The Phones No Longer Ring

By Reuben Abati

abati

As spokesman to President Goodluck Jonathan, my phones rang endlessly and became more than personal navigators within the social space. They defined my entire life; dusk to dawn, all year-round. The phones buzzed non-stop, my email was permanently active; my twitter account received tons of messages per second.   The worst moments were those days when there was a Boko Haram attack virtually every Sunday.

The intrusion into my private life was total as my wife complained about her sleep being disrupted by phones that never seemed to stop ringing. Besides, whenever I was not checking or responding to the phones, I was busy online trying to find out if the APC had said something contrary  or some other fellow was up to any mischief.

A media manager in the 21st  century is a slave of the Breaking News, a slave particularly of the 24-hour news cycle, and a potential nervous breakdown case. Debo Adesina, my colleague at  The Guardian  once said I was running a “one week, one trouble schedule”. There were actually moments when trouble knocked on the door every hour, and duty required my team and I to respond to as many issues that came up.

Top of the task list was the management of phone calls related to the principal. In my first week on the job, for example, one of my phones ran out of battery and I had taken the liberty to charge it. While it was still in the off mode, the “Control Room”: the all-powerful communications centre at the State House tried to reach me. They had only just that phone number, so I couldn’t be reached. When eventually they did, the fellow at the other end was livid.

“SA Media, where are you? We have been trying to reach you. Mr President wants to speak with you”

“Sorry, I was charging my phone.   The phone was off.”

“Sir, you can’t switch off your phone now.  Mr President must be able to reach you at any time. You must always be available.”   I was like: “really? Which kin job be dis?”

The Control Room eventually collected all my phone numbers. If I did not pick up a call on time, they called my wife. Sometimes the calls came directly from the Residence, as we referred to the President’s official quarters.

“Abati, Oga dey call you!”

If I still could not be reached, every phone that was ever connected to me would ring non-stop. Busy bodies who had just picked up the information that Abati was needed also often took it upon themselves to track me down. My wife soon got used to her being asked to produce me, or a car showing up to take me straight to the Residence. I eventually got used to it, and learnt to remain on duty round-the-clock.

In due course, President Jonathan himself would call directly. My wife used to joke that each time there was a call from him, even if I was sleeping, I would spring to my feet and without listening to what he had to say, I would start with a barrage of “Yes sirs”!

Other calls that could not be joked with were calls from my own office. Something could come up that would require coverage, or there could be a breaking story, or it could be something as harmless as office gossip, except that in the corridors of power, nothing is ever harmless.

Looking back now, I still can’t figure out how I survived that onslaught of the terror of the telephone.

Of equal significance were the calls from journalists who wanted clarifications on issues of the moment, or the President’s opinion. I don’t need to remind anyone who lived in Nigeria during the period, that we had a particularly interesting time. The Jonathan government had to deal from the very first day with a desperate and hyper-negative opposition, which gained help from a crowd of naysayers who bought into their narrative. I was required to respond to issues. Bad news sells newspapers and attracts listeners/viewers. Everything had to be managed.  You knew something had happened as the phones rang, and the text messages, emails, twitter comments poured in. The media could not be ignored. Interfacing with every kind of journalist was my main task.  I learnt many lessons,  a subject for another day.  And the busy bodies didn’t make things easy.

If in 1980, the media manager had to deal with print and broadcast journalists, today, the big task is the dilemma of the over-democratization of media practice in the age of information. The question used to be asked in Nigerian media circles: who is a journalist? Attempts were subsequently made to produce a register of professionals but that is now clearly an illusion. The media of the 21st Century is the strongest evidence we have for the triumph of democracy. Everybody is a journalist now, once you can purchase a phone or a laptop, or an ipad and you can take pictures, set up a blog, or go on instagram, linked-in, viber etc.

All kinds of persons have earned great reputation as editors and opinion influencers on social media where you don’t have to make sense to attract followers. The new stars and celebrities are not necessarily the most educated or knowledgeable, but those who, with 140 words or less, or with a picture or a borrowed quote, can produce fast-food type public intellectualism, or can excite with a little display of the exotic -Kadarshian, Nicki Minaj style.  But I was obligated to attend to all calls. The ones who didn’t receive an answer complained about Abati not picking their calls.

My defence was that most editors in Nigeria have correspondents in the State House. Every correspondent had access to me. There was no way I could be accused of not picking calls, and in any case, there were other channels: instagram, twitter direct message, email, and media assistants who could interface with me. But this was the main challenge: while in public office, people treat you as if you are at their mercy, they threaten to sabotage you and get you sacked, every phone call was a request with a price attached, you get clobbered; you are treated like you had committed a crime to serve your nation. Relatives and privileged kinsmen struggled with you to do the job – media management is that one assignment in which everyone is an expert even if their only claim to relevance is that they once had an uncle who was a newspaper vendor!

The thinking that anyone who opts to serve is there to make money in that famous arena for primitive accumulation partly accounts for this. And that takes me to those phone calls from persons who solicited for financial help as if there was a tree at the Villa that produced money. Such people would never believe that government officials don’t necessarily have access to money. They wanted to be assisted: to pay school fees, to settle medical bills, to build a house, purchase a car, complete an uncompleted building, or link them up with the President. Everybody wanted a part of the national cake and they thought a phone call was all they needed.  If you offered any explanation, they reminded you that you’d be better off on the lecture circuit. Businessmen also hovered around the system like bees around nectar.

But what to do? “Volenti non fit injuria,” the principle says.  There were also calls from the unkind lot. “I have called you repeatedly, you did not pick my calls. I hope you know that you will leave government one day!”.  Or those who told you point blank that they were calling because you were in the position as their representative and that you owed them a living.  Or that other crowd who said, “it is our brother that has given you that opportunity, you must give us our share!”

The Presidential election went as it did, and everything changed. Days after,  State House became Ghost House. The Residence, which used to receive visitors as early as 6 am, (regular early morning devotion attendees) became quiet. The throng of visitors stopped. The number of phone calls began to drop. By May 29, my phones had stopped ringing as they used to. They more or less became museum pieces; their silence reminding me of the four years of my life that proved so momentous. On one occasion, after a whole day of silence, I had to check if the phones were damaged! As it were, a cynical public relates to you not as a person, but as the office you occupy; the moment you leave office, the people move on; erasing every memory, they throw you into yesterday’s dustbin.  Opportunism is the driver of the public’s relationship with public officials.

Today, the phones remain loudly silent, with the exception of calls from those friends who are not gloating, who have been offering words of commendation and support. They include childhood friends, former colleagues, elderly associates, fans, and family members. And those who want interviews with President Jonathan, both local and international – they want his reaction on every development, so many of them from every part of the planet. But he is resting and he has asked me to say he is not ready yet to say anything. It is truly, a different moment, and indeed, “no condition is permanent.”

The ones who won’t give up with the stream of phone calls and text messages are those who keep pestering me with requests for financial assistance. I am made to understand that there is something called “special handshake” and that everyone who goes into government is supposed to exit with carton loads of cash. I am in no position to assist such people, because no explanation will make sense to them. Here I am, at the crossroads; I am glad to be here

 

 

 

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Buhari’s second coming and the audacity of Change

DawnBy Tope Templer Olaiya

THE dawn of change is here, after a long anticipated wait that lasted 59 days. Since the historic call made by former president Goodluck Jonathan to his successor on the afternoon of March 31 that simmered all post-election hostilities, all eyes had looked forward to today, May 29, with bated breath.
The transition was expected to be anything but smooth, considering that this is the first time in the nation’s history there would be a change of government from a political party to its bitterest rival. But it was a small hill to surmount for the people’s general, who had not only fought wars, but also swallowed the bitter pill of defeat, taking it in his stride after three straight routing in presidential elections.
The March 28 election was heralded with a vigorous, no-holds barred campaign either for ‘change’, as represented by General Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) or ‘continuity’ as proclaimed by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In a never-seen-before manner, blood-dripping and nail-biting crusades from both divides interrupted sanity and polluted the traditional media and social media space.
It was therefore somewhat of an anti-climax for the curtain to have fallen on the general elections in such dramatic fashion, hours before the umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Buhari as President-elect in the early hours of April 1.

Saybaba The 72-year old president has returned to power 30 years after a military coup masterminded by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (Rtd), his then Chief of Army Staff, sacked him as Nigeria’s military head of state. He has also equaled national statesman, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s enviable record of leading Africa’s most populous country at twice.
Buhari has also made history as the first opposition candidate in the nation’s political history to dislodge an incumbent president from power. He had contested for the highest office in 2003, as candidate of the defunct All Peoples Party (APP); in 2007 as candidate of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP); and in 2011 as candidate of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
Buhari is not a quitter, one virtue that would readily be required to salvage the country from the precipice of ruin. Defeated in the previous three attempts, he returned from self-imposed political retirement to contest for the highest office again, becoming victorious the fourth time, and bringing home the story of former United States president, Abraham Lincoln, who tasted several defeats at previous elections before getting to the Oval Office.
In 2003, Buhari lost to Olusegun Obasanjo in an election, which European Union (EU) observers reported was marked by widespread irregularities. He lost again to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2007, which was widely condemned for rampant rigging, violence, theft of ballot boxes and intimidation.
After Yar’Adua’s death in 2010, Jonathan rose from being vice president to president and squared up with Buhari for the first time in 2011. Buhari had formed the CPC a year earlier, saying it was “a solution to the debilitating, ethical and ideological conflicts in my former party, the ANPP.”
BabAfter Jonathan’s victory in 2011, amid accusations of rigging, riots broke out in the North. Armed protesters took to the streets chanting Buhari’s name. More than 800 people were killed in the post-election violence. Buhari issued a statement describing reports of burning of places of worship a sad, unfortunate and totally unwarranted development.
Ahead of this year’s election, Jonathan and Buhari signed a non-violence pact, known as the Abuja Peace Accord in January. On March 26, they renewed their pledge and reiterated their commitment to “free, fair and credible elections.”
Very popular among the poor in the north known as the Talakawas, Buhari was able to dislodge the PDP, which had dominated the political scene since the end of military rule in 1999, with the aid of heavyweight defectors from the PDP but principally the triumph of people power, which like an opera orchestra, loudly chorused Change.
With his military background and spartan credentials, the ‘Change’ campaign was able to warm up to many Nigerians, who felt he possesses just what the country needs to get to grips with not only the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency in the north, but the financial recklessness that characterized the Jonathan years.
A Muslim from Daura in Katsina State, who has given his support to Sharia in the north, Buhari has previously had to deny allegations that he has a radical Islamist agenda. This posed a problem for him in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 polls, when he failed to secure much support among Christians in the south. But haven escaped an attack on his convoy in Kaduna in July 2014, which bore all the hallmarks of a Boko Haram assassination attempt, he has promised to end the insurgency within months.
Bab2In 1983, Major-General Buhari and Major-General Tunde Idiagbon were selected to lead the country by middle and high-ranking military officers after a successful military coup d’etat that overthrew civilian President Shehu Shagari on December 31.
In 1985, Buhari was himself overthrown in a coup led by Babangida on August 27th, and other members of the ruling Supreme Military Council (SMC) were sacked ostensibly, because Buhari insisted on investigating allegations of fraudulent award of contracts in the Ministry of Defence.
His first sojourn in power was a period remembered for strict campaign against indiscipline and corruption. The verdict on the president’s first coming is mixed. About 500 politicians, officials and businessmen were jailed as part of a campaign against waste and corruption.
Some saw this as the heavy-handed repression of military rule. But others remember it as a praiseworthy attempt to fight the endemic graft that prevented Nigeria’s development. He retains a rare reputation for honesty among Nigeria’s politicians, both military and civilian, largely because of this campaign.
It is on this plank of untainted record that so much expectation has been dumped on the president by millions of Nigeria, including those who campaigned vigorously and voted against him. The burden of expectation is enormous at the least and outlandish at best. Something akin to turning stone into bread or water into petrol or as widely circulated on social media, making the dollar at par to the naira.
Buh3In summary, Nigerians expect Buhari, starting from today, to do all the things Jonathan didn’t do, and that expectations to be modest, is arduous.
In specifics, one Prince Ajibola Adebayo Odusanya expects the newly sworn-in president to do the following: restructure the power sector, sanitise the oil sector, create jobs for graduates, construct good roads, reduce salaries and allowances of senators, House of Representatives members and ministers, rebuild natural resources to make the country not depend solely on oil and revamp the educational system to standards attained in developed countries.
Buhari’s campaign was also fiercely anti-corruption. He ran to office under the slogan of “new broom,” the symbol of the APC as against the ruling party’s symbol of an umbrella.
The first litmus test for the Buhari presidency will be the colour of his cabinet, which will shape the direction of his administration. In this new age of political awareness where the voter is king, the president would not have for 2019 to know the people’s verdict. The change administration would be assessed right from its first 100 days in office.
The president’s 100 days covenant with Nigerians has been classified into several sub-heads, which include corruption and governance, insurgency and insecurity, Niger Delta, diversity, health, agriculture, management of the economy for prosperity, industrial relations, power, and youth and ICT development.
The first few sentences of the covenant on corruption and governance really excite Nigerians, where the president in a pre-election document had pledged to: “publicly declare my assets and liabilities; encourage all my appointees to publicly declare their assets and liabilities as a pre-condition for appointment. All political appointees will only earn the salaries and allowances determined by the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Allocation Commission (RMFAC); work with the leadership of the National Assembly and the judiciary to cut down the cost of governance and present a National Anti-corruption Strategy.”
The promised change has arrived on a fresh clean sheet of unadulterated goodwill. How this open cheque handed to the president by millions of expectant Nigerians will be spent will be the defining moment of Buhari’s second coming and his place in posterity.

 

 

 

Deepening Nigeria’s democracy with presidential debate

By Tope Templer Olaiya
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Nigerians across the world will on Sunday, March 22, be treated to an interesting spectacle void of hot air that has pervaded the 2015 electioneering campaigns. It is the Nigeria Elections Debate Group (NEDG) presidential debate.
With bated breath, Nigerians look forward to seeing the best and worst from not just the leading presidential candidates, President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd.), the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, but a roll call of all 18 presidential candidates standing for March 28 election.
Followers of Lagos Governorship Debate already have their appetites whet to the stimulating engagement expected to herald the live debate.
The expectation is high because the entire country is the panel and though actual measurement of impact may be tentative, especially in a developing country where there are challenges of illiteracy and access to mass media, the performance of the candidates ordinarily reshapes the conversation and can significantly influence voters’ choice.
The essence of a presidential debate would be fully appreciated in a society where the people see it as an opportunity to evaluate the policies, preparedness and demeanour of those who seek to govern them. It must, however, also be warned that a great leader may not be the best of debaters.

Buhari and Jonathan

Buhari and Jonathan

Chairman of the NEDG and Director General of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Mr. Sola Omole, during his sensitization visit to The Guardian newspaper, said the debate, which will be held in three sessions, 12noon-2pm, 3pm-5pm, and 7pm-9pm, will be broadcasted to over 300 million audiences across the world.
Omole, during his visit to The Guardian, said the mission of the NEDG is to ensure the debate process becomes a strong component of Nigeria’s democracy. “All over the world, this is what happens before any presidential elections. We want to make the debate culture a part of our growing democracy and we have initiated discussions with the National Assembly to propose a bill in order to legalize presidential debates ahead of general elections.”
The culture of televised presidential debates is one of the many cultures that were copied from the United States of America (USA).
The first ever debate in the USA between rivals for elective political office can be traced to 1857 when Abraham Lincoln insisted on having a debate with Stephen Douglas on “the virtue of the republic and the evil of slavery”. Abraham Lincoln lost that election but a history in political debating had already been made.
Lincoln would later win the presidency in 1860, in an election, which featured no political debates. In fact, there were no debates between presidential candidates until 1952.
The culture of televised debate would later become formalised with the televised debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. The handsome and more charismatic John Kennedy won the televised debate while an earlier radio debate had been won by Nixon. Nixon was said to have appeared rather “shifty” on television and that contributed to his loss of the election.
If televised debates could prove the downfall of a candidate who otherwise could have won in an election, why bother to participate in it? President Lyndon Johnson refused to debate with Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964; he was leading in the polls, and public speaking was not his forte.
Just as John McCain was about to do in one of his 2008 presidential debates when he said he was attending to legislative matters in Congress, President Jimmy Carter in 1980, refused to participate in the first presidential debate because it included independent candidate John Anderson.

MKO Abiola (waving) and Tofa (left) at 1993 debate

MKO Abiola (waving) and Tofa (left) at 1993 debate

He, however, attended subsequent debates and that memorable question by Ronald Reagan did him great damage: “Are Americans better off today than they were four years ago?” The state of the economy and the American hostage crisis in Iran suggested it was the right question that would nail the coffin of the Carter presidency.
On the home turf, the highpoint of Nigeria’s experience with presidential debates and the last time Nigerians enjoyed something really close to an exciting debate was during the 1993 presidential elections. It was a memorable encounter between the late Chief MKO Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC).
At the end of that debate, it was clear who among the duo was better experienced, much more intellectually capable and more endearing to the electorate in terms of readiness for the job being applied for. That is what a debate, under these circumstances, is: a job interview.
Unfortunately, there won’t be a remake of the 1993 feeling. Voters would be denied this opportunity for comparison, assessment, interaction, excitement and drama that comes with a debate of any sort, as Buhari announced on Tuesday that he be shunning the debate on Sunday.
It would be recalled that the APC had said it will not participate in the previously scheduled public debates on national television and radio stations organised by the NEDG, long before the elections were postponed from February 14 to March 28. The party had alleged that NEDG, which is co-ordinating the debate, was fraught with fundamental errors from the outset, according to Malam Garba Shehu, the Director Media and Publicity of the APC Campaign Organisation.
Clarifying his stance, Buhari, in an interactive session with journalists, said there was nothing worth debating with the president, which has failed to live up to the expectations of Nigerians. According to him, the mere fact that Jonathan had to rely on Chad, Niger and Cameroun to tackle the menace of Boko Haram speaks volume of the failure of the PDP-led administration.

Jonathan debating alone during the NESG 2011 edition

Jonathan debating alone during the NESG 2011 edition

Reacting, the Director of Media and Publicity of the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, Femi Fani-Kayode, claimed the APC took the decision to boycott the debate simply to shield from Nigerians and the international audience its candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari’s intellectual laziness and inability to constructively engage contemporary national issues in a live television and radio debate.
It is not only political gladiators that are bothered about the seeming intransigence of Buhari to debate with Jonathan as the two leading contenders for the 2015 presidential elections. Citizens like Niran Akintunde are also showing similar concern and what it portends to the electioneering process.
In his Facebook post recently, Akintunde said: “Yes, I am supporting Buhari but ask me what does my candidate think about local government autonomy or creation of state police, I would not know. This is really a shame, I must admit. But beyond rhetoric, both Buhari and Jonathan have really not helped Nigerians to be able to decide wisely.
“I expect the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to make political debates compulsory as part of the electioneering process in the interest of the electorates because at the moment, mediocrity is found in both the Jonathan and Buhari camps.”

Shekarau, Ribadu and Buhari during the NN24 2011 presidential debate

Shekarau, Ribadu and Buhari during the NN24 2011 presidential debate

Many political watchers have complained to a great length the seeming absence of issues in the campaigns of the two leading political parties. Sadly, in the few days before March 28, the campaigns might never rise beyond the present disenchanted state, which is focusing greatly on personalities rather than issues. They argued that only a presidential debate would change the narrative.
Reacting to concerns by the APC, who had earlier pulled out of the debate earlier scheduled for February 8 over the integrity of the process, Sola Omole said efforts have been made by organisers to make the debate credible.
“The debate platform, which is designed by the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) comprises of all radio and television stations across the country. With our over 300 membership, it is going to be the largest broadcasting session ever.
“Over 4,000 questions were sent in from across the world and it has been polled and vetted by our technical team to avoid repetition. The questions have been kept secret from our panelists, which would only be delivered to them minutes before the debate begins. At the same time, it is the same questions that will be asked from all the contestants, while the debate is going to be aired live so there would be no filtering.”
The chairman of the debate group added that the contact committee of NESG has been in touch with the APC leaders to carry them along and explain the whole process of the debate. He, however, noted that with or without the APC participating in the debate, it would still go on as scheduled on Sunday.

Neglecting Lagos

By Eric Teniola
NIGERIA is not the first country to move its capital, but Nigeria must be one of the few countries that has abandoned its old capital.

L9Parana was the former capital of Argentina before it was moved to Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro was former capital of Brazil before it was moved to Brasilia,Salvador da Bahia was former capital before it was moved to Rio de Janeiro, Jauja was former capital of Peru before it was moved to Lima, Coro was former capital of Venezuela before it was moved to Caracas, Caparra was former capital of Puerto Rico before it was moved San Juan, Old Road Town was former capital of Saints Kitts before it was moved to Basseterre, Granada was former capital of Nicaragua before it was moved to Managua, Cartago was former of Costa Rica before it was to move to San Jose, James Town was former capital of Barbados before it was moved to Bridge Town, Russell was former capital of New Zealand before it was moved to Auckland, Levuka was former capital of Fiji before it was moved to Suva, Krakow was former capital of Poland before it was moved to Warsaw. Kragujevac was former capital of Serbia before it was moved to Belgrade, Kharkiv was former capital of Ukraine before it was moved to Kiev, Dares Salaam was former capital of Tanzania before it was moved to Dodoma in 1996, Nanking was former capital of the Republic of China before it was moved to Beijing, Kandy was former capital of Sri Lanka before it was moved to Colombo, Karachi was former capital of Pakistan before it was moved to Islamabad, Mandalay was former capital of Myanmar (Burma) before it was moved Rangoon, Calcutta was former capital of India before it was moved to New Delhi, Diriyah was former capital of Saudi Arabia before it was moved to Riyadh, Gondar was capital of Ethiopia before it moved to Addis Abba, Zomba was capital of Malawi before it was moved to Lilongwe, Aneho was former capital of Togo before it was moved to Lome,Bolama was former capital of Guinea-Bissau before it moved to Bissau and Al-Askarwas former capital of Egypt in centuries ago before it was moved to Cairo.

WelcomeThere are numerous examples of old capitals but none was abandoned by the central government, except of course, Nigeria.
On August 7, 1975, the then Head of State, General Murtala Ramat Mohammed (1938-1976) inaugurated a five man panel on the creation of more states in the country. The committee was headed by Justice Ayo Gabriel Irikefe (1922-1996). It was the panel that increased the number of states in Nigeria from twelve (12) to nineteen (19). Justice Irikefe later became the ninth Chief Justice of the Federation between (1985-1987).

Two days later on August 9, 1975, General MurtalaMohammed inaugurated another committee on the new Federal Capital for the country. The committee was headed by the former Chief Justice of Botswana, late Justice Timothy Akinola Aguda (1923-2001).

Dr.Aguda,who later became the Director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, was from Akure in Ondo state. Other members of the committee were Dr. Tai Solarin,Col, Monsignor Pedro Martins, AlhajiMohammed Musa Isma,Chief Owen Feibai, Dr.AjutoGandonu and Professor O.K. Ogan.

After the submission of the committee’s report, the Federal Government then enacted Decree 6 of 1976 which gave birth to Abuja as the new Federal Capital. In the 72-page report of Aguda’scommittee, it was recommended that Lagos has become “over congested” and as a result the Federal Capital should be moved out of the city for Administrative purposes. The committee recommended further that the movement to Abuja should be gradual and should be in seven phases. Drawing a lesson from the Tanzanian experience it was the contention of the Aguda committee that Abuja should be functional by the year 2025. It should be noted that the committee’s report was accepted by the Federal Government.

FLOOD 1.jpgOk.It was not until 1979 that Mr. John Jatau Kadiya was appointed the first Minister for Abuja. At that time the appointment was made just to facilitate the creation of Abuja out of Nassarawa, Niger and Kogi states. Former President Usman Aliyu Shagari replaced Kadiya with Irro AbubakarDan Musa in 1982 and later named Aliru Dantorro as Minister in 1983. The post became not too important at that time because Abuja was not considered a priority. Following the complete movement of the Federal capital to Abuja in December 12, 1991 by General Ibrahim Babangida (72), Lagos has been abandoned since then. Not a single block has been erected by any Head of State in Lagos. The city right now is like a car park.

The last biggest project so far executed by the Federal Government in Lagos, was the Third Mainland Bridge of 11.8kilometre built by General Babangida which is the longest bridge connecting the Lagos Island to the Mainland. The Eko Bridge which is the shortest of the three bridges, the other two being the Third Mainland and Carter bridges. It spans a distance of 430 metres and its landward extension of 1350 metres was constructed in phases between 1965 and 1975 during the tenure General Yakubu Gowon. The first Carter Bridge named after Governor Gilbert Thomas Carter (1848 -1927)was constructed by the British Government in 1901. After Independence, the Bridge was dismantled and redesigned and rebuilt in the late 1970s. The Alaka-Ijora flyover of the Carter Bridge was completed in 1973.

Governor Babatunde Fashola

Governor Babatunde Fashola

Since December 12, 1991, when General Babangida finally moved the capital to Abuja, we have had six presidential tenures.None has thought it fit to develop Lagos. The Interim Government of Chief Earnest Shonekan (26 August 1993 to 17 November 1993), General Sanni Abacha from 17 November 1993 to 8 June 1998, General AbdusalamAbubakar (9 June 1998 to 29 May 1999), President Olusegun Obasanjo (29 May 1999 to 29 May 2007), President Musa Yar’adua (29May 2007 – 5 May 2010) and President Goodluck Jonathan from 6 May 2010 till date.

It is to be hoped that Lagos with 5.8 million voters will receive the concern of the coming President of Nigeria. For Lagos is beyond the capability of any state government however prudent it could be.

 

Fresh vista for Nigeria, UK trade relations

By Tope Templer Olaiya
Nigeria’s relation with its trading partners across the world is a mixed bag of risks and opportunity. Often touted as Africa’s biggest economy, though ranked 26th in the world in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) after rebasing, and with an over 167 million population, the country still remains an investor’s delight in spite of seemingly unfavourable business climate like insecurity and infrastructure deficit.
Nigeria is a middle-income, mixed economy and emerging market, with expanding financial, service, communications and entertainment sectors with eyes set on potentially becoming one of the 20 largest economies in the world by 2020. Its re-emergent, though currently under-performing, manufacturing sector is the third-largest on the continent, and produces a large proportion of goods and services for the West African region. As a result, it is a busy hub for business activities.
One of its biggest trading partners is the United Kingdom. Presently, Nigeria is UK’s second largest trading partner in Africa after South Africa. The drive for improved trade and economic relations made the leaders of the two countries, President Goodluck Jonathan and David Cameron in June 2011 set an ambitious goal to double bilateral trade to eight billion pounds by 2014.
But then, how much of this ambitious relationship has been beneficial to the country and its citizens? The search for answers to the question of trade imbalance between Nigeria and the UK was the kernel of discourse at the recently concluded Greater London Business Conference on Nigeria, which held at the Royal National Hotel, London.
With the theme ‘Nigeria in the MINT’, the conference was anchored by the Nigerian London Business Forum (NILOBF) in conjunction with the Nigerian High Commission in London and the British High Commission in Nigeria. It had in attendance government agencies and Nigerian companies drawn from various local chambers of commerce.
The term, MINT – Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey – was originally coined by Fidelity Investments, a Boston-based asset management firm and popularized by Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs, who predicted the MINT countries as the next most powerful economic bloc.

Cameron and Jonathan

President Goodluck Jonathan and Prime Minister David Cameron

The conference sought to promote bilateral trade and investment relations between the two countries by bringing together business people from Nigeria and the UK to seek new investment opportunities, develop long term business relationships and finalize existing business contracts, while enhancing existing structures and removing hurdles capable of frustrating the flow of trade and investment between the two countries.
Interestingly, of the four MINT countries, Nigeria’s population is projected to outstrip other MINT countries by 2050 with population set to hit 402 million people. Of the four countries, Nigeria and Indonesia have the most consistent GDP at around six to eight per cent. The two countries have the lowest GDPs of the four MINT countries, at $1,555 and $3,557 per capita respectively, compared with $9,749 in Mexico, $10,666 in Turkey, and $51,749 in the United States of America, according to 2012 figures from the World Bank.
Declaring the event open, conference director, who is also the Registrar/Chief Executive Officer of the Institute of Credit Administration (ICA), Dr. Chris Onalo, said the forum was an opportunity for the Nigerian delegation to meet British investors, associates and partners.
“We expect that at the end of this event, strong business partnerships and investment would be formed and the trade and investment relationship between UK and Nigeria will propel to new heights after two days of fruitful discussions on business, trade and investment,” he said.
Onalo, however, urged the Nigerian government to work closely and pragmatically through its relevant agencies with the British government with a view to creating further improvement on efforts to remove needless obstacles perceived to be seriously hindering a robust business, trade and investment engagements of business people of the two countries.

Tafida

Tafida

“There is need for the government of the two countries to make less stringent, special requirements to be met by business people for business visa applications so that the people in the two countries can easily and frequently meet and interact with each other in order to encourage appreciable economic, trade and investment expansions between the two countries.
“For instance, it was decided that there should be a fast visa application process for business men and women who are members of any credible registered local chambers of commerce and trade associations in the two countries.
“This suggestion was initiated by the Nigerian London Business Forum in the UK and endorsed in Lagos by Peter Carter, the Deputy British High Commissioner to Nigeria, who sadly passed away earlier in the month for which the conference observed a one minute silence. This conference aims to bring us all together to build investment and business and we expect that at the end of this conference, new partnerships will be forged,” he said.
Hassan Mohammed Hassan, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment at the Nigerian High Commission in the UK, who stood in for the High Commissioner, Dr. Dalhatu Tafida, added that the Nigerian government remains committed to drastically increasing the volume of trade between the two countries. He stressed that the goal of doubling trade volumes remains on course and even when it has been achieved, the bar will be raised high.
Hassan said: “In 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan and Prime Minister David Cameron decided to double trade between both countries to £8 billion. Between November 2011 and now, almost 85 percent of that has been attained, especially in the areas of oil and gas and we are trying to come up with another projection.
“I can assure you that we shall be working to do more to achieve the new target that will be projected. So, we want the UK and European Union to work with us and not push Nigeria aside. At the moment, Nigeria has a GDP of over $500 billion and an annual growth rate of about seven percent, with most of it coming from activities, which are private sector facilitated.”

From right: Dr. Chris Onalo, Director of the forum; Mrs. Florence Ajimobi, wife of Oyo State governor; Governor Abiola Ajimobi; Maryanne Jemide, Publisher, Nigerian Watch Newspaper, UK; and Alistair Sorodoye, CEO/Founder, BenTV, UK during the presentation of Honorary Member Award to Oyo State governor.

From right: Dr. Chris Onalo, Director of the forum; Mrs. Florence Ajimobi, wife of Oyo State governor; Governor Abiola Ajimobi; Maryanne Jemide, Publisher, Nigerian Watch Newspaper, UK; and Alistair Sorodoye, CEO/Founder, BenTV, UK during the presentation of Honorary Member Award to Oyo State governor.

According to the minister, British economist, Dr Terrence O’Neill, who coined the phrase MINT countries, could see that Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey would impact positively on the world stage over the next decade. He added that this process has already begun in areas like telecoms, where Nigeria now has eight million phone lines and this can be replicated in sectors such as agriculture and education.
An international trade advisor at the UK Trade and Investment, Raphael Channer, said British exports currently total £500 billion and the target is to double this to £1 trillion by 2020 with increased sales to markets like Nigeria. He added that this would mean the number of companies increasing from the current ratio of one in four firms to one in five.
David Tang, from UK Export Finance (UKEF), the operating unit of the UK’s Export Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD), added that his export credit agency organisation helps to provide guarantees for exporters to banks and also assists overseas buyers seeking loans. He added that UKEF offers support ranging from as little as £25,000 to as much as multimillion pound deals.
Tang added: “We assist overseas buyers who require loans to buy goods from UK exporters. What we do is step in and say to the bank that we will be prepared to guarantee that loan.”
For Muhammed Aminu Muhammed, the immigration attaché at the Nigerian High Commission in the UK, he is confident that the UK and Nigeria will achieve the target of doubling trade volumes between them despite problems like security challenges. He added that the Nigerian Senate is currently debating on a bill that will ease restrictions on visa applications for business customers, which will include among other things, the issuing of visas upon arrival.
Peter Bishop, the deputy chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that his organisation visits Nigeria every year in the drive to boost trade. He added that Nigeria gets a bad press in the UK, which misleads a lot of businesses but anyone who walks round London will see the contribution the Nigerian in diaspora makes to the UK economy.
According to Bishop, “In 2000, 75 countries signed the Istanbul Convention suggested by the World Trade Organisation, which sought to allow free entry of goods and people without Customs interference. I am trying to double my efforts to get the process working as it will enhance trade.”

O'Neil

O’Neil

In his contribution, president of the Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, Emeka Unachukwu, said UK trade with Nigeria is on course to double to £20 billion in 2020, thanks to several incentives provided by the government. He added that this will include a three year tax holiday for investors coming into the gas sector and import duty exemptions for equipment used to build processing infrastructure.
According to Unachukwu, the Nigerian government is looking to expand sectors like gas as well as solid minerals like coal, lignite and tar sands. He pointed out that gas in particular has huge potential as Nigeria has the ninth largest gas reserves in the world, 187trn cubic feet and is working on a West African gas Pipeline and a Nigeria-Algeria Gas Pipeline.
The Oyo State governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, at the conference, said his administration is optimistic of achieving 75 per cent self-sufficiency in food production within the next five years as part of a master-plan to make the state economically self-sustainable, as other delegates explored the huge potential that exists in Nigerian business environment.
To achieve this, he said his administration has put in place several ambitious plans to increase agricultural output, while boosting other sectors such as housing, transport, tourism and education, in the bid to make the state independently viable in the long term and boost its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).
Addressing a huge gathering of business leaders from the UK and Nigeria, as well as government officials and chamber of commerce executives, Ajimobi said Oyo State currently has a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $2.3 billion, a population of seven million and a literacy rate of 62.6 per cent. The state is also striving to improve productivity to catch up with consumption.
“Oyo State is bigger than Gambia, Equatorial Guinea, Belgium and Israel in terms of population but our GDP is only $2.3 billion but the annual growth rate is 14 per cent. If you look across the MINT countries, Nigeria has the highest illiteracy rates and the highest unemployment rates, but we are working to address all these problems.
“In health for instance, when we assumed office, there were only 120 doctors in Oyo State but over three years, we have increased this number to 620. We are also working hard on housing. By our estimates, we need 259,000 housing units between now and 2020; but we have started off with the first 5,000 units.”

Cross section of the conference by delegates

Cross section of the conference by delegates

Confident that his administration will succeed in providing the necessary social amenities and an enabling environment for economic growth, Ajimobi said his government is always on the lookout for private sector partners to work with. He listed housing, agriculture, education and infrastructure development as sectors in which his government is looking for private sector partners willing to invest.
“We have companies partnering with us to build houses and among them are Spanish, United States and indigenous firms building houses for low, middle and high income earners. In agriculture too, we are looking for partners as the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has recommended that there be two tractors per hectare of land but at the moment, we have achieved less than that, compared with Asian countries that have reached.
“We also found out that as much as 70 per cent of our agricultural produce was going to waste as it was not getting to market, so there is an opportunity in this sector for interested investors. In agriculture, I am confident that we can get output to match 75 per cent of consumption within the next five years if my administration is returned to office for another four-year term next year.”
Other areas the governor said his administration is working hard on is business registration, in a bid to ensure that private sector operators willing to operate in Oyo State can get their business registered within 48 hours. He added that to encourage such investors, the government is giving them all sorts of incentives such as 30 per cent tax concessions for five years.
The conference ended with presentation of the prestigious Honorary Member Award of the Nigerian London Business Forum to Senator Abiola Ajimobi and Dr. Mua’zu Babangida Aliyu, the governor of Niger State. Also, over 20 British and Nigerian companies received their certificate of membership of the forum for trade and investment promotion and bilateral policies lobbyist.

When President Jonathan came to town

Syn 2

By Tope Templer Olaiya,
Assistant Lagos City Editor

LAST Saturday, September 20, 2015 political movement was activated at the nation’s commercial capital, Lagos, as adherents of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the South West trooped out in large numbers to receive President Goodluck Jonathan at the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) for a Southwest Sensitization and Unity rally.
A mammoth crowd of supporters across the six states of the South West geopolitical zone had defied the early morning downpour to express support for the president’s re-election bid in 2015. They were buoyed by the party leadership’s adoption of Jonathan as the PDP’s presumptive presidential candidate.
As expected, there was lockdown on citizen’s movement as some roads leading to the TBS and on other locations where the president was being expected were blocked.
The Lagos Bus Transit Service (LAGBUS), had early on Saturday morning, tweeted: “President Goodluck Jonathan is expected in Lagos this afternoon. As a result, roads around TBS and CMS area have been closed.” Other roads on Lagos Island, including Adeniji Adele road, were also cordoned off.
One of such locations that witnessed airtight security was the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), Ikotun, venue of the president’s first public appearance last Saturday.
Visiting the collapsed guesthouse of the church in company of the state’s Deputy Governor, Mrs. Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire and PDP National Chairman, Adamu Mu’azu, Jonathan had vowed to investigate the cause of the tragedy, which left at least 115 dead.

Syn 3 “My coming here is to express my personal condolences to Prophet Joshua, the Synagogue of All Nations and of course the bereaved families,” Jonathan said during the visit.
The president, who arrived by helicopter at the sprawling church compound in Ikotun, said he would hold talks with the construction industry and state governors on how to prevent a repeat of the tragedy.
“We will work with the people to ensure that such an incident does not happen again,” he said.
Jonathan said he deeply regretted that scores of South Africans had died in the tragedy, and that he had already expressed his sympathies with President Jacob Zuma.
After a private meeting of the church leaders with Jonathan, which lasted a few minutes, the president hopped into his chopper, flew over Lagos skyline and alighted at the palace of the Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Aremu Akiolu I.
For this visit, the president’s delegation was boosted by his advance party team, which was led by Vice President, Namadi Sambo, top government officials and PDP stalwarts including PDP Deputy National Chairman, Uche Secondus; Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha; former Sokoto State governor, Attahiru Bafarawa; PDP chieftain and member Board of Trustees, Chief Ola Bode George; Chief of Staff to the President, Gen. Jones Arogbofa; Special Adviser to the President on Interparty Affairs, Sen. Ben Obi; and Group Managing Director, Energy Group, Jimoh Ibrahim.
President Jonathan, who expressed gratitude to the Oba and his Council of Chiefs for the warm reception always accorded him each time he visited, said royal fathers are custodians of the nation, as such he could not be in Lagos without paying homage to the Oba to receive royal blessings and prayers.

Syn 1 He noted that Lagos is key to the economy of Nigeria and gave assurance that the Federal Government was committed to ensuring that nothing negative happens to the state. He said this informed the reason the Federal Government rose to the challenge against the spread of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in partnership with the governor, Babatunde Fashola.
“We thank you for the service you have been rendering right from when you were in service as a police officer and now as the Oba of Lagos. We assure you that we will continue to do our best in infrastructure development of the country and maintenance of peace and security in the country.
“We are here for the PDP Southwest Unity rally. We are not here for campaign but we will still come. Before we go, we need your royal prayers and blessings because you (traditional rulers) are the owners of the land,” he said.
While responding, Oba Akiolu, ‎who noted that leadership is given to anybody by God, prayed that God will be with President Jonathan and protect him to realise his vision for the country. He appealed for free and credible elections in Lagos and Nigeria next year.
“I have special love for Mr. President. God has put you in that position, He will be with you, God will not abandon you. On the current security challenges, I know God will bring it to an end. I urge you to continue doing whatever you have in mind for Lagos, not minding politics,” he said.

Syn 4 After the exchange of courtesies and pleasantries, it was time for the president and his entourage to leave for the day’s biggest assignment. And at exactly 1:15pm, the president’s motorcade made a grand entry into the bowl of TBS to kick off proceedings at the rally, where Fuji maestro, Abass Akande, popularly known as Obesere, kept thousands of rain-soaked party faithful entertained.
It was especially an opportunity for the many gubernatorial candidates in Lagos State to sell themselves to supporters ahead of the party’s primaries. They took turns hounding the opposition and throwing support for the adoption of the president as the party’s sole presidential candidate.
Aspirants from other states in the Southwest were also represented but were not as vocal as the agents of the gubernatorial aspirants in Lagos. Of the pack, it was supporters of the Minister of state for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro that stole the show and overwhelmed the rally.

KorobucciByVPUN8CMAEz--m
The rally, which was a colourful display of music, dance and politicking, was dominated by supporters of Obanikoro, popularly known as Koro by admirers. His banners and supporters, clad in different costumes could be seen conspicuously everywhere across the rally. A creative highlight of the Minister’s presence at the rally was a group of young stuntmen, skaters and young ladies who were all over the place dressed in t-shirts with the inscriptions; #Korolette, #Korobucci.

Syn 6 Before now, the minister, who was the party’s governorship candidate in 2007, had only made a feigned interest in running again for office, but all doubts were dispelled at the weekend as towering posters littered TBS and its environs welcoming the president to Lagos. The subtle declaration of his intention was his imposing image on the posters, with the rider: “Dream Team: Jonathan+Obanikoro=Winning Together.”
And there was more. The minister’s mobilization at the rally took many Lagosians by surprise, not leaving out many of those who had earlier signified interest to run for governorship ticket in the party.
Other aspirants, which included Jimi Agbaje, Babatunde Gbadamosi, Ade Dosunmu, and Deji Doherty, all made an impressive showing with their throng of supporters, but their efforts were glaringly overshadowed by the Obanikoro buzz, which ringed loudly at the square.
For special effect, the minister’s buzz took several sobriquets that appealed to various segments of the society, such as: Korolette, Koro Bucci, Koro for Better Lagos, Lagos can be greater, Jonathan+Koro=Winning Together, Koronated, among many others.
And it was to a rousing applause when firing the first salvo, the minister, who spoke on behalf of the body of Southwest ministers, flanked by Minister of State for the FCT, Mrs. Olajumoke Akinjide; Minister of State for Works, Prince Dayo Adeyeye; Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adeshina; Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson; and Minister of Police Affairs, Alhaji Jeilili Adesiyan, assured Jonathan of their unalloyed loyalty and further promised to mobilise for him (Jonathan) when the campaign gathers steam.
Obanikoro explained that the president has done well and therefore deserves a second term to continue with his Transformation Agenda. “The party in the west has resolved to “work for the re-election of President Jonathan and we are committed in working for him so that he can continue with the good works he has started not only in the south west but in the country. With all the good things he has done, he deserves a second term.”

Syn 7Responding, Jonathan expressed gratitude to the members of the PDP in the region for giving him the right of first refusal as the party’s sole candidate for next year’s presidential polls.
He said: “Let me sincerely thank the leaders of our party; from the chairman, committee members, our governors, our National Assembly members, our Board of Trustees members, and all members of the party for giving me the right of first refusal of the presidential ticket.
“There are no dictators in the PDP. There is no one that is so powerful to determine who becomes councillor, local government chairman, state House of Assembly member, House of Representatives member, senator, governor, and even president, in the PDP. The decision is by the people, for the people, and that is why the PDP will continue to do new things and give right leadership,” he said.
The Lagos chairman of the party, PDP, Tunji Shelle, however, said the party would not adopt candidates for the various positions including governorship in the 2015 elections.
Speaking against the backdrop of the party’s adoption of President Jonathan as its sole candidate for the 2015 presidential poll, Shelle said the president’s emergence as a consensus candidate was different from the situation in Lagos State.
“The president is going for a second term and the party decided to let him continue and finish the good job he is doing. In Lagos State, it is different. The PDP is not the party in power; therefore, all aspirants must go for primaries, as it is the tradition of the party.
“There is no preferred aspirant. The candidate that would emerge would be decided by the party delegates,” he said.

Syn 8

Centenary: Not so Grand Finale!

By Martins Oloja

THE so-called grand finale of the year-long centenary celebration, which culminated in last Friday’s award/dinner night in Abuja was a grandiloquent celebration of mediocrity! The other day, a Dutch journalist who has done some works in West Africa and Nigeria had noted in a remarkable article that mediocrity was fast overtaking graft in Nigeria. This newspaper culled the controversial article that was hailed by many readers. I do not have any other word to describe the whole Centenary narrative last weekend, other than a “cerebration of mediocrity”. As a Nigerian, one had expected to see in the grand finale some historical documents and documentaries on Nigeria in the last 100 years. Was it material poverty or poverty of the mind and ideas that deprived the Centenary Committee from doing and publishing something grand, something historic and historical, something remarkable about Nigeria for the young and old, local and foreign observers to see? What has been the highpoint of the year-long celebration? Is the award night the highpoint? Award dominated by all former heads of state? What is the significance of the award to Chief Ernest Shonekan whose Interim National Concoction (Government) was declared illegal by a court? What is the worth of the award to the late General Sani Abacha when the federal government is still recovering some disputed loot in Swiss Banks from his family? Why were there so many obvious and avoidable omissions? Why was the entire civil service omitted from the list of nominees? Those who are familiar with the public service parlance know that “public service” is not a synonym for “civil service” in any material particular. Was the media adequately represented by the late Herbert Macauley, Ernest Sisei Ikoli and Babatunde Jose alone in the last 100 years in Nigeria?

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As a journalist and researcher, I had expected the Centenary Celebration Secretariat to have commissioned some experts, historians, political scientists and others to document for us some newsworthy stories often ignored, or never explored in the last 100 years. What is more, why was Professor Kenneth Onwuka Dike ignored among historians and pioneers when he was the one who reportedly formed the Historical Society of Nigeria in 1955? Professor Dike was the first Nigerian Principal of the University College of Ibadan. He was the pioneer Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan. He was said to have established the National Archives in 1952 and served as its first Departmental Head as Director. The Society had a colloquium on the Centenary in Abuja. Why didn’t the Centenary Committee commission the Society to do a grand documentation of Nigeria at 100? Even when the Rivers State organized its own Centenary tagged Port Harcourt @ 100 in November, 2013, there was a grand ceremony and it was properly documented in a grander style in a book edited by famous scholars, Professor E.J Alagoa & Judy Nwanodi. The book is entitled, Port Harcourt at 100: Past, Present and Future. Foreword to the book is written by no less a person than a famous History scholar, Patrick Dele Cole, PhD. It is a world-class scholarly document. Why didn’t the presidency borrow a leaf from this worthy effort? More questions!

What is more, I listened to the Masters of Ceremony that handled the grand finale in Abuja and the impression created by their not-so-grand performance was that they were either recruited in some haste or they were briefed to celebrate mediocrity. This is the thing: why couldn’t the MCs recall simple facts about all the former presidents and heads of state that were present there to make the occasion remarkable? In the last 100 years, there have been some landmarks in Nigeria, notably, establishment of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC); building of a brand new capital, Abuja and there are more. But for that occasion, the creator of NYSC, one of the most enduring monuments of unification, General Yakubu was there and he was honoured, yet no one mentioned NYSC. Alas, no MC could link Dr Gowon with this noble effort for the world to see that some of the good old men that have nurtured Nigeria are still alive.

ImageAmalgamation day, Tinubu Street, Lagos

Even Abuja, our Abuja was diminished

ALAS! Even Abuja, Nigeria’s unity capital and major symbol of our unity was never mentioned by any speakers on any of the many ceremonies. What is more, even when the late General Murtala Ramat Muhammed was mentioned for honour, no speaker could associate him for proclaiming Abuja as Nigeria’s capital on February 3, 1976 and legalising it with a decree the following day, (February 4, 1976). It was General Olusegun Obasanjo as then No.2 who reportedly assisted his boss to ‘procure’ Justice Akinola Aguda, a legal luminary and former CJ of Botswana who headed the Presidential Panel that recommended the site of the “Centre of Unity”, Abuja. He (the late Aguda) could not be remembered. Most people are persuaded that the late Aguda too is more historically significant than some of the awardees including even Edwin Clark and Rilwanu Lukman. But then the MCs could not link General Obasanjo who took up the daunting task of building Abuja from scratch. No one remembered Obasanjo who could normally qualify any day for the “last man standing” whenever Nigeria’s unity is discussed. He began the building of Abuja and former President Shehu Shagari reportedly celebrated Nigeria’s independence anniversary in the uncompleted capital in 1980. Besides, democracy returned Obasanjo to power in 1999 and he had yet another opportunity of restoring Abuja to its original Master Plan in 2003 when he was sufficiently angry that the plan had been desecrated: he brought in Malam Nasir el-Rufai, considered to be the right man to do the job of restoration. He did it to everyone’s admiration. The point is that even General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) who actualized the Murtala dream by relocating the capital proper on Thursday, December 12, 1991 was at the award ceremony. Too bad no one remembered the role of Generals Murtala, Obasanjo & IBB in the building of Nigeria’s most significant Monument of Unity since 1914. Why didn’t the Centenary Committee that worked for more than a year remember to give Abuja a separate award? Why was there no colloquium on Abuja either on December 12, 2013 or February 3, 2014 as part of the grand finale? It stands to reason that Abuja, our Abuja, should have been used to showcase the highpoint that the amalgamation of 1914 symbolises. I mean that even the MCs could not recall these historical facts that could have deepened understanding of the journey from 1914 to 2014? Whatever happened to the Committee’s sense of history on this score?

Lest we forget, how could they have honoured Niger Deltans without remembering the significance of Adaka Boro and Ken Saro Wiwa? In this connection, why would the Committee recommend an honour to General Sani Abacha without remembering Henry Townsend and Samuel Ajayi Crowther? What really happened to the simple cognitive power of recall at the Committee? Who else was more pioneering than pioneers such as role models that shaped history before 1914? Even if Townsend who set up the first newspaper in Nigeria in 1859 and Crowther, an Anglican priest who translated the English Bible into Yoruba were irrelevant to the centenary points at issue, what about the pioneer civil servants within the 1914-2014 construct? Why was there no proper civil servant honoured? Why was the name generally associated with the civil service from the Western region, Chief Simeon Adebo omitted? Civil service literature has been constant with the review of journals and books on the evolution of the Nigerianization of the service. And Phillipson-Adebo Commission of 1953 was a testimony that even a serving permanent secretary, Dr Tunji Olaopa cited to justify claims that Simeon Adebo should have been honoured in this context. Olaopa’s article on the centenary of the civil service was published in this newspaper before the grand finale, yet no one read it to correct some anomalies! Curiously, the civil service was not represented in any groups. If there had been research works for the centenary, there would have been discovery of the lacuna that will haunt the organisers for life. They recognized only public servants, no civil servant was honoured. What a rush! Again, why were the armed forces not recognized as the most potent instrument of the Unity that we are celebrating? Is it not a fact that Abuja, the centre of unity was conceived by a military junta, built by a military junta, consolidated and legalized by a military regime? Why didn’t the Committee recognize the gallantry of the armed forces in Nigeria since 1914?

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Oh my God, I recall that there have not been many quotable quotes in recent years in Nigeria but no one could have forgotten the often quoted one by General Muhammadu Buhari:

This generation of Nigerians and indeed future generations have no other country than Nigeria. We shall remain here and salvage it together.

I just still wonder why no speaker or MC recalled this General’s word on marble when the point at issue at the award night was Nigeria’s Unity. This is one of the reasons, in this connection we have had to intervene with this remarkable compendium to mark the centenary in style for our wonderful readers. Just flip through, read and keep this memorable publication and forget about Abuja’s men afflicted with selected amnesia.

Epilogue: I hope our people will continue to remember Abuja as the major symbol of unity and collective effort to showcase to the world that Nigeria too can build a monument. I hope someone has learned some lessons and picked some architecture in the ruins that this centenary debacle has become. Never again shall we celebrate mediocrity

Martins Oloja can be reached through martins.oloja@ngrguadiannews.com