Sun that those arrested by the police in connection with the robbery were still undergoing interrogation. However, opposition parties and civil society groups are calling on the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Presidency to investigate the matter to determine where Dede got such huge money.In separate statements, National Union of Political Parties (NUPP), Political Alliance for Good Governance (PAGG) and the Action Congress (AC) said the Federal Government should demonstrate its sincerity to fight corruption by probing the incident. NUPP, in its statement signed by Mr. Edwin Tare and Ekiye Maxwell, chairman and secretary respectively carpeted Dede saying since he assumed office as chairman of the agency, “wages of sanitation workers have been stunted,” adding that “workers sometimes would not be paid for three or four months.” It said the state government had never been serious with the welfare of the workers who were mostly women. Bobo Atari-Adou, publicity secretary of PAGG, in its statement, said the group noted with disbelief that such huge money could be hidden in a septic tank when workers of the sanitation authority were being owed six months salaries. It called on President Goodluck Jonathan to listen to the voice of reason and direct a probe into alleged financial recklessness in the state. The AC, in its statement, endorsed by its Chairman, Miriki Ebikibina challenged Governor Timipre Sylva and the state House of Assembly to investigate the matter and sanction Dede if found guilty to serve as a deterrent to other government officials who believed cases of corruption could be treated with levity. The state Commissioner for Information, Orientation and Strategy, Mr. Nathan Egba, however denied knowledge of the incident, stressing that it was a personal matter which only Dede could comment on. When approached for his comments at the Governor’s Lodge in Yenagoa, Dede declined, declaring that he did not want to talk about the incident. Meanwhile, political leaders in Sagbama have risen in defence of the council Chairman, Mr. Perez Peretus over allegation of corruption and high-handedness levelled against him. Peretus who has been in the eye of the storm following his disagreement with a top government functionary has been accused of massive fraud and securing a loan facility for the council without authorisation. In a statement by the Secretary of the council on behalf of the leaders, Mr. Mirin Johnson, the leaders noted that the council took the loan of N45 million for the payment of April salaries due to the shortfall in the allocation that accrued to the council from the federation account. According to the leaders, the loan which was with the full knowledge of the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs was used for a purpose which the people could attest to. The leaders commended Peretus for engaging in the settlement of debts incurred by past administrations, the provision of internet facility, the launch of a functional website for the council, the overhauling of electrical systems in Sagbama town, the purchase of five plots of land in Yenagoa to construct a befitting ultramodern liaison office complex with a view to generating revenue and the ongoing construction of a new office building. While noting that the “claim of fraud against the council chairman is a deliberate crusade by some politicians against the rising profile of the council chairman” they stressed that “investigation conducted on the charges of fraud, high-handedness and fanning ember of division among clans against the council chairman showed that they were false and only exist in the imagination of the opposition.”

Note: Bayelsa State is a major revenue earner from Nigeria’s huge oil and gas Federal Allocation. It is one of the richest states in Nigeria, but outright looting of public funds persists in the midst of pressing needs and poverty.

Case studies of sprawling poverty in Nigeria (1)

One-month-old triplets face ejection from hospital
…......... As jobless parents can’t pay medical bills

In Ijaw language, Beydomo means ‘let your mind be calm’. But for Beydomo Igoniwari, that name doesn’t represent her current situation. Right now, Beydomo’s mind is anything, but calm. Even her husband is as agitated and confused as the young lady. So what could be responsible for the worry and anxiety currently traumatizing their minds?
On June 6, the young lady was delivered of a set of triplets. The three bundles of joy were delivered at Ondewari community in Southern Ijaw Local Government area of Bayelsa State. And since then, Beydomo and her husband, Karamotei, have been running from pillar to post, seeking for a way to pay the hospital bills and ensure the survival of their new born babies. Unfortunately, due to the long journey from Ondewari, one of the triplets died. But that is not the immediate headache of the couple. At the moment, Mr. and Mrs. Igoniwari have other concerns. They are currently battling to ensure that they are not evicted by the authorities of the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Yenagoa. The hospital officials have served them a quit notice, maintaining that they can no longer keep the babies and their mother at the hospital unless they pay their bills. Igoniwari, who is at a loss on how to raise the required funds to keep his children and wife in the hospital, is pleading for help from Nigerians as well as the Bayelsa State Government. He spoke his mind in an interview with Daily Sun…. “My name is Karamotei Igoniwari. I am 25 years old from Ondewari in Southern Ijaw Local Government area of Bayelsa State. My wife gave birth to triplets on June 6 at the village and because of her condition; we had to rush her down to Yenagoa. We did not know that she was going to have triplets because there was no scan done. We already had two children before now. But as she was giving birth and I saw that she gave birth to triplets, I could not eat for two days because I have two children before now. “The situation I have found myself now is that I need assistance from the government. I have no job. I only survive on picking snails at the village. I don’t know where to run for help. I am confused. The hospital has served us a notice that they want to eject us. We have spent more than one month now and our bill is almost N50, 000. I need help from the government. Even if I am given a year to pay the money, I don’t know where I would get it.” Beydomo, who also spoke with our reporter, was close to tears as she pleaded for help to save her children. According to her, all her concern now is how the government or any good spirited Nigerian can offer help to the family. “I want the government to take care of the children. All I just want from government is to take care of them,” she said. Have they given the children any names? Igoniwari shook her head. She explained that christening the kids is the last thing on their minds. She said all they want to do now is to settle the hospital bills and return to the village where their church members and relatives are waiting to receive them with joy.
Note: Bayelsa State is a major revenue earner from Nigeria’s huge oil and gas Federal Allocation. It is one of the richest states in Nigeria, yet, its people are suffering in the midst of plenty.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Now that Aboki is out of Prison

