ake hope from a man, and you have given him a sentence of death-death that separates from efforts for change. He lies supine gazing into the hollow of a sky whose limit he knows not nor can attain in his imprisoned state of despair. A sermon on our "hopeless future" serves no useful purpose, as it does not inspire action. Allow me that ray of hope, however dim, that I may pick my way through the entangling weeds and scrubs of despond.
Across the Atlantic reverberates the echo of audacious hope from the lips of a young black African aspiring to become America's first black President. Barack Obama does not exude hope for nothing; he attracts many Americans who claim, "He makes you feel that it is possible to change things." More than a year before America's White House welcomes the 44th President of the United States of America, the message of hope of what can be done to restore America's lost jobs, give health insurance to the millions who don't have, raise investment in education and hence improve student performance, protect employees' benefits, reduce poverty, wean America from foreign oil, win the war against terrorism etc is being carried by Mr. Obama.
There are just few weeks before the elections in April 2007 when Nigerians shall go to the polls to elect their Representatives at national and state levels. What we need is a clear message of hope backed with practical steps to realize our aspirations. We need to make very clear our priorities as local communities, States, and a nation.
THE NIGER DELTA EQUATION
The Niger Delta problem is a simple equation that can be solved by few steps and minimal application of axioms. Our Presidential candidates must not propose complex theories to a simple problem; neither should they create another bureaucracy to enthrone demi-gods whose patronage must be sought by sycophants for selfish satisfaction. We do not need a Ministry of Niger Delta. I am sorry if this assertion is annoying to some who propose differently. Let us consider some applicable axioms of hope on the Niger Delta issue:
Nigeria has a one-track economy today that depends heavily on oil from the Niger Delta.
Pleasing and doing justice to the Niger Deltans is imperative to economic development of the whole of Nigeria.
Weaning Nigerians from dependence on oil starts with conceding at least 50% of benefits and earnings from natural resources to the local communities. advertisement
Axiom 3 is not new; it has been proven before and proved to be true.
The military option is no option at all to resolving the Niger Delta problem.
For as long as Nigeria develops no stable revenue alternatives to oil revenues and axiom 2 is ignored, so long must our economy hold in a precarious balance. This lack of courage to let go of unjust possession does not testify to our ingenuity as a people and leaders. There was a time when oil played little or no role in our economic and social development agenda and strategies. I propose the following steps based on the axioms stated above.
S1. Each Presidential candidate must make a clear and unambiguous proclamation that the Nigerian constitution clearly states that 13% derivation is not the maximum but the minimum. Consequently, they shall in the first month of becoming President, submit a bill to the National Assembly making 50% derivation clearly reflected in our revenue allocation formula under the administration of the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission. We need not go through a constitution amendment ritual; the constitