An Exchange with Honourable Gbajabiamila

By Bunmi Makinwa

Introduction: For those who may have missed the story. Pictures and videos of Honourable Olufemi Gbajabiamila, Majority Leader of the House of Representativesand his wife, have been circulating frequently in the social media for days. He wore a fancy suit, allegedly of Gucci brand, worth 1.2 million Naira ($3,300). His wife whose 50th birthday was being celebrated, wore an equally very fancy dress. The wife received her husband’s gift of a brand new Mercedes Benz G–Wagon jeep, allegedly bought for 75 million Naira ($208,333).

The pictures and videos have drawn a lot of attention, mostly negative. Mr. Gbajabiamila felt that it was unfair criticism. Reportedly, he wrote on the WhatsApp platform of his “class of 84” and listed from 1 to 15 items of his side of the issues. Below is a verbatim (unedited) text of his explanation, along with my response to each of them as a possible exchange between himself and this writer.

 

Femi Gbajabiamila and his wife Yemisi dressed in Gucci

The Exchange

Gbajabiamila: My dear “friends” I thank you for all your comments. I ordinarily was going to keep a dignified silence on this whole sordid matter and indeed I have. This is the first comment I am making in all of this. I honestly thought this was a platform of classmates and of lawyers. I thought the legal training was that there were 2 sides to every story and maybe sometimes even a 3rd. Many have said you’re only saying the truth but I don’t know how one gets to the truth by hearing only one side and not giving the benefit of doubt but passing a hurried judgment. I would have expected those who seek the truth to reach out even if privately like Frank did. 3 of our classmates were at this very small private gathering of family and friends namely Candido Johnson Mike Igbokwe and Folabi Martins. Now What are the issues?

Myself: Dear Hon. Gbajabiamila. I am an outsider, neither in your class of ’84 on which platform it was said that you had posted your message. Nor of the House of Representatives of which you are a Majority Leader. We are linked because I am a Nigerian who resides in Lagos, where your primary constituency is located. I had huge admiration for your party (APC). Now only a little hope is left. Above all, I am concerned that you are a political leader, my leader. I cannot keep quiet. Your classmates are Nigerians and you occupy a public position. They also could not keep quiet about your actions.

1. My wife of 26 years who I love to death turned 50 and I decided to do something special for her. Her 50th did not happen unexpectedly. I knew a couple of years God sparing her life she would turn 50 and I prepared for it. This is a woman who has been with me through thick and thin and stood as a pillar of support and who at one time was the breadwinner. Hell I may even have saved up for it or sold an old car to make up the numbers you guys do not know. I believe the cost of a vehicle pales into insignificance when you consider the sacrifices our wives make on the daily.

Myself: Your total, deep, absolute love for your wife is great. She deserves you, and to be loved by you. Everything that you do for her is unquestionable. When you bring your expressions of love and especially its materialistic interpretations to the public domain, then all comments, reactions and inferences are fair.

2. We are all educated and can look up the cost of the car. Not even half of the 100m in social media.

Myself:  The cost of a new Mercedes Benz G-Wagon ranges from 50 million Naira to 100 million Naira for special models, and gold-plated ones. Yours may be closer to the high-end ones because you wanted to show wealth and opulence. The high-end car and those highly expensive dresses exhibited by yourself and your wife were public confirmation that that you have a lot of money. It is the nature of many corrupt politicians and public officials to demonstrate ill-gotten wealth and lavish spending in Nigeria.

The G-Wagon Gbajabiamila bought for his wife



3. What I wear is non of y’alls business as I’m sure there will be people who’s attire or jewelry or shoes on this platform I may not like but will not deride them for it. 

Myself: What you wear and indeed what you do not wear is our business. Just like what you say, where you go, who you go with. You are elected by us and you are there to serve us. We know that you do not care about our expectations and we do not matter as long as your godfather(s) are satisfied. But do you have to throw it in our faces?

4. I had a tear to plan for this and I did.

Myself: You and your colleagues in the House of Representatives have had more years to plan to make the country better but look at where we are. The scandals and misdeeds of the House where you are Majority Leader are too many to be repeated. They are too well known in the public sphere.

5. We had a family gathering and few friends of about 30 in all in my house for thanks giving and prayers. It was a breakfast get together. My wife’s pastor prayed Gave a sermon, praise n worship and guests had breakfast. The whole affair was meant to

have ended by 6. Unfortunately some people came after work as it was a weekday.


Myself
: A private affair by someone of your status should be done as if the walls have ears, eyes and mouths. I repeat, you are a public personae. Everyone watches your every move. Do you get it?


6. I purchased my wife’s car from the US and unfortunately the car was delayed at the ports for 4 days. She was meant to get her gift at midnight of her birthday in the privacy of our home. 

MyselfBy now you probably understand at least a little that every move you make is watched, seen and spoken about. A car for your wife is a good thing. Given the responsibility that the people have placed on you, do your show-off actions reflect how a true leader behaves? Yes, other “Honourable” Representatives and “Distinguished” Senators act often in this same manner and show excessive, extravagant lifestyles. The inept leaders make Nigeria a poor country despite abundance of resources. By African standards, the country lacks the most basic infrastructures, has the lowest social and economic indicators, and lowest quality of life for its citizens. Political leaders should be busy changing the situation and not engaging in”see-my-new-car” recklessness.

7.  I called Mr Folabi Martins the day before her birthday ( he happens to be the lawyer to Maersk the shipping co) and he made frantic efforts to call the md.

 

Myself: It shows that you could move mountains when it benefits you. Sadly, you do not change things for the improvement of your country and your peoples.

8. Man proposes Gid disposes and there was little I could do the car never came. 

MyselfI am shaking my head. The tendency to always blame God for abuses and misbehaviours is all too common.

9. It came as a surprise to me when the car was driven by the agents into my compound at 7.30 pm with a few guests and my family members still present. There was little I could do. 

Myself: I am shaking my head even more. It reminds me of the police. More efforts are made to serve VIPs and escort politicians than to protect lives and properties of Nigerians. Everything was done to get your car into your compound. How about making maximum efforts to ensure that your constituents have electricity, for example. How many mountains have you moved to reduce deaths on the roads and to canvass for employment for young people?

10. How the above facts can draw such vitriol from this platform shocks me to the marrow but then like they say it is what it is.

MyselfYou still do not get it. People are angry. They are mad at you, and all signs of wealth and waste of resources confirm all the negative impressions of Nigerians about you and the political class. All “big men” are seen as thieves. People will take whatever they can get from you but they will join hands with others to hound you.

Your classmates are mostly “big men” and they are afraid too. What ordinary people think of “big men” because of your type of flaunting wealth is very very scary.

11. My “brother” who commented above that I crave publicity or wanted this on social media I’m sorry we may be classmates but you do not know me.

Myself: Everyone knows you, Honourable Gbajabiamila. You have been in the House since 2003. You occupied various important posts and positions. How are you not part of the problems of Nigeria today? People observe your peers and their actions, both at the House and Senate, and they see you too. You as the Majority Leader have confirmed by your recent act that Nigerians are right in who they say that you are.

12. Guys I have paid my dues in this country. I did not gift a car to a girlfriend like many do. I gave it to my WIFE!!


Myself
Gentleman, the hundreds of thousands of pensioners who do not receive pensions at all or who get paid once in a long while have paid their dues. The hundreds of thousands of civil servants who get paid once in seven months, or who get half pay for a year have paid their dues. The multitude of young people who studied hard and finished well in their colleges and universities but have no jobs or get paid monthly wages that do not support them for even a week have paid their dues. The police, military and security officers who live in wretched barracks where toilets and shower rooms are so dirty you can smell them from 100 metres away; and whose salaries cannot pay for their children to attend any decent primary or secondary schools – they have paid their dues. Honourable Gbajabiamila, the language of this explanation is despicable, irresponsible and insensitive.

13. Now assuming this was a public display which it most certainly wasn’t does it warrant the things I am reading on this platform the extent of venom and crucifixtion from you guys ? Or is there something else here?

Myself: I refer to everything I have stated above.

14. I must say a big thank you to Frank and to Afolabi who has called me severally and stood in support. I also thank you Mike Igbokwe for the staunch support you put up on anothe platform of yours. 

Myself: Your friends were either being polite or they were fake, or they were loyal for whatever reasons.

15. I am surprised that no one here is discerning to see that this is a political hatchet job but I will continue to focus on my work. Enough said God bless our class of 84

MyselfIn other societies a person of your political status would listen, reflect and apologise profusely for the error of judgment. He would vow not to make such a grave error ever any more. He might even resign his position. But alas, Nigeria of such a time is hardly in the horizon yet. The rumour was that you were positioned to occupy a higher post when this eighth House started in 2016. But a sharper hatchet job by opponents cut you off. From what we have seen to date, we cannot celebrate their gain, nor can we regret your loss. God bless you.

 

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership. Formerly, he was Africa Regional Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

 

Towards 2019, Which Way Nigeria?

By Bunmi Makinwa

There are many voices in Nigeria that express regret for having chosen then candidate Muhammadu Buhari during the 2015 presidential elections. In understanding the present, the past must be made clear.

Muhammadu Buhari raises fist after registering to vote on Saturday in Gidan Niyam Sakin Yara. Pic: The Telegraph.

In the choice between All Progressives Congress (APC) party’s candidate Buhari and Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) then President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015, Buhari was the right decision. The Jonathan government had outlived its relative usefulness. It was hardly breathing under the weight of corruption, insecurity especially Boko Haram’s numerous willful attacks, false economic growth, inept leadership and rampant official unresponsiveness to peoples’ needs.

President Buhari is in office today because most Nigerians decided that they had enough of bad leadership of former President Jonathan. Yes, there were some very commendable achievements under Jonathan, but the decay was more.

At the time, Buhari and his coalition of “progressives” offered a possible alternative. Their three-pronged campaign themes of economic development, security especially arresting the growing territorial expansion of Boko Haram, and stopping or reducing corruption resonated well with electorates. It was the appropriate time for the country to climb out of a known sinkhole, and to firmer ground, though it was not to a solid rock.

A New York Times article that I quoted in my write up of March 2 2015 titled its strongly worded editorial, “Nigeria’s Miserable Choices”. Buhari did not come with a pedigree that could rescue Nigeria from its abyss of under-development. But compared to where Jonathan had led the country, “anything but the same” was acceptable.

Two and half years later, as the debate escalates on what is the next road to take for Nigeria, it is appropriate to consider whether the country has made strides under Buhari. And whether the successes are sufficient to justify a continuation of the same government come the 2019 presidential selection.

In a democracy, elections present the opportunity for reflection, reconsideration and action. It is a time for people to exercise their democratic rights by voting for political leaders. Nigeria has the opportunity once every four years to confirm a sitting president or welcome a replacement, according to the constitution.

It must be said that Buhari’s government tackled Boko haram convincingly, and heralded confidence in the nation’s military machine. It revealed many facts about massive stealing and corruption in the previous administration. It exposed humongous monies and wealth that were stolen and often hidden by so-called leaders and their surrogates.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari presents Lance Corporal Kenneth Kulugh with the Purple Heart medal for gallantry. Pic: BBC.

Unlike the Jonathan government, it reined in unbridled and reckless spending and began to save for possible difficult times ahead, despite major fall of petroleum price. And Buhari talked tough a few times about how to make the country gain traction in reducing imports.

Notwithstanding, the enthusiasm and positive “moment of actions” that accompanied Buhari into office was wasted by the new government. Rather than send out unequivocal actions to build on the high level of credibility that was shown by voters towards him, Buhari went literally into exile. Strangely, appointment of his own cabinet proved difficult and took six months, and other important offices were left unoccupied for a long time.

Many cheerleaders of Buhari, including my humble self, wondered if he was the same person who had aspired to rule the country numerous times.

Perhaps Buhari’s illness accounts for the slowness in many spheres where urgent actions were needed. Yet, it is not justification to absolve the leadership from its accountability to the people. It is correct to assert that, in many aspects which are explained daily in public discourse, Buhari has not done as well as expected.

Albeit, there is a greater problem.

Beyond the lack of performance of the government according to public expectations, there is a major concern that Buhari is leading the country progressively into territories of no-return. The actions and decisions of his government undermine the country’s nationhood. The country is tottering.

A few critical issues will serve to illustrate the point.

The commendable actions of the government on Boko Haram and engagement, though less successful, with the Delta area insurgents gave the impression that former military general Buhari understood security and could protect the country.

Still several security threats have ensconced themselves. The problem is not only that they should have been contained before they assumed serious importance, but that they were allowed to fester and grow. Kidnap, inter-religious fighting, open ethnic rivalry, insurgency by local militias, horrendous actions of herdsmen have all become serious threats to national cohesion. The government has been careless and ineffectual, to say the least. To date, there is no clear sense of urgency and actions to reclaim the girls, women and people abducted by Boko Haram or explain the lack of serious progress.

In appointments, assignments, and placements of senior officials, the government has been as partisan as it has been in sleeping on official reports, decisions on investigations. Management and containment of crisis within the presidency, executive arm and ruling political party leaves much to be desired.

The economy is one of the foremost areas of strength of Buhari’s government. Unlike many other sectors, there is a blueprint and direction. There are promises of results and often a timeframe is defined. However, the results are far too few and lightweight to deal with the problems on the ground. It does not matter that the previous government caused enormous damage to the nation’s economy. The solutions must come from the current government. Despite overwhelming control of states by APC, the sad non-payment of civil servants’ salaries on time or at all persists.

Unemployment, high food prices, high costs of fuel and transportation, high costs of education and health care, among others, are common and becoming normal.

Characteristically, religion – arising in part from the general insecurity, economic deprivation, poor governance, loss of confidence in government’s capability to be fair, firm and honest, – has become the only straw to which many people hang their hopes and trust. In the absence of official decisive actions and communication, people revert to religion or faith to explain many issues. As a result, a much polarized nation has become even more divided by religious differences.

Nigerian Naira notes. Pic: Daily Times Nigeria.

This government shows poor understanding of the dynamics of the country. It deliberately or inadvertently allows ethnic arguments to thrive; accusations of partiality in government appointments appear germane; and government often waits for inter-ethnic attacks to germinate and take roots, before it shows its feeble hands.

On corruption, Buhari’s government shows a consistent desire to act. It demonstrates commitment to tackle it. But the actions are too little, too limited, too weak, too narrow, very incomprehensible and more laden with failures than successes. The greatest fear is that Buhari’s government may leave so much disillusion due to its poor showing on corruption that apathy may set in – if Mr. anti-corruption, straight-as-a-rod Buhari cannot succeed in fighting corruption, maybe nobody can. Then, as many pro-corruption advocates argue, “corruption is a Nigerian, and let us live together”. It is a wrong thesis and corruption should and can be fought successfully. This government’s anti-corruption approach lacks honesty, strategy, direction and it is devoid of mobilization of people. It cannot succeed.

What is next towards 2019?

There should be an admission that Buhari’s government did succeed in changing some things for the better. Though far below what is expected. Much more can and should be done. There are four possible new directions to take.

One is to have the current government change its tempo and change from not being “in a hurry to do anything”, as Buhari himself admitted recently. The problems are known and by re-organising to have the right people around him to think and implement decisions in the best interest of the country, much more can be achieved.

The second possible way is for Buhari to be a statesman and accept that due to his health and factors beyond him, he cannot lead the country. His party, APC, may be able to find a capable replacement.

The third one is for Buhari to step aside and also opt out of APC. His illness and political party have made it difficult for him, he says, and he becomes a most respected statesman by such a wise step. He can provide a rallying point for an alternative force to the big political parties.

The fourth possible route is to re-invent the political fundamentals of the country. It should be possible for independent candidates and candidates of smaller political parties to run for presidential and other offices. Time and test have shown that APC and PDP are two sides of the same coin.

Buhari came into power to arrest the drift under Jonathan. It has done some of it. As things stand, the government cannot do better. It can most probably get worse. PDP does not have known leaders of the quality needed to handle Nigeria’s current and future challenges. It means that in 2019, as in 2015, presidential election may be a repeat of “miserable choices’.

Given the numerous proven corrupt people who may present themselves for the coming elections, strong are the chances that Buhari will have a second term in such a situation. It will be unfortunate.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership. Formerly, he was Africa Regional Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Ibori: Ten Answers to The One Question

by Bunmi Makinwa

Image result for james ibori

Ibori raises his hand to acknowledge supporters after leaving Asaba High Court in Nigeria’s Delta State (BBC)

It is loud and quiet at the same time. The conversations on James Onanefe Ibori. On the streets and in homes. In minds and thoughtful reflections, people ponder and wonder – why would a self-identifying criminal emerge as a hero, a star that appears to shine like no other in Nigeria?

What makes a known thief to stand out as a beloved child, hugged and embraced by a teeming crowd of supporters? Loved by people from the communities that he robbed so dastardly?

Ibori is a name so very well known in Nigeria and perhaps in the United Kingdom where he and his wife, Theresa Ibori, were arrested for theft in 1990 and fined £300. In 1991, he was convicted of handling a stolen credit card, and fined £100, still in the UK.

He returned to Nigeria afterwards and became a successful politician advising the presidency. At age 40 in 1999 he was elected as governor of Delta State, a post he held for two terms of eight years.

Always of a criminal mind, in 1999 Ibori changed his name in the UK to whitewash his tarnished trail. He fitted easily into the mostly corrupt-ridden system that is Nigeria’s political space. Delta State is one of the poorest of the 36 states of Nigeria yet one of the richest as it is naturally endowed with oil wealth, and therefore entitled to receive a large chunk of the regular federal allocation of funds every month.

Ibori as executive governor in a federated political structure had unlimited control of the state’s funds which he converted into his personal expense budget. As he wished, he used it for himself, the state, friends, well-wishers and patrons. He was lavish and generous. He was kind to his cohort and made them happy with official resources. He put up some visible official infrastructures and buildings in the state.

Above all, he made sure that if he lived for another 200 years, there would be no lack of funds to use for himself and to help whoever pleased him or whose support he needed.

Image result for james ibori

After he left office as governor, Ibori was set upon by the anti-corruption agency in Nigeria. Like many others, he ran circles around the Nigerian criminal justice system using his abundant wealth. He left Nigeria for Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where he had properties and business interests. There, the unrelenting UK government found him and extradited him to London for trial.

He was accused of stealing US$250 million from Nigeria’s public funds. Ibori pleaded guilty to ten counts of money laundering and conspiracy to defraud.

On Tuesday, April 17, 2012, Ibori was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment for his crimes. Among possessions confiscated were: two properties in the UK worth £2.2m and £311,000; a £3.2m mansion in South Africa; several vehicles – a fleet of armoured Range Rovers valued at £600,000, a £120,000 Bentley Continental and a Mercedes Benz valued at €407,000.

James Ibori was released from prison in December 2016 after serving over 4 years of the jail term.

As soon as he came out of jail, jubilant supporters paraded around Ibori in London, and welcomed him home to Nigeria in unprecedented show of support. They openly praised and identified with him, no matter what he did in the past and despite his lack of open remorse or change of ways.

The story of Ibori provides many answers to the riddle of corruption and its “octopustic” tentacles that wrap around a nation that keeps struggling with its expanding problems.

From comments, opinions, and discussions, here are ten answers to the historic drama of obvious popularity of ex-convict Ibori.

  1. Stealing of public funds may not count as actual stealing. An elected official must have “invested” a lot of funds to get to office. It is logical that he “recovers” his funds whilst in office, and makes much more to take care of the future and his retinue of hangers-on.
  2. A public official who manages public fund can use it for private purposes. Everyone does it. A state governor can do it more easily because he is hardly ever accountable to anyone.
  3. If, like Ibori, a public official re-distributes a small part of stolen wealth among the people, such “generosity” cleanses the official of any accusations of criminality. Most public officials hold on to their stolen wealth; only kind ones give anything back to their constituencies, friends and supporters.
  4. All politicians steal. Stealing is not corruption. When one has a God-given opportunity to have access to funds or wealth anywhere, he/she had better acquire enough of the wealth to last many lifetimes. (Do not laugh!)
  5. A convicted person from one’s ethnic group or community is still a part of the community. As “one of us”, we have a duty to defend him socially, politically… Other persons also steal anyways, and finally one of our own has the opportunity.
  6. Going to jail is immaterial if the criminal comes out of jail with sizeable wealth to give away. Far too many people will accept money and materials from anyone – prisoner, convict, robber or killer. A former prisoner who is wealthy is likely to be much more generous. He needs supporters. Get to him quickly.
  7. A rich criminal gets to keep so much of stolen money that he/she has the capacity to make others rich still. Politicians who are accused of official looting are financially capable sponsors of candidates for elective offices. It is a smart way for the criminal to purchase immunity from prosecution.
  8. By stealing abundantly, a criminal can comfortably finance his/her own political campaign to get elected to an exalted office. Once successful, immunity and public recognition is conferred on the person by law and society.
  9. In most cases, politics is not a call to service, but a game of power played with money. The more stolen funds are available, the easier it is to aim for selection and election to higher offices.
  10. There is so much poverty that anyone who can distribute money, food, materials to people gets immediate title to relevance. Poor people and needy populace do not link their despicable socio-economic conditions to official stealing and corruption from which they get served trickles of what was originally theirs. The source of wealth is least important as new norms support wealth possession no matter what the sources are.

The supporters and admirers of Ibori and his likes are everywhere. They are products of deeply corrupt political system, social norms gone awry, downgraded values and economic malaise.

Whilst arresting, prosecuting and jailing of corrupt officials is very important, it is equally critical to revisit the political systems, re-value norms, and transform drivers of need and greed.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership. Formerly, he was Africa Regional Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

Judges Who Will Not Sleep Comfortably

By Bunmi Makinwa

In any country, when judges of the Supreme Court, the highest court of the land, are bundled out of their homes with half-open eyes in the middle of the night, it is not pretty. The “invaders” were not robbers, hooligans or protesters that came from the streets. They were officers of the Department of State Security (DSS) whose mandate is to gather intelligence, forestall enemy actions and generally ensure the security of the country.

Something drastic and impactful happened to corruption in Nigeria, and it was thanks to the DSS.

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Supreme Court of Nigeria (The Will)

The cries were loud and widespread and they came in opposing directions. Those who wanted President Buhari to call the DSS to order versus others who asked that the judges who were involved should account for their actions before the law, in equal measure as do any citizens. The many judges arrested included those of the Federal High Court and Court of Appeal in various parts of the country.

Let us not tarry on the arguments from either side. They are copiously available in the news and social media. For here, let us dwell just a little on another point.

Under normal circumstances, no security officer, no law enforcement officer comes visiting anyone. Least of all at night time, and to haul people away to interrogation venues. Under normal circumstances, no government looks the most respected citizens in the eyes and calls them out to prove their innocence. Judges are not thieves, nor are they breakers of the law, in normal societies and circumstances. Judges are dignified and respected.

But is the situation in Nigeria normal?

If the revelations of official stealing and corruption that have been made in the past one year plus were seen in a Nollywood movie, the movie producer would have been prodded to notch things down a bit, maybe a lot. Movie critics would have said that the stories were exaggerated, way too much. The movie audience would have been saturated to numbness with too many scenes of thieving and stealing. It cannot happen, they would say.

But here it is. We have witnessed revelations after revelations, and just when one thinks there cannot be any more surprise, another un-imaginable amount of money is mentioned as stolen by someone who used to be, or still is, a “leader”.

The highest aggregate forum of elected “distinguished” persons at federal level, called the Senate, is a mockery of seriousness. The second highest house of legislature, called the House of Representatives, is similarly clothed in corruption accusations and trials – cap, kaftan and trousers. The state houses of assembly spend more time waiting for the governors to share money or “something” than to do any serious thinking on solving the many problems facing their citizens.

It is known by all that to aspire to occupy an elected political office is to attempt to invest in the most thriving money-making lottery of the country.

In the midst of this dysfunctional arrangement, a few good people exist. It must be said. But their uphill struggle against the status quo cannot solve the gigantic problems that face the nation. Therefore the country totters on the brink, with millions of suffering people, and in hopelessness.

If you listen to the noise on the arrest of the judges, you would hear the Nigeria Bar Association and similar heavyweights who argue about human rights, legal doctrine, warrants of arrest, distinct roles of DSS and National Judiciary Council on discipline of judges, and several such matters. Yes, you would hear tactical manoeuvering and technical high-sounding language about bringing DSS to order.

Image result for nigerian court

You would also hear, perhaps not so loudly, the rumbles of other people and ordinary Nigerians who want the judges to explain how they come about the wealth that they display or that was allegedly found in their homes, bank accounts and with families. You would hear people who say that maybe this Buhari government is finally getting the point.
It is well known that the corruption within the judiciary from the magistrate court to the Supreme Court is humongous, and done with audacity.

While it is important to uphold human rights, should the right of an elected or appointed government official entitle him/her to unbridled stealing? Does the right to fair hearing in court mean that justice be rendered impossible as cases are enrobed in legal brake dancing for years to no end? Where lies the rights of ordinary citizens, millions of Nigerians, who because of official corruption lack basic means of life, including salaries, employment, health, education, roads, water…electricity? Where does the aggrieved person take his/her case when the police have to be bribed, court officials have to be incentivized, and judges have to be bought?

Corruption permeates all facets of daily life, and is found at all levels, including by judges. The current government is fighting corruption but cannot get a case prosecuted in court in large part because of technical and tactical maneuverings between lawyers and judges. Citizens cannot seek justice unless they are armed with monies to buy their way at all levels of law enforcement and prosecution.

It should not be forgotten that when systems do not work, people will boycott them and seek alternatives. Let those of us who are comfortable, whether through honest or dishonest means, beware. Nigerians are tired of more of the same.

President Buhari’s government was elected as a possible remedy to some of the problems facing the country, especially to reduce corruption. If it succeeds, there may be a chance yet for people to have confidence in government. If it fails, either by its own commission or omission, or due to frustrating tactics of those who have the means to create obstacles in its way, then any alternatives may emerge. Already, kidnap for ransom is looking like a suitable “employment” for many, and a substitute for the “419” fraud and armed robbery.

If the DSS can tackle corruption by judges and other highly-placed officials, well and good. Corruption is a security risk and judges who have clean hands will sleep peacefully whilst those who are dishonest can say goodbye to sleeping in comfort.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership. Formerly, he was Africa Regional Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Where “change” begins in Nigeria

By Bunmi Makinwa

change-begins-with-me

President Buhari hands over ‘Change Begin With Me’ flag to Alhaji Mohammed (thenewsnigeria.com.ng)

The “change begins with me” campaign of the federal government of Nigeria is running into obstacles. One of the latest undesirable hitches is plagiarism of President Obama’s speech in the text of President Buhari’s statement delivered at the recent launch. News, opinions, reports, commentaries and jokes in print, electronic and online media are full of subtle and scathing attacks on the campaign.

A major argument of some critics is that change begins with the leadership that had promised change but is backpedaling on its responsibility for it, and turning it over to the populace. Another line of criticisms is that the targeted change is undefined, nebulous and opaque. The nuts and bolts of “change begins with me”, it is argued, are as unclear as many policy issues that the President Buhari administration pursues. Put together, the contextual issues around change do not align with the new campaign.

In communication theories, change is a well-trodden area. Human communication is replete with uses of communication to effect change of knowledge, attitudes, practice and behavior. Change communication underlies the intellectual discourse of behavior and social modifications as a critical step towards change. The “change begins with me” campaign, whether stated or not, is premised on the thesis that change of behavior by Nigerians can and should result in change of the Nigerian society. The behavior change of citizens will, over time, aggregate to social change of the Nigerian nation. It is, theoretically, a solid basis to build an action programme. This must have been what Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had in mind.

It is widely accepted that change of behavior, and ultimately change of society, is complex. It is hardly linear. It requires collaboration of communication with sociology, psychology, anthropology and related fields of human interactions. Extensive studies in change communication show that “good intentions” are far from adequate. In other words, no matter, how well intentioned a change idea is, it does not by fiat materialize into acceptance by the community or society where the change is advantageous or sensible.

In development communication, examples of good intentions leading to bad outcomes are soberly common. Whether it is smoking, driving while intoxicated or use of seat belts, change of habits and behavior is arduous. For example, health promotion campaigns that focused on negative health impacts of smoking achieved little for decades. Facts on the nefarious health effects did not discourage reasonable, knowledgeable smokers. The breakthrough came in many countries by making smoking appear so “un-cool”, unfashionable, repulsive, anti-social to “right –thinking” persons. And it was combined with treatment medications, psychosocial approaches, alongside policies and legislation that made cigarettes expensive; smoking was barred from public spaces; and smokers were restricted to corner spaces of undesirability.

Campaigns against driving whilst intoxicated are witnessing increasing successes in countries that combine special attention to what should be done when one drinks – designate a driver who does not drink alcohol at that occasion, have colleagues monitor each other’s alcohol consumption levels, have bar tenders take charge and restrict drunk drivers, use taxis to return home – with stringent checks by police officers as people leave parties and drinking places. Tough legislations penalize drunk driving, including heavy fines, temporary or permanent ban from driving.

Advertisers and marketers, to mention a few, use change communication extensively to create acceptance of new products, or to effect change from existing services to newly available ones. It works.

Success in change of behavior and society is grounded in theoretical understanding of people and society, and adaptation of knowledge from empirical studies. Behaviour modification and change does not happen quickly. There are short, medium and long term phases, and some successes can be recorded, even in the short term phase when norms begin to be questioned and re-ordered.

Without enough understanding of the work – theories, studies, processes – that inform Nigeria’s “change begins with me” campaign, it is difficult to say much about it. However, given the official actions and criticisms of it, some points are well in order.

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A poster of leading opposition All Progressive Congress presidential candidate Mohammadu Buhari and deputy Yemi Osinbajo (www.news24.com.ng)

President Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) party was voted in on the platform of “change”. The massive voters’ support confirmed that change was awaited and would be supported. How will change occur? The first positive signal is that the leadership should demonstrate change.

Whilst the government, during its 16-month tenure, succeeded convincingly in dealing decisively with Boko Haram, it is yet to show that it can deal with security in its many ratifications. See how long it took to have any serious official pronouncement on herdsmen who ravage farms and villages, kill and maim people.

Also, whilst government struggles to rein in the spreading kidnap menace, the Niger Delta insurgents appear to thrive under various names. And the initial official commitment to locate the abducted Chibok Girls has fallen by the wayside. Rather, the Police harass peaceful protesters who serve as a constant beacon of the historic tragedy bleeding the nation.

Corruption, another pillar of the campaign manifesto of the government, has seen some positive efforts at curbing it. But even the consternation and anger of people as revelations of massive looting were revealed is now being dulled by time and inconclusive lengthy processes that drag on. It is apparent that some officials, especially civil servants and law enforcement agents, are falling back willfully into old ways of public bribe-taking and oppression of the people for the slightest reasons. Not only national budgets are “padded” under the nose of the change leadership, contracts are being padded heavily again. The fight against corruption is being cast as “Buhari’s thing”. His immediate entourage, collaborators and, especially, state governments are not even remotely part of any obvious anti-corruption efforts.

The dark cloud that covers the nation right now is economic and financial difficulty. It hangs like a giant elephant tusk on the neck of the masses and so-called middle class. It drags people down, into anger, intolerance and hopelessness. The people want to hear more on how and when it will change.

Candidly, everything seems right about the wording and need for “change begins with me”. But political communication of contradictory verbal and non-verbal exchange is problematic. The entirety of change should be manifested in many more areas and should be read, heard, seen, and interpreted – without doubt. The government, with its main pillars of change agenda in doubtful suspense, cannot expect its subjects to trust that it can lead or sustain change.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership and former Africa head of United Nations Population Fund

Nigeria 2015 Election, Issues and Lessons So Far

Several months of active and massive campaigns by political parties have shaken Nigeria to its roots and, either within or outside the country, all have felt the tremor of historic quakes that remind one of fragility of the nation state. There was so much uncertainty that outside interests, including the United Nations, African Union, ECOWAS, visited Abuja or made statements to canvass for holding the elections on schedule, in a free and fair manner. Nigerians in and out of the country wondered whether things would fall part.

What issues and lessons have emerged from the electioneering? Similar to my previous write-up, “Oshun State and Other Elections: Meanings and Lessons” (Saharareporters, August 14 2014), I shall distill some salient points that we may ponder, especially with a view to take advantage of the significant events to reappraise, reflect, re-strategize, re-tool and re-focus for the future. In the construction of its nascent democracy, a new tradition is emerging in the politics of Africa’s most populated country, of which these past months form a significant part.

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A Private Letter to Senator-elect Buruji Kashamu

Dear Senator-elect Buruji Kashamu,

The first time I heard that agents of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) lay siege to your home in Lagos, I wanted to pick up a phone and call you. No, I did not have your phone number, and I do not have it even now. No, I have never met you. I have no personal connection with you. I never did and do not desire one. Not because I dislike you. But mainly because we are not involved jointly or remotely in any issues.
Yet we are linked. We are linked because you are a Nigerian. I am one too. We are also linked because you are a politician who will make laws and influence policies that will affect me, my family, society and Nigeria as a whole. The Yoruba word for a politician is “oselu” – one who manages the town, or society. I do not know what the equivalent word is in other Nigerian languages. The Yoruba one suffices for the purpose of this letter. It shows the significance of the matters at hand.

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