Six things June 12 taught me

Six things June 12 taught me

By Simon Kolawole

Where were you on June 12, 1993? I was in Ilorin, Kwara state, enjoying the weekend with my cousins. I could not vote because I registered in Lagos. If I had voted, I would have thumb-printed the space for the Social Democratic Party (SDP) whose presidential flag bearer was Chief MKO Abiola. I had been rooting for Alhaji Bashir Tofa, the candidate of the National Republican Convention (NRC). But after watching the televised presidential debate and having an argument debate with my dear friend, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu (now APC national publicity secretary), I was finally persuaded to vote for Abiola, although I eventually disenfranchised myself.

I learnt a dozen lessons from the June 12 debacle. First, northerners were unfairly vilified in the political crisis that engulfed the nation after the annulment. The narrative was that they did not want Abiola to become president. There was a conspiracy theory that the north wanted to hold on to power by all means. However, the election results did not support this claim. Abiola won nine out of the 16 states in the north while Tofa won only seven. The romantic part of the story was that Abiola defeated Tofa in his home state, Kano, and even in his ward. I do not want to believe it was the Yoruba or southerners in the north that did the magic. That would be a disingenuous claim.

To be sure, I accepted the conspiracy theory then. The north, I mean the “core north”, had so dominated the political landscape that resentment had built up considerably in the south against the “northern oligarchy”. So it was easy to read the annulment as a northern agenda. If you ask my opinion today, I would say there was no conspiracy. I would say the military guys just did not want to let go of power. That is the benefit of hindsight. After all, the previously cancelled primaries had three northerners in the lead: Gen. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua having pocketed the SDP ticket and Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi and Mallam Adamu Ciroma about to face a run-off for the NRC ticket.

The second lesson is that Igbo and Yoruba are not irreconcilable political enemies. Historically, the two dominant southern ethnic groups had appeared to be political rivals fiercely at war with each other — always going in opposite directions in the struggle for supremacy in the Nigerian power game. However, despite the SDP fielding a Muslim-Muslim ticket that held virtually no attraction to the Igbo, they still voted massively for Abiola, a Yoruba. There were four Igbo states then. Although Tofa won in Enugu, Imo and Abia and Abiola won only in Anambra, the total scores provided better evidence: 790,371 to Tofa, 739,748 to Abiola. A mere difference of 50,623 votes!

I believe Yoruba still owe Ndigbo one. You would appreciate these figures better if you realised that there was an Igbo on the NRC ticket: Dr Sylvester Ugoh was Tofa’s running mate. Abiola getting 48 percent in the south-east was definitely not an ordinary gesture. Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu had angrily left SDP for NRC after the Muslim-Muslim ticket was announced, arguing that SDP had marginalised the Igbo — even though Abiola was always going to pick a northerner as his vice-presidential candidate. Informed that Abiola would appoint an Igbo as secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), Ojukwu famously quipped: “That’s a glorified tea boy!”

The third lesson is that the Nigerian political class can be petty. NRC behaved badly after losing the election. Rather than join forces with the SDP to defend our democracy and confront the military which was the mortal enemy, it became a matter of “if I don’t have it, then nobody else should”. NRC backed out of the fight very easily. To make matters worse, SDP members who had been unhappy that Abiola got the party’s presidential ticket in the first place were very eager to negotiate away the mandate. SDP leaders were soon engaged in meetings with the military to set up an interim government to “save Nigeria from the precipice”. You won the election, guys!

The fourth lesson is that anyone can become a symbol of resistance no matter their past. Abiola was an establishment person, one who wined and dined with the powers that be, starting with the military government of Gen Murtala Muhammed in 1975. He was a known friend of Gen Ibrahim Babangida. If anyone was expected to accept the annulment of June 12 quietly, enter his car and go back to his house, it was Abiola. I am sure Babangida and his team were dumbfounded that Abiola led the rebellion against what was supposed to be a routine cancellation of elections. I honestly did not expect the resistance from Abiola, much less that he would go to his grave fighting.

What this seems to tell me about Nigeria is that the much-expected turnaround may come from unexpected quarters. I am not saying I saw any vision, but the usual suspects may not lead the ethical and political revolution that will unleash the potential of this country. Nigeria is too blessed to be crawling on its chest. How can we have all these resources — human and material — and be stuck in the cesspool of poverty, disease, unemployment and corruption? But the change leader may turn out to be the least expected person, one whom we despise or treat with suspicion. Abiola was an unlikely symbol of resistance. He did not look the part but he played the part.

The fifth lesson is that Nigerians have short memory. Many of those parading themselves today as heroes of democracy were actually in bed with the miscreants who annulled June 12. They fought vigorously to make sure the annulment was not reversed. They said and did despicable things for political gain and filthy lucre. But nobody remembers again. They now grandstand and lecture us on democracy and the resistance to military rule. If you want to have a list of these villains-turned-heroes, please get a copy of Olusegun Adeniyi’s “The Last 100 Days of Abacha”. You will marvel at the conduct of the sycophants who have become latter-day saints of the democratic order.

Finally, this may be minor but it is not irrelevant: I also learnt that presidential debate is a good thing. Actually, if Babangida had not annulled the presidential election, he would have bowed out a hero after a lot of missteps in his eight years as president of Nigeria. He had tried to create a new political order after performing many experiments, including banning and unbanning “old breed” politicians and creating, controversially, two parties based on competing ideologies and manifestoes. Watching the two presidential candidates debate was something completely new to me as a Nigerian and it really helped me weigh my options before making up my mind.

Unfortunately, debates have become a joke in Nigeria. Rather than make progress and build on what we experienced in 1993, we have gone terribly backwards on many counts. Studies have shown that if you want to win the presidential election in Nigeria, you must not participate in TV debate. Okay, that is a joke, but all the presidents we have produced since 1999 never participated in debates. In 1999, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo stood Chief Olu Falae up at the Hilton Hotel in Abuja on the night of the debate. Eventually, Falae had to do it alone. I remember him saying “I don’t find it funny debating with myself” — or something like that — when the programme started.

In 2003, Obasanjo was absent again, even though Gen Muhammadu Buhari and Prof Pat Utomi were waiting for him. In 2007, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua did not feature. No reasons were given, although we knew Yar’Adua to be articulate and capable of taking on his rivals. He did not prove it. In 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan avoided the company of Buhari, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, and chose to debate with himself. In 2015, he spoiled for a debate with Buhari, but Buhari’s handlers advised him to keep clear. This year again, Buhari avoided debating Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. Debate dodgers always win presidential polls in Nigeria.

We need a culture of debate. I would be the first to say that to debate is one thing and to govern is another, but I would add that avoiding debates does not guarantee good governance either. I won’t even say debates determine the outcome of elections. I think most people’s minds are made up irrespective of the pedigrees and eloquence of the presidential candidates, but my point is: what do we stand to lose if we hear them debate their ideas and policies in a room? It is a feature of democratic culture we need to imbibe. It certainly swung me in Abiola’s direction in 1993. Overall, I have some good memories from the June 12 debacle, although the pains were devastating.

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
HONORING MKO

I’m quite happy that President Buhari has followed through on his national recognition of Chief MKO Abiola, winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, by making June 12 our Democracy Day and naming the national stadium in Abuja after him. Former President Obasanjo must be livid. For eight years, we begged him to celebrate Abiola but he refused. Yet if Abiola had accepted the annulment of June 12, there would never have been an Obasanjo presidency. He died and Obasanjo became the chief beneficiary. And here is Buhari naming a stadium built by Obasanjo after Abiola! At least, nobody can say Buhari is looking for south-west votes again. Lovely.

CORRUPTION AND POVERTY

One interesting debate we have been having in Nigeria since 2015 is: is our problem corruption or the economy? Many think President Buhari has prioritised fighting corruption above the economy; Mr. Peter Obi, PDP vice-presidential candidate, even said anti-corruption is not an economic policy. Others have argued that without fighting corruption, the economy cannot grow and poverty will worsen. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has weighed in, pointing out to African leaders that it is not enough to fight corruption – they have to create wealth to fight poverty. Let’s hope President Buhari got the memo. Shared economic prosperity can actually help the anti-corruption war. Deep.

CLEAN SWEEP

Now that the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has succeeded in installing its preferred candidates as leaders of the national assembly, Nigerians have a right to expect a smoother working relationship between the legislature and the executive — especially for the quick passage of budget. However, a part of me does not believe this is our problem. PDP installed most of its preferred candidates for the 16 years it was in power but that did not make much difference. In fact, the PDP became an opposition to itself. We can only hope that something will change this time around and that Nigerians will indeed see the benefits in form of good governance. Waiting…

MYTH BUSTER

I recently got a WhatsApp broadcast that tried to recreate the murder of foremost journalist, Mr Dele Giwa, via a parcel bomb in 1986. It said the bomb was delivered to Giwa’s son, Billy, by Major Buba Marwa, accompanied by Major Tunde Ogbeha. It said they came in a Peugeot car which they burnt thereafter, and Gen Babangida made Marwa governor of Lagos and “pumped” money into the state. All credible accounts said the bomb carrier used a motorcycle. And why has Billy Giwa not identified Marwa as the courier in 33 years? Meanwhile, Babangida left power in 1993 and Marwa became military administrator in 1996. How did Babangida pump money into Lagos? Phoney.

Credit: TheCable

June 12 and its new false interpreters

June 12 and its new false interpreters

by Louis Odion

Never known to be in the habit of turning the proverbial other cheek, it is a big puzzle that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo chose to absorb a sucker punch of volcanic severity on June 12 last week without as much as a grunt. Babagana Kingibe had baited him with a charge of complicity in the high conspiracy that aborted June 12.

Not that we did not know that before.

