Can Africa Keep Coronavirus Under Control?

By Bunmi Makinwa

The map that is emerging of the global situation of coronavirus disease, better named as COVID-19, is strange and surprising.

Coronavirus Map: Distribution of COVID-19 Cases Worldwide, as of March 17, 2020. Credit: WHO

Take a map of the world with an all-white background and put black spots to mark the places where COVID-19 cases are high or significant. Africa stands out as the only continent that remains mostly white. The other continents have a large number of people who have COVID-19. Many of the countries with a high number of cases also have a correspondingly substantial number of deaths from the disease whilst African countries have recorded very few deaths.

What is strange about Africa? Why is COVID-19 unusually bypassing Africa?

Epidemiology is the study of incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases and other factors relating to health. It uses a lot of data and statistical information to reflect its conclusions or findings. It gives an account of fundamental factors that influence course of diseases.

As in similar studies of humans, nature and society, when no coherent explanation is possible to explain a phenomenon, epidemiology infers, extrapolates and uses conjectures.

In understanding why Africa is spared to date of many cases of COVID-19, there are a lot of inferences and suggestions, but very little coherent or solid explanation. It is understandable. COVID-19 is a new and rapidly evolving disease. The scientific knowledge is growing but It is too early to draw conclusions.

Compared to the rest of the world, cases of COVID-19 are low in Africa. As at this time of writing, Egypt leads with 196 and also has the highest number of deaths at 6. South Africa is a distant second with 85 cases, followed by Algeria with 61 cases, Morocco has 38 cases and Senegal has 27 cases, in that order. Morocco has recorded 6 deaths and Sudan has one. All other African countries with COVID-19 cases are in single units.

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South African Development Community unites to tackle COVID-19. Credit: WHO

The current situation on COVID-19 does not say a lot about where things maybe tomorrow or in the near future. Whilst China was dealing with the first major epidemic and a high number of cases, most countries that became almost overwhelmed with the disease did not foresee the trend. Within weeks, Italy has a raging epidemic with 31,000 plus cases and over 2,000 deaths, and Iran has more than 16,000 cases with almost one thousand deaths. Spain, Germany, France and the USA are battling with rising numbers.

There is, therefore, no valid reason to celebrate or be lackadaisical about the current situation in Africa. Rather, it is as good a time as any to adopt an active and serious preparedness stance. African countries should anticipate any eventuality. There are already lessons to learn from other parts of the world.

African countries cannot be over-prepared, because its best preparedness situation in medical and health services will be not anywhere as strong as the services in China, Iran, South Korea, Italy, France or the United Kingdom – which health care and management capabilities were overwhelmed fast by the epidemic. According to WHO, healthcare and services in Africa, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, are the weakest in the world.

“Keep it out and be prepared”. This is my shorthand of a combined strategic imperative that should drive Africa’s readiness on Coronavirus or COVID-19 given the facts and data available regarding the disease.

From reports and personal observation, African countries have set up testing facilities at airports to monitor travelers and identify possible infected persons. This is excellent. It is doubtful that the same kinds of facilities are available at land borders which are often too numerous to count, and very porous.

COVID-19 is said to have an incubation period of between 14 and 21 days based on current knowledge. It means that an infected person with no symptoms yet may pass through the temperature recording tests at airports and manifest the disease later on. It has probably been the case with several international travelers who have been identified with the disease days after their arrival in countries.

It is also assumed that COVID-19 or a variant of it is not indigenous to African countries. If it exists already, it is most likely to be passive or not as virulent as the type that is ravaging other parts of the world. The assumptions are reasonable until facts prove otherwise. If the assumption proves wrong with time, there will arise a need to respond to emergencies.

For the above reasons and others, the efforts to “keep it out”, may not be as successful as it is touted to be. Therefore, the second part of the strategy, “be prepared,” becomes even more important.

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Senegal partners with UK lab to develop a hand-held coronavirus test kit. Credit: CNN.

Most African countries have Centre for Disease Control (CDC), or National Institutes of Public Health and similar bodies that are a repository of knowledge and skills in control and preparedness for communicable and non-communicable diseases. They have capabilities to test, confirm COVID-19, treat and manage cases locally, including the capability for contact tracing, isolation and follow-through medical services.

However, medical and care services are most beneficial and effective when disease burden is limited. The fact that most people in the continent do not have reasonable access to health care facilities is a grave complication when epidemics strike.

The maxim, prevention is the cheapest cure, cannot be more appropriate at this time. In order to “be prepared”, African countries should adopt a preventive approach premised on behaviour change, a well-developed public health and change management field.

COVID-19 is a communicable, infectious disease. Unfortunately, merely reviewing measures taken by African countries to date reveal that less than 10 countries out of 54 have taken the preliminary steps of behavior modification and change that can enable people to “be prepared” to overcome the disease. Measures such as limiting the gathering of groups, enforcing reduced movement for social activities, and continuous enlightenment and education with rehearsals for practical understanding are very important.

It is difficult to ask people not to socialize, greet, congregate to celebrate, meet up with family and friends, as they normally do. It is challenging to ask people to wash hands with soap for at least 20 seconds every so often; not to touch mouth, nose and eyes; and to avoid handling public facilities. People just like to do what they normally do. It is human. The social and cultural practices of African peoples have proved tough and resistant to behavior changes that place individuals above groups and community. We have seen it in HIV and AIDS programmes, and in combatting Ebola.

Now with COVID-19, people must be ready and comfortable over time with the disruption of normal life and daily routines. It is difficult to stay home for days, weeks and maybe months, but people must be geared to practice and adopt the new behavior.

Official announcements setting stringent requirements to reorganize life in new ways, cancel public gatherings and events relating to education, work, leisure, and social life, are in order. People must be prodded towards changing their lifestyle.

Behavior modification and change are what it means to “be prepared” for COVID-19 in Africa. It is known that behavior change takes several steps from awareness to understanding, through acceptance, adoption, and ultimately the sustainability of new behavior. It also takes several supporting factors, including policy, politics, faith, social and economic contexts to effect a change of behavior in institutions, societies and amongst people.

The time to begin implementing a behavior change movement to contain COVID-19 in Africa was yesterday. There is no justifiable reason for any country to be taken by surprise having seen how the disease has evolved dramatically in several countries.

If, as time goes on, Africa remains unaffected by the ravages of COVID-19, nothing would have been lost by being prepared for the worst-case scenario. Indeed, it would be a much better situation than saying “had we known” after the unexpected havoc that the epidemic can wreak on a fragile continent.

Bunmi Makinwa was the first head of behavior change communication of UNAIDS at the global level from Geneva. He is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

Facts and Lessons on Coronavirus

By Bunmi Makinwa

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It is highly unlikely that you will be infected by Coronavirus, code-named COVID-19, according to prominent facts from the ongoing epidemic of the virus. This is not what you would think given the hysteria, myths and information that spread every day on the disease.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that may cause a range of illnesses in humans or animals. Among the most well-known coronaviruses are Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and Swine Flu. The most-recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease and has been code-named COVID-19 by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is known so far to have originated from an animal.

Prevention and avoidance of infection is easy and possible through simple actions that each individual can take, and which organizations, companies and communities can facilitate.

The chances of recovery from the disease are also very high compared to other recent viral epidemics. Facts and data on COVID-19 reinforce the positive conclusions stated above. Yet the spread of COVID-19 is real and new facts are likely to surface as the epidemic becomes scientifically more familiar.

The caricature of Chinese people as being carriers of COVID-19 is incorrect. Though the first known cases of the disease and the largest number of infections and deaths were in Wuhan in Ubei province of China, COVID-19 has appeared in at least 64 countries, three of them are in Africa – Algeria, Egypt and Nigeria.

Egypt was the first African country to report a Coronavirus case, a Chinese person who has since tested negative and has been discharged from quarantine. Algeria has two suspected cases and one of them was confirmed for infection. The two cases were Italians. Nigeria has reported a case and the Italian who travelled to Lagos on February 25 had his case confirmed on February 27. He has been quarantined at a facility in Lagos.

According to the government of Lagos State, the patient’s symptoms have subsided. It means that his potential to infect others has decreased. If the trend continues, he will be released as he will no more pose any danger to others.

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It is likely that more Africans will be infected by COVID-19 as time goes on, especially Africans who live in or visit places that have a high number of cases of the disease. For example, two South Africans were detected to have the disease on board the cruise ship, The Diamond Princess, in Japan. The Diamond Princess has recorded 705 cases of COVID-19 and 6 deaths to date. It carried 3,711 people and was sailing from Singapore to Japan when the first case was discovered.

Unfortunately, infected people may carry the virus for many days before they show symptoms, and they can infect others. Infection takes place through droplets when infected persons sneeze or cough. Fomites, object or substance that is capable of transmitting infectious organisms from one individual to another, also may carry the virus through to others. Metals and metallic objects are said to be efficient fomites for COVID-19.

Estimates by credible organizations are that infected people have 98 per cent recovery rate from the disease. The two per cent of patients who die from it are predominantly vulnerable

persons such as older people above the age of 50 and most of them have pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, chronic respiratory disease or cancer. It means that young people have a very high capability to recover from infection based on what is known to date about the virus.

In a larger context, whereas SARS has 9.6 per cent and MERS has 34 per cent mortality rates, COVID-19 has about 2 per cent mortality rate.

How does one avoid COVID-19? Remember the following simple measures.

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Wash and rinse hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 30 seconds. Do it frequently and encourage others to do the same. The hands are the major carriers of viruses and washing hands with soap and water properly kill most viruses. In the absence of water and soap, sanitizers are also effective but not as well as soap and water. Water alone if it is all that is available is useful but very weak as a cleaner for viruses.

Avoid touching the nose, mouth, eyes with hands. The hands pick up viruses and transmit them easily through these parts of the body.

Stay a good distance, about one metre or three feet, away from anyone who sneezes or coughs. The droplets from their sneeze or cough cannot reach you at this distance. Anyone who sneezes or coughs should cover their noses and mouths to avoid spreading droplets to others.

Fomites, such as clothes, utensils, and furniture, also transmit viruses. In public places especially, use fomites sparingly and clean hands frequently when public objects are used.

Stay at home if you feel ill and seek medical care as soon as possible if the illness persists.

It is important to be informed and to obtain new information on the new virus. However, avoid misinformation and myths. For example, the WHO recommends the use of face masks for those who are taking care of patients with COVID-19 or for those who may have a cough, cold, or sneezing. Wearing masks is not a substitute for regular hand cleaning.

There is a lot of wrong information about the current epidemic given the power of social media that turns just about anyone into specialists. Each country has credible sources of information and there are various international organizations that competently provide information. Top of the list is the World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control, National Public Health agencies, and well-established, reputable media organizations.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

The Real Amotekun is Yet Ahead

By Bunmi Makinwa

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The sound of “Amotekun” has drowned out all other issues in the Nigerian public space for many days, and there is a great likelihood that the Yoruba word will have meanings and connotations beyond the original meaning of leopard. Soon enough Wikipedia will include Amotekun. Maybe the word will also enter into the Oxford English Dictionary as was recently the case for several words of domestic Nigerian uses.

Listening to and reading about the loud pronouncements that have accompanied the establishment of the Western Nigeria Security Network, also known as Amotekun, one has to be deaf not to conclude that Nigeria is “not at ease” – to borrow a line from the title of the famous book by Chinua Achebe.

From its outing, there were whispers, gasps, exclamations of relief and contentment by many people who found the Amotekun security outfit a very appropriate step taken by five governors of South Western States. At last, the security situation might improve, and life might become normal, many people concluded.

But there were also hisses, jeers, facial contortions, by many other people on how unnecessary Amotekun was. Nothing could be farther from establishing better security than Amotekun because it would be manipulated to foster violence, the others contended.

Whilst the murmurs were still germinating and mounting gradually, Attorney-General Abubakar Malami threw fuel into the low fires and the explosion started. He said that Amotekun was illegal and unconstitutional. Those who support Amotekun or similar policies would have none of Malami’s points. They found that his statement was not only wrong, but it confirmed the status quo. In simple terms, it showed how the Northern ruling class wanted to perpetuate their hold on the rest of the country’s security architecture and other important spheres.

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Abubakar Malami

Who is right and who is wrong? This is the debate that is going on. It is loud and angry.

And the leadership of the country is silent. President Buhari has not made any pronouncement. Nor any of his proxies. Characteristically. The highest Federal Government official who has spoken on the issue remains the Attorney General. From a communication point of view, his statement is the official position of the Federal Government. This is the interpretation of the current silence in communication.

Silence has been used frequently as an instrument of governance by the current government, and it is a strong communication tool. Whether the government has used silence strategically, or merely by accident is less important than what effects the use of it has created.

After a heated political campaign and delicate elections in May 2015, President Buhari emerged as the winner on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party. The manifesto of his party which was used as the preaching instrument across the country by APC had promised to change the country. The new APC government was going to repair the economy, forge a secure nation, and reduce if not eliminate corruption.

More than 15 million voters, constituting 54% of total votes cast, who favoured Buhari waited for the beginning of a new Nigeria to emerge as soon as Buhari came into office.  Silence. There was no team or energetic principals to run the affairs of state. President Buhari took about six months before he broke the long silence to appoint his cabinet.

The president’s frequent travels abroad for medical treatment were usually accompanied also by silence. His health was poor, a situation that was beyond him and anyone for that matter. But the silence, not informing the country, not appointing an acting president often, or not handing over to a designated official publicly, made his silence seriously problematic.

The herdsmen phenomenon generated national furore for a long time. Silence reigned on the matter from the number one political head of the country until it became uncomfortable to be silent.

Silence at critical times when serious issues are at stake seems to have become the norm. You may remember the following:

– The tense relationship between two principal security agencies, namely DSS and EFCC, which at times became public stand-offs.

– Closer to home, the President’s wife and First Lady Aisha Buhari has become a megaphone of how the domestic life in Aso Rock resembles an interesting soap opera of Nollywood. But Aso Rock is not meant to be a Nollywood stage. Silence is being used as an instrument for managing the crisis.

– The agitation by several groups from the South Eastern parts of the country for a re-establishment of Biafra which started as little noises and has become a storm.

– The power-play at the presidency that appeared to place the Vice-President under siege.

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Buhari departs Daura after INEC postponed the February 16 general election (image courtesy State House)

Operation Amotekun will mother many children. The ferocity of future Amotekuns will be determined by competent handling of the babies from birth. Security of people and assets cannot be compromised.

Those who use silence as a strategy for results state that “actions speak louder than words”. There are certainly uses for silence as a veritable instrument of management, leadership and communication. Silence is powerful when silence will bring solutions, healing, unity and contentment. Silence cannot stop disaffection that is obvious. A deep sense of insecurity and distrust permeates the country. Timely interventions and clear statement of positions forestall eruption of latent anger and misinterpretation of situations.

If there were any doubts in anyone’s mind, Amotekun has confirmed that Nigeria’s security situation is broken and needs mending.

In a country where the president is all-powerful and his voice can direct and influence thoughts and conclusions, the perpetual withdrawal and silence of Buhari leaves serious issues unresolved. There is too much dust in the air, and when the dust settles, we shall have yet another crisis swept under a bulging carpet covering the dirt. Silence has become a liability, and it will spawn more Amotekuns.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

When a Billionaire Goes to Jail

By Bunmi Makinwa

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Former Governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu

Billionaires do go to jail but only rarely. In any country, a billionaire who pays for his crime with a jail term makes headline news. In Nigeria on December 4, 2019, wealthy, former Abia State Governor Orji Uzor Kalu was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. He wiped away tears, he asked or begged security officers not to be placed in handcuffs as he was being led out of court. “Please don’t handcuff me. I will follow you.”

Kalu, a senator and Chief Whip of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) political party, will most likely appeal the judgment. It took 12 years to prosecute the case to this point. For now, he sits in jail for committing fraud of over 7 billion naira of funds meant for Abia State which he ruled from 1999 to 2007. He will forfeit huge personal assets to the government.

In the public space, he has acquired an ignominious title of criminal, fraud and corrupt person.

In less than five years of APC’s rule by President Muhammadu Buhari, three other former state governors have been sentenced to prison, also for defrauding their states. They are: Jolly Nyame of Taraba State – 12 years; Joshua Dariye of Plateau State10 years; and Bala Ngilari of Adamawa State, whose conviction of 4 years imprisonment was later upturned by the Court of Appeal.

The rate of imprisonment of such all-powerful former governors is unprecedented.

The prosecution of cases of “grand corruption”, as it was labeled by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, appears to have sharp teeth. They bite deep and bloody. The injuries are being spread around in a way that makes people shudder, even if they are “insiders” – members of the APC and strong, well-connected political persons. The expectation that “Once you have joined APC, all your sins are forgiven” as famously stated in January 2019 by APC National Chairman Adams Oshiomole may be far from reality.

