Thursday, January 26, 2012

News from Zamani Farms

Hello customers,

We continue to make progress on the farm, although we still have a lot of work to do to get back to where we were before the Jos crisis of January 2010. We are still not yet cultivating even half of our land, but we are working on that gradually. Since all work on the farm is done by hand -- from forming irrigation beds, to manuring, planting, transplanting, weeding and watering—it takes a lot of labour to get things done, and labour has still been one of our constraints. We have had problems getting skilled workers to employ, since most of the population was displaced from Kuru village – the source of our labour before the crisis. But we are doing our best with workers who have to come from far distances to get to the farm on a daily basis. And with a lot of patience we have finally been getting some positive results.

We have lovely vegetables for you for next week, and more are on the way.

Our field of young lettuces is looking beautiful. We are finally getting enough to put lettuce back on the available list, so you can get as much as you need. However, varieties are a bit limited for next week. We have plenty of iceberg, as well as some reddish Batavia lettuce which is very sweet. Other varieties will be available the week after. For next week let us know if you need just iceberg, or want a mixture. We will try to give you what you want. We do not have endive frisee for next week, or radicchio. We will have to wait a few weeks until these are ready. Escarole is growing well, and it too should soon be available. We will let you know when they are ready.

Our French beans are also ready – we sent some this week, and we should have much more by next week. They are beautiful, sweet and tender. You will definitely enjoy them. We also have a limited quantity of mangetout. Order early if you need it. We do not have enough, so we are rationing it to half kg per customer.

Beef tomatoes from our supplier are very nice – big and firm. Plum tomatoes are also sweet and good. Cherry tomatoes are on the way but aren’t ready yet.

We still have good quantities of kohlrabi, both green and purple varieties. It is really lovely. We are planting lots more, since it seems many of you are enjoying it, and we will try to keep it available.

Courgettes are very nice as well. At the moment we have limited supplies of cousa, and we are waiting for the new batch to begin producing.

We have fantastic cauliflower, although the warmer weather will soon start affecting the heads and in a month or two they will be unavailable. But for now they are very lovely. Please note that the heads are very large – some up to 3kg. We will charge you by weight, and since we cannot cut them, unfortunately we will have to manage with the sizes we have. Hardly any of them are half kg, so please be prepared

 for whatever size you get. We will try to send you smaller ones if you request, but this is not always possible. In any case, I know you will enjoy them.

Beetroots are finally available, and are very nice. I know many of you have been waiting for them for a long time. We also have lovely carrots, and we should have nice radishes too for next week. Leeks are beautiful, young and fresh.

In the greens department we have good Chinese cabbage and green cabbage. Our present batch of bok choi is finishing, and we will have limited amounts for next week. But the new batch should be ready to pick the week after next. Spinach is very nice and available in any quantity you need. We have limited amounts of Swiss Chard as well.

Celery is becoming available, and we will have a limited amount of it. The heads are finally reasonable in size.

New potatoes are available, and we have all sizes. Let us know what you need. They are very nice. We also have good sweet potatoes (white variety). Our own red type is growing and should be available soon.

We are getting nice red and white onions from our supplier who is bringing them from Kano. Despite all of the bombs and attacks in Kano last week, they are still coming in to Jos. The ones from the far north are nicer (drier, and last longer) than the ones grown locally. We can supply you with as much as you need.

Our new fennel is growing well, and should be available in about two weeks.

Not too much is available on the fruit scene, although we have been working hard on the strawberry field to get it into production. We have gotten a supply of horse manure, and this should give the plants a boost. We hope we will have some for you quite soon.

The warmer weather has helped our pawpaws to ripen, and we are getting more of them, although not as much as we need.

Please consult the order form attached for a complete list of what is available. Please do get your orders in by Sunday afternoon. We have been having problems with late orders, because we order beef tomatoes from the supplier on Sunday evening. So if your orders come after that we are likely not to have enough for you. Please help us out on this.

Thank you all again for your support and patronage. If we are lucky and continue to have relative peace in our local environment we should be able to get the farm into peak condition, so that we can continue to supply you with the best quality vegetables that we can produce. We can only hope for some peace in Nigeria as a whole in these difficult times, because without peace we have no future.

More farm news next week.

Best regards


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Occupy Nigeria 28th January @ CCM

A series of events including panel discussion, photography and twitter projections and video screening and presentation of Protest materials and other ephemera.

Venue: CCA,Lagos, 9 McEwen Street, Sabo, Yaba, Lagos


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Community-policing as the answer to Boko Haram

Excellent article by Olly Owen on a potential 'quiet' solution to the menace of Boko Haram here.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Ghost of Sani Abacha

An event at SOAS on Jan 17th, now more timely than perhaps originally anticipated.