But afraid that his old skeletons might be unearthed finally, ordinarily voluble and perennially crusading OBJ uncharacteristically retreated into a cowardly silence to a claim that, considering his assumed brotherhood with MKO, would sound very abominable indeed.

Baba has no comment, whispered his spokesman to inquisitive newshounds.

Well, as an aside, it is perhaps a measure of the ethical flux pervading the land today that Kingibe, otherwise a June 12 renegade himself, could permit himself the liberty to so question the former president in the first place.

Let it however be noted that OBJ’s ensuing silence is also strategic. Replying Kingibe would inevitably usher an even darker question. Following his release from Abacha gulag in June 1998, he, with MKO Abiola still alive, famously forswore the prospects of any presidential aspiration.

So, in dodging Kingibe’s pointed challenge, OBJ, a master of political chess game, surely demonstrates a possession of enough native intelligence to anticipate possible apocalypse.

Let us, as a mark of charity, even concede OBJ’s earlier misspeak in Harare in 1994 that “Abiola is not the messiah” was a foible of the head and not the heart.

Now, the more monumental poser of history still left unanswered in the last twenty-one years: would the “Ebora of Owu” swear by the most potent deity of his native land that never did he under any circumstance ever say “So, what happens to MKO?” at some point to the conniving generals pressuring him to accept a draft into the presidential race before Abiola’s mystery death on July 7, 1998?

The old witch wailed last night; the child died the morning after.

To be sure, this writer is not ashamed to confess a partisanship, even fanaticism, whenever and wherever June 12 resurrects. The sensitivity thus aroused is not just civic, but also professional. Some of us were living witnesses to the momentous events before, during and after June 12. I was a politics reporter with Concord Press (owned by MKO) through the 90s and knew first-hand what it meant to function under constant threat of military bullet or detention and yet labored for months on end without salary.

So, as conscientious bearer of national memory, we certainly know the real soldiers of fortune, the double agents, who sought to profiteer from the sacrifice of others. Just as we can distinguish the fake labour activists in funny costumes who chanted “Aluta” in daylight but cavorted with the evil generals at night as informants on the payroll. Another authentic June 12 hero, Frank Kokori, already said enough in last Saturday’s Vanguard to make the surviving ones among this category of traitors regret all the blood money they collected from the military in the 90s.

Indeed, as immortal Shakespeare forewarned, truth crushed to the earth shall rise again. And Sophocles added poetically, there is danger in unnatural silence.

But while the shrewd chicken farmer of Ota keeps a crafty silence under the circumstance, some of his political slaves would rather resort to rehabilitating history and falsefying accounts, obviously to impress their idol.

Without shame or fear, one of them, Doyin Okupe, even lied that it was the north that blocked OBJ from duly recognizing June 12 or formally acknowledging Abiola’s colossal sacrifice throughout his eight-year imperial reign.

Really? So, was he also told to cajole all the South-west states (except Lagos under Tinubu) to stop observing June 12 as public holiday in Abiola’s honour once his PDP “captured” the region from Alliance for Democracy (AD) in 2003?

The truth is however imperishable: in his moment of power and glory, Obasanjo never seemed to realize that righting historical wrong is not a political favour to anyone, but a moral duty to community or country.

Already, the fact of his perfidy here has been corroborated by Ayo Fayose in a tell-all account published by The Interview magazine in 2017. As Ekiti governor in 2003 and one of the early beneficiaries of OBJ’s guerrilla politics, Fayose recalled he and other PDP governors in Osun, Ondo, Oyo and Ogun were coaxed by the then emperor of Aso Rock to worship only May 29 as part of a deliberate pagan rite to wipe June 12 from the nation’s memory.

Well, Okupe failed to clarify whether it was iron bar or raffia mat that was deployed to barricade OBJ from doing the needful on June 12. Were we to buy this argument, how ironic then that his master who couldn’t dare contemplate June 12 out of fear of the north, yet had the temerity to conceive and bid for treasonable Third Term that would have completely shut the zone out of contestation for presidential power for as long as it pleased OBJ.

But let it be said that the “north” cited couldn’t be that of Dangiwa Abubakar Umar, Shehu Sani, Mathew Hassan Kukah, Dan Suleiman, Jonah Jang and other men of conscience. Of course, the “north” the jobbing Okupe actually meant could only be that of now discredited generals who unchained OBJ from prison after Abacha’s demise and literally railroaded a fellow general to Aso Rock barely a year later.

The bug of revisionism afflicting Okupe would also appear to have infected Kola, the scion of the Abiola dynasty. The the word, outrage, perhaps best describes the reactions of many disciples of MKO to a slew of wild claims by Abiola’s heir in a Sun interview last week which tended to belittle the sacrifice made by others in defence of June 12 even as they inadvertently diminish the mystique of his illustrious dad.

Descending from the enigmatic Bashorun, Kola has, of course, always borne the yoke of high public expectation. Aside his muscular looks, it is rather difficult to identify his own talent. But it certainly can’t be oratory.

On the cusp of history at Aso Rock on June 12, 2018, for instance, Kola chose to delegate an epochal invitation to speak on behalf of the Abiola family to a more articulate Hafsat, his half-sister, after President Buhari’s formally declared June 12 a national monument and canonized his dad posthumously as GCFR.

Over the years, Kola has, at best, done very little or nothing to dispel the popular notion that he was at peace, even infatuated, with the very family the rest of us see as his dad’s chief enemy. (Some accounts even hinted marriage was on the cards.)

While boxing himself into such blissful detachment, he, therefore, would seem far removed to view reality like the rest of us.

So, when Kola then decided to come out of his shell and grant rare interview this year, we should have anticipated that a major disaster was about to unfold.

Well, NADECO activist and the revolutionary Army colonel, Tony Nyiam, has already gone a great length in another media reports to dispel the fallacy in the ridiculous claim that Tinubu only became radicalized into NADECO because Abacha refused to make him governor or commissioner in Lagos, to warrant dwelling further on that point.

Note, Nyiam cannot be called a Tinubu apologist. For he has consistently disagreed with Asiwaju since the latter teamed up with Buhari to found APC in 2014. But forthright Nyiam would not stand by and condone Kola’s crude revisionism against Tinubu because of today’s political difference. That would have amounted to a rape of history.

Nyiam is unlike Bode George, a grandpa who still relishes toddler’s fables and seems quite unaware of the shame – if not curse – in lying with hoary hair. Note, this “bread and butter” Admiral could not, in real terms, be counted among the generals who truly mattered then and his understanding of events was obviously shaped by hear-say from his master, Diya.

Perhaps, we should empathize with a man consistently worsted electorally in Lagos by Tinubu since 1999. He fancied a new career in politics after leaving the Navy on account of being the barefoot messenger of Dipo Diya who would later fall out of favour with their overall lord and master, despot Abacha. But despite all his desperate toil since, not once has BG been able to win even a polling unit in his ancestral Isale-Eko.

So, it is pointless attaching any weight to the words of the political eunuch of Lagos.

But, to me, even more disturbing is Kola’s reported allusion to Abiola’s high blood pressure. No one disputes that. His physician, Dr. Ore Falomo, already told us MKO had battled that medical condition for decades.

However, viewed against the certainly murky circumstances of Abiola’s sudden death on July 7, 1998, such unguarded comment by Kola will only profit those who would have the rest of us buy the juvenile fiction that MKO, who had endured four harrowing years in open grave called solitary confinement, suddenly became overwhelmed by excitement on the very eve of freedom, so much that he suffered cardiac arrest after sipping from a curious cup of tea offered by visiting American diplomats in a presidential lounge in Abuja.

In summary, illogical verbiage like this will only lend credence again to the notion held by some that Kola was perhaps too consumed by the hot pursuit of a love interest in Minna all through the 90s to have a clear understanding of what otherwise transpired right under his nose.

Credit: The Nation

The legend called M.K.O

The legend called M.K.O

By Yakubu Mohammed

Today marks the beginning of the celebration of Democracy Day on June 12. After about 25 years of ceaseless clamouring for the federal government to declare June 12 a national public holiday in honour of M.K.O Abiola almost to no avail, majority of Nigerians were astounded this time last year when, as if from the blues, President Muhammadu Buhari, formerly an unapologetic military dictator now a converted democrat, publicly recognised the injustice of the annulled June 12 election and took the bold and unprecedented step to rectify it.

So today has replaced May 29 as Democracy Day, which perhaps explains the lacklustre inauguration of the president some two weeks ago to commence his second term of office without the necessary pomp and panoply. Not even a word to fellow citizens, something to rouse them to a new sense of direction and some frenzy of patriotism.

May 29 has joined October 1, the country’s anniversary of independence, as mere footnotes in the national calendar. The debasing of the two hitherto very significant dates in our life is symptomatic of the honour we have decided to give to June 12 as a watershed in our democratic trajectory. For the first time we have had an unbroken 20 years of democratic practice, despite some of its glaring imperfections and some of its failures and foibles not to add the chicanery of its adherents.

But are they really its adherents? Some people will tell you to your face that we have democracy today without democrats. But that is beside the point. The fact is, mercifully, there are no gun-toting men on horseback, dictating the tune and running the affairs of the country. Today we can argue and debate and disagree, up to some point. Even in the media, especially in the unregulated social media, this democracy permits some licence to libel and defame and peddle obviously vile and pernicious wild rumour that can set the country ablaze.

We also have a handful of those who believe that this democracy is not complete without the free for all display of the power of the AK 47 by armed gangs going by the fearful nomenclature of bandits and kidnappers at home and on the highways and even at polling booths.

We also tend to believe that this current democracy can profit from some large dose of impunity and the impudence of reckless power, some bit of autocracy with some fascism looming large in many states. But this day, without any iota of doubt, is M.K.O Abiola’s day of glory. It is akin to Martin Luther King’s national holiday in America. Abiola is the single most important architect of the modern democracy. He won the June 12 presidential election in 1993 fair and square. But it was annulled. In pursuit of his mandate, he made the supreme sacrifice. The struggle to actualise that mandate, prolonged and sometimes vicious, eventually resulted in the return to democratic dispensation on May 29 1999 with political power ceded to the South West, the home region of Abiola.

That this democracy has endured for two decades and still counting is a testimony to the fact God has a hand in our affairs, despite our own obvious weaknesses and failures. But what lessons do we learn from the life and times of this great man, a true legend of our time?

As president Buhari said last year, we must all resolve to avoid the situation that led to the June 12 election fiasco. To do that we must all learn to live and play by the rules of the game. We must avoid a repeat of the litany of election inconclusiveness that we witnessed in the last elections.

Abiola might not have been a perfect human being or a perfect politician for that matter but his world views and personal examples synchronised very well with the true dictates of democracy and good governance with a premium on the well-being of the people.

Abiola left a legacy worthy of emulation by today’s leaders. His broad-mindedness was exceptional. So was his quality and practice of regarding every Nigerian, irrespective of ethnicity and religion, as a fellow compatriot worthy of trust and empathy. He was a true believer of merit and one’s worth, always inclined to give another man the benefit of the doubt.

Abiola might not have become president but his larger than life image came from his ability to triumph over base and primordial sentiments and an incredible sense of fellow feeling. I concluded that pen-portrait of this incredible Nigerian by saying he might not have been a very good politician – considering how very good Nigerian politicians are – he was definitely a good humanist, a man of the world who was courted by the high and the mighty.

Abiola, upclose
Very well known to the public is the fact that the man M.K.O was a typical grass- to- grace phenomenon. He was never shy to tell whoever cared to listen that like many Nigerians of modest background, he was born into abject poverty. Born on August 24 1937 in Abeokuta, Ogun State, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola was the 23rd child of his father, Alhaji Alao Salawu Adenekan Abiola.

M.K.O, the brand that would later take the world by storm, was the first child of his father to survive, the first 22 having either died at birth or before they turned one year. His father, not one to succumb easily to fate, christened the new born-child Kashimawo – roughly translated to mean let’s wait and see.

His father lived long enough to see his son grow through poverty – drumming and dancing to pay school fees – to wealth, becoming the first Blackman to rise as the executive vice-president of ITT world-wide. Though he was stupendously rich, he did not allow that to enter his head. Philanthropy defined his life. He believed that the more he gave the more he had. But this man of legendry wealth was not unaware of his limitations. He had occasion to say: “I cannot give everybody money. I wish I could. And If I could, I would but I couldn’t. But I can give hope” And that was more lasting. The hope that Abiola gave was not the type given to Tantalus, unattainable, a mere mirage or a will-o’- de wisp. It was the hope that Nigerians missed by not having an Abiola presidency. What Nigerians missed also was his human touch, an incredible sense of empathy, feeling for others.

Though he could be brash when occasion called for it, but he couldn’t bear to see a fellow human being suffer. When there was a task to be performed he brooked no obstacle. No hurdle was too much for him to scale.

Now I ask: how many of our big men today would willingly give out their official cars to their paid staff to use on official assignment? Abiola would tell his captain to ferry any of his editors in his private jet for an assignment outside Lagos. I am an eye witness to his humility. On one occasion, I had the luxury of being flown, all alone, in his private jet to represent him at Enugu and, on another occasion, being flown with Dele Giwa, just the two of us, to attend a function in Abuja. That was the legend called M.K.O.

Credit: The Guardian

Taking Obasanjo to task

Taking Obasanjo to task
by Idowu Akinlotan   

IT is hard to explain what has led to the distortion of the keynote address presented two Saturdays ago by ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo at the 2019 synod of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Oleh Diocese Isoko, Delta State. Did his controversial, self-serving and almost narcissistic person get in the way of a proper comprehension of his diagnoses of the national malaise? Or was the controversy and miscomprehension triggered by the present government’s often misplaced and instinctive umbrage? Or perhaps the Information minister, Lai Mohammed, unwittingly draped the whole issue in his customary propagandist response to anything that seemed like a criticism of the Muhammadu Buhari presidency? Whatever it was, Chief Obasanjo’s copious and even remarkable examination (in nearly 10,000 words) of Nigeria’s developmental problems on May 18, 2019 was needlessly entwined in petty controversy, and the public forced into entanglements that further complicate and vitiate a good understanding of the theses he tried to promote.

Of the about 70 paragraphs to which the address was divided, only about two or three appeared to be pointed criticisms of the Buhari presidency. The rest of the speech was taken up by useful dissections of the Nigerian condition, a few barbed references here and there, but on the whole fairly passable and well-reasoned prognostications. The former president repeatedly indulged in idolatrous references to his policy successes, taking particular note of his nationalist credentials vis-a-vis the sectionalist credentials of the incumbent president. He also barely disguised his contempt for many of the shocking shortcomings of his successors. Indeed, a sizable part of his address dealt with counsels to his successors which his own presidency glaringly spurned, and virtues he preached to them which he turned inimitably into personal vices. The contradictions have led many analysts to wrongly focus on his person than on his ideas. Chief Obasanjo cannot by any stretch be regarded as a virtuous man, or that when he seizes upon relevant public issues he can be trusted to offer the right prognoses. He likes to present himself as a man of ideas; but at bottom, he is a man only besotted with ideas.

There is also a second reason many analysts are unwilling to give the former president a hearing. They see him as unalterably opposed to the Buhari presidency and has done and keeps doing everything to ensure its failure. Nothing, they reason (and this is the Information minister’s position) will placate him. Chief Obasanjo may be afflicted with a messianic complex, and may even secretly and controversially nurse the desire to see his successors underperform in clear contrast to himself, but there is nothing sacrosanct about his secret desire to make his successors the failures they have arguably become. He may thus be filled with contradictions, and be even inured to criticisms and abuse, but he has an uncanny ability to ferret out great public issues deserving of attention and deep scrutiny. And because he possesses the name recognition to imbue his criticisms with traction and even nobility, Nigerians may periodically be compelled to give him listening ears in spite of themselves, and must also restrain themselves from outrightly dismissing his interesting perceptions and conclusions.

Chief Obasanjo may not be smart enough to build a great and imperishable legacy for himself, but he was sensible enough to choose the Anglican Synod held in Delta State to focus attention on a number of developmental issues troubling Nigeria. His address, as fairly remarkable as it was, would have been consigned to the archives almost immediately after he delivered it had he not chosen, in a very long speech, to make vigorous references to what he sees as the creeping Fulanisation and Islamisation of Nigeria. He did not put the blame squarely on the Buhari presidency. In fact, he argued that careless domestic policies and issues had combined in a lethal brew with external events and actors to produce and unleash processes that could sunder Nigeria. The former president, not known for mincing words, seemed even uncharacteristically wary of making pointed references to the obvious failures and weaknesses of the Buhari presidency. So he spoke obliquely.

Hereunder are the two main references to the Buhari presidency that have drawn the ire of critics: (a) “Every issue of insecurity must be taken seriously at all levels and be addressed at once without favouritism or cuddling. Both Boko Haram and herdsmen acts of violence were not treated as they should at the beginning. They have both incubated and developed beyond what Nigeria can handle alone. They are now combined and internationalised with ISIS in control. It is no longer an issue of lack of education and lack of employment for our youth in Nigeria which it began as, it is now West African Fulanisation, African Islamisation and global organised crimes of human trafficking, money laundering, drug trafficking, gun trafficking, illegal mining and regime change. Yet we could have dealt with both earlier and nipped them in the bud, but Boko Haram boys were seen as rascals not requiring serious attention in administering holistic measures of stick and carrot. And when we woke up to the reality, it was turned to an industry for all and sundry to supply materials and equipment that were already outdated and that were not fit for active military purpose. Soldiers were poorly trained for the unusual mission, poorly equipped, poorly motivated, poorly led and made to engage in propaganda rather than achieving results. Intelligence was poor and governments embarked on games of denials while paying ransoms which strengthened the insurgents and yet governments denied payment of ransoms. Today, the security issue has gone beyond the wit and capacity of Nigerian government or even West African governments.”

(b) “I think it is like a building, which once the foundation is faulty, becomes wobbly with the tiniest turbulence. Consequently, the issue of national identity, values, ethics and national dream must be settled once and for all. This may require a global national meeting. If Miyetti Allah is truly encouraging herdsmen violence and killings and truly they have to be appeased or placated with 100 billion naira and they are equated to Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndigbo, etc, then we have to appease those other organisations similarly or be ready to allow them to unleash havoc of their own. We need politics of a united Nigeria for all Nigerians  not one for Yoruba, one for Ibo, one for Hausa-Fulani, one for Ijaw, one for Nupe, one for Tiv, one for Kanuri and one for Isoko. If we fail to do this, I am afraid all the EFCC, ICPC, Plans and Strategies and the rest of the political re-engineering and manoeuvres such as creation or contraction/merger of states, forms of government, attempts at ethical re-orientation, constitutional amendment, etc, may not usher in the much desired peace, stability, national development, and of course, improvement in the quality of life of the majority of Nigerians…”

Both statements of course describe the failure of the Buhari presidency and insinuate the government’s abject lack of capacity. But they are nevertheless issues that are quite in the public domain, and except the country is living in denial, they are issues that strike at the core of the country’s stability and survival. In the second quotation, the former president spoke somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and even seemed to have permitted himself a few rumours, but no one can deny that the Buhari presidency has not carelessly submitted itself to the politics of Miyetti Allah, the umbrella body of herdsmen. Chief Obasanjo was not exaggerating by dragging in the Miyetti Allah issue into his discourse as an indication of the weakness, if not complicity, of the government in the massive insecurity inundating the country. The presidency has denied budgeting N100bn to appease herdsmen, but it is incredibly setting up a radio station for their affairs, as announced by the Education minister, not Information or Communications minister. Such abominable decisions speak to Chief Obasanjo’s fears that this government has become so insensitive to its political, social and cultural surroundings that it has become tone deaf and listens only to itself. Chief Obasanjo’s person may obtrude arguments, but it does not rob him of the capacity and judgement of correctly deciphering some of the nefarious decisions being made by this government.

But perhaps the most controversial part of Chief Obasanjo’s address are his thoughts on the Fulanisation and Islamisation of Nigeria and West Africa using the amenities of herdsmen invasions and Boko Haram insurgency. Again, whoever Chief Obasanjo may be and whatever policies he had enacted in the past do not necessarily negate his observation or vitiate its accuracy. There is nothing in his statement that suggests that he concluded that the Buhari presidency had determined to Fulanise or Islamise the country, even if that ambition was secretly nursed. The former president’s argument is in fact very simple. By allowing Boko Haram insurgency to fester for so long, which predated the Buhari presidency, and the herdsmen rampage to be treated rather cavalierly as in fact this administration is doing by its many exculpatory and vexatious arguments, the stage was being set for the balkanisation of Nigeria. Chief Obasanjo drew on the example of Somalia to illustrate his general argument about elite irresponsibility and dishonesty in tackling vexing existential problems. Who can fail to be moved by the fact that Nigeria harbours two of the world’s deadliest terrorist groups? Who can fail to be affected by the fact that herdsmen sack villages and occupy them in a country that has borders, laws and governments? For instance, last year, the Plateau State government, responding to entreaties by community leaders who said some 54 villages had been sacked and renamed by herdsmen, promised to prosecute land grabbers. Nothing has, however, been done.

The Information minister describes Chief Obasanjo’s criticisms as divisive. Others see the former president as unqualified to raise the issues he felt were destabilising the country. Both are wrong. They may not like Chief Obasanjo, and the former president himself may be guilty of some of the wrongdoings he is alleging against the current and previous administrations, but he has sensibly drawn the attention of Nigerians to the divisions and acrimony destroying the unity of the country. The attention must not be on the messenger, particularly this deeply flawed messenger; the focus must be on the issues. The greatest issue today is that the country, particularly the North, has spawned a nest of vipers brimming with insurgents and militant herdsmen who are picking the country apart. If nothing is done very urgently, as advocated by Chief Obasanjo, this increasingly divided and misdirected country will go up in flames. Nigerians will be living in denial not to see and feel this danger. It is worse when they seize upon Chief Obasanjo’s personal flaws to deny the existence of the existential crisis facing them.

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Who Will Save the Judiciary?

Who Will Save the Judiciary From PDP’s Assault?

By Shuaib Shuaib

It happens in every election cycle: Somewhere in Nigeria, a candidate runs for an elective office despite being closely related to a prominent public servant or even anyone likely to be on election duty. At times, they are two very talented individuals from different generations who won’t let family ties get in the way of their future. There was an instance like this leading to an election.

In April 2011, Mohammed Sani Idris was elected member of the House of Representatives from Lavun/Edati Federal Constituency under the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Politics has come naturally to him and was always going to be his calling. When he kicked off his campaign for the seat, his late father, Idris Legbo Kutigi, was still Chief Justice of Nigeria. But that wasn’t an issue back then and nobody made it one.

Today, the former lawmaker is a top official of the PDP and impressively still has siblings serving at the Court of Appeal, High Courts and Magistrate Courts in different parts of the country.

Ironically, his party – the PDP – is looking to make families like Idris’ have to choose between the aspirations of one member over the career of another. In Nigeria that could spell trouble for millions of people who have relatives in the army, police, judiciary or civil service and choose to go into politics.

Character assassination has been the hallmark of the PDP’s presidential campaign in the just-concluded elections. Along the way, there have been dozens, maybe more, that have fallen victim to the party’s smear campaign simply for being in a position to preside over electoral matters. The chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, Mahmood Yakubu, has been on the receiving end of PDP attacks. But it is probably Amina Zakari, a commissioner in INEC, who has suffered most from the party’s constant aggression aimed at damaging her reputation.

All throughout the electoral process, the opposition party has tried to pick and choose the officials who are acceptable to it and those who are not. Others too have faced the wrath of the party, including the service chiefs, former IGP Ibrahim Idris, police commissioners, resident electoral commissioners of INEC and joining that list now are officers of the courts. In its quest to reclaim the presidency, the PDP seems ready to bring down the whole house. Virtually everyone it has attacked is someone in service of the nation and has a track record going back decades. But they have simply been made casualties of a political contest.

The name of Justice Bunmi Oyewole has been tarnished. The PDP has gone to the extreme to paint the picture that he made it to the Appeal Court not on merit but rather because of ties to former governor of Lagos, Bola Tinubu. For the opposition party, just the fact the Oyewole, a native of Osun, served as a High Court Judge in Lagos is enough to make him indebted to Tinubu thus disqualifies him from any position of responsibility. And for millions of Nigerians who have no means of understanding the workings of the National Judicial Council and how judges are elevated, that idea that Oyewole didn’t get there on his own and that Tinubu can place whoever he wants in any court has forever been implanted into their minds.

Never mind that a lot of the actions attributed to Tinubu happened when the PDP was in power. The party wrongly accused Justice Oyewole of being on the appeal panel that was set up to determine the petition on the governorship election campaign in Osun. And when it was discovered that he wasn’t, PDP expressed no remorse. Yet, his reputation has suffered some damage and all his years of service have been rubbished by the party.

The judge is just one more victims.

Now, the target of the PDP and its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbodiyan, is the President of the Court of Appeal, Zainab Bulkachuwa. According to Ologbodiyan, to have a husband elected to the Senate on the platform of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) is enough to disqualify the justice from heading the presidential election panel. But it’s important to understand if the PDP has always adhered to this standard: Other than ex-governor Murtala Nyako and Justice Binta Nyako, maybe the most popular couple with one leg in politics and the other in the judiciary is Dr. Peter and Justice Mary Odili. They have faced their fair share of political pressure as their politics overlaps with Justice Mary Odili’s duties as a justice of the Supreme Court.

The pressure was particularly intense when the apex court had to rule on the outcome of the governorship election in Rivers where Dr Odili, a two-term governor of the state, was linked to Nyesom Wike’s legal strategy in defending his victory at the 2015 elections. But the pressure wasn’t coming from PDP. If anything at all, the party turned a blind eye to what was a potential conflict of interest. Yet, Mary Odili still recused herself from the case on the Rivers governorship election. It was however, the only case she felt a need to so.

Zainab Bulkachuwa didn’t become President of the Court of Appeal under normal circumstances. She was in reality the steady hand that the then ruling PDP had to rely on after a tumultuous period. After going to war with Ayo Salami, who was the Appeal Court President, over his alleged romance with the opposition party, the PDP found itself in a legal bind. Salami was suspended from office and replaced with the late Justice Dalhatu Adamu who served in acting capacity for only 15 months before being forced to retire due to constitutional limitations.

It was to Justice Bulkachuwa that the NJC and Goodluck Jonathan-led PDP government turned to. Even before then, Justice Bulkachuwa had ruled in several cases that benefited the PDP, including cases challenging PDP governors and even a senate president. So there has never been an issue of bias or conflict of interest against her. And in the entire period she was made head of the Court of Appeal, essentially bringing closure to a feud that engulfed heads of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal, she was married to Adamu Bulkachuwa who was at the same time, a strong member of opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari’s APC. Not once did the PDP complain about her marriage to Bulkachuwa or her husband’s membership of the APC. After two decade in the Appeal Court, it has suddenly become an issue.

In fact, ever since the couple got married, Adamu Bulkachuwa had been a politician after retiring from diplomatic service several years earlier. While she was a judicial officer in Bauchi, he ran and lost a race to be governor in 1993. And the Justice was already in the Appeal Court when he was elected to serve in the House of Representatives in 1999. So, should he as a politician have given up his aspirations for his wife’s career? Or was it Justice Bulkachuwa that should give up her professional career?

As senator-elect, Adamu Bulkachuwa has a pre-election case against him in court. The APC senatorial ticket in Bauchi that was handed to him by the party is being challenged by Usman Tuggar. Here, there is an undeniable conflict of interest and the justice will have to disqualify herself from the case. But it is a case the PDP doesn’t care about. What the party wants is to drag her name in the mud, make her collateral damage out of desperation.

The PDP tendency to turn its ire towards anyone remotely resembling a stumbling block to its goals has gotten the attention of the presidency. Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, has admonished the PDP attacks on the Appeal Court President. It was Shehu that even labeled the attacks on her as character assassination suggesting the whole exercise was aimed at driving a wedge between the executive and judicial arms of government. It is what it appears like. Every judge the party suspects won’t play to their tune, they blackmail and paint black. In doing that, it’s enough just to insinuate that she is under investigation by the SSS even if the claim is false.

The PDP cannot continue to hurt and ruin the lives of good people and excuse their actions in the name of politics. There have to be limits to how far PDP is willing to go in denigrating institutions and individuals for its own interest.

Shuaib, a former editor of Leadership newspaper, writes from Abuja

Shall we now beg Goodluck Jonathan for forgiveness?

SATIRE SATURDAY: Shall we now beg Goodluck Jonathan for forgiveness?

Former President Goodluck Jonathan

Oladeinde Olawoyin

Two weeks ago, I was in Ibogun-Olaogun, former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s ancestral village, for an interview with the retired general. The conversation is meant to be part of a special publication by this newspaper, set for release in commemoration of Nigeria’s 20-year democratic journey later this month. Of course, having served for the first eight years of the 20-year journey, Mr. Obasanjo occupies a significant part of that narrative.

Sitting right before the former president in his room while the engagement gathered momentum, one thing struck me about his views on Nigeria and her leadership question: Mr Obasanjo had no doubt that the nation has consistently witnessed a complete descent in its choice of leadership since 1999.

To be sure, anyone who has read the Otta farmer well enough would be conscious of this not-so-subtle obsession with the self; his numerous ways of pronouncing himself the best thing that would happen to Nigeria’s leadership institution and his tangential reference to everyone who came before and after him as incompetent simpletons.

Yet if we look beyond the numerous flaws of Mr. Obasanjo himself, beyond his megalomaniac tendencies, given that he had the will power to do so much but delivered not as much, it is tempting to agree that Nigeria has indeed been experiencing a descent into the abyss in terms of its leadership choice since 1999.

For, with the understandable exception of the turbulent tenure of the late Umaru Yar’adua, whose early reformist steps and failing health threw into our own version of what could pass for martyrdom, the nation has taken several steps backward than it has taken forward in her journey toward growth and development.

And these disturbing concerns, by default, are a reflection of the quality of leaders the system has thrown up over the years. While former President Goodluck Jonathan elevated institutionalized sleaze by his legendary docility, the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has given a new nomenclature to crass incompetence. This leadership pattern, frankly, is a major reason why Mr Obasanjo whose serial iniquities are all too known now considers—-some would say ‘deludes’, and rightly so—-himself to be our own Gandhi!

The bar of governance, of leadership, hasn’t only fallen; it is on the muddy floor reeking of incompetence and corruption and related malfeasance.

So the other day when a narrative began to gain traction across the media landscape, I was as amused as I was disturbed. It began with a subtle campaign by folks suggesting that the nation faces numerous leadership and institutional crises today because of the way Mr Jonathan was (mal)treated at the polls in 2015, by the political elites and, by extension, the ordinary voters. First, it would have been funny if it was not very unfortunate.

Then came the bigger narrative, peddled first by — I think — a former aide of the ex-president, Reno Omokri, and a former minister for aviation and Mr Jonathan’s campaign manager, Femi Fani-Kayode. It would get to its crescendo at the height of the royal rumble between former Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido, and the dollar-flaunting governor of Kano, Abdullahi Ganduje. The wise logic of Messrs Omokri and Fani-Kayode is steeped in the narrative that suggests that the humiliating actions taken against Emir Sanusi are simply the outspoken former CBN governor’s ‘reward’ for his anti-Jonathan “treacherous” actions when he held sway at the CBN. In other words, Nigeria and those who (mal)treated Mr Jonathan would only know peace when they apologise to the man and he forgives them.

Because Messrs Omokri and Fani-Kayode wield considerable influence across Nigeria’s social media landscape, that narrative would soon take on a life of its own. They and their alleluia crowds would later release a long list of names of those who met their comeuppance after “betraying” Mr Jonathan, Nigeria’s, and indeed Africa’s, all-time “hero of democracy”! Bukola Saraki. Atiku Abubakar. Dino Melaye. Nigeria. Nigerians. The list is endless.

Then came the biggest of all initiatives: a massive, never-seen-before, all-inclusive delegation of detribalised Nigerian youths, selected across fora like Facebook and Twitter, from Zamfara through Ile-Oluji, with the sole mandate of marching all the way to Otuoke to go seek forgiveness from Mr Jonathan on behalf of 180 million gullible Nigerians who rejected him in 2015. As at the last time I heard of this initiative, over a thousand names of willing participants had been captured.

This delegation, whose activities I understand would be covered live on CNN and Aljazeera, would also plead with the former president to pray for the country because, as the narrative goes, our numerous crises would disappear pronto once he does. It remains unclear whether the delegation would go see Mr Jonathan with sacrificial materials—-e.g white foul, a ram, a calabash, kola nut, a piece of red clothing, and, most importantly, ninety-seven bottles of undiluted Ogogoro—but the possibility of that would not be ruled out. Nobody visits a deity (of democracy) empty-handed. And, you know, especially for those who nurse the bitter thoughts these selfless Nigerian youths are out there to “hustle” Mr Jonathan, nobody comes back from a deity empty-handed too.

But in the meantime, just before the world witnesses the biggest of all appeasements, let us make it clear that people who build sane societies do not obsess about a wasteful past because of a lifeless present. Rather, they organize to actualise a vibrant future.

And for those selfless youth who would soon be on their way to Otuoke, they should be fair enough in their dealings. If Jonathan deserves to be appeased for elevating sleaze to a “transformational” height, then they should also extend the consideration to, of course, Yar’adua. If Jonathan enjoys the honour of being described as a “gentle” man with good heart, Yar’adua is the epitome of that virtue. It does not matter that “good” heart does not build “good” nation. It matters not.

And because Yar’adua is a product of Obasanjo, let our selfless youth also move to Otta—to appease ‘Baba’ whom some ignorantly accused of wasting $16 billion on an illusory power even if details have shown that it was just a paltry 3-point-something billion dollar that was expended. Obasanjo, of course, is a product of the Abdulsalami Abubakar transition initiative and so our youth would also need a visit to Minna, to appease the retired general for being a subject of wicked conspiracy theories over the death of M.K.O Abiola.

Still on Abiola, and because Abdulsalami’s residence isn’t far from a certain gap-toothed general’s hill-top mansion, our youth would also need to visit Ibrahim Babangida, to seek forgiveness over our misunderstanding of his annulment of the June 12 election. Because we now know better, we are sorry.

Mr Buhari needs no appeasement because he is the source of this pan-Nigerian peregrination. Shehu Shagari died recently so a visit to Sokoto is pointless. Ditto Murtala Mohammed and Mr Buhari’s friend, mentor, and confidant who never stole us blind, Sani Abacha. Yakubu Gowon already prays for Nigeria and so we are sure he needs no such appeasement; he loves us already. Aguiyi Ironsi and those who came before him too are not here.

Finally, in line with our obsession with what we call “Afghanistanism” in journalese (evident in how we empathise with victims of disasters in far away places even when the homefront burns), is it out of place too if our youth help seek forgiveness from Adolf Hitler—-on behalf of gullible European Jews

Credit: Premium Times

Talkin’ about a revolution

Talkin’ about a revolution

by Simon Kolawole

I always hesitate to use the “R” word because I don’t understand how it really works, but a lot of Nigerians have been talking about “revolution” for a while. They say Nigeria will experience a revolution at a point in time, given the way the society has been going: the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer; the fat getting fatter, the lean getting leaner. One definition goes like this: “Revolution is a fundamental and relatively sudden change in political power and political organisation which occurs when the population revolts against the government, typically due to perceived oppression — political, social, economic — or political incompetence.”

It sounds interesting but many have also argued that a revolution is not possible in Nigeria because “we the people” are “docile”. Some say Nigerians deserve the kind of leaders they have. They collect cash, rice and vegetable oil at election times to trade their votes and are inevitably bound by the choices they make. It is said that morally, therefore, they cannot rise up against the same leaders they put in office after selling their votes. Nigerians are also sharply divided along ethnic and religious lines, meaning there can never be a consensus to rise up against the government in power because it will be resisted by those who have the incumbency advantage.

Revolution is too heavy an idea for me to discuss on the pages of newspapers, but Senator Dino Melaye got me thinking with his tweet on Thursday about the “revenge of the poor” and the “perilous times” that lie ahead. He tweeted: “I am afraid of the revenge of the poor, it happened in Russia, France and recently in Sudan. It can happen in Nigeria. Housing segregation put us the elite in jeopardy. Ikoyi, Banana, Maitama, Asokoro etc. Our leaders + me beware of violent revolution. Perilous times loading.” Coming from a senator who has more fancy cars than the hairs on my head, the warning hit me like a half-hearted satire but I managed to survive it.

In my previous article, “Whatsoever a Man Soweth” (May 12, 2019), I did warn that nobody is safe in Nigeria, including those who think they are covered by a convoy of armed escorts. I also said that the rebellion by the vulnerable elements of the society seems to be in full motion as Nigerians groan under the pandemic of kidnapping, banditry, terrorism, internet fraud and all kinds of criminality. Unfortunately, the security system designed to protect the high and the mighty is failing. It is not just the poor and the lowly that are bearing the brunt, although it is only when the big fish are victims that we make so much fuss over the calamity that has befallen us as a people.

I don’t know if Senator Melaye actually meant what he was saying but I will, all the same, give us a few examples of how our legislators are contributing to the state of union and how they are making “perilous times” inevitable — except they change their ways. As I will always argue, our leaders should stop thinking that Nigeria is like this because of some mistake or co-incidence. No. We are only reaping what we have been sowing. What we failed to plan for yesterday is coming back to bite us today and unless we plan for tomorrow as a matter of urgency, the harvest is going to be bountiful but unpleasant. The ruling elite must chew over this again and again.

The first thing the lawmakers must realise (and I refer to both state and federal legislators because I don’t believe Abuja is the only problem) is that there is a link between their greed — the obscene allowances, extortion-driven oversight activities as well as padded budgets — and the poverty and insecurity in the land. It is a very simple matter. In a country where tens of millions are unemployed and those who have jobs are struggling to survive, each senator is pocketing N13.5 million “running cost” in a month. We still don’t know what members of the house of reps take home every month, neither can we say anything about state legislators. Maybe theirs is even fatter and juicier.

Imagine if the lawmakers — at all levels — are determined to live a decent life and are not obsessed with grabbing every naira in sight. Imagine they are working round the clock to hold the executive accountable for the budgets that are passed every year. Imagine that the lawmakers make sure what is budgeted for roads goes into roads, every kobo earmarked for education goes into education, and every naira allocated to health goes into health. Imagine that those public hearings are actually meant to hold MDAs accountable and expose the rot in the system. Imagine that the auditor-general’s reports are used by the lawmakers to clean up the system rather than to extort.

Unfortunately, the lawmakers are a big burden on Nigerians. Not so long ago, the Bayelsa state house of assembly passed a bill granting themselves pensions. The speaker would take N500,000 monthly, the deputy N200,000 and the others N100,000. This, we must understand, is different from the severance package, which the rest of us are not privileged to know. We can only guess that it will not be miserly. All of this happening in a state where the majority of the people are struggling to make ends meet. So we run a society where the fat are getting fatter and are not ashamed to keep sowing bigger coats for themselves every day. But Nigerians are watching.

Not to be outdone, Kano state lawmakers have also passed their own law to award life pension to their principal officers. They will also be entitled to foreign medical treatment for life — while the people who voted them into office are not entitled to common paracetamol at the public hospitals. The lawmakers in several states, working as rubberstamps of incumbent governors, passed pension laws that awarded former governors new cars every three to four years, in addition to mansions in the state capitals and Abuja, foreign medical treatment and other sickening benefits. Nigerians are programmed to be exploited by their leaders in and out of office! The inequality is wicked.

The bazaar of budget padding by lawmakers is one of the most evil developments in this democratic dispensation. A former lawmaker once challenged me to define “budget padding” and I was wondering if he was pulling my leg. It so happens that an agency will prepare a budget of N10 billion and the supervisory legislative committee will tell the agency it can double the figure to N20 billion if they can bring a certain amount in cash upfront. Some lawmakers will even insist on nominating contractors for projects smuggled into the budget, and you and I know that the job may not be done at all. How can any society make progress that way? How can?

Melaye is talking about the coming “revolution”. Yes, the behaviours of the power elite are in the public domain. Nigerians are watching. They listen to the news everyday and can tell you what the lawmakers are doing with our commonwealth. They are seeing pictures and videos on social media. They are reading the charges filed against politicians in court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). They know all these things. Nothing justifies criminality and I will never vote for criminality, but maybe it is time for Nigerian politicians — not just the lawmakers — to see how their greed and lifestyles are hurting Nigeria’s progress and breeding criminals.

You can always argue that we should not use poverty to explain the growing criminality in the land. But we need to step back again and again and ask the question: why are certain crimes becoming attractive to our young people? Many of those being arrested are university graduates and brilliant people whose energies have been deployed for the wrong use because they have nothing gainful to do. I will, therefore, conclude with the same admonition: the time has come for the Nigerian elite to have a “meeting” and agree to change their ways. Things cannot continue like this. They must forsake their greed and redirect our commonwealth from personal comfort to communal progress.

To make my admonition simpler: let our budgets and resources be utilised to build a society that prioritises the welfare of the majority and not the pensions, wardrobe allowances and DTAs of a tiny minority. Governors’ convoys must grow leaner and the presidential jets must reduce in population. Tracy Chapman, the American singer, sang in 1988: “Don’t you know/They’re talkin’ ’bout a revolution/It sounds like a whisper/While they’re standing in the welfare lines/Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation/Wasting time in the unemployment lines/Sitting around waiting for a promotion.” Those who have ears, let them hear.

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
CHICKEN CHANGE

Abdulgafar Ayinla, a member-elect of the Kwara state house of assembly, has been arrested by the EFCC over an alleged N26 million property scam. Ayinla, a legal practitioner, allegedly defrauded a US-based client in a property deal. He is accused of collecting the money without delivering service and has allegedly confessed to the crime, promising to refund the N26 million to the petitioner as soon as he is inaugurated and he — wait for this — collects his “wardrobe allowance”! The lawmakers are really feeding fat on the treasury. Of course, he will be sworn in as a lawmaker. That is the way we roll. And we still wonder why Nigeria is like this. Honourable!

LOOT AND LAUGH

If you are a public officer in Bauchi state, I have some news for you: you can now loot and laugh all the way to the bank. The Bauchi state house of assembly has repealed the law on the recovery of looted public funds and properties. The law was passed on the floor of the house with only 13 out of 31 members in attendance. Governor Mohammed Abubakar had signed the law establishing Public Property and Funds Recovery Tribunal in 2017 allegedly to deal with his predecessor, but now that he is about to become a predecessor himself, he does not want to have a dose of his own medicine. And life will continue as usual. And we will keep wondering why Nigeria is like this. Licence.

SMOKING HOT

Is the grass greener on the other side? Rotimi Akeredolu, governor of Ondo state, has joined Omoyele Sowore, former presidential candidate, in stressing the value of marijuana business, which is projected to hit a global value of $145 billion by 2025. “We all know that Ondo State is the hot bed of cannabis cultivation in Nigeria… we would be shortchanging ourselves if we failed tap into the legal marijuana market,” he said. Of course, there is a difference between medical use of marijuana, which has been identified as a cure for diseases such as epilepsy, and recreational use — which we regard as a vice. Marijuana is gradually becoming a burning issue in Nigeria. Highlight.

MYTH BUSTER

The full meaning of “sir” is “Slave I Remain”, isn’t it? It was a word introduced to Indians during the British colonial rule to make them subservient to their colonisers for life, according to the urban legend. While India was under various forms of British colonial rule from 1612 to 1947, the word “sir” entered the English language in 1297. That means it was in use about four centuries before India was colonised! Indeed, “sir” was a formal English honorific address for titled knights, not slaves, derived from “sire”. It was also used as a respectful address to “senior commoners”. Sir, sire, seigneur and senior all grew up together in the evolution of language. Fact.

Credit: TheCable

How fake news thrives in Nigeria

How fake news thrives in Nigeria


Agency Report

By Ephraims Sheyin

Thomas Jefferson, the third American President, is credited with what many regard as the most flattering attribute to journalism.

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the later,’’ Jefferson wrote in January 1787.

Unfortunately for the newshounds, Jefferson is also credited with what is seen as the most devastating remark on the media.

“The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them,’’ Jefferson wrote a few years later.

“In as much as he knows nothing, he is nearer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehood and errors.’’

Jefferson’s dramatic u-turn may just have been caused by the preponderance of fake news, something that has taken over today’s media space, with both the social and traditional media struggling to outdo each other in the spread of hoaxes.

Consider this. A state governor is reported to be involved in a road accident which killed the driver and left the governor with a broken spinal cord. He is reportedly ferried, unconscious, to a foreign country for urgent medical attention.

The governor appears days later, hale and hearty, to the shame of newspaper editors, who had splashed the road crash rumour on front pages.

Or this. A gateman, Musa Usman, makes it to the front pages of several newspapers and enjoys prime time on televisions and radio for rejecting a house offered him by an Indian boss he had served for 25 years, opting to rather have a borehole in his community.

For placing public good above personal interest, he is celebrated as a model, with encomiums flowing from all directions. Usman has, however, declared that no house was offered to him. He says that his Indian master did not give him such an option. The house offer story was just someone’s imagination.

Not long ago, a news medium quoted a governor as pouring encomiums on his former political godfather, now a bitter political rival, at a ceremony to mark the latter’s birthday. Such a report should ordinarily be a simple and harmless one.

But, a few minutes after the story was published, the organ received threats of legal action. The event never happened. It was a hoax by a reporter, who had no qualms feeding the public with utter falsehood. The news was fake. A cheap lie.

The instances are just everywhere. Aside from the fake news, photos or videos are purposefully created and spread to confuse and misinform. Photos or videos are also manipulated to deceive, while old pictures are often shared as new.

In some cases, photos from other shores are shared in the Nigerian space, ostensibly to create the impression that they are local scenes.

Commenting on the trend recently, Umaru Pate, Head, Department of Mass Communication, Bayero University, Kano, said it was “dangerous, unethical, provocative and subversive to peace and societal serenity’’.

“Fake news misinforms and misdirects society with severe consequences on individual and national systems. It heightens tension, builds fear and mistrust among people.’’

The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, has also deplored the trend, declaring recently that fake news could “threaten and destroy’’ the country. He has also launched a campaign against it.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo echoed similar worry in a speech at the biennial convention of the Nigeria Guild of Editors (NGE), in Lagos recently.

“Fake news will make media practice lose its appeal; it will challenge the credibility which is the base of journalism practice,” he said.

He called on editors to consciously take back the space by infusing online media practice with traditional and professional competence, to right the wrongs in the industry.

“Some people must take up the role of speaking against the bastardisation of journalism by the new media,’’ he declared.

Mr Osinbajo called for the resuscitation of investigative journalism to tackle national challenges and help government plan better, noting specifically that the advent of the new media had increased misinformation through the spread of fake news and other negative reports that often caused confusion, disaffection and disunity.

“Editors must evolve strategies that will keep journalism in its place as the digital media appears to be moving away from the newsroom to the clouds,’’ he said.

Mr Osinbajo regretted that the role of the newspaper was gradually being usurped as the print media continued in its pursuit of traffic, rather than accuracy.

He called on media stakeholders to equip newsrooms with gadgets and technologies that could detect and remove fake images from news items and emphasised the need for accurate, fair, balanced and objective reportage at all times.

Like Mr Osinbajo, many media analysts blame the worsening trend of fake news on the collapse of investigative journalism.

Peter Amine, Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Plateau chapter, for instance, believes that the spread of fake news can be minimised if reporters and editors insisted on the dictum “when in doubt, leave out’’.

“What we have, regrettably, is a situation where reporters, in a hurry to be the first with the news, hurl every rumour at the public. One can even understand the `wild freedom’ in the social media where there is no control, no editors, and no consequences for lying.

But, what does one make of similar lies celebrated in the traditional media?’’ he queried.

He blamed the preponderance of fake news on laziness and the loss of the investigative culture that should be the hallmark of functional journalism.

He urged editors to rise up to the challenge of curtailing the activities of erring reporters.

But, as stakeholders strive to minimise the incidences of fake news, analysts have suggested a deeper look into why it is getting more common and becoming the norm.

According to Mr Pate: “Fake news is partly caused by the absence, or late arrival of official information, which creates a vacuum filled by rumours and imaginations.’’

According to him, desperate politicians, ethnic jingoists, foreign interests and mischief makers have also taken advantage of the explosion in social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google, Nairaline and WhatsApp – to spew fake news and hate messages which inflict confusion into the society.

While urging media houses to focus more on investigative reporting, he cautioned against selective reporting and the promotion of prejudicial stereotypes about groups and individuals based on incomplete facts, mischief and ignorance.

Other analysts have also called for more training to reporters and editors to boost research capacities among media professionals so as to minimise shallow reporting and episodic attitudes in news coverage and programme production.

They have also cautioned the media against promoting statements of politicians, ethnic champions, religious zealots and other interested parties without critical inquiry about specific social conflicts.

They noted that such groups were usually prone to spreading fake news against perceived rivals.

While urging media gatekeepers and news content managers to be more critical, the analysts have pointed out that publishing fake news could confer legitimacy, credibility and massive reach to such fakery and confuse the audience about truth and falsehood.

Worried by the effects of such misinformation, many Nigerians have always wondered if it is possible to quickly spot fake news to avoid being misled.

Sylvestre Dada, a communication expert, offers suggestions.

“The readers, listeners or viewers must check multiple sources, and try to establish trusted brands over time.

“They should also use various verification tools, with news content managers encouraged to check and think, before broadcasting or publishing.’’

He added that young people should be educated on what was trustworthy, as against what is fake, so that they could draw a line between the two.

But as Nigeria strives for reliable information crucial to her growth, media professionals saddled with that task appear to face lots of challenges, including the limited knowledge of the country by even top editors. Another challenge is the commercialisation of news.

Other limitations include ownership influence, social malpractices and corruption, media professionals acting as judges or advocates for hidden interests, and cases of senior editorial staff acting as consultants to politicians and religious groups.

The existence of cartels among reporters covering specific beats has also led to the adulteration of what is reported as the “media gangs’’ only decide what information to publish after “discussing and agreeing’’ with the news sources.

Analysts say that such “unholy fraternity’’ has often led to the “burial’’ of some hard truths that would have been useful in the nation’s search for greatness.

Another challenge is the “copy-me’’ syndrome, a practice where reporters receive reports of events they did not cover, from colleagues, and publish same, not minding if what they had been “copied’’ is fake news.

Not a few reporters have lost their jobs to this scary practice, yet it still persists.

To effectively battle fake news, observers have suggested closer working relationships among credible media organisations to facilitate the dissemination of only credible and verified news to reduce the attention to fake information by social media.

They have also called for increased and continuous training for media professionals, with regulatory outfits encouraged to strictly apply the rules, while professional bodies keep eagle eyes on members to guide against derailment. (NANFeatures)

Whatsoever a man soweth

Whatsoever a man soweth

By Simon Kolawole

Eleven years ago — to be specific, on July 7, 2008 — the title of my column was: “One Day, the People Will Rebel”. I warned that the extravagant lifestyles of our elite in the face of crippling poverty in the country would come back to bite all of us one day. At the time, kidnappings were a Niger Delta thing as militants agitated for resource control, but I was talking about what I called the “non-oil” kidnappings which I said would become the fad in the near future. I said the Nigerian elite must get the message that they could not continue in their ways and expect peace and safety. I warned that there was a lot of frustration, anger, bitterness and resentment in the land.

I wrote that when “blood relations of wealthy people are being kidnapped in exchange for ransoms, that is a clear danger signal to the elite. You have a driver. You have a cook. You have a security guard. You have policemen guarding you. They are all human beings. They see things happening around them. They hear your phone conversations as you conduct your mindless transactions. They are hearing the mind-blowing figures. They see the movements of Ghana-Must-Go bags. In an attempt to ‘redistribute’ the loot, they will resort to kidnappings and demand ransoms. It is happening already. More are in the offing, I think”.

A reader was so angry with me that he sent me this SMS: “Simon, you are sowing evil ideas in the minds of our drivers and domestic staff. You are highly irresponsible. I will never read your column again.” Typical of me, I did not respond. I had realised early in my column-writing career that those who really want to engage in constructive debates normally use decent language. I hate street fights. As a kid, I was never involved in street fights. My grandmother (God bless her soul) was always proud to show me off to her friends as a “good boy”. I would be letting “Iya Kola” down in her grave if I engage in internet street fights. So I always let attacks and insults pass — with all pleasure.

However, I am always unhappy whenever I lose a reader because of my views. I feel I have lost a potential co-evangelist in my “leadership by example” approach to the building of a nation “where peace and justice shall reign”. That reader clearly misunderstood me: I was only forewarning on a disturbing development with the sole aim of gingering our leaders to act. Growing criminality is a product of our broken social system that deprives the majority of Nigerians the basics of life such as roads, water, healthcare, education, security and jobs. I was fighting for social justice. I was warning the elite that they were not safe in their fortresses no matter how many police escorts they have.

As a philosopher said, all I did was to hold up a mirror for the society to look at itself. Breaking the mirror — as that angry reader decided to do — would not change the picture. The inequality in Nigeria has been too much for too long. In a country where people lose their lives because they cannot afford drugs of N1,000, you have people buying private jets and flashy cars not from some hard work but by feeding on the commonwealth. Our hospitals are rejecting poor patients because there is no bed space. Pupils are sitting on the floor to learn chemistry and biology in schools the governor cannot allow his relatives to attend. Such a society cannot escape doom.

In that “offensive” article, I asked, sarcastically: “What is the way forward? More policemen? More bullet-proof SUVs? More private jets? More Banana Islands? More signs of ‘military zone, keep off’?” I then replied myself: “I don’t know, but I have a hunch that more equitable management of resources could be of help. I suspect that more jobs, more housing, more medicine, more books, better roads, and better power supply would be of use. I suspect that less looting, less waste of resources would go some way. But if things continue the way they are, there is no doubt about it: one day, the long-suffering people of this country will react. They will rebel. Mark my words.”

The rebellion seems to be in full motion today as Nigerians groan under the pandemic of kidnapping, banditry, terrorism, internet fraud and all kinds of criminality. Worse still, the security system cannot protect either the rich or the poor. We should ask ourselves how we got here. One of my favourite Yoruba proverbs, as oft-repeated by my late grandmother, says “when a child stumbles, he looks at his front; when an adult stumbles, he looks at his back”. Someone else would add: “Where did the rain begin to beat us?” If only we could retrace our footsteps, we will gain insight. We can then begin to sow a different seed today so that we can reap a different harvest tomorrow.

Last week, I watched as some members of the house of reps took turns to lament the state of insecurity in the country. One speaker after the other complained that they can no longer travel to or sleep in their villages because of insecurity. They are overwhelmed by the army of criminals. However, they just cannot see a link between their greed — their obscene allowances, their extortion-driven oversight activities as well as the padded budgets — and the poverty and insecurity in the land. That is the problem with Nigerian politicians: they think Nigeria is like this by mistake. They think if we are able to deploy more troops, kidnapping will stop. If only it were that simple!

Let me say this yet again: the Nigerian ruling elite need to have a meeting, perhaps a “meeting of minds”, and agree to change their ways. We cannot continue to run a system of an overfed elite minority and a malnourished majority and expect to keep travelling to the village in glittering SUVs without consequences. No. It won’t work. We cannot run a system where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and expect peace. We have been living a lie for too long. Commonsense tells us that inequality comes with a price. We cannot sustain a system that ruins the lives of the majority of 200 million Nigerians and hope to sleep and snore at night.

Although the economic downturn in the last five years and some of the policies of President Muhammadu Buhari are implicated in the current socio-political crises, the truth remains that for too long, we ignored the warning signals. For decades, the UNDP told us that 70 percent of Nigerians were living on less than $1 a day. What did we do to prevent the incoming disaster? It was all Greek to us. We spent our petrodollars as if there would be no tomorrow. Well, today is yesterday’s tomorrow. You don’t have to be a development expert to know that any country where the bulk of the youth are unemployed or unemployable is headed for chronic insecurity.

Don’t take my word for it. Check the poverty and unemployment rates of countries with the least incidence of crime and you will get a better idea of what I am driving at. When young men and young women wake up in the morning with nowhere to go, they are tempting the devil. He will give them something to do. Their energies will be misused and abused as they struggle to survive. No human being will sit down at home and die of hunger. Survival is a basic human instinct. The human being will survive by any means necessary — even if it is to steal, beg or borrow. The police and the army combined cannot contain crime when the factory producing criminals has not been closed.

Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. We have sown the wind and we are reaping the whirlwind. The teens and teenagers that we refused to care for yesterday have become our nemesis today. They are now in our neighbourhood and on the highway, making life unbearable for us. The security system we failed to overhaul and modernise for ages — despite security budgets in billions of dollars — is now unable to protect us. But if I may ask, what are we doing today to make sure our trouble does not double tomorrow? Are we investing properly in the future? Are we striving hard to make the country conducive in the future so that ordinary people can enjoy the basics of life? The elite must realise that it is in their own interest to make Nigeria habitable. This milking must subside.

Until the elite across board reach a consensus to curtail their greed and put Nigeria first, we cannot begin to make meaningful progress as a nation. Our predatory system will continue to breed terrorists, kidnappers, ritual killers, yahoo boys and circumstantial sex workers. What we are witnessing today would be child’s play compared to what is ahead. Nobody is safe in Nigeria, including those who think they are covered by a convoy of armed escorts. It is just a matter of time. Until we begin to sow the good seeds at all levels — federal, state and local — our troubles will keep multiplying. Nigeria will not develop overnight, but if we fail to act decisively and intelligently today, we cannot hope to reap gainful jobs, lasting peace, security and national prosperity tomorrow.

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
RAPID RESULT

On Monday, the Kano house of assembly received a bill seeking to decimate the 214-year-old emirate. By Wednesday, it had become law — all because Governor Abdullahi Ganduje wanted a pound of flesh from the emir, Alhaji Muhammad Sanusi II. It may sound weird but the Kano drama has revived my hopes in Nigeria. It tells me that if Nigerian politicians really want to get something done, they can do it in seconds! Therefore, if they decide to start doing the right things for the good of this country, our development won’t take 50 years! There is just one problem though — they only use their energies for the things that have no impact on the price of garri. Pity.

THE NAVY 15

Comedy paid tragedy a visit on Monday when the Nigerian Navy denied knowledge of the whereabouts of 15 Nigerian citizens they have been detaining incommunicado and without trial since September 2018. Was that really a joke? The navy initially got court orders to detain them and later wrote the lawyer of one of them that the detainees had been transferred to the EFCC, which turned out to be false. As Mr. Femi Falana asked: at what stage did they disappear from custody? The navy must prove to Nigerians that the detainees are still alive by charging them to court for any offences they are accused of committing. This military rule in disguise must stop. Enough!

EMEFIELE’S 5+5

Mr Godwin Emefiele is not the dream governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in the opinion of some analysts, but President Muhammadu Buhari has given him another term of five years after much speculation. That suggests the president is pleased with him. In the last three months, the Nigerian rumour factories had gone into overproduction over Emefiele’s fate. Some even named his successor! For me, I never doubted that Emefiele would be re-appointed, even if that would be the first time a CBN governor would be getting a second term in this democratic dispensation. Let’s now hope Buhari will complement the governor with a solid minister of finance. Onwards.

MYTH BUSTER

When next you get a broadcast telling you that the full meaning of Google is “Global Organization of Oriented Group Language of Earth”, laugh very hard until you forget your name. In fact, Google is derived from the word GOOGOL — a mathematical term for the digit “1” followed by a hundred zeros. It was coined by Milton Sirotta, nephew of American mathematician Edward Kasner, and popularised in the book, “Mathematics and the Imagination”, written by Kasner and James Newman. In 1998, Larry Page and Sergey Brin named their search engine “Google” — playing on the word “googol” to show the endless possibilities of their invention. How did I know? I googled it. Simple.

Credit: TheCable

Fawehinmi Would Have Been 81 Today: How Sapara Williams Influenced Him

Fawehinmi Would Have Been 81 Today: How Sapara Williams Influenced Him

Chief Gani Fawehinmi

By Ademola Adegbamigbe

The late Chief Gani Fawehinmi would have been 81 today. His birth anniversary was, last year, marked with two major events. The Lagos State Government unveiled a new statue to immortalise him at Ojota Park. Also, Professor Wole Soyinka gave a keynote address in his honour. Fawehinmi, popularly called Gani, born on 22 April 1938, the son of Saheed and Munirat Fawehinmi of Ondo, in Ondo State, was a lawyer, human rights activist and a nemesis of bad political leaders. He died on 5 September 2009 at the aged of 71.

This writer is one of those who will never forget Chief Fawehinmi. He was an interviewer’s delight in his Anthony Village Chambers and Ikeja GRA home, both in Lagos.

Before going there, a journalist had to be prepared. You must do your research well. You had to get your facts right. In fact it was always better to have more than enough questions. This is because, if you went there with five, by the time you ask number one question, Chief Fawehinmi would have answered all you had on your notepad and you would be there panting like a beached whale!

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Another striking way Fawehinmi granted interviews was his use of language. In an interview with TheNEWS, he described the late General Sani Abacha’s regime as “Nebuchadnezzaraic.” That was a reference to the brutal King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (605 BC – c. 562 BC). What’s more, Chief Fawehinmi would real out statistics to buttress his facts, a feat that would render the jaws of readers open.

I once asked who influenced him. He replied that apart from Lord Denning, an English lawyer and judge, it was Christopher Alexander Sapara-Williams, Nigeria’s first indigenous lawyer. No wonder, Sapara William’s eternal words adorned the walls of Fawehinmi’s Anthony Chambers: “The legal practitioner lives for the direction of his people and the advancement of the cause of his country.” That was exactly how Fawehinmi’s life and law practice could be summarised.

It was in acknowledgement of this that President Muhammadu Buhari, last year, paid tribute to Fawehinmi, describing him ‘‘as a true conscience of the nation, defender of democracy and people’s rights advocate.”

In the words of Buhari: “The late Senior Advocate of the Masses was not an arm chair-critic, nor a rabble rouser who fomented trouble for its sake; but a serious minded, articulate, cerebral and compassionate promoter of fundamental human rights, social justice, equity, fair play and national development.

“Gani was an extraordinary human being and a great reference for all progressive elements in society. He dared death and incarceration and was forced into prison 40 times without bowing to intimidation and molestation.

‘‘He fought for and stood by democracy with every ounce of his blood and immense intellect. He deserves a lingering respect,” the president said in his tribute.”

General Ibrahim Babangida, a former Military President, was quoted by Onigegewura, as saying this about Fawehinmi: “There was one vivid meeting that has remained in my memory about Gani, and that was in 1984. I was the Chief of Army Staff. Gani, in his characteristic manner, was as fearless as ever when we asked him to relate his own side of a particular issue as he blasted all of us irrespective of the fact that we were all generals in uniform and he was the only civilian among us and all what we did was to clap for him as we appreciated his courage.”

At a public function in Victory College, Ikare, Fawehinmi verbally attacked a former Ondo State military Governor in the Abacha years, Anthony Onyarugbulem, for having the cheek to badge in on and embarrass the late Chief Adekunle Ajasin (for hosting a meeting of the National Democratic Coalition in his Owo home). Fawehinmi’s boldness was legendary.

As narrated by Mary Odunuga: “Sapara-Williams had his roots from Ijeshaland. He was always proud of where he came from, he would fondly call it, ‘Ijesha wa’, meaning ‘Our Ijesha’. He did not love his roots only in words, he acted accordingly too by being instrumental to Nigeria’s decolonization. The part he played that wows me every time I read it was his condemnation of Seditious Offences Ordinances of 1909 and his collaboration with Herbert Macaulay to start the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society. Sapara-Williams had a voice and he made sure his voice was heard.”

He, as Odunuga puts it, was Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association from 1900 to 1915. For him, the law is to be used as a force for positive social change and during his lifetime, he made this the basis of achievements and legacy to which we now remember him by. And the moral here is this: After you are long gone, make sure you make the history books – for good.”

Who Was Sapara-Williams?

Sapara-Williams, according to Wikipedia, was born on 14 July 1855. He was of Ijesha origin, but was born in Sierra Leone. He studied Law in London at the Inner Temple, and was called to the English bar on 17 November 1879. Returning from the United Kingdom, he began practising law in Lagos Colony on 13 January 1888. He had an unmatched reputation as an advocate, and had intimate knowledge of unwritten customary law. He enrolled in the Nigerian Bar Association on 30 January 1888, and was Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association from 1900 to 1915.

“Although Williams was the first indigenous Nigerian to formally qualify as a lawyer, he was not the only one to practice the law. Due to the shortage of qualified lawyers, until 1913 it was common for non-lawyers with basic education and some knowledge of English law to be appointed to practice as attorneys.

Political career

Williams was nominated to the Legislative Council, serving as a member from October 1901 until his death in 1915. In 1903 there was a crisis over the payment of the tolls that were collected from traders by native rulers, although Europeans were exempted. The alternative was to replace the tolls by a subsidy. Governor William MacGregor requested views from Williams, Charles Joseph George and Obadiah Johnson as indigenous opinion leaders. All were in favour of retaining the tolls to avoid upsetting the rulers. In 1903 governor MacGregor nominated Williams for a knighthood, but his recommendation was turned down.

In 1904 Williams moved that “the present boundary between the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria and the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria be re-adjusted by bringing the southern portion into Southern Nigeria, so that the entire tribes of the Yoruba-speaking people should be under one and the same administration”. Sir Frederick Lugard had opposed this proposal on the grounds of administrative convenience, and the eventual decision largely followed his beliefs. The principle applied was to group people who were at roughly the same political and social level into one province rather than to try to align the provinces with ethnic boundaries.

In 1905, Williams visited England. While there, he made several suggestions to the Colonial Office for changes to imperial policy. These included establishing a teachers training college in Lagos, and having more continuity of policy by the governors of the colony. Sapara Williams challenged the Seditious Offenses Ordinances of 1909, which suppressed press criticism of the government. He pointed out that “freedom of the Press is the great Palladium of British liberty … Sedition is a thing incompatible with the character of the Yoruba people, and has no place in their constitution … Hyper-sensitive officials may come tomorrow who will see sedition in every criticism and crime in every mass meeting”. Despite his plea, the bill became law. Williams encouraged Herbert Macaulay to convene an inaugural meeting of the Lagos Auxiliary of the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society on 30 August 1910, which gave Macauley a platform for producing popular opposition to colonial practices.

When Northern and Southern Nigeria were united in 1914, the new legislative council was headed by the Governor, and consisted of seven British officials, two British non-officials and two Nigerians, one of whom was Williams.” He died on 15 March 1915.

-This piece by Ademola Adegbamigbe, Editor, TheNEWS, was adapted from the one he wrote on the late Chief Fawehinmi on this platform exactly one year ago. molagbe63@yahoo.com. 08055002056