By Joachim Ezeji

Ever since Aboki came into media limelight, I had tactically evaded making an article on him. The temptation to write about him or about his frays with the Ikedi Ohakim’s government had been strong considering the fact that I have a record of criticizing bad governance that have persisted in the state. Recently, Aboki has come to do same but in a most brute manner based on the incontrovertible facts he dishes out. But today, I am compelled to write this piece on Aboki and in salute of justice.

Aboki, as I have chosen to call him was my senior at the Government Secondary School, Owerri. Then, he was a quiet and easy going senior, and as a result was a friend to many ‘junior’ students. He was simply just too cool and would even pick up quarrels with any of his classmates with a penchant for punishing younger students. Then he was noted for his great attention to details and ability to easily communicate in good English, because of that he was also called “Prof”, another title he then wielded in equal measure with “Aboki”. Both were his ‘guy’ names.

After Government College, we never really met again, but I learnt that he proceeded straight to University. When we eventually met again, a long time later, I called him “Prof”; which I still call him till date, he smiled and told me he reads my articles, commending me for it, and imploring me to continue. Then at Government Secondary School, I was the Editor –in- Chief of the Press Club, and because of that was to a large extent famous. Aboki, was excited that I was still writing, many years on.

I am therefore elated that Aboki’s illegal and most bizarre conviction has been quashed by a superior court. Kudos is here given to Hon. Justice Nonyerem Okoronkwo of High Court 8 Owerri for this act of courage in the midst of official conspiracy as witnessed in the lower magistrate court. I also congratulate Barrister LM Alozie for standing firm for the oppressed. Both men are men of integrity; sure, we need more of their type in our already debased society.

Really, I do not hate Ohakim but the only axe I have to grind with him is his style of governance which is generally anti-people and retrogressive. Sadly, his government operates just below average creative trust, and has woefully failed in building the requisite bridge between the people and their government.I wonder if the bonding really exist within his team.

Yet, he retains sheer opportunistic people like one Okpalaeke Cletus, who is supposedly his image maker. For Mr. Okpalaeke Cletus to describe Aboki as an illegal petrol, kerosene and diesel dealer in a Weekend Vanguard news interview is absurd. It exposes the sheer contempt the so called ruling elites have for those at the bottom of the pyramid i.e. the struggling masses. If Aboki is at all illegal, what stopped the government trying him under the relevant laws. I do not belong to the school of thought where principals are allowed to describe their subjects in degrading adjectives.

In the said interview, when Mr. Okpalaeke was confronted with the reality of Citizen Ikenna Samuelson Iwuoha’s reality on Ohakim; Mr. Okpalaeke had said: “First and foremost, where did Samuelson emerge from to become the biggest subject of media discussion in Imo State for almost half a year? Samuelson was an illegal petrol, kerosene and diesel dealer. You know the roadside black market dealer”.

Mr. Okpalaeke wasn’t done yet, he continued: “His structure was demolished by Imo State Environmental Sanitation agents……………… It was the demolition of illegal structures in Owerri, capital of Imo State that gave birth to Samuelson the media darling. Samuelson has not had the time in his busy illegal fuel dealership to become an internet wizard, but with the demolition of the illegal structure, Samuelson suddenly became a celebrated internet media icon and computer wizard”.

Finally he said “Personally, if I was in charge of the information ministry, I would have totally ignored Samuelson. Regardless of what Samuelson may have written or said, I would have ignored him and at most, having the police make him verify the veracity of his publications since he is willing to be used as a genuine pig by affixing his name on other people’s publications”.

I find it utterly difficult to reconcile the rationale behind the use of those words. Was it an act of hubris by an absolutely unknown Mr Cletus Okpalaeke to impress his benefactor or was it simply because of the lack of appropriate words. Whatever it was, it is sheer stupidity on the part of Mr. Cletus Okpalaeke to describe Aboki in those terms. No doubt, those are one of the antics of overzealous and hungry appointees who are ever willing to impress their bosses.

Perhaps Mr Cletus Okpalaeke need be reminded that it is not too late to either use the moribund Imo House of Assembly or the police to make Aboki prove his case as he suggested. I think that would have been much better than having Almighty Ikedi Ohakim stooping so low to abduct and flog Aboki in the governor’s office; a public building built and maintained by public funds.

Painfully, it has become a national tragedy, that Nigeria rather than be in well knitted engagement with its citizens especially its graduates would rather abandon them to be on the street selling petrol, kerosene and diesel. That comment by Cletus Okpalaeke once again exposes the hypocrisy of those in government. And sadly, government is populated by scoundrels, 419ners, simpletons, charlatans, mediocre and rogues etc.