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A Federal High Court, Lagos sentenced former Abia State Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu to 12 years in prison

Kalu’s case is a model of a person who did all the “right” things to wash himself clear of his sins. He had abandoned his political party that took him to governorship position, and joined APC; he campaigned vigorously, visibly for APC and presidential candidate Buhari in 2019 elections; he fought his way through electoral and legal hurdles to become a senator in 2019, a usual guarantor of immunity from sanctions for crimes perpetrated as governor; and he purchased his way to Katsina the home state of Buhari to have himself turbaned as a Moslem leader, showing total disdain for his Christian roots and life-long religion. Yet, he ended up paying for his sins.

It may be too early to draw conclusions. But some questions are appropriate.

Is the government in its second term in office showing its new hands – no friends, no foes, and anyone who falls into the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) net can be convicted and will serve jail term and suffer punishment?

Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Shehu Malami said on December 19, 2019, that 22 ex-governors are under probe or on trial. This is in addition to many high-level officials and political heavyweights who are being investigated or facing criminal charges. Are the graft fighting arms of government, especially the EFCC, more proficient and more certain of their abilities to get convictions in courts hence they are emboldened? Will more billionaires go to jail?

The legal defence squad of billionaires who face criminal charges in Nigeria has demonstrated over the years its ability to stall the legal process, frustrate and ultimately overcome the prosecution in most situations. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act, a recent law, is credited by some legal analysts as having equipped prosecution with more capability to limit the technical manoeuvering that draws out cases sometimes for decades, defeating and making nonsense of trials. Will the use of the Act strengthen the administration of justice and encourage upright judges to determine cases within a reasonable time?

Are various arms of government, especially the executive and judiciary listening more attentively to the cries of the general public who are daily being scammed by their elected leaders?

And by confiscating the gains of crimes through forfeitures of large assets, is the judiciary waking up to the reality that political criminals even when convicted live a sumptuous, obscenely wealthy lifestyle after jail? That the fruits of a crime stay with the criminals rather than return to the people whose life is diminished by corruption?

We should also not forget to ask: Do we as a society contribute to creating many fraudulent and criminal billionaires? A system that makes it imperative to have many millions and even billions of Naira to run for election in any political position has created political commerce from which “investors” must recoup their capital and ensure quick returns whilst in office.

When billionaires go to jail, there is often dancing in the streets. The real joy, however, lies in people reaping fruits of democracy through a vast, noticeable improvement in the lives of ordinary people. A change of ways by governors and political leaders towards a life of service and commitment to reducing poverty in the land is a worthwhile goal.

Then, fewer billionaires will end up in jail.

Bunmi Makinwa is CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

Buhari and Sowore – The Road to Change

By Bunmi Makinwa

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Image via Daily News Gh

One is lean, slow, deliberate and often distant as he stares into space. The other is compact, quick, agitated and often preoccupied with his mobile phones. I am describing, respectively, my impressions of President Muhammadu Buhari and Mr Omoyele Sowore from watching them both up close physically.

They are two different people, as different as two people can be, including in their age and life experience. Yet, they are two very similar persons. In so many ways that this article will explain, their trajectories have been different, but their ways have been very similar.

In taking a stand against the establishment, Sowore has lived a life of protests. He was a relentless advocate for civil and political rights as a student union leader at the University of Lagos. Later on, he founded Sahara Reporters, one of the early online alternative media that champions agitation against all governments of Nigeria since 2006.

Buhari as a professional military officer might be perceived as conformist and obedient to military tradition. A closer look, however, reveals something different. His most visible form of protest has been that within and outside his military career, he has demonstrated a non-conformist mien. He has been described as austere, withdrawn and often aloof. In his political roles in military uniform, he has not been given to the physical and social excesses that characterized several of his contemporaries who assumed political roles.

Just as Buhari has held several political appointments and worked within the political structures, Sowore has been around and within politics, including engaging institutions of government to criticize them, and sometimes to collaborate with them as sources of his investigations. Buhari and Sowore came to the same conclusion. Neither was happy with the government and the regular politicians.

Both men sooner than later, in their typical day, are apt to show their angry demeanours in social and political discourse. President Buhari and Omoyele Sowore in many ways have led lives that reflected their dissatisfaction, even anger, about Nigeria’s political leadership and parties.

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Buhari as a military officer has been one of the leaders of several coups d’etat against military and civilian governments. For example, in December 1983, he was one of the military leaders that overthrew President Shehu Shagari. Buhari and his deputy Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon ruled Nigeria for some two years, a regime that was characterized by their “War Against Indiscipline”. They jailed many people,
punished many others and made draconian laws. Buhari has not led a quiet life of conforming to the established order.

