The disappearing scent of Christmas

Ailing economy, other hassles take the shine off yuletide celebrations

By Tope Templer Olaiya, Metro Editor

IT’S three days to Christmas but it seems like four weeks away. Being the weekend heralding Christmas and end-of-year festivities, the frenzies of the season are far from being felt in the air, signaling a not too merry Christmas.
When we think about Christmas, we see so many pictures of laughing children, ear-piercing firelight, Santa Claus visits and gently falling snow. However, for many families, this romantic view of the season is very different from reality.
As millions of Christians across the world celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Tuesday, there are many more who do not have the resources to dine and wine, with members of their families and friends.
The holiday season, for many people, is the hardest time of the year, in part, because of the glaring contrast between their experience and the romanticised image of Christmas so often projected. For thousands of families, their struggles to put food on the table and pay their bills are mocked by commercials urging them to buy more expensive gifts at discounted rates.
In the past during this period, at every turn of the street, loud speakers blared Christmas tunes, ear-piercing firecrackers constantly rattled the eardrums, banners dotted major streets announcing dates of carnivals, and corporations and public buildings were adorned in the Christmas colours of red, white and green, with major markets abuzz with end-of-year shopping bazaar.

This Christmas scent is also absent from Lagos – the Centre of Excellence. Once upon a time, it was a beautiful sight to behold at night decoration lights adorning major streets and parks in Lagos. Oshodi, the heart of Lagos, was once transformed from its symphony of chaos into an aesthetic garden park, with the state government unveiling every year a giant Christmas tree, beautifully decorating the relaxation garden at Oshodi.
The festive decoration was not restricted to commercial business districts. Many residential areas and streets were usually lined with Christmas lights in the countdown to their carnival nights, where residents, neighbours and well-wishers gather to dine and wine in a convivial atmosphere to enjoy either a live band or deejay dishing out music till the early hours of the morning. That too has gone with the wind.
Street carnivals, which used to be the biggest socio-cultural events of the year on the calendar of many Lagos metropolis every Christmas, have become part of Lagos’ recent history. This, though, have been replaced by the five mega concerts introduced by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode and which are staged by the state in the five districts of Ikeja, Badagry, Ikorodu, Lagos Island and Epe. But the thrills and frills of the street carnivals usually marked by the voyage of music and dance are things hard to replicate with the concerts headlined by A-list artistes.
Also, part of the disappearing scents of Christmas is the deluge of end-of-year sales bonanza. Citizens were spoilt for choice with offers, such that even commercial sex workers declared bonanza for their regular and loyal customers, who had patronised them throughout the year.

The season is not complete without the traditional shopping. This is evident in the high traffic of movement seen in most markets during this time. The biggest of market sales is clothing as many, both young and old, look forward to celebrating Christmas and New Year with new wears.
But now, clothing traders at five major markets in Lagos are worried about the low sales they are experiencing days to Christmas celebration. The survey conducted at Balogun, Idumota, Docemo, Oluwole and Yaba markets, revealed that the traders complained that the low sales trend had been recurring for five years consecutively.
“Many of the customers just come to the market for sightseeing. We only come to the market because we do not want to stay at home idle,’’ said Mrs. Nkechi Okonkwo, a seller of used imported clothes at Yaba.
Okonkwo said: “The last time I made any reasonable sale was in November and the same is the case with many of my fellow traders. The gloomy looks on their faces and those gossiping over there tell the situation of things in the market. Most of us resort to sprinkling holy water, praying, fasting and anointing our goods, with the hope that the situation will change for better’’.
Another trader at Yaba market, Mr. Jeff Oha, blamed the situation on the harsh economic state of the country, coupled with a low purchasing power of consumers. “The economy is bad and workers are owed salary; that is the reason patronage is low.
“The way things are, it is like the National Assembly has postponed Christmas because everybody is just going around with a gloomy face or how can you explain that even common Christmas greetings like ‘Compliments of the season’ or ‘Merry Christmas in advance’ is so scarce as if people were being charged for it?
“Before, people would troop into ‘Okrika market’ to purchase goods for themselves and their children. But now, used clothes, which are seen as a cheaper alternative by most people, are also affected by low patronage,’’ he said.

Mrs. Aisha Lawal, a trader of children’s clothing at Docemo market, attributed the lull in trading activities to the forthcoming election, saying that some people were hoarding fund.
“Normally, at this time of the year, we would have made some good sales unlike now where people just come to check the prices. The situation in the country is affecting everyone,’’ she said.
Speaking further, Mrs. Idayat Olaitan, a seller of fabrics at Idumota market, said it did not feel like a Christmas season. “Many people do not bother about new clothes but make do with wears they had before.
“In previous years, from October, markets become a beehive of activities with many people shopping for Christmas, but now the story is different. How can you expect someone that has not balanced his children’s school fees since September or someone that does not know where his next meal will come from to buy clothes?” she queried, adding that the way out was for governments to make policies that would impact favourably on citizen’s welfare.
Ahead of Christmas and New Year celebrations, hampers have flooded markets and shopping centres in Lagos, but dealers too complain of low patronage. Hampers are usually presented as gifts by individuals, groups and corporate organizations during the celebrations. It was observed that many shopping malls in Lagos metropolis had unsold harpers in decorated raffia baskets, plastic bowls and wooden boxes.
The prices of the hampers depend on their sizes, contents and descriptions. They range from N10,000 to N200,000. Dealers expressed disappointment at the low patronage, which they attributed to the poor economic situation in the country.
Mrs. Folasade Aribisala, a shop owner at Apongbon Market, said she regretted investing in hampers in the last two years, adding that hardship greatly reduced purchasing power. “I have had 50 hampers for sale since November; hardly have I been able to sell 10. It is so discouraging. Low patronage of hampers is becoming a recurring nightmare to us. Many of my counterparts did not invest in hampers this year; I wish I did not tie my money down in it,” she said.
However, Mrs. Monisola Adewale, attributed the low purchase of hampers to the attitude of some dealers, who put cardboards on the base of the baskets to make hampers appear fuller than they are.
“It is annoying that when you open some hampers, most of the items are almost expired. There is no value for the money paid for the hampers. Because of these unwholesome practices, many people buy the items needed in bulk and prepare the hampers by themselves. They are even cheaper than off-the-shelf hampers,” she said.

According to the Director General of the Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr. Muda Yusuf, said this situation is so because the disposable income in possession of Nigerians is very little compared to their demands, which is why they resort to the purchase of basic necessities to stay afloat.
Earlier in the year, according to the World Poverty Clock, Nigeria overtook India as the country with the most extreme poor people in the world. Precisely, 86.9 million Nigerians are now living in extreme poverty, representing nearly 50 per cent of its estimated 180 million population. Clearly, millions of Nigerians in this bracket will not know it is Christmas.
An explanation for the absence of heightened Christmas festivities came last weekend when President Muhammadu Buhari told governors of the 36 states that the Nigerian economy is in bad shape. The Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State, who briefed State House correspondents after the meeting, said the president told them: “The economy is in a bad shape and we have to come together, think and rethink on the way forward.”
That official admission of the flagging state of the economy is at the crux of the ‘un-merry’ Christmas. This fact was reinforced on Wednesday with data released by the National Bureau of Statistics showing that the number of unemployed Nigerians has risen to 20.9 million from 17.6 million.
The report contained the employment trends from the last quarter of 2017 to the third quarter of 2018. The economically active or working age population (15 – 64 years of age) increased from 111.1 million in Q3, 2017 to 115.5 million in Q3, 2018. The number of persons in the labour force (i.e. the number of new entrants into the job market looking for jobs) increased from 75.94 million in Q3 2015 to 80.66 million in Q3 2016 to 85.1 million in Q3, 2017 to 90.5million in Q3, 2018.
The total number of people in full-time employment increased from 51.1 million in Q3 2017 to 51.3 million in Q3, 2018 (a paltry addition of 200,000). The total number of people in part-time employment increased from 18.02 million in Q3 2017 and to 18.21 million in Q3, while the total number of people classified as unemployed, which means they did nothing at all or worked too few hours to be classified as employed increased from 17.6 million in Q4 2017 to 20.9 million in Q3 2018.

Clearly, these about 21 million unemployed Nigerians and their dependents may not have a merry Christmas, coupled with the millions of Nigerians in the informal sector not captured by the NBS data.
The Director General of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Mr. Ajayi Kadiri, noted that the country had been witnessing consumption apathy. He said: “We have witnessed a drop in the patronage of goods manufactured by our members, and our warehouses are full of inventory for lack of patronage, which is an indication of a dwindling economy.
“The season of this Christmas is lackluster, so we are looking at the government to take necessary steps in returning the economy to normalcy. Basically, we are close to election where the economy ought to have started experiencing fresh injection from the patronage of electoral campaign materials and advertisement, but this is not so.”
But while markets are experiencing dwindling patronage, the roads are getting cramped. In the days leading to any major festivities, plying on Lagos roads could be a torture and it is no different this season.
In recent times, the city of Lagos has been a theatre of the absurd with gridlocks crisscrossing major roads across the state. The best way to test one’s resilience is to navigate Lagos during this period.
Owing to the constant gridlock, the state House of Assembly on Tuesday urged Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to direct officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) and Vehicle Inspection Service (VIS) to intensify traffic control.
According to the Speaker, Mudashiru Obasa, the traffic situation in the state has become worrisome, adding that it was the responsibility of the state government to ensure a free flow of traffic.
“We call Governor Ambode to order the leaders of LASTMA to ensure a free flow of traffic in the state. LASTMA officials should stop the actions of folding their arms, while motorists and okada riders do whatever they like on the roads. Any official that fails to perform his or her duty should be sanctioned. The LASTMA officials are being paid salaries. We know that this is Yuletide period, but we must ensure there is a free flow of traffic in the state. We also urge motorists to always obey traffic laws,” he said.
Thankfully though, Nigerians have been spared the agony of petrol scarcity, another feature of this season in times past. This year, that intractable problem didn’t rear its head though labour unions in the petroleum sector were at a time spoiling for war over unpaid subsidy claims.
The lamentation of low patronage is also being expressed by transporters. The parks are unusually not busy as expected because very few people are travelling. Some drivers at Ojota Motor Park said the patronage was low compared to what it used to be in previous years.

And with the season comes the familiar story of Christmas hassles. While one may feel strongly about the hassles of Christmas – costing too much in money, time and stress in the bid to get things done for a befitting yearend celebration, incidentally the very first Christmas posed many hassles for Joseph and Mary; the first being Mary’s pregnancy.
Joseph and Mary were engaged but not officially married when Mary learned she “was with child by the Holy Spirit”. Joseph was ready to call the whole thing off until an angel explained the situation. But the hassles are just beginning.
Not long after the wedding, the Emperor determined that every Jewish male should return to his birthplace and pay a new tax, a bill Joseph hadn’t planned to pay and a trip he hadn’t planned to make. They headed out for Bethlehem where they met another hassle; there was no room in the inn. With his wife about to give birth, Joseph settled for the only available accommodation – a stable.
And just when they thought everything was over with, an angel brought a message to Joseph, to take Mary and the baby to Egypt, because King Herod was going to kill the baby.
The nativity story sure makes the hassles of Christmas a familiar story.


Buhari’s body double suspicion that won’t go away

By Tope Templer Olaiya and Chukwuma Muanya

Beware of what you consume on social media. That space is a theatre of the absurd. From matters of no consequence to serious issues, when trends break on social media, one is guaranteed an inventive spin of all shades. This has given birth to one of the latest entries into the social media lexicon, which is Fake News.

Each trend and ‘Breaking News’ has its fake news version but usually, as with all things news, they have a short lifespan. The longest of them in recent times was the controversy that trailed President Muhammadu Buhari’s secondary school leaving examination certificate, which lasted for about a fortnight.

But one ‘Breaking News’ or ‘Fake News’ that has refused to go away after many weeks is the story of President Buhari’s body double conspiracy theory, one Jibril Aminu from Sudan, which is spreading like wide fire. What started as a gossip shared in hushed whispers has gained so much traction strong enough to elicit official reactions.

It was a story that broke on the clandestine medium, Radio Biafra, propagated by its promoter and leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, who earlier this month resurfaced in Israel many months after he was missing in action during the military’s Operation Python Dance in his home state of Abia.

Kanu has consistently asserted that there is an imposter in Aso Rock, Nigeria’s seat of power, with threats to expose how Jibril Aminu was transformed to replace ‘dead Buhari’ in London. He alludes that Jibril resembles Buhari except for a cleft ear, broad nose bridge and teenager fresh hands.

He further claimed that the Nigerian diplomat who was murdered in Sudan on May 10, 2018, Habibu Almu, was killed over his alleged involvement in the recruitment of Jibril. The IPOB leader, who promised to shock Nigerians with his revelation of how Jubril was transformed to replace ‘dead Buhari’, while sympathizing with the family of the deceased, urged the Sudanese police to uncover the killers of Almu.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs according to its spokesperson, Dr. Tope Elias-Fatile, at the time had disclosed that the Nigerian immigration attaché, Almu, was murdered in Khartoum, Sudan by a Sudanese woman of Nigerian origin.

Reacting to the allegation of an impostor in Aso Rock, the Personal Assistant to President Buhari on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, said the intelligence of some Nigerians has been insulted by the outrageous lies that the president is a body double, taking a swipe at Femi Fani-Kayode, who also shares the same opinion with Kanu.

Yesterday, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) posted online, ‘President Buhari cancels his planned five-day ‘casual leave’ as a mark of respect for victims of Boko Haram attacks across the battlefields in the North-east zone of the country.’ Someone immediately posted: ‘Buhari or Jibril, which one? We play too much in this country. Buhari has been on technical leave since 2015, now Jibril is going on casual leave.’

Another quipped: “I am beginning to believe this Jibril story because the difference between the original Buhari and Jibril Aminu is so glaring. The body language of the real Buhari was said to work wonders like longer electricity supply and scaring potential looters, but we can’t say the same of this new Buhari.”

The Jibril story travelled like the speed of light when in the heat of the crisis rocking the All Progressives Congress (APC) after its primaries held, some leaders of the party began to vent their anger and speak in innuendos. Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, was reported to have said: “If I say what I know about APC, Nigerians will burn down Aso Rock within 24 hours,” while governor of Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun was rumoured to have said: “If APC provokes me again, I will tell the whole world what we were cooking that got the house burnt.”

But weighing in on the story, Shehu Sani, the Senator representing Kaduna Central reacting on his Twitter page, discarded such report, saying Buhari has no ‘double’. The Kaduna lawmaker urged Nigerians to see ‘Jibrin’ as an imaginative character.Sani wrote: “There’s no one and nothing like Jibril El Sudan. Buhari ‘Caesar’ is healthy and has no double. But you can literally refer to Jibrin as an imaginative and mythical character in Shakespearean Nigeria. It is natural to creatively invent characters and promote conjectures in our theatre of the absurd.”

While some Nigerians have helped in amplifying the rumour, using posts and comments to express their belief and disbelief in a ‘cloned’ Buhari, others have been cropping and magnifying recent pictures of the president in comparison with 2016/2017 images when the president was sick and feeble.

It would be recalled that after initially spending over 50 days on medical vacation in London, the president had in May 2017 returned to the United Kingdom, for follow-up medical check-up where he stayed longer than three months.

Those who buy the Jibril narrative fuss that since the last medical extended vacation, it was a young-looking, somewhat shorter Buhari that is in Aso Rock. The issue received some fuel last Saturday when former President Olusegun Obasanjo urged Buhari to “do the needful and stop inadvertently giving credence to the story.”

At the installation of Peoples Democratic Party’s presidential aspirant, Atiku Abubakar, as Turakin Adamawa, he said: “No matter how long we choose to feign ignorance, the news of a stranger running the affairs of Nigeria has gained international attention.”I have in the past few weeks received calls from different world leaders and some concerned global investors who sought for my response over this issue which is currently being talked about in almost every home in the country.

“Fake news is real, but this story, whether false or true can only be put to rest by the accused who happens to be President Muhammadu Buhari. In 2010, many of you, I believe, still remember how it was rumoured that I was shot dead by assassins. The news understandably went viral immediately, and on learning about it, I came out and said I was alive and well.”

Another Senator representing Ondo North, Ajayi Boroffice, on Monday reportedly gave an intellectual bent to the discourse in his piece titled ‘Buhari, the imaginative clone and human genetics’. It was not as if Boroffice held a conference anywhere to release his alleged statement. Again, it was a glean from the social media where he said: “Ordinarily, I wouldn’t like to involve myself in the nauseating debate about the rumoured cloning of President Buhari and the imaginative Jibril Aminu of Sudan because it is rubbish in the face of scientific realities.

“As a Nigerian who bagged Ph.D degree in Human Genetics in congenital malformations arising from chromosomal aberrations in 1975 and had Post-Doctoral Research in mutagenesis and carcinogenesis, I consider myself as competent to comment on the needless controversy. For a 75 years old adult to be cloned, a living cell must be obtained and subjected to some manipulations that will convert it to totipotent cell. The totipotent cell will now undergo embryological development that will produce a young human fetus.

“Therefore, for the clone to look like the same man, it must be exposed to the exact environment for a period equivalent to 75 years. It is therefore ridiculous for anybody to think Mr President has been cloned and that the person who is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a clone from Sudan.”

But cloning is not the dominant narrative. First, it is not logical to clone a 75-year-old Buhari, as the science of cloning must yield to the natural process of growth. The narrative instead is that a Buhari look-alike is in charge at Aso Rock

Amid the rising suspicion of a Buhari double, peddlers of the Jibril story refer to a particular incident in history. For decades, rumours circulated in Russia that former President Joseph Stalin had a “twin” who replaced him during certain situations. Decades after Stalin’s death, the decoy finally decided to talk. Felix Dadaev, a former dancer and juggler, had been ordered to work at the Kremlin as Stalin’s body double.

For more than half a century, Dadaev remained silent, fearing a death sentence should he dare to open his mouth. But in 2008, at the age of 88, and with the apparent approval of the Putin regime, he finally came forward to write his autobiography, where he explained that he was one of four men employed to impersonate the supreme leader, taking his place in motorcades, at rallies, on newsreel footage etc.

When the Second World War started, Dadaev was required to fight and was so badly injured during the war that his family was told he had been killed. Fortunately, he survived, though that “death” was the start of a strange double life. Soon his resemblance to 60-year-old Stalin (which got him teased in school) caught the eye of Soviet intelligence agents, who started using him to save the real Stalin from assassination plots and tedious public ceremonies.

Just into his 20s, Dadaev was a great deal younger than Stalin, but make-up and the strain of war meant that he could pass for the 60-year-old. “We had all experienced so much suffering that I looked much older than I was”, Dadaev said. Trained at the personal request of Stalin, Dadaev attended rallies and meetings across the Soviet Union wearing the leader’s trademark Red Army cap and heavy overcoat encrusted with medals. He watched movies and speeches of Stalin to perfect the mimicry of his movement and intonation.

“By the time my make-up and training were complete, I was like him in every way, except perhaps my ears. They were too small”. In an age before media dominated, he didn’t have to mimic perfectly Stalin’s vocal inflections, just his look and mannerisms. He pulled it off so well even Stalin’s closest comrades couldn’t spot the imposter.

United States and Korean scientists in 2014 cloned claimed a 75-year-old human was cloned for the production of stem cells. The study was published in the journal, Cell Stem Cell.

This technique was recently used to create embryonic stem cells from an infant donor. The team managed to perform the technique successfully with two male donors, one 35 years old and the second 75. The primary change needed was simply to extend the period in which the donor DNA is reset by the proteins present in the egg.

So can Buhari also be cloned? The Guardian put the question to president of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) Prof. Kalu Mosto Onuoha. “I don’t know. I don’t believe so. What I do know and what I have read is that many former leaders had several look-alikes, like President Winston Churchill of the United States, even some actors. The double or look-alike is used sometimes to protect the original person,” he said.

President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Dr. Francis Adedayo Faduyile, on his part, said: “They cannot clone an adult person and it is not possible. The only thing is to have a look-alike.”

This is one reason why folks are skeptical and slow to shake off, no matter how far-fetched, the tale that Aso Rock’s power brokers organised a Buhari double to continue control over power. Another is the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua saga.Eight years ago, Yar’Adua was pronounced dead after long months of speculations about an illness that led to his being flown, in November 2009, to a Saudi Arabia hospital. It was one of the most vicious and dangerous power intrigues in Nigeria’s history, where a small knot of family and close-knit power brokers held the nation to ransom. There were no updates on treatment progress. There was no word on the wild rumours flying around that Yar’Adua was already dead in Saudi Arabia and in February 2010, he was secretly brought back into Nigeria under the cover of darkness.

Just like Yar’Adua’s case, the nation is on the tenterhooks over a Buhari double story that refuses to fade away. And that is because everything about the president, including his state of health is a classified official secret.



Orphaned deaf, dumb siblings seek lift for education

By Tope Templer Olaiya
Life sometimes could be cruel and hard. For 17-year-old Somtochukwu Emmanuel Chiagorom and his sister, 13-year-old Nneoma Scholastica Chiagorom, they are served both in full measure.

Both are not only orphans but suffering from impaired hearing and are vocally impaired, which in local parlance is being deaf and dumb.

The siblings lost their father 10 years ago and in 2016, had the double misfortune of losing their mother to the cold hands of death. Their only strong pillar of strength was gone and their world came crashing with no one else to share their pains with.

Nneoma (left) and Somtochukwu

After many days and nights of stuttering to themselves, ‘God, why us?’, they gradually began to come to terms with their realities in the heart of the Kirikiri town ghetto, Apapa area of Lagos State under the care of the frail hands of their maternal grandmother, Mrs. Catherine Eze.

When The Guardian visited the duo in their one-room apartment, nothing betrayed the harsh life they have experienced in their short years. Though a bit withdrawn, they looked intently on, watching the grimaces on everyone in the room, which included a sign interpreter, Mrs. Patience Yekini and two family members, as if waiting for their turns to join the conversation, as their grandma told their life’s story.

Mrs. Catherine Eze

“He no dey easy at all, na only God dey help us. I just had an eye operation. That is why I need help from government and the public to lift this burden off me, which I have been carrying all alone for the past two years,” Grandma Eze said.

Somtochukwu is a JSS 2 student of State Junior Grammar School, Surulere and Nneoma is a Primary Four pupil of Amuwo Odofin Primary School. They are both doing very well academically.

The guy is very intelligent despite his handicap, while his sister has more interest in vocational skills. They are desperate about their education and despite their challenge, want to complete their secondary school and advance further.

Somtochukwu is presently the captain of his class. He is shy and finds it hard to communicate but his sister is more social. She tries to speak by picking up little words.

Surprisingly, when in his element, Somtochukwu is a delight to behold, apart from his dexterity in sports; he is good with fixing electrical appliances and wiring people’s houses. Both don’t have difficulty playing with their peers.

It is a struggle for Grandma Eze to provide means for the only thing they derive joy from, which is going to school as transportation to the two special schools they are attending costs N1,000 daily, excluding feeding, which makes it N1,500.

It would cost their aged caregiver about N180,000 alone, excluding school fees, just to keep them in school for a term of 120 days; reason they seek the public’s help in making their life meaningful.

Catherine Eze can be reached on 08066455315 and her bank details are: First Bank, Catherine Eze, 3054056276.

Lessons missed in Yusuf, Boko Haram founder’s death nine years after

By Tope Templer Olaiya

ON July 30, 2009, the Nigerian Police Force summarily executed Mohammed Yusuf, founder of the dreaded militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, then aged 39. Nine years after, it has turned out to be an ‘unforced error’ in one of the unending incidences of extrajudicial killings that is hurting the nation dearly.
Security forces had hunted door-to-door for the Islamic militants after killing more than 100 of them by storming the sect’s compound in Borno State. The military captured Yusuf at his parents-in-law’s house. They transferred him to the custody of the Nigerian Police. The police summarily executed Yusuf in public view outside the police headquarters in Maiduguri.
Police officials claimed Yusuf was shot while trying to escape. Abubakar Shekau took over Boko Haram following Yusuf’s death. At thew time of his death, Yusuf had four wives and 12 children, one of them being Abu Musab al-Barnawi, who has claimed since 2016 to be the rightful leader of Boko Haram, opposing Shekau.
Today, the home of Yusuf is to be turned into a museum, in the hope it will boost tourism in the area by the Borno State government. The state is also considering plans to transform the Sambisa forest – the group’s base – into a tourist centre. But critics say the plans risk immortalising the Boko Haram founder. About 20,000 people have been killed in the group’s eight-year insurgency, with dozens still dying in deadly attacks on a regular basis.

Mohammed Bulama, Borno Commissioner for Home Affairs, Information and Culture, told reporters in November 2017 that the house in Maiduguri would become a museum “where all the things that had happened relating to the insurgency will be archived. We want to document and archive all that had happened so that our future generation will be able to have first hand information,” he said.
At the moment, save for the capital in Maiduguri, many parts of Borno is still an active theatre of war with security forces repelling attacks from the insurgents.
Yusuf began the group in 2002, focusing on opposing Western education. It was not for another seven years that it launched its military operations in an attempt to create an Islamic state. Since then, the group, which officially is called Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, meaning “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”, has spread into neighbouring countries.
Boko Haram, literally ‘Western Education is Sin’, has been one of the deadly terrorist groups, not only in Nigeria but in the world. In 2014, the group overtook ISIS as the world’s most deadly terrorist organisation, after series of beheadings, bombings, kidnappings, and other terrorist activities. Shortly after, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS, also known as the Islamic State. This led to the breakout of the group into two factions, the Shekau group and the al-Barnawi gang.

Before the end of 2015, Boko Haram had conquered and captured more than one-third of the Borno and Yobe states local government areas and instituted its own violent interpretation of sharia law. The insurgency dislocated social and economic activities in the North-Eastern and some parts of the North-Western Nigeria that resulted in over 20,000 deaths while displacing more than three million people.
Born in Girgir village, in Jakusko, present-day Yobe State, Yusuf received a local education. Later he studied more of Islam and became a Salafi. As a young man, Yusuf was strongly influenced by the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah and studied theology at the University of Medina, Saudi Arabia.
Upon his return, he violently criticised the Federal Government and believed in the strict application of Islamic law, which represented his ideal of justice according to the teachings of the Prophet. In a 2009 BBC interview, Yusuf stated his belief that the concept of a spherical Earth is contrary to Islamic teaching and should be rejected. He also rejected Darwinian evolution theory and the concept of the condensation cycle that produces rain.
In the interview he said: “There are prominent Islamic preachers who have seen and understood that the present Western-style education is mixed with issues that run contrary to our beliefs in Islam, like rain. We believe it is a creation of God rather than an evaporation caused by the sun that condenses and becomes rain; or like saying the world is a sphere. If it runs contrary to the teachings of Allah, we reject it. We also reject the theory of Darwinism.”
What then led to the uprising in 2009 that marked the turning point of the deadly sect? Boko Haram members were en route to bury a comrade at the cemetery in Maiduguri. The police officers, part of a special operation to suppress violence and rampant crime in Borno, demanded that the young men comply with a law requiring motorcycle passengers to wear helmets.
They refused and, in the confrontation that followed, police shot and wounded several of the men. On July 28, Nigerian troops surrounded the home of Yusuf in Maiduguri, after his followers had barricaded themselves inside. On July 30, the military captured Yusuf and transferred him to the custody of the police.

According to a young scholar, Aliyu Dahiru Aliyu, Boko Haram, officially ‘Jama’at Ahlussnnah Lid Da’awati Wal Jihad’ (Ahlussunnah Group for Preaching and Combat), can be traced back to 2001, when some unknown militants appeared in some Northern states, especially Yobe and Kano, who were then called Yan Taliban.
“The group called Nigerian government ‘thaghut’ (an Arabic term that means ungodly or satanic). The people that would later be called Boko Haram, started becoming popular after they attacked a local government secretariat and police station in Kanamma, Borno in 2003. The group then moved to Gwoza, where they took the town as their training underground camp.
“Yusuf, Boko Haram leader, who before his death was a student of another popular salafi cleric, Sheikh Ja’afar Mahmoud Adam, started preaching violence in the mosque he named after the 13th century controversial scholar, Ibn Taimiyya. He embarked upon aggressive preaching mission between 2004 and 2009 and started to win the heart of the Maiduguri youth and attracting them to the Markaz Ibn Taimiyya.
“In 2009, the terror squad started to launch attacks in various cities and villages in Northern Nigeria. The primary motive of Boko Haram is to institute a caliphate in the region and to continue conquering lands as it is in the slogan of its terror mother ISIS.”
Recent developments have however shown that the Federal Government has learned little lessons from the growth and expansion of religious sects in the country. Barely two weeks ago, a new religious sect known as Hakika emerged in Toto Local Government Area of Nasarawa State. The group, with members claiming to be Islamist saints, is currently occupying a large expanse of the forest in the area.

At a meeting in Lafia, Alhaji Isah Agwai, the Emir of Lafia, who is also the chairman of the State Traditional Council of Chiefs, expressed dismay over the activities of the group and cautioned residents to be wary. Speaking also, the Secretary General of the state Ja’martu Nasil Islam, Ahmed Ali, said the doctrines of the group were not Islamic.
“They have the kind of religious belief which I think is not Islam; they don’t believe in Quran, they don’t believe in any of the doctrines that Allah talked about in the Quran,” Ali said.
On his part, Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Security Matters, Brigadier General Muhammad Adika(retd), said: “It is believed that some of them are those running away from Zamfara State as a result of the pressure and have concentrated themselves in an expanse of land, which is highly forested.”
Also, there is tension in Kaduna State ahead of Thursday’s August 2 resumption of the trial of the leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky at the state High Court. At his last day in court on July 11, messages of possible violence by Zakzaky’s followers were being circulated on WhatsApp, advising residents to avoid some areas in the city, as the IMN members, also known as Shiites, were allegedly planning “a big attack” during the trial.
But the spokesman of the IMN, Ibrahim Musa, dismissed the message, saying it was false. Musa maintained that the message was being peddled by the detractors of the IMN, including the security agencies.

At Zakzaky’s court appearance on June 21, his followers allegedly killed a policeman during a clash. Zakzaky has been in detention, alongside his wife, for over two years following a clash between his followers and the Nigerian Army in Zaria, in December 2015. He was charged with unlawful gathering, criminal conspiracy and culpable homicide, punishable with death.
At the root of the crisis is religious extremism upon which religious terrorism is built. The other loopholes that are exploited are poor economy (the wider gap between the rich and the poor in Nigeria) and poor governance associated with corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government officials. Religious conviction and the extremists’ interpretation of Islam are two among the most important triggers of terrorism in Nigeria.
Nigeria may see the emergence of another Boko Haram if it turns a blind eye and allow extremists continue propagating their own interpretation of religion, of war and bloodshed. Preaching should be regulated and religious hate speech should be curbed and countered before it reaches the point of becoming religious terrorism.
Also, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, recently noted that no unjustly treated man would be interested in embracing peace if nothing is done to ensure that every segment of the society is given a sense of belonging. Ekweremadu, advocated justice, dialogue, and tolerance as key instruments for building peace at all levels of the society.
According to the Deputy Senate President, mankind was “besieged by a groundswell of intolerance, injustice, racial discrimination, and ethnic hatred, leading to violence, conflicts, extremism, terrorism, insurgency, and all forms of restiveness.”
Ekweremadu spoke at the first procedural session of the International Parliament for Tolerance and Peace (IPTP), which was launched in Valetta, Malta, early this month. The lawmaker, appointed by the Global Council for Tolerance and Peace (GCTP) as a founding member of the IPTP and Nigeria’s representative at the parliament, urged governments to always toe the path of dialogue, rather than force in resolving issues.


Reality versus scorecard in Buhari’s declining rating

By Tope Templer Olaiya
May 29, 2018, Nigeria’s Democracy Day, was planned to be another chest-thumping occasion marking the third year of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration of change and 19 years of return to democracy, but it turned out to be a rude reality check for the administration.

The day began well from Aso Rock, the seat of power at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, with the president’s national broadcast, where Buhari highlighted his achievements and plans for the next year, the last of his four-year term.

Buhari said his administration came at a time Nigerians needed change, which he is delivering, especially in the three cardinal points of his administration – security, corruption and the economy. He said the capacity of the Boko Haram insurgents had been degraded by his government, leading to release of captives, including 106 Chibok and 104 Dapchi girls, and over 16,000 other persons held by the terrorist group.

He called for utmost sense of fairness, justice and peaceful co-existence ahead of the 2019 general election to have a hitch-free elections as well as a credible and violence-free process. He added that in a few days to come, he would be joined by some promising young Nigerians to sign into law the ‘Not Too Young to Run’ Bill, which he later did two days after.

Angry reactions immediately followed the Democracy Day broadcast, especially as most respondents said the president failed woefully on many fronts. Tackling the issue of insecurity, the Anglican Bishop of Okigwe South, Rt. Rev. David O. C. Onuoha, noted that far greater percentage of Nigerians live in fear of the country’s direction.

“The fears are heightened daily by news coming from the print, electronic and social media, as well as what the eyes can see about the growing level of insecurity in the land. Though Boko Haram has, according to the Federal Government, been decimated and degraded to the point that they no longer occupy territories in Nigeria, I am terribly disturbed that they are still wasting precious human lives and property. The menace of killer herdsmen and their manifest proclivity for killing people in scores, destroying farmland and sacking communities are unprecedented. That they carry sophisticated weapons, operate freely, openly and escape prosecution, is as disturbing as it is intriguing,” Bishop Onuoha fumed.

The voices from the streets also did not spare the Buhari administration. In Lagos State, citizens from all walks of life who last week told The Guardian of their hopes and fears about Nigeria, expressed dissatisfaction over the state of the nation. While they agreed that the nation had been consistent in achieving a democratic rule since 1999, they, however, chided the government for their incompetence in delivering the dividends of democracy to the people.

Despite scoring itself high on its achievements in the past three years, a new poll conducted ‘amongst 4,000 Nigerians’ last week rated President Buhari’s performance below average. According to the poll, he failed Nigerians in his three cardinal campaign promises: Corruption, Security and Economy. The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) launched ‘Buharimeter’ to track the delivery of Buhari’s campaign promises to Nigerians. According to CDD, this year’s poll was conducted in May by telephone amongst 4,000 respondents across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. The poll revealed that 40 per cent of Nigerians approve of the president’s performance while 44 per cent disapprove, with the remaining 16 per cent being indifferent.

“This implies that the president is rated below average by Nigerians. The president’s approval rating of 40 per cent marks a decline of 17 per cent from 57 per cent rating recorded in the 2017 Buharimeter National Survey,” it said.As if that didn’t reflect popular opinion enough, former Vice President and presidential hopeful, Atiku Abubakar, handed President Buhari a crushing defeat in another online poll conducted by the president’s own consultant.

A flurry of polls largely promoted by pro-Buhari influencers sprung up shortly after the administration marked its third anniversary on May 29. In the first poll conducted by Mark Essien via his Twitter handle @markessien, Atiku polled 43 per cent while Buhari trailed him with 35 per cent. But in the second the poll conducted by @YNaija, Atiku polled 70 per cent versus Buhari’s dismal 19 per cent. The other participants in the poll, Prof. Kingsley Moghalu and Mr. Fela Durotoye polled six and five per cent respectively.

The poll, which commenced on May 29 and ended 11:00p.m. of June 1 asked respondents: “Which of them will have your vote, if you had to vote today?” At the end of the voting of 7,444 respondents, seven out of every 10 respondents representing about 5,210 settled for Atiku compared to Buhari’s vote of 1,414; Moghalu’s 446 and Durotoye’s 372. The outcome of the poll by YNaija, a youth blog run by Red Media, which played a major role in Buhari’s media during the 2015 elections, is a reflection of result of the latest poll by NOI/Gallup Poll, which saw Buhari’s rating dip to 41 per cent.

Against the run of play of public opinion and ratings however, the Buhari administration’s third year report/factsheet says otherwise. On the economy, the report says the economic growth is back and consolidating after the recession of 2016-2017. The administration’s priority sectors of agriculture and solid minerals maintained consistent growth throughout the recession.

Inflation has fallen for the 15th consecutive month from 18.7 per cent in January 2017 to 12.5 per cent as of April 2018; External Reserves of US$47.5 billion are the highest in five years, and double the size as of October 2016; in 2017, agriculture exports grew 180.7 per cent above the value in 2016; Nigeria’s stock market ended 2017 as one of the best-performing in the world, with returns in excess of 40 per cent; five million new taxpayers were added to the tax base since 2016, as part of efforts to diversify government revenues; tax revenue increased to N1.17 trillion in first quarter of 2018, a 51 per cent increase on the Q1 2017 figure; and N2.7 trillion was spent on infrastructure in 2016 and 2017, an unprecedented allocation in Nigeria’s recent history.

On investment in people, the Buhari factsheet listed four components of its Social Investment Programme (SIP), which have already taken off. The SIP is the largest social safety net programme in the history of Nigeria, with N140 billion released and more than nine million direct beneficiaries so far – 200,000 N-Power beneficiaries currently participating and receiving N30,000 in monthly stipends, with another 300,000 new enrolments being processed, to take the number to 500,000 this year.

Second is the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP). N15.183 billion in interest-free loans ranging from N50,000 to N350,000 have been disbursed to more than 300,000 market women, traders, artisans, and farmers across all 36 states of the country and the FCT. In November 2017, GEEP was chosen as the pilot programme for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Policy Innovation Unit in Nigeria.

Another of its SIP is the Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSFP), covering currently, a total of 8.2 million pupils in 45,394 public primary schools across 24 states. Over 80,000 direct jobs have since been created from the School Feeding Programme, with 87,261 cooks engaged in the 24 states. Lastly is the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) with 297,973 families benefiting from the scheme, which pays N5,000 monthly to the poorest and most vulnerable households in the country.

For security, while Nigerians have lost count of incessant attacks and galloping death toll across the country, owing majorly to herdsmen/farmers’ conflict, the Buhari’s scorecard list the following: In the Northeast, revitalization of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), aimed at combating trans-border crime and the Boko Haram insurgency; resumption of public secondary schools in Borno State in 2016 after two years of closure; reopening of Maiduguri-Gubio and Maiduguri-Monguno roads; capture of Boko Haram’s operational and spiritual headquarters, ‘Camp Zero’, in Sambisa Forest; return of more than a million displaced persons to their homes and communities across the Northeast; and release of more than 13,000 Boko Haram hostages, including 106 of the Chibok Girls abducted in April 2014, and 105 of the Dapchi Girls abducted in February 2018.

The report listed successful military operations across the country: Operation Lafiya Dole, and Operation Last Hold, to defeat Boko Haram, in the Northeast; Operation Whirl Stroke, operating in Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba and Zamfara states, to tackle the menace of armed herdsmen, cattle rustlers, communal militias, kidnappers and other bandits; Exercise Crocodile Smile I (September 2016) and II (October 2017) to curtail the menace of militant activities in the Niger Delta; Exercise Obangame, a multinational operation aimed at securing and protecting the Gulf of Guinea; Operation Awatse, a joint operation between the military and the police, in the South West, to flush out militants and pipeline vandals; and Exercise Python Dance I (November 2016) and II (September 2017) in the South East, to tackle kidnappers and militant elements.

The government notes that its anti-corruption crusade and corruption war has been hinged on the plank of its fiscal reforms aimed at plugging leakages, one of which is the new Whistleblowing Policy. The policy introduced by the Federal Ministry of Finance in December 2016 has since yielded the following in recoveries: N13.8 billion from tax evaders, and N7.8 billion, US$378million, £27,800 in recoveries from public officials targeted by whistleblowers.

The Ministry received a total of 8,373 communications on contract inflation, ghost workers, illegal recruitment and misappropriation of funds, as a result of the policy. Of this number, the Ministry has undertaken 791 investigations and completed 534. Ten are presently under prosecution and four convictions have been secured. There is also an increased oversight of MDAs. The National Economic Council (NEC), under the chairmanship of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, approved the audit of key federal revenue generating agencies, with revealing results: a total sum of N526 billion and US$21 billion underpaid to the Federation Account between 2010 and 2015.

NEC has now approved the extension of that audit to cover the period until June 2017. The administration is also addressing the issue of poor levels of remittance of operating surpluses by MDAs. From remitting only N51 million between 2010 and 2016, JAMB went on to remit N7.8 billion in 2017, and is on course to remit a similar amount in 2018. How this factsheet or its impact on citizens can halt or sway public opinion from dangerously going south, thereby eroding remnants of the already exhausted goodwill of this administration, will be seen in the next eight months in countdown to 2019 general elections.

Woman widowed by Boko Haram finds love in America

Seeing this American woman marrying again and rebooting her life was an emotional experience for me. When governments fail, God doesn’t. Hope is indeed the heart’s great quest and love it’s healing balm.

By Emmanuel Ogebe

With her son leading the bridal train as the little groom, the resplendent bride made her way into the packed Texan church in the United States of America to a different kind of wedding song. The lyrics: “God sent you to love and comfort me,” couldn’t be more apt. The bride, Sarah (name changed for her safety), was remarrying in America after Boko Haram killed her husband in Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria a few years before.
The wedding was on Martin Luther King holiday weekend this year, the holiday commemorating the civil rights icon who advocated for racial equality. However it was just days after US President Donald Trump made disparaging remarks about African immigrants’ (expletive) countries.
At the Houston wedding reception, I was seated next to a medical doctor and his wife, also a doctor (relatives of the bride.) To my left was a medical doctor and her kids (friends of the bride). The wedding guests in Houston were a true microcosm of highly educated Nigerian American immigrants. As lawyers, my wife and I were probably the least educated professionals on our table.
The Liberian American MC made a joke about this phenomenon, saying if you asked a Nigerian what they had studied, you were likely to hear: “I have a degree in Chemistry but I have gone back to earn a degree in Physics.” He pointed out for illustration that Sarah the bride had a degree in Finance and another degree in Nursing.
The crowd was a mix of family, friends, coworkers and members of the ethnic church where the couple served and met. A toast to the couple hinted that this all began when the Liberian groom served in the parking ministry of the church and helped Sarah find parking before service. After that, she was regularly needing parking assistance from one volunteer in particular….

Her marriage to a Liberian is especially intriguing. Her late husband had served in Liberia during a military Peace keeping mission to bring stability back to the war-torn country. The US supported that mission in view of its historical ties to Liberia founded by freed African American slaves. However the US relied on officers from Nigeria to be the boots on the ground in their place.
I met him in 2014. He had just finished a tour of duty fighting the terrorists in their north central hub. You could tell right away he was a consummate warrior – a soldier’s soldier. He had served in many peacekeeping missions in Liberia, Sierra Leone amongst others in his 25 military career. He had spent most of his life in the army having joined as a teen.
At his command, he barely slept, keeping ahead of the terrorists at their game of war. He inculcated friendships with the community using community policing as his key counterinsurgency strategy. This way he suppressed attacks before they happened. There was calm and tranquility during his three year duty tour.
As I shared about our work helping victims, unknown to me this officer and gentleman who was on a break to visit his family in the US, was in the audience. Even though he had himself sacrificed much including his family for the sake of the people, he still donated to our project.
His wife told me how when she’d visit him in Nigeria, sometimes she’d see pockmarks on his bulletproof vest. When she asked what happened, he’d remain silent…
On Christmas the following year, I met her again.
Months before, she’d gotten an abrupt four-word call from his batman. “Madam, Oga (boss) is dead.” It was the shortest most devastating phone call imaginable.
Mysteriously, only he died that day in the defence of the city of Maiduguri which came under a second attack in a week from Boko Haram terrorists. How they broke through his helmet, vest and protective gear is a puzzle but the bottom line is that they scored a major victory in taking out this Lieutenant Colonel who had frustrated numerous attacks over the years.
His widow looked at me and said, wistfully: “I told him to join me in the US and leave the army.” She says if he had been here, those wounds were recoverable – she sees far more trauma cases. She is a nurse, you see.

But the nightmare of widowhood is far worse than you’d expect. Widows continue to be deprived matrimonial property under ignominious disinheritance practices in Nigeria. Then there are demands to engage in burial rituals that can be unwholesome. Worse still, is getting the government to process death benefits for the families of heroes who died in service of their fatherland.
She had to work on Christmas Day and couldn’t find childcare for her kids.
If only he were here…if only he’d agreed to come to America! He sacrificed too much, she said. The army was his life and the army was his death. But the army appreciated him only in life and not in death when he could no longer be used.
Even in his final battle when he radioed for back up from a borrowed radio because his wasn’t working, no reinforcements came…
I told her that in every generation, there are people who must sacrifice more than most for the good of all. Someone has to do it for our common humanity. Many go through life oblivious of the sacrifices these heroes make on our behalves.
I tried to encourage her that there are countless people alive today because of her husband’s efforts. A lot of what we do on earth will ultimately be measured in eternity and that’s what counts the most.
As I tucked her kids into their car seats, I said to myself: this is what he would have been doing if he was home for Christmas. The families of our servicemen and women make sacrifices just as though they themselves are in the battlefield. In fact they worry more from not knowing…
She didn’t get to have his body for burial. The army kept it for speedy burial in the north where he was killed – not his hometown in southern Nigeria.
She didn’t get his wedding ring back, nor the matching gold chain which he had purchased for them both.
She has no souvenir left of him but the boy and girl who are too young to understand that dad traveled to Nigeria for work and isn’t home for Christmas and is never coming back…
I have brought more victims of Boko Haram to the US than anyone. I am in touch with many survivors.

Seeing this American woman married to a Nigerian officer suddenly have her life turned upside down was a new experience for me but it brought it real close to home. I know of no other widow of the Boko Haram insurgency in the US.
Her late husband, a Lieutenant Colonel was Killed In Combat by Boko Haram in February 2015, almost three years before Sarah remarried. Sadly his death benefits and life insurance as well as scholarships for their two children have not been paid years later by the government of Nigeria and its contractual parties. I offered to serve as her pro bono lawyer to obtain the death benefits but the bureaucratic bottleneck is such that I was limited in what legal options to employ. I have seldom felt so helpless!
Thinking back on her wedding song: “God sent you to love and comfort me,” that is the true redeeming grace in what would otherwise have been a heartbreaking story.
Seeing this American woman marrying again and rebooting her life was an emotional experience for me. When governments fail, God doesn’t. Hope is indeed the heart’s great quest and love it’s healing balm. I admit it, I teared up during the wedding – overwhelmed by God’s solution to this situation.

. Written by Emmanuel Ogebe, an International Human Rights Lawyer and Victims’ Advocate.

‘We can no longer pay for darkness’

• Lagos communities revolt, bemoan outage, ‘crazy’ billing

• How consumers can calculate electricity consumed

• ‘We will disconnect any community once we perceive violence’

By Tope Templer Olaiya, Metro Editor

Post 1

The trees dotting the corporate headquarters of Ikeja Electric (IE) on Obafemi Awolowo Way, Alausa in Ikeja, Lagos State have other uses besides providing shelter from the scorching sun. The sprawling trees, otherwise known as Abe-igi have become synonymous with Ojota’s Freedom Park, which in 2012, hosted two weeks of fierce protest against petrol subsidy removal.

Every other week, a group of exasperated electricity consumers, disenfranchised communities or disgruntled former employees gather carrying placards and chanting protest songs to express their dissatisfaction with the services rendered by the distribution company (DisCos). Their major grouse bothers on non-supply of prepaid meters, issuance of outrageous estimated bills and epileptic power supply.

When residents of Onilekere, Onipetesi, Valley Estate, Santos Estate Phase I & II, recently thronged the IE office to protest against the poor state of a substation mega transformer that feeds about 20 smaller transformers in the four communities, they were dramatic, dressing in an all-black attire to reflect the blackout the communities were experiencing, and they went bold with their demands, insisting: ‘No prepaid meter, No payment’.

There are two slogans Nigerians love to doubt. The first is promoted by the Nigeria Police Force that ‘bail is free’. The second is ‘the customer is always right’. In Nigeria, the customer is not king. While interrupted supply of electricity has become part of our national life, the ugly experiences of electricity consumers – estimated crazy billings, abrupt disconnection of cables, neglect of communities in need of transformer repairs, ordeals of getting pre-paid meters and nonchalance of DisCos to consumers’ complaints – are an unending bane.

Post 2

In Iwowokekere, Ijede area of Lagos State, the community is at its wits end over failure of Ikeja Electric (IE) to energise the 33kv, 500kva transformer donated by the community since 2014. The community also lamented the high estimated bills imposed on consumers by the electricity company.

According to the chairman of Progressive Estate Community Development Association (PECDAS), Femi Ibrahim, the association has complained severally and written countless petitions on IE’s laissez faire attitude towards installing the transformer and restoring electricity to the community.

“We have remained in darkness for years, leading to incessant robbery attacks, and deprivation of economic activities in the area. We have invested emotional, physical, and financial expenses and commitment in the community only to suffer serious hardship of epileptic power supply from a single transformer used by over three communities,” he said.

Ijegun community in Lagos is still waiting on IE to repair the transformer in the area vandalised seven months ago to save them from perpetual power outage. Abimbola Alabi, a landlord in the area, said they had reported the case of vandalism of the transformer to the firm.

“Since the incident on May 3, the company has not made any effort to repair or replace it. We are left in darkness and this is really affecting us in the community. The outage has really affected socio-economic activities in the community. We were told until the community offset its backlog of bills before repair can be effected.”

Felix Ofulue, the Head, Corporate Communications Unit in IE, however said the company is aware of the outage. He added that they were collaborating with consumers in the affected areas to resolve the problem. He urged the communities affected to safeguard the company’s equipment in their areas, adding that the Ijegun community was notorious for frequent vandalism of power facilities.

Post 3.jpg

After being inundated by the plights of consumers, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) recently made the rights of every electricity consumer public, which are: All new electricity connections must be done strictly on the basis of metering before connection; unmetered customers should be issued with electricity bills strictly based on NERC’s estimated billing methodology; it is the customer’s right to be notified in writing ahead of disconnection of electricity service by the DisCo; it is not the responsibility of electricity customer or community to buy, replace or repair electricity transformers, poles and related equipment used in supply of electricity; and it is the customer’s right to contest any electricity bill.

Furthermore, NERC has instituted a mechanism to redress consumer complaints through the establishment of consumer forum offices across the country. The customer is expected to lodge a complaint with the DisCo. If the customer is not satisfied with the resolution, he can escalate the complaint to the consumer forum.

At the Ikeja NERC forum office located a stone throw from IE’s headquarters, customers come in trickles to file their complaints. The office then investigates it and if necessary calls for hearing with the DisCo.

When asked why there seems to be less activity at the forum office, an official simply identified as Chinedu, said activities are usually at a peak at the beginning of a new month when IE usually carries out its disconnection exercise.

“People usually don’t know their rights, so they resort to begging officials not to disconnect them and attempt to bribe them. We are busy because of the perception that IE is not treating customers well maybe due to the fact that it is the largest DisCo in the country with so many communities under its network. We have been able to resolve many community disputes.”

In a bid to assert their rights, 57 streets in Onipanu wrote to IE in September saying there will be no payment of bills until prepaid meters are installed. The residents of the 57 streets, on the platform of Concerned Residents Community, led by their chairman, Engr. Yusuf Usman, said they would no longer pay any bill without prepaid meters.

“We have dropped our letter. We could not meet with any of the managers. If they want dialogue, let them invite us. Otherwise, this is the end of paying bills for darkness. How can anyone justify the increase of a three-bedroom flat bill from N4,000 to N30,000? Our lawyer is preparing. We have been making attempts to talk to officials of the undertaking office and the headquarters since January without success.”

Post 4

Describing the estimated billing methodology as unfair and exploitative, president of Nigerian Consumer Protection Network, an advocacy group, Kunle Olubiyo, said the methodology is an incentive for DisCos not to invest in metering.

Metering statistics released by NERC in 2016 revealed that there were over six million customers with verified accounts throughout the country. While 3.3 million of them had meters, the other 2.7 million did not; hence they were placed on the estimated billing methodology.

Olubiyo also bemoaned the lack of understanding on how to properly calculate electricity bills among electricity consumers. “To calculate energy consumption costs, simply multiply the unit’s wattage by the number of hours you use to find the number of watt-hours consumed each day. For example, if you use a 60watt bulb for six hours per day, multiplying the wattage by the number of hours used means you are using 360 watt-hours per day, multiplied by the number of bulbs in your apartment.

“Electricity is measured in kilowatt hours. One kilowatt is equal to 1,000watts. Calculating how many kWh a particular device uses is as easy as dividing by 1,000. So, for the bulb with 360 watt-hours per day would be 0.36 kWh, multiplied by 30 days is 10.8kWh per month. Next is to check your bill to see how much you pay per kWh.

“For example, residential customers (R2) pay N25 per kilowatt-hour. By multiplying electricity rate by kWh, this will give an estimate of how much the bulb cost you. The above consumer spends N270 in electricity bills for a bulb monthly. If he has six bulbs, he will spend N1,620.

“To get the estimate of electricity consumed, check the wattage label of all the household appliances such as refrigerator, television, fan, iron, etc and work it out. So ideally, a regular flat with necessary appliances averaging 1,000watts on six hours of electricity daily should get an estimated bill of between N4,000 to N5,000. Anything higher than that is crazy and excessive,” he explained.

Post 5

Ofulue, IE’s Head of Corporate Communications, reacting to the allegations, said some complaints are beyond the firm. “Complaints like metering and power supply are things not within our control. The reason why we cannot meter everybody at the same time is because we cannot afford it. Thankfully, the regulators are doing something to address this. For instance, you can be consistently out of power for certain number of reasons, like a problem with transmission, during upgrade and overloaded feeders.

“That your bill is crazy is an assumption. There are methods of arriving at the estimation, part of which includes demographics. If a consumer feels his bill is crazy, take it to your business unit, our men will come to your house for a load assessment to measure what you use and if there is any need, it will be adjusted accordingly.

“We have defined channels for complaints and resolution. The moment you see a linesman, the guys who carry ladder and you make a complaint to him, you have not followed the right process. In fact, you are giving room for extortion. We have over 50 undertaking offices across our network, that should be the first level of complaints. It is when it cannot be resolved that it can be escalated to the business unit and in certain instances when such issues cannot be resolved, you can then escalate it to the head-office. All these take time. We have social media channels, but most times people come there to abuse us not to make a formal complaint,” he said.

In August 2017, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Projects (SERAP) released a 65-page report titled: ‘From darkness to darkness: How Nigerians are paying the price for corruption in the electricity sector,’ which detailed how over N11 trillion had been pumped into the power sector since 1999 without any result to show for it. The group also concluded that the perennial poor power supply in the country was proof of corruption in the power sector.

Post 6

SERAP Deputy Director, Mr. Timothy Adewale, a lawyer, has urged Nigerians to be abreast of their rights as consumers as enshrined in the 2005 NERC Act. According to him, under the Part VI, Section 80-81 of the Act titled Consumer Protection Standards, customers have a right to electricity supply and a properly installed meter.

“It is the customers right to be notified in writing ahead of disconnection of electricity service by the DisCo. The Commission also established standards for compensation to consumers who do not enjoy regular power supply. Something absolutely illegal that the DisCos do is to shut out a community entirely from electricity because of a few defaulters. Mass disconnection is absolutely unacceptable.”

When asked why some communities are shut out of power including those who are regularly paying their bills, Ofolue said it is a last resort strategy. “We disconnect any community once we perceive violence. Once there is a threat to life, we have to move away and shut the community down. A community in Lambe just protested at our head office against disconnection. You don’t want us to disconnect you, but you are not paying your bills and you are asking for prepaid meter. We can’t keep giving free light.

“It is not a regular case, it is not something you hear everyday. Why is it that it is only in the hinterlands that customers get violent against our staff. It is done only as an extreme measure. Many of the communities where this is rampant are in Ikorodu. They don’t want to pay and they prevent you from coming to disconnect those who are owing. Seventy per cent of the complaints come from Ikorodu. We know our customers; you can never hear these incidents in the cities.

“And on informing customers in writing before disconnecting them, see, we have disconnection orders but what these guys do is when you disconnect them, they engage artisans to reconnect them immediately we are gone. Let us be practical here so that we don’t get academic. We know what happens in the business. What rights are we talking about here? Most people believe that this electricity is a social entitlement.”

While the brickbats between DisCos and consumers persist, it is expected that NERC as the regulator would be alive to its responsibilities by expediting action on getting more consumers metered. Having barely three million metered consumers in a country with a population of over 180 million and nearly 36 million households (an average household size is five persons) is a far cry. It is also a good reason for inefficiency to thrive in the sector and extortion of consumers by DisCos’ officials.

And so, NERC should do a lot more to ensure DisCos comply with its regulations by promptly addressing the plight of many electricity consumers in the country.