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Buhari’s predecessors re-looted recovered stolen funds – Suraju

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Buhari’s predecessors re-looted recovered stolen funds – Suraju

Mr. Olanrewaju Suraju is the chairman of Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA). He speaks on the returned General Sani Abacha’s loot, the withdrawal of corruption charges against former Governor of Gombe State, Senator Danjuma Goje and insecurity, among other issues. WALE ELEGBEDE reports

 

What is your take on the perception that history of the recovered loot from late Head of State, General Sani Abacha is laced with corruption? Do you agree with those who opined that the Abacha loot has been re-looted over time by successive governments?

The history of that fund which is an average of over $4billion has its substantial part actually re-looted among the governments of Abdulsalam Abubakar, Olusegun Obasanjo and some of them by Goodluck Jonathan. These administrations re-looted a substantial part of the recovery because there is no evidence of either the money or the utilization of those funds. This one has started and that is why the civil society cried out seriously when the $321million was returned to Nigeria. We didn’t just cry within; we also cried to the international community to say we don’t want a repeat of the past. So, when the $321million was to be returned to the government of Muhammadu Buhari, civil society members were there where the World Bank, governments of the United States and Switzerland and the Attorney-General of Nigeria signed the agreement and how the fund will be spent was agreed upon.

What was the agreement like?

The Nigerian government was given the option of saying this is where and how we are going to utilise the funds. The civil society actually opposed the idea of conditionality where our people will just be treated like second-class world citizens by giving conditions to how we spend our stolen funds that were recovered from their system. We also opposed them on the ground that not only that they don’t return the monies with interest after staying in their countries after 20 years and more. But the fact that we got the money, we want to deal with the internal challenges first before we face the international community to start asking for compensation for the fact that the money was revolving within their system and businesses were transacted with the money; we deserve to get interest on the monies. If you keep money in the bank, you get interest.

Also, the fact that some of those banks that allowed for the flow of the illicit funds from Nigeria are still not sanctioned by those countries and there is a need to have that done. That was the reason why a re-looting of the Abacha loot could happen. The funds were re-looted by some public office holders who took them again back to those countries and their banks.

  

It looks as if the public is not well informed about the processes involved in the returned loot hence they couldn’t engage the system accordingly?

The public outcry is justified but there is a need to also engage the system. That was one of the reasons we had a programme in Abuja recently and it was to have an accountability process of the government representative who was in charge of the social programme that the government promised the world that it wants to commit the fund to and see what has been done. So, figures were given and data were provided; so it is left for Nigerians to interrogate the data and start a process of challenging those facts, either confirming them or controverting them.

Recovering the looted funds of late Abacha should be commended, but there are still many rivers to cross. Many loose ends are yet to be tied. These funds passed through the banking system, they were not shipped abroad; the funds were withdrawn from Nigerian financial system definitely with the collaboration of some officials. These are grave questions that Nigerians should ask. A comprehensive probe into the past will strengthen public confidence that criminals of yesteryears will not be allowed to live with the impression that you can live in peace at the expense of misery and extreme poverty their acts of corruption had nurtured.

  

What does withdrawal of charges against former governor Gombe State, Senator Danjuma Goje by the Federal Government portends for the fight against corruption by the current administration?

Since 2015, the Danjuma Goje issue has reversed the credibility of President Buhari and it has also challenged the commitment of the President to the fight against corruption. It has eroded the sincerity of the President and because people still understand the fact that political parties are an association of the same set of people that have been part of the rots of the past. The only slack that people cut the government is in the President and that is due to his track record of uprightness and performance as a military Head of State. There is no justification for this decision.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is doing a great job through diligent prosecution. The sudden decision of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) to take over the case is suspicious. It sends wrong signals to local and international communities that vested political interests are bent on sabotaging the efforts of the EFCC and the entire gamut of the anti-corruption campaign. This is why we have said in the civil society that we won’t allow this to stand.

  

What measure is civil society; especially Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) putting up to ensure you won’t allow it to stand?

HEDA has sent a petition to the President of United States (U.S.), Donald Trump, through the U.S. Secretary of State, Mr. Michael Pompeo, and the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria calling for the immediate withdrawal of the U.S. entry Visa issued to Goje, and in absence of a valid visa, denies him the issuance of one. Our point in the petition is that granting a U.S. visa to Goje undermines the global efforts at fighting corruption. We wrote the request to demand that a man of this kind of political standing with dirty stains of corruption allegations should not be allowed to hold an American Visa or if he already has one, it should be revoked.

Do you think only that will suffice?

Not only that, we have given the Federal Government an ultimatum to either prosecute Goje or face court action and public protest. The international community would be notified of this subversion of the rule of law and justice by the present regime. Bilateral laws and agreement between Nigeria and other foreign nations will be explored to expose both the government and the suspect. Constitutional provision on Nolle Prosqui is not to pervert justice but protect the public interest. The withdrawal is in bad taste and this group will deploy all the constitutional legal means to defend the public interest in this particular case.

  

There was a report of recent theft of cash running into hundreds of millions by some soldiers detailed to escort a large amount of cash said to belong to a top government official. What is your take on this?

The alleged stealing of the money by soldiers who should represent a qualitative moral fabric of the country has raised serious questions about Nigeria’s commitment to the fight against corruption. Nigerians need full disclosure on the scandal because it is a national embarrassment. The National Assembly should probe this incidence. The House Committee on Defense needs to provide the necessary clue. There is no doubt that the action of these soldiers will have a serious impact on the campaign against terrorism.

The Senate should get to the root of this matter before it is too late. If nothing is done, other soldiers on the frontline may be encouraged to embark on stealing of national assets. We call on the National Assembly to treat this issue as a top priority. Who are these soldiers? How much was the money involved? Who owns the money? Is the money owned by an individual or by the country? Is the money the proceeds of crime? There are many questions waiting to be answered.

There have been calls for a national summit on security and the Senate also reinforced that call recently. What is your take on this especially with the heightened state of insecurity in the country?

With profound respect, the call is completely escapist and diversionary. Not too long ago, a former President regularly convened security meetings to address the security challenges facing the country when he was in power. But under his watch, the country witnessed the highest rate of politically motivated killings in the history of the country because the recommendations of the security summits were never implemented.

On February 8, 2018 the Senate convened a well attended national security summit at Abuja. The executive branch of the Federal government participated at the summit. Incidentally, Senator Ahmed Lawan was the Chairman of the ad hoc Committee set up by the Senate to review the security situation in the country. The committee submitted a report with far-reaching recommendations. But apart from the enactment of the Police Security Fund the other recommendations of the committee have not been implemented. Furthermore, on June 8, 2019, the Executive convened a security summit attended by the President, Vice President, the 36 state governors and Service Chiefs to review the security situation in the country. The resolution of the summit has not been implemented.

Therefore, instead of calling for the setting up of another security summit the Senate under the leadership of Senator Lawan should implement the resolutions of the Senate and the recommendations of the executive on national security. The National Assembly should end the official hypocrisy by ensuring that the Constitution is amended to allow each government to establish a State Police Service to secure the life and property of the Nigerian people. As a matter of urgency, the National Assembly should appropriate a Special Security Fund for the recruitment and training of police personnel without any further delay.

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No police, army can stop anger against injustice in Nigeria –Rev. Gado

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No police,  army can stop anger against injustice in Nigeria –Rev. Gado

Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Gado is a prominent Christian leader in Northern Nigeria. He was also a governorship aspirant in Gombe State during the 2019 generation elections. He takes a swipe at the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari while X-raying current challenges in Nigeria, in this interview with Tai Anyanwu

 

 

 

How do you feel about the state of the nation’s security?

 

 

The poem by W.B Yates “The Second Coming” describes how I feel about the state of the nation’s security. It says “turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall  apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence, is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity’’.

 

 

Late Professor Chinua Achebe used part of this poem to title one of his famous books Thing Fall Apart to describe the impact western culture had on the community life. The coming of Buhari has had an adverse effect on the security agencies of this country. The morale in the Army, the Police and DSS, and so on. is at its lowest ebb. The rank and file are doing their best with the antiquated arms and ammunition. His priority is on fulanization and Islamization. Look at how much he earmarked for the Fulani Radio Station and RUGA, see who he had or has for ministerial positions, National Security Adviser, and the Judiciary?

 

 

Who and who is being promoted, who is being appointed and who gets the contract and who and who is being prosecuted or not prosecuted?

 

 

The intention is clear, disarm the people and arm the herdsmen and the bandits so that the communities can easily be dislodged and taken over.

 

 

What is your take on the issue of Fulanisation and Islamization of Nigeria?

 

 

Fulanization and Islamization has been an open secret in Nigeria. Some of us have been shouting since college days. I am glad and thankful to OBJ for shining the spotlight on it even though OBJ and some of his powerful colleagues help Buhari get into office in spite of Buhari’s open confession for the implementation and expansion of the Sharia.

 

 

I am surprised though, at the reaction of Nigerians to the Fulanization and Islamization agenda of President Buhari. Fulanization and Islamization is alive and well. It has been going on before independence, at independence and after independence. Fulanization and Islamization is a done deal and we all are to blame for it from our military, political, community, religious traditional leaders and the electorate. Barely two weeks after our Independence, the Patriot Newspaper quoted Sir Ahmadu Bello Sardauna of Sokoto as saying “The new nation called Nigeria should be an estate of our grand-father Uthman Danfodio. We must ruthlessly prevent the change of power. We use the minorities of the North as willing tools and the South as a conquered territory and never allow them to rule over us and never allow them to rule over their future”.

Sardauna of Sokoto provided the blue print that has been meticulously and judiciously followed without a single error. At about the same the West African Student Union based in the UK wrote a letter to the conference of Northern chiefs asking them to support the constitutional evolution of Nigeria into an independent nation. In reply to this letter the Chiefs declared that “holding the country together is not possible except by means of the religion of the Prophet. If they want unity let them follow our religion.”

 

 

Under General Yakubu Gowon’s administration missionary schools were forcefully taken over while in many instances their names were changed to Islamic names. In 1990 all members of the Armed Forces Ruling Council were Muslims except for General Ike Nwachuku an Igbo whose mother was a Fulani Muslim. Also in 1997 all commissioners of police during Abacha’s government were Muslims. General IBB surreptitiously registered Nigeria as a member of the Organisation of Islamic Conference which up till today has not been changed.

 

 

When Rear Admiral Ebitu Ukiwe the then second in command told the world that he only heard of it in the media like everybody else. He was promptly removed and forcefully retired from the Navy. The same IBB hosted the first Islam in Africa Conference in Abuja and he donated funds from the Federal Government of Nigeria for operations including the vision of transforming Nigeria to an Islamic State and enthroning the Sultan of Sokoto as its “Supreme ruler”

 

 

I wished General OBJ, who raised the alarm did so in his second coming because between 1999-2007 the Sharia Code of the Islam law was re-introduced in the North in an expanded version, Islamic Police (Hisbah) was introduced. Christian girls were abducted, forcefully converted and forced into marriage. Buhari has never hidden his desire to fully introduce the Sharia. In 2001 or so he called for the introduction of “total” Islamic law. He said “I will continue to show openly and inside me the total commitment the Sharia movement that is sweeping all over Nigeria. God willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Sharia in the country”. If he said that while seeking for office, we would be foolish or naïve to think that he will not fulanize and Islamize Nigeria in office. Just look at his appointments in his first four years and the current list of ministers. Among the ministers waiting to be assigned portfolios is one who years ago led a riot in a higher institution against the Christian body in the school (Fellowship of Christian Students (FCS). The leader was killed and some Christian students expelled simple for trying propagate their faith.

 

 

Some ethnic groups have resorted to self-help to tackle the issue of insecurity. What is the import?

 

 

That means these ethnic groups no longer trust the government to protect them. It is a vote of no confidence and a serious disappointment in the administration. It’s like the days before the civil war broke out in 1966. Loss of trust led to people taking the law into their hands. Before the coming of the colonial government ethnic groups had their own defensive mechanism in place and it worked. They relinquished that because the colonial government protected them from physical attack that could come from another ethnic group.

 

 

Now that it seems the centre is failing to hold, ethnic groups have to fall back to what they knew best. If they fail, they have nobody to blame but themselves. That has been the call from well-meaning leaders of the country that communities should protect themselves. The number and places of attacks are too many for the securities to handle considering the fact that they provide security at political rallies, for governors, Senators, House of Reps, Ministers and commissioners and since more police are busy protecting government functionaries the people are left to source for their own security.

 

 

Besides that, there is a serious allegation that the army is colluding with the Boko Haram or the herdsmen and bandits. Wow, when the protector becomes a predator it is every community for itself and God for us all.

 

 

Buhari is slamming those who are critical of his government, accusing them of not being patriotic. What is you take on that?

 

 

My first take is that he should thank and commend them just as he did when he was sick and Nigerians prayed for him. The same people who prayed for him and wished him well when he was sick are some of the people criticizing his government.

 

 

My second take is that I am not surprised at all because that is what we should expect from a Sharia based administration. It is absolutist and fascist in nature. 34 years ago, August 1985, Buhari’s government was toppled in a coup by IBB. I remember that coup very well. I can tell you where I was and what I was doing. In his inaugural address to the nation, IBB said that one of the reasons they staged that coup was because Buhari was too rigid and uncompromising in his attitudes to issues of national significance and that his government arrogated to itself the knowledge of the problems and solutions of Nigeria.

 

 

To call critics unpatriotic instead of inviting them for a dialogue seems to suggest that Buhari has answer: I feel dehumanized, lied to, cheated and taken for granted. My dignity as a human being created in the image of God has not been treated with dignity especially when you factor the fact that these politicians and governments come in the name of God or claim to fear God. In the north alone we have over 13 million children who are rooming the streets and preyed upon by Boko Haran and herdsmen yet we have the richest man in Africa from the north and since Independence almost 60 years ago Nigeria has been mainly ruled by people from that area:- Tafawa Balewa, General Gowon, General Murtala, General IBB, General Sani Abacha, General Abdulsalam, General Buhari 1983-85, Musa Yar’Adua and now Buhari again; and 13 million children are out of school, why won’t people feel disenchanted? I have said it and I say it again the problem of Nigeria is failed leadership as we are currently witnessing.

 

 

The bill seeking to transfer control of water banks to the Federal Government has been resubmitted for consideration by the legislatures. Do you see any hidden motive in the executive bill?

 

Everything Buhari introduces now is suspect even when it is good intention. The government should stay away from taking any land or water ways until the country is restructured. You know when you lose trust and integrity, it is hard to regain it back. I pray he recovers. The quickest way to recovery is restructuring. If he does then and only then would he regain some of his cult-like figure

 

 

What is your opinion about the feud between soldiers and the police over the killing of the policemen on the trail of a notorious kidnapper, by soldiers?

 

First, I empathize with the families of the dead police officers.

 

 

Their good testimonies will follow them. Nigerians are grateful to you and we pray that God through Nigerians and fellow human beings arewill not forget their families.

 

 

On the feud between the army and the police, it is rather unfortunate. I read in the print media that the Captain who gave the orders that killed the police officers communicated with the alleged kidnapper 191 times or so. You see that is what happens when there is no king as in the days of Israel everybody did what is right in their own eyes. President Buhari is quoted as saying only the army, the police, the NYSC and DSS, is keeping Nigeria united so when two of the four units that is keeping Nigeria unified are at logger heads then Nigeria is in deep trouble. As I said earlier the morale in the army and the Police is at its lowest (unfair promotions, issues related to payment of salaries and allowances, inadequate equipment, injustice) and now you add feuding within and between the army and police spells doom. I pray justice and equity will prevail. Bad things happen to all of us the difference is in how we address it. Justice and equity must not only be done must be seen have been done. This is called the rule of law.

 

 

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Onucheyo: Nigerian has grown beyond RUGA

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Onucheyo: Nigerian has grown beyond RUGA

The RUGA Policy of the Federal Government has generated uproar across the nation prompting threats of violence from a number of different groups. In this interview, Dr Emmanuel Onucheyo, a veterinary doctor and a specialist in livestock production, tells ONWUKA NZESHI that the controversy was unnecessary as Nigeria had advanced beyond policies like RUGA having embraced cattle ranching many years ago.

 

 

What is your view on RUGA, a recent policy of the Federal Government that has generated so much controversy in recent weeks?

 

 

Well, my understanding of the policy so far is that the government is eager to establish some kind of agricultural transformation and they are looking at both crops and livestock, particularly cattle. For me as a professional in animal husbandry, if you look at what we had done before, I do not see any reason why we should be having all these controversies. We have come a long way.

 

 

The British colonial authorities tried to work on our livestock sector by establishing things like grazing reserves and grazing routes and we actually went through some transformation to the extent that the government introduced ranching which is the modern system for rearing cattle. I thought that having gone that far, we had actually gotten a technical solution to the old system of nomadic pastoralism.

 

 

As a young person, even as a young graduate, I used to work on a cattle ranch. This country had reached a situation where there was no longer any need to be going about with animals on the streets or along the roads, looking for grasses and water.

 

 

We had also moved beyond where you find some people pursuing a cow on the streets because they want to take it to the abattoir to be slaughtered for the beef market.

 

 

Increased population and urbanisation has made things like grazing routes, grazing reserves, cattle colony or RUGA really problematic. I’m sure that the British themselves didn’t want to get into the complications of land use issues, hence they went for the easy solution of grazing reserves and grazing routes.

 

 

Modernity and population explosion has made such policies archaic and untenable in the 21st century.

 

 

How did this technical solution you spoke about work?

 

 

 

Cattle breeding was supposed to be in the far North; cattle fattening was supposed to be in the Middle Belt where you keep the animals for a short while not exceeding three months. The cows were supposed to be kept in ranches and later slaughtered and moved as beef to the markets across the country.

 

 

The ranching option came up because there was need to phase out the nomadic system of cattle rearing.

 

 

Even as a fresh graduate, my first job was on a small ranch in Kaduna. We used to call it Kawo Cattle Farm. It was situated around where you now have the Kaduna International Trade Fair.

 

 

When I started work there, it was during the drought and we were buying pregnant cows from the cattle breeders and rehabilitating them in the ranch to save the calves when they are delivered.

 

 

When I came back from my post graduate programme, I was hired to go to the Mokwa Ranch in Niger State. The ranch was located on 7, 000 hectares of land. It had all the facilities. The Germans ran it as a pilot project of the National Livestock Production Company. There was also another project in Manchock, Kaduna. I was looking after the two projects which also included a piggery in Minna.

 

There was also the Bauchi Meat Factory and to serve that meat factory, you had the Galambi Ranch which was also located in Bauchi.

 

 

The Audu Bako regime set up an abattoir in Kano and the cattle were supposed to come from the Bunkuri Ranch in Kano. There was also a trail ranch at Umuahia in the South East and another at Fashola in the South West. These were small holdings to warehouse cattle brought down to be slaughtered and pushed into the beef market in the South.

 

 

In the case of Mokwa, it was a two in one location. It was actually called Mokwa Cattle Ranch and Abattoir because we had modern facilities to slaughter a hundred animals per day in order to produce quality beef for the Nigerian market.

 

 

What do you mean by quality beef?

 

 

I have had the opportunity to travel to other countries like Argentina where they have ranches and export beef to Europe. When we say quality beef, we mean beef coming from well-fed and healthy cows. You would have provided them with the right pasture; they are fatter and have better meat quality.

 

 

You allow them to rest in the evening before taking them to the abattoir to be slaughtered in the morning. It’s not these ones that you force to trek thousands of kilometres in search of food and water. You know our normal meat here is strong and you always need tooth pick after eating it.

 

 

 

The meat from Mokwa was soft because they were well fed and rested before slaughtering. Mokwa was on the railway so we could easily bring in spent grains from the breweries and molasses from Bacita Sugar Company. These feeds made the beef very tender, juicy and tasty. People were rushing for Mokwa Beef at Kingsway Stores in those days.

 

 

If you came to Mokwa at that time, all the 3000 animals would be bulls; no females because you were not expected to be breeding cattle there.

 

 

Were these nomadic Fulani herdsmen part of this process of modernisation of livestock farming?

 

 

They were not part of the process directly because we dealt with major cattle owners located mainly in the cattle markets of Maiduguri, Mubi and other places in the far North. But the government at that time set up the National Animal Production Research Institute (NAPRI) in Zaria to reach out to the nomadic herders and encourage them to adopt modern methods of animal husbandry.

 

 

There were ingredients in the NAPRI mandate to support these herders who were mainly of the Fulani ethnic stock. For instance, NAPRI had a Pasture Research and Development Department to produce improved grasses for them. The institute also had a mandate to introduce improved breed of cattle to these nomadic herders. The idea was that instead of these herders carrying a hundred animals to achieve their business targets, with improved breeds of cattle, they may not carry more than fifty animals to achieve the same goal.

 

 

In other words with less number of animal, the productivity will even be higher when they introduce improved breeds into their herds.

 

 

Where is NAPRI now? Is it still in existence?

 

 

It is still in existence. It has the technical solution to the challenges we are facing today.

 

 

I am sure that NAPRI has done a lot of research over these years and what we ought to have been doing at this time is making their research findings available to these herders and encouraging them to adopt the innovations and improvements required in modern livestock farming.

 

 

Perhaps, our policy makers have chosen to ignore the technical solution and have decided to play politics with this issue.

 

 

 

 

Are the pilot ranches which you mentioned earlier still in existence?

 

 

I can say for Mokwa Ranch because I’ve worked around the area in recent years; that facility is dead completely. Even Manchok Ranch is also dead.

 

 

The sad story is that all those facilities, built at huge cost, are no more. In the 1970s while I was there, Mokwa was like the headquarters of agriculture in Northern Nigeria. You had the 7,000-hectare Cattle Ranch and Abattoir and you had the National Grains Production Company, a 4,000 hectare facility producing grains.

 

 

There was also the Institute of Agricultural Research (Station) owned by ABU National Cereal Research Institute (Farm) and Savannah Forestry Station. Sadly, all these projects are no longer there.

 

 

 

Why did Nigeria abandon these facilities and allowed the projects to rot away?

 

 

I can’t really tell but I think that changes in government policy on agriculture over the years must have led us to this sorry path. I told you that I was an employee of the National Livestock Production Company and to show you that ranching was a policy then, we had subsidiaries of that company.

 

 

One of the subsidiaries was the Nigerian Ranches Limited and their business was to set up ranches.

 

 

Then there was Nigerian Diaries Limited, a subsidiary of Nigeria Livestock Production Company. I believe that if the policy on ranching had been sustained through these years, we would not have fallen into this so called farmer/herder conflict which is threatening to consume the entire country.

 

 

 

If you were to meet with our policy makers who are promoting the RUGA policy, what would you tell them?

 

 

The thing is that we can’t run away from resettling the nomads. We cannot run away from it. But, resettling them where? I think that is the question that our policy makers have not been able to provide a   satisfactory answer to. Resetting them, where? If you are going to resettle them, you should resettle them where the environment is conducive even for the kind of agriculture that they practice.

 

 

If you want to embark on large scale maize production, do you go to the South? Is that the best place for such a crop? It is the same question we should be asking the policy makers who are pushing that grazing reserves, cattle colonies and RUGA should be taken to the South. Is the South the best place for the cattle?

 

 

Of course we are talking of increased agricultural activities in Nigeria but there are particular zones and places suitable for various agricultural activities. Our policy makers ought to look at the appropriate place for cattle. If you ask me, that scheme that was in place in the 70s where cattle breeding took place in the far North is still applicable because if you go to the far North, you have large expanse of land and numerous dams.

 

 

All you need to do is to utilize these dams by deploying them for irrigation of the land and planting improved varieties of grasses to feed the cattle in their natural habitat.

 

 

NAPRI has developed these improved varieties of grasses and what is left is for the cattle herders to embrace innovations instead of sticking to this old practice of nomadic cattle rearing.

 

 

Besides, if we really keep the cattle in their natural environment, we will not only prevent this perennial conflict between herders and farmers but the people in the far north will benefit from the process.

 

 

For example, if the herders embrace ranching it will create more business opportunities in the North because these ranches and abattoirs will employ hands to make the system work. The hides and skin business which is the foundation of the leather industry will bounce back. You will also have the blood meal and bone meal factories there and these will generate employment for the local people.

 

 

Around 2009, I was the Lead Consultant to the Senate Committee on Agriculture and we were investigating the cause of the food crisis at that time. We toured several agricultural infrastructures in this country. We were looking at the land, dams and silos. I remember at our last port of call in one of the far northern states where the Commissioner for Agriculture was escorting us and we were discussing. I told him that I know that the economy of their state is agrarian but from your own point of view: Is it crop or livestock? He said livestock. Then I asked him, you have the dams and large expanse of land, why are you not tapping into your area of your comparative advantage? Draw the water to the open land, plant your grasses and graze your cattle. You don’t even have to come to the Middle Belt to look for grass because you can grow your grass and feed your cattle, fatten them, slaughter them and retain all these job opportunities there.

 

 

If the governments of these far northern states are concerned about their local economy and want to create employment opportunities and generate revenue for their states, they should encourage their people to establish ranches in those states.

 

 

The beauty of it is that they can now become major producers and suppliers of beef to the rest parts of Nigeria. Right now, the way things are scattered we don’t know what each state is contributing to the national treasury.

 

 

Ordinarily, states such as Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Katsina, Sokoto and Kano ought to be leaders in cattle breeding and beef production but they have not risen to the occasion.

 

 

Don’t you think that the oil boom and Nigeria’s over dependence on petro-dollars is responsible for the reluctance of these states to look inwards?

 

 

You know, when people blame it on oil, quite frankly, I think it is more than that. I have been to over 30 countries including Malaysia looking at agricultural projects and practices. Malaysia is in a rain forest region and they decided to utilise their forests for oil palm trees and rubber. They pursued the policy of agro-forestry. It is not as if they do not eat beef but they decided to concentrate on their area of comparative advantage.

 

 

Don’t we have oil palm trees here? Where are all our oil palm and rubber plantations? They are in the South East and South South regions and now we want to push our cattle there instead of making the North conducive for the cattle.

 

 

The West is known for cocoa and we want to send them cattle and set up RUGA settlements there.

 

 

Let the various states in Nigeria identify their specific areas of competence and comparative advantage and develop their productive capacities in such areas. By so doing, they will be creating jobs and contributing their quota to the national treasury.

 

 

Some states in Nigeria have their local economies anchored on crop farming. We know that states such as Benue, Plateau and Taraba produce most of the food that we eat because the people there are mainly crop farmers.

When you now insist on grazing cattle on their farms, you are disrupting food production as well as the cultural and economic activities of the people

 

 

What’s your final word on the RUGA controversy?

 

 

I maintain that there was a technical solution. We should go back to the ranching policy and end this conflict for good. I know ranching requires infrastructure and that is where the governments in those states where cattle rearing is a way of life should step in and make a difference by providing these facilities.

 

 

The primary facility is large expanse of land and where else do we have more land in abundance than in the far North? Water is the second most important resource and there are a lot of dams that successive governments have built in the far northern states. They should be put to use.

 

 

The moment you start pushing cattle down to the Middle Belt and Southern regions as we are doing now, you create suspicion and avoidable conflict. Land is a very sensitive issue across Nigeria. Even among people from the same community, village or kindred. There have been generational wars over land and we can’t afford to do things that would worsen the situation.

 

 

In countries like Zimbabwe and South Africa, we all know of the land disputes there. Why do we want to dabble into sensitive issues like land when we know the implications? Why do we want to set Nigeria on fire? We can still coexist as a heterogeneous country without necessarily disrupting the economy and culture of our neighbours.

 

 

It worries me that the various sections of our country are engaged in a heated argument about RUGA and cattle colony while the entire agricultural sector is suffering.

 

 

Nigeria has just signed on to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) but where are the agricultural products we have to offer the rest of Africa? We can’t export our yams or beef because we are not producing them and packaging them in a way that they can be marketable. We have neglected the real issues that can improve our agriculture and we are beating about the bush and fighting ourselves.

 

 

Nature has given us our own areas of comparative advantage but we have failed to seize the opportunities available in our country.

 

 

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Security situation in Nigeria is frightening, says Para-Mallam

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Security situation in Nigeria is frightening, says Para-Mallam

IFEST Ambassador and Peace Advocate, the Revd. Gideon Para-Mallam, slams the Buhari-led government as he X-rays current issues in Nigeria, in this no hold barred interview with TAI ANYANWU

 

What is your opinion about the state of the nation’s security?

