How times change

 How times change
By Reuben Abati

"I THOUGHT I saw Professor Babalola Borishade and Chief Femi Fani-Kayode smiling after their arraignment in court two days ago. I thought I saw a photograph in one of the papers showing them in a happy mood. And I wondered what could be funny about the aviation fund and their present circumstances?"

"You Nigerians have started again oh. So, if a man is arraigned before a court of law, he should start weeping? I don't care whether they wept or smiled, or laughed, I think the good thing is that they are having their day in court and will get a chance to defend themselves."

" I don't like the idea of public figures who are brought to court laughing as if the whole thing is a joke."

"There is no law that says a man cannot smile or laugh in a court of law. Ha. Excuse me."

"But at least somebody who has been charged to court should show some contrition"

"For what? In fact, it is better to laugh so you can send out a signal that you are not bothered and that this too shall pass."

"N5. 5 billion?"

"Look I don't want to waste time wondering whether somebody smiled or wept. That is not what is before the court. The court is meant for human beings and human beings, even on the death row, are free to behave like human beings. Have you forgotten that Ishola Oyenusi, the notorious armed robber cracked jokes even as he was being tied to the stakes? And for your information, an accused person is innocent until he is proven guilty. So don't go in the direction I suspect you are heading."

"Are you now a seer? You better go and start a church".

"When they brought your sister to the court the other day, did you not see her waving to the people? When that your brother who dressed like a woman was brought to court once, did he not wave to the people?"

"They make Nigeria look like a joke."

"There are actually people who think that it is. And that the probes in the Senate and the House of Representatives and the aggressiveness of the EFCC even under Mrs Farida Waziri all have certain political undertones. That is what some people think."

"No. I am more interested in the positive side of the probes. The fact that we are getting to know what happened under the Obasanjo administration is certainly a good development. So many myths have been laid to rest., and so many are still unravelling. Those who used to strut on the stage about a year and half ago are being shown to be men with feet of clay."

"But has anybody been brought to book? Has anyone been sanctioned? When the House of Reps decided to probe the power sector, we all ranted. But have you heard anything since then about that probe?"

"But we are hearing something about the probe of the transport sector and the aviation sector"

"What are you hearing?"

"How Nigerian money was squandered, looted, mismanaged, misapplied. Tax payers' money. Oil money. My people are suffering in the Niger Delta, some people just sit in Abuja and sign away all the money made from crude oil sales. "

"I see where you are coming from. You have the mentality of a kidnapper in the creeks."

"We must make the point loud and clear that certain kinds of behaviour are unacceptable in this country. And I think some progress is being made. Yes we criticized the House of Reps, but look at what the Senate is now doing, if you go there and you can't explain how you spent public funds, they just call the EFCC and hand you over immediately. Before you know it, you are already responding to charges in a court of law. I like that."

"Some lawmakers are protesting. They don't want anybody to be arrested within the premises of the National Assembly."

"The EFCC can arrest anybody anywhere."

"No. Not inside the parliament chamber, not inside a court of law. The EFCC must act decently and treat people with respect. And this is the point I am making. Can't you see that Mrs Farida Waziiri is trying to stage a drama of her own? She needs to prove to the critics, to those who think that without Nuhu Ribadu, the EFCC will die, that she is an action woman"

"I don't care whether she is showing off or not. If anybody has a case to answer that person should do so."

"You are not seeing the sub-text. There is a sub-text about power in the whole show. The new administration is sending some strong messages. The Obasanjo government is being discredited."

"Let the facts speak for themselves, please"

"Southerners are being advertised as bad leaders who cannot be trusted with public funds."

"I don't buy that conspiracy theory. If anybody has done anything that is against the laws of the land, let him or her stand up and offer explanations. This is not a North-South thing. And you better don't go about pursuing that line of thought"

"Nobody is clean. Both the National Assembly and the EFCC should watch out against the danger of being selective. It is very easy to repeat old mistakes."

"They have to start from somewhere."

"We said the same thing under the Obasanjo administration"

"Some of these things will be swept under the carpet later."

"I hope not. That is why we have the civil society. And the ball is right in the court of the judiciary".

"How times change"

"That is a clich�. Time is always changing"

"Yeye man. I am using the word as metaphor."

"Oxymoron"

"You make it sound like I am a moron, but I know what I know. The problem with you is that you don't like listening to other people's views. Look, when I saw Femi Fani-Kayode, the first thing that occurred to me was to think up what he would have said about three years ago, if someone else had been in this kind of situation"

"You know the guy is brilliant and he can talk. In fact I was expecting him to launch into his usual oratory in the courtroom"

"He is a lawyer. He knows he cannot do that. Otherwise he would be charged for contempt."

"But truly, how times change."

"President Yar'Adua is nobody's fool. We used to think that he is Baba's stooge, but he has effectively shown that he is in charge."

"I agree. But let him do something about power supply. I thought they said the emergency has now been declared. We have emergency but we do not have electricity. Meanwhile, new electricity tariffs have been introduced."

"But you are not paying the new tariffs. Government is subsidizing your electricity consumption"

"You mean they are subsidising darkness, and wasting public funds on services not rendered. I don't know why everybody thinks that Nigeria is a joke and that the people's feelings do not matter."

" I don't understand why you are getting worked up. The President told you clearly that nobody should expect any improvement in power supply until 2011. What else do you want? The man has been forthright enough."

"We take everything as a joke, even something as serious as the Niger Delta is treated as a joke."

"Not quite. The Niger Delta is on the President's seven-point agenda. It is the second subject on the list."

"Yeah. But look at the comedy of errors surrounding the appointment of Professor Ibrahim Gambari as the Chairman of the Steering Committee of the proposed Niger Delta Summit."

"I don't even see why they want to organise another summit. Since 1958, Nigerians have been talking about the Niger Delta. Niger Delta Workshop. Niger Delta Conference. Niger Delta Dialogue. Niger Delta Retreat. Now they want a Summit. What is the difference? We talk too much in this country but we lack the political will to act. We all know what is wrong with the Niger Delta and with Nigeria. Let the Yar'Adua administration address the Niger Delta Question. The answer lies in Resource Control. We are not even asking for 100 per cent. We are still willing to share part of the oil revenue with other Nigerians, but to tell us what we should take, and how we should behave within Nigeria, then you will have more kidnappings, more oil theft and greater chaos in the Delta region."

"I don't have anything against the Summit."

"A summit that will be organised by a Fulani man."

"Professor Gambari is just the Chairman of the Steering Committee, like a Secretary. The Summit will still have a Chairman."

"They will probably make a Yoruba man the Chairman. Is there nobody in the Niger Delta that can do it?"

"Professor Gambari is an eminent man."

"Nobody is doubting his credentials, But the people of the Niger Delta are saying they do not want a man who believes that Ken Saro Wiwa is "a common criminal" or who may be tempted to sympathise with the view that the oil in the Delta came from the North. Government should have consulted widely before naming Gambari as Chairman of the Steering Committee. Our people are protesting because they consider the attitude of the Federal Government arrogant. If anybody wants to dialogue with us, you would have to carry the people along."

"But what I hear is people saying we don't want Gambari. We don't want him. That is a man who went to make peace in Myanmar recently for the United Nations."

"We are talking about the Niger Delta. And I really don't understand why the Professor wants to be part of the Summit by force. And there are other issues. Who will set the agenda? What will be the mode of representation? What are the expected deliverables?.... I see you are laughing"

"What can anybody do? Nigeria makes me laugh"

"Look at the teachers' strike. The Nigerian Union of Teachers served enough notice. But the Federal Government simply ignored them. Now the school system has been paralysed."

'Yeah. The teachers have a good case, but someone should tell them not to carry out their threat of picketing and shutting down privately-owned schools. That will be a lawless thing to do. Teachers in private schools are not members of the National Union of Teachers, and their employers are different Why drag them into a war that does not concern them?"

"It is the inefficiency of the Nigerian system that drives people to desperate measures."

"Only within the bounds of reason, my brother".