For most of us on the sidelines, especially those of us who have the courage to suggest alternative viewpoints, we are hated, harassed, illegally imprisoned and then described in the oddest of terms even when we claim to practice democracy.

Even at a much younger age, you need not look very far to find out that even from the sidelines we are much better qualified in terms of educational attainment, professional networks, international exposure, community engagement and overall aptitude much more than those who have only come into government to 'chop'. Yet, they would neither allow us to live nor be free in our own land. They persist in their destruction of our common wealth, exacerbating and perpetuating a system that hardly allows great minds to emerge and ventilate it.

However, now that Aboki is out of prison, may I make my stand known; and that is, that Chief Magistrate Victoria Isiguzo having become a controversial personality in the judiciary be shown out of the judiciary with immediate effect. I am suggesting that signatures be collected to formally demand for her sack from the National Judicial Council (NJC). The new Imo state that we eagerly look ahead for in 2011 should be spared the likes of Mrs. Victoria Isiguzo who takes pleasure in dispensing injustice.

Finally, we have to note that the prison doors are not shut yet; they are still open, albeit ajar, waiting for the next set of inmates. No doubt, those inmates know themselves and will certainly take their turn when the people's votes come to count in 2011 elections. For me, I can’t wait for the accident of 2007 to end.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

The big society: My Childhood @ Okigwe

Joachim Ezeji

I can still remember events of days of yore, days of yesterdays. Then I was just a small boy, an infant still trying to understand my milieu. It was a memorable era as much as my memories can recede back to history, to the then little and serene town of Okigwe in south –eastern Nigeria. I was not born in Okigwe, but it is as good as if it was, because my parents had just had me, when the call of duty saw my father changing work station; departing the big commercial city of Onitsha, for Okigwe, a town just too minuscule to the gigantic size of Onitsha, a city of the timbres and calibres of trade and commerce.

As a bank staff in the then African Continental Bank ltd, my father had a job that had a fair wage that enabled him to adequately care for and take care of his young family. Before me was Vitalis, my senior brother who was just a year older than me. He, himself had been born in Uboma, a few years after the Nigerian- Biafra Civil War. My people were the Biafra’s and had suffered the atrocities of the war most. Before Vitalis, was Ndidiamaka, our supposedly senior sister, who unfortunately died even before her first birthday during those dark days in the village, where want and misery was the order consequent of the civil war that just ended.

Growing up in Okigwe was great. Though a small and serene town, Okigwe was a big society. People knew each other and easily identified who your father was wherever you are seen; you need not necessarily mention your surname. There was love, understanding and good neighbourliness. Crime existed, but at insignificant scales. Then, armed Robbery and kidnapping were alien vices and were rarely heard of.

Though a child, I can still remember events of those days when electricity first came into the town. Before then, there was no electricity. Houses had no electric wirings because there was no need for them. We lived in total darkness, only lighting candles and kerosene lanterns at night. The implication was that there were no television sets or the opportunity of watching one. Then, if you came to Okigwe at a time such as 9 pm, you would find every resident already gone to bed with doors securely locked.

Then my mother had a provision store that also sells liquor especially beer. The store had a big sign that welcomes customers to the store. The inscription on that sign had read:‘Mrs R.C. Ezeji Provision and Liquor Off-Licence Store’. The sign board then served a special purpose for most of the kids on our street as it provided the first learning board for pronouncing or reading english language words. Then, at less busy periods, me, my brother and our friends often gathered on its foot to gingerly read and pronounce its letters. It was an exciting ritual though often rowdy. The store was situated in Ike Road by the then Nne-Amaka buildings. Then, customers walked into the store in large numbers. It provided a gathering point and leisure to the bulk of the residents on Ike Road and beyond. One attractive bait in that store then, was that my mother was amongst a very few who sold cold drinks. My father had bought and equipped the store with a fridge that used both kerosene and electricity. Since there was no electricity, she used kerosene in running the fridge. Low and Behold, the fridge produced well chilled drinks and ice blocks. As a consequence, customers came in droves. Most of the residents were traders, teachers, council workers and other civil servants.

The absence of electricity in Okigwe in those days constrained growth and made Okigwe to be so heavily dependent on other towns such as Enugu, Onitsha and Umuahia; all nearby towns. But, I think that Enugu and Onitsha had the greatest influence as the bulk of the confectionaries such as bread and snacks (e.g. Chinchim) were all made and conveyed from those towns to Okigwe. Nevertheless the efficiency of delivery was great as Okigwe never lacked any of them in good quantity, but for quality, I cant tell. Then we knew all the Bakery trucks by their names and time of arrival.

When electricity finally arrived Okigwe, a new kind of life came with it. The new kind of life includes the luxury of watching a television. Then, landlords had no quarrel in supporting their tenants reap this dividend as they immediately wired their buildings without delay. Also, my father did not hesitate to purchase a television set for our leisure. The necessity was brought to the fore when it almost became a routine to move from house to house of those who had television, searching for my brother, who in the course of watching late night movies in other neighbour’s homes often slept off. To arrest that problem, my mother insisted my father must buy a television for the children. And when the television came, Vitalis promptly colonized it.