Monday, January 16, 2012

Decolonising the Nigerian Constitution

In the past two weeks, the Occupy Nigeria movement has developed far beyond a demand to return the price of fuel to N65 per litre, with calls for the government to reduce its own bloated costs and investigate the obviously rampant corruption in the oil sector.  Already, the government has responded, with the Minister of Petroleum’s statement this evening to invite the EFCC to investigate fuel subsidy payments and for an independent auditor to follow-up on the KPMG report. Whether or not this belated action is sufficient to counter a cynical response, deeper issues still have been raised to the surface. Nigerians are beginning to ask fundamental questions about the kind of country they would like to live in. A new sense of what Nigerian citizenship might provide is floating up into the air.

I invite you to compare and contrast for a moment the role the US Constitution plays in the lives of Americans with that of the Nigerian Constitution in Nigeria (the current version dates from 1999).  At this stage, I’m simply asking you to dwell on the impact and effects of both constitutions on everyday life, and nothing more. 
As we know all too readily from US media and discourse, Americans are raised to understand their constitution and the definition of the rights of the citizen enshrined within the all-important Amendments.  Laws in the US are grounded in the constitution and must be formulated in accord with how the rights of the citizen are set in balance against the tripartite powers of the state (the executive, the legislature and the judiciary) in the context of a secular federation.  Above all, thanks to the constitution, the rights of the individual run deep in American discourse. No matter the myriad and profound historical errors of the United States (originating in the twin horrors of an erasure of indigenous peoples and African slave labour), Americans are justifiably proud of the constitutional and legal instruments that guide their lives. It is precisely the American Constitution, for example, that continues to define Guantanamo as a stain upon the conscience of the country. The US Constitution’s inviolate stance on the rights of the American citizen haunts the actions of the US military overseas, reducing the non-American other to the status of “bare life”.
In Nigeria, we often experience almost the diametric opposite to the statutory privileges of the US Constitution.  Many Nigerians have little idea of the contents of their constitution and are not taught the document at school.  Nigerians are therefore not educated to be citizens of their own country; they are not made aware of their rights or brought to understand the role government should play in their lives since they are used to performing the roles themselves i.e. providing security, education, health etc.
Many Nigerians are not aware, for instance, that although the state is not aligned with any particular religion, their constitution is still not secular. I quote: “Having firmly and solemnly resolve, to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign nation under God.”  Many are also not aware that Nigerian women cannot confer citizenship through marriage and are therefore effectively second-class citizens in their own country. See this excellent analysis by Charmaine Pereira on the gender bias of the 1999 constitution.

Copyright Victor Ekpuk, 2012

Nigerians are also scarcely aware what powers the state is given, and what rights Nigerian citizens have in response. The history of the Nigerian constitution is in fact the history of an imposition, firstly by the British colonial power (the Richards, Macpherson and Lyttleton constitutions of the 1940s and 50s) and then by a litany of military dictators from the 1960s onwards. One might have hoped that independence would provide the shining opportunity to look at the constitution holistically and see how it could be fully adapted to suit the complex reality of Nigeria. Instead, many of the foundational narratives the British bequeathed were left unchanged.

It is therefore little surprise that the 1999 Nigerian constitution is often ignored in the current institutional arrangements of the state. One need only think of the Governor’s Forum and the Excess Crude Account, governance instruments which oversee all oil revenue to the State over and above the barrel price set within the annual budget (US$70 for the 2012 budget), to see that some critically important institutions in Nigeria often have absolutely no constitutional basis.  The proposed sovereign wealth fund, which would ensure that “excess” oil wealth is put into a investment/savings account, while an excellent idea in theory for Nigeria, would, given current arrangements, also have no constitutional basis.  The practice of creating institutions which have no grounding in the constitution effectively licenses an ‘anything goes’ approach to governance, whereby the revenues from oil can be frittered away by quasi-legal quick-fixes without any accountability checks and balances.  Billions of dollars can, and have disappeared in the process, with little to show for the money.
All buildings made to last need to be built upon solid foundations.  There is a refrain that rises into volume intermittently among some Nigerians: the need for a “Sovereign National Conference.”  I’m not sure what value a Grand Hural of the Big Men (and doubtless, a smattering of Big Women) would have.  For example, the grand talkathon organised under Obasanjo a few years back changed little.  Instead of the chimeric ideal of a national settlement attained merely through discussion, something more foundational is required.

Given the collective passion of Nigerians in the past few weeks for a new consensus, the time has never been more ripe for a complete rethinking of the Nigerian constitutional DNA, finally wiping the slate clean the legacy of British colonial rule and its post-Independence military offshoot.  The place of beginning should lie in the definition of the core powers of the State (the legislature, the executive and the judiciary) vis-à-vis the rights and obligations of the citizen, away from a man-centric, hetero-centric, President-centric paradigm. As well as core institutions such as parliament, a presidential office and ministries, a healthy democratic state requires public institutions that are independent of government, such as an anti-corruption commission, sector-specific regulatory bodies, an auditor general’s office and, if there is to be one, a state broadcaster.  The simple truth is that under the current constitutional framework, the president has far too much power in Nigerian governance (such as the power to pick and sack the Chair of the EFCC and select the governance boards of ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government).  There should be many more autonomous counterbalancing powers built into the system and institutions created whose remit is to provide checks and balances on Presidential prerogative. 
Another key constitutional whose time has come and gone is the idea of Federal Character and the “State of Origin”, perhaps the most nefarious example of the law of unintended consequences (dating back to the 1979 Constitution). It should be repealed.  The distinction it created between ‘settler’ and ‘indigene’ can only serve as a barrier to the notion that Nigerian identity comes first, over any regional, religious or ethnic specificity. One can argue that a key dynamic behind the periodic surges in ethnic violence in Plateau State is the direct result of this artificial settler/indigene divide. Repealing the Federal Character principle would also enable a more clearly meritocratic civil service that incentivises the best minds from across Nigeria to play their part in the administration of the nation.  A country can only develop on the basis of a competent administrative elite. Again, there must be a savings and investment function built into the constitution, to enable a sovereign wealth fund to be founded, perhaps modelled on the Norwegian and Qatari case studies. The new Nigerian constitution must rinse itself clean of all gender bias, and empower state and local government to play a stronger role in serving their communities via a stronger principle of regionalisation.  This would facilitate the down-sizing of the Federal allocation, enabling the long-called for ideal of “fiscal federalism”.  In its wake, the National Assembly would shrink back to an appropriate slice of the Federal budget, and the temptation to create duplicate agencies of government would be suppressed.
As we have seen in many inspiring stories of late – such as Muslims and Christians guarding each other while at prayer - when pushed to the brink, Nigerians have demonstrated a remarkable sense of unity across difference.  There is nothing to fear then in enabling greater political regionalisation and a devolved model of the state: indeed de-centralisation is the way of the world these days.  Despite plaintive calls from some corners of the Niger Delta for secession, one has to read it as a cry of pain, rather than a feasible alternative.  The Niger Delta cannot remain as under-developed and polluted as it has done for so many years.  Devolution and regionalisation would place the core of government closer to the people and allow stronger accountability pressures to remain in the system. Finally, it is long since time that state governors were held accountable for their financial actions, by removing the immunity clause.
There are many more aspects of the 1999 Constitution which need to be amended.  However, my humble suggestion is this: not to attempt to renovate a house in which people have lived uncomfortably for so long.  Why not start again, modelling a new Nigerian Constitution on a paradigm template (from the US, or from South Africa for example), which empowers citizens regardless of region, gender, sexuality or creed and reduces the overwhelming power of the “Commander in Chief”, recalibrating what it means to be a Nigerian citizen, facing the 3rd millennium in a changing world.  Isn’t that what Occupy Nigeria is yearning for?



Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Cabal Amnesty Programme

Another one of Deji's ideas. He's on fire tonight!

An idea – the government could set up a Cabal Amnesty Program (CAP) where the fraudulent companies are encouraged to go through their books and make refunds to the government of any excess payments or fraudulent claims .. Almost without questions. It will be some way of saying ‘we have discovered some payments, and we will make the refunds  in one month to the Government AND the govt can use for the naija people or the SURE program’. This saves the government having to start using resources to prosecute this companies etc and also gets the money into government coffers very quickly.

Potentially, Some companies save face and hopefully the deregulated environment gets set up and they cannot continue such levels of fraud again. Somehow everybody might win in this scenario.


Change triggers for Nigeria

Thoughts from my pal Deji:

Since there is a lack of trust between the leadership and the people,the only way forward are TRIGGERS and NOT dates.