Similarly, Sowore has never been short of negative words to describe what goes on in Nigeria. His lifelong pursuit of activism against the government has been loud. He has been intolerant of corruption, misrule, abuse of office and exploitative social norms.

President Buhari, after his military career, found his voice within a new political party, the All Nigeria People’s Party, and later in the Congress for Progressive Change. He ran three times unsuccessfully to become president. He won only at his fourth election campaign using the All Progressives Congress party platform. He has fulfilled his desire to rule Nigeria.

Sowore, who had established a powerful, successful media platform, Sahara Reporters, to destabilize the political space, also found a political party, the African Action Congress, in 2018. The party lost resoundingly at Sowore’s first attempt to use the electoral system to become president.

When President Buhari lost his earlier elections, he did not keep quiet. He spat fire. His frustration with the electoral process was heard loudly. For example, Buhari claimed that the 2011 elections were rigged. He angrily stated that “if what happened in 2011 should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood”.

Sowore after his electoral loss did not keep quiet. Moreover, he concluded that open agitation to upend the system was perhaps more effective. He spoke angrily too.
In their characteristic ways, neither of the two men accepted their losses nor did they settle down to parley with the winners. They did not go quietly into the night.
Sowore, reacting against the electoral process of 2015, called out other instruments of persuasion. He brandished a new slogan of “Revolution Now” and led street campaigns.

Unfortunately, for seeking new avenues to change the political discourse, he became the enemy that must be stopped by the forces of law and order.

It is written and said by many people that Sowore was the nemesis of President Jonathan’s government and that Sahara Reporters was a most potent media that charted the way for the end of Jonathan’s government and the entry of President Buhari into office in 2015.

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Sowore, especially through Sahara Reporters, has campaigned in the public arena consistently against the ills of every government from 2006 to date. Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Musa Yar’Adua, and Goodluck Jonathan were not spared, nor were their ministers, appointees and other political associates.

Some of these leaders have had their wives painted in undignified portraits in the online media, especially for corrupt activities.

How did Sowore who acted in support of, advocated for Buhari, and his political party’s “change” agenda, become the “enemy” of Buhari and his government?

Buhari was fed up with poor governance, he campaigned in support of a new order and fought hard to get into power. Both Buhari and Sowore swear that Nigeria must change.

Sowore’s impatience with slow or lack of change leads him to seek possible pressure points to accelerate change. What differentiates the two in the new sphere is that whilst Buhari is bound by the fences of government house and its dictates, Sowore chooses to try the paths not taken, using mostly words.

Nigeria is ripe for change. The road to change is already littered with promises not kept, accidents caused deliberately by agents of the status quo, and obstacles that hinder progress for the largest segment of the population. Sooner than later it may become a stark reality to decide which path can truly lead to change – within the existing order, or its overturn to give way to drastic shifts. Patience may have an expiration date.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

Presidential Election Gives Nigerians No Choice

By Bunmi Makinwa

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President M. Buhari (Getty Images/P. Ekpei)

If President Muhammadu Buhari figuratively rode on a horseback to assume office in 2015, as at today, he barely rides a three-legged donkey. A wobbling government has frittered away the goodwill of the expectant millions who brought him to office.

However, his main opponent, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, does not have a donkey to ride on. His questionable past and close embrace of proven and perceived corrupt political actors and ruinous leaders do not make him attractive. Despite the weakness of Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) party, Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party or PDP is not the shining star.

Yet one of the two is most likely to emerge as president come the election of February 16, in a few days.

The PDP governed Nigeria from 1999 to 2015. Its three successive presidents, and with control over most of the states, reinforced a faulty political system where massive looting of government coffers became the norm. Provision of services and improvement of peoples’ well-being receded and disappeared in most of the 36 states and at the federal government level.  Politics was the quickest gateway to wealth, riches and power.

Under PDP rule, when political leaders have taken their large share of the official budget, the little that was left could not maintain Nigeria’s elaborate political and administrative systems. Infrastructures became dilapidated. Salaries remained little and unpaid in many states. Social tension heightened.

Nigeria’s political system is problematic too. The “investment” needed to win votes or buy oneself an elected position has kept rising. The demand presses elected persons, in turn, to hustle to recover their wealth, equip themselves and their acolytes for future political positions. Many elected officials aggressively privatize official funds to their pockets for use as future powerful political kingmakers.

Amongst the citizenry, high and low, a culture of primitive self-preservation and material aggrandizement developed. Reliance on system and order gave way to brazen self-reliance, hopelessness in hard work, and spiritual solutions to routine life issues.

People scramble for “money by all means”, especially through political favours, in a situation where material well-being is a primary determinant of people’s self-worth. Absent the government, all basic needs are met by each person according to whatever access is possible to any resources, state or privately-owned.

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Nigeria Votes (guardian.ng)

On February 16, 2019, Nigeria will pick either Atiku or Buhari to rule the country for another four years. It is not because there are no qualified, capable and exemplary candidates among the more than 40 other presidential aspirants. It is mainly because the political system is cast in stone, and only the candidates of a few major political parties can have the resources and means to meet the demands stipulated by the constitution, political tradition, and corrupt processes that produce candidates for political offices.

Several of the other aspirants have qualifications, experience and drive that will make any country proud of its possible leaders.

The political system is dominated by political parties that can afford enormous resources to set up structures, reach out to a sprawling, federated country of 36 states and one federal territory, use mass and social media that communicate with some 180 million population, and provide reliable security for themselves and supporters.

Candidates for elections must dole out monies to members of their own parties and voters who have given up on what elected leaders do when they are in office. Rather, party officials and voters want immediate gratification – whatever materials, food and money that they can get from candidates during the election campaign. Elections are costly, not only for the official organizers but also for candidates who must deploy huge amounts of money for every step of the election process, from seeking the nomination of political parties to seeking votes of the electorate.

For the coming election, Nigeria faces yet again the sad choice of having to choose between two leading politicians neither of whom can take the country to its level of development and realization of its potentials.

The gargantuan victory of President Buhari in 2015 over then-incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan gave Buhari a powerful entry. But his three-pronged campaign on corruption, a stronger economy, and security with special focus on ending Boko Haram insurgency are nowhere near being successfully prosecuted.

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Atiku (image via News24; File, AFP)

At the same time, Atiku will only be Atiku – focusing on further enriching himself, his cronies and beloved others.

Those who strongly support Atiku claim that he is different from Buhari and will perform better given the weaknesses of the current government. They say that Atiku will make the expected noise to discourage the rampage by herdsmen and organised attacks on certain people and religious groups. He will choose his lieutenants from various parts of the country. He will enable the South-eastern part of the country mainly the Igbo ethnic group to contest strongly for the presidency. He will make public money spread around through his customary largesse. He will unite the country that appears to be fragmenting. Yet, the claimants have only weak arguments to explain how the expectations will be met.

The strongest criticism of Atiku is that the popular demand to combat and at least reduce corruption will suffer greatly if he becomes president. But his supporters maintain that if corruption is the price to pay to have a more united country, a stronger economy and less structured federalism, it is time to let corruption continue under Atiku’s rule. It is a sad bargain to accept.

Whether 76-year old Buhari or 72-year old Atiku wins in the soon to be held election for the next president, Nigeria loses because neither of the two persons has the disposition, experience, appropriate mindset, nor determination to make Nigeria a better place for its people. The current political system presents only the rich and mighty, not the best that the country can offer.

Asked about February 16 election for the president, someone retorted: “Some people will vote for Atiku. Some will vote for Buhari. One of the two will win despite a large number of frustrated people who will spread their votes among the numerous other candidates. The status quo will remain because Atiku and Buhari are from PDP and APC which are two sides of the same coin.”

To buttress his point, the person explained that Atiku was in PDP before he joined APC, and then returned to PDP a few months ago to buy the political platform to aim for the presidency. The leadership of both parties boasts of the same persons who have led Nigeria’s politics for the past 30 plus inglorious years.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.

CJN Case – Buhari a Dove or a Hawk?

By Bunmi Makinwa

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President Buhari and former CJN Onnoghen (image via pulse.ng)

In his initial actions on assuming office in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari was painstakingly slow. The list is long. He took six months to appoint a cabinet. Many important organizations and parastatals continued to be led by nominees of the previous government. Management boards of key governmental organizations and ambassadors for important foreign offices were not appointed or confirmed.

For a considerable time after becoming president, Buhari was not known to have articulated any clear policy statements on the three key areas of his campaign- security, economy, and corruption. 

As time went on, he accepted the label of “Baba go slow” and explained that it would not stop him from reaching his goal on retrieving stolen monies. Perhaps the slow posture helped to demonstrate his change of image from that of a past military dictator to that of a democratic president.  Maybe his ill-health explained the slow pace too, but the disappointment was real.

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‘Go slow’ in Lagos, Nigeria (image via cmgsite.com)

Meanwhile, the high profile cases of corruption that his government made loud noises about went nowhere or stalled due to court processes, also known as legal technicalities. Yet, many cases went to court, and large amounts of monies and assets were confiscated. But extremely few of the major allegedly corrupt persons got convicted.

Very quickly, the more than 15 million voters who brought Buhari into office settled into the new reality. The new leader and his government appeared to succeed reasonably in limiting the effectiveness of Boko Haram, which was a good thing. But the government would not be able to find an effective way to reduce corruption. Not in court, not in the mobilization of people, not in policy clarity. At best it would scare some corrupt politicians within its ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party and in the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) party.

The system, thoroughly soaked in corrupt ways from top to bottom, has won. Despite his experience as former head of state, holder of several political offices, and his hunger to rule Nigeria, the new Buhari was a dove who would play the political game and not hurt. After all, the dove is a symbol of peace.

Many people were disappointed because they wanted a hawk – an aggressive and war-like leader who would find ways to correct the ills. But the political realities emasculated the government.

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Acting CJN Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed (image via BBC)

Like a thunderbolt, the allegation against the Chief Justice emerged. Buhari acted rapidly. His unusually quick and decisive step caused a massive uproar. The opposition and other critics found a rallying point.

It is probably the most controversial decision of Buhari’s government – the suspension of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen and appointment of acting Chief Justice Tanko Mohammed to replace him. The CJN was allegedly found to have misrepresented his financial standing in the sworn declaration of assets.

The whirlwind of opinions, protests, and statements on the decision continues within and outside Nigeria. Legal analysts and professionals voiced strong but opposing views on the situation There can only be finality when courts pronounce.

Buhari’s APC and the main opposition PDP hold diametrically opposing positions on the CJN issue. For APC, it is right that a CJN who “forgot” to state in his official papers that he had millions of dollars in bank accounts was guilty of misconduct. But the PDP differs.

Public opinion is an aggregate of the views and thoughts of the general public. The coming elections will reflect where supporters of APC and PDP and other parties stand on several issues, and perhaps, more importantly, the decision on the CJN, taking three weeks before the crucial election.

Many people and organizations have spoken and demonstrated against the decision. And as many have spoken and manifested their support for it. The supporters find the decision bold, correct and necessary.  Can it be the kind of decision that many people expected when they voted massively in 2015 to support APC and made sure that Buhari clinched the presidency?

USA’s president Donald Trump during his campaign did several things that were unorthodox. The more he showed Americans and the world that he was not a typical politician, the stronger his support base became. The more Trump angered mainstream America the more his followers cheered.

A large number of Americans were fed up with the political system. They were seeking a president unlike their politicians in the Senate, House of Representatives and Washington D.C., the political capital. The forgotten Americans wanted to turn the tables against politics as it was being played. They wanted a non-political leader.

In the USA, the media, opinionists, commentators, and experts did not get the message of the disgruntled, voiceless people in open and hidden corners of America.  Trump got the message. He acted the part and played ball with the coalition of immigrant haters, faith fundamentalists, blue-collar workers, and such-like others. He fitted the bill and he won.

In so-called democratic Nigeria today, the average person has no right at any place or institution. It is a well-known fact that who-you-are and what-you-have are the sole determinants of what you get. Yet, the elites and dominant office holders are quick to claim the rule of law as the answer to resolve the disagreement.

More than some of the controversial issues of Buhari’s presidency – the cattle herders’ rampage, the allegedly Northern-bias in the appointment of key federal officers, and general un-hurried attention to crucial national issues – the public perception on the CJN issue may be the decisive factor of Buhari’s re-election.

The president has shown he could find a way within the rotten political and legal system to take a vital blow on seeming corrupt behavior. The action may turn out to be the most populist decision by his government. Or it may be the most foolhardy. The decision of President Buhari will be validated or rejected by the result of the elections of February 16 when he squares up with his main rival, former Vice-President and candidate of the PDP, Abubakar Atiku.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership.