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Retrogressive Politics Of Value Added Tax In Nigeria

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Retrogressive Politics Of Value Added Tax In Nigeria

By

Salihu Moh. Lukman

The controversy around whether Value Added Tax (VAT) should be centrally collected by the federal government or decentralised so that state governments are the ones to collect, beyond anything, is a test about the type of democracy Nigerians want. Is it going to prioritise the development of the nation’s productive capacity? Or will it simply be about consuming the resources that are currently available? Once the priority is about consuming currently available resources, commitment of political leaders to mobilise investment to develop the nation’s productive sectors will be weak. This is not to dismiss issues of access to existing resources by those who produce them. However, access may not necessarily translate into commitment to utilise the resources in ways that strengthened the commitment of political leaders to invest in the development of Nigeria’s productive sector. The important challenge therefore is to ensure that access to resources also comes with increased commitment by political leaders towards developing Nigeria’s productive sector.

With this background, it is important that Nigerians are also reminded that since 1999, public debate about increased access to resources by state governments, otherwise known as resource control, was limited to revenue from petroleum. Largely, promoted by the oil producing states, mainly the South-South geopolitical zone of the country, the debate was about allowing those states to control all the revenue from oil and perhaps pay a percentage as royalty to federal government. The royalty will be expected to support both the federal government and other non-oil producing states in the country. In all the debates around resource control, tax revenue was never recognised as a significant factor worthy of consideration. Partly, on account of both combination of weak institutional capacity and corruption in the public sector, the belief was that the most important source of government revenue for Nigeria is petroleum.

That Nigerians are debating whether it is states or federal government that should collect VAT signifies some progress, which has to do with the fact that there is an increase in what is being generated from VAT. For instance, in 2015, the total amount collected was N759.43 billion. Between 2016 to 2020, there was consistent increase in the amount collected respectively to N777.51 billion, N972.35 billion, N1.11 trillion, N1.17 trillion and N1.531 trillion. Everything considered, under the APC-led federal government of President Muhammadu Buhari, VAT collection increased from N759.43 billion in 2015 to N1.531 trillion in 2020, an increase of more than hundred percent.

READ ALSO: Southern Governors Meet, Insist On VAT Collection, Anti-open Grazing Law, Others

Nigerians can conveniently dismiss the role of the APC-led federal government in making it possible for the remarkable improvement in VAT collection in the country such that today, it has become an attractive variable in the struggle for resource control by state governments. The reality however is that credit must go to the APC-led federal government of President Buhari. Whether it would have been possible if PDP is still in control of the federal government can only be a wishful thought. If that were to be the case, why wasn’t it the case at any point between 1999 and 2015? No matter what anyone wants to say, the reality is that the significant increase in VAT in the country between 2015 and 2020 confirmed improved efficiency and reduced corruption in the process of collection and management of Nigeria’s public finances.

Interestingly, in terms of the politics of the debate, improved efficiency and management of Nigeria’s public finances are not the focus of the debate. In some ways, even those who are supposed to recognise this fact and promote the achievements of the APC and its federal government, instead have become so defensive, may be because the public noise in the country is all about demonstrating how the APC-led federal government of President Buhari is the driver of inequality, injustice and unfair practices against state governments. Sponsored by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers States, the argument is that monies belonging to state governments are collected by the federal government and shared to states. According to Governor Wike, state money is taken by ‘Abuja people’, based on which he expressed ‘surprise at the level of injustice in the country’, arguing that ‘Rivers State generated about N15 billion as VAT in June 2021 but received only N4.7 billion, Lagos State generated over N46 billion as VAT in June, but got just over N9 billion, whereas Kano State generated N2.8 billion and also got N2.8 billion as allocation.’

Governor Wike can audaciously and shamelessly talk about VAT today because, its value has significantly increased which made it attractive for a rich state like Rivers to be interested in controlling it. If Governor Wike has any morality, he should look back and acknowledge how small Rivers must have received as its VAT share before 2015. Being a leading member of PDP, what was responsible for the low VAT records in the country between 1999 and 2015? And since, according to him and almost every leader of PDP, Nigerians are looking up to the PDP to rescue the nation from ‘bad governance’ in the hands of APC, does PDP’s brand of good governance come with low capacity to manage the nation’s public finances?

READ ALSO: Southern Governors Take Stand On National Issues At Enugu Meeting

As members of APC, it is important that Governor Wike is reminded that the current increased record of VAT collection in the country is made possible only because the PDP is no longer in power. If PDP were to be in power the fact of inefficiency and corruption in the process of collection and management of VAT would have continued and the amount collected would have remained relatively low. It is not by accident that VAT collection in the country significantly increased under the APC- led federal government. This is because one of the specific commitments of APC since 2015 as outlined in the section of the party’s manifesto Funding a New Nigeria was that ‘APC government will set about the urgent task of getting Nigeria’s public finances in order, by tackling the massive waste, duplication and corruption in the system, diversifying the economy and expanding our tax base to increase non-oil revenues, and reprioritising public spending away from bureaucracy towards investment in infrastructure and improved frontline services.’

Both in terms of ‘getting Nigeria’s public finances in order’ and ‘investment in infrastructure’, the APC -led Federal Government is implementing the provisions of the APC manifesto to the letter. Nigerian’s especially PDP leaders can conveniently dismiss all the work being done to develop Nigeria’s dilapidated and abandoned infrastructure, but the question of ‘expanding our tax base to increase non-oil revenue’ cannot be disputed. One strong evidence of that is the debate about states collecting VAT. It is very easy to play very cheap politics with these issues, partially because also, as a party, APC is not taking ownership of its achievements. Instead, its achievements are now being interpreted to justify some rebellious politics against the APC-led federal government.

Somehow, the VAT debate in Nigeria recalls the warning by Amartya Sen in the book, The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity, when he cautioned that ‘One of the penalties of the increased focus on religious and communal identities, which has recently gone hand in hand with the deliberate fostering of sectarian politics …, is a weakening of the pursuit of egalitarian commitments, which requires a more integrated focus on the interests and freedoms of deprived groups taken together (related to economic, social and gender-based stratifications). While political organisations that unite all the lower castes can – and often do – help the underdogs in general, that end is not served by the divisive politics of rivalry between different lower-caste groups …, or by religious sectarianism …. The newly erected communal boundary lines are not only divisive in themselves, they also add to the social and political difficulties in removing the old barriers of hardened inequality.”

So far, the VAT debate is more about perceived injustice on account of Nigeria’s divisive politics of ethnicity. Substantive issues of desirability or otherwise of VAT, including all the administrative challenges bordering on implications of methods of collection and why it is a crucially determining factor for any democracy are ignored. Part of the challenge of debating policy issues in Nigeria is that public noise, largely influenced by subjective anger of citizens becomes the guiding consideration. The subjective anger of citizens is mainly about the blind politics of dismissing whatever is associated with the Federal Government as biasedly in favour of a section of the country, however it is defined. With or without justification, many Nigerians who dominate the media space accuse the Federal Government of injustice. In several respects, ethnicised campaigns are further entrenching divisive politics, thereby increasing social and political inequality. As things are, Nigerian politics is blind to ‘egalitarian commitments’ of promoting national integration.

With respect to the specific issue of VAT, if the federal government can record increase of more than hundred percent between 2015 and 2020, is the current figure representative of the total expected collection from VAT? Simple reading of all the federal government revenue projections as contained in every year’s budget estimate will indicate a wide gap in expectation. Although there is a remarkable increase in collection, it should be recognised that a lot more can be done to generate more revenue from VAT. Can transferring collection to state governments achieve that? May be and maybe not. But beyond the question of what is collected and what states get, what is even the economic implications of VAT?

READ ALSO: You Can’t Collect VAT Revenues Yet, Appeal Court Tells Rivers, Lagos

Generally, debate around tax is about how governments can use it to influence economic development. As a fiscal policy tool, it is basically about controlling the amount of money individuals should have for consumption. Will government tax policy seek to support low-income groups, i.e., ensure that the higher income groups pay more tax? Or will government tax policy disfavour the lower income group. The first test of whether any government can make any claim to being progressive will be reflected in the orientation of its tax policy. A progressive government will generally be associated with a progressive tax policy, which means it will seek to tax the rich more. A conservative government will tax the rich less. Beyond who is taxed more, taxing the poor less is proven economically to be a strong incentive to increase demands for goods and services. If government wants to ensure increased production of goods and services in the country, increasing the amount of money available to low-income groups is an attraction. Therefore, in addition to a progressive tax policy being in favour of low-income group, given that low-income group are in the majority, any government that wants to be popular with citizens would lean towards a progressive tax policy.

Given that VAT is basically a sales tax, which is regressive because both the rich and the poor pay the same rates, and to that extent therefore makes it disadvantageous in terms of using it as a fiscal policy instrument to stimulate demand, ideally the politics of debating it should distinguish conservative and progressive politicians. Somehow, the public noise in Nigeria has pulled our dear Lagos State government into teaming up with Rivers in the legal battle to ensure that states win the right of collecting VAT and not federal government.

Something must have just gone wrong for Lagos State to disregard its longstanding historical commitment to progressive governance and embrace what in the long run will be a disadvantage to the majority of Lagosians.

Mr. Simon Kolawole, the publisher of The Cable online newspaper has excellently demonstrated why in the long run VAT collection by states governments may be disadvantageous to both Rivers and Lagos States. According to Mr. Kolawole, in ‘2020, Nigeria earned N1.531tr from VAT. While local VAT was N763bn, foreign VAT — collected by FG — was N768bn. Therefore, rather than take just 15% (N230bn) from the N1.531trn, FG may now pocket the entire N768bn from foreign VAT since it does not go into federation account and may not be subject to the regular sharing formula. That would deprive the states, Rivers and Lagos inclusive, of about half of the total VAT revenue. This is HUGE. The FCT may also win as it generated N202bn in VAT last year but got only N34.6bn as its share.’

The desire to access more resource is perhaps the main driving factor in the battle to get state governments to collect VAT in the country. Wouldn’t it be possible to work with federal government and manage all the challenges, including ensuring that businesses are not necessarily encumbered by having to deal with multiple points of collection? There is no need to go into the details about how decentralised collection can impact on prices of products and services. Also, no need to go into the potential conflicts that would emerge between branch offices of companies and state governments in the country. All these are issues that would be instigated because VAT collected at the point of sales by a branch of company is expected to be remitted to the host state government where the head office is located. If state governments want to control what is generated in their states therefore, the administrative framework of how it is remitted to government and which government will be a major issue.

Nigerian democracy and politics must functionally rise above sentiment. Instead of debating how to consume the little resources so far available, Nigerian political leaders should be debating how to increase available resources. Even within the limit of the debate about increased available resources, the question of what governments need to do, policy measures required, including issues of tax, its administration and orientation in terms of whether it should favour the low or high-income groups should not be issues that would be blindly considered. In the same way Rivers and Lagos imagined that they would have more revenue if they were allowed to collect VAT and therefore control everything, they collected without sharing with the federal government and other states, states like Osun, Ekiti, Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Abia, would lose. On the other hand, Oyo, Ogun, Kano, Kaduna and Enugu, may be the surprise actual gainers.

Overall, APC leaders, must take advantage of the current VAT debate to take ownership of its achievements, which the fact of improved VAT collections in the country represents. In doing so, APC leaders must go beyond the narrow debate about access to what is currently available. If at all APC leaders and members are to make any claim to progressive political credentials, generating large-scale financial resources at both federal and state levels, which should be deployed to expand the productive base of the nation’s economy, should be the aspiration. There is no reason why any state in the country, including Zamfara, Yobe, Osun, Ekiti, Abia, Ebonye, should not aspire to generate at least N10 – 15 billion monthly as Internally Generated Revenue. To be caught in the backward debate about whether they should have the little they currently receive from the federation account is retrogressive. As a nation, our politics and democracy must be refocused towards nurturing the productive potentials of every state.

READ ALSO: Lagos Signs VAT Bill Into Law

The commitment to develop capacity to mobilise large-scale financial resources to develop productive potential of all Nigerian states should be the minimum requirement for all APC leaders. Already, since the time of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as Governor of Lagos State between 1999 and 2007, Lagos State has emerged to be the leader in mobilising large-scale financial resources in the country, which is why it is the only state with about one trillion Naira annual budget. Justifiably, Lagos was able to undertake large-scale public investment commensurate with its resource base. It’s not by accident therefore, it is the leader in the country with a model transport infrastructure. If the Lagos vision is limited to sharing available resources, it wouldn’t have been the leader it is.

The VAT debate in the country also poses a significant challenge to political parties in terms of developing capacity to coordinate policy debate within the structures of parties as well as ensuring that policies of governments produced by the party reflect any emerging consensus. Somehow, the current VAT debate in the country is completely removed from the structures of the main political parties – PDP and APC. If the debate is to take place within the structures of PDP, for instance, even the sectarian outburst of Governor Wike will be moderated. On the other hand, if the debate is to take place in any of the organs of APC, the question of the role of APC federal government in achieving improved collections will be well emphasised. In addition, the potential to mobilise more revenue from VAT and the expected role of state governments cannot be avoided.

The need to develop Nigerian democracy so that political parties in the country can initiate pro-people and pro-poor public policies, and not cheap sentiments that can be disadvantageous to citizens, especially the poor, is an urgent imperative. Important as the debate around increased access to resources by state governments, so long as political leaders are not commitment to initiatives that can develop the productive capacity of the country, the amount of revenue generated will remain low. The other issue is that all APC leaders must be appealed to jealously guard the achievements of APC and all its governments. Why should APC leaders allow a situation whereby any PDP leader, including Governor Wike, can make claims of any injustice on a matter that demonstrated in practical terms the failure of PDP? If VAT is an important source of revenue for government, why did PDP fail to record any significant collection throughout their sixteen years as a ruling party?

Every opportunity to remind Nigerians about the failure of PDP should be amplified. Similarly, all evidence of success of APC and its governments should be affirmed. APC leaders must take ownership of all the achievements of APC governments at all levels. On no account should APC leaders allow opportunistic rebellious politics of PDP and its leaders to distract them from the task of providing the needed progressive leadership to develop the nation’s productive potential. As a nation, the question of fighting poverty and reducing inequality both among citizens and across all the 36 states of the country should be the egalitarian commitment of all progressive political leaders in the country. If Nigerians are to be united, it must be based on equitable productive resource endowment across every part of the country!

Dr.Lukman is the Director-General of the Progressive Governors Forum, Abuja. This position does not represent the view of any APC governor or the Progressive Governors Forum.

 

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Opinion

Dele Giwa’s Assassination: 35 Years After

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Dele Giwa’s Assassination: 35 Years After

By

Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye 

“Death is…the absence of presence…the endless time of never coming back…a gap you can’t see, and when the wind blows through it, it makes no sound”  Tom Stopard 

In the morning of Monday, October 20, 1986, I was preparing to go to work when a major item on the Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS) 6.30 news bulletin hit me like a hard object. Mr. Dele Giwa, the founding editor-in-chief of Newswatch magazine, had the previous day been killed and shattered by a letter bomb in his Lagos home. My scream was so loud that my colleague barged into my room to inquire what it was that could have made me to let out such an ear-splitting bellow.

Dele Giwa’s Assassination: 35 Years After

DELE GIWA

We were three young men who had a couple of months earlier been posted from Enugu to Abakaliki to work in the old Anambra State public service, and we had hired a flat in a newly erected two-storey building at the end of Water Works Road, which we shared. My flat-mate, clearly, was not familiar with Giwa’s name and work, and so had wondered why his death could elicit such a reaction from me. But later that day, as he interacted with people, he realised that Giwa’s death was such big news, and by the next couple of days, he had become an expert on Giwa and his truncated life and career. Across the country, Giwa’s brutal death dominated the news not just because of the pride of place he occupied in Nigerian journalism practice and but more because of the totally novel way his killers had chosen to end his life.

READ ALSO: Is Ken Nnamani The New Bride?

Indeed, death is an appointment which every human being must keep. While we are on earth, we reserve the right to reschedule or even cancel our day-to-day appointments. But in the matter of birth or death, any cancellation or rescheduling of appointments remain the exclusive prerogative of the Creator. Although death is unavoidable, yet, no man has any right to arrogate to himself the role of bringing forward any other person’s appointment with death. In fact, it is abominable to even use one’s hands to hasten one’s own appointment with death. Laws of God and man fiercely abhor such an action. So, murderers, suicide bombers and their sponsors and supporters should get it into their heads that they have no mandate whatsoever from the Creator of man to take even their own lives let alone those of other people, no matter the motivation.

Now, deep down the heart of every man and woman, and beyond the facade of all apparent fearlessness and bravery, lie this cold loathing and resentment for death. The survival instinct is always there and there is always this desire and care to avoid danger, to postpone one’s date with death, temporarily at least, hence the constant struggle at many a deathbed.

No doubt, Mr. Giwa was not expecting his own appointment with death when it came calling on Sunday, October 19, 1986. His friends say he loved life, was full of life, and wanted to make the best out of life. He had also worked hard to excel in his chosen career – journalism. But on that Sunday morning, as he had a late breakfast in his study in the company of Kayode Soyinka, the magazine’s London Bureau Chief, a parcel was handed to him.  On it was written: “From the Commander-in-Chief” with an instruction that it must be opened only by the addressee.

“This must be from the president”, Giwa was reported to have said.

But unknown to him, in that seemingly innocuous parcel, was the cold, callous agent of brutal death, intent on accomplishing the abominable mission of hastening his appointment with death. Conceived by man, prepared by man, sent by man and delivered by man, this lethal instrument had only one mission: to bomb out the young life of Dele Giwa. And it did precisely that with chilling exactitude, tearing his flesh, wasting his blood, talent, usefulness to his himself, his family, Newswatch magazine, Nigerian journalism and the Nigerian nation.

Giwa had written in Sunday Concord newspaper of June 8, 1980 that “Death looks for a happy home where it can turn happiness into grief and ensure that for days the household will have nothing to discuss but the blow of death.” He was the pioneer editor of Sunday Concord.  By writing this, he unwittingly wrote his own elegy.

“They got me!” Those were Giwa’s last words at First Foundation Hospital, Ikeja where the Chief Medical Director, the late Dr. Tosin Ajayi and his doctors had battled to see how they could save his life. Earlier, on their way to the hospital, Giwa was saying to his wife, Funmi, in Yoruba, “Nwon ti pa mi”, meaning: “They have killed me.”

Now, who are these “they” that were so heartless, so senseless, so callous, so fiendish and irremediably inhuman? How can a human being elect to do such a horrifying damage to another person? Giwa’s flesh was reportedly shattered, with some pieces (some of which were discovered many days later) scattered about in his study. The autopsy report performed by pathologists at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) said that Giwa suffered from “multiple blast injuries with 25 percent burns, mutilated thighs with fractures of femoral bones and avulsion of femoral vessels”.

This is indeed horrible. The first reaction at the news of such horrendous tragedy would be to ask like Banquo in William Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, whether we, as a people, had “eaten on the insane root that takes reason prisoner?”

READ ALSO: Haba, Oga Ichabod, Were You  Actually Called?

Dele Giwa’s death was a very slow painful death. The pictures of his shattered body which the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi displayed during the sitting of the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission of Nigeria (also known as Oputa Panel) set up in 1998 and headed by the late Justice Chukwudifo Oputa could have passed as horror images of the goriest type, showing man (Giwa’s killer) at his basest, most bestial and fiendish worst.

“They have killed me”, Giwa moaned while writhing in indescribable pain, begging Dr. Ajayi to do all within his power to save him.

For more than three decades now Giwa’s killers have been hiding, afraid of the inevitable fall-out of their satanic deed, haunted and tormented by their dirty, murky, slimy conscience.  Even if they eventually manage to escape the judgment of man, they cannot escape the judgment of the Almighty God which is much more dreadful. As we all know, they will surely serve their indescribable punishment forever. That will surely be the case unless they repent of their hideous deed and make the necessary restitutions!

Giwa’s  death plunged a broad spectrum of the Nigerian population into clearly unprecedented, monumental grief and fear. People were afraid to open parcels sent to their homes and offices. The public outcry and loud condemnation was deafening. Indeed, Giwa was right when he wrote in his highly regarded column, ‘Parallax Snaps,’ some months earlier, that “One life taken in cold blood is as gruesome as millions lost in a pogrom.” The reactions that followed his death vindicated the truth of this assertion.

A lot of accusing fingers pointed at the government of the day. It was believed that only a special panel could unravel the mystery that seemed to have attended the gory affair and unearth the unseen hands that perpetrated the spine-chilling murder. In fact, Newswatch’s Board of Directors called for a three-man Judicial Commission of Enquiry headed by a retired judge of high repute, with an archbishop and an Imam as members, to probe the murder. But the General Ibrahim Babangida regime insisted that it was the police that should investigate the murder.  And as would be expected, public skepticism about the likely outcome of investigations undertaken by the Nigerian police was widespread.

In its editorial of October 28, 1986, The Guardian newspaper disagreed with the Babangida regime’s insistence that the investigation into Dele Giwa’s murder should be left for the police, despite widespread calls for a Commission of Inquiry to be set up to probe it.

Said The GuardianThe police have been signally inept in solving much simpler crimes, and the public is justifiably unimpressed by their investigative ability and seriousness… The government has very little choice but to appoint a special prosecutor… [which] will be a dramatic demonstration by government that it has nothing to hide, and is as interested in discovering Giwa’s assassins as the public is…”

A year after Giwa’s murder, when the police predictably “found” nothing and “caught” no one, Ray Ekpu, Newswatch’s new editor-in-chief, in a letter to the police reminded them that any murder which remained unsolved could only mean “added insecurity to the living.”

On his part, Lagos lawyer and human rights crusader, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, vowed to catch Giwa’s killers. His attempt to dock Babangida’s two security chiefs, Brig-Gen Halilu Akilu and Col A.K. Togun, brought him in direct confrontation with the Babangida regime which made no pretense of its intention to not allow any probe more penetrating than the unserious, shallow, perfunctory thing the police were doing. A day before Giwa’s assassination, Akilu had reportedly phoned Giwa’s house to enquire about its correct address from Giwa’s wife, Funmi, explaining that Babangida’s ADC was to stop by to deliver an item for Giwa at his house.  And less than twenty-four hours after this call, a letter bomb was delivered at Giwa’s house!

Until his death in September 2009, Gani remained unrelenting in his determination to ensure that the people he had continued to accuse of the murder since 1986 were brought to justice.

READ ALSO: Guilty Of Being Nigerian In Ghana

It is now thirty-five years since Giwa’s murder shook Nigeria to her foundations. Several other mysterious assassinations of journalists and other outspoken public figures have also followed. Maybe, if Giwa’s murder was solved and the perpetrators exposed and punished, it might have deterred other murderous characters from going ahead to kill the other victims that were assassinated afterwards.

Even when Babangida and the two security chiefs who had served under him were summoned by the Oputa Panel following Gani’s petition, they had refused to show up. They instead sought a restraining order from the court to frustrate any attempt by the Panel to compel them to appear before it. Their argument was that the Nigerian president lacked the powers to set up the Panel. Although the Supreme Court later agreed with their submission in a ruling that was delivered long after the Panel’s report had been submitted, what has remained clear is that despite the court judgment, unanswered questions about the gruesome murder have continued to linger in many minds, which the Oputa Panel would have provided everyone fingered an amazing platform to convincingly address.

Interestingly, Col. A. K. Togun, in  a chat with airport correspondents in late 1986, gave some very instructive illustrations that appeared to have thrown some light on the circumstances surrounding Dele Giwa’s murder.  Permit me to reproduce the details of the encounter as reported in the Newswatch edition of November 10, 1986:

“Ten days after he interrogated Giwa, Togun surfaced at the local terminal of Murtala Mohammed International Airport Ikeja, on Monday, October 27, 1986.  He told journalists at the airport that the press was ‘shouting for a crucifixion’ without hearing the other side of the story.  He said that at a seminar on security organised in Lagos, October 9, for media executives and the security agencies, a compromise was struck that editors would inform the SSS of any story they consider damaging to the government interests, and the security service would then decide what to do about it.  

“‘I mean we came to a real agreement and one person cannot just come out and blackmail us.  I am an expert in blackmail’, he said. 

“He then illustrated his point by saying thus: ‘If a motorcycle man suddenly dashed in front of a car and the driver kills that motorcycle man, another motorcycle man who was there would not say that the motorcycle man that dashed in front of the car was wrong.  He would say the driver deliberately killed him, not knowing that he killed himself’… 

“Togun sternly warned the journalists that he would deal with them if their newspapers published the accounts of their encounter with him and if he lost his job in the process.  ‘If you allow them to take away my uniform … I will deal with you people and go to any length to even the score with you,’ he warned, but added that ‘Dele was my friend’”. 

When asked what he thought about Col. Togun’s revelations during his airport encounter with reporters, the then Deputy Inspector General of police, Mr. Chris Omeban, who was in charge of the investigations into Giwa’s murder reportedly replied that the police do not go into proverbs.

And when police investigations into Giwa’s death eventually yielded no results, Gani said: The police have failed to find Giwa’s killers because they know the killers!

After 35 years, the gory story of Giwa’s gruesome murder has refused to go away.  The greatest honour that can be accorded to his name now is to insist that his killers be found. It is not yet late to set up a reputable Commission of Inquiry as favoured by many Nigerians to reopen the case, reexamine the various narratives that have continued to trail the murder and really get to the root of the tragedy, especially, now that most of the witnesses and even those that have been consistently fingered are still alive.

While accusing fingers are still pointing to the direction the Babangida regime and its security chiefs whose names have remained reoccurring items in the gory event, they, too, have been trying to present their own sides of the story, and even attempting to return the accusation at the doorstep of the Newswatch  executives.

READ ALSO: Ali A. Mazrui, Abdulrazak Gurnah And The Swahili Moment

In a recent interview, Togun, who is now a retired general, tried to advance some theories to suggest that the Newswatch London Bureau Chief, Mr. Soyinka, who was at the breakfast table with Giwa when the bomb exploded (and who miraculously escaped being wounded, although he reportedly suffered severe hearing impairment for quite some time) may have some more explanations to volunteer on the murder. All these accusations and counter-accusations and all the other occurrences around the murder, including the contents of Gani’s petition, are what an Independent Commission of Inquiry can thoroughly examine and solve this murder that shook the nation when it occurred.

Other cases of assassination which have also been shrouded in mystery need to be revisited too. Until Nigeria demonstrates a capacity to solve murder cases, especially, high-profile ones involving people critical of government policies and actions, potential murderers would always derive incentive from the conviction that they can always eliminate anyone in Nigeria and get away with it. And that “anyone” can be anybody! Somebody can be in government today and surrounded by heavy security, but tomorrow, such a person might be out of office and become as vulnerable as the next man out there. Leaders go all out to make society a safer place, not just because of others, but also, for them and their relatives.

As murderers continue to be allowed to circulate within the bounds of civilised ambience, and eliminate people with utmost impunity, they not only constitute a threat to hapless, decent and hard-working citizens, their vile activities go further to stifle critical thoughts that are very essential in influencing the evolution of responsible governance which fosters progress and development.

They may, however, continue to hide from man due to government’s inability or unwillingness, or both, to fish them out, and bring them to justice, but they, certainly, cannot hide from God. Their day with divine judgment will surely come! And as the African-Caribbean writer, George Lamming, said in his classic novel, In The Castle Of My Skin, “God can see the blackest ant on the blackest piece of coal on the blackest night.”

Ejinkeonye, a writer and journalist, is the author of the book, Nigeria: Why Looting May Not Stop . (scruples2006@yahoo.com)

 

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Opinion

Is Ken Nnamani The New Bride?

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Is Ken Nnamani The New Bride?

 By

 Sam Akpe

First, I listened casually, then attentively as Vice President Yemi Osibanjo spoke on October 21, at the public presentation of the book: Standing Tall (Legislative Reforms, Third Term and Other Issues of the 5th Senate), written by Senator Ken Nnamani.

His speech brings to mind a poem by a colleague entitled: The Magic of Words. In it, the author, in his usual mystifying style, typical of scholars with overloaded brains, moved words from the realm of vocal or written symbols to that of humans—with minds of their own. He personified words dressed in cloaks of despots and peacemakers.

What the poet, Iboro Otongaran, said in effect is that words build. Words also destroy. Words have the capacity to ignite war; and after much destruction, initiate peace. Words mark the beginning and the end of every discussion. Words are enigmatic in various ways. They defy description.

As captured by Iboro, words have magical powers, “and would go forth to heal; or ram through to harm; upon launch at enthralled; devotees or charmed zealots…. Words can clean, and can muddy up; organised killers are baptized bandits; in another group they are terrorists; labels admit them to different fates; bandits pass off as a benign nuisance; but terrorists rightly end up in hell.”

Professor Osibanjo’s words reminded me of this stanza: “Frankly the world isn’t short of men; who summon words to good deeds; in charters for peace and progress; one good use of words has been; in calls for equity, for coexistence; Luther’s ‘I have a dream’ speech; typifies this recourse to good sense.”

From my obscure corner, Vice President Osibanjo has impressed me in more than one way; especially when he speaks. Listening to him is always a delight. Most times he sounds so innocent that you are tempted to take him on face value.

READ ALSO: Our Fingers And Death By COVID-19

But people at his level do not waste words. They talk with discretion. They sow seeds with words. That is, they invest words for greater dividends. Most times, their words activate actions or sustain inaction—visible and invisible.

Some people would do anything to speak like Osibanjo. Most times, even if they do not like what he says, they are captivated by the way he says them. He speaks with confidence and a touch of elegance. Of course, the man is a professor. But not all professors are so professorial in their speeches.

On Thursday, Osibanjo was at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, for the public presentation of Nnamani’s voluminous book. A detailed political literature, every page draws you deeper inside.

As Osibanjo walked into the crowded hall, he was called to speak almost immediately. The first thing I noticed was that the entire protocol was bungled from the onset. Before the VP was called, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, who represented the President, had spoken.

Assuming the President was there in person; would he have spoken before his deputy? In the absence of the President, would it have been proper for the Vice President to speak before a minister—irrespective of who the minister represented? Confusion!

Under normal circumstances, in an event that had the Vice President in attendance, there would have been no need to send in a minister to represent the President. The VP would have handled the assignment. But we know that these days, nothing is normal in Nigeria. We just keep wobbling on.

Vice President Osibanjo spoke extempore. If he had a script to read from, I didn’t see it. His speech was short, crispy and simple. Let me explain that the simplicity was only in terms of grammar; because there were a few statements left hanging. He started by describing Nnamani as “a man who truly loves this nation.”

It is not clear how deeply the VP knows Nnamani. But he should know him better than the way other Nigerians do. Some of us know Nnamani as an American-trained businessman, who returned to Nigeria, contested election to the Senate in 2003, won and was, despite executive opposition, elected the Senate President, just after two years in the Senate.

But as VP of Nigeria, Osibanjo is better positioned, with all the intelligence at his disposal, to know something about a man of Nnamani’s status, than the rest of us. So, when he described the former Senate President as someone who “lacks desperation to occupy political offices,” he might be right after all.

In a brief speech, Osibanjo recalled how Nnamani presided over the death of the orchestrated tenure elongation project of President Olusegun Obasanjo. In his words, Nnamani “stood against the notorious third term agenda; and he stood strong.”

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The Vice President, after endorsing Nnamani’s leadership of the National Assembly between 2005 and 2007, said, “We (referring to Nigeria) are today faced with challenges that call for the same type of strong leadership that you showed as President of the Senate.”

Wait a minute! What was the VP talking about? He simply dropped some well-coded words in one short sentence and expected us to walk away as though he said nothing. No, he said something. His description of Nnamani fitted President Dwight Eisenhower’s definition of a leader.

Yes, the former American President once said that the supreme quality for leadership comprises unquestionable integrity; the same way Osibanjo described Nnmanni.  General Eisenhower noted that without such integrity, “no real success is possible, no matter whether it is in a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”

While I was still turning this over in my mind, Osibanjo wrapped up his statement. He told Nnamani, “Your role in national life has just begun.” There went another weighty statement from the Vice President; all in one day; at one event, within a few seconds.

After describing Nnamani as a man of character and strong will; who has continuously displayed “courageous leadership” Nigeria’s Vice President finally dropped the clincher, “that story will end well for you and the nation.” The question is; which story?

Let’s not forget that Nnamani is a member of All Progressives Congress. He is from Anambra—a state in that section of Nigeria that has been crying of political marginalisation since the Civil War ended in 1970. Presently, blood is flowing on the streets of South East. Are you thinking what I am thinking? Have we finally found a bride?

Let’s conclude this with a few words from Poet Iboro: “Words have been used to build; and to destroy what was built; to inspire lofty endeavours; to set ablaze lofty endeavours; but the balance is not holding; the world appears to be sliding; into hopeless dire straits from; baleful deployments of words.”

My thinking is that Osibanjo has given us something to think about. He spoke as an elder. It is our duty to decode him.

Akpe is a journalist based in Abuja.

 

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Our Fingers And Death By COVID-19

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Our Fingers And Death By COVID-19

By

Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha

A finger or our fingers could be the death of us. So we are advised, cautioned, and warned by COVID-19 experts, locally and globally. In a sense, it is a new way of dying. This finger thing. I know about death at the touch of a button. Nuclear switch or button. The hangman’s button. But his finger and COVID-19 type of death? I really I’m not sure. However, it is not really a new way of catching disease. Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor who worked at the Vienna General Hospital between 1844 and 1848 was the first to establish a link between washing hands and disease. Most of his colleagues did not agree with him at the time because of the politics of discovery of scientific truth and what I may term accepting responsibility for deaths in hospitals. The poor man died in ignominy, confined to a sanatorium. Details of that story? That is story for another day. These days it is routine to wash the hands whether at home or the office or hospital. But somebody died for it.

In our days in public primary schools we were taught the benefits of washing hands in hygiene as a subject. Suffice it to say that ‘the importance of hand washing for medical professionals didn’t really become understood until scientists hit upon germ theory—the idea that certain diseases and infections are caused by microorganisms we can’t even see. In particular, the British surgeon Joseph Lister drastically improved patient mortality by advocating that surgeons wash their hands and sterilize their instruments in between patients’.

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Those fingers therefore in your hands could bring a deadly virus to your face, your mouth, your nostrils, and into your life. A handshake could be the death of us, of anybody. Fingers naturally find their way to the face. To scratch. To eat. To wipe sweat or dust. The fingers rush to protect and safeguard the face. But we are told that in that process fingers could take a virus to the face. You could catch a cold. A cold degenerates. Coughing follows. Malaria symptoms. Body weakness. Pains in the joints. Fever. Pneumonia. Inability to breathe. Then death. Death horrendous for most. No family members go near them while they are ill. Sometimes, husband and wife catch the virus. One dies. The other stays back. Filled with pain. Sorrow and tears. For some both husband and wife are struck by death. The children become orphans. A finger could have brought in the virus. Or where they breathed in the virus- the virus of death. Or it could have been brought in the by innocent kids or grandchildren.

Breathing in the virus could also have the same consequences. Cold and fever. We treat for malaria and typhoid and breathing becomes a problem in some people. Death follows. Often, for the rural poor in Nigeria, it is too late by the time they realize that they should see a doctor. They prepare all kinds of herbal concoctions to fight fever. For some, Agbo saves the day. How this happens, we are yet to fathom. Yet we know that for some reason, we have not died in our thousands in the streets of Lagos or Port Harcourt or Kano or Warri as health experts had predicted. Are we immune to the deep and overwhelming tragedies of a pandemic that we do not easily succumb to death? Hundreds of years of living with viruses and fighting them may have a role to play. It has not been proven. It has not been tested. It has not been confirmed. Yet there is death. There are deaths. Many deaths. Too many Nigerians have displayed the symptoms without getting to the hospital. Some get to the hospital with all the symptoms and die. When the test reports come in, they are negative. No presence of COVID-19. Some are saved after millions have been spent in highbrow hospitals for first class treatment. Others, especially the poor ones, are not so lucky. It is their time to go. They die. They are buried immediately. No report. They are not part of the statistics of the dead. Were they a part of the statistics of the living before?

In all of this, there are doubts. Skepticism. Skepticism in Warri, in Asaba, in Enugu, in Kano, in Port Harcourt. Skepticism over the existence of the virus. Skepticism over the efficacy of the vaccine. Some say those who take the vaccine will die in two years. The confusion is heightened by the death of some people who are fully vaccinated. A fully vaccinated General Collin Powell has just died. We are told he had underlying health challenges. There are conspiracy theories. Some pastors promote the theories. Some doctors too. And some scientists have been brought into the circle to dispute the vaccine. In America, home to great scientists and science, there are over seventy million people who have refused to take the vaccine. Or to wear a nose mask. Former President Donald Trump and his gullible supporters dispute everything pro-vaccine. Trump mocked COVID-19. He caught the virus and came out of it. But he quietly took the vaccine. Wily and deceptive leadership. These all add to the confusion. COVID-19, the conspiracy theorists say, is part of the attempt to chop money, or to steal money.

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When poor victims, not famous or popular or media-known people die, the cause of death is hidden, not published. Some families believe there is stigmatization if one died from COVID-19. Such ignorance. Such superstition. Such fear of the unknown. As a result, they are silent on the cause of death even to the extended family members. One fellow who ought to know better asked me whether families usually announced cause of death in the church or newspapers or social media. I had no answer to that foolish question. I only reminded him what Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti did after Fela Anikulapo-Kuti elder brother to the music icon did when Fela died of AIDS. He made a public announcement about the cause of death to create awareness among Fela’s many fans. That reduced nothing about the person or music of Fela!

There is confusion. Big confusion. Confusion in America. Confusion in Europe. Confusion in Africa. Confusion in Asia. China disputes the narrative that the virus became a monster in their homeland. There are doubts about how our fingers that usually feed us with good food could be the cause of our death. But let it be said that the fingers that give us food could also give us poisoned food. Poisoned food. The fingers do not know what is bad or good. They act as directed. The nose which breathes in fresh air could also breathe in foul or fatal air. The word therefore is caution. Those preachers who rail against the mask should be cautioned. If they wish to die of the virus, let them go. Let them not deceive their poor gullible adherents. The late Brother Ebenezer Otomewo, President of the God’s Kingdom Society used to tell us that one false prophet was more dangerous than ten armed robbers. I didn’t understand it then. Now I understand how false teachers can lead one million people to destruction. ‘And the leaders of these people cause them to err,’ says Prophet Isaiah, ‘and they that are led of them are destroyed’. It is true. The good book says it.

The finger, our fingers could be the death of us. Our nostrils could be the death of us too. Let no one deceive us with puerile words from the altar in the name of God. Simple obedience to COVID-19 protocols and the grace of God could make the difference. Let us tap into the spirit of obedience and the grace of God!

 

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