1)TRIGGER- Revert to 65naira/l.
1)ACTION- we get off the street

2)TRIGGER- Sign into law the petroleum industry bill(PIB) and start arresting economic saboteurs and retrieving our funds,resubmit 2012 budget with 51% & 36% cut in President's and Ministers salaries and other wastes in government
2)ACTION- Price goes up to 70naira

3)TRIGGER- Start building four refineries.
3)ACTION- Price goes up to 80naira

4)TRIGGER- Refineries are 50% built
4)ACTION- Price goes up to 85naira

5)TRIGGER-Refineries are 75% built
5)ACTION-Price goes up to 90naira

6)TRIGGER-100% completion+1month running at a 100%
6)ACTION-Remove subsidy

Pls send to everyone you know and GOD BLESS NIGERIA


The Great Temptation of Oil

“Oil kindles extraordinary emotions and hopes, since oil is above all a great temptation.  It is the temptation of ease, wealth, strength, fortune, power.  It is a filthy, foul-smelling liquid that squirts obligingly up into the air and falls back to earth as a rustling shower of money.  To discover and possess the source of oil is to feel as if, after wandering long underground, you have suddenly stumbled upon royal treasure. Not only do you become rich, but you are also visited by the mystical conviction that some higher power has looked upon you with the eye of grace and magnanimously elevated you above others, electing you its favourite.  Many photographs preserve the moment when the first oil spurts from the well: people jumping for joy, falling into each other’s arms, weeping.  Oil creates the illusion of a completely changed life, life without work, life for free. Oil is a resource that anaesthetises thought, blurs vision, corrupts.  People from poor countries go around thinking: God, if only we had oil!  The concept of oil expresses perfectly the eternal human dream of wealth achieved through lucky accident, through a kiss of fortune and not by sweat, anguish, hard work. In this sense oil is a fairy tale and, like every fairy tale, a bit of a lie.  Oil fill us with such arrogance that we begin believing we can easily overcome such unyielding obstacles as time.”  

Ryszard Kapuscinski, Shah of Shahs.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

My favourite Occupy Nigeria image so far..


Fuel Subsidy 419

Good Day,

My Name is Mr. Austin Oniwon, the Group Managing Director Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC),  as the Group Managing Director am in the cabal responsible for the fuel subsidy removal in Nigeria. My office has been unable to account for 65,000 barrels of crude oil out of an official allocation of 445,000 barrels per day. Only me and some other top officials in my office knows the where about of the 65,000 barrels of crude oil which translates to a daily $6,362,850 (N939 million daily) that is unaccounted for.

Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), Appropriation and Finance investigating the management of fuel subsidy funds got to know about the deal and is about to frozen all my bank accounts.

I seek your cooperation to help me in transfering this funds abroad before the hands of the Senate gets to it. You will be highly compensated for your help and account provision.
Let me know if you can handle this so that i will give you more details on how we can transfer this fund without any problem. For more information on this click on this link

Mr. Austin Oniwon
Group Managing Director
Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation 


Friday, January 13, 2012

Chop Cassava

Brought to you by Funmi Iyanda and the amazing Chop Cassava crew.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pastor Tony Rapu on Occupy Nigeria

(Taken from his Facebook page):

Following the Government's removal of the subsidy on petroleum products, Nigeria has been convulsed by widespread protests. Citizens are taking to the streets and airwaves to air their vehement opposition in the strongest possible but peaceful terms. Unfortunately, the protests have not been without loss of life, politicization of the issues, and hijack by miscreants. Petrol pump prices have jumped by more than one hundred percent, and collateral increases will surely affect transport, food and other areas. To most Nigerians, the Government's move deepens the intense economic hardship they already grapple with. This is a chance to voice and act out the people's dissatisfaction with the insensitivity and corruption in Government. In reality, the protests have taken on a life of their own and the issues have gone beyond increased petrol prices. They have become the cry of a nation in its birth pangs; the travail of a people desperate to take back their nation from the hands of kleptocrats.

Many are inquiring about the apparent silence of Christian leaders, in the face of the intensified suffering of the people and the wave of activism sweeping the Nation. More vehement critics have accused the clergy of being turncoats, callous and insensitive people who are beholden to corrupt officials and therefore unwilling to stand with the masses to resist injustice. The people are angry, possibly like no other time before now, and are calling into serious question, the credibility of Christian leaders, politicians and others in positions of authority.

But we must be careful not to conclude that all clergy who are reticent about public protests or opposition to the Government have been bought over by politicians. Many such leaders are uninformed, politically, and thus remain passive about policy development, despite heightened awareness in some issue areas. This might be due to their ministry training and understanding of the Christian mission. Many, concerned about slipping into a social gospel and a misconception of the Church's role in society, have avoided involvement in social action. Other leaders may be silent because of their felt need to balance the imperative of spiritual awareness with their social responsibility. They may recognize the twin demands of personal righteousness and social justice: that on the one hand, we have a responsibility to pray for the Nation and its rulers, engage in intercession, prophetic acts and spiritual warfare – yet simultaneously translate these into action in the public arena, policy and government.

The Bible teaches that God intervenes in the affairs of men and charts the course of nations and peoples. As such, these leaders are aware of their responsibility to communicate the need to be sensitive to God’s movement and agenda, and to allow such sensitivity guide our actions as citizens and as members of the society. These are not "either/or" propositions. Christians must operate with both sensibilities. There can be no such thing as being so spiritual as to cease involvement in society. Conversely, we must not become so submerged in social action, that we lose prophetic awareness and sensitivity to the urgings of the Spirit of God.

There is a place for prayer, but there is also a place for seeking accuracy of governance in society. We must enthrone the virtues of God's Kingdom, infuse systems and institutions with the right ethics and mentalities, and ensure public policies are grounded in the right ethical and theoretical frameworks. The development of righteousness in the soul parallels the construction of a just society. Therefore, throughout the Bible, we see God's unmistakable concern for both personal righteousness and social justice.

It should be acknowledged that some pastors have opened the door to criticism through uncritical alignment with politicians. They may assume that such liaisons signal influence and authority in society. These leaders have thus earned the ire of the masses for refusing to condemn the same politicians when they do wrong. Certainly, the judgment of our Nation’s decadence will involve a judgment of any unholy alliances between corrupted power and corrupted clergy.

There is also a category of leaders for whom social activism is uncertain, unfamiliar territory. Unsure of the nuances and details of politics and economics, they are unwilling to dabble into matters of which they are uncomfortable and do not have the requisite competencies. This group sees the need for activism, and their awareness of the generalities permits them to make measured pronouncements of support and understanding for the activists; however, they know too little to become hands on activists, and so limit their utterances to the pulpit. The rationale is that it does one no credit to engage in a fight in which he lacks the requisite information or conviction.

Clergymen are expected to stand in opposition to injustice and corruption, and to defend the downtrodden. Happily, activism can take different forms, from participating in street protests to direct involvement in party politics, or even pursuing social change by working with the poor and disenfranchised, providing amenities where Government has failed to do so.

There is also the place of combating the negative ideas and value systems that sustain the corruption and degeneracy that we bemoan in society. Opposition to evil is not only physical; it is spiritual, moral and intellectual. Those who are opposed to evil and desire change should therefore be gracious to one another; for we are essentially on the same side, differing only in our choice of strategies and the means of effecting revolution and transformation. There is room enough for tactical variety in tackling societal ills. Some pastors are much more comfortable in direct social activism, because of their temperaments, experience and callings. Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King Jnr. and Janani Luwum (the Ugandan Archbishop murdered by Idi Amin in 1977) are examples of clergy who vigorously resisted racism, apartheid and oppression. In any event, we cannot expect absolute unanimity from Christian leaders on all social and political issues.

Jesus said to His disciples "Occupy till I come". He wanted Christians to infiltrate world systems and operate in every sphere; from corridors of power in government to the catwalks of the fashion industry, operating as 'salt' and 'light' and sanitizing the world…until the "kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord" and "the knowledge of God covers the earth as the waters cover the seas".

The question of a person's public activism also rests on where he is on his own personal spiritual odyssey. Clergymen who are reluctant to publicly challenge the status quo may quite simply not have attained conviction about public witness and prophetic activism. Contrary to popular belief, pastors are not all-knowing oracles. They also have to mature into their callings. However from a Christian perspective, there is a time when more prayer becomes spiritual escapism, just as there is also a time when social action guided by nothing more than raw emotion and adrenalin becomes an ineffectual "striving in the flesh". There is a time to withdraw in order to obtain fresh spiritual and moral strength for the struggle. This was Jesus' method. He said He only did what He saw the Father do. There is also a time to stop praying and actualize what has been received in prayer. As with all things, the key is discernment of what is needful for each season, and striking the appropriate balance.

Ultimately, the project of redeeming a nation, like that of individual salvation, is a journey rather than a destination. Our constant posture should be the empowerment of Christians to act as agents of renewal implementing the redemption of society, systems and structures. Pastors should equip people with tools with which to accurately decipher their roles and increase their impact in society.

The Church shapes the character and thinking of the people, who in turn shape the character and direction of the Nation. It is said that America’s greatness was rooted in the churches. However, it was not just any church, but those whose pulpits were aflame with the message of righteousness, and a message encompassing all of life. To "occupy", whether in the activist sense of protesting governmental corruption, or the apostolic sense of transforming earthly institutions into zones of peace and prosperity – is our calling. 


On the oil traders

This wikileaks cable tells you all you need to know about the role of dodgy oil trading companies such as Trafigura and Vitol. Surely no one needs reminding of Trafigura's dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast a few years back.


Tha Suspect - Subsidy


Biafra book launch

Date: Thursday 19th January, 6-8pm
Venue: Brunei Suite, SOAS

Book launch with author Michael Gould and Kaye Whiteman (journalist), Frederick Forsyth (author), Dipo Salimonu (political commentator & CEO at Ateriba) responding. 
Chair: Professor Dennis Judge

In the summer of 1968, reports of starvation in the West African secessionist Republic of Biafra transformed the Nigerian Civil War into an international media event. Using recently discovered archival records and the personal recollections of the key players, Michael Gould challenges many of the views and perceptions held of the conflict at the time. Little has been written about the war during the last forty years and as Anthony Kirk-Greene (Emeritus Fellow of St. Antony's College, Oxford) states this book stands as the best analysis yet published.

About the author
Michael Gould has lived and worked in Nigeria over the last fifty years. He first met Ojukwu and Gowon when they were young army officers and he was still a student. In the mid eighties he set up an NGO in Eastern Nigeria. He is an honorary chief of the Igbo people. He had limited knowledge of the country's civil war until he wrote a short dissertation on the subject in 2000. He subsequently read for a PhD in African History at SOAS, focusing on the Biafran War. This book is the result of his research into the conflict.


Monday, January 09, 2012

The Fuel Subsidy Removal Protests for Dummies

On the first day of the indefinite general strike organised by a coalition between two of the largest unions in Nigeria – the TUC and the NLC – and a cluster of smaller unions and social media-based activists and organisations, some external observers have expressed surprise at the intensity of resistance the “Occupy Nigeria” campaign has mounted against the removal of the fuel subsidy on January 1st and the size of the mass demonstrations taking place. From an outside perspective, it might seem like a dust-devil has been whipped up without why in the desert.  In case there’s still any confusion, allow me to explain why there is so much anger and resistance.

The answer begins with a question: would it be acceptable to citizens of affluent countries that the price of petrol doubles overnight without any warning? Perhaps Jeffrey Sachs would be alone in his view, or perhaps he only prescribes a certain type of medicine for African countries. Perhaps the view from Sachs' brain is that Africans can get by on generic drugs long past their sell-by date.

Aside from Sachs' development fantasies, the lived reality of citizens of the Nigerian state is that it provides little or no security, no infrastructure, no education and no employment opportunities (apart from mostly McJobs in the civil service).  Everywhere in Nigeria, the basic elements of civilised existence have to be taken care of house-by-house, compound-by-compound.  You must sink your own borehole for water, buy, install and fuel a generator for power, hire security guards to keep the wolves from the door, pay school fees to ensure your kids get a half-decent education because the public school system is in perpetual meltdown. And to earn enough money to get through the day, you must hustle.

The breakdown of a standard tax and political representation based social contract between citizens and the state in Nigeria is almost entirely a result of the past few decades of the so-called ‘resource curse’.  Earning billions of dollars each year from crude exports, the Nigerian government has no need to rely on tax from individuals or local companies; tax and royalty payments from the international oil companies (as well as historically, loans from international financial institutions) have been sufficient to fund the annual budget at all levels of government.  For the past few decades, cheap fuel has therefore been the only form of social contract between ordinary Nigerians and the state and the principle lever to control inflation during times of rising oil prices.  With most Nigerians subsisting on US$2 or less, subsidised fuel has also been a survival mechanism, making life only just bearable.

It was therefore highly surprising to Nigerians to find out that the fuel subsidy had been removed on January 1st and that the price regulating body under the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) – the PPPRA – had more than doubled the price of petrol overnight.  No one had been given warning.  The expectation was that the subsidy would be removed at the earliest in April.  The strong suspicion is that following on from Christine Lagarde’s visit to Nigeria in late December, the government had accelerated its plans.  From the views of key government figures, it’s easy to see how Nigeria acceded to IMF pressure with little or no resistance.  The Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has repeatedly stated that removing the fuel subsidy would only hurt the affluent car-owning population, forgetting how central the price of fuel is to almost every basic aspect of life here.   Meanwhile, the Governor of the Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, has stated that removal of the subsidy would only have a short-term inflationary effect.  With opinions like this, the IMF was walking into an open door.

Given the state of the global economy, it is little surprise that the IMF is in favour of insisting on reducing debt wherever it can.  However, the IMF also appears to be suffering from institutional amnesia; what is happening in Nigeria is in some respects a re-run of the Structural Adjustment Programme in the 1980s, and President Ibrahim Babangida’s short-term attempts to resist austerity measures.  As we will recall, “IBB” ended up creating his own austerity package, which was more severe than that proposed by the IMF.  The Nigerian economy quickly tanked, resulting in mass suffering among Nigerians.  Fundamentalist strains of evangelical Christianity mushroomed forth from the barren earth.  Unlike the World Bank, which is increasingly taking political-economy factors seriously in its analysis and its programmes, even today the IMF and its high-priesthood consultants views the world from the numerical altar of macro-economics.  The technocratic nature of the IMF means that the organisation is in fact programmed to forget the past.
During the recent fuel subsidy debate on local Nigerian TV station Channels, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala was keen to state what she referred to as ‘facts’.  At no point has anyone in the executive effectively challenged former Petroleum Minister Tam David-West’s querying of whether there is a subsidy in the first place, or whether the landing cost of imported fuel has been artificially padded.  Given the findings of the recent KPMG report into the NNPC, it seems that facts about the oil sector in Nigeria are thin on the ground.
The defence offered by the Finance Minister during that same debate is that the savings from removal of the subsidy would be spent on a palliative capital-spending programme – the Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE).  Nigerians have raised a number of critical objections to this proposal and the timing of subsidy removal. 

Firstly, given the glut of money in state coffers in the past few years and the lack of any successful infrastructural development (for instance in power and transport), there is little guarantee that the SURE programme would be implemented or successful, rather than go the way of all initiatives in the past.  The government of Nigeria has not been able to significantly raise the amount of power generated, nor has it been able to achieve the low-tech objective of revamping the dilapidated railway network, still less has it been able to improve standards in public education and healthcare.  What then would be different about the SURE programme?

Secondly, while most Nigerians are probably not ideologically opposed to subsidy removal (and targeting the corrupt ‘cabal’ of fuel importers who benefit from the subsidy), they are utterly opposed to the timing, given the insecurity in the land raised by Islamic militancy in the North and the potential for renewed militancy in response in the Niger Delta.  A phased subsidy withdrawal, as has happened elsewhere, would have been the preferred approach.

Thirdly, the idea that removing the subsidy equates to ‘deregulation’ and the equivalent private sector boom as witnessed in the past decade in the telecoms sector is highly suspect to most.  For the downstream oil sector to be deregulated, there has to be new legislation in place.  The Petroleum Industry Bill, which separates the functions of a national oil company, regulation and policy-making, would need to become law.  We have been waiting since the previous minister of petroleum for the PIB to be passed.  At present, the NNPC is the epicentre of corruption in the oil sector in Nigeria, and has to broken up into its constituent parts for the private sector to be given space to grow its role.  In addition, Nigerians would want to see a much higher percentage of crude oil refined locally, rather than the current reliance on imported fuel, to ensure a favourable local pricing policy that does not depend on state subsidy.  Without any of these key deregulatory building blocks in place, removal of the ‘subsidy’ now is simply terrible timing and does not inspire confidence among a people who long ago lost their faith in government.

Finally, if savings are urgently required from the annual government budget, most Nigerians would argue that the first place to cut costs is that of the price of running government itself.  As the Governor of the Central Bank pointed out last year, the National Assembly consumes 25% of the Federal overheads budget; the cost of running the President’s office has been widely publicised in recent weeks (including a billion naira food bill).  It is rare to see a member of the executive - down to director-generals of government agencies most Nigerians have never heard of - travelling without a sizeable convoy of expensive cars.  Nigerian government delegations to international conferences and gatherings are often by far the largest, with a supersized retinue of special advisors, assistants and staff for the first-wife in attendance, there to collect their allowance and have access to shopping opportunities overseas.

As it is, most Nigerians are poor, and will simply not be able to survive with any comfort on US$2 a day and a doubling of living costs.  That the government of Nigeria didn’t foresee the massive level of resistance happening today is quite bewildering. It shows a complete disconnect and disregard for Nigerians.  However, where there is the greatest danger, there is greatest hope.  Nigerians have never been so united in years – last week, in the unofficially renamed Liberation Square in Kano, Christians guarded the space as their Muslim co-protestors prayed.  In return, last Sunday, Muslims guarded Churches as others prayed inside. 

What we are witnessing with Occupy Nigeria is a generational transfer, as young, social-media enabled activists gradually take over the baton from unionist stalwarts.  Nigeria's young population is increasingly letting go of the deferential attitude of their parents generation.  In the south at least, young Nigerians are beginning to ask questions of the religious leadership that has been complicit with the status-quo.  At long last, there is accountability pressure building up in the system.

In the short term, following on from the next few days of protest and shut-down, it’s hard to imagine anything other than a policy reversal, and a planned withdrawal being announced, in step with a clear programme of projects that must be delivered before any further withdrawal of subsidy is implemented (citizens monitoring a re-drafted SURE programme for instance).  Even at this very late stage, President Goodluck could become a hero of the process.  Come what may, underlying events this week a deeper shift is at work: a new generation of Nigerians well versed in events to the north in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya is demanding that the terms of the social contract in Nigeria are re-written, in favour of increased accountability in political leadership.