 

 

There are two dominant narratives. One is pro-government which suggests that the security situation is a normal challenge. Therefore, with this normative view, people should not be exaggerating the security situation in our country. Some even go to the extent to suggest that some Nigerians are portraying the country in a bad light both in and out of the country.

 

 

The recent statement in May by our Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, in the US, over the hue and cry about the security challenge in Nigeria, which was followed by a more audacious statement by the Nigerian High Commission in the US – which went as far as to call Leah Sharibu’s mother and others liars regarding the security situation of Nigeria falls into such a narrative.

 

 

More recently, is the statement released by the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria on the need for the government to take a tougher stand in addressing the problem of insecurity which is creating fear in the nation.

 

 

I was deeply concerned, when President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, issued a statement suggesting that the Catholic Bishops are instead creating fear in the minds of Nigerians by their statement and not the government’s handling of the security challenge. This is both shocking and painfully embarrassing. Are we back to the days of Abacharism and the Chukwumerije’s press shenanigans? The issue of security is too serious to be politicised in the way the government is doing.

 

 

The other narrative comes from other Nigerians who say that all is not well with Nigeria and that the security situation is frightening. Making travels and even living in your own home unpredictable. Therefore, Nigeria is very unsafe. Our citizens could be kidnapped either at home or on the roads; in the city or in the village, on the farmlands, no one is safe.

 

 

Our citizens are killed every day. Life is valueless today in Nigeria. The Nigeria of 2019 is worse than the Nigeria of 1999, that’s 20 years down the line. The government may deny this for all it wants but the Nigeria of today is in a sorry state – security-wise.

 

 

A government living in denial of its citizens’ security is a government which is abdicating its social contract with the people and either intentionally or unintentionally, acting as a rogue state. The government is sounding as though they have become apologists for the criminal elements in our midst especially the Fulani herdsmen. The herdsmen are literally on a rampage today. Invading university campuses just like Boko Haram. I have heard some people argue that criminality should not be racialized in order to avoid profiling. The issue is not about profiling but our collective resolve to find a way to deal with those causing these pains. Let’s act wisely and responsibly to make such attacks history in Nigeria.

 

 

Today, such lingos as Islamophobia, Christianophobia, Fulanization are showing up. Let’s call a spade a spade. If someone hates Muslims, condemn it as such. It is not right. Similarly, if someone hates Christians, condemn it. It is also not right. Naming it sometimes leads to shaming it. If you value your ethnic identity, then work to promote the right values and not insist on political correctness which only hurts us all as a nation. Those who live to protect the interest of these attackers and kidnappers today will leave to regret in future. So, call criminality out and its drivers, so that we can collectively, with wisdom and love, deal with it according to the laws of our land and the forgiveness of God. Government’s impunity and apologists posture, over the security challenges of our nation, is the most bizarre thing I have seen in 21st Century Nigeria.

 

 

This present government should cover its face in shame. The way they are dealing with our collective security as a nation so far shows an abysmal failure. There is a need for a change of attitude on the part of the government in the way our security challenges are handled. Frankly, this government is becoming a real liability unless they intentionally choose the noble path of changing for the better. Otherwise, we may still have four more hellish years to contend with.

 

 

But guess what; this too (the cup of political affliction and emotional torture) shall pass away! I sincerely pray Nigeria will survive to make it. Everything is not all about politics. Is it any wonder they are seeking to re-define the word revolution? The patience of Nigerians can only go so far. One day there will be a mass uprising if things don’t change in this country. It is very sad.

 

 

Some ethnic groups have resorted to self-help to tackle insecurity. What is the import?

 

 

I will rather rephrase this to be self-defense. This is what failure of government has inspired! Unfortunately, unless something drastic is done, President Buhari and his government may turn out to be the most ethnicised in the history of Nigeria. Is this the best the North can offer to rest of Nigeria as a President? I am perplexed and really weeping inside.

 

 

From the Southwest, the Yorubas are thinking of how to protect themselves as they are no longer sure of what the government will do. Judging from what has been happening in the Middle Belt, the Northeast and Northwestern Nigeria people are really thinking of how to protect themselves from these marauding attackers. The Middle Belt has long been talking about self-help in the face of constant violence. It’s only a matter of time this will become a reality if things continue this way. The South-South guys are talking of protecting themselves as well – if, in fact, they are not already doing so. The Southeast is similarly crying and seeking to protect herself. In the Northeast, the Civilian JTF and vigilantes are complimenting what our soldiers are doing. I salute those innocent boys and girls in the military who are daily paying costly sacrifices and some with their lives to keep Boko Haram at bay. May their souls’ rest in peace and may God continue to comfort their families and provide for their loved ones.

 

 

But one must ask, for how long? The killings have become unconscionable, unbearable and unacceptable. A responsible government should never allow this to linger on for so long while they keep generating fake narratives in explaining away what is happening. Some of us are unimpressed because what we hear from the government is untenable. There is a disconnect between what is said and what is happening. To believe that people will fold their hands and allow themselves to be killed on a regular basis as we see in Nigeria is untenable. Added to this, is to believe that their ancestral lands will be grabbed, or they will be forced to vacate their homes, only God knows till when. Even if you drive people away and forcibly take away their lands, 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years from now, they will fight their way back to reclaim their land. If the present generation does not do it, future generations will act. Rwanda is a case in point.

 

 

Let’s learn from history. All we keep getting from the government is one narrative after another and this keeps changing with almost every attack. I am into peace building and as an ordained reverend and Peace Advocate, I believe in the peace that is predicated on justice. I believe in promoting justice in any peace building journey. Peace building is a process. Any peace agreement which is not predicated on justice is an injustice. You simply cannot machete people into subjugation, gun-them into submission; and neither can you bomb them into extinction. It won’t work. Those dreaming such are failed 21st Century narcissists. Time will tell!

 

 

Therefore, the yearning for self-help in the context of self-defense can hardly be faulted. If the government does what she should do for the protection of all, these sorts of conversation won’t be necessary. But this is a matter of life and death. I challenge all the people in government to give up all their security details, protective armoured cars, hidden bunkers and travel our roads just like all citizens and let’s hear their argument regarding self-defense. They are living in a false paradise so they can afford to see self-defense in a negative light.

 

 

Buhari is slamming those who are critical of his government, accusing them of not being patriotic. What is your take on that?

 

 

To the best of my knowledge, freedom of speech is enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This aspect should actually help to celebrate our diversity as culturally diverse people. In fact, the last time I checked, Nigeria remains a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nation. I am not aware that being critical of our government or her policies is a criminal offence either in our constitution or the penal code of Nigeria.

 

 

Therefore, the most recent pre-emptive arrest of Sowore, the self-acclaimed leader of the RevolutionNow group because of the protest marches on August 5th is a bad signal both locally and internationally. If the government thinks that by doing this they will succeed in sending shivers down the political spines of Nigerians then they are making a BIG mistake. It won’t deter people not because of Sowore’s popularity or acceptability but because it is simply wrong to try and silence people or voices of dissent in this way.

 

 

People will continue to dare government and government should come off the illusion that they can scare people into political surrender. It won’t happen. President Mohammadu Buhari should simply chat with Muammar Ghaddafi, the anger of the people does not simply disappear because of scare tactics however brutal. Unfortunately, Ghaddafi the self-acclaimed strongman of Libyan politics is no more. Let our President chat with ‘Uncle Bob’ Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Let him consult President Deng Xiaoping of China as Tiananmen Square could be child’s play    in Nigeria. Our President should learn something more positive from the present Chinese President Xi Jinping. The government needs to remember that there is always that one day. A simple spark and it becomes a catalytic moment and that’s it. Nigeria is beyond any single person. No leader should be deceived. There is no absolute power either by one leader or those he or she surrounds themselves with. It takes just one day.

 

 

So, I will rather suggest that Mr. President thinks more about what positive impact he will make through the APC programs his party has for Nigerians than this political grandstanding with despotic zest. The government sometimes by some of its actions and inactions has shown itself to be very unpatriotic.

 

 

Look at the massive corruption on display in Nigeria. The recent global rankings of Transparency International says it all. Look at Nigeria’s position between 2016 to date. What is there to celebrate about patriotism? Who are the worst road traffic lawbreakers in Nigeria today? Government officials drive through with reckless abandon. Is this being patriotic? Victory at the ballot box is not a license to do as you please whether as governor, NASS member or minister. Are these acts of intimidation in the name of national security, right? Who are those who eat up and deplete our pension savings; the protesters or government workers? In fact, it is the government’s political appointees. Yet the same government does not want to be criticized?

 

 

If they do what is in consonance with the wishes of the citizens, won’t we commend them? Let them secure the release of Leah Sharibu, Alice Ngaddah, the Chibok girls and more recently Grace Tuka; and countless nameless others – both Christians and Muslims in captivity. If these are released from Boko Haram and ISWAP captivity, there will not just be commendation but jubilation in support of this government. Let them deliver these captives and see what will happen.

 

 

Let them end the killings, let them promote social justice and treat all Nigerians with fairness. Let them provide gainful employment to our teeming youths and graduates and see. Let government free several Nigerians in kidnappers’ den. We are hearing now that paying a ransom is not enough for you to regain your freedom. You could still be killed even after your ransom has been paid! Yet, people should not cry out and protest? Where is the government in power which claims to be in charge?

 

 

The real people criticizing the government are those who show the government to be powerless in their daredevil kidnappings as and when they choose. In those who invade villages and our farms and kill freely? Those who create disorder in our society and make the government look helpless. These are unpatriotic elements in our midst and these are the people government should be going after with their State might and not harmless protesters.

 

 

I just read that a Federal High Court has ruled that Sowore be remanded in prison for terrorism reasons? Why? This is very curious. IPOB, terrorism. IMN, terrorism. Sowore another case of terrorism or just what again? And yet the Fulani herdsmen? What’s this about? Isn’t this nother dance of shame in the public square of the comity of nations? These are the sorts of actions which makes injustice so glaring. It stinks and stings the conscience!!! Sadly, instead of striking fear, it will only embolden people in the long run.

 

 

The President took some time to submit the list of ministerial nominees to National Assembly; but failed to assign portfolios as expected. He has set up a committee to do that. Isn’t this time-wasting an indication that Mr. President is unprepared for governance?

 

 

I recall that six months passed by before the Ministerial nominees were submitted in 2015. The excuse we had was that the President needed more time to put his cabinet together. The list eventually came out; practically nothing seems to have justified the needless wait; nothing radical among those nominated and later appointed to serve. Before the ministers’ names were submitted to the Senate for screening, a major decision was taken and billions of naira was voted in to prospect for oil by the NNPC, in Northern, Nigeria. I understand that nothing came out of this rather wasteful exercise. This time around, the President has been in power for four years – one would have expected a much speedier approach but we have had to wait for another three months. Why this is the case again remains to be seen. Now, what is lost by many Nigerians is the fact that even before the Ministers were approved, a major decision was taken to implement RUGA. The begging question is – who approved this decision without the Minister of Agriculture in place to oversee the implementation? The massive outcry from Nigerians against this ‘smuggled decision’ forced the government to beat a tactical retreat. Before we could recover from that suspension, some Northern Group issued a 30-day ultimatum for the same government to reverse the decision to suspend RUGA. Does this show a government in full charge?

 

 

Citizens are now issuing ultimatum to a sitting government. Yet some Nigerians wanted to protest the social conditions in our country today and they are picked up and charged to court? What selective system of justice or injustice are we seeing before our very eyes – in a country that is adjured a leader in Africa and regional power? Now RUGA misstep took place even before the Minister of Agriculture is sworn in? As at the time of this interview, we do not know who the Minister of Agriculture will be. Yet, RUGA saga, though suspended, was to have been executed during a so-called ‘waiting’ period when a decision of this magnitude was to have been implemented? Something is surely amiss.

 

 

The bill seeking to transfer control of water banks to the Federal Government has been resubmitted to the National Assembly for consideration. Do you agree with those who think there is a hidden motive?

 

 

This government is almost turning into a control freak! RUGA, unless it is revisited, redefined and subjected to rigorous healthy national conversation is sadly pointing in this direction. How does the government seek to solve some problems by creating more social combustion? How could our government appear so insensitive in strategic decision making?

 

 

This government seems to me suffers from a colonial mindset which requires an urgent reset. Do I see any hidden motive in the executive bill? Well, I haven’t read the bill so it’s difficult to say. However, I dislike the smell of it. Coming so soon on the heels of the ‘suspended RUGA’ saga is needless overheating of the polity by the same government. What’s the rush for? We will just have to wait and see if the National Assembly members will serve the interest of the nation or not.

 

 

Political party interest may not always align with our collective national interest. Worst still, an individual interest which is predated on parochial interest will only end up creating distance and alienation among the populace. Nigeria can do better but lack of 21st Century creative problem-solving leadership is so glaring. Let the government humble itself and invite constructive ideas from well-meaning Nigerians to help guide this nation in such a turbulent moment. Crisis moment if well managed by the leader could result in transforming the nation.

 

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Without firing a shot, we’ve rescued over 300 abductees –Zamfara CP

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Without firing a shot, we’ve rescued over 300 abductees –Zamfara CP

The Commissioner of Police in Zamfara State, Usman Nagogo, was recently deployed to the state to end killings, kidnappings and cattle rustling, among other vices. In this interview with IBRAHIM SIDI MUH’D, the CP assures the people of the state of rescuing all captives alive without payments of ransoms while revealing how the police had turned the state into a haven for domestic and foreign investors. Excerpts:

 

You were recently deployed to Zamfara State as a Commissioner of Police, what are your major challenges?

The criminal activities in the state were all belligerent enough for the law enforcement sector to decide simple but critical ways of tackling them. In the first instance, the security sector was lucky to have a patriotic governor like Bello Muhammad Matawalle as Chief Security Officer of the state. He always provides all the needed support apart from making himself available 24-hours. And we must also commend the Inspector General of Police (IGP) who introduced ‘Operation Puff Adder’ aimed at ensuring a lasting peace across the country. The duo is concerned about the security situation in the state, the region and even the nation at large. I was deployed to Zamfara by the IGP following understanding that, my involvement in reconciliation moves by the immediate past government showed that I can do the job. I would only continue from where the crusade stopped. I can recall, previously, being the leader of the then reconciliation committee, I personally established some contacts with the bandits even with some of their leaders including ‘the neutralized Buharin Daji, a.k.a (Tsoho) through which we acquired credible information that led to the surrendering of firearms willingly by many groups. This time around, I promised that my stewardship would be that of engagement and interaction with all the stakeholders in the state in order to nip in the bud, all forms of militia groups, armed banditry and other acts of savagery in Zamfara. I also want to state that my priority will be community participation in achieving peace in the state. This is because, in this age of technology where the world had become a global village, community partnership and intelligence policing approach is more than necessary.

With this initiative, is it necessary using firepower to end the menace?

You see, in modern policing, there are many ways to deal with the situation without using force. In the first instance, a study of the situation has to be conducted, and questions that would yield most answers should be asked, such as, what is or are the real causes of the situation, who are the perpetrators and what roughly is their number, where is their base, what kind of weapons are they fighting with, where do they get the weapons, what pattern do they play during attacks, who and who are behind them and what is their benefits out of fuelling the situation? All these must be gathered before coming up with possible resolutions capable of bringing the warring parties to a round table for dialogue as I did with the unreserved support from both the state governor and my able IGP.

Being the driver of the leading security agency in this fight, are there signs of achievement?

Since embarking on the initiative, let me tell you that, it is more than a sign, as it has already started yielding positive results, as we have been able to secure the release of over 300 persons who were under captivity, awaiting payments of ransoms to regain freedom. Let me further inform you in strong terms that, it is not the wish of any government to engage in killing its citizens simply in a fight to restore peace. These bandits are Nigerians like others; they have grudges, which the level of illiteracy among them could not allow them to lodge complaints. Many of them lack knowledge of even the existence of authorities to handle their problems like the issue of allocation of grazing reserves by some politicians to their loyal party members.

We have already secured the release of over 300 innocent citizens who I handed over to the governor without engaging in fire battle with the bandits and kidnappers, without facing any form of intimidation, without raising accusing fingers against each other and without giving conditions. More captives are on their way to be released. We are hoping to receive multitude numbers of surrendered firearms from the bandits showing a sign of total compliance to the initiative. Both the bandits and the groups of Vigilante and ‘Yansakai are cooperating, there is no longer killing of Fulani people by the Yansakai group, especially on markets days as it was the case before now. Also, launching of attacks on innocent communities across the state is becoming history. One most interesting and encouraging point in this aspect is that, the bandits now used to willingly invite me to deep forest to witness the release of victims, after which I conveyed them to the government house for medical check-up before finally handing them over to their families. In this course, the bandits have strongly assured me of needed cooperation when we reach the stage of disarmament. They are already making contact and consultations for successful handover of all firearms in their possession.

What magic did you use to achieve such records within a short time?

There is nothing like magic but determination. So many steps were taken which could not be disclosed for security reasons. The warring parties were made to realise the importance of becoming their brothers keepers and law-abiding. The bandits would gradually understand how filthy and ungodly it was for one to take lives of others. Measures capable of changing their orientation had been used; they have been inculcated with love to reunite with other people inside cities for legitimate interactions as it was in those days. Governor Matawalle has pledged that, Surface Dams, Schools and Primary Healthcare outfits would be constructed for Fulani community across the state with a view to make them have a sense of belonging. Executing these gigantic projects which of course will make impact on Fulani community would no doubt change their thinking as they will now feel they are part of the government. On the 20th of June 2019, I started engaging the state government and traditional rulers, seeking their support and advice on many topical issues confronting the state. The state government was first consulted since the necessary logistics and moral support are to be provided by it. On the same date, I met with the leaders of Vigilante, ‘Yansakai and Civilian JTF drawn from the 14 local government areas of the state and all other associated militia groups. The meeting was the watershed and the last straw that broke the camel back in paving way for peace in the state. All those that were hitherto militarised rescinded their ill-conceived notoriety of attacking Fulanis in market places, recreational areas and amusement parks in the whole of Zamfara. In that meeting, I succeeded in drawing their attention to the fact that, their nasty activities have crippled the economic situation in the state, both human and capital resources. Emphasis was also placed on the need to maintain peace since they are related either by ancestral background or marriages. These leaders have promised to lay down their arms and embrace peace. They also urged Fulanis to freely visit all places in the state where they normally do their pastoral and marketing activities. Since then, the Police Command had not received any report where Fulanis were attacked or killed. The markets and grazing activities are going on smoothly according to the plan. As a follow-up to the meeting held with ‘Yansakai, and in order not to be seen as one sided, on 24th June 2019, we invited all the cultural associations of the Fulanis that comprised Miyetti Allah, Sarakunan Fulani and Ardos for a similar meeting and interaction. The meeting was attended by all the leaders from same 14 local government areas and even beyond.

What was the helpful information you got from the warring parties?

These cultural organisations and their leaders had expressed their bitterness on the way they were deprived of their ancestral lands, grazing reserves and marketing activities in the state. In fact, they were not only seen as secondclass citizens but an unwanted creation that deserved to be killed or maimed. In this interaction that was heavily attended by government officials as they did in the first, it was another breakthrough in achieving an immutable and enduring peace. I assured them that we have formidable security architecture to guarantee their peace, security and prosperity. One interesting point to note is that, the Fulanis, after series of interactions, have immediately held meeting among themselves and came out with mini committees in different sectors to contact their kinsmen that engaged in banditry activities. The resultant effect of this was the stoppage of banditry activities by about 98 per cent in the state. The state is now witnessing massive exchange of captives between the bandits and the ‘Yansakai militia. A significant impact of this dialogue is that, it paved way for my interaction with almost all the bandits either face to face or through phone calls or proxies. That has assisted me to dictate the tune of the dialogue. The persuasion and energetic pleading dig deep into their nerves in taking such actions that have positive consequences. Governor Matawalle rolled out series of what the government intends to do in terms of grazing reserves, roads and other laudable programmes that will finally nip the crises in the bud. In all these, the intellectual dexterity and oratory prowess impacted positively in achieving peace in the state.

What other things do you think are important for the general public to know?

We must appreciate the role of our sister agencies, such as Nigerian Army, DSS and NSCDC. Without their participation in this fight, the successes might not have been recorded. We worked closely in synergy. The state is now safer for investors to visit and explore for potentials of their choice. Zamfara had been blessed with so many potentials including farming; it has a mass fertile land capable of producing what to feed not only the nation but also the whole of West Africa. I found it necessary to draw the attention of the general public, to avoid taking laws into their hand, and to ensure reporting any questionable people for prompt action by the concerned authorities.

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Nigerian Mafia in Italy: Arrest of 19 Nigerians, more shame on us –Bakare

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Nigerian Mafia in Italy: Arrest of 19 Nigerians, more shame on us –Bakare

Henry Bakare is the former National Coordinator of the National Union of Nigerian Associations in Italy (NUNAI) and now the President of Nigerian Community in Lodi/Pavia. He spoke with ANDREW IRO OKUNGBOWA on the recent arrest of 19 Nigerians by Italian police, among other issues. Excerpts…

 

 

What was your reaction to the news of the Italian police busting and arresting 19 Nigerians in connection with mafia operation (MAPHITE) last week?

I was not surprised. This is a regular occurrence in the community of Nigerians in Italy. I only thank God that the police helped us with our work, the work we would have not be able to do without them. The story is true.

Was is your first time of hearing about the group or Nigerians being linked to mafia group in Europe?

No, absolutely no. This had been in existence since Nigerians started living of in Italy. Perhaps the most recent is the cartel of human trafficking. These were mainly women who were trading with Nigerian girls, assisted by their ‘Pure Boys’, who live with their girlfriends and do nothing other than to watch over the activities of ‘slave’ girls. Before now we were able to dismantle some of these groups before the mass exodus of the ‘Libya Mongo Park’ or Lampedusa passengers, who came in with another and more dangerous advanced cultism. However, they were not as dangerous as the ones we have now. These guys are so dangerous that people are scared of them and avoid confrontation with any of the member.

What had been the general reactions of Nigerians in Italy over the arrest?

It’s mixed reactions, depending on the social class you belong to. Those of us that had been fighting this problem are only disappointed that no matter the gospel of integration and obeying the law of the land as written and interpreted, these people refused to listen to us. For example, when I was the national coordinator of the National Union of Nigerian Associations in Italy (NUNAI), I communicated with all zonal leaders regularly to know the situation of their communities. I get reports from them and if there was an area where we need to step in somebody is sent to assist the community or sometimes we tell them what to do. Usually, we send a delegate or representative from NUNAI to assist if case the issue is beyond the regional leader. That I can attest to because I did most of the trips. Another reaction is that most Nigerians are ashamed that some miscreants are soiling the name of our country that has already been registered in the criminal book of Italy.

Has your organisation been receiving any enquiries from the Italian government over this matter?

Yes, we have been receiving enquiries and the new leadership of NUNAI is doing their best to help the law enforcement agents and the authority to see what can be done to curb this menace. Nigerian communities in the local levels are doing more to fix these people up by introducing them to different vocational courses, and that is really helping today in some areas like Milan, Verona, Rome and some other states where we have the Associations of Nigerian Communities.

Has there been any reaction from the Nigerian government or the embassy in Rome?

Nigerian embassy in Rome is doing its best to be available when contacted by the authority and NUNAI

How convinced are you of the true identity of these people as being truly Nigerians?

Though not every raid or the arrest of criminals involves only Nigerians. We know and identify them by their names published in the media or names sent to us for identification. So, the police cannot make a mistake when the people arrested have one document or the other with them. Remember that most of these people came in through the Mediterranean Sea, and took asylum with their presumed names and nationalities. So there would be little or no mistake about their identities.

Why would Nigerians get involved in mafia operation or form a mafia group in a foreign land?

That is the question I am not able to provide an answer to. My investigation revealed that these cultists or criminal cartels were hardened criminals back in Nigeria, and as we speak now some of them are wanted for one crime or another. I was also made to know that some of them were forced to join the deadly cults in Libya. The reason why Nigerians get involved in mafia operation or form a mafia group I do not know, but the Nigerian government should be able to answer that question better than me.

Is your organisation playing any role in this unfolding scenery in terms of assisting the Italian government get to the root of this matter?

Yes. We are doing our best only that the Nigeria embassy in Rome is not helping us to realise this. During the service years of Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II as the ambassador in Italy, a proposal to have a database of Nigerians in Italy was floated and as it was about to kick-off, there was a change of ambassador, and since then nothing about the database was realised. All the same, the local Association of Nigerian Communities, including cultural and tribal associations are doing their best to identify Nigerians in their respective places.

But what role do you expect the embassy in Rome or the Nigerian government play in this case?

I would suggest that the Nigerian government through the embassy in Rome make a deal with the Italian government to return anyone found guilty of any crime by a competent court of law back to Nigeria. That was the agreement Obasanjo signed with the Italian government years ago, and that Italian government should try and rescue anyone on the high sea and return them back to Nigeria instead of allowing them to die on board or drown. I said this because of some of the dead Nigerians had the possibilities of arriving at the shore of Italy alive, but because of the delay or the unwillingness of the authority to rescue them, most of them ended up drowning and dying, resulting to the mass burial of our brothers and sisters.

Do you see the Italian government taking measures against Nigerians in the country in terms of security checks and other measures?

That is a possibility but I cannot confirm that.

What is the implication of this development generally for Nigerians in Italy?

The implication is that some of the Italians who are probably ignorant and hardcore populist nationalists who believe all Nigerians are the same, especially with the killings in Nigeria today by Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen, will take a hardline position on Nigerian immigrants calling for restrict rules and mass deportation of Nigerians.

Would this in any way also have an effect on tightening visa requirements for Nigerians coming to Italy?

That is a diplomatic issue between Nigeria and the Italian government. In the real sense, that is not supposed to be. That I have not really thought of asking, but I think I should do that to avoid wrong information being passed out.

What steps have been put in place before now by your organisation to forestall the occurrence of this nature?

We are doing our best, but it might not be good enough. Italian government knows best what to do and how to do it. We cannot do their work for them. They have to protect their territory against all social odds and vices. The Italian government should do the needful in order to ride their territory of criminalities. By fully engaging in constant check of the visitors they are taking in through the sea. They should also actively engaged them to ensure that they don’t have time to commit crime. If they have something to do at the beginning of the day, at the end of the day they would be tired and would have no time to hold meetings where they plan these criminal activities.

What was the image of Nigerians in Italy before now and do you think this will greatly affect the image and perception of every Nigerians in Italy?

It was getting to between 60 and 70% before the inflow of the Libya passengers but now is between 30 and 40%. Good Nigerians are enjoying their full privileges without any problem. It is he who brings home firewood full of insects that would invite the lizard for a visit. No one would be after you if you do not have any bad record.

What is your advice to Nigerians living in Italy on how they should conduct themselves and relate with other Nigerians?

They should respect the law of the land, the Italian constitution and the Nigerian constitution as written, amended and interpreted. Some of us refused to know that being in another country is a part of knowledge. Somebody bound by the laws of two countries should be able to have selfrespect.

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Nigeria must do away with fuel subsidy –Comrade Akinlaja

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Nigeria must do away with fuel subsidy  –Comrade Akinlaja

Former chairman, House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) Hon. Joseph Akinlaja is a veteran labour leader who rose to the top echelon of the National Union of Petroleum and Nature Gas Workers (NUPENG ) and highly knowledgeable on issues in the oil and gas sector. In this interview with ONWUKA NZESHI, the parliamentarian shares his thoughts on the resurging subsidy controversy and the fuel tanker armada on the Apapa/Oshodi Expressway, Lagos

 

The controversy over the payment of subsidy on petroleum products has bounced back again following the alarm raised by the former Central Bank of Nigeria, governor Sanusi Lamido that the Federal Government spent N1.5 trillion on subsidy scheme which he described as fraudulent. What’s your view on subsidy regime in Nigeria and what do we do about it?

Well, I will like to confirm that subsidy exists in Nigeria. I’m saying this because there have been so many theories on it over the years. Some people say there is no subsidy while others say that our fuel should not sell more the N45 per litre. A lot of theories have been propounded both by people who know and people who don’t know but just assume.