As usual water and sanitation in Okigwe was a big challenge. Then, residents generally had to source water from raw sources. As a hilly and rocky down, Okigwe had a geology that is blessed with good aquifers. There are thousands of springs supplying clean water supplies to Okigwe residents. It was only distance that determined which one you used. As kids we preferred going to distant springs out of curiosity or to further have fun. Then, you often have to queue for hours to get water. When there are delays in our returning home, our mother will come looking for us. Often, it would be neighbours who would often reveal where they last saw us. With such tips we were easily located and brought home with or without the water, but for sure we must have had some good fun.

Ironically, most of those springs were developed and protected with spring boxes built by colonial administrators of the past. Present day government in Nigeria is not keen in investing in such infrastructure even when the World Health Organisation (WHO) lists protected spring as an acceptable water supply source. The sustainability of those springs now is under threat everywhere in Okigwe. As far as my memory can go, no further maintenance has been carried out on them except self-help group efforts by locals. In some places, lands hosting springs had been sold and new owners opting to destroy the springs and setting up residential buildings with diesel powered boreholes.

The only semblance of utility supplied waters where those that came with the public taps which had people queuing for long hours with containers waiting for the tap to start ‘running’. Whenever it does, out right struggle often sets in. Then, your ability to get water from those taps was a case of survival of the fittest. Fights, quarrels and verbal abuses were common though they were easily resolved and people became friends again. However, the consequence was that the infrastructure often gets damaged, and water supply from them ceasing for some time. But even at that response by the utility was often prompt.

On the other hand, sanitation was a concern. As was typical of major towns in Nigeria then, including Port Harcout, Lagos, Warri, Owerri, Enugu and Kano etc most houses in Okigwe then had bucket latrine systems. It was only in the 1980’s that this system was abolished in parts of Nigeria. Then, as you squat to use the system, you see the faeces of others before you. It was a sorry sight and most unhygienic but that was what we had. Night soil men were also common as we knew who one was. They thrive only in the night, taking the buckets away and emptying them in the ‘Iyi- echu’ stream, a small but perennial stream that drains the town. As a result of this activity, most residents refrained from eating big species of fish especially the Tilapia, which then was very common in the stream, saying that the fishes were big in size because of the abundant faeces they ate. But for us, as young as we were then, we had fun fishing in the stream and catching those Tilapia. Catching and frying tilapia was a childhood garland.
To be continued!

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Ill Advised: NCC’s N6.4bn SIM cards Registration Budget

Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji

In 2007 I had travelled abroad for six months, and unlike my previous trips, I returned to discover that my GSM number was no longer mine, it has been re-allocated by MTN. This was despite the fact that I had bought that line (08035767048) at an exorbitant price of N14, 000 (US$100) in 2004. When I visited the MTN office on Wetheral Road, Owerri to find out why it has to do that, what I got was an arrogant response that I’m not supposed to travel out for long without making provision for roaming my phone. On further enquiry on how to roam, MTN told me that it would cost me a minimum of N50, 000 (US$320) to initially set up roaming. To me that was outright extortion and unacceptable.

Based on suggestions by worried friends and acquaintances that inundated me with queries on what was wrong with my line, I came to find out that MTN had already resold my number to another customer, an Alhaji, who lives in Kano. To confirm this development, I put a call through on the number, and low and behold, it was true, as a friendly voice from a Hausa/Fulani man picked the call. He identified himself as an Alhaji, confessing that he had already received thousands of calls on my behalf. He also said that he has been having sleepless night as a result. I was not surprise that was the case, because that line was me in totality. It was a primary communication medium for all my businesses both local and international. Alhaji accepted to return the number to me provided we worked out the conditions. But that was not to be, as I soon jetted out again, out of the country within a few days.

I am therefore keen to find out how the proposal by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to spend N6.4 billion on the registration of SIM cards in its 2010 Budget would fit into such excesses by service providers like MTN. Would it mean that henceforth, even if I travels and stay away for 12 months that my line won’t be revoked and resold?

In as much as I absolutely find nothing wrong with acquiring data of network customers in Nigeria, I find a lot wrong and faulty by NCC doing it, and the way it has chosen to do it. To me this amounts to a colossal conspiracy to loot public funds. It is absolutely bizarre. It baffles me that even the National Assembly could allow this seemingly day light fraud to stand. I will argue it from just 5 points.

First, a SIM card registration similar to the current exercise would have been plausible had it been that we truly have a viable and working national ID card data base. What we currently have is an outright caricature of how it exists in other countries. The national ID card scheme in Nigeria failed and is incapable of providing a backbone or shield for the current SIM card registration exercise. Without a viable National ID card scheme, how sure are we, that the information being provided by those queuing to register their SIM is actually correct.

Second, what technology is being used for the registration? Is it a networked computer system that shares data nationally or merely a one stop entry system computer that is akin to manual entry? Is the data capturing merely being written down on note books? Against these backgrounds, what is the guaranty that data being provided is secured to safeguard it from theft and use against innocent victims i.e. what mechanisms exist to guide against identity theft?

