Akorede Habeeb Lawal is the National Assistant Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). In this interview with TUNDE OYESINA, he x-rays the 2019 general election and concluded that it was characterized by violence
What is your assessment of the just concluded general election in the country?
It is relieving that the general election was gone. I say this because it was as though the whole nation was stalled due to the elections, the mobilization of men and resources for the process was massive and we have to wait on the economists to know the humongous figure that the nation lost for the simple reason that we decided to choose less than 10,000 persons amongst us as leaders.
Incidentally, I was a member of the Election Working Group of the Nigerian Bar Association. With members spread across 125 branches in Nigeria, the Bar Association prides itself as a leading Observer Group. Our works were extensive and the reports we gathered were factual. We discovered that Nigerians are very much politically conscious, but this consciousness did not seem to have much impact on voters’ education as INEC recorded a large volume of invalid votes. The consciousness did bear its weight on the encouraging turn out for the Presidential and National Assembly election. However due to the noticeable irregularities in the first election, the Gubernatorial and the House of Assembly elections suffered low turnout by voters. We however realized that INEC did improve on the deployment of materials and officials in the course of the governorship election unlike what obtained in many polling units in the presidential elections where voting did not commence until evening and INEC staff had to duplicate ballot papers due to insufficiency of electoral materials.
We also discovered that violence is still a part of our electoral process. There were killings and maiming. Also, vote-buying isn’t going away and we have failed to improve on the 2015 gains of the smart card readers, as we noticed that INEC staff abandoned the use of card readers for authentication of voters even when the card readers were not faulty. In sum, my assessment is that our electoral process has a lot of space for improvement. It is important that INEC starts preparing for the next round of election immediately even as I hope that the National Assembly and the executive shall have the will to pass the amendment to the Electoral Act which will ensure the electronic collation of results. The recommendations that the Election Working Group have made are far reaching and we hope to turn in our Final Reports to the electoral body as soon as practicable.
Do you hold the view that the election was militarized?
The involvement of the military in the electoral process means that the Nigerian leadership has a warped idea of the democratic essence of the electoral process. No doubt, the police are overwhelmed because most of its officers were attached to VIPs or whoever has money to hire, this notwithstanding, the Nigerian Police Force is the lead security agency for the purpose of elections. We must recognize that following our long military experience, Nigerians still feel intimidated by the presence of military officers anywhere and to have them at polling units wielding arms was enough to scare away citizens that wanted to freely exercise their franchise. Hence, the deployment of military men especially outside the North Eastern States where there are apparent security challenges touched on the freeness of the elections.
On the legal implications, Section 29 (3) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) provides that INEC may request and deploy security forces, but that the Armed Forces are only to be deployed for the purposes of securing the distribution of electoral materials and protecting electoral officers.
However, from the observation of the Election Working Group of the NBA, the armed forces particularly men of the Nigerian Army did more than the law expected them to do. There are allegations that soldiers even snatched ballot boxes in Rivers State. It is therefore encouraging that the Nigerian Army is set to probe the roles of her officers in the last elections; it is an acknowledgment of failure on the Army’s part.
What provisions in the Electoral Act needs to be amended?
A lot of practitioners will tell you that Nigeria has a lot of fine laws, but the will to implement by the executive arm of government is the challenge. The present National Assembly passed the Bill for the amendment of the Electoral Act which was not signed to by the President. Like many Nigerians, I will like the introduction of electronic voting and the validation of the Smart Card Reader as legal means of accreditation of voters. The present position of the law is that accreditation of voters is by manual ticking of voter’s name on the voter’s register and this gives a lot of space for rigging.
What is the legal implication of INEC declaring a candidate winner of an election and not issuing him a certificate of return as in the case of Governor Rochas Okorocha?
I am afraid this issue is subjudice as the candidate concerned has already approached the Federal High Court as such I will have to reserve my comment in this regard. However, I am certain that the determination of this case shall further improve our electoral jurisprudence. It will be interesting to know if INEC indeed has the powers to seize the certificate of return of a candidate it has declared winner because of an allegation of ‘bad electoral behaviour’ against such candidate. Perhaps, whatever decision the court gives will encourage the legislature to take a second look at our Electoral Act and make necessary provisions that will address similar incidences in the future.
Can President Muhammadu Buhari single-handedly appoint or pick Senate President?
Nigeria operates a presidential system of government. The president of Nigeria is quite powerful, but his power is restricted within the indubitable principles of separation of powers and checks and balances by the other arms of government, that is, the legislature and the judiciary. The president himself appreciates this as he recently set up a committee on autonomy of the state judiciary and the state legislature. The president therefore has no such powers to pick the heads of the legislature as the senate has its own standing rules on how its leader will and should emerge. Of course, for the reason that the president’s political party has the majority in the legislature, the president as a politician could exert some influence on who emerges as the Senate President, but then, the Saraki-Dogara experience in the 8th Assembly evident of the fact that such presidential influence may not necessarily affect the eventual choices of the members of the legislature.
How would you assess the anti-corruption fight of the Federal Government?
Every government has its own mantra, mantras are however different from realities. This government has chosen to be called the name “anti-corruption fighter.” It has to be said that there are appreciable discoveries and recoveries of stolen funds, but there is this perception that the government has allowed politics to taint its anti-corruption mandates. Some members of the ruling parties are being given soft landings in their corruption charges while some perceived opponents of the government are being hurried to court on trumped up charges. The Nigerian Bar Association has noted on a number of occasions that corruption is bigger in scope than stealing public funds. The President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Paul Usoro (SAN) has said that the flagrant disobedience to the orders of court by this government is corruption in itself. It is from this point that I assess the anti-corruption fight of the Federal Government. If government continue to disrespect the orders of courts, then, this fight may become free for all and anarchy which is a greater challenge than corruption may set in.
The executive has always blamed the judiciary for delayed corruption cases . What is your take on this?
I will react to this by relying heavily on two items in your question. The first is “delay in prosecuting,” who prosecutes? All prosecuting agencies in Nigeria are strictly under the executive. Most prosecutorial powers in Nigeria are by virtue of Sections 174 and 195 of the 1999 Constitution, respectively kept in the offices of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Attorneys-General of the States. Other prosecuting agencies like the Police, EFCC, ICPC, NDLEA, NAPTIP, Code of Conduct Bureau et al are directly agencies of the Federal Government. All these agencies are funded by the executive. Therefore, the judiciary cannot by any stretch of imagination be responsible for the delay in the agencies of the executive to perform her prosecutorial functions. If any blame must be apportioned, it must be put right on the doorstep of the executive. The second item is “corrupt person”, if a man is corrupt, there is hardly no reason why he should be brought to court, because the job of the court is to pronounce him corrupt or not corrupt based on the relevant and admissible evidence before the court. Every man is presumed innocent until the contrary is proved by the prosecution, but if we wish to presume every man alleged as corrupt before the court says so, then the Federal
Government should simply push to the National Assembly a Bill to amend or delete Section 36 (5) of the 1999 Constitution which provides for the presumption of innocence of everyone charged with a criminal offence. The media both conventional and social has a lot of work to do to educate citizens on the exact roles of the three arms of government and the essence of the rule of law.
Will you say the judiciary is independent in this present situation?
The independence of the judiciary is guaranteed by the Constitution and no matter what the present situation is, the operation of the law is firmer than the will of man. The legal maxim is “firmior et potentior est operatio legis quam dispositioh ominis.”
The present state of the judiciary in Nigeria is not heartwarming, but as lawyers we are certain that the judiciary remains the most important arm of the three arms of the government. It is pertinent to recall that even in the dark days of the military era, the armed forces in a bid to confer some legitimacy on its authority permitted the judiciary to operate with a reasonable degree of independence. Judges were respected, they were not called bad names and they had the protection of the State as they went about discharging their functions. It is unfortunate that this democratic government is giving a lip service to respecting the independence of the judicial arm of government. It is for instance contemptuous of the presidency to spew the narratives that the Supreme Court is responsible for discharging persons alleged of corruption, it is disturbing as I earlier mentioned that the executive pick and choose the orders of court to comply with, it is savagery for the DSS enter the houses of judges in the middle of the night as though members of the judiciary are terrorists, it is wrong to remove the Chief Justice of Nigeria on the order of a Code of Conduct Tribunal against the clear provision of the Constitution. I could go on and on to describe the contempt of this government towards the judiciary. All of these affect the judges who are now finding it difficult to go about their work without fear or favour. Thankfully, the Nigerian Bar Association has been at the forefront of the advocacy for the independence of the judiciary and the Paul Usoro leadership of the Bar is determined to keep up this advocacy.
Young lawyers have always complained that they are badly paid by their seniors. How will you react to this?
The welfare of young lawyers is a challenge, but it is a challenge that represents on a smaller scale the challenges of every young graduate in Nigeria. This challenge is getting full attention of the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association. At our just concluded National Executive Committee Meeting on 28th day of March, 2019, the NBA President, Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN) mentioned in clear terms the readiness of his team to redouble effort in attending to the welfare of young lawyers in the coming months. My personal view is that in order to appreciate this challenge, we must approach it in a very holistic manner. We must understand the financial state of the law firms we have in Nigeria. There are not up to five hundred law firms in Nigeria that can pay competitive salaries to lawyers. Also, the Nigerian legal market is unregulated, a service that FIRM A would not accept less than a NI million to offer may be readily offered by FIRM B across the street for N20, 000. It is for this reason that the present Bar leadership headed by Paul Usoro is dedicated to pushing for the regulation of the Nigerian legal market in a manner that protects the Nigerian legal practitioners, because we believe that if the law firms are better and financially stronger, the young lawyers in such firms will be better paid. More importantly is the strategy of teaching how to fish rather than giving out fishes. One of the initiatives of the Bar President, is mentorship programme for young lawyers. The progamme involves matching young lawyers with senior successful lawyers and firms who have specific skills or specializations in areas that interest such young lawyers for a specific period of time. The Nigerian Bar Association works through her three sections. One of the Sections, the Section on Business Law has already commenced the Mentorship Programme, we shall be working with the Section on Legal Practice and Section on Public Interest and Development Law to follow suit. It is our hope that this mentorship programme and other young lawyers centered initiatives that we shall equip the young lawyers with the necessary skills and confidence to make a success of their legal profession.
What do you think should be the major task before the incoming 9th Senate?
The major task should be consolidation of the Nigerian democracy. The Senate and indeed all other legislative houses in Nigeria have the duty to make laws and follow up the laws by carrying out oversight functions on ministries, departments and parastatals of the government. In doing all of these, they should encourage fine relationship with the executive without necessarily becoming the rubber stamp of the executive. It must be noted that the legislative arm of government is what distinguishes a democratic system of government from the military system we had before 1999. A situation where the legislature is not autonomous and assertive will hinder our journey towards engendering the needed democratic values in the country.
Understanding the advertising profession: Agenda for the 2019 National Advertising Conference
Practitioners of Advertising in Nigeria are gearing up for what promises to be the most eventful and momentous gathering of Advertising professionals in the history of the profession.
They are converging on Abuja, from Monday, November 25, to Wednesday, November 27, 2019 for the National Advertising Conference holding at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel. Advertising practice was conferred the status of a profession in Nigeria through an Act of Parliament, originally enacted as Decree number 55 of 1988, (cited as Advertising Practitioners, registration, etc. Act).
Under the regulatory purview of the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria – APCON, established by the Act, the profession has grown significantly over the years and impacted Nigeria’s social and economic affairs in remarkable ways. Membership of the profession has increased exponentially as hundreds of qualified and certificated practitioners are inducted into the profession every year.
