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The Gold Rush For The Golden Seat Of Power

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Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

By Toyin Falola

It is another election season in Nigeria, and rather than elicit feelings of hope and optimism, of looking forward to a new dispensation that will improve on what the present administration has achieved, it brings back to me the unpleasant memory of the gold rush. On January 24, 1848, James Marshall found gold at a mill in Coloma, California. In a short period of seven years, about 300,000 people rushed there. Money was made, and California became a state. The gold-seekers, called the “Forty-Niners,” were ruthless. They killed the indigenous population in acts of genocide and seized their lands. In 1851, The Victorian Gold Rush began in Australia, doubling the country’s population and its suffering. In 1886, history was repeated in South Africa, the Witwatersrand gold rush, which created what we now call the Mineral Revolution. Johannesburg was established. The wealth was massive. The land seizure followed, and Blacks were converted to labour. The rush for the seat of the Nigerian president is reminiscent of these three gold rushes. Nigeria is now in the season of the power rush: money is about to be made, fake promises, dispossessions, and death.

As has been the tradition in the country’s nascent democracy, many old and new political aspirants are jostling to join a race whose history of rarely ever producing a credible winner should ordinarily deter prospective interests. Yet, as you might already know, the umpire’s promise of a “free, fair, and credible” process is merely a claim to such cardinal ideals that have eluded all former occupants of Nigeria’s golden seat of power. Hence, it is reasonable to rule out ideals as the sentiment guiding this process of selecting a new leader, unless you believe a bunch of enthusiastic aspirants queuing to cough up tens of millions of naira are truly motivated by a desire to serve the motherland. If like me, you are not so easily swayed, then your focus will be on what drives this widespread desire to run for president and why, all of a sudden, everyone thinks they have what it takes to lead Nigeria. They are rushing for gold!

Nigeria has an estimated population of about two hundred million people, divided into 36 states and 774 local government areas. Its national assets include more than 350 ethnic groups with potentially differing hopes and aspirations, a grossly inadequate healthcare system, dilapidated infrastructure, a haemorrhaging economy, a formidable debt profile, a raging insurgency, and an overwhelmed security architecture, and a disillusioned, disgruntled society. With a profile like this, you will agree that Nigeria is fortunate to have such a long list of illustrious sons declaring their intention to lead our beloved nation to prosperity. This must be the type of patriotism upon which the foundations of great nations like America and China are rested. It is the fascination of gold: the problems cannot deter you; only the aroma of the profits fuels the quest.

READ ALSO: APC Leader Vows To Quit APC, Politics If Jonathan Joins Party As Presidential Aspirant

Perhaps even more fortunate for Nigeria, as someone told me, is that this crop of aspirants vying for Nigeria’s number one office is cut from a different cloth and separated from the type of orientation that has impeded our development as a nation. They are not only one-time vice presidents, two-time governors, former or serving senators and ministers of our federal republic, who jointly supervised Nigeria’s steady slide into oblivion, nor are they just politicians trailed by the putrefying stench of malfeasance perpetrated while in office. For this reason, we must sing Hallelujah and thank Allah that we do not have to contend with only the cross-carpeting types whose allegiance will be to their political career and not the people whose interest they swore to protect.

This time, new explorers and traders are rushing to Johannesburg to be part of the Mineral Revolution. Our options include reputable pastors and imams who are incapable of lies and deceit. They only seek the kingdom of heaven where their treasures have been stored and are not interested in sharing part of the national cake, even when they have to pay millions of naira upfront to earn about half of it in their four years of trying to lead Nigeria out of its current quagmire. We also have doctors, senior advocates, professors, and “seasoned democrats,” some of whose career achievements and eloquence can charm the nipple out of a suckling babe’s mouth. These are people of great standing, capable and willing to bring their expertise and wealth of experience to bear in this quest for Nigeria’s transformation; if you choose to believe their manifesto – for those who care enough to have one. So how could anyone doubt their intentions or capacity? It is because we understand the behaviour of gold diggers. They offer you a cut, but when the gold reaches their left pocket, there is a gun inside the right one to dispossess you of it and terminate your life.

Eight years ago—which may seem like an eternity given the amount of carnage and suffering that has gripped the Nigerian space at that time—a former despot who had suffered three crushing defeats before retiring to his farm was rebranded and sold to Nigerians as an incorruptible and formidable general whose antecedent—the infamous war against indiscipline—proved him the best man to redeem Nigeria. Cecil Rhodes made the same claim! Before this general’s victory in 2015, when electoral campaigns were beginning in earnest and insecurity was generating a storm of anxiety among Nigerians, the story was circulated that the general and a senior advocate, who is also a pastor, were the perfect fit. They believed that while the general would be firm and thorough in handling corruption and insecurity, his vice, who is versed in the law and a pious Christian, would guide him on the right legal and moral choices. Yes! The white missionary and the white slave trader landed on our shores and came in the same ship; one offered the Bible and asked you to close your eyes, while the other took the land as you did so.

READ ALSO: Why Jonathan Cannot Contest 2023 Presidential Election – Falana

Today, while our guardian general is away on one of his usual presidential vacations and our devout vice-president is busy rallying church members to aid his ascension to the golden seat of power, the citizens are left debating amongst themselves if, after the Zaria, Benue and southern Kaduna massacres, the EndSARS killings, countless murders, kidnapping, hundreds in captivity, biting inflation, and a mountain of debt, these same people deserve another go. Like the Indians in California and the Zulu in South Africa who were not allowed to answer that question, we must be quiet.

Have we forgotten so soon the wonderous rice pyramids of Abuja, the first of its kind in Nigeria!? You may argue that seven years is enough time for any electorate to determine whether or not it has fared well under any particular dispensation and, as a result, developed some consensus on its next line of action: continuity or change. To do so concerning the Nigerian electorate would be to display a certain degree of ignorance about the calculations that go into supporting any candidate. We can always sell our votes. For example, due to an unwritten power-sharing formula, it is a known fact, particularly amongst political parties fielding candidates for elections, that an intra-faith or intra-regional party ticket is the first ingredient for failure in any recipe for clinching the most important seat in the land.

With a sitting president of northern extraction, much political sentiment favours the next president being of southern origin. Capitalizing on this knowledge, real and aspiring politicians of southern extraction who cannot afford to miss out on what might be their best opportunity to secure Nigeria’s number one chair are throwing their hats in the ring. Does the Northerner steal more than the Southerner? Additionally, the bastardization of the federal character structure under this administration—with a lopsided northern representation in key offices—has awakened feelings of ethnic domination. This has spurred more interest in the top position, but it has also made the choice of a northern candidate a little more delicate. However, there is more going on behind the scenes before the electorate is presented with the options from which to pick the lesser evil.

As you bend down to pick your Permanent Voting Card (PVC), be careful so that the gold diggers do not use caterpillars to maul you to death. They will sweet talk you into saying that you will join them in searching for gold. Remember Solomon Northup? He was tricked and kidnapped into slavery for twelve years. Yours will be for four; maybe eight. To the Christians among you, you have been prewarned by Saint Peter in 1 Peter 2:18: “Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and equitable but also to those who are perverse.” Come 2023; your new boss will be President Perverse. He must enjoy the success of his gold rush. He got gold while you got naira: ten Awolowos make one Ahmadu Bello; five Bellos make one Azikiwe, two Azikiwes make two heads of Mai Bornu and Clement Isong. Combine all the heads, and you will get one sardine and one Agege bread at the most. Your perverse man is the best to happen to you!

Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.

 

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Opinion

Where Are Secular Lawyers?

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Witch Burning, Impunity And Abuses Linked to Witchcraft Beliefs In Benue State
Dr Leo Igwe

By Leo Igwe

This question has agitated me over the years, and it persists. At a recent event in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state, a participant introduced herself as a member of the Christian Lawyers Association of Nigeria. Christian Lawyers Association? I wondered, Why Christian lawyers? Why should lawyers associate based on faith? Do we have a traditional religious lawyers association? Jehovah Witness Lawyers Association? Bahai Faith lawyers? Hindu Lawyers? I mean, why the religionization of everything in this country?

In northern Nigeria, the Muslim Lawyers Association exists. This organization is active. It features prominently in cases, especially those that concern religion, Sharia, or Islam. I guess there would be Sunni and Shiite Muslim lawyers associations. In 2022, over 30 Muslim lawyers came forward to defend those suspected of murdering Deborah Samuel in Sokoto. Meanwhile, no member helped prosecute the suspects. Muslim lawyers have strongly supported the execution and imprisonment of suspected blasphemers. They constitute the legal wing of Islamic separatism in Nigeria. This religious slant in practice, profession, and association of lawyers is disturbing and needs to be critically examined.

Look, a lawyer is a person trained to offer legal services. A lawyer is trained to represent an individual or organization in legal matters. S/he applies the law to specific cases, religious or nonreligious. The legal profession should be carried out without religious bias or favor. The law should be practiced to further justice, equity, and fairness, not in defense of a particular faith or belief. In practice, the law should be faith/belief blind. Unfortunately, this appears not to be the case in Nigeria. The tendency of lawyers to associate along religious lines is entrenched. As in other sectors of the society, religion has hijacked the legal profession and association. Lawyers practice and are pressured to practice law along religious lines. That is the raison d’etre of the religious (Christian/Muslim) lawyers association. And it is worrisome.

It has become pertinent to ask, where are secular lawyers? Put differently, where are lawyers beyond belief? By secular lawyers, I mean lawyers who are not religious, that is, lawyers who are atheists or agnostics; lawyers who do not take religion seriously. Secular lawyers include those who think that religious and spiritual matters are strictly private affairs and should not be the basis for legal practice, profession, and association.

Nigeria needs secular lawyers for the following reasons. First, based on section 10 of the constitution, Nigeria is a secular state, although not explicitly stated. Nigeria has no state religion. But theocrats often contest Nigeria’s secularity and openly propose that sharia and their religious books are superior to the constitution. The country needs lawyers to defend and uphold its secular character and help prevent the slow undoing of the secular gains and progress that Nigeria has made. Nigeria needs lawyers who can champion secularism. And secular lawyers can fulfill this need.

Second, Nigeria needs secular lawyers to professionally and constitutionally handle cases linked to faith or belief, such as witchcraft, blasphemy, and apostasy allegations. Lawyers who practice or associate on grounds of faith cannot be trusted to handle these cases because they are likely to compromise. They are likely to sacrifice their profession on the altar of their faith. For instance, it is a challenge to find lawyers to defend victims of witchcraft accusations because most lawyers, as people of faith, believe in the reality of witches and demons. Even though witchcraft accusations are against the law. Religious lawyers cannot be trusted to render professional services to victims of witchcraft branding. The same thing applies to cases of blasphemy and apostasy accusations. These accusations are linked to religious beliefs. Many lawyers do not want to profess law in ways that violate their faith. So, faith is a factor in hiring an attorney or getting a reliable solicitor.

In cases where Christians are accused of blaspheming Islam or insulting the prophet of Islam, Christian lawyers volunteer. They offer to help. Religious (Christian or Muslim) lawyers consider it a duty to defend their members. Christian lawyers defended Rhoda in Bauchi or the Christian barber, Elijah, in Kano. Muslim lawyers defended the suspected murderers of Deborah Samuel. But it is more challenging when the accused is a nonbeliever, an atheist, or a nonreligious person. Religious lawyers are reluctant to take up the cases. Religious lawyers cannot be trusted or entrusted with these cases because of concerns over religious bias.  Christian lawyers are guided by their christian faith and muslim lawyers are guided by their Islamic faith in their legal practice and representation.
So secular lawyers are needed. They can be trusted to represent in these cases because, in principle, they are free from the faith baggage that encumber legal representations by christian/muslim lawyers. Nigeria needs secular lawyers to keep church, mosque and state separate, and to ensure state neutrality on religious matters. It needs secular lawyers to tackle religious oppression, persecution and tyranny. Nigeria needs secular lawyers to uphold the rule of law and defend the freedom of religion or belief of all.
 Igwe, PhD,  is a board member of the Humanist Association of Nigeria.

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Minister Dangiwa Versus Cement Cabals

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Felix Oboagwina

By Felix Oboagwina

Wednesday, 31st October 2023, CEO of BUA Cement, Abdul Samad Rabiu, paid a visit to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in Aso Rock. As he walked out of the President’s office, journalists swarmed round Rabiu. To cut this narrative short, the billionaire businessman said he had come to assure the President that by March 2024, a bag of BUA Cement would start selling at N3,500 instead of N4,500 for which it then sold. The market leader, Dangote Cement, retailed for between N5,000 and N7,000 per bag. The hike not only alarmed but frustrated users because just two months earlier, Dangote Cement sold for a lower price of N3,500 max. The jump in price annoyed Nigerians. Thus, when the media went to town with Rabiu’s assurance of crashing the price, the news provoked much happiness nationwide.

Easier said than done, however, Rabiu’s optimism quickly evaporated into thin air. Mysteriously, thereafter, the price of cement went crazy and bizarre. The popular 50kg bag of cement flew to N10,000, then N12,000 and landed at N15,000. This year, Dangote Cement PLC reported a profit of N166 billion for first quarter of 2024.

In Nigeria, the dominant cement brands are Dangote, BUA, Lafarge and Elephant. For a country of 250 million, being serviced by four brands sounds like a monopoly or oligopoly, when a few companies exert significant control over a given market and together control prices by colluding with each other to promote uncompetitive prices. Today, manufacturers blame the skyrocketing rates on the falling value of the Naira. From the N700 per dollar pre-May 2023, the Naira had gone to exchange for N1,600 to the dollar, although it has now dropped to about N1,200. In addition to using the unhealthy Naira as scapegoat, cement makers blame the high cost on expensive gas and manufacturing equipment.

However, in the midst of the darkness, a silver lining appeared to appear from the midst of Tinubu’s cabinet ministers.

There are 46 ministers, although 13 of them wear the title of Junior Minister or Minister of State and 33 substantive ones. Suddenly, two substantive ministers called cement manufacturers to a meeting. The meeting by Dave Umahi, Works Minister, took place first on Monday, February 19, 2024. At that meeting, the minister and manufacturers fixed the price of cement at between N7,000 and N8,000 max.

The following day Tuesday in Abuja, Ahmed Dangiwa, Minister of Housing and Urban Development, also met representatives of the Cement Manufacturer Association of Nigeria (CEMAN). And there things exploded. Dangiwa displayed uncommon knowledge of all the tricks and shenanigans. He told the producers the implication of their pricing: “This is a crisis for housing delivery. An increase in essential building materials means an increase in the prices of houses.”

For Dangiwa, the reasons for the price hike were insufficient to justify such outrageous pricing. He confronted them with the bare facts, that the government stopped cement importation to enable local companies to increase output and lower prices.

Then he dropped the banger: “Government can open the borders for mass importation of cement, the price will crash, but you will have no business to do.”

When CEMAN said the association “does not interfere with the pricing of cement,” Dangiwa hit back with, “One person cannot be selling at N3,500 per bag and another selling at N7,000 per bag and you cannot call them to order. The association is expected to monitor price control; otherwise, the association has no need to exist.”

Where the President and the Works Minister pacified and appeared to have lost touch with reality, Dangiwa spoke to manufacturers in the language they understood. He threatened them. Government, Dangiwa said, could fling open the borders to tame prices.

He told them: “We know that some of the key components of producing building materials, especially cement, are locally sourced, so the recurring disproportionate increase in the price of cement is unacceptable and unreasonable. Key input materials such as limestone, clay, silica sand, and gypsum within our borders should not be dollar-rated.

“You cannot continue to give excuses and blame it on the dollar all the time. The worst part is that other building materials manufacturers take a cue from cement manufacturers, and once they see that you increase your price, they do the same. Recently, this is happening almost every week, and it has to stop.”

Fact is Nigeria has been hijacked by cartels. They have the country by the jugular mercilessly. Like cartels the world over, the Nigerian business profiteers nurse the motive of profiteering at all costs. Governments have been unwilling to confront them and break that hold today. Past pro-people regimes behaved otherwise.

General Murtala Mohammed imported Argentinean beef to force down the price of meat in the market.

General Gowon goes down in history for the Cement Armada. Ships upon ships upon ships of cement harboured at the Apapa Lagos port and crashed the price of the product.

In his own time, when the price of cement rose astronomically and the country complained, Goodluck Jonathan, in May 16, 2011, invited producers to Aso Rock and gave Dangote, BUA and others 30 days to crash cement price to N1,000. They succumbed.

While that drama played out, four cement manufacturers in February 2013 wrote to Jonathan to demand import licences, calling themselves “Cement New Entrants Stakeholders.” They each wanted to be granted papers by Jonathan to import 5 million metric tons of cement. According to them, granting import licences was a sure way of forcing down cement price to between N500 and N1,000 per bag and breaking the current monopoly of the “cartel” in the industry.

There is much to learn from this engagement. Monopolistic profiteering dictates cement pricing in Nigeria. The monopoly flaunts every excuse to justify the high price, which the proposed independent importers told Jonathan was “making Nigeria to be classified as the country with the highest price of cement in the world” with the ex-factory price then fixed between N1,400 and N1,800 per bag.

That is the way to go. Good history ought to repeat itself. Open the borders. Grant licences to import. Create competition. It will amount to a win-win for Nigerians because cement imports will create a new line of businesses as well as jobs through the value chain of importation, ports, clearing, re-bagging, warehousing, marketing, advertising, distribution and retailing. This the Housing Minister Dangiwa knows as a professional architect, a player in the building industry and a politician who wants to deliver pocket-friendly housing to the masses.

He had similarly maintained this humane stance when, as Managing Director of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN, 2015–2022), he packed several human-faced, pro-people policies into his tenure. He processed N39.5 billion worth of refunds to 247,521 retired Federal housing contributors. Under him, FMBN made available NHF mortgage loans to 5,900 beneficiaries as well as home renovation loans to 77,500 people. He, also, led efforts to develop the Diaspora mortgage loan. This innovative scheme specifically aimed at assisting Nigerians living abroad to own homes without the weeping tales of getting duped by relatives or friends in Nigeria.

Minister Dangiwa knows that ONLY the cartels’ insatiable greed propels the price of cement sky-high. Exorcising this evil begins with taming the profiteers and making them sell cement to Nigerians at the N3,500 per bag that CEO of BUA Cement, Abdul Samad Rabiu, promised Tinubu at Aso Rock.

Oboagwina is an author, journalist and publisher, reachable via foboagwina@gmail.com

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Money Without Family Relationship: A Time Bomb!

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The Futility Of A Marital Chase
Dr Hope Nwawolo

Money Without Family Relationship: A Time Bomb!

By Hope Nwawolo

Recently, l came across a trending post of a 72-year-old pensioner, who was said to have worked all his life to raise his kids. The writer of the post claimed the man was abandoned by his children whom he trained in expensive schools, at home and abroad.  It was further disclosed that his 65-year-old wife, had relocated to live with her children abroad, on the excuse of taking care of their grandchildren. The writer went on to paint the gloomy picture of the man as a bachelor once again and battling with high blood pressure and other old age ailments. He cautioned men that women love their children more than their husbands, so they should plan for their future. He erroneously put the number of such women at 97%.

This piece is in response to the above biased claim which is also capable of causing friction in homes striving for unity and togetherness. He may just succeed to plant a negative seed of distrust and discord in the minds of fickle-minded men, who before reading the article were enjoying a blissful relationship with their wives. It may also be possible that the writer is a disgruntled person who did not succeed in marriage or relationship and believes the same must be for all men.

When we see people like the writer portrayed, we should ask a pertinent question. What was the man’s relationship with his wife and children when he was ‘struggling’ to fend for them? Unfortunately, some men fail to realize that there is so much more in family life than money. In as much as money ‘answereth’ all things, it cannot be exchanged for lasting family relationship. 

Some men literally shove their wives aside while making the money without realizing the children see the treatment of their mothers. When some of these children become independent and financially stable, they feel obligated to compensate their mothers for the loveless treatment received from their fathers. In other cases, some men do not value family time, no matter how short, and would not understand the emotional craving of the wives and children when they really need it. Often, it is these women, that stay in the  gap in their absence, making the children bond more with  them. And instead of appreciating such women for filling in their physical vacuum, some men rather get jealous of the bond and further drift away from the children, while blaming the wife. 

Today, wise men make out time to pray, discuss, and have family outings with their families. This is called relationship building, which cannot be broken by distance in the future. The children from these homes grow up with memories of fun and family laughter. The women from such homes, have strong relationship with their husbands and will not stay more than one month when they go to visit their children. You will hear them say to the children, “Please, l want to go back to my husband.”  Why is nobody talking about them?

There are also couples who travel together to visit their children from time to time. So what stops a man from also going to visit his children whom he struggled to train? Is it that they did not invite him, and why? Perhaps they have no relationship! 

The claim of 97% women who abandon their husbands for their children is not empirical, cannot be scientifically proven, and is unfair to women. It also has the tendency to put fears into innocent men who are building strong relationships with their wives and children. I pray such men do not abandon their effort after reading such a biased write-up…for their own good! Every marriage and family is unique and should have values and principles that will bind its members together today, tomorrow, and in the future. This should override the quest for money if it cannot be combined with building lasting relationships with every member of the family.

Nowadays, while many men believe their provision of money for the home is the answer to family issues, the women sacrifice key factors that cannot be monetized, and build lasting relationships with the children. These vital factors are their tears and worries, emotional support, and constant prayers, among many others. Observably too,  some women are also contributing financially to feeding and sometimes, schools fees, as well as other necessities of the families. Despite these, they  find time to ensure that the family bond is maintained as best as possible. Unfortunately, the ego rather than complex of some men will not allow them acknowledge or appreciate the effort of these women and which the children obviously witness as they grow into independence and financial stability.

Therefore, instead of blaming women for the unpalatable fruit of old age loneliness as a result of early years of family emotional neglect, men should attempt to juggle their quest for money with building relationships that will see them through the evening of their lives, with members of the families. 

 Nwawolo, PhD, writes via 

hopenwawolo@yahoo.com

 

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