Third, to what extent was the level of stakeholders’ sensitization, mobilization and participation carried out prior to the current registration? Stakeholders’ in this regards include network customers, service providers such as MTN, the government and also the small scale retailers and hawkers of the cards etc. The failure of this component in the whole arrangement is certainly its nunc dimities. In a country with highly sophisticated informal sector such as ours’, the sensitization and engagement of stakeholders is the only plausible pathway capable of enlisting workable suggestions for this scheme. But when one man sitting somewhere with crude ideas of how to make quick money is allowed to have his way, this is exactly the kind of schemes that are pushed down to us. They will tell you that network users would not need to pay money to register their details, but that is just one side of the story. Another side of the story is that there is a colossal N6.4 billion that is to be looted in disguise. How sustainable is the scheme? How much data will that amount of money register before it runs out? Who will fund follow up exercises? The whole set-up is simply ridiculous and riddled with puzzles upon puzzles. Moreover, experience has shown that when things are merely conceived from above and pushed down just like that, then look around very well, you would find out there; a clique out to “Chop Money”. Once that N6.4 billion is squandered, nothing again would be heard about the scheme. It would be dead as the National ID card.

Fourth, is registration of SIM cards the job of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC)? The outright answer is a big – No. The proposal is out rightly a curious exercise because the NCC being a regulator ought not to have any business with registration of SIM cards. Such exercise should be the responsibility of the service providers. This is the case everywhere where users’ details are ever taken. Moreover there is nothing innovative about the idea other than the haste to loot the N6.4 billion by those promoting it. There are more cost effective innovative ways to achieve a similar result. For example, service providers could be directed to sale telephones on contract bases as is done in Europe and America. What this means is that new phones would henceforth mostly be given out on contract bases. With such contracts the data of subscribers is easily gathered.

Finally, enforcement; I am interested to know who is going to enforce this scheme. What if I refuse to register my details, who is going to force me to comply? There is currently no law backing this scheme, so customers who opt not to register their details are certainly not breaking the law. Would the police be used to implement this illegal scheme or is it the courts, who?

I have also heard people applaud the scheme as being capable of arresting or deterring kidnapping. But that is the most watery arguments in its support so far. Kidnappers often make calls only with the lines of their victims, not theirs. The persistence of kidnapping in Nigeria and the resort to this scheme as a panacea exposes the lack of capacity to think out genuine solutions. I will juxtapose my argument with the event of the kidnap of the British boy – Sahil Saeed who was snatched from his residence in Jhelum, a city in northeast Pakistan, in March 2010.
The kidnappers had put a ransom of £100,000 in cash on the head of the 5 years old boy. A series of telephone calls between the kidnappers and the boy’s father Raja Saeed provided the clue to smash the syndicate which also had international dimensions.

Follow up investigations made via tracking the GSM networked lines of the kidnappers saw to their eventual arrests. Two Pakistani men and a Romanian woman were arrested in a flat 6 miles South of Barcelona and another two other suspects were arrested at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. The Kidnappers were arrested and detained just hours after Sahil was freed by his captors immediately after the ransom was paid. Payment of the ransom had been a collective agreement by the security forces that relied on the effectiveness of a closely co-ordinated surveillance operation involving officers from Britain, France and Spain. The Surveillance was built on phone calls, most of which were made from Barcelona.

The original ransom demand came from an Urdu speaker who gave the family a three-day deadline to pay the cash in Manchester, before changing the drop-off destination to Paris. A total of 15 instruction calls were made, four of which came from Barcelona, police said. Mobile phones on which some of the calls were made were found in the raided flat, they added.
In a statement, Spanish police added: 'To comply with the deadline, the boy's father travelled to Manchester. 'Once there he received new instructions ordering him to travel to Paris with the money. It was in this city that the place for the handover was finally determined. 'Several people went to that place, in a public street, and police observed the criminals split the money and put it into a small bag and a small suitcase with wheels.

'The boy's whereabouts was unknown so the people who had gone to pick up the money, a man and a woman, were tailed. 'The French police followed them in a car to the border where Spanish police took over. 'After travelling around Barcelona they headed to Constanti, parked up and took several packages and the suitcase in which they had placed most of the ransom money out of the car, helped by a third person, before heading into a nearby flat.

'A watch was placed on the property until police were certain the boy had been released in Pakistan and the operation to arrest the suspects was then launched.' Police refused to give a timeline for the rescue, but Sahil was later found wandering in a field in the village of Dinga in Punjab.

The success of the operation was not based on any SIM card registration; Please, Nigeria, wake up!

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Super Eagles: Jonathan is missing the point (2)

By Joachim Ezeji
Events in the previous week have almost made the continuation of this title stale. However, I am keen to complete my story based on emerging issues. One of those is that the Alhaji Lulu led National Football Federation (NFF) has been dissolved by the NFF board. Members of the Alhaji Lulu led executive are also currently before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to respond to related corruption charges. Also, the recent banning of the national teams from all international competitions by the Federal Government of Nigeria has been rescinded by the Federal Government while the Federation International Football Association (FIFA) has given its blessing to the current probe of the Lulu led executive.
At the eve of the first part of this article, FIFA had insisted through an ultimatum that the Nigerian government must rescind its decision or face a ban of immense proportion. When I learnt about that, I was of the view however, that FIFA should allow Nigeria to sort its corruption issues out. I am happy that FIFA has done just that by supporting the probe, and also that the Federal Government of Nigeria has rescinded its decision.
But it should be pointed out that as the later day theatre plays out, that the jamboree to South Africa, is yet another episode in the regime of heist unleashed on Nigerian athletes and the country's youths in general by sports administrators. Just a few months to the 2010 World Cup, the sum of $230,000 was discovered missing from the safe of the NFF in its secretariat in Abuja.

Nigeria has been involved in several international sporting events either as host or participant in the past, however, most ending in controversies bordered on abuse of budgeted funds. The most recent list included the FIFA Under-20 World Football Championship held in 1999; the 8th All Africa Games held in 2003, 2008; the 29th Olympiad in Beijing, China, and the FIFA Under-17 World Football Championship held in 2009.
For the 2003 8th All Africa Games, the Local Organising Committee (LOC) headed by Dr. Amos Adamu squandered $300million (N4.5 trillion) on infrastructure and event proper. Aside the public outcry, the World Bank was forced to raise concerns about the amount of money spent on the construction of the new National Stadium Complex for the 2003 All African Games, saying the amount was exorbitant and should have been used to address massive poverty and other social crises in the country.

As at today, seven clear years after the event , claims and counter claims persists that many of the contractors who did various jobs for the event are still being owed huge sums of money. In addition to that are persisting controversies on whether Nigeria really got value for the huge resources put into hosting the games.

The first FIFA event in Nigeria was the World Youth Championship held in 1999. With the desperation of the then military administration to shut the mouths of critics, nothing was spared in terms of the deployment of funds to make the tournament a success. Under the haze of military secrecy, it would be almost impossible to know how much was exactly spent on that tournament.

Accountability, honesty and prudence has always remained a difficult norm for Nigerian sports administrator. A vivid example is the FIFA Under-17 World Football Championship that was held in 2009. The budget submitted by the shameless Nigerian sports administrators had quoted a whooping sum of N35 billion. It was only public outcries against this outrageous budget that startled those concerned and instilled some measure of decency.

Eventually, the N35 billion budget was pruned to a mere N9 billion. This came after The Late President Umaru Yar’Adua, heeding to public outcries, communicated FIFA on Nigeria’s decision to withdraw from hosting the tournament based on outrageous budget implication – a product of the dishonesty of Nigerian sport administrators.

To cover their flanks, these thieving Nigerian sport administrators had claimed before a senate committee that the budget was huge because it also contained provisions for providing facilities for the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and the rehabilitation of Kaduna, Bauchi, Lagos, Enugu and Abuja stadia.They also claimed that aside this extra provisions that the actual budget for the tournament was N11billion. What a smart defence? But do they need to do that without making such provisions explicit in the budget. Hiding or veiling such capital budgetary provision is nothing but fraud. Sadly, that matter was allowed to rest without further probe, and Nigeria went ahead to host that jamboree.

Nigeria’s participation in the 29th Olympiad in Beijing, China in 2008 is another sour example. The result was akin to the event in South Africa – a mixture of poor preparation and official dishonesty and the placing of personal interests above national interest. Despite the huge budgetary allocation, the nation’s contingent to the game returned home with one silver medal in U-23 soccer, three bronze medals – one each in Taekwondo, women’s long jump and women’s 4x100m relay.

Late President Yar’Adua’s had implored the contingent prior to departure to win eight gold medals, but that was not to be. Yet, Nigeria’s sport administrators returned to heap the blame on the late release of funds. Regrettably, till date no account has been publicly rendered in this regards. The reasons for the lack-lustre outing included while the Federal Government was, the administrators have been accused of

Remarkably, the same set of persons had always been behind the idea of Nigeria playing host to or participating in international sporting events. "Through these avenues they readily position themselves to make a kill because as usual they come up with ridiculous budgets and even go as far as requesting for supplementary funds, and of course they succeed because the government is a willing accomplice," said a veteran sports journalist who sought for confidentiality.

Interestingly, proper investigation into the shady deals and scams that always emasculate Nigeria’s engagement in international competition either as host or participants is yet to be initiated or conducted. But now Jonathan has sneezed, all eyes are therefore on him and the EFCC to sanitize the NFF. But I am afraid that the EFCC is being overburdened. Their ability to do a good job in this regard is suspect, as is traditionally the case for the past 3 years.

On the trail of the NFF saga is the now nauseating development is the latest Federal Government’s approval of the sum of N197 million for sports as part of the country’s 50th independence celebration in October 2010. The money is to be spent staging a friendly international friendly football match in Abuja. What a rationale to expend public funds; in a country where unemployment is as high as 70% amongst its graduate population, and where 50% of rural women and girls still trek over 2km to get drinking water as well as lacking access to the dignity and convenience of an improved sanitation?

President Jonathan would be missing the ultimate point, if through his actions or inactions; he fails to kill the now habitual appetite for and looting of public funds through jamboree sport engagement.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Super Eagles: Jonathan is missing the point (1)

I was amused to see a photograph of the Super Eagles on the Yahoo Sport (available at: with the caption: “World Cup 2010 - Nigeria suspends national team”. The story line then continued “Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has suspended the national football team from international competition for two years following their poor performance in the World Cup........”

But, I had immediately asked myself; is this all he can do to stem the tide? Yes, is all, was one question that popped into my head at that moment, as I could not see the full logic in what the Nigerian President has done. The president’s action was more like an act driven by impulse than critical thinking.

What is required to heal the NFF and extirpate corruption from it, is a public judicial enquiry on how all allocated funds were spent, including the recruitment of Coach Larger-Back. Interested parties and stakeholders should be invited to testify. All those found guilty of misappropriating funds should not only be sanctioned but totally banned from holding any public office for life, in addition to returning the funds they looted. Anything short of this amounts to window dressing and is incapable of retarding a repeat performance in the future. President Goodluck would be missing the point if he fails to do this.

The reason why I am advocating this position is because many Nigerians, especially the elites have grown the temerity in simply doing what is wrong. And, if Mr. Goodluck Jonathan must be reminded, (assuming he has forgotten) or informed (assuming that he does not know), the Nigerian Super Eagles are simply a reflection of the state of affairs in the country. Expecting to harvest yam when you have cultivated coconut is a dream that will always end up a mirage. As an impaired nation, Nigeria no longer inspires its citizens or anyone for that matter!

The state of affairs at the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) is shameful. The NFF has once again proven the Nigerian character of “Turn by Turn plc” i.e. a situation where a group of people come into leadership, not to develop or inspire progress but merely to simply advance their personal and private interest at the very extent of the objective for which they were either elected or imposed (foisted) to that position in the first instance.

Otherwise, how do you reconcile the nostalgic report by the National Daily, a national newspaper (report not yet refuted) that not less than N2.25billion was credited to the accounts of the Nigerian football authorities in the aftermath of Nigeria's qualification for the World Cup. The world soccer ruling body, FIFA, gave the NFF $1million for the preparation of the Super Eagles for the competition and $8million paid upfront for playing all three first round matches of the competition.
This amount of money totalling $9million (N1.35billion) according to the newspaper report was exclusive of the N900million grant received by the NFF from the Federal Government for the preparation and participation of the national team in the World Cup.

With a whooping N2.3 billion in the kitty, the first thing the NFF did was to travel to South Africa to book hotel accommodations for the Eagles at an outrageous amount. The subsequent bickering over ensuing largess from this stirred up concerns about quality and standard hence making the Sports Minister, Isa Bio, to cancel the payment, but the NFF would have none of that, hence insisted on paying a nebulous $125,000 to the hotel for breach of contract.

Yet again, the almighty NFF recruited 87 men and women, aside all the NFF executive board members, granting them all-expenses paid trip to South Africa for the World Cup. It had been reported that the 87 people were made up of all the 37 Football Association chairmen in the 36 states of the Federation and Abuja, and another 30 men and women whose roles in Nigeria football could not be immediately ascertained; including two wives and four children of Alhaji Sani Lulu, the NFF President.
In an interview while in South Africa, Alhaji Sani Lulu had said "Like I told some people before we left for South Africa, the World Cup gives us an opportunity to expose our people to big tournaments, all the people we have taken to South Africa are stakeholders in Nigerian football and it is good for them to come and learn what it takes to organise a tournament like the World Cup, because we may decide to host it in the nearest future, and as far as my wives and children are concerned, who says I cannot take my family to anywhere? If they are in South Africa, who told them it's on the bill of the NFF?"

Indeed, with the astronomic rise in the cost of return ticket to South Africa and the ripple effect hosting the World Cup has had on cost of accommodation (a decent hotel room reportedly attracts $350 a night), feeding, transport and match tickets in South Africa, the NFF is definitely spending a fortune on the welfare of its ‘pilgrims’. This development, observers averred, is tantamount to diverting funds meant for the development of Nigeria football to frivolous ventures.

And now that President Jonathan Goodluck has dissolved the NFF and banned Nigeria’s further participation in international tournament the NFF is crying out to FIFA to intervene. Just last week, the NFF held a closed door meeting where it agreed to send its first Vice Chairman Mr. Amanze Uchegbulam to South Africa to officially protest to FIFA. The NFF had described the sack as government interference in the running of football in the country. But the State Security Service (SSS) officials at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos stopped the Mr. Uchegbulam, from travelling out of the country.

Sadly, looting and frivolous lifestyles (as we currently see in Nigeria) is becoming a norm as looting and graft ridden elites grow bolder by the day. The result is that nothing works, and as a result Nigeria dies. For example, it would be good to find out how much Alhaji Lulu earns per annum and the accompanying tax he pays? This would enable us to ascertain his capability to make such a luxurious trip to South Africa with his family. President Goodluck Jonathan would be missing the point if he fails to help us find out.
To be continued next week

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Investing and Doing Business in Imo?

Joachim Ezeji
What else could be more damning than the recent report - “Doing business in Nigeria 2010” which was launched last week in Abuja by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation (IFC)?
An irony that played out within the week was that while the report was being launched in Abuja; an investment forum was also being held in Owerri. Ironically, the Abuja report had ranked Imo and Ogun States as the most difficult states to do business in Nigeria based on four indicators of: Starting a business; dealing with construction permits; registering property and in enforcing contracts etc. Conversely, Jigawa state topped the table on ‘ease of doing business in Nigeria’, with Gombe and Borno following closely.
I do not have the statistics to appropriately discuss issues such as corruption as a basic factor the makes doing business ultra-difficult in Imo State. However, one glaring factor in Imo is the sheer state of poor governance and abysmal management of state resources by those in authority. The result is ill-motivation and dampening of the spirit of all those who become casualties as a result.
A visit to the Imo State secretariat to transact a business or secure any document is pretty a herculean task. Everybody seems annoyed and on a revenge mission. The result is that we have all become aliens in our own state as nothing simply works. There are neither simplified procedures nor clear – cut and transparent pathways to guarantee any sure expectation. In Imo state, everything has become a gamble as hawks have taken over its leadership.
One retired Permanent Secretary, a lady, in one of the top ministries had told me how she was almost beaten up by her commissioner, a man. The commissioner had shouted and called the poor woman names, threatening to slap the hell out of her; simply because the poor woman had insisted on adherence to procedure. But the Commissioner, an Almighty commissioner and appointee of an Almighty Governor Ohakim would have none of that.
When Ikedi Ohakim was foisted on Imo as Governor, the signs of hard and tough things to come were well ominous. It took off with the appointment of Willy Amadi and the subsequent destruction and vandalism of people’s properties in the utter disguise of environmental sanitation.
But one really amazing thing is the enhanced futility and waste that has become the resources so far expended by Ikedi Ohakim, travelling all over the world to look for investors to develop Imo. The Governor has in the past one year alone, had combined visits to the USA and South Africa more than any past Imo Governor, in their entire tenures. A friend had told me that the governor is merely using his position to expand his private business interests.
It is germane to remind Governor Ohakim that there is a lot of work waiting to be done in other areas such as improved electricity, water supply, education, positive investment policy and intensive agriculture; if other Nigerians and even other Imo citizens are to stop seeing Imo as economically backward.

Beyond all the rhetoric, it remains to be seen how determined the Imo State Government is, at providing a conducive environment for investment to thrive, and addressing the infrastructure challenges militating against the sustainable growth of the real sector of the state’s economy beyond all these “New Face of Investment in Africa Summits”. We need to see actions, not hear words on mere plans and intentions; because Imo is in a hurry to develop.
I am doubtful of the capacity of the summit at guiding the future of the state in becoming the Investment Capital of Africa. Till basic things are achieved, all these summits and trips would simply remain self-serving.
While I do not disagree with Mr. Ikedi Ohakim that all the strides of his administration like Clean and Green Initiatives, Operation Festival Security Outfit, Imo Rural Roads Maintenance Agency (IRROMA), are not ends in themselves, but instead means to open up the state to investors and propel the economic development of the state; it is germane to however remind him that these things can never work in isolation of the people. Imo people must be able to trust their governor in order to buy into his programs and move in tandem with them. The new face should become real, not abstract.
For example, despite being an oil producing state with increased revenue from federal sources, much greater than many other states of the Nigerian federation, Imo State is still reeling under common ills such as those of limited electricity and water supplies. Imo State is one state in Nigeria where residents and consumers of electricity i.e. customers of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) still contribute money to either buy new transformers or repair faulty ones. Just like in other places elsewhere, lack of access to modern energy services entails more than our not being able to enjoy some of the comforts of life that are taken for granted in developed countries. In Imo State, it is indeed, one of the greatest impediments to social and economic progress including doing business or residency.Verily, energy poverty stalls progress on Imo development programs including the quest to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It is a vicious cycle as ensuring sustainable and affordable energy is already beyond the reach of the average poor in Imo.Another case is the issue of water supply in Imo. Just like electricity, Imo households and businesses have to provide their own water supply. The result today is arbitrary sinking and developing of private water wells and boreholes. This no doubt, imposes difficulties or high budgetary costs for businesses. A task that ordinarily should have been provided by the state water corporation is now being informally driven. No big cities or societies ever achieved growth with such arrangements.One friend of mine once described poverty as the non-availability of basic needs of life, and as the inadequacy of the means to satisfy the basic necessities of a healthy living. He went ahead to identify food, housing, clothing, health, education etc as some of those basic necessities. People who are no longer involved in economic activities are also in the poverty bracket. Also people with low educational qualification are likely to be grouped in the poverty bracket. This same friend of mine further argues that poverty exists because there is great inequality in money and opportunities occasioned by social, economic, political and cultural environments. And that poverty is rife in Imo State, despite huge resources via federal allocations, internally generated revenue, ecological funds, informal revenue in form of deductions etc. because amongst other factors that the per capita income is low, greatly because human and land resources of this State have remained under utilized; and that population of Imo State is roughly 4.5 million people hence contributing to the poverty of the people. He was however mute on outright looting of limited state resources by those in government and the near state of anarchy via rising cases of criminality and insecurity.
I had wondered the irony of a damning report coinciding with an important event like the Imo investment forum, both holding back to back in the same week and country. The World Bank/IFC report is timely and should really serve as a mirror for all those currently calling the shot or those with interest and potential to do so in the future. But, whatever, it still behooves the current leadership of Imo State to prove that is not merely playing to the gallery.