The 2019 edition of the Register of Advertising Practitioners lists over Eight thousand practitioners in the various professional categories of Student, Associate, Full Membership and Fellows of the profession.
The advertising profession is composed of practitioners in the different areas of socializations. These include: strategy and creative agencies/consultancies, media planning and buying agencies, platform owners and managers who provide and manage mass media outlets used to expose advertisements to desired audiences, activation and experiential agencies whose forte is creating and managing opportunities for brand direct/physical experience with prospects, among other specializations.
There are also practitioners in the communications, marketing and brand management functions of public and private organisations who occasionally or frequently employ advertising in their public and customer engagements and in the process, often engage the services of advertising professionals in the other aforementioned specializations.
Practitioners in all of these professional specializations have a common interest in the effectiveness of advertising in serving their respective communication objectives. They are however, sometimes in conflict among themselves. The conflicts usually arise from less than satisfactory delivery on expectations and default in fulfilment of contractual obligations.
One recurring area of conflict is the granting of credit on transactions and the burden of indebtedness arising from prolonged payment defaults. There is also the issue of huge volume of advertising briefs going to non-advertising professionals and foreign agencies and consultants.
Many public sector organisations do not appear to appreciate that advertising is a professional practice, reserved for persons who are qualified and registered as Advertising Professionals. There has been, therefore, a large incidence of patronage of contractors by public sector organisations resulting in very poor and unprofessional execution of huge-budget campaigns and consequential stultification of growth of the Nigerian advertising profession. There has also been issues around the regulation of advertising practice in Nigeria.
While the role of regulation in stabilizing and raising the professional status and public perception of advertising has been largely applauded, the processes and framework of the regulation have sometimes been subject of arguments and conflicts.
This is understandable, given that public-interest regulation sometimes does not conduce to the market share and profit objectives of business organisations. One lingering challenge of the professional regulation of advertising is the long absence of the governing Council of APCON. The 2019 National Advertising Conference presents a good opportunity to discuss all of these issues and conflicts in an atmosphere that engenders honest appreciation of the viewpoints of all the stakeholders.
The discussions will be guided by the theme, “Advertising in the post-digital age: the profession, the business and Nigeria’s socio-economic development”.
The conference is the first of such event, bringing together professionals from the various specializations of the marketing communications practice and scholarship to share perspectives on the sustained development of the profession as well as chart common grounds in confronting some of the challenges facing the profession as it continues to evolve.
The conference is an initiative by APCON whose current management has successfully rallied leaders and members of the profession across sectoral affiliations and very significantly, Advertising scholars in tertiary institutions, to join hands in organizing the conference.
Because of the level of consultations and organization preceding the conference and perhaps, because it is the first time the profession is hosting a national professional conference of a world-class standard, there has been an overwhelming expression and demonstration of passion, enthusiasm and excitement by Advertising practitioners as well as individuals and organisations who have been associated with advertising, to participate in the conference.
At the moment, the Conference Planning Committee and the Local Organising Committee are upbeat and making necessary contacts and arrangements to satisfy the huge expectations of the members of the profession and the larger public, whose marketing communications needs have been so creatively satiated by Advertising professionals, over the years.
Going by the wide range of consultations across the marketing communications industry preceding the conference and the painstaking planning of the conference, there is every reason to expect that the National Advertising Conference will be an event to remember for a long time after.
•Onuorah is Deputy Director, Registration and Professional Development, APCON
FG must adopt Niger Delta approach to address insecurity –Erekosima
Comrade Onengiya Erekosima is the President, Foundation for Peace and Non Violence in Nigeria. He spoke with EMMANUEL MASHA on the crisis in the Niger Delta, among other issues. Excerpts:
It seems your campaign against violence has failed, judging by the spate of killings across the country. Don’t you think so?
My campaign has not failed; it is yielding fruit. My campaign was a test case for the Niger Delta. If Nigeria will learn, Nigeria has not seen what the Niger Delta saw and went through. Today, we all can see that Nigeria is also seeing a little of what we saw in the Niger Delta. Every part of Nigeria is today witnessing kidnapping, killings, armed robbery, insurgency, herdsmen/ farmers crisis, cultism etc.
These are the kind of things that we saw in the Niger Delta in the days of militancy when my campaign started to address the Niger Delta issues. It succeeded in the Niger Delta without the use of force and I make bold to say that militancy cannot return to the Niger Delta creeks again as long as I live. If Nigeria is willing to listen to me, the Nigeria issue is a child’s play.
Non-violent approach that I preach will end this crisis. I have mentioned that without the use of force, these violent crises can be stopped. The question is, is the government willing to use the non-violent approach? And if I should answer that question, sorry, the government is not yet ready, but if the government will be willing to use the non-violent approach, Nigeria will be one of the safest place in less than a year from the day they listen. In 2005, during former Governor Peter Odili’s tenure, we had the first reconciliation and training of warlords and their boys at Jos, at time a warring groups from Ateke camp, Asari Dokubo’s camp and the bush boys from Okrika do not see themselves eye to eye.
Asari begged me to be part of those that would go with the different groups for reconciliation and rehabilitation; this was when the different groups were feared in Rivers State. Dr. Peter Odoli also called me through the SSS Director that I should help him to reconcile all the warring groups and those that are not happy with him. Peter Odili also called for several meetings but Asari’s group would not go for the meetings because Asari would tell his followers that they are not cultist and that the meetings called by the governor was not for his group.
That is one of the reasons why Odili could not bring peace to the state because all the groups did not attend the meetings. Eventually I joined those different groups to Jos, Plateau State. Some of these boys believed that the government brought them to Jos to kill them and there was different kind of impression about the movement to Jos. But with close follow up, we were able to reconcile all the groups. The moment they came back from Jos, Rivers became peaceful.
Was there truly peace?
Suddenly, after the Jos reconciliation in 2005, Asari was arrested by the Federal Government, but at this time, I had made Asari to surrender all his arms to the Government that was why I became Asari’s spokesman. When he was arrested, he called me from the Police headquarters at Moscow Road, that it was not just an invitation but that the government was arresting him and when I got there he handed over all his phones to me that I should tell the press what is happening. I made sure that none of Asari’s boys took to violence with the help of the S.O.S Commander then, H.H. Karma who believed in my approach. He also asked all the Police in the state to follow my instructions by not carrying arms during that time and this they did, I was able to convert 80 per cent of his boys in to the non-violent approach.
Asari was released not because some of his people took to violence but because the Government did not listen to me on time that Asari should be released, other warlords were then created. By the time Asari was released, these warlords were no longer under Asari’s command, so another phase of militancy started. So, other forms of violence like kidnapping, cultism, killings and other violent acts emerged. When I met people in government, they refused to listen to me. Rather, the government made things worse when they promised that any cultist that repented would be given N500, 000 each.
That was what took Rivers State into darkness. Everybody started claiming to be cultists. They did not only promise money, they also promised buying them taxis for transportation as apart of empowerment programme. So, young men who were not cultist started approaching the cult leaders that were in possession of illegal firearms, begging them to put their names in their list. The cult leaders would say to them: go and kidnap so person then I will put your names in my list. That was how cultism took over Rivers State.
What exactly do you think the authorities should do to address the country’s security challenges?
My idea about how militancy ended in the Niger Delta is in the proposal I submitted to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua. If the government can tap from that idea, there would be peace, employment, because investors will also have the confidence to invest. Yes, it takes a strong man with a strong will to apply the nonviolent approach like Yar’Adua did. Unfortunately, our leaders today feel that it is only through force that the country’s security challenges can be addressed because they benefit from the so-called security votes. I only hope that they will know that if there is peace they will gain more than they are gaining from the security vote that is killing our people. I am still willing to help Nigeria to get peace.
You played a key role in the amnesty the Yar’Adua administration granted Niger Delta agitators; do you think the programme was a success?
The Amnesty programme was successful, and that is why militancy cannot return to the Niger Delta. The success was not because Amnesty was granted but because I was able to reconcile all the militants with themselves through t h e non-violent approach. On the 1st of January, 2008 Borokiri Police Station, and Hotel Presidential were attacked.
A journalist at a radio station called me on the 2nd January, 2008 and I condemned the attack. I made it clear that attacking any Police Station is like stripping the society naked. On the 3rd January, 2008 Ateke sent a message to me that he wants to see me. I said I want to see him too; I was talking to him through one of his brother.
He said to me in one of his camps in the creek that I must refute what I had said on the radio and I told him no because I heard that he was organizing humanitarian programmes in his Okirika Community and helping people in his village, that the two actions cannot go together (attacking Police Station and Humanitarian activities).
Ateke told me that in December, 2007, the then Government of Rotimi Amaechi attacked his community with JTF and a lot of people died and they carted away his money and valuables. He also told me that nobody has ever told him about the nonviolent approach, that anybody that comes to him said that if he does not fight back the government would say he is a coward and that they have defeated him.
Ateke said that was why he did what he did, that he didn’t wrong the government. I begged him that I would like to call the CP. He then asked his boys to bring my phone and I called the then CP, Felix Ogbaudu, telling him that at this time Ateke Tom was declared wanted. I now told him to please talk with Ateke Tom.
Was there a conversation between them?
I gave Ateke Tom the phone to talk to the CP and I heard the commissioner said to him; why did your boys attack my Police Station? Ateke replied; ‘your boys attacked my community and killed my people’. The Commissioner of Police said he was not aware of the operation by his boys. At the end I reconciled Ateke with the Commissioner of Police.
That was my first victory of reconciliation in this whole crisis. On that same day Ateke asked me to tell his boys what I have told him, he assembled them, for me to address them. After I addressed them, they agreed to allow peace to reign. I later went to the Presidency to see the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua) through a friend of mine who took me to the O.C. SSS, from the O.C. SSS I was taken to the President. I told him the Niger Delta issues, that the struggle of the Niger Delta has been hijacked.
A panel was now set up to hear me at Civil Defence H e a d – quarters Zone 5, Abuja. That was w h e r e we discussed and I c a l l e d m o s t of the militant l e a d e r s on phone to get their views to confirm that what I was saying was true. Even the then Vice Pres-ident Goodluck Jonathan never knew that such discussion was going on.
I told them not to tell him because his Special Adviser on Niger Delta frustrated my effort in trying to see the then Vice President. He said he has a proposal for 60 years to solve the Niger Delta issue; asking why must I come with a proposal for six months. Though the panel had already concluded the discussion and the panel report sent to Mr President.
Which of the militant leaders did you reconcile that you fondly remember?
The toughest and easiest was Ateke Tom and Soboma George. It was filled with suspense because none of us knew if would work out. I took Soboma George through the creeks, meeting several loyalist of Ateke Tom, hoping and praying for true reconciliation and lasting peace.
All through my experience in the creeks, I had never experienced the combined security forces like the one I saw on that day. I took Soboma George to Ateke Tom. In all of this fear, nothing happened and I saw heaven opened for peace. The joy I felt cannot be expressed. On that day, the 7th of July 2008 peace returned to the Niger Delta. It was easy for me because I believed in God’s strength and guidance through Non-violent approach.
At what point in your life did you realise that your life work revolves on non-violence struggle?
Ann Kio Brigs called me on phone in 2005 or thereabout that our brother Asari Dokubo has come back from Abuja after the invitation from former President Olusegun Obasanjo with Ateke Tom. She said that I should come and do what I know how to do best (to cover the event as a photographer). That was how I got involved, not knowing that God was exposing all the truth to me. I started videoing and snapping Asari Dokubo free of charge. I was happy to be part of something that can challenge a system to his face and say this is not right. I have never been a militant and hope not to be one. Since then I couldn’t go back knowing that the way to Peace is not with the use of force.
Which of the former presidents really understood your mission and keyed into it?
The late President Yar’ Adua did not only believe in my proposal for non-violent approach, he also granted my request for amnesty. Former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu was the only person who supported me with cash of Two Million, Five Hundred Thousand Naira (N2.5m). He believed in my vision, that I will bring peace to the Niger Delta.
I called Ateke Tom from Tinubu’s house in Lagos in 2008 when Ateke and others were still declared wanted by the then River State Governor to assure him that he will support me to achieve Amnesty for them and he did. Rt. Hon. Austin Opara, a former Deputy Speaker, Federal House of Representatives also encouraged me. These are the only persons that practically supported me financially.
I believe these persons have the right to say they know about how the amnesty came, may God bless them. The former Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Alex Ekwueme also appreciated my efforts, he told me that when he heard the name Erekosima, he wanted to confirm if I was the son to the late I.D. Erekosima who was the first black Principal of Government College Umuahia. He said he was glad and that he was not surprised because my grandfather Late Dr. I.D. Erekosima was his friend, that he was proud to honour me with an award under the ZIC African Ideology Legacy Award.
Balogun: Internet cost’ll reduce by 50% if…
Mr Lekan Balogun is the Chief Executive Officer of Bitflux Communications Limited, a wholesale Internet service provider company. In this interview with SAMSON AKINTARO, he speaks on factors affecting cost of Internet in Nigeria and how government policies can change the situation. Excerpts:
Heralding the era of broadband, Bitflux was issued license by Nigerian Communications Commission in 2014 to provide wholesale services, how has the journey been?
It’s been good. We were actually licensed to provide wholesale wireless access service using 2.3 gigahertz spectrum. So it’s been pretty good. Of course, we are about to expand our footprint within the city by deploying more base stations. At the moment, we are almost covering major parts of Lagos and we plan to go to other cities within the shortest period. It’s been challenging, but we give thanks to God.
Certainly, operators in the industry are facing many challenges, which continue to impede their capacity to expand and improve on their service delivery, can you specifically tell us some of those challenges as it affect your operations?
The challenges are many but I think I like to talk about what is changeable by the government the major part is regulation. There is need for the government to create the enabling environment for corporate organisations to be able to operate smoothly. There’s always the issue of multiple taxation; you get charged by local governments, you get charged by state governments and also the federal government. All these charges add up to the operating costs and make it so high. So, I think government has to work out collaborations between regulators and agencies responsible for taxes and all tiers of government. For example, something as simple as Right of Way can shut down your project for many months and even years and you know what that does to your cash flow projections. So, those are the areas we are looking forward to a better collaboration and cooperation between government and the private sector to create the enabling environment for all of us, because if that environment is conducive, government will get more money and private sector will also get more money. At the end of the day, the economy is going to boom and all of us are going to benefit from it. So, that’s one of the challenges.
Second major one will be of course, power, which we all know. Without power from the grid, you have to make your own provision for power. And the kind of business we run, you need 24/7 power. So you have to improvise and look at different sources you can generate power from to keep the system running. So, those are the two major challenges that must be addressed to move the industry forward.
You mentioned the issue of Right of Way, is it that the charges are too high or governments are slow in granting the permit?
It is a reflection of both, because if you are supposed to get permit and the cost is high, even though you need it, you have to think about it again and ask yourself: Is it worth the cost? This is because somebody is going to pay for that cost. Again, for you to get it, the processes are too long and by the time you get it, you have already lost your market share. So, the problem we are having is a reflection of both the price and the process of getting the permit. At times, that process can take forever, particularly depending on the states. Some states are faster, but some just have to take the time and because the land belongs to the government, you really have to wait and follow the process.
Several recent reports have established that cost of internet in Nigeria is still very high compared to other countries, as a company at the centre of this service provisioning, is there anything you are doing that can drive down cost of internet access in the nearest future?
Well, it’s not just about us as a company because the price that you see in the market is made up of several things. I just mentioned to you the issue of power. You see, if 60 per cent of your operating costs is going to power, that cost is going to go to someone, otherwise, you will not be able to provide service after you have spent the initial money you have. So, you need to recover that cost so that you can put it back to the business and sustain the next move. So, power is one of the biggest contributing factors into why the price of Internet is high in Nigeria. If power is fixed in this country, you can be sure that there will be, at least, 35 to 40 per cent reduction in the cost of internet access in the country. This is because a lot of costs that you need to buy generators, buy diesel, maintain generators and all that will no longer be there. In fact, I think the cost of internet is going to go down much more than 40 per cent if power is fixed; I can assure you that at least 50 per cent of the cost would go down right away because if you have good, stable and reliable power supply, every other cost is minimal. And this thing is not difficult to do, but for whatever reasons, we are just not getting it done as a country.
How does availability of spectrum come into play in all these?
Well, of course, I’m taking it for granted that you’ve acquired your entire infrastructure, and now you are running the infrastructure. Of course, the cost of setting up infrastructure is also a major part of the cost because you pay a lot for getting the spectrum but if you compare that globally, it’s neither here nor there, it’s a bit fair. But then, you are still going to import your equipment and as you pass through the border, anything telecoms attracts high rate, which shouldn’t be. Government should be encouraging importation of the equipment because they are national assets; that is the way government should look at it. They are assets for national development and they are very essential. Look at it this way, if all networks and internet are shut down today, this country would be in a mess because our lives are now so dependent on these things. There are people who have not stepped into banks for the past two years, you see. So, imagine shutting down that whole process of getting your money at your convenience. So, there should be more understanding from government, particularly the agencies that are responsible for many of these things, to ensure that they create an environment that can make people bring in those equipments at a very good rate. Once that is done, you can be sure that every other thing will take shape.
Talking about infrastructure, there is currently a wide digital gap in the country today as network operators focus more on cities at the expense of rural communities. For instance, the current 33 per cent broadband penetration in country is said to be concentrated in three major cities, what do you think can be done to bridge this gap?
You are very correct, but also remember that majority of the population are also in the cities. So what’s left in the remote locations is not a large number, but we also need to have a national coverage, because as a government, you want to be able to provide for every citizen, you know, and also the same thing, where you have a national licence, you’re supposed to at least have it touch point in majority of places. So, terms of bridging the gap, there is a need for synergy between the private sector and the public sector. The private sector is not set up to go and roll out fibre free of charge, you know, in every remote location, somebody has to bear that cost and that is government’s responsibility, because the taxes are paid to government. Government is supposed to come to the table and put in the necessary framework that will enable the private sector to collaboratively work with government to put those things in place. So, if I, for example, go and roll out fibre in, let’s say, 17 local governments in Sokoto State, what returns am I going to get from that? It will definitely not give me a good return apart from maybe some popular local governments there. But if I have to cover the whole state, it means I have to spend some money that will never be recovered. So, government can prioritise to say, well, of all the 25 local governments we have, you can put something for us in 15 local governments and through that, you link all the local governments, then you find government to government and government to citizen relationship and collaboration becomes automated. So, at the end of the day, government will be the biggest beneficiary of that kind of project because they would now be able to provide services to the people in a very seamless way. So, infrastructure is a factor in bridging the digital divide, however, the private sector will not be able to answer that call, it has to be the government.
But do you think the Infrastructure Companies (InfraCos) licensed by the Nigerian Communications Commission to deploy infrastructure across the country with subsidies from government would be able to address this?
Absolutely, that is going to helpquite a lot. But remember, that doesn’t solve the last mile connectivity challenge. The InfraCos will drop the fibre just like I mentioned earlier about local governments, but that doesn’t get to your house. So, a synergy of the InfraCos with a company like Bitflux that happen, remember I told you earlier that we have wireless access license. When the InfraCo is dropping the fibre maybe at the last terminal, we take it and wirelessly make that signal available to people in different houses and homes. So, that kind of infrastructure development being supported by the government is very, very essential.
For the InfraCos, the government is certainly supporting them and we are saying that even for the wireless access providers, you need to do the same. Otherwise, the fibre can just land, let’s say for example, at TBS, how do I take it to my house? You will not be able to run fibre everywhere, it’s never a strategy anywhere in the world to run fibre to every doorstep in a country, it doesn’t happen that way, but you run it to the streets, and strategic places and you can then spread the signal with wireless devices.
You company was recently honoured with some industry awards, what does this mean to the organisation?
Thank you very much. It’s about what we do; it’s about excellence in broadband. One of the things that we do as Bitflux is to build and operate networks, then make that available in the wholesale model to the retailers so that they can sell to the end users. So, we’ve been able to build a network with high availability. So, when you see people commending us for excellence services, it is based on what we have over the years, because when the network is available and the network is good, people will certainly appreciate what you do and they will patronise you more. That is also good for our retail partners, because now they can also good customer service to their customers. So that’s basically what the awards means; it’s a reflection of the operational process we’ve put in place and also the continuous monitoring and continuous improvement that we go through regularly. So, for us, it’s a sign that we’re heading in the right direction. We are not yet there, so we also have to continue to improve more and more on a daily basis.
In the next five years, where do you see Bitflux?
Oh! In the next five years, I think Bitflux will have been able to cover quite a lot of the states in Nigeria. We will have been able to contribute massively to broadband penetration growth for the next five years, which is expected to be about 70 per cent. As we expand more, we’re very mindful of that. And then, we will have been able to contribute to change in lifestyles of the people, because the next five years, this same Nigeria is going to be a different country, not necessarily because all the streets will be tarred, but because technology will have changed things. Where we were five years ago is different from where we are now, so in the next five years, technology will force a lot of improvements in the country because by then, people are just going to be demanding for excellent services because they have seen that online.
Going by the expected advancement in technology and current trends, do you see Nigeria deploying 5G anytime soon?
Well, in Nigeria of today, we have not even deployed 3G in some places, even in other countries of the world where 5G is being deployed, most are not on commercial scale yet. 5G is going to come in Nigeria at the right time, but I don’t think anybody is going to deploy it in the next two to three years. Even if you deploy the technology today, do we have 5G handsets? Most of the mobile devices we have are not 5G-enabled. The market has to be ready for it before an operator deploys it. It is good to talk about it; it is good to be aware of it, but business-wise, I don’t think any telco in Nigeria will be looking at that now.
ADR key to tackling congestion of cases in courts – Imhanze
Mr. Ituah Imhanze is an Arbitrator. In this interview with AKEEM NAFIU, he speaks on AGF’s plea for better funding of justice ministry, Kogi Deputy Governor’s impeachment, delay in justice system and sundry issues
What is your take on the demand by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), for the allocation of 2.5 percent of recovered looted funds to his Ministry to service logistics, operational costs as well as payment to private lawyers and consultants?
Firstly, a plea with very valid reasons and not a demand was made by the Attorney General of the Federation. As long as due process is followed, the allocation would be helpful to offset the judgement debts of the Federal Government of Nigeria which already stands to the tune of N150 billion. The operational costs of hiring private consultants and lawyers also need to be settled as these legal practitioners and/or consultants need to be reimbursed for cost incurred and legal advisory or representative services rendered to the Federal Governemnt through the Ministry of Justice.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) claimed to have recovered about N939 billion since 2015. However, many Nigerians believed these funds only appeared on paper. How do we make the anti-graft agency accountable for these recovered funds?
Firstly, we must give credit to the EFCC. There is no doubt that they are doing a good work within the resources available to them. Having said that, agencies of government are by their enabling Acts and extanct laws made accountable for their acts whilst in office and out of office.