Sunday, January 08, 2012

Niyi Osundare on religion and politics in Nigeria

In the past five years or so, I have been reconsidering my long-held opinion about the relation between leadership and followership. Time there was when I laid all the blame on leadership. Now I’m beginning to say that the followership should also take their fate in their own hands. This is what I see most of the time, for example, in the plays of Femi Osofisan, one of our top writers. Play after play after play; the leaders are there doing things. But the address is to the people. Why must you continue to be ridden like a donkey? Why can’t you, too, get up in the saddle? Nigerians are too docile, too forgiving of bad leadership.

Why are they this way? A number of reasons. The first one is religion. The kind of religion we have in Nigeria is one that puts you to sleep, and after that, puts you to death. It’s not the kind of religion that’s after social justice; it’s not the kind of religion that is after the welfare of the people and the independence of their existence.

Particularly guilty in this regard are the Prosperity Gospellers of the Pentecostal variety who hawk faith on the air and convert religion into superstition. If you have no job, we are told, it must be because of your sin. Your poverty (or pauperization) is a result of the offence you have committed against God. Blissfully indemnified are the rogue-rulers whose greed has corrupted and ruined our social estate; those whose policies or lack of them have made job creation impossible by sabotaging our productive capacity? So, if you have no job, blame your sins; if you wallow in poverty, you only have yourself to blame.

In the thinking and preaching of many of these latter-day evangelists, every scoundrel in power in Nigeria is “God-chosen” and must be treated as such. Religion in this country is a dangerous opium; really dangerous opium. And that is why our rulers are encouraging the building of churches and mosques all over the place.

When in December last year the newspapers carried the picture of a kneeling President Jonathan with a ministering Pastor towering above him in prayerful supremacy, we were presented with an image so symbolic of the relationship between the state and religion in Nigeria. No picture could have been more emblematic!

Religion has killed rational thinking in this country. I say this all the time, our country is still in a pre-scientific era. That is why things are like this. We don’t think logically; that is why any ruler, any fool would seize the reins and rule us, because we would always find an excuse for being ruled or being led by the nose. Not long ago a pastor said he was between two cities and he discovered that the fuel in his car had run out. He actually checked and saw the fuel in the car was completely gone. But because of his act of faith and on the strength of his prayers, he was able to do two hundred miles on an empty tank! When he declared this testimony, people clapped and shouted “ Hallelujah!” I never heard anybody say how can?

Nigerians don’t ask questions; that is why the imams and the pastors lead them by the nose, and the politicians also complete their humiliation and disempowerment. And between the clerics and the political functionaries, there is a very close liaison. It’s a kind of power structure; one controls the political, social realm, the other controls the spiritual, metaphysical realm and they are together. Many Nigerians are not rational, interrogative people. In fact, in this country today, if you are the interrogative type you are easily labelled, branded, and condemned. People even wonder: why are you always asking questions?’

When the blessed Tai Solarin was alive, he agonised and agonised over this issue. The way he was misunderstood, the way he was misinterpreted and his anger at the way many of our people were going - that we should be up in the streets. Another problem: well, our people are docile and the reason why they take all kinds of cheating is that many of them envisage themselves in the position of power someday, too. If I am X and the oppressor is Y, and the oppressor is oppressing me, stealing all the money, and making life difficult for me and my children, I am not likely to attack him. I’ll pray to God to let my own “miracle” happen so that someday, he will go and I will be in his place. No; I am praying for him to go but for the structure to remain.

This is the social psychology of Nigerian politics. So many people don’t see it as wrong. When they see it as wrong, it’s because it is putting them at a disadvantage; they are not really concerned with the social order or the commonweal. That’s a very important issue. If our rulers were people with a sense of shame, they wouldn’t be talking about subsidy at all. They should cover their faces in shame and apologize to the Nigerian people; for if anything, it is the Nigerian people that need some form of hardship allowance from their incorrigibly incompetent government. And our President and his officials have been going from church to church (have they called at the mosques yet?), asking for God’s blessing for the kind of socio-economic mayhem they are about to unleash on the Nigerian people through the removal of the so-called subsidy; asking the pastors to pray to God to make Nigerians compliant to and accepting of their impoverished situation, begging Almighty God to soften the minds of Nigerians.

But no one entered a plea for God to smash the incubus of corruption and mismanagement that has brought this country to its knees. Our President never asked God to grant him the courage and candour to make a public declaration of his assets as required by the constitution of the country he rules...

P.S:If you are still wondering why that private jet-flying,crucifix-hanging,Aso Rock-dining,tongue-blasting god of men has refused to speak out against the issue of the callous fuel subsidy removal, there you have it!


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