Officially, subsidy existed in budgetary terms up to year 2016 but later the Federal Government said there would be no more subsidies. So the government was no longer bringing budget items specifically for subsidy to be appropriated by the National Assembly.
It went on to increase the pump price of petrol to N145 per litre on the premise that there would be no subsidy any more. But they forgot that we are not in control of two critical factors which determine the price of petroleum products, namely: the price of crude oil at the International market and the exchange rate of the Naira to the Dollar.

So by the time government increased the pump price to N145, it was saving money because the crude oil price vis- a- vis the foreign exchange did not add up to N145 per litre. They never believed that those factors would ever work together above N145 per litre. But one and a half years after the pump price was raised to N145 per litre, landing cost of the imported Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) rose beyond their expectation.

We’re talking about petrol because as you know, diesel is deregulated. As for Kerosine, we don’t know whether it is deregulated or not because there has been no clear-cut policy on it. It is market forces that have been controlling the price of Kerosine.

So we’re talking about PMS which is widely and heavily consumed by Nigerians. Your ‘I Better Pass My Neighbour’ generator and your small and medium scale industries use petrol engines much more than other engines to power their activities.

At the peak of it in late 2017 and early 2018, there was heavy fuel scarcity and my committee, as the Chairman, House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) and my counterpart in the Senate went round to find out the reason for the fuel shortage.

We invited stakeholders including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to a public hearing. The NNPC and the Minister for Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu told us that landing cost at that time was N171.20 per litre and the pump price was still N145 per litre then asked: ‘Who is bearing the cost of N26.20 per litre of petrol consumed in Nigeria? They said it was under-recovery but somebody was and is still picking that bill. Definitely, it is not the consumer. It is any of the agencies representing the government that is picking the bill till today.

 

So the Emir of Kano (Sanusi) being a former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and an economist knows or should know the situation. That is why occasionally, he comes out with such things that some people consider controversial.

 

 

This subsidy controversy has lingered for so many years. What do you think is the best way to resolve it?

As someone who has been at the top echelon of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), I have dealt with this matter over the years. I was the Deputy General Secretary of NUPENG under Chief Frank Kokori and when he retired, I took over as General Secretary.

As Deputy President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) under Adams Oshiomhole, we fought against the removal of subsidy. We were acting on behalf of Nigerians because we asked ourselves: ‘What benefit would Nigerians derive from this God-given resource if they should be made to pay exorbitant price for Petrol?’

We fought that the refineries should work and we formed the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) as part of the fight. Unfortunately the PPPRA failed to regulate anything because it is also overwhelmed by the inter-play of market forces.
However, with benefit of hindsight, I have now realised that in Nigeria, we do not have the discipline to operate any subsidy.

 

Why do you think so when subsidy operates in other countries?

The developed countries also subsidise products. America subsidises agriculture. When the farmers have produced, government through commodity boards buys it, processes and preserves it until when they would either export it or release it to the market for local consumption.
The essence of buying it off is to relieve the farmer burden of preserving these produce and enable him to have money to go back and farm the following year.

But in our own case, the tomato will get rotten in the farm because the farmer does not have the wherewithal to preserve the produce. He has to look for a buyer; he has to look for a transporter to convey his produce to the markets and he doesn’t have the money to do all these things before the good perish in the farm.

In this country, during the Murtala/Obasanjo regime, which dove-tailed into President Shehu Shagari’s regime, there was what we called essential commodities. It was basically a subsidy of basic food items such as salt, milk, tea, sardine and others. These commodities were sold at subsidized rates. What happened to it? Middlemen took over the distribution chain and by the time these commodities get to the real consumers, the ordinary people, it had passed through many hands and the price had gone beyond the reach of the poor. So those targeted by the essential commodity did not benefit from it and the scheme collapsed.

 

What exactly makes fuel subsidy a challenge in Nigeria?

The Oligarchy and the Cabal, these are some of the names coined to show what is happening in the place. Up till now, we have not been able to resolve the controversy surrounding how much subsidy Nigeria pays on fuel daily. The government has its own figure and marketers have their own figure. There has to be reconciliation every day.

Today, no oil marketing company can import petrol except the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Why? NNPC gets an allocation of 445,000 barrels of crude oil per day for local refineries that never work up to maximum installed capacity. Therefore whatever remains, NNPC has to swap it with refineries outside Nigeria to be able to import petrol. This is where the subsidy lies now. Otherwise, there would have been fuel scarcity all over the country.

 

 

Why are the major and independent marketers no longer importing fuel?

They cannot bring it at the landing cost above N145 per litre and still sell at N145 per litre. It does not make good business sense to continue investing money on a business you can only incur losses. With the benefit of hindsight, with the fact that we do not have the discipline to honestly operate a subsidy regime, subsidy should be removed. But, who will bell the cat?

Nigerians have been so much pauparized that even if a policy is working against their interest, they will resist its removal.

 

Was the Jonathan administration right when it attempted to remove subsidy on petrol in 2012?

Yes, we ought to have allowed him to remove subsidy at that time because the decision he took was right. I was one of the few legislators that said that we should remove subsidy at that time. If you go to the Hansards – records of parliamentary proceedings, you will see it there.
For many years, people have been importing petroleum products and making huge profits from the business.

It was these fuel importers that killed the local refineries. There is no incentive to make the existing local refineries work or to build new ones.

While we were stuck on fuel importation, Ghana bit the bullet, they deregulated and their Tema Lube is working. The Tema Lube, their refinery was built in 1965 by the Anglo Dutch multinational – Shell BP, same year the same company built our own refinery in Port Harcourt. The irony is that while the refinery in Ghana is still working, ours has gone comatose.

Their own refinery refines petrol and also produces lubricants and started functioning even before oil was discovered in Ghana.

 

What is the implication of Nigeria not encouraging local refining of crude oil?

We are exporting jobs offshore because our crude oil is being refined offshore. We are creating jobs for those countries where we go to refine our crude oil.

 

 

Why didn’t your colleagues in the parliament, the opposition, labour unions and the civil society heed your counsel in 2012?

It is because at that time, subsidy had become a political issue. It had become political so much so that the opinions of genuine people, like we were in the trade unions, did not matter any longer. Some beneficiaries of the ill-gotten money from subsidy payments were fuelling the fight against deregulation. Those who are still fighting against removal of subsidy are an admixture of genuine patriots who believe they are fighting for the poor masses and the pseudo -patriots who are beneficiaries of subsidy.

 

 

Many Nigerians including your colleagues   in the Labour movement have always demanded that before subsidy can be removed, our local refineries must be fixed and working. How do you see this argument?

Yes. It’s a good argument but who will make the refineries work? It is the people that have the wherewithal but they are either the importers or agents of importers.

 

Are you satisfied with the way NNPC has turned itself into a monopoly in the business of fuel importation?

I won’t blame the NNPC because it is a responsibility that has been entrusted on it. They did not create it. If the NNPC had not taken up that responsibility on itself, fuel would sell at N250 or N300 per litre on the street. You know what happens during fuel scarcity, sometimes it sells as much as N400 per litre. They will carry fuel in jerry cans and stand along the road to sell both genuine and adulterated fuel. At that time, your driver will be sucking fuel with his mouth forgetting that this fuel contains lead which kills instalmentally.

It is a government policy that made them sole importers of fuel and they are the only one who can do it. Why? It is not their money; it is Nigeria’s money and they are playing this role to prevent fuel scarcity.

 

Why did the NNPC that has four refineries leave them to rot away instead of fixing them?

Up to 1987, our refineries were working at almost installed capacity. Why? Those who built the refineries and the government had a programme that they must train Nigerian engineers on how to maintain and service it. The agreement was for the refineries to undergo a Turn Around Maintenance (TAM), once in two years and Nigerian engineers were doing it. All they needed to do was to import the parts and fix it.

But then, another government policy came to be awarding it as a contract. They awarded the TAM contract for Kaduna Refinery to Total. We now had a French company coming with French technology to come and maintain a facility built by Chiyoda, a Japanese company.
They abandoned Chiyoda that built it. So government policy is one of the problems.

The second reason is what I’ve told you earlier. When people make commission from importation, it will be difficult to stop them. If you ask NNPC till tomorrow whether they are making money out of the fuel importation, they will deny and there is no way you can catch them. You can only catch them by the elbow and they will simply stretch their hands and walk away. If you make the refineries work, where would the importers make their money from? I am told that those who sell gun- powder will not allow war to end. If war ends, their business will be adversely affected.

So the matter of some people profiteering from fuel importation remains in the realm of speculations. The one that is real is that the Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) that is supposed to be done once in two years is not done some times for ten years and by the time they come to do it, a lot of parts had been damaged and it becomes story! Story!! Story!!!

 

We will ever get out of this quagmire?

We will, if we are willing to get out of it. I thought that with the personality and character of President Muhammadu Buhari that he would be able to do it in his first term of office, but then that did not happen. Perhaps it is because he is no more a military head of state and he is operating under a civilian atmosphere and he must work with people.

Some of these people ensured his victory, so when he is fighting, he will be fighting from all fronts. You know he can’t fight alone.

If the government is ready for us to leave this situation and everybody cooperates with the government, we will get out of it.

 

Has the National Assembly done enough to get Nigeria out of this problem?

Yes, I will say we tried during the period I was there. What’s the evidence? The evidence is that the 8th National Assembly initiated bills on the various reforms required in the petroleum industry. It is a private member bill, initiated from the National Assembly to try and cure a malady that has trailed the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), an executive bill that has been in the parliament for more than a decade.

From my own observation, various conflicting interests still bugged the private member bills down. One of them, the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) which we concluded, passed and transmitted to the President was returned to us with some observations. We addressed the observations for the thing to be on its way back to Mr. President for assent and then we left.

It took us three and a half years to pass the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which we had to split into four parts namely, Governance, Host Community, Fiscal and that’s why I said that if we are willing we can get it done.

We needed to capture the interests of the various stakeholders including the federal government, host communities and International Oil Companies (IOCs), because nobody will give you their technology unless you also take care of their interests.

This drilling of oil is not a thing you use a hoe and digger; it is technology and somebody owns it. So his interest is important before you become self sufficient to be able to take it over. You who want to take it over must make some concessions because technology transfer is theory. You either acquire it or you steal it. Countries that believed they can have done it and I think we too can do it, if we are willing.

 

Some Nigerians have argued that conflicting regional interests is a major factor why the PIB has remained a proposal for several years. Do you share this view?

No! The one that I can say may have affected the PIB is the host community interests and that is why we had a separate bill to address those community interests. If you are talking about the North vs. South, the issues of ownership of oil; that has been addressed by the concession for increased oil exploration in the North. What is affecting the bill is conflicting interests between the government and the host communities, who are demanding for more than what they have been getting before. The IOCs also believe that they have the technology and if they have the opportunity to cheat us, they will not hesitate to do so. There are all sorts of interests but unless the government which is the overall driver is focused and ready to step on toes and the toes they step on are ready to nurse the wound and allow things to move forward, we won’t go anywhere with the bill. This is why we are where we are today.

 

What is the implication of our inability to get this bill passed and signed into law?

Let me tell you the danger in it. I am sorry for myself as a parliamentarian and Nigeria as a whole because while we were in this motion without movement, the consultants that were working along with us have taken the issue beyond our shores. What they prepared for us has found its way into the hands of other countries such as Ghana and Angola. They just looked at it, dusted it, adopted it and signed the bill into law while we are still arguing here. Don’t forget that capital is a coward, it goes to places of least resistance. The investors have moved to Ghana, Angola and other places.

At the peak of the oil industry while I was there, we had thirty two drilling rigs operating onshore, swamp, offshore and deep waters. Today, we have only seventeen rigs. So why we were still hesitating, others are moving.

Don’t also forget that many years before now; we did not have more than four oil producing countries in Africa. Today, they are more than eighteen and the IOCs have choices.

You could see how they are divesting from Nigeria. ExxonMobil recently said it was going to divest; Shell has already divested; Total Upstream has divested part of its investments in Nigeria. These are the consequences of not having a clear policy direction and legal framework.

 

The gridlock in Apapa, is a fallout of the policy on fuel importation and the presence of the fuel depots in the vicinity of the Lagos ports. What is the solution to the gridlock?

Well, our problem is an integrated problem and it is still a policy somersault problem. At the beginning of downstream sector of the oil industry in Nigeria, there were only seven systems. The Esso, Total, Shell and others. They were seven and they all had their depots at Apapa. They had parking spaces for their vehicles.

When the industry developed, there were increased activities and the government started building a network of pipelines to convey fuel to different parts of the country. When the pipelines came on stream, oil activities shifted away from Lagos to the twenty two PPMC Depots across the country.

Trucks could now load fuel from Calabar, Benin, Enugu, Jos, Makurdi and all the other strategic depots and Apapa became empty.

Immediately, pipeline vandalisation started and the integrity of the pipelines became compromised. At the same time, the refineries had stopped working at maximum capacity and importation started in full swing.

The policy of Nigeria being in the commanding heights of the downstream sector led to the building of more strategic depots.

During the building of strategic depots, starting with WAWABECO , Tincan Island and later ASCON and Zenon.

As NUPENG, we put up a battle with the Lagos State Government during which we advised them not to allow any one build depots with parking space for tankers. There was nothing that I did not do because I was directly in charge of tanker drivers. I even made an analogy that it is only in Nigeria that I see people building supermarkets without parking space, hence while you are shopping inside the supermarket, LASTMA is toying away your vehicle parked on the road.

In civilized climes, parking space is often bigger than the supermarket itself and that’s why they make the supermarkets skyscrapers.

We picketed several depots and took over the Ibru Depot by force for tankers to go and pack there. They sold every inch of the land; the Ministry of Physical Planning approved and every inch of the place was depot. So where will the tankers pack?

Now the integrity of the pipeline did not allow fuel to go through the pipelines, therefore almost all tankers must come to Lagos. Where do they have the facility to import? It is only Atlas Cove because it has the capacity to receive vessels conveying 30,000 tons of fuel. The other depots are in shallow waters. So from Atlas Cove, they pump fuel to Ejigbo and to the private depots. Everybody will leave Kano, Kaduna, Gombe , Maidiguri and other places to come to Lagos to lift fuel.

When this was happening, Gen. Abdulkareem Adisa was the Minister of Works and Housing and he ordered that all vehicles packing under the bridge to leave . We told the tanker drivers, run for your dear lives. It was during the military regime. We told them to go to Ogere and stay there until it is your turn to load fuel.

Then there was fuel scarcity and Adisa called me to find out what was responsible. So I told him how his order to tankers caused the scarcity. He then asked for a way out.

I told him there can be only two solutions: Relocate the depots to Ikorodu, Ekpe or Ijebu -Ode and the tankers will go there.

He said we cannot remove those depots. I said then, what do we do? I gave him the second solution which is looking for a large expanse of land to build a park for these tankers because if you don’t want them to pack under the bridges then you must provide an alternative place.

We now got an expanse of land in Orile but the place is in a swamp. It is only the government that can get a construction firm like Julius Berger to sand fill the place and construct a park as a social service. That place can contain 2,500 tankers and if you move 2,500 tankers out of Apapa leaving only those that are ready to load, you would have solved the problem.

 

 

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Okwuosa: How we’ll raise $2.8bn for Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano pipeline

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Okwuosa: How we’ll raise $2.8bn for Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano pipeline

Chief Executive Officer, Oilserv Limited and pioneer member, Petroleum Technology Association of Nigeria (PETAN), Engr. Emeka Okwuosa, speaks on life-threatening challenges confronting indigenous oil firms in Nigeria, including impediments to critical investments in energy sphere in this interview with Adeola Yusuf. Excerpts

 

 

Have the Nigerian companies adopted the use of technology/robotics for oil, gas operations?

We are already incorporating technology in our operations. Many years ago, you could not find any Nigerian company doing horizontal directional drilling. You would have had to go abroad for people to come and do it. We have deployed that. We have been able to cross rivers with 48-inch pipeline, which would mean drilling and opening the line to 64-inch, which is a major challenge because it collapses a lot. We are encouraging technology a lot.

 

For robotics, anything is possible but what we should be asking ourselves is how do we put that side by side with the Nigerian initiative and benefits. If you take robotics totally the way you have seen it by displaying human capital, what happens to our economy? I won’t say it is not in our own interest to deploy that, and I won’t say you can stop that. You can’t stop a moving train, you would have to realise that over time, that may become the norm but what do you do? You start to train people to develop such, you start to train people because somebody has to manage that. You will create a different skill to be able to drive that but you cannot completely take out the human interface.

 

What are the significances of the AKK project?

AKK is Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano pipeline, which is a 614km-long natural gas pipeline project. AKK is a very unique project, not just what it would achieve, which is to be able to move gas to the northern part of Nigeria and create availability of energy to drive industries and create job opportunities.
North does not have energy, but if unemployment continues and security problem continues, everybody will suffer without gas in that axis.

Secondly, AKK is significant because it is the first time a project of that magnitude is being done as EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) and Finance. It is not like the previous projects where NNPC and other International Oil Company (IOCs) award you a project and pay for it and you go ahead and execute and collect your money. We are providing the money and to provide such amount of money, the total value of that project, including two lots, is about $2.8 billion. This is not the kind of money you raise in Nigeria, you have to go and raise that capital offshore. And for you to raise it, you need security. That security instrument is a process and part of it requires the Federal Government to guarantee it.

For instance, if you are backing up the financing with the tariff you will charge from that pipeline, don’t forget that most of that tariff, for example, will be in naira. A financier who is overseas doesn’t know what you are talking about in naira. So you have to provide an instrument of convertibility that has to come from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) guarantying that every collection in naira will be immediately converted to dollars. That’s a typical instrument and these things take time to get through government agencies.

 

So, we are going through that process and we are almost there. We have almost finalized the security and we have also started with the preliminary works. As we speak, the AKK project has started, that is the point I’m making.

 

What are the impacts of insecurity on AKK project?

We are Nigerians, if there is kidnapping, we will deal with it. You are not going to stop developing Nigeria because there is kidnapping. In construction, we are tested and we are knowledgeable. We worked 100 per cent between 2002 to 2007 when kidnapping was the norm in the Niger Delta. Oilserv remained there. We worked in the swamps, maintained all the pipelines, so there are ways to do that. We are Nigerians, we work in Nigeria and we must create capacity in Nigeria. That is not going to be an impediment at all. It is a concern, but we have procedures to deal with that.

 

 

How are the indigenous companies faring in deep-water operations?

 

 

We are already operating in that terrain in reality. When you say deep-water operation, you look at it from two different points of views. Are you looking at Exploration and Production (E&P), which is ownership or are you looking at services. I will talk from a service point of view. Nigerian companies participated in the service aspect for Bonga, Akpo, Usan. All these deep-water projects had Nigerians service providers’ input.

 

There are two key issues with participation in deep-water arena. It is about technology and capital. Both will take time normally to scale up. Nigerians are participating but we are only scathing the surface for now. There is still more opportunity for participation.
Now, how do we increase that? We need to assemble capacity and integrate that capacity by working together in order to have synergy and be able to deal with bigger scope projects. But we are in the integration of FPSO (Floating, Production, Storage and Offloading, which is the configuration of topside modules.

Nigerians are in drilling, pipelines and flow-risers. We are doing a lot but it is very    competitive and capital intensive and we have to slowly build it up as soon as we can because we have proven capacity but we need to do more because there is so much out there.
It is instructive to add that we have been adding value but not at the level we desire. So the way we can achieve this is by collaborating and synergizing between structured entities such as PETAN. By collaborating, PETAN members will be able to handle bigger projects and compete favorably with international service providers.

The lack of collaboration among service providers is a Nigerian factor. Everyone wants to do things in his own way and it is not the best way to go.

 

 

What is the update on Obiafu-Obrikom -Oben (OB3) project?

Let’s put Obiafu-Obrikom -Oben (OB3) in proper perspective. No pipeline has been built in Nigeria of that size or capacity. You may recollect that in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, we had the likes of Wilbros and others but no Nigerian player was present in the pipeline industry. Look at all our pipeline infrastructure today, nowhere has 48-inch pipeline been built. It is not about the gas pipeline alone, we have the Gas Treatment Plant (GTP) at Oben, which is part of our scope. This is a GTP that is handling two billion standard cubic feet of gas per day (2bscf/d). This has never existed anywhere in Africa. When we talk about OB3, it is not just about building a pipeline.

 

Don’t forget that, there are two lots for our own section. We are building LOT B that will take the gas from mid-point all the way to Oben plant plus the Oben plant itself. Now, our pipeline was finished three years ago, but the treatment plant took a longer time because the location was changed from Oben North to the GTP location and it took us two years to go through the re-engineering process including getting the necessary approval.

 

But the story is clear, the pipeline and the GTP are going through pre-commissioning now for our own section. By September, our own lot would have been completed. That much I can only speak for Oilserv.

 

 

Would LOT B operate in isolation?

 

To some extent, no. But it depends on how the owner of the pipeline wants to use it. One thing you have to understand about the technicality is that we have a pipeline going to GTP Oben but we have another 36-inch line we built from Oben GTP to ELPS, which is Oben North that is a by-directional pipeline. This means you can take gas from the GTP in Oben into ELPS or take from ELPS into GTP. So the answer is ‘Yes’ and ‘No”.

Again, you can take gas from ELPS into Oben and Ajaokuta when we commission it. But the other section cannot be completed except Lot A finishes – to be able to evacuate gas all the way from Obiafor into Oben.

 

 

What gives your company an edge among your peers in terms of pipeline technology for the AKK project? Why Oilserv?

Oilserv is not about singing our praises. It is about the fact. Oilserv was set up on a sound basis and principle. That’s the basis of a sound knowledge of engineering and a clear plan to grow technology and grow the company organically. When we started in 1995, it was a very small company. It was only myself and one other employee and we are slowly building it up. Now, we built it up by re-investing whatever money we made and acquiring the latest technology. It’s not just about technology acquisition but also by knowing the principles of these technologies.
By my background, I am a cerebral engineer and I worked in 12 different countries before I came back to Nigeria. I was principally focused on developing engineering capacity.

 

Along the line, we moved on to look at the best way of achieving the engineering, procurement, and construction, EPC, work we have. We later introduced the welding works. Welding is at the core of pipeline construction and the major threat in welding is the fact that using traditional welding system. which is the manual welding system will involve welders association.

 

Some of them are not there to work but to create problems and you can’t control the quality of output too. We moved on to develop automatic and semi-automatic welding system where it is more like being in a production line in a factory. We trained our own staff and they became the welders. Because it is not manual welding but automatic, we are not bound by certain rules of the welder association.

 

With this, we are able to do as much as 25 joints a day. Manual welding can’t do more than six joints a day. That’s how we sped up. The other technology is our Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) technology system. You may realize that in building pipelines, you cross rivers, creeks and all kinds of barriers. If it is water, you will dredge it, drop the pipeline and cover it up. But by doing that, you disturb the water system, damage the environment and you may muddle the water. If you don’t restate it very well, you create an additional problem down the road, which can be the erosion of the water bed.

 

We developed a system where we can drill from one bank to the other without touching the bed of the river. In crossing roads, in the old day, we have to cut the road and imagine cutting an eight-lane road. Today, we do cross-boring system by going from one end to the other without disturbing vehicular movement on the road.

 

These gave us an advantage over others. We train students and graduates and we invest in human resources. We won the AKK because it was through a bidding process and we came out best. We are the only company in Nigeria today that can deliver such a project, the rest can’t. We are the first indigenous firm to graduate from being a construction firm to full EPC company.

 

To be a full EPC company is expensive. It requires investment and dedication. If you look at AKK, you will realize that we got the first section, which is the most important. If you don’t get the first section right, you don’t have a pipeline.

 

 

The AKK project is Oilserv/Oando consortium, what’s the role of Oando in the project because it is not an engineering firm?

 

You have to fully understand that this project is not just an EPC project but it’s a contractor-financed project. You go into a consortium for a particular reason. Oando is a partner to Oilserv, while Oilserv is the principal EPC Company.

 

I am talking from the view of EPC, Oando does not build pipelines. We are in a consortium because it’s contractor-financed and it gives us more leverage. Oando has always had concessions from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, (NNPC), to develop, for example, the gas pipeline system in Lagos, through their company called Gaslink. We also like to support smaller projects, which would in time grow into bigger, more reputable and more sustainable entities.

 

 

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Nigeria remains a giant in Africa, says Namibian High Commissioner

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Nigeria remains a giant in Africa, says Namibian High Commissioner

His Excellency Humphrey Desmond Geiseb is the High Commissioner of Namibia to Nigeria, Cameroon and Ambassador to Chad and Permanent Representative to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). During his visit to the Corporate Headquarters of New Telegraph Newspapers in Lagos, he spoke with TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE on the relationship between Namibia and Nigeria, his country’s forthcoming general elections and sundry issues

 

Why are you in Nigeria?

 

I am coming to Nigeria after 25 years in the Namibia Foreign Service. I joined the ministry in 1994 and I have served in various places. I spent eight years in Addis Ababa, working on our common destiny, the Africa we want in 50 years’ time. And then went to the ministry, went to China and I was told to come here and represent Namibia in Africa’s giant. So, I am here.

 

The language I speak in Namibia is called Namlish. Initially, it was sort of derogatory name because there is the proper English people speak. But today, we have adopted it as our official language. We sometimes refer to the English spoken in Namibia as Namlish. Some think it is heavily accented but I tell them this is Africa. It is a continent where we have tribes in ethnic groups and communities and we should be proud of people speaking in different languages even in a country like Nigeria, with a lot of tolerance with their interaction with foreigners

 

So, we are happy for many reasons. We are happy that this giant of Africa has been there for us when the people of Namibia faced dark powers, dark days of colonialism, and oppression. When people fought for basic freedom – freedom of religion, freedom of association, basic fundamental human rights. And in that process came what you may say today is journey of four hours and 30 minutes by plane from Namibia to Nigeria to seek the help of those generations before you in explaining the situation of Namibia. Namibia is a colony that people there are living in difficult situations because of the colonial powers that colonised the country and occupy the territory of Namibia.

 

So, your (Nigerians) past leaders, heroes and generations supported us and they stood with us and they said Nigeria considered itself as a frontline state. Frontline states then were neighbouring countries like Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana which fought against apartheid and colonialism. But Nigeria took a conscience decision to be associated like a frontline state. They accompanied the people of Namibia to help them achieve their independence.

 

So, we are very happy that Nigeria took that decision. It is out of choice as an African country but also a giant in being visionary and being far ahead each time to support the course of freedom and today Namibia is free; something that President Muhammadu Buhari acknowledged last week. The struggle for liberation in Southern African would have been much different with countries like Angola, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia and even South Africa. So, that is the context in which we see ourselves as a great friend of this giant of Africa; a country that has done many things for Africa and continues to still make a lot of sacrifices for this continent.

 

What are those things you think Namibia can benefit from in its relationship with Nigeria?

 

In 30 years’ time, there will be half billion Nigerians. So, in 30 years’ time we will have half billion Nigerians to play active roles in the future of the African continent. So, that is why we are here. We think the time to belong in staying in Nigeria is not 30 years from now; the time is now. It is not to wait until a market of half a billion is there to come and be part of that market.

 

So for us, we have been with Nigeria yesterday, today and very much part of Nigeria’s future no matter the realities that may prevail in these countries. So that is the ambition that we have to see Nigeria as an integral part of this great continent that when we move ahead and when we plan ahead and when we dream collectively, we need to be cautious that there is a giant of Africa and in 30 years’ time, 60 years’ time the role that Nigeria that plays cannot really be supplanted by somebody else because you will need a  country with half billion of citizens to replace the role of Nigeria.

 

So, ideologically, we are very much cautious of the place and the role that Nigeria can and will play in the future of this continent. We are happy and we think that Nigeria is on a good path. What was said last week by President Buhari to dream of lifting up 100million Nigerians by the next 10 years is something that we also support and then we can emulate. Because if Nigeria lift’s 100 million people out of poverty, a country worth maybe fewer millions will not have excuses for not having the same achievement. If Nigeria with all the challenges and its big population can do it in 10 years’ time, we will also do active work to lift large number of people out of poverty. In Namibia’s case, we want to achieve poverty eradication by 2025. The leaders have made it a decision among themselves to ensure that there is no absolute poverty by 2025.

 

What are you doing to achieve the task?

 

We have put in place a food bank and people who may not afford to buy food get assistance and they get donation of food to enable them to have a meal. But on the other end, the quickest way of lifting people out of poverty is education. And in the case of Namibia, the Constitution of Namibia says that there would be free, compulsory education for all its children.

 

The provision was drafted in 1989 and adopted in 1990 but it never been implemented for 20 years. And somebody took the Oxford Dictionary and tries to define the word ‘free’. What does the word ‘free’ mean? That free means, children should still go to school and pay development fund or admission fees. But the people said no, that is not the meaning of the word ‘free’. Just go and read it in the dictionary. The word means absolutely no expenses. So, today Namibia offers free education. You don’t pay anything. Just go to school, no admission fees. In term of health, we also enjoy free health. Although you pay a basic admission fee but you don’t pay for operations in state hospitals – they are free. When you are 60, you are also entitled to receiving close to $100 pension. So, we have free education, free health and free pension. We also have a free media.

 

Namibia is number one in term of press freedom in this continent. Last year, we were briefly replaced by Ghana but this year we did some innovations and we are again number one. If you look at other things, Namibia is also number one in terms of road infrastructure in this continent.

 

Over the past four years, the government of Namibia has tarred roads of over 800 kilometres. Also there is a side effect to the quality road when you look at the trend you see now. The number one causes of deaths in Namibia are road accidents. For many years, it was HIV but we made a lot of effort to fight it and we have been able to reduce the infection rate. But cars and driving still remain a big source of concern. So, if there is something that we can learn from Nigeria as to how to reduce road accidents, we will emulate it. We will be willing to learn from Nigeria as to how you deal with accidents and the best practices that we can look at to borrow from this giant of Africa.

 

How did Namibia address the issue of gender balance?

 

 

In Namibia, the ruling party, SWAPO, took a decision in 2005 to increase the representation of woman in our decision-making structure. And the decision that was adopted was to ensure equal number of men and woman in leadership position – 50:50. As you know there is an animal called Zebra, and it has white and black stripes. So, that is essentially what we did, we adopted a ‘Zebra policy’. For every male leader, we also have a female leader. If the president of the party is a male, his deputy will naturally be a female. If the Secretary-General is a woman, which is the case we have now, the deputy must be a male.

 

So, that is what the party decided in 2005 but it took 10 years before it was finally implemented. Of course, a lot of men went home and many others lost their positions. So, in Namibia, we have made a lot of progress in terms of women empowerment because of the policy of the ruling party. This policy has had a ripple effect so much so that other parties also adopted it. When they elect leaders, let’s say for instance in the Central Committee, you will have 40 male, 40 females in the committee of the party. Of course, in Parliament, because members go from the party there, the policy has therefore increased the number of female parliamentarians. it is not something we are exporting. We are not exporting our model because we are too small to export our ideology anywhere. But we can only tell our story of what happened in Namibia because we came to Nigeria with stories. We came in the 1970s, we told the story of colonialism. We were being occupied by foreign powers and we needed help to get our freedom and independence. But today we tell the story that in Namibia, we are making progress and one of the ways we achieved this was from looking at the     Zebra and adopting its colour pattern for electing leaders in the party and in Parliament. So, this is something that works for Namibia; it may work differently in other countries. But if people were looking at options; if Nigeria is looking from where they can take options, it is something that you can look at. In Namibia it works; it works for one party and other party adopted it and now it is becoming more popular. It is not only the policy of the ruling party. But even in the state when they appoint board of directors, they are more sensitive to having a board of directors where you will have an equal number of men and women in the board.

 

We have a lot of good policies but I have mentioned just two. It took 20 years to implement free education. For women and gender empowerment and equality, the decision was taken in 2005 but only implemented in 2015. This year, we have elections and soon people will go through the process of electing candidates. Again, you will get one list for females and one for males and whatever happens they will merge the list together and at the end of the day, you will have an equal number of males and females in the Parliament. This is how Namibia brought about significant changes in terms of woman empowerment. Of course, we have a Ministry for Women Empowerment.

 

We also champion at the global level something we call ‘Resolution 2025’ on Women, Peace and Security, which is a resolution of United Nations Security Council, which talks about the role of women in issues of peace, security, conflict prevention, conflict keeping and so on. And this year, Namibia also held a conference on women, peace and security.

 

What are some of the significant progresses and challenges facing Namibia?

 

We are a small country; maybe in terms of population. Our landmass is almost the same; just a little bit smaller than Nigeria. But we think our ideas are never small. We always feel that we should project our ideas and in recognition of what others have done for us. We see issues not just like seeing issues but also on the receiving ends of ideas but we should also give ideas and that is where our population might be small but our ideas might not be small.

 

When people talk about the country, I always tell people we have made a lot of progress in terms of women empowerment. We have free education, free health, free pension and free press. We don’t have political prisoners because for various ideas people went to war and took up arms to fight for our basic freedom. People paid with their lives for their fundamental freedoms. Freedom of expression is guaranted in Namibia. Although we don’t have political prisoners that doesn’t not mean we don’t have prisoners at all. Of course we do but only for other issues. When people talk and we have to talk about free education, free health, free pension, free press, gender equality, they think we are painting picture of paradise. Namibia is not a paradise. We know it; we ourselves know it.

 

We have a lot of incidences of gender-based violence. For instance there was a woman when she was tired of the relationship she tried to leave but was killed in the process. So, we have these incidents. Nigeria has bigger population. I am not very sure of how Nigeria handles the issues of gender-based violence.

 

But if there are few ideas we can take home on how Nigeria addresses the issue of gender-based violence, it is something we can look at. We can learn because we are also here for learning on how to reduce such incidents back home. A lot of Namibians come here; religious travellers come to Lagos because of the wonderful work of prophets, especially Prophet T.B. Joshua. I am not a prophet, so I cannot predict things. But if I see one or two best practices, I can tell Namibians that Nigerians are doing ABC to fight gender-based violence. Let us also try these policies and laws also. If there are certain laws that prevent gender-based violence, we can look at it also and copy the model may be it will help in Namibia because our population is only 2.4million and we have higher rate of gender-based violence and higher rate of accidents. There are other social challenges. However, one of the biggest challenges that we have is not manmade – it is draught. Right now, we are suffering drought; there hasn’t been rain for some time. Some people may ask, are these people going to church and are they not praying for it?

 

Yes we do pray for rain but unfortunately, we don’t get rain. So far rain is absent for many months. Last year, it was a bit of rain and personally I lost 50 cows. There was no grazing but in my own pipe had problem and the people who could have helped me did not come on time, so I started losing them one by one and I couldn’t do anything. There was no water and a lot of people lost their livelihoods because 70 per cent of Namibians depends on agriculture.

 

And if you don’t have rain, there is a big problem, because cows need access to grazing. Of course in the past few years, Nigeria has donated some food but this year we also have a prolonged drought. The situation is quite serious. But we are doing well in terms of diamond production and we have a lot of uranium mining. We are number four in the world in term of uranium production. China is one of the largest in the world; in Africa it is Namibia. The price of uranium is not like the price of crude oil but we are doing well. It has created a lot of employment. Another of the challenges we face is that we have a high level of unemployment – something between 20 and 25 per cent.

 

Naturally, the youth will be asking, we are doing very well in uranium mining, but it doesn’t mean a lot for me when I don’t have a job. When you don’t have a job, it is difficult to live a life of dignity because a job, salary and house are things that bring major measurements of dignity to human beings. So, those are some of the major challenges we have.

 

What are your expectations on the forthcoming general elections in Namibia?

 

We are looking forward to them and we pray to God to have peaceful, free, fair and credible elections. Normally, outsider observers come and judge if the elections are free, fair and credible. We hope that this will be the case this year. We have had incidents of violence in the past. By the way, we also allow voting outside the country. For this election, Namibians will be voting in Abuja. Right now, we are training our diplomats on how to prepare for elections abroad so that Namibians staying outside the country can go and exercise their franchise.

 

What are other major things you do in Namibia?

 

We export a lot of electronics here. We export a lot of salts. The only problem is that the bulk of the salt goes to Cape Town (South Africa) before coming here. It would be better if the Nigerian consumer can get the salt directly so that we can say they are consuming something from Namibia. We have a few companies from Nigeria who have helped us in Namibia, especially in the charcoal industry.

 

We have two companies that are producing charcoal and exporting it to choice markets in Europe and other places. We are hoping to be able to attract more industrialists from Nigeria. There are lots of natural resources that we have that Nigerians as experts in manufacturing know how can invest in. They are welcome to come to Namibia and set up their factories there so that Namibia can enhance its foreign exchange by exporting finished products.

 

A lot of charcoal used to go out unprocessed to South Africa but through our two Nigerian investors, we are improving our foreign exchange by selling the processed product abroad. Rather than just exporting raw materials, it is better one exports something that is packaged. It creates jobs and brings in more money. Ultimately, the investor is happy, the country and the youth are also happy.

 

 

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Interview

Nigerians must condemn injustice or suffer same fate –Nnamani

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Nigerians must condemn injustice or suffer same fate –Nnamani

The proclamation and inauguration of the National Assembly which occurs every four years usually brings with it a new crop of legislators brimming with new ideas. A former Governor of Enugu State and Senator, representing Enugu East Senatorial District, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani is one of the of ideas in the current dispensation. In this interview with ONWUKA NZESHI, the former governor unveils his thoughts on the Nigerian Project and how he intends to fill the gaps in the next four years

 

Your Excellency, you are one of those who were in the National Assembly some years ago and are returning after a break. How do you feel about this your second coming?

It is a privilege for me to be involved in a somewhat second missionary journey because I’ve had opportunities as a young man to test the political waters of Nigeria. I have been involved in the leadership of my state (Enugu State) as governor, after which I also had opportunity to do one term in the Senate. Then I went through a period of hiatus which could be described as my wilderness years.

So this is a second opportunity to play a role in statecraft or leadership of my people. The period of the wilderness years, gave me an opportunity to reflect, think and also go through “hunger” for participation in the affairs of my people. You know, as you get older, the compulsion to have a voice; the compulsion to be heard in the caucus of your elders becomes much more intense.

I can say that on this second missionary journey, I am coming into it with greater and more urgent sense of awareness.

My sense of history is also more urgent because I’m now older with a greater sense of the need for Nigeria to join the comity of nations. I also have a greater sense of the social burden of my country. Being in my twilight years, I am coming with greater sense of urgency to be part of the greater explosion in terms of the economy that we all expect in Nigeria. There is a greater sense of the need for the sleeping giant to wake up because indeed, Nigeria is the giant of Africa. But it is a giant that seems to walk with the feet of clay.

 

How can we justify this idea of Nigeria being giant of Africa given the situation of things in the country?

 

Nigeria is a great country because when Nigeria sneezes, Africa quakes. We are the most populous black nation and has contributed more than any other nation in the liberation of other African states. Mention them- South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola and the rest of them. Not only that, Nigeria has contributed a lot in terms of human lives and money to the stabilisation and peace in other African countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan. Nigerians are all over the world.

We’ve had democracy for 20 consecutive years now. I want to be part of the process. I want to be there when the giant wakes up because I know he will certainly wake up. So I’m enthused, I’m ready to participate in this process

What has really changed between when you went on political sabbatical and now?

I have a keener sense of injustice and the price that people pay when they keep quiet. I am much more aware of it now. There is always a price that people pay when they keep quiet in the face of injustice because it (injustice) is going to go round. The system is a closed system, so when you see injustice and you keep quiet, it’s going to come to you. It will come to you one way or the other.

I will be interested in issues of human rights, equality, justice and rule of law. When people are arrested and get bail, we should make sure they are released. Once court grants you a bail, it’s not subject to any other legal interpretation of human manipulation. So basically, I am in the Senate primarily to participate in debates and advocacy of my own viewpoint and the viewpoint of my people on the Nigerian project.

 

What special interests do you have in the Nigerian project?

The Nigerian project is how these ethnic nationalities have gone through several tribulations such as the slave trade, colonialism, military dictatorships, debt enslavement, HIV/AIDS, Ebola and so on. In the era of slave trade, ethnic nationalities and kingdoms were plundered in order to fund the Industrial Revolution in Europe and America; Africans were captured and shipped overseas to work in the plantations.

These foreigners also approached sovereign African nations primarily for trade and spread Christianity. Somehow, they convinced the rulers of these African kingdoms that if they signed pacts or agreements with them, these foreign powers will defend them. From signing treaties, they moved to asking these Africans to pay for the bureaucracy and machinery that will be used to defend their territories. This was how these sovereign nations were pacified and by the time they knew what was going on, they became a state under colonial rule.

 

So you have a country in which if you run a line, all the way from the borders in the North to the Atlantic Ocean in the South, there are no commonalities. There are no commonalities in language, history, and religion. The French, Germans and British simply sat down and divided Africa and those of us here ended up in one country. So the debate on the project is how do these ethnic nationalities continue to live together? How do they share their resources? How do they police themselves? How do they relate with their foreign neighbours?

 

 

 

Earlier, you talked about military dictatorship or militarism. How has this affected the Nigerian project?

It started with things that were happening in Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Egypt where military coups led to change of government’s. So militarism became popular and swept through Africa. In Congo, Patrice Lumumba was overthrown; in Ghana, Kwame Nkruma was removed, in the Republic of Benin, it was Matthew Kerekou, in Togo, it was Dylvanus

Olympio and Gyansingbe Eyedema. In Nigeria, you all know the story of the January 1966 Coup and the counter -coup of July that same year.
It was series of coups all through Africa. Militarism set Africa back. It set Nigeria back because rather than talking about four or five year development plans, we ended up with emergency governments. So my interest is to join the debate on the Nigerian project.

 

Most politicians get elected to the National Assembly on the promise to deliver dividends of democracy to their people. Are you not interested in the basic social infrastructure for your constituents?

Of course, I am also interested in the bread and butter politics, and making sure that my own people get their own share of the national cake. I mean their share in terms infrastructure such as roads in the South-East where apparently the roads are in a state of abandonment. I am also intrigued by the rail system development. How come, nobody is talking about the South-East in terms of rail development? I believe that if you are talking about rail, the South-East should actually have priority because you want to move goods from Port Harcourt into the hinterland; you want to move goods from Onitsha into the hinterland and you want to link Onitsha and Lagos because most of the goods coming into the ports of Lagos are actually bound to end up in the South-East.

So it would be interesting to know why we are not talking about rail system in the South-East or why other areas should have priority over the South-East in terms of development of the railways. I am also interested in aviation and what’s going on with the Enugu Airport. Instead of upgrading the airport, you are talking about even closing it down.

 

What would you do about the challenge we have with our elections?

I will also be interested in electoral reforms. The pertinent question about Certificate of Return has to be addressed. What is Certificate of Return? It is meaningless. It doesn’t mean anything. It is a distraction. What is Certificate of Return? Is it in the Constitution? It’s an invention of those running the electoral system. It’s a new word in our political lexicon. What is Certificate of Return? What are you returning?

When you conduct an election, you have a Certificate of Declaration where you are declared the winner and it states your result, signed by the Returning Officer and your agent. That’s the Certificate of Return. You don’t need any other bureaucracy to give you a Certificate of Return. All they are trying to do is to put a third party into the process to manipulate the system.

When it’s going to favour you, you remember there is a Certificate of Return. When it’s not going to favour you, nobody talks about it. So this is a new invention by the bourgeoisie and the dysfunctional elite that has absolutely no sense of altruism. They are only thinking of how to profit and gain advantage of the system.

When you look at the 2019 Elections in terms of the paper work, manpower mobilisation and the expenses were totally unnecessary. There should be no interfacing agent between the voter, the vote and the result. You don’t need any interfacing agent. You don’t need anybody to announce results.

I’ve had cause to give an example with the banking system. You get your ATM card, you go to the ATM, collect your money and go. Nobody is there to give you the money. Nobody is there to announce the amount of money collected because everything is automated.
The same can happen with elections. It is a very simple process. You have your voter’s card which is like an ATM card. You can take that voter’s card, slot it into the card reader or an appropriate machine; that machine will recognise you as a voter using several parameters. When it recognises you as a voter, you now vote on that machine and we would all see it.

We’ll see it at the RAC, at the INEC offices and we will see it at the Civil Society Situation Room where oh have the media. It will simply register on the screen as +1 – one vote cast in Maiduguri; one vote cast in Calabar or one vote cast in Port Harcourt or Benin for PDP or APC or any other party. It will be cheaper, faster and it will be devoid of human manipulation. If you can do it with your banking sector, you can do it with your electoral system.

 

As a medical doctor, what would you be bringing on board in the health sector?

I will be interested in things like maternity leave and making it a law even in the private sector. I also have a member of my staff who have interest in paternity leave where even fathers will also go on leave since we are talking about equal rights. I will be interested in certain cultural practices like female genital mutilation, early child marriages and the problem of visico vaginal fistula (VVF). I will be interested in areas of health jurisprudence for people going to emergency room and being treated without asking for police report. I will be interested in indigent health care where people go into emergency rooms and obtain treatment as a right as long as it is a government -owned hospital.

I will also be interested in statistics because you can’t do anything without data. If you are going to build a rail system between Abuja and Kaduna, I would like to know the data you have collected in terms of the trend in terms of human movement and goods. If you are moving from Enugu to Onitsha, I want to know how many people go from Enugu to Onitsha. I want to have the statistics because that will now tell us the type of rail to do. It is statistics that should tell us where to put the rail system. It will also tell us where to site our airports. I will like to have data on births, deaths and disease. I will also be interested in data on commerce and agriculture.

 

What’s your perception of the 9th Senate and its newly elected leadership?

I believe we are expecting a vibrant Senate. I’ve had the opportunity of studying closely the new President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan and I’ve done a review of his background; he has a PhD in Remote Sensing and Geographic Information System from a UK university. That shows he is an academic, he’s a man of study and an intellectual who has information.

I have also had cause to work with him. I was in the Senate for four years. I believe he was the Chairman, Public Accounts Committee at that time and I’ve also had opportunity to interact with him and I’ve found him a gentleman. He comes across as an intellectual and a man in total control of his temperament. So I’m looking forward to working with him and he certainly has my support. I believe he’s going to steer the Senate with listening ears.

I believe that the two arms of government (Executive and Legislature) are co-dependent and as long as we wish each other well; as long as the focus is Nigeria, the Senate can act independently. The Senate can assert itself without confronting the Executive or jeopardizing the goals of discipline.

 

 

In the past a frosty relationship existed between the Executive and Legislature. Do you think this conflict can be avoided?

 

I believe that Senator Ahmad Lawan is going to find a meeting point between the level of independence and the level of frustrating the Executive. It wasn’t envisaged that there will be antagonism between the Executive and the Legislature because it is actually one government.
That is why in America, the Vice President is the President of the Senate.

 

I don’t want to get into the semantics or allegory of this independence of the legislature but how can you really say you are independent when the number two person in the Executive will cast a deciding vote on what you want to do. Are you really independent when the Vice President will come into the Senate and decide what you are going to do?

When a party gets elected into government, if the party is in control of the Executive and Legislature, it means that both arms would work together. The leader in the Executive will call the Legislature to brief them of their policies and programmes and find out what are workable. The Legislature may suggest some amendments to what the Executive presents. Thereafter, the policies can be formally presented to the Legislature who will now convince the opposition to pass it.

Sometimes, the Executive can even invite the opposition when they are putting together a bill. When they now agree they will present it formally to the Legislature. This will decrease acrimony, time wastage and make things easier.

So if you look at how constitutional democracy was developed, the idea was not that the two arms of government will fight or be antagonistic to each other. The idea was that they are going to be co- dependent and work together. If the party in the majority is in government and controls the Executive, if they are lucky and they are also I control of the Legislature, they are going to work together.

 

There is no dividing line, it is one government. Now if they convince the opposition and it buys into the plan, it sails through but if they can’t convince the opposition, the matter will be out to vote. If they win, you go along with it. So based on the election of Ahmad Lawan that happened penultimate Tuesday, I can tell you it was a bipartisan effort. As an academic and an intellectual I have been able to read the fine line between an antagonistic legislature and a legislature that is alive to its responsibilities and helps the Executive have a smooth operation of government.

 

The 8th Senate could not pass the South-East Development Commission Bill before their tenure elapsed. What are you going to do about it?

My role is to revisit it. We are going to look for it and bring it up again. I am surprised that the North East Development Commission Bill was passed without the South East Development Commission Bill being passed. I hope that I the future, in the Senate, what is good for the goose will also be good for the gander. As you pass the North-East Bill, you also pass the South-East Bill, if not you hold it until all of them are ready and passed together.

Not only will this be my advocacy, it will be my responsibility to go to my colleagues, visit them one by one and appeal to them to ensure equity and fairness in developmental matters of this nature. If you look at the Senate Presidents address, he called for the bipartisan spirit to continue. He said there is no party – No APC and no PDP So I will speak to their bipartisan conscience for us to work together.

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Business

We’re infusing technology into luxury living in Nigeria –Olusanya

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We’re infusing technology into luxury living in Nigeria –Olusanya

Olukayode Olusanya is the Chief Executive Officer of Oak Homes Limited, a real estate development company that focuses on its niche clientele in the highbrow Ikoyi and Victoria Island. In this interview with PAUL OGBUOKIRI, he says his company is taking luxury a notch higher to home seekers by offering first of its kind in the Nigerian real estate sector a fully automated smart apartments. Excepts

 

You are making some waves in the real estate, it is not expected to have just happened; what were you doing before now?

All my life until 2015, I have been a banker. The last place I worked was the Corporate Banking unit of Skye Bank. And of course, that was where I got familiar with real estate business.

 

How deep is Oak Homes in the real estate sector?

Oak Homes is in the business of developing real estate, so we build and deliver luxury apartments to our target customers. That’s basically what we do transforming land and those raw material into houses

 

Will it be right to say that there is lull in the real estate market now?

Yes, I will say so because the earning power of Nigerians has reduced and also, maybe because of my background as a banker, the access to finance/ credit for individual Nigerians has also reduced, banks are not providing facility for borrowing. Of course, when peoples’ earning capacity is reduced, naturally, it leads to lull in the economy.

The Nigerian population is increasing by the day, and it is expected that the demand for residential and office apartments should equally be on the increase, but the situation seems to be on the contrary. What is the implication of that to the economy?

There is still a lot of activity in the sector, but it may not be as busy as you would want it to be, but it is just the realities of the time; the country just exited recession just a couple of years ago and the economy haven’t yet picked up fully.

I am not an active economist or in a position to advise the government, but anything the government can do to encourage spending, that will stimulate bigger economic activities and growth. That is why you hear the saying, ‘spend your way out of recession’.

 

Are the price houses, either for rent or outright purchase coming down with the lull in the market?

The truth of the matter is that Nigeria is a peculiar country. In a place like Lagos which is very huge there are more people coming into the city than those leaving, so the demand pressure is there, moreso, the land which we need to build the hoses is decreasing because it is a is diminishing asset, as you use, it does not expand; unless you want to do reclaim land and that does not come cheap.

So it is the role demand and supply that is at play here. Demand continues to surpass supply such that as it closes up, the price goes up, so that’s why instead of the price land in Banana Island decreasing, it is going up even though there is less money in circulation.

So you realize that some of these things follow the economic theories of demand and supply, however, as the land reduce, you go up by doing multi-floor skyscrapers. If you go to my village now, you will probably be doing more bungalows or at best a 2 floor building, but if you’re in Lagos you have to go up because the cost of per square meter of land is increasing.

 

It is a well known fact when investment is rising and economy is booming, demand for residential and office apartments increase. As a player in this industry, will you say that investors are still coming into Nigeria new?

I will say yes, investors are still coming into the country. Nigeria is an interesting country, when you see foreigners coming into the country, to be honest to you it is not because the like us so much, even though often times they say Nigerians are good people, accommodating, hospitable and all that. I have a lot of white friends saying such nice things about us, but when you see them; foreigners coming into the country, you will begin to ask why would one want to leave the comfort of United States, United Kingdom, Dubai etc, to come Nigeria? It’s not because they love us but it is because of the resources that abound here. Seriously, I tell people that I cannot leave this country because the solution to the economic difficulties of the country lies in our hands. There is limitless world of opportunities in Nigeria. Now I will also tell you why I think Nigeria is a fantastic place, mind you, I had the opportunity of studying in the United Kingdom. The UK and US are perfect countries, if there is anything like perfection, there are no much innovations that you can bring there that can wow anybody there, it is what they have done over 20 years ago. But if you’re doing such thing in Nigeria, it makes whole lot of difference. Take for a example, we are doing what is called smart estate, meaning everything is automated, your taps, your lights, everything is operated from the control of a button of a device, this is something in our minds we are trying the blow the minds of people, taking luxury a notch higher, but if go to the US, they will say you guys are not doing badly, but in Nigeria, we are making some noise about it, that Oak Homes is this, we are bring this and that, so we are making some noise about it and we are proudly doing so because if you look around, pockets of individuals have been doing it, but as a developer, we are coming out to do it on a large scale.

 

In that case, what should your clients expect you now?

We’re not just in the market to take money from those in need of apartments, we are focused and our sole intent is to do things differently, we have a target market and we have market focus. Our market focus is Ikoyi and Victoria Island. For us, it is more than making a buck,
Now I will tell you what we have done is that we are redefining luxury for our target market. That’s what we are trying to do. So luxury in itself, when people hear it, they will come and say that it is expensive, we are trying to make it affordable, so what we are selling at N70 million, our competitor will probably sell to you at N90 million. We have tried our best to cut it down to N70 million, that is what we call affordable luxury. So for our own target market, it is affordable option, but if you take it out of that target market, they will say it is too expensive; why is it not going for N5 million. That’s a different market entirely, but for our own market, it is affordable. So we are trying to redefine luxury in the market we operate, which is Ikoyi and Victoria Island.

 

How can prospective buyers locate you?

Oak Homes has a brand and an identity you cannot miss. I believe we are in the faces of our potential clients, and moreover, we constantly open up avenues to be within the reach of the investing public. One of such is our unveiling event this Sunday, we are showcasing some new products and new estates, we are bringing to the fore some of the things we have doing already. At that event, our select audience is invited. We can be found on www.oakhomeslimited.com.

Also, at that event; The Unveiling II, (the second in the series in Nigeria); the idea is that we introduce our developments to the investing public for the first time. We are unveiling our smart estate we are doing in partnership with Schneid Electric, we are introducing developments in Victoria Island in Ikoyi, topnotch luxury. Where everything is carefully intended to be perfect, everything is intended. We are in partnership with one of the best interior designers in the country. So you can be rest assured that from the beginning to the end, everything is intended, everything is intentional, intentional designs. We are trying to take care of all the details.

Now, we didn’t get here by a stroke of luck or by accident, we have really been flogged before, we have gone through the cold, through trial; however we are still learning, constantly evolving to do better than the automation we are have done. It will get better, so I enjoin everybody, if you have the chance, join us at the event.

 

What will be your advise to freshly out graduates, on struggling to stand on their own rather than waiting for non-existent jobs somewhere?

First and foremost, I would say that nothing fell on my laps, I can tell you for free, right from my undergraduate days. I used to sell packet shirts. There is someone from my past whom I still respect; Pastor Dele Jayeoba, who used to patronize me a lot. I don’t know if he was buying the shirts to help me or he needed the shirts. He will just say Kayode go and bring five. From there I went to other businesses, at a time, I had a telephone call business. So when I finished my undergraduate days and went onto for my NYSC, I remember I went to some corporate organisations in Apapa submitting my CV. What I telling them was that I will work for free, that was in 2002.

Let me summarise by saying that you don’t sleep and wake and expect things to happen. Ofcourse, there has been a God factor in everything I’m doing. I don’t have a godfather somewhere, just God. However, I have helpers who have played crucial roles in my life. I have a lot of supporters, a lot of mentors; I have read a lot of books. But I tell you that nothing fell on my laps, even if you are praying for God’s blessing, lay your hands on something, so that God will find something to bless for you.

Along the story of my life, most of the people who have assisted me are people I do not know. God has always sent helpers our way and I have also tried not to disrepute my name. One of the things that my father taught me is that your name is your greatest possession and I have grown up to learn that there are people that speak for me where I don’t have access to.

 

Have you diversified?

Ah, there is something I learnt from Aliko Dangote, he said that he will not put his money in any business he does not understand. I have lot friends who say that they are into crypto currency, that they are doing oil and gas, I like the good life but I also know you cannot make all the money. So I engage only in the enterprise I am comfortable with. The one that you can make and go but when you put your hand into what you don’t understand and you get burnt, so real estate is what I understand. I love the art of creation. Real estate is what we do, but we recently started facility management.

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