There must be clear cut reporting lines and the need for a periodic publications of recovered loots and their status. Accountability is key in the discharge of this onerous assignment. All organs of government must be seen to be providing checks and balances as and when necessary. The Legislature must as a matter of policy carry out their oversight functions. There is an absolute need for transparency in the actions of an institution like the EFCC.
It is suggested that there should be a collaboration between the EFCC and the office of the Attorney General of the Federation in establishing a Committee or an inter-governmental agency charged solely with the management of recovered assets. This will no doubt ensure accountability and transparency.
Do you share the sentiments that the Kogi State House of Assembly has violated Section 188 (8) of the Constitution by going ahead to impeach the Deputy Governor, Elder Simon Achuba, despite the fact that he was cleared of any wrongdoing by the 7-man panel set up by the State’s Chief Judge?
In the removal of a Deputy Governor of a State, the proper procedure is clearly outlined in Section 188 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As amended).
Section 188 (8) clearly provides that “Where the panel reports to the House of Assembly that the allegation has not been proved, no further proceedings shall be taken in respect of the matter”. It is settled law that any act or procedure done in contravention of the Constitution (the ground norm and the foremost legislation of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is to the extent of its inconsistency null and void.
Trial delay is a major problem in the Nigerian judicial system. Cases often spend years before they are concluded. How do you think judicial proceedings can be hastened up?
Nigeria is a highly litigious country. There are so many cases pending before different judges of different courts. There are not enough judges to handle these cases that increase by the day. Overhaul of the system, constant feedback, and equipping the judiciary with modern technology and tools will help in no small way. It is about time that judges stopped taking notes in long hands. Stenographers should be provided to all courts and judges should be trained and retrained in the use of these modern technologies.
Furthermore, arbitration and mediation should be encouraged in the resolution of disputes. Every disputes should not be taking to court. The Lagos Multi Door Court House is a good example that should be emulated by all. Reforms and innovations should be encouraged to meet with the demands of modernisation. New technology should be leveraged, and not just technology for data collection.
Artificial Intelligence is fast maturing and with further advances in machine learning, standardised data collection can assist judges in forming judgements. The use of information technology during court proceedings for transcribing proceedings, e-filing, e-service, use of computers and mass storage devices for keeping records of cases in court must also be embraced.
Lawyers should also be enlightened on the need to save the time of court by encouraging them to advice their clients against filing frivolous and time wasting applications to delay the progress of suit, and waste the precious time of the court as well as the need to be diligent and well prepared in prosecuting their matters.
Lawyers, who charge per video conferencing is statutorily provided but rarely available in practice and infrequently used even if available. Accountability needs to be fixed on individuals causing repeated and needless delays in dispensing justice. Adoption of the fast track procedure, summary judgment, proper case management conferencing under the respective states Civil Procedure Rules in other states in Nigeria are highly recommended.
What is your advice to the Federal Government on how to tackle the growing spate of insecurity in the country?
Economic instability, poverty, unemployment rates are recurrent factors which encourage vices in the society. There should be continuous efforts in making the Nigerian clime conducive and the creation of an enabling environment for its citizenry in engaging in trade, business or occupation. The government must continue to engage all stakeholders in finding lasting solutions to the conflict between the herders and farmers in the country. There should be capacity building and the creation of competitive incentives for officers and men of the Nigerian army and other security agencies. There must be collaborative efforts of all security agencies in area of intelligence gathering.
How do you think the Judiciary can help in the fight against corruption?
According to Justice Akinila Aguda (of blessed memory), “It is almost axiomatic that the judiciary plays a preeminent role in any democratic dispensation. Indeed, a political system can be considered as on the basis of the extent to which the judicial arm is permitted to hold the scale of justice over and above the other arms of government. The source of authority of the judiciary for exercising this critical function is of course, the Constitution…”
A judicial officer is expected to be a recluse of a kind, sparingly seen outside of the courtrooms; they have a closed circle of friends and deliberately avoid the camera and limelight. This no doubt would minimize the incidence of personal or pecuniary interest when adjudicating in corruption-centered suits. The judiciary must be seen to be truly independent without any form of interference by both the Legislature and Executive save in the area of constitutionally recognised checks and balances. Better funding is also advocated.
The judiciary’s duty is to interpret the law, and in doing so they should decide cases brought before them in accordance with the provisions of the law and award deserving and appropriate sanctions where necessary regardless of whose ox is gored.
The National Judicial Council, The Federal Judicial Service Commission and other State Judicial Service Commissions must continue to be strict in melting out appropriate sanctions against all erring judicial officers.
Why I’m gunning for PhD at 87 – Olola Ogunlan
Born as far back as 1932, Olola Olabode Ogunlana stands tall today as the Doyen of Insurance in Nigeria. A graciously aging patriot who has continued to give himself to the country after serving Nigerian for decades, he is currently studying for his PhD at 87 years old. With publications including Quest for the Rare Leaf and Other stories, Yoruba Love Stories and Out of the black pot, the chairman of SCIB, who started his career at Inland Revenue Department and later Royal Exchange Assurance Group before the old Western Nigerian Government appointed him General Manager and Director, Great Nigeria Insurance Company Limited and later Managing Director of National Insurance Corporation of Nigeria (NICON), spoke to ADEDAYO ODULAJA.
How many of your peers do you still get to call upon or meet with regularly?
I still relate with many of them. Days ago, I spoke to one of my classmates who is now 88. This morning, I have talked to one who turned 90 years old back in July, a few of us are still around although many of us are dead. So we still get to meet once in a while.
As a trail-blazer in the insurance subsector in Nigeria but who can you say influenced your choice of career?
That is a mighty question. I was not planning to be in insurance; I was studying to be an architect with a passion in fine art, technical drawing and all such but my boss, a friend of my father. Both of them had attended St Andrew’s College between 19 and …, he was my boss and he said I should take the exams for fun. I did and although it was for fun, I passed. And the western government wanted to give scholarships for insurance.
In those days, it was a great thing to go abroad so I applied and was given a scholarship.
Before then, I was a civil servant, working at the Inland Revenue which was until sometime in 1951 but since 1st of April, 1952 I got into insurance and I became stuck since then. I was in royal exchange for 17 years, then I took over the management of the western Nigeria government insurance company in those days called Great Nigeria where I served for five years. Then I went into the national insurance corporation of Nigeria, became the first managing director and later started a company of my own.
That company became 41 or 42 years old this year so I have been in insurance now for about 67 or 68 years.
Which moments can you recall now as some of your greatest moments in this storied career you just mentioned in a few minutes?
Frankly, everyday in my life is an important moment. In addition to everything else, i am a lay preacher and I got licence from 1966. So when a man goes to bed and wakes up in the morning, it is by the grace of god. And if you believe in god, anything that you put your hand in, is a great moment. Recently, we had an event that was called celebration of our heroes in the insurance industry and I was honoured as the doyen of the insurance industry.
It was a joy for me seeing all the big men who were either my students or worked under me, some of them using walking sticks and i felt really great and thank god.
So, honestly, everyday is a great moment but many don’t think about god. If i may compare to when I was young, Nigeria has become a god-less nation. Because people say ‘I’m a Chris tian’ and when you ask them which church they attend, they don’t have any. How can someone say ‘I belong to the Armed Forces when you are not in the Army, Navy or the others?
Although I have lived for just about 87 years, I have seen great changes but Nigeria is not on the right path. Apart from the great impact you made in the insurance sector, you are also a great reader and author. What informed your love for books and reading? My father was a teacher and from the age of 10 in our home, you had to read two novels a month. By the time you were 13, you graduate to six novels a month. So that made me love reading, writing and poetry.
It all goes with my love for nature, I am a child of nature. I love the environment and joined the boy’s scout in 1942 and I am still there. In scouting, you tell stories, you dramatise stories and it is a way of life.
I was chief commissioner for the scout in Nigeria, I was their president in Africa and their vice president for the whole world. I go to Germany and other places for scouting events and all of them entail storytelling. In the Boy’s Scout, I was known as Olabode opitan (storyteller). You must tell stories and I ask questions. I asked questions of my grandfather who died in august 1939 and he used to tell us stories he heard from his father and grandfather.
That is nature of the Oral culture which is now dying. This background would easily explain your love for the preservation of culture?
Yes, for instance since 1975 when I left service, I stopped wearing suits and I dress not just in native dresses but with a cloth wrapped around it like this. That is the way my grandfather dressed and I belong to Egbe Ijinle Yoruba where we teach children Yoruba culture, about our food, our folksongs and show the value of indigenous ways that have been undervalued during the colonial period.
Most tribes are doing it now, I am happy to say, Igbos, Hausas, Efiks and we should all value our own traditional ways because it is the sum total of them that make a nation.
Unfortunately we have not been able to weld all of them into one and we cannot discuss in one language and with one purpose. You said the western regional government put the scheme in place that aided your scholarship and later bringing you on board to manage the region’s insurance company. It means those in charge must have seen the value in insurance at the time.
That fervour seems to have waned over the years? In the past, we had visionary leaders. Chief Obafemi Awolowo was responsible for starting Great Nigeria Insurance Company, the instrument he used was the Western Nigeria Finance Corporation.
He got his B.Com as a private student here and he knew the importance of invisible income to Britain, insurance, shipping, banking, accounting, transportation. So he decided to start the western region production development board and the area of specialty of that board was to give scholarships for all those subjects that would give invisible income. That was why he started the board around 1955, all of them are doing very well, that was how Great Nigeria was started.
The first manager was an American but then the politicians started to interfere and after seven years, they were making losses and they wanted to know why. So I was asked to come and take over management of the company, we got good managers, put our acts together and within three years, we broke even and we started building the Great Nigeria House. Leadership counts, visionary leadership is what Nigeria lacks. And in those days, we had that through a personality like Chief Awolowo.
Who do we blame for the lack of visionary leadership we have today, with generations locked in the debate about which did better? Nation building is like a relay race. My grandfather ran his race, his sons were the sources of wealth, they all went to farm but when the missionaries asked him to give up one of his sons, that was his contribution. He passed the baton to my father who was trained by St. Andrew’s College as a teacher. He contributed his bit, after sometime, he resigned and went to the civil service.
He was the first manager of the law courts at Tafawa Balewa Square and in those days, when that place was built and my father was the manager, everything was spick and span. I was there recently, it was in shambles. Now I went into insurance, I am enjoying it, I built the Insurance Training Centre to build insurance managers and I can count no less than 50 managers I trained. It is like that, every generation should try and do it better than the one before it but there is a breakdown in Nigeria today.
That is why we have the issue about leadership. Education is like a triangle, this is home training. Many of our children today lack home training. In my time, we went to neighbourhood schools, my mother was a full housewife and she would walk me to door of St. Paul’s Breadfood School and at the close of school, she will be there to pick me up back home.
She would insist that I do my homework before i go and play ball with my friends so education starts from the home. Today, you don’t have that, the average father or mother would leave home so early because of traffic when the children are still in bed and also come back very late, again because of traffic when the children have gone to bed. And during the weekend when there should be children-parent bonding, they will be going for weddings and other ceremonies. So the base of education has been eroded.
And what they teach in schools nowadays is like the knowledge some people have put in a test tube, you just pinch it out and drum it into the heads of the children and when they are able to regurgitate them, they say they have passed and they are released into the school of life to start intermingling with other people. To produce visionary leaders, all the three must mix well together and that is not happening today.
I will give you an example, when we became independent in 1960, America, through the auspices of the ford foundation, gave Nigeria a present. They didn’t build a fountain like the funny thing you have as Tinubu Square, what was there before was a magnificent supreme court building.
It was knocked down to build that funny fountain. Instead, the Americans brought about 32 young Nigerians together drawn from different parts of Nigeria and we interacted for six weeks at the federal palace hotel.
And all of them without exception, went to the top. I will give you some examples, Prince Solomon Akenzua became the Oba of Benin, Dr Michael Omolayole became the chairman of Lever Brothers, late Olaku became the boss of SCOA, McEwen became the chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority, I got on in insurance, among others.
The selection was very good and it was not a matter of who knew who; they wanted the best from the private and public sectors and got them. That is the way things should be done, do we do that in Nigeria of today, that is why things are like this.
Beyond what you just said, how do you see the educational terrain today?
We have millions of graduates today who are not employed, and some of them are unemployable because the system they went through, bought question papers, were dashed first class, they would not be able to perform.
Shouldn’t our leaders sit down and take a fresh look and redesign the educational system?
Sometime ago, i tried to put in place a school for the training of artisans. I got a parcel of land and applied for the c of o from the state government nine years ago. I am yet to get the c of o today but in the meantime I had interviewed teachers and lecturers in South Africa, Ghana, all over the place. I just wasted my money, $100,000 just went down the drain because I wouldn’t pay bribe.
Many are not doing things right because they are not patriots.
You went back barely 8 years ago to bag another B.A and a Masters and now you are gunning for a PhD at 87?
We are all students of life. Education is an aggression of knowledge. I am better able to do that now because I have lived for this long span and I have been tracing the history of the Yoruba since 1955 when I listened to the first in the series of the Lugard Lectures by Dr S.O Biobaku, he wasn’t even a professor then. And I told myself I must find out more about my background.
Buhari’s order to close border to check rice smuggling, good move –RIFAN President, Goronyo
Aminu Muhammad Goronyo is the President, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN). In an interview with ABDULWAHAB ISA in Abuja, Goronyo said Nigerians consuming India, Thailand and other foreign sourced rice are consuming diseases. He commended President Muhammadu Buhari for ordering partial closure of Benin Republic border, reputed for the smuggling of foreign rice into Nigeria. Excerpts…
The President has ordered partial closure of Nigeria’s border to control smuggling of certain food items among which is rice into Nigeria. What is the position of RIFAN on this measure?
I don’t think it is a new thing. The issue of border closure to check rice import has been on board since 2015. There isn’t need for Nigeria to allow foreign rice to come into Nigeria. The president has instructed the Central Bank not to issue forex for rice importation into the country since 2015. We consume minimum of 8 million metric tons per annum. All the rice we have been consuming since 2015 , if there was no forex granted to import foreign rice, it then means that all the rice we have been consuming 2015 are grown locally. On the issue of border closure, it’s not a new thing. I don’t think Nigeria should bother about that, particularly with the issue of rice.
Does Nigeria have a capacity to produce tonnes of rice to feed her population?
What is our rice production strength? Which capacity are you talking about? Nigeria has enough land to cultivate rice. We have over 6 million hectares of land in the country for rice cultivation. We have enough farmers cultivating the rice, and we cultivate rice a minimum of twice in a year. There are areas where rice is cultivated thrice a year. We have the manpower, we have the land, we have the water, and efforts are being made to ensure we are sufficient in rice production in the country.
What is the role of CBN Anchor Borrower Programme (ABP) in rice value chain?
All success recorded with respect to enhance rice production in Nigeria is tied to CBN intervention with assistance of ABP as intervening vehicle. Number one, and this very important, Anchor Borrower Programme has successfully moved Nigeria into a global player of rice production. Today we produce locally, mill locally and farmers obtain support of government through the CBN. The bank has successfully helped Nigeria to achieve self sufficiency in rice. The bank has supported both the president and his administration to achieve rice sufficiency.
Which areas would you suggest to CBN to effect change for efficient administration of ABP?
Personally, I will say the bank has tremendously improved with its handling of the programme compared to 2015 when it kicked off with ABP. That time, in 2015, it was a government to government Programme, a conventional exercise. That has changed today. It has graduated to a private sector driven ABP where farmers,participating banks and input suppliers come together to transact the business with the support of CBN. It’s like from grass to grace. They started by identifying farmers who want to participate in ABP, but today commodity association identifies farmers that are currently participating in the programme. So it’s a tremendous success and progress.
Apart from Rice Farmers Association which you lead as its president, there is also the Rice Processors Association of Nigeria, RIPAN. What sort of relationship exists between the two associations?
We have a cordial relationship with RIPAN. They invite us for meetings from time to time; we also invite them for meetings. We share information so that we can synergize on rice production value chain. Our relationship is a very cordial one.
Input suppliers allege not long ago that they made supplies to your members and were denied payment by the CBN. What is the true position?
We have addressed that. We called the media to this office to address it. CBN doesn’t engage any input suppliers; it’s commodity association that engages input suppliers. For any input supplier to go on air or in pages of a newspaper to say CBN doesn’t pay them, I think he is not doing justice to CBN because the bank has no relationship with input suppliers. We have addressed you guys on the issue; we have intimated you that it was RIFAN that engaged input suppliers and we ensure everybody is paid. As I’m taking to you now, all input suppliers have been paid. The lady sitting close to you is one of the input suppliers, she has been paid. There is no input supplier struggling to be paid for input supplied to RIFAN.
RIFAN executives held crucial meeting yesterday. Some decisions were adopted, Could you share some of them?
We met here to reaffirm our support to Buhari’s declaration stopping all agric produce that are being imported into Nigeria. That’s was why met here in a nutshell. More importantly, we also, re- strategized to make sure we can produce more and more rice so that the country can get rice at affordable price. The slogan, grow Nigeria, eat Nigeria is a dominant slogan of this administration and we have keyed in to it.
As a strategic stakeholder in rice production, what would be Nigeria production strength in 25 years?
In the next twenty five, I can’t tell you what level of production we would have attained. I can confidently say and declare that before the end of this current four years’ tenure, Nigeria will be among the major key players in rice in the world. And, we are almost there. Today, CBN has successfully keyed Nigeria into all chains of agriculture where farmers would just walk into a commercial bank, get support without encountering difficulties like before. Farmers are now being identified electronically. No more analogue; no manual as was the case before. All our participating farmers are participating electronically and CBN initiated all of these. Before the end of the tenure of this government, like I said, Nigeria will be among the critical stakeholders of rice production in the world.
The high preference for foreign rice, India and Thailand, according to some Nigerians is due to their good taste which locally produced rice lacks. Is this true?
Which taste is better than other? May be you didn’t hear them clearly. Rice consumers in the country prefer locally produced and milled rice to foreign ones. The foreign rice is tasteless. We don’t call it foreign rice; we call it foreign disease because it is rice kept in silos for over six, seven years and transported to Nigeria. You’re eating foreign disease ignorantly. Every quarter they preserve the rice with a chemical. You can see the danger surrounding the rice you call foreign. Nigerian rice is more delicious, the taste is 100 percent better than foreign rice. In addition, you’re eating fresh rice compared to rice kept for seven years.
Affordability is another factor. Foreign rice is by far cheaper, affordable. Why is price of locally produced rice on the high side?
It appears you are not conversant with price of rice. Recently, RIPAN met and took a decision. We are selling Nigerian rice N13, 500; no foreign rice can be that cheap. Ours is cheaper, healthier and fresher.
The banks are still not well disposed to lending massively to agriculture sector. What is your advice?
I would want to advise banks to quickly key into massive lending to agriculture sector of the economy. Because, if they refuse to accord lending priority to agriculture, in the next two to three years they will try to be part of it and they will not have that opportunity. Agric sector is now booming. Next three, four years, it will be like the NNPC of 70s and 80s. The commercial banks should quickly join the queue and make agriculture lending their top priority.
Seven years every Sunday, my husband produced Village Headmaster –Bimbo Oloyede
Mrs. Bimbo Oloyede is the widow of the former producer/director of the foremost and longest drama series- on Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) – The Village Headmaster, Mr. Tunde Oloyede. As the members of the crew and cast of the popular sitcom prepare for the 50th anniversary next month, she told FLORA ONWUDIWE her commitment for the anniversary, her husband’s role and how they worked
The late Tunde Oloyede was one of the crew of the longest running drama series on television – The Village Headmaster (VHM). What do you know of his role as the producer/director, before he left the NTA?
I believe that he made major impact on the programme. He created new characters like Chief Eleyinmi and Okoro, who became firm favourites in the progamme. I also know that for 7 years plus he held rehearsals twice a week and spent every Sunday at the station, because VHM was aired on Sunday evenings and in the early days it was broadcast live.
He sought for sponsorships with some cast to ensure that the VHM comes back on the nation’s airwaves, what went wrong?
It is difficult to say but I know he made a huge effort on several occasions to bring it back on air. Maybe there was a marketing formula that the project did not get right or maybe it just was not the right time. Sometimes it takes years for an idea to click but when the time comes, no one can stop it.
And you were also instrumental in trying to resuscitate the drama series too?
As his wife, I had no choice but to be part of some of the strategy sessions and I recall going with him to make a presentation to a would-be sponsor. However, it was not to be. I also recall a weekend several years ago, when we hosted about five actors and producers of the VHM in Iyin Ekiti – my late husband’s home town. It happened that these men had become traditional rulers in their various towns and they were also interested in bringing back the programme. They spent three days looking at script ideas, coming up with new characters etc. It was quite a weekend.
We learnt that Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) would be celebrating VHM at 50?
Yes, since it was one of their flagship programmes and apparently many people still ask about VHM, the NTA and VHM cast/crew are partnering to commemorate the programme at 50. Quite a lot of activity is on-going to make it a befitting ceremony.
What is your level of involvement for the commemoration, because this was one of the programmes that your husband was passionate about?
I am very much involved actually. I am a member of the Planning Committee and though I cannot fill his shoes, I am trying to do things he would have done to make sure the commemoration is a successful one. He was very familiar with everyone involved, having worked with them for several years. I only know some of the cast who featured in the mid-1970s, when I worked as a floor manager on the programme, before being deployed to the News Department. I recently met newer cast members.
As some cast have joined their ancestors, who are the surviving legends, the audience would meet live during the celebrations?
Thank God that some of these actors are still with us. The people who played the parts of Amebo, Teacher Fadele, Okoro, Chief Eleyinmi’s wife, Chief Dagbolu, Garuba’s wife, Babalawo and Doctor will be part of the commemoration. I know there are other actors but I can’t remember their names right now and some of our crew members will also be there but as behind-the-scene people their faces are not usually recognized.
Former producers like Rev. Bayo Awala, Jimi Odumosu, Tade Ogidan are members of the VHM family and some people who were producers who are now traditional rulers in their towns, will also see be there to celebrate.
What are the activities lined up for the golden Jubilee celebrations?
There are three main activities. We are holding a round table discussion on Drama – the tool for national development. There will be a live Command Performance of the Village Headmaster and we are also going to have a gala night where NTA will give out awards and the Village Headmaster Family Foundation will be launched. These will take place within the second week of October.
After the commemoration, would the drama series hit the air waves?
Honestly, I cannot say. I know many would like that to happen but I think it depends on the NTA and the possibility of raising funds to produce the programme.
Production is quite different these days from the time when I worked on the set of VHM. It would take a lot of planning but I know it can be done if the decision is taken.
Would you say studying Theatre Arts was accidental or a wrong decision, you ever took in life?
When you say Theatre Arts it sounds as if I studied to be an actor. Actually my course was in Stage Management, which focused on lighting, sound, costume etc., the physical side of theatre.
Does this pay your bills?
In a way, it contributes towards paying my bills, although it is just part of what I do. However, if you consider that I was employed by the then NBC/TV as an assistant producer, based on my course on study, you could say that was my entry point into broadcasting, which has and still does pay my bills.
Could you tell us, what were your experiences like as a foreign student in the United Kingdom?
It was a very interesting experience and one that I am very grateful for, because it paved the way for my career in broadcasting. Living with strangers in a boarding school setting from a very young age, taught me to be independent and self-reliant. It also helped me to be adaptable to most situations and tolerant of most people. Since I also had elocution lessons from a young age, it paved the way for me to eventually become a News Anchor.
What were your major challenges?
Children adjust quite easily and I did not lack the basic things of life but it was difficult sometimes thinking about family back home and there were times when we had school programmes that I would miss not having my parents around to watch the things I was doing.
What would you recall as major productions that you participated in the UK?
I took part in fringe productions while I was a student but actually, after leaving school, I did not stay in the UK long enough to participate in any major productions. I returned to Nigeria quite quickly and was fortunate not to have to wait too long, before getting a job I was happy with.
What makes the VHM differ from other drama series that people are yearning for the programme to come back?
I think it was its simplicity, its characters, its humour and the messages it shared. Each episode had a message that could not be ignored and the characters were amazing too. Their language was insane. You never knew how else the English language was going to be destroyed. All these features added to its popularity and acceptance. Of course it also featured characters who represented major parts of the nation, so it was a mirror for viewers who could all relate to the situations and characters. After all, we all know our village schools, our local palace, the village square, the local beer parlours etc. These were perspectives that resonated with everybody.
In what way has your course of study helped you in other areas of life?
Production and presentation, whether in the theater or on television takes a lot of discipline. You cannot work haphazardly in either field and expect a reasonable result. It does not happen. So my background and work have taught me how to be disciplined, how to work within certain time frames and also how to be time conscious.
Could you tell us some major drama programmes that you featured in Nigeria either stage or television?
I only spent one year in the drama department working as a floor manager on the Village Headmaster and an assistant producer on On Stage. On Stage featured local drama groups, whose productions were in various Nigerian languages. Then I was deployed to the News Department. Many decades later I had a minor role in a TV soap opera called Heaven’s Gate.
Your husband was a graduate of Theatre Arts and so are you and that made the union a perfect one, do you agree?
He actually majored in Sociology before studying drama and my area was originally in stage management so we definitely had common interests. We understood each other’s jobs and accommodated each other’s schedules, which were sometimes hectic, to say the least.
We learnt that your husband was dreaded by the cast of the VHM because he inculcated some levels of discipline among the cast and was professional, how do you explain that?
I told you that there has to be discipline in the theatre and that was where he trained before being employed in television. There was no way he was going to run a production on sentiment. You either shaped up or were shipped out or edited out if you like. Since he was also a writer, he was ready to re-write scenes on the spot to exclude those who did not attend rehearsals or who disrupted his production. Don’t forget, in those days VHM was broadcast live from the studio, although it was recorded during transmission.
What would you take away from your husband professionally?
He was focused, disciplined and creative.
The cast of VHM were people from different walks of life, but they took to acting as a hobby with passion, is there anything that was not done professionally that you can recall as a floor manager?
I think there were times when some people would come late for rehearsals, until they realized that whoever they were, they were not indispensable.
I’m Akekaaka; I broke Agodi Prison lock and released our imprisoned people, says Agbekoya leader
Alhaji Lalekan Lasisi Akekaaka, is in his early 100s and an acclaimed original living leader of the famous “Agbekoya” Farmers Association, who revolted against the then Western Region Government of late General Adeyinka Adebayo between 1968 and 1969, over Marketing Board imposition’s of flat and hefty 8 shillings tax on them, as opposed to the 1s10p they wanted on their farm produce, especially cocoa. The Agbekoya Parapo Revolt (the union of farmers who reject suffering), popularly known as “Agbekoya” or the “Egbe Agbekoya Revolt”, was a peasant revolt in Nigeria’s former Western region, home to the majority of the country’s Yoruba population. The peasant revolt led to colossal carnage at Olorunda Village in the Akanran Area of Ibadan with casualties on both sides of the farmers and the policemen. In this interview with SOLA ADEYEMO at his Akinode Village residence along Akanran in the Ona Ara Local Government Area of Ibadan in Oyo State, the traditional warrior bares his mind on various issues concerning the security of Nigeria, particularly, Oyo State in the South Western part of the country, opining that if the government wanted the spate of insecurity to have subsided, they would have done it. Excerpts
Baba, how old are you now?
I am already a bit above 100 years of age. I cannot say precisely because there was no record of date of my birth then.
Okay, with your age and vast experiences in life, how will you describe the Nigeria of yesteryears with the Nigeria of today?
This was not the way we met the world. The Nigeria I knew was that full of truth and sincerity of purpose. It is no longer so. The world is now full of deceit. Fathers no longer act as fathers. The children are now speaking on behalf of their fathers. They now direct their fathers on the way to take.
But does it mean that the children are not acting well?
If they say that an elderly person’s eyes are sunk or his head has gone bald, is it not experience that has made it so? “Paaori, paori, lo nje ki ori agba o pa” (Head of an elder gets bald owing to appeal that he should just accommodate everything, however, unsavoury). Can the child have the same type of experience which his father has gathered over the years?
What are such areas that you can pin point as having changed for the worse unlike in the past?
In the past, if a child was going to show his father or an elderly person somewhere he did not know, the child would allow the father to be in front while he would be following. He would say that is the way or that is not the place. But now, the child will be in front while the father will be running behind him.
Blood was very sacred in the past. People dreaded shedding it unless there was war. But these days, shedding of blood has become an everyday happening and government not doing anything. What is your feeling about this?
Can’t you remember what was said in the past that when the world is coming to an end, very many strange things would be happening? That is the case of this country called Nigeria.
You are a Muslim. There are Christians; there are even traditional worshippers, as well as, humanists. With the evil things happening in the country these days, do we say that God does not answer these worshippers’ prayers or what?
Like I said, when the end of the world is near, many strange things will be happening. The Bible says that children will rise up against their fathers. Nations will rise against nations. The Quran also has similar reference. It is gradually coming to manifestation. If we want things to be put right, it can be. It is the will to do so that matters.
But what do we say of the Boko Haram attacks, kidnappings, ritual killings, Badoo Boys attacks that are giving people sleepless nights? What is the way out to these incidents of insecurity?
All these are manifestations of what the Holy Books have said that there will be a time when brothers will be rising up against one another; nations will be rising up against nations. What we are now witnessing are precursors of such prophesies. But if we don’t want it to come to manifestation, it depends on us. But are we not working towards it?
In 1968, there was the revolt by farmers against the then military government over imposition of harsh taxes. I learnt you witnessed it. How did it go?
You are right. It was not a case of witnessing it. I was a major actor. Then I was working with the Ministry of Agriculture. During the period of Civil War of Ojukwu, I said I wanted to go and participate but my parents did not allow me. But when the Agbekoya revolt began, I left the Agric Ministry and joined the Agbekoya Farmers Association. I decided to go with the revolting farmers and because people knew I don’t, by nature pretend my intention and I won’t hide it, they gave me the alias of “Akekaaka” (Blunt speaker).
They christened me Akekaaka loju ija (Blunt speaker during fight or war). This was because anywhere I was going; nobody would dissuade me once I believed in it.
The genesis of the revolt was assessment made by the government of General Adeyinka Adebayo on farmers. They would assess the father and also assess his children. Then we did not say we would not pay tax, but the assessment on tax imposed on us was too heavy.
Adebayo said he would use his power on us and so he unleashed his policemen on us to be killing us. We said we would be paying 30 shillings as tax but Adebayo said he would not agree. We even went to (Chief Obafemi) Awolowo to intercede on our behalf but Adebayo refused.
On the 1st day of July when he said he would use his sword on us, we went to meet them at the Olorunda Junction along Akanran Road close to this village. When they came, our leader Baba Tafa Adeoye was at Akanran while we stayed at Olorunda Junction. Baba had said that we must not do anything to respond to whatever the government did to us until he was around personally. He said we should not talk until after he must have responded to whatever they asked him.
As the policemen were marching towards us, they were singing that we were stubborn people who were playing with death. Immediately they got to Olorunda Junction, they shot at two of us.
Once they shot two among us, the rest of us went into hiding because Baba Tafa had instructed that we must not respond. The news got to Baba and so he headed back to Olorunda. As soon as he got to the policemen, one of his guards who was standing beside him saw that someone beside him had been felled by a police bullet.
He said, ‘so you people indeed came to fight?’
Baba Tafa was not holding any gun then, but he just snatched a gun from one of us and shot at the police. It was that single shot that triggered the unrest, making many of the policemen to start falling that day. That was how it went.
Okay, if I can understand you properly, many policemen fell and eventually farmers emancipated. Why can’t you Agbekoya farmers use the same power you used then to put a stop to the menace of bandits, notorious herdsmen and other kidnappers that are ravaging the South West?
The so-called bandits are not disturbing the masses o. They are just having understanding relationship with the government. They both know what they are doing. It does not concern us. its govt that brought those killing people. The government that brought them will know what to do to them.
But how do we explain the situation where people were travelling to Ile Ife from Ibadan and on the way, they were ambushed? Some killed while others were kidnapped and dragged into the forest. Is it the government that was responsible for that?
But why would they be ambushed? They will also need to be prepared then. Our fathers have said it in a proverbial form that whoever will dine in a complex situation will also need to lock his door firmly. Anybody travelling will also need to be prepared for whatever comes his way then.
But not many people have such power to be prepared as you have said.
Then let him sit down and allow himself to be killed or allow them to put rope on his neck. He has alternatives now!
Do you therefore support the position of Iba Gani Adams, the Aare Ona Kakanfo, with regard to commanding his followers to revolt if the banditry, killings and kidnappings in the South West do not stop?
No o. If one is not sent on an errand and he sticks out his neck into it, he should not blame anybody if he rubbished. Was I not with Gani at a recent meeting we had? I even left him there because some guests were waiting for me. But in the real sense of it, Gani and I are together.
But the question that many people are asking is that if all these were to be happening in the past, the Agbekoya Farmers would not allow the mess to befall them. They expect you Agbekoya and the OPC to have risen up to protect them but you are not. What do you have to say to this?
But does the government not have all the arsenals with which to combat the menace you mentioned? Let them use it now. It is the government that is concerned and not us. The government has not said that it is pained.
Why are you crying more than the bereaved? Those who are perpetrating the havocs are not doing anything against the government. It is what suits the government that they are doing. Is it not the government that owns the land? If a parent sends his child on an errand and some people waylay him and beat him, would the parent not stand up and go there?
What has the government said on it? Didn’t you hear what the government said in the years past, that if 10 persons died during a war, it would avenge with 100 persons? The government owns everything. We don’t have any say in it.
Many people were complaining that Fulani herdsmen were destroying their farms with their cattle but President Muhammadu Buhari said that governments in all the 36 states of the federation should create grazing lands in form of RUGA for the Fulani. Was that the expected solution?
Don’t you know that the government has interest in the cattle rearing business? They also have cattle among the Fulani herdsmen. Within our community around here, when we were complaining that cattle were eating up our farms, investigation we conducted revealed that most of the cattle involved were owned by policemen.
And nothing must happen to them. They were committing all those havocs because the government gave them the chance. Don’t you know that once one has soiled his fingers; he will find it difficult to tell the truth? That is the situation with what we are experiencing.
