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August 16, 2006

Baseless Optimism will not Change Nigeria

by John Iteshi (London, UK) --- The dominant reasoning of the majority of those who commented on the article, ˜Pat Utomi for Which Nigeria?" caused me great worries about the mindset of some educated Nigerians. All that was said was that Nigerian electoral system is too fraudulent and that Pat Utomi stands no imaginable chance of manipulating his way.

An attempt was made to offer some insight into how elections and manipulated and how being the best candidate does not count at all. It was also suggested that rather than people like Utomi aiming at the presidency which they realistically cannot achieve in the present situation of things that they should rather begin from their respective locations or their home state s to build that Nigeria of their dreams. The fact that most of the comments received centred on attacking the person of the author (not the issues raised) as being self defeatist and pessimistic was deeply shocking because it suggested that majority of educated Nigerians are terribly ignorant about the situation on the ground.

One has now stronger reasons to shift further away from the popular belief that Nigeria’s failures have been caused largely by poorly educated people at the helm of affairs. The seemingly unanimous belief among Nigerians that once you have grabbed chains of PhDs, you are ripe for leadership positions has to be quashed as a better view seems to be that one hundred and twenty million Nigerian PhD holders cannot change Nigeria without basic understanding of relevant issues as well as some unity and sincerity of purpose. It is most imperative for ‘genuine’ educated Nigerians to change their psyche first and foremost and recognise the need to trade ideas rather than words and primitive self obsessions. Going through the websites and Nigerian newspapers, it was apparent that what attract the attention of educated Nigerians most are personality discourses or issues pertaining to one ethnic group or the other, rather than ideas that could change Nigeria. Hence, articles bordering on ethnic groups or individuals associated with politics attracted far more reactions than those on ideas that called for serious thinking and debating. Compared to the barrage of comments including some highly offensive attacks attracted by the article, ‘Igbo Presidency for Who?,’ and the one or two comments received from the widely published article, ‘Audio-Visual Voting Method’ by the same author which bothered on how we can evolve a genuine people oriented democracy through a transparent, fool proof elections, one is forced to think that we are far from being ready for change.

Some of us seem to believe it is reasonable to cross our fingers and be saying only positive things even when it is blatantly obvious that the situation is bleak. Prominent democracy activists in Nigeria, ever since the inception of what we call democracy in 1999 had ample opportunities to change Nigeria, but the lack of the essential ingredient of sincerity and unity of purpose have hampered our chances. It is hard to understand why a person like Wole Soyinka would be very outspoken and almost militant against General Abacha’s regime, but has under the present civilian regime refrained from serious criticisms of the worst administration in Nigeria’s history. Is it the killing of political opponents, police brutality or economic hardship that has not ten folds, surpassed Abacha’s to warrant his international campaigns against bad governance? Sometimes one thinks that people like Wole Soyinka and the host of other celebrated Nigerian intellectuals and activists usually speak to attract media attention rather than to influence any concrete changes on the ground. The unprecedented state of corruption and bad governance in Nigeria since 1999, at all levels (despite the global lies in media about reforms) and the shameful lack of serious criticisms among those who have voice, clearly says it all that our problem is not about whether it is military rule or democracy. Neither is it about the ethnic group or religion of whoever is president as we have now seen the worst under a southerner and a Christian.

We are now knowingly sleep- walking into darkness because we refuse to listen to one another. One wonders how reasonable our respected intelligentsia are if they cannot come up with common fronts whereas, the semi-illiterates and the dubious individuals who determine what happens in Nigeria have always organised themselves to exploit us all. The ludicrous thinking of promising individuals like Pat Utomi and Olisa Agbakoba that merely running for presidency is the only way to influence change is disheartening because they are abdicating the more important job of mounting civil pressure to ensure that a more transparent electoral or voting system is put in place. After all, it would be more genuine for anyone who thinks himself genuine, to seek to have a better system put in place than to strive to benefit from a fraudulent system even if he intends to change it. It is also common sense, that chasing the presidency of Nigeria without being in the fold of the political gangs that matter, is tantamount to chasing the wind and no amount of optimism can change that fact especially where majority of educated Nigerians have never seen Nigerian ballot papers let alone a pooling booth.

Time is running out on the majority of genuinely concerned Nigerians to organise themselves and trade ideas on the way forward. Enlightened Nigerian communities both at home and across the world should stop sycophanting around Nigerian government(s) for selfish interests and organise themselves to discuss the Nigeria of their dreams. Lack of indigenous ideas and debates on fundamental issues seems to be a greater problem than lack of PhD holders among Nigerians. We need urgently to begin debates on the impending disaster of 2007 general elections for instance. The fact that majority of educated Nigerians appear not to have sensed the incompetence and obvious dubiousness of Professor Maurice Iwu of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) beggars’ belief. It is not just about being a Professor of Pharmacy who lived in the States and has no experience of elections conduct in Nigeria, but his ploys to use expensive electronic gadgets knowing fully well that Nigeria is predominantly illiterate and moreover has predominantly communities inaccessible to electronic equipments requiring electricity. Perhaps, most of us are intimidated by his academic credentials to imagine he could be wrong, but the real issue is that no society of people genuine about making progress would have allowed Professor Iwu as INEC chairman. We must wake up to the facts that local ideas rather than foreign text book theories will save Nigeria. Ideas about the best ways to organise and build a successful society cannot be an exclusive reserve of whites and other non-Black races. We have only not given ourselves the opportunity to develop our own ways of doing things. There has never been any visible international or imperial obstacle to self righteous Nigerians organising themselves towards national development. Let our Cardinals and Bishops; Professors and other significant opinion leaders and activists who profess genuine concerns get together first without government influence as a starting point towards developing common ideology for a new Nigeria. 2007 may be too close, but not too late for the majority of well meaning Nigerians to stand up against blatant fraud for the sake of our future.

Fooling ourselves in optimism not bring any change to our country, never!

John Iteshi
London, 8th August 2006

Posted by Administrator at 06:19 AM | Comments (0)

August 08, 2006

Pat Utomi: for which Nigeria?

by John Iteshi (London, UK) --- The candidature of Professor Pat Utomi should ideally elicit great joy and hopes among Nigerians because he appears genuine and credible. Though, it may not be easily ascertained whether he is completely untainted by the stinking mud of Nigerian corruption (just like most prominent young and very rich Nigerians), he appears to have clear visions about what to do to improve Nigeria.

He also deserves credit for having maintained his credibility as far as can be seen from outside, at least by not dancing around three arms zone at Abuja in praise of wicked rulers for selfish purposes, as many other professors and supposedly distinguished personalities do. He is highly respected among enlightened Nigerians who crave for genuine progress in Nigeria. If Utomi was a British, with his business and intellectual acumen, God knows, he would have long been a Prime Minister or a highly successful Sir or Lord by now. None of the over celebrated super icons of entrepreneurship in Britain today (notably Sir Richard Branson and Sir Alan Sugar) could have marched him in any way. Hence, there is little doubt about the desirability of an impressive gentle man like Pat Utomi as a credible person who could salvage Nigeria and the Black race from disaster. The only question however, is whether it is a reasonable (and realisable) project in the first place bearing in mind the realities of fraud and manipulations in Nigerian electoral system or whether he has got some top secret plot of how to outsmart everyone else and get there?

The simple fact is that Pat Utomi will easily win the presidency and commander-in-chief of online and newspaper pages Federal Republic of Nigeria, but does not stand any imaginable chance of being manipulated into the presidency of the real Nigeria. We must reasonably be talking of manipulations instead of elections because there will hardly be any proper election, but sheer travesty of democratic principles as has been the case in the past. The common problem with the majority of genuine Nigerian elites like Mr. Utomi appears to be either lack of touch with the true situations on the ground or simply, idiocy. It does not require any university education to understand the nature of Nigerian politics, but shockingly, we find some of our highly distinguished intellectuals acting in manners that suggest they are far away from local realities. Even semi-illiterate politicians in the remotest villages in Nigeria understand that Nigerian politics does not involve the masses and their so-called votes, but our most respected world-class personalities like Utomi appear to live in a dream Nigeria where a people called Nigerians will have to determine their political fates on the ballot day! They appear to be blindfolded by what obtains in the advanced world rather than the realities in Nigeria. Rather than seek to enlighten ordinary people on the streets on their rights and entitlements, they keep parading themselves and their sometimes grandiloquent ideas on the TV screens and newspaper pages.

Even if Nigeria does exist as a proper society where the people will actually cast votes, Professor Pat Utomi would still have no chance of winning 5% votes simply because he is not known much beyond small enlightened circles. If as the facts clearly suggest, a good majority ordinary Nigerians do not even know who Gani Fawehinmi is and what he stands for, despite his reputation as a consistent defender of the interests of ordinary Nigerians, one wonders which voters in the real Nigeria, Utomi expects to suddenly wake up en mass and wrestle their voting rights from thugs and other criminals. Enlightened Nigerians who really wish to impact positive changes in Nigeria through democratic processes must realise that Nigeria is a predominantly illiterate and poorly developed society and that our usual fraudulent elections are determined in the sub urban and rural areas which is dominated by illiterates and semi-illiterates. The fact that votes from remote villages usually outnumber those from the urban areas ought to be seen by our enlightened personalities not just as a clear evidence of fraud, but as indicating that the rural areas are the real playing fields of Nigerian politics (Read Audio-Visual Voting Method, by John Iteshi). Our professors and journalists cross their legs in Lagos and Abuja, analysing the goings on at Eagle Square Abuja and acclaiming transparency for “their democracy� being shown live on TVs with no questions about how those at Eagle square came about. Televising the voting of delegates from different parts of the country is upheld by those who ought to be reasonable and genuine commentators without questioning how transparent the system that brought about the delegates had been. The essence of this points is to highlight the fact that Nigeria’s political and electoral systems suffer fundamental defects and that any genuine Nigerian who really wants to see Nigeria progress must not ignore the need to correct the defects right at the base where it really hinges. Correcting the system first, will ultimately pave way for genuine people like Utomi to contest and be voted for not merely on some primitive grounds, but on the strength of their credibility.

Pat Utomi and others like him must stop their grandiose dreams of changing Nigeria from the top and consider more realistic ways of impacting concrete changes in their societies. For instance, it will be more easily realisable, for such powerful individuals to start from their respective locations to change Nigeria. Professor Utomi and his likes must consider building the Nigeria of their dreams from their various states and local government areas of origin at least as their springboards towards their National aspirations. If Pat Utomi were to devote his resources towards mobilising the ordinary people of Delta State against electoral malpractices and irresponsible governance, he will not only become a legend among his people, but will also build a unique Nigeria out of that miserable State. If half of the resources accruing to Delta State (just like any other state) could be utilised responsibly, God knows, the life of every Deltan would be substantially improved. The fact that people like Pat Utomi and many other great sons and daughters of Delta State have done nothing about the situation of corrupt and irresponsible governance in Delta State where public funds are siphoned and mismanaged by the fraudulently elected governor means that they have shirked their domestic responsibilities as elites of Delta State. Prominent personalities who think they genuinely love Nigeria must stop deceiving themselves about changing Nigeria in Abuja while they have abdicated their natural responsibilities at home. It may sound demeaning to implore someone who thinks of himself as a national figure to go down to state level, but Nigeria is made up of Sates and local governments and only when these basic tiers of government are corrected will Nigeria be right. We must realise that the only way to change Nigeria through democracy is for self righteous men like the Utomis, Soyinkas, Ganis, Falanas and the Ekwuemes of course, to engage in building the Nigeria of their dreams from their respective locations even if it be from the local government level. It will be inspiring to have at least one example of what we want to be and this is very easily achievable under democratic dispensation where each state can to a large extent determine what do with its resources. The resources of these personalities can easily subdue their local government areas of origin and local people there will be grateful to see their resources properly managed for the first time. The amount of moneys flowing into states and local governments are enough to substantially improve the quality of lives of Nigerians, but we have all abandoned each governor to run his state like private estates while we all mope and moan about things happening at Abuja.
We must open our eyes to the reality that the presidency of Nigeria as things stand today under democracy, is not about the number of PhDs one has. It is not about the genuineness of the candidates. Great ideas that will transform Nigeria are not what those who determine things are looking for. Even if the presidency is zoned to Ndi Igbo or even Utomi’s village in particular, he would not be made the candidate not because there would be a more credible candidate, but simply because those that determine things at the highest level would not be interested in his ideas and credibility. Obasanjo’s emergence as president despite being the least reasonable among the crop of Yoruba candidates in 1998 should have been instructive to us about the nature of politics in Nigeria. Pat Utomi should face realities and save himself the ridicule of following the footsteps of Nigeria’s icon of political idiocy, Tunji Braithwaite who would contest the presidency at every opportunity, just for contesting sake.

John Iteshi
London, 8th August 2006

Posted by Administrator at 05:32 PM | Comments (0)

July 11, 2006

Even if Ebonyi has no Male Child

by John Iteshi (London, UK) --- Most Nigerians would readily lavish praises on the governor of Ebonyi State, Dr. Sam Egwu of Ebonyi state because of the glowing pictures often presented by the Nigerian media about his administration. He has been named various glorious names and given innumerable number of awards both within Nigeria and beyond. Just search the internet and news archives and see one governor in Nigeria that seems to have no stain on his name, courtesy of the disgustingly corrupt Nigerian media.

