State Security Service

Moving Nigeria Forward (VI): Silencing the Wolves

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Over time, Nigerians have proven to be very patient people; they understand that there will always be a wide hollow between the fortunes of the average citizen and those of the political elite. They have lived through military regimes in which successive dictators have stashed away so much of the nation’s wealth in foreign personal accounts and determined by free will what the rest of the nation can benefit from. They have witnessed the advent of democracy in the country and the license it has granted politicians from the local government level up to the presidency to suck up national funds for private gain. They have observed the establishment of multiple anti-corruption agencies and the constant replacement of their heads, as well as their failures to make major convictions of the nation’s big fishes. Nigerians know a lot about what needs to be done to bring widespread fraud to its knees, but they are growing increasingly frustrated with the fading war against corruption, as the forces of evil seem to triumph against the forces of good. In Nigeria, we are no longer at ease.

Politicians would always be politicians, especially Nigerian ones, and they definitely would not miss any opportunities to earn phony honorary doctorate degrees, travel the world on endless jamborees, have streets named after them or probably seek extra sources of undeserved income, but what about having all these actions performed by a single individual, and only within a space of weeks? These are traits reserved exclusively for political wolves, and that is what Patience Jonathan (because I shirk at addressing her as ‘Dame’) and her crew are proving to be. One’s first thought should be “how did Patience Jonathan earn the ‘dame’ title?” A ‘dame’ is the female equivalent of the knight in the British honours system, but it has somehow found its way into Nigerian Christian circles. Not much is known about how or when or why she earned the revered title, but it is assumed that whoever would be honoured with the equivalent of a knighthood would be a person who has contributed immensely to society as well as a person of impeccable character, but Patience Jonathan appears to be none of these things. Serving as a school teacher in Rivers State and Bayelsa State before suspending public service for a lucrative career in politics in 1999 doesn’t qualify one for knighthood, neither does getting arrested at Murtala Muhammed airport in 2006 for laundering $13.5 million.

As First Lady, not much can be said of Patience Jonathan’s efforts to help alleviate the pitiable sufferings of rural women and children or to help fight HIV, Malaria and other avoidable diseases that plague children in the country, as has been the case with her predecessors and contemporaries around the world.  However, while there’s a dearth of accomplishments ascribed to her office, there’s no shortage of controversies. Earning an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Port Harcourt in 2011, without established contributions to the university or the city, having a refurbished Abuja street named after her, purchasing 200 brand new cars for a summit of African First Ladies, when there are only 154 First Ladies in Africa, haggling with Turai Yar’Adua over a piece of land, lobbying for a bureaucratic position in the Bayelsa State government so that she can earn more benefits after retirement, pressuring the Nigerian Senate to include the office of the First Lady in an amended Constitution to enhance their earning capacities and mandating the hiring of political attack dogs in the presidency to protect her infamous image and that of her husband are only a few deeds spilling out of her truck load of embarrassing actions.

However, stupid actions are not necessarily restricted to the office of the First Lady; she seems to be facing stiff competition from the 32 wives of Oyo State legislators who have followed up on their husbands’ working visit to South Africa with an 8-day trip to London to learn how to prepare continental dishes for their husbands who have suddenly become too cool to eat local Nigerian meals. Seriously? Do these people have any sense of public decency left in them? Isn’t it shameful enough that Governor Abiola Ajimobi is embarking on a pointless trip to watch the London Olympics at a time when the state is in dire need of help, while he approaches the World Bank endlessly for loans for spurious development projects? These pathetic politicians campaign so innocently for votes and then turn around afterwards to travel the world in huge delegations, earning unimaginable estacodes for every day they stay away from the country. They are the same ones who spend budget allocations on frivolous causes at the close of a financial year because they are worried about budget cuts in upcoming years; they are the same ones who earn feeding, clothing, transportation and phone allowances in addition to their already bloated salaries while struggling to implement minimum wages for hundreds of thousands of hard working civil servants; they are the same ones who inflate every single contract awarded for public projects in order to divert copious sums into personal accounts. What have we done to deserve the curse of so many wolves at every level of government?

In the face of all these, the very few who attempt to make a difference in public service get banished into political history for their honest attempts. During her first coming, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala got first hand experience of the left hand of fellowship accorded to ‘honest’ politicians with her secondment from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, just like Oby Ezekwesili, a development economist who got shoved from the Ministry of Education to the Ministry of Solid Minerals. Really? Who can forget the late Bola Ige’s allocation to the Ministry of Power and Steel for all his legal expertise or the appointment of our beloved Dora Akunyili, a professor of Pharmacy to the Ministry of Information? By the way, what became of Dora Akunyili’s ‘Rebranding Nigeria’ project? Ermm….erm…. Exactly! Who cares? It was doomed for failure from inception, just as was her political future.

These patriots were all supposed to serve as learning signposts for Reuben Abati, a fearless columnist whose dreaded ‘Crossroads’ articles never failed to shake the foundations of the country, but he ignored all because of the allure of contributing his quota to national development. The question is “How much can one serve his country if his job description warrants him to serve as a defence mechanism for a President whose actions deserve no defence?” How was Abati expected to rationalize the president’s unending travels around the world in a bid to prove that Boko Haram cannot stop him from doing what he wants to do? He evidently cannot find any defence for these actions, which has proven to be too frustrating for Patience Jonathan, but there’s no cause for alarm, because Doyin Okupe is here. Finally, Jonathan seems to have found himself a spokesman who has no reputation to protect and who is expected to be fearless in his defence of the first family.

Nigerians need to be tired of this rigmarole. How far are we willing, as a country, to travel with these vultures? At what point do we draw the line in the sand and refuse to be quietened by these wolves? For every summon that Tunde Bakare receives by the State Security Service (SSS), the rest of us need to respond ferociously by standing up to David Mark and his cronies who remain delusional in the hope that our social media opinions can be regulated. We would never move this country forward if we choose to timidly respect politicians who hold no respect for us in return. We need to stand up and assert our rights with our voices, our protest marches and our votes. 2011 might be far behind us, and 2015 might seem far away, but we must never again make the mistakes that we have made in previous elections. It is time to galvanize our strategies for retaking our government houses by the next election cycle and ensuring that we silence the wolves and banish them into political oblivion. This is our time; we must not screw it up!

You can follow Faith Abiodun on Twitter @FaithAbiodun




Moving Nigeria Forward (V): Freedom of Opposition

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When the announcement was made on Monday July 23 that Pastor Tunde Bakare, presiding overseer of Latter Rain Assembly, convener of the Save Nigeria Group and former Vice-Presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), had been summoned by the State Security Service (SSS) on account of statements he made in his church sermon on Sunday, Nigerians did what they do best – criticize. However, as against the usual trend, the criticisms were divided into two classes: those who criticized the SSS for pursuing harmless citizens while ignoring the real threats to the society, and those who criticized Pastor Bakare for his truthful and honest stance on national issues. For all intents and purposes, I stand with Pastor Bakare on this issue, though I don’t always agree with his sentiments.

In his church sermon, titled ‘How to change government peacefully and make society better’, which sounded more like a ‘state of the nation’ address, Pastor Bakare argued that President Goodluck Jonathan would be better serving himself and the country if he resigned from public office before the Federal House of Representatives acted on its threat to impeach him on account of alleged selective implementation of the 2012 budget. Bakare also seized the moment to speak out against the mismanagement of public funds by the current administration, which has equally struggled to stem the tide of insecurity in the country. He stated that “Mr. President may be doing his best, but the impact is not felt anywhere except in the bank accounts of oil vultures, his corrupt political allies and corporate cowboys” and that “in spite of the president’s promises to deal with insecurity head-on, this government appears helpless because it cannot see the linkage between corruption and violence”.

As an educated citizen, I cannot seem to find the link between these harmless words and the need for a summons by the nation’s top intelligence agency. Where did Pastor Bakare err? Was he wrong to highlight the evident flagrant display of corrupt practices in every arm of government? Was he wrong to mention the fact that the president’s genuine or staged efforts to curb violence in the country have not yielded much result? Was he wrong to suggest that it is more honourable for the president to step down from office than face public disgrace by his political stooges? Or was he wrong to educate his church members about the need to be vigilant and watchful of political scoundrels who promise transformation but deliver destruction? What exactly was Pastor Bakare’s offence? Quite understandably, the SSS has a responsibility to sense violence before it erupts and to quell it, but did Pastor Bakare indeed cross the line?

In the United States and other progressive democracies, there is recognized freedom of opposition, not only enshrined in the constitution, but practiced by the people and recognized by law enforcement agencies. The essence of having multiple political parties is for different groups of people to demonstrate their interest in national progress by championing causes that matter to them and pressuring the ruling government to address societal challenges in manners that are acceptable to the people.

In the United States for instance, John McCain, presidential candidate of the Republican Party in the 2008 elections has been a vocal antagonist of President Barack Obama’s cautious foreign policy, specifically concerning Libya and Syria. McCain vehemently condemned Obama for not acting strongly enough to arm the opposition during the Libyan uprisings, and has been even more vocal during the ongoing Syrian crisis. He has called Obama a ‘weak president’ and has questioned his vision for American leadership in the world, yet none of these have warranted any summons by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), because McCain is understood to be demonstrating his citizenship rights. This same custom was practiced by Francois Hollande, the erstwhile leader of the French opposition, who routinely criticized Nicolas Sarkozy’s domestic policies and eventually toppled his government, and Ed Miliband, the leader of the British opposition Labour Party who has regularly criticized Prime Minister David Cameron’s government.

For any democracy to thrive, there needs to be total freedom for the opposition, and Nigeria is no exception. Since 1999, we have struggled to unify the discordant voices in opposition to the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), with as many as 63 political parties emerging at the peak of Nigeria’s political jamboree in 2011, yet none of these contraptions have been able to highlight comprehensive differences between the PDP’s and their approaches to domestic and foreign policy. One cannot help but conclude that the Nigerian opposition has grown only in size but not in wisdom. In spite of the growing respect accorded to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), largely based on Governor Babatunde Fashola’s exploits in Lagos state, there would never be a toppling of the PDP unless opposition parties can get over their money-driven agenda, formulate definitive policy differences and embark on nationwide public education drives to sensitize Nigeria’s ignorant population about the ideals of a progressive government and their efforts to change the status quo. Whether or not the CPC and the ACN get over their personality contests and merge into one dominant force to capture the north and the west, the future of the country’s opposition rests on their ability to define a different approach to governing the country, not hoping for superstar governors to independently lift them out of oblivion.

While the few educated Nigerians in the opposition who have the potential to lead public education drives on domestic and foreign policy are getting their act together, they should probably also include modules in their curriculum for engendering public appreciation of the opposition. As has been established in the past, perhaps the most dangerous effect a ruling government can have on a populace is the political and economic subjugation of the people such that they find it hard to recognize and advocate for ideal conditions. The military and democratic dictatorships in Nigeria’s history have had precisely this effect on the generality of Nigerians such that heroes like Pastor Tunde Bakare, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, Professor Pat Utomi, Chief Dele Momodu and others who have attempted to speak out in favour of the people are routinely derided by the same people whom they seek to defend. None of these patriots can be said to be posturing for personal benefits as they have each made names and fortunes for themselves in this corrupt climate, yet they serve as public defenders at the risk of their lives and freedom. Nigeria will indeed rise again, but the road will be much longer if we do not learn to accord respect and give freedom to the opposition from the government, and from the people.

You can follow Faith Abiodun on Twitter @FaithAbiodun