Are you therefore saying that with the way the Federal Government is handling the herdsmen’s matter, we are no near finding a solution to the problem at all?
The government is not concerned. They have not said anything and they have not done anything. If they are ready to put an end to it today, you will see that the problem will stop. Or why does the government have security in the Police and the Army?
Is it not to be able to curtail any excesses in the land? If we protest or talk with those concerned now, you will later realise that they would go behind, change the resolution, and do the contrary.
In terms of security in the Yorubaland, can we say that the leaders have unity of purpose?
We cannot have unity of purpose because those who are working with the government will always be taking sides with the government. I am not working with the government. As you have come now, if the government wants to get something, they could send secret police that will come to the midst of villagers, for example to act like a labourer to work on their farm. Through it, he will be able to gather whatever information he needs for the government. If any of the villagers claims he knows what does not concern him or he does not know, has he not put himself in trouble that way? That is the case with Nigerian situation.
There was a forum in Ibadan about two weeks ago where Professor Bamji Akintoye was elected as the Leader of Yoruba. You were also there. But some groups have kicked against the election, declaring that the professor of History is not qualified for the position. What is your reaction to that?
My own reaction is that I cannot get involved in any such argument. The whole issue will end up somewhere one day. The whole scenario is like that of a child that mounts a horse and says that his father should be drumming for him to dance. (Kangun kangun kangun, o maa kangun sibi kan lojo kan). After dancing for some time, the horse galloped and slammed the child on the ground. He hit his head on the ground and died. Everything will end up somewhere someday like that.
How can you assess President, Muhammadu Buhari, in terms of his style of administration since he has been in the saddle?
How can an illiterate assess an educated one? We the illiterates don’t have ideas where the literate ones are doing things. When we were fighting in the past, Awolowo came to us. He saw us as illiterates and when he approached us, he removed the garment (agbada) he put on so as to come to our level, and we both talked.
But like you have asked, you can see that illiterates cannot talk where the educated ones are talking. Wherever the government says we should go is where we will go.
But in view of your age and experience in life, I want you to advise President Buhari on what you think can make his administration perform better?
You want an illiterate like me to advise someone that is educated? Have you forgotten how our leader then, Tafa, was picked up by the then government and how we all suffered? We had to break the Agodi Prison (in Ibadan) then before everything went down.
On a lighter mode, please, how many wives do you have?
I have two wives and they are with me.
May I know the age of your last born child?
I cannot say I have a last born yet because I am not an educated one like you people who will say they have stopped procreating. If God gives me, what will I say is delaying me? If I have a young lady as a new wife now, I am good to go. But in the real sense of it, I have retired myself because what my children want from me now is just to be eating well.
People have been commending Governor Seyi Makinde for doing well within his 100 days in office. Do you also support this?
Yes, I support it. A government that is administering well and does not allow for crisis should be supported.
The roads that I drove through to this village are so deplorable. What is your message to Governor Makinde on behalf of your people in this area?
We had complained to the past governments on these roads of ours but they did not answer us. But I will use this medium to call on our leader, Governor Seyi Makinde, to please see to the repair of our roads to Akanran community in the Ona Ara Local Government Area. The roads that lead to this community right from Orita Aperin, are not motorable. They are not good. Many roads that lead to several villages like the one to Akinode here are in deplorable state.
All those we had voted for in the past always reneged on their campaign promise to repair our roads for us. I implore our government of Makinde to be merciful on us villagers. That is what seriously affects us farmers. We find it difficult to transport our farm produce out of our villages to the major markets. This should not continue to be so.
You are an Ibadan man Sir. What do you see to the crisis between the Olubadan and his crowned High Chiefs?
They are all our traditional fathers. I don’t want to comment on that but just to appeal to them to allow for peace. I nevertheless commend our Governor, Makinde, for his interventional moves. May God help him to resolve the crisis finally.
What is your message to President Muhammadu Buhari also?
Our President should know that many of us under his very big tree whose branches have covered, are not comfortable. Our smaller trees are not thriving because of the shed from his branches.
Many of us in the villages are not enjoying at all. We farmers in the villages are not enjoying at all. He should be merciful onto us. Our roads are not good. The Federal Government should help us. They have all along been promising us all these years. When are they going to do whatever they will do? Time is going please!
What of the area of employment opportunities? Many youth now go into banditry, Yahoo Yahoo, kidnapping business because they don’t have jobs to sustain their living. What is your advice to President Buhari on this?
The issue is that many of the youth that are having jobs are the children of those big ones on top. You can see, these are some of my own children. When they could not get jobs, we asked them to come and be farming. Our own children cannot steal or go into armed robbery. But are they encouraged to do any meaningful farming? When it comes to provision of fertilizers, those big farmers in the cities are the ones that will corner it. Talk of loans; it will not get to us real farmers. If they want to talk of caterpillars, they would ask us to bring money to purchase it; they would ask us to buy diesel for it if they provide one.
But where will peasant farmers like us get such money if they don’t assist us? Whatever we are able to clear and hoe is what we are doing. The government is not assisting us. It is every day that they keep promising. If they say they want to give out loans, they always gave it out to farmers in the urban centres. They don’t extend it to us in the villages. I hereby appeal to the government to remember us in the villages if they want to extend any help on agric.
They should not continue to limit it to the so-called farmers in the urban areas who will just keep the money in their pockets without extending it to us real farmers in the villages.
Many communities have been complaining about cattle of Fulani people eating up their farms. Hope you residents of this area are not having similar experience.
Like I said, it is the government officials themselves that are buying and keeping cattle with the Fulanis who are causing havoc on innocent people.
If anybody does anything to harm their cattle, such person must be killed. They must protect the property of their bosses. We had such experience where our farms were destroyed, and when we investigated it, we discovered that powerful people were behind the scene. And what can we do?
But on this insecurity issue, kidnapping and armed banditry, my prayer is that they don’t come here like they have been attacking some other communities.
They will not come. They cannot come. If they attempt to come here, they will just perish on the way by the power of the ground they will pass through.
Baba, we know you to be leader of the Agbekoya Solidarity Movement, but Agbekoya Movement has got about three or four different leaders now. How do we reconcile that?
If anyone calls himself an Agbekoya leader, ask him where he fought his own war. This is the Akekaaka that went to break the Agodi Prison and released our imprisoned people. I was the one that Tafa sent to go and break the lock of the prison and release our people. I am the successor of Tafa today.
Ask them who among them fought war along with Tafa Adeoye. Where did they fight their own war? Go and ask them. Those claiming to be Agbekoya leaders are only looking for what they want to eat from the government.
Go to the house of Tafa at Elekuo near Orita Aperin, and they will tell you that Lalekan Lasisi Alekaaka remains the successor of Tafa Adeoye as the authentic leader of the Agbekoya Farmers Association.
Decriminalise, exonerate Saro-Wiwa, others –MOSOP president
Fegalo Nsuke is the President of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). In this interview with EMMANUEL MASHA, he spoke on the Ogoni cleanup among sundry issues. Excerpts…
From your interviews, comments and statements, it appears you have lost faith in the Ogoni cleanup. Is it impatience or because your expectation and those of some Ogoni have not been met?
As a people, we advocated for the cleanup of Ogoniland and paid prices, made sacrifices for that to be achieved. Now we have the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) in place to implement the UNEP report on Ogoni. Though we know that the report had been funded and written in favour of Shell, we still accepted its implementation with the hope it could lead to a cleanup Ogoniland. But the problem is that the report is not followed. The report is not implemented to bring benefits to the communities and all aspects that should benefit the people are jettisoned.
When you are implementing a remediation programme in an area where the drinking water had been polluted and much damage had been done to livelihoods, the first thing you do is provide an alternative source of safe drinking water.
The next thing is to assess the extent of damage done to sources of livelihood, so that you can pay compensation for the damages. You simply cannot do a remediation without compensation for damages. These are the critical aspects of the remediation which concern the people and have been neglected.
Back to the UNEP report on Ogoni, it was also recommended that an assessment be done on the health of the people. A health audit does not mean conducting a one day program to treat malaria, give Panadol and flagyl.
What we expected is a complete upgrade of existing medical facilities to enable people visit the health care centres for an assessment and get further help. A department can be dedicated within the hospitals to conduct the audit and this would be on a continuous basis and not an ad-hoc one or two day intervention as we saw with HYPREP.
So, we are disappointed that the implementation is not delivering on our expectations and the primary recommendations, which should positively impact the Ogoni environment. HYPREP has instead focused on enriching certain individuals.
Contracts are being awarded to unqualified firms and even those who were not registered during the pre-qualification assessment are making the list of contractors. The entire program had been ridden with corruption. And that is why we have called for the dissolution of the governing structures that have promoted the corruption in HYPREP.
You have consistently faulted the handling of the clean-up by HYPREP; what is your main grouse with the body?
The trouble is that the Ogoni people continue to drink polluted water whereas HYPREP has spent billions of cleanup funds without addressing the water crises which is a direct consequence of Shell’s pollution in Ogoniland. HYPREP was initially given US$10million to take off, that is an estimated NGN3.6billion. All of that money had been spent on internal processes without any move to address the water and health problems raised in the UNEP Report.
That again reflects the corruption in HYPREP, an organisation that does not need more that 10 support staff running over 40, and wasting money on frivolous items, all of which is to cover up the loots that are currently going on in HYPREP.
The other thing is that livelihoods had been destroyed in Ogoni and Shell and HYPREP are not talking about how to compensate the people for their losses. They are spending billions on themselves and remain silent about families that barely survive daily due to the destruction of their farmlands and fishing businesses.
When you take a look at the contractors, you will see that they were all selected out of a compromised process. Over 70 per cent of the contractors were unqualified firms that would require signing a different contract with another firm to do the cleanup on their behalf.
The Ogoni cleanup had been converted by HYPREP into a self-enrichment programme and a tool for political patronage. Those compromises are the reasons we have called for an the dissolution of the HYPREP governing Council and an investigation into the cleanup contracts because we have seen clear compromises on the part of the governing council of HYPREP.
But Marvin Dekil, the head of HYPREP has kick started the cleanup process and has assured that he would ensure that the environment is cleaned up. Recently he reeled out some of the milestones HYPREP has reached in the cleanup, don’t you agree with him?
We have asked them to explain to us how they are handling the contaminated soil in the absence of the Integrated Soil Management Centre which was recommended by UNEP to handle the contaminated wastes. They have not been able to answer that question because they have no plan in place to handle the contaminated soil.
So it’s all a cover-ups of the oil spills and not a cleanup. If you do an investigation into the activities of HYPREP and their unqualified contractors, you will find a link between the contractors and at least a member of the HYPREP Governing Council. That is why we have called for the dissolution of the current governing council and that a new one should be put in place, so we can have an independent investigation.
We i n s i s t that there is massive corruption going on in HYPREP and a government that claims to be fighting corruption cannot be silent about that. I attended a town hall meeting organised by Social Acton in Port Harcourt on Wednesday, July 31. A representative of HYPREP was there to tell us they were working with the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CERHD) to draw up key performance indicators. That tells you that they have no plan in place.
We have asked them to make their plan public because it should be a public document when you are dealing with the people; they have not been able to. They are just trying to set key performance indicators, which essentially tell you that HYPREP does not have a plan in place. Yet, they have awarded contracts.
The fact is that the entire process had been driven by personal gains and not to deliver benefits for the Ogoni people and with the way HYPREP is going, they are bound to fail and Ogoni will remain polluted after their work and expenditure of billions of dollars.
But we think we can get things reversed and set on the part of progress by reconstituting the governing council, recovering the stolen funds and implementing the program openly so that people can start having confidence in what HYPREP is doing.
What exactly do you find troubling with some of the contracts that HYPREP has awarded on the cleanup?
The Ogoni cleanup should not begin with contract awards; it should have commenced with the addressing the water crises. At least 50 Ogonis die weekly in the communities where spills have impacted strongly and the rate of strange sicknesses is alarming. That means the health audit and the need to improve the medical facilities are paramount. The people must also be compensated for their losses occasioned by the massive spills. HYPREP cannot skip these critical areas affecting the people to award contracts because contracts give them money.
The other thing is that the contracts have been awarded to unqualified firms. For instance, the registration details of Basic Nigeria Technology Limited, w h i c h w a s hired to do o i l spill remediation job at the Oboolo site, revealed that it is in the business of oil palm plantation and refining. Pacrim Engineering Ltd was incorporated two months after the bidding process had closed, and yet was able to make the list of successful companies.
Mosvinny Nigeria Limited, which was allotted a site in Debon, is in the business of agricultural farming, mechanized farming, poultry farming, livestock breeders, animal husbandry and agricultural services in all its ramifications, yet it made the list of contractors to clean Ogoniland. Louizont Ferretti Enterprises Ltd, which was contracted to do the cleanup at Buemene Korokoro, is in the business of supply services and maintenance of oil field equipment, dealers in all types of cars, fashion house, imports and exports, trade, general merchants, general goods, buying agents dealers, dealers in textiles materials and merchandise of different description whether consumable items or not and general maintenance of office equipment. Rey & Reina International Limited, which was allotted another section of Debon, was set up to sell and distribute general goods.
Maiduguri-based Shamsa Resources and Services Ltd, which was set up to carry on the business of management training, finance and development consultancy services in all aspects of the development sector, to plan and conduct survey and study, project management, business analysis and change implementation, was also allotted a remediation job at Debon. So you see that the integrity of the process has been compromised by the Governing Council of HYPREP.
Some persons have condemned your criticism of the cleanup, claiming that you are not happy because you are not being ‘carried along’. How true is this?
It is normal when you stand on the side of the people to hear such accusations. But they also needed to tell us when, how and where I requested to be carried along and which company I have backed or recommended for remediation contracts. That kind of accusation tells you that for them, it is about “being carried along” and not rescuing Ogoni and that accusation also reinforces the massive corruption in HYPREP which we are talking about.
There is news making the rounds that MOSOP is divided and the division among some Ogoni stakeholders is a sign of disunity among Ogoni leaders. Doesn’t that bother you?
The expectation of the Ogoni people is what I have earlier stated. There is some scrambling among the businessmen over contracts and that is normal. But as a people, and as far as the cleanup project is concerned, we want to drink clean water, we want compensation for the damages they have done to Ogoni, we want our hospitals to be able to deal with the sicknesses and mas-sive deaths we are currently experiencing, we also want to have a credible and transparent process that accounts for the billions spent without results. MOSOP will continue to galvanise every community and sector of Ogoni to get positive results from the cleanup program. So, we are actually not divided over the primary purpose of the cleanup. The division is between those who are embezzling the cleanup funds and those of us who want to see it benefit the Ogoni people. MOSOP is not divided, we are a product of a credible election and the Shellbacked attempt to have a sit-tight president who favours forceful oil resumption with potentials for conflicts and killings in Ogoniland has failed and will continue to fail. We cannot allow personal interests to drive MOSOP. We are guided by a constitution and we will remain committed to the common good of the Ogoni people.
What is the way out of the insecurity in Ogoniland, fuelled by cultism?
An immediate intervention, I would think, should be to boost Police presence in Ogoni and immediately transfer all police officers that have served over two years in Ogoni. We say so because we have credible information linking the police officers to be focused on arrests and taking monies for bail instead of helping to secure Ogoni. We have also seen a link between security officers and a flourishing illegal oil business. Gangsterism in Ogoniland is sponsored by politicians and the Nigerian oil industry. I am sure government intelligence should be pointing to that but their inactivity could be politically influenced. The way out would be to stop the politicians and the companies sponsoring these crimes. The desperation of the Nigerian oil industry to resume oil exploration in Ogoni against the wishes of the people is a big problem. For instance, our resistance against forceful oil resumption has set the promoters of Shell and oil resumption against us and they now try to protect a compromised former president of MOSOP instead facing the realities. But the fact is that we cannot submit to any form of intimidation. MOSOP has a clear mandate from the Ogoni people and that is clearly expressed in the Ogoni Bill of Rights. We will continue to protest the injustices done to Ogoni until they are properly addressed. What actually stuns me about the much orchestrated insecurity in Ogoni is that the boys perpetuating these crimes have openly come out to admit that they are sponsored yet, government has done nothing. If the government is sincere about fighting insecurity, it should immediately commence an investigation into the matter and act on the outcome in an appropriate way.
A few days after Governor Nyesom Wike announced a N30 million bounty on Bobosky, the leader of the Greenlanders in Gokana, the army captured him. Should bounty be placed on his likes to rid Ogoniland of other criminal elements wreaking havoc?
The issue of Bobosky’s capture had been disputed by the army, but placing bounties on his likes won’t really address the problem if the Police are not supported to be effective in Ogoni and the sponsors continue to fund the gangsters. The other issue is job creation for Ogoni youths, Ogoniland seem to have been abandoned by the government and this appears to be a deliberate policy designed to create these kind of situation in order to break the resistance against Shell’s return to Ogoniland. If government will see our commitment to a peaceful Nigeria and our agitation to be a simple demand for basic rights which can be addressed through dialogue, then I think there would be progress.
MOSOP is against the resumption of oil exploration in Ogoniland by Shell or any other oil company. Why have you maintained this stance? What should be done for drilling to return to Ogoniland?
The solution is to respect the political rights of the Ogoni people for self-determination, as demanded in the Ogoni Bill of Rights, ensure a proper cleanup of the massive oil spills in Ogoni, pay compensation for the destruction of livelihoods in Ogoniland, apologise and review the death sentences which led to the state murder of our heroes on November 10, 1995. The solution is not to force oil resumption which would be strongly resisted by the people and cause more deaths in Ogoniland.
The fact is that forceful oil resumption will prompt a strong Ogoni resistance and the government and Shell will as usual, call in the soldiers to kill Ogoni people and we do not want that. We also advice against forceful oil resumption because we know that the entire Niger Delta looks up to the Ogoni people in the struggle for freedom and killing the Ogoni people could draw the sympathy of the rest of the Niger Delta. That has the potential to throw the region into another round of crises.
The solution therefore would be a peaceful dialogue facilitated by credible international negotiators and we are ready for such dialogue which we believe will address the problem. Finally, we emphasize the decriminalization or exoneration of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other eight hanged by the Nigerian government on November 10, 1995. Their decriminalization has become a key component of Ogoni demands. We see it as hypocritical for the government to name a Polytechnic after Saro-Wiwa, name streets after him, acknowledge that he was a hero but simply cannot acknowledge that they murdered him in his innocence. All of that has to be addressed.
I do not think that as Ogoni people fighting for Justice in Nigeria, we can truly celebrate freedom for Ogoni until Saro-Wiwa and the other eight are decriminalised, their names cleared and their innocence acknowledged by the Nigerian state.
I inherited gift to cure ear, eye, tooth ailments from my dad –Traditional doctor
Chief Sunny Olu, popularly called the ear, eye and tooth doctor has won the hearts in Edo State and its environs because of the potency and efficacy of his treatment. In this exclusive interview with OJIEVA EHIOSUN, he spoke on his challenges, experiences, how he was inspired by God. Excerpts…
How did you come about the special gift of healing people with tooth, ear and eye diseases that has earned you fame in Edo?
I just want to thank God Almighty for the gift of life. You see every human being created by God has a particular gift deposited in him or her; it is left for that individual to discover the area in which God wants them to function. In my own case, I’m called by God to serve people and help in the little way that I can. So, I grew up and inquired from God and I discovered that my calling is using herbs and leaves created by God to cure and heal people that have deficiencies in health issues particularly ear, eye and tooth problems. As a young man, I worked closely with medical doctors and discovered that not all health cases orthodox medicine can cure. So, when I see people spend huge amount of money trying to get medical attention yet the problem persists, I would advise the patients to seek traditional help. You know that before colonization came to Africa, our fathers used herbs and leaves to cure all kinds of ailments. As a man ordained by God to use herbs and leaves to cure people, I know a lot about them. I know that God made these leaves and herbs for our use, so I keyed into it. Again, I also inherited it from my late father, and I learnt a lot about how to use herbs from him, because he was very good in using herbs and leaves to cure people of their ailments. In the old days, life span of people was longer than what we have today because they did not eat the kinds of fried foods people eat today. Everything they consumed that time was natural, but today because of the quest to make money quick people put chemicals on fruits so that they can get ripe quickly. All these things are detrimental to our health, and from there people contract dangerous diseases that put their lives at risk. So, with the gift God gave to me, I decided to establish a centre to help people with these problems. I thank God that I’m doing it so well and people are coming to give good testimonies about the effectiveness of my treatment.
What are the challenges you face in this calling of yours?
Actually, there is nothing good that comes so easy; in anything one does there is bound to challenges. We are talking of health-related issues, anybody that finds himself in this kind of field must be careful in doing it because you are dealing with different kinds of human beings from different backgrounds. In my own way I try as much as possible to be professional in my duties. The challenge I have is that government is not looking at our practice, we need government to complement our little efforts, there are some equipment I needed to make my work easier. I need financial support because after treatments I give drugs to patients to help reduce the pains. I need a bigger office, because a lot of people come to me for treatment. I take just little token from them because many of them cannot afford to pay huge hospital bills being given to them by medical experts. And most importantly, herbs cure more effectively than orthodox medicine when it comes to ear, eye and teeth issues. Not everybody wants their teeth extracted.
What do you think is responsible for these diseases?
It is nothing other than the kinds of food people eat. For tooth problems, people eat a lot of sweet things. If you can avoid sweet things you will be free from tooth diseases. Many times, I have seen worms falling out of people’s teeth during treatment. When a patient goes to the hospital, the doctors would tell you that you have bacteria in your teeth. They cannot tell you that there are worms in the teeth, but when the worms suck the marrow inside the teeth, it develops into holes. After the dentist has examined you, he will give you drugs and pull your teeth out. However, when you pull out the teeth, the worms are still inside the gums. It does not make sense when you keep extracting the teeth in your mouth, one day there may be no more teeth to extract. So, herbs are simply the best medicines to cure such ailment. For the eyes you must keep away from sharp objects and places where there are dusts. Using of unclean material to clean your eyes should be avoided. Identifying cases of eye problems and going for treatment will help patients.
How do you cure people with herbs?
I will use a client, Mrs. Nneka Nwankwo, who came for treatment, as an example. All I do is put a quantity of this liquid water medicine in the person’s mouth, and tell them to hold it there for some time; the medicine will attract the worms and they will start coming out. After some minutes you pour the sub-stance out of your mouth and see worms coming out. With the toothpick, I carefully remove them from their comfort zone under the gums. When Mrs. Nwankwo came to me after she had gone round hospitals in the state, her jaws were swollen she could not even talk because of the pains she was gone through. She said there was pus coming out of her mouth and this had been on for two years. She said the only reason her teeth were not extracted was because she was pregnant. After I treated her she was shocked to see what came out of her teeth. She told me that it was a medical doctor that recommended my place to her, and today she is a happy woman. So, anybody that comes here must have a good testimony to give and I thank God for this gift.
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