Thisday Newspaper in particular cannot deny its culpability in this “mother of all frauds” against a hapless people. There is hardly any Thisday issue that passes without a potion for praising either the governor or his wife for some bogus achievements. Sometimes, one wonders whether it is about not being strategically located or just the fact that Ebonyi indigenes are barely represented in the mainstream media which is responsible for the apparent poor media coverage of true events in the State. One also wonders whether the fact there are not many rich and powerful enough citizens of Ebonyi State could be the reason why the governor simply does what he likes with public resources without regard for anyone. This is a case of one man desperately plundering the state government resources as he pleases with those who are supposed to challenge him either scrambling for their own cuts or intimidated by the large armies of assassins and thugs he pays with public funds. Even the Human Rights Watch has long observed the terrible state of basic human rights and freedoms and the dearth of media reportage of the situations to the outside world in its report on the conduct of the 2003 sham elections in Nigeria with focus on Ebonyi State. Their website details the series of assassinations and other violent incidents spearheaded by the state government against political opponents before and during the heavily flawed elections. However, what astounds one most is the fact that the people of Ebonyi State especially those who reside there and feel the pains directly are not known to be complaining at all.

The fact that one man has wickedly commandeered the resources and entitlements of over two million people for over seven years with no reactions from the people in terms of protests and oppositions is deeply disturbing. It is puzzling that a supposedly elected civilian governor having no command over any armed forces (except perhaps, illegal armed thugs) could muscle up every arm and institutions of the state government for over seven years without protests either by civil servants, elders or even politicians. So many atrocities that cannot even be dreamt of elsewhere have happened without any squabble and the governor seemingly emboldened by the general ignorance and primitiveness of his people has continued to go beyond bounds.
For instance, in 2001, he sought to convert his minority people into a majority by embarking on a fraudulent creation of more Local Government Areas (LGAs) with the effect that his clan Ngbo/Izhia which was one of the smallest groups would become a majority by way of more administrative units and most importantly more electoral constituencies and therefore more votes than majority clans such as Izzi for example which is about seven times larger both in population and land mass. Even though the federal legislatures outlawed the exercise, he has used it as a basis for distribution of infrastructures and amenities within the state. For the sake of non-Nigerian readers who might not understand the issues here clearly, this primitive act could be compared to having a Scottish Prime Minister in the United Kingdom who decides to delineate extra 100 constituencies for Scotland and only 40 extra for the whole of England which is 80% of UK. One can then imagine where such evil act could happen unchallenged.

To say that Mr Sam Egwu runs Ebonyi State like a conquered territory might not be adequate to describe the level of impunity with which he has trampled on the rights and entitlements of the people. Even an Emperor from the much we learnt from history classes could not have been so callous in running a conquered land. A governor who has been striving desperately to ensure that he acquires more wealth than the state government which he is supposed to be running for the benefit of all, must be a terrible bandit. Perhaps, the clearest demonstration of his disregard for the people has been his style of dissolving the state executive council and running the government as a sole administrator for up to six months, only to reappoint the same people back. This shameful act of denigration of his people has happened on three occasions and as usual without complaint from anyone. Those supposed to challenge him even scramble to be appointed into the cabinet to participate in the looting of their own resources.

However, the most humiliating insult to everybody in Ebonyi state has been the building of an ultra-modern private school for his wife obviously with public funds, while public schools are generally left in dilapidated conditions. Hence, the only standard primary and secondary schools reasonably equipped in Abakaliki is the Hope High International School, built by the governor’s wife at the expense of the people as a private business venture. Top government functionaries in the state are mandated to send their children and wards to Mrs Egwu’s private school while ordinary people are left with the uncared-for public schools. Of course, the governor’s children were immediately taken away to the best schools in the world at the expense of the state government on his dubious rise to governorship in 1999. As if that was not enough slap on the face of the hapless people of Ebonyi state, he embarked on crazy property acquisitions ostensibly to ensure that he literally grabs as much estates in Ebonyi State as the royal family owns in England. He has built the best hotel in the state with public fund as his private enterprise. The worst aspect of this is that he embarked on building what he touted as a five star hotel for the state (even though it was never a necessary need for the people) and suddenly as if stung by something, abandoned it and built a powerful edifice which is clearly the tallest and most magnificent building in Abakaliki, the capital city as his own private hotel. We are not yet talking about the properties and funds stashed abroad or elsewhere in Nigeria by he and his wife because those ones are unseen by the people. All that we know clearly is that a man who probably never travelled beyond Nigeria, on becoming a governor of the poorest state in Nigeria on 29th may, 1999 has today made well over 200 foreign trips mainly to the richest countries like USA, UK, and Australia for missions which cannot be far from dubious. It is also bitter to know that a man who has siphoned the monies meant for the provision of Medicare for his people flies himself or his family off to the US for every trivial medical need at the expense of the people.

One can go on and on to enumerate the acts of wickedness being perpetrated by the so-called democratically elected governor of Ebonyi State of Nigeria on his own people, but the most critical issue of deep concern is why there has never been any serious opposition to this evil ruler till date? Where are other political figures as well as traditional and religious leaders in Ebonyi while all these atrocities are being perpetrated against the people? Where are the women of Ebonyi state whose children’s future are at stake assuming there are no men left standing? We all know the power of women in Igbo land where men have failed to act as in the well documented Aba women riot against British colonial rule in 1929. It is true that challenging a ruthless state governor in Nigeria without federal support is a very dangerous game to play, but everybody cannot hide under fear to allow one man uninhibited power to play with the destiny of two million people for over 7years. Even if all the supposed opposition politicians have been bought or silenced by intimidation, one wonders why a person like the Catholic Bishop of Abakaliki diocese who is the spiritual head of more than 60% of the population has never stood up to condemn the fraudulent system or even mobilise the people against the rogue government. I have already written to His Lordship Dr. Michael Okoro, the Bishop on this issue because one believes that a person of his calibre is best positioned to speak for the people being a respected beacon of morality acceptable to the generality of the people including non-Catholics. It is also reasoned that since, religious leaders have the most advantaged access to the people that they generally have the greatest power and influence to bring about change in their immediate societies. This is because the kind of change needed is mass mobilisation for better awareness of modern societal structures and governance.

The greatest problem we suffer is not really about wicked or corrupt leadership, but more critically about mass ignorance and primitiveness. The fact that nobody sees the looting of public treasury as affecting him or her personally is the greater problem in not just Ebonyi State but the entire Nigeria. We must understand that the fact that Tony Blair or George Bush cannot fiddle with public funds is not because white men are saints, but more crucially because the people will not let it happen. Even if you can buy over the media and all opposition politicians in those countries, the Cardinals and Bishops would not fail in their duties to mobilise their flocks. Our cardinals and Bishops are therefore failing their people by having not stood up against bad governance. The most important point which ought to strike the mind of any enlightened person from Ebonyi State whether a Bishop or a Politician or Professor is the fact that their share of the good things of modern life such as motorable roads, water supply, electricity and good medicare and shool facilities has been wasted over seven years by one man, unchallenged. We must realise that if there occurs a serious health emergency in the state anyday, that our own people are going to die needlessly because the monies that should have been well channelled into providing quality medical centres and road access to them have been siphoned by one man and his cronies. Sam Egwu and the few big men from Ebonyi state might be able to afford treatment elsewhere from their ill-gotten wealth, but at the end of the day they will all be losers because a handful of opportunists alone will not enjoy life better in Ebonyi State if a deadly disease wipes out the poor.

Moreover, it is necessary to consider the grave implication not challenging a fraudulent government would have on the future of the state. It is not only that the next governor would come with vengeance and would strive to surpass Sam Egwu in fraudulent wealth acquisition, but that a bloody conflict may not be avoidable since a terrible seed of discord has been sown for seven years among a relatively homogenous people. One wonders, what moral justification, anyone would have to ask the next governor who would probably come from another section of the state, not to buy his own assets overseas, build the best private university and a 7star hotel in Abuja and also seek to multiply the number of his local government into ten. Of course, without mass actions, only a military coup in Nigeria can stop Egwu from installing his wife or any trusted person as governor in 2007, but the real issue is that a potentially bloody crisis awaits the future of Ebonyi State. All that needs to be done now to avert the despicable level of hatred hatching among people now before it becomes terribly late is for a trusted leader and elder like the Catholic Bishop of Abakaliki to rise to his responsibility as a leader, elder and father by calling for reconciliation or carrying out a mass action against an evil ruler. The Bishop must realise that he is part of the society for now and owes responsibility as per what he has done on his own part. Preaching at the pulpit is not enough. We must begin to build a good and responsible society beyond the church environments. God knows that one has not set out to be seen as challenging His anointed, but merely expressing one’s harmless thoughts on the way forward for the future of our people. Since, the media and politicians have failed us, the only trusted leaders people are prepared to listen to, being the religious leaders cannot also fail to show leadership for their flock. It would be most unfortunate!

John Iteshi
London, UK

Posted by Administrator at 01:22 AM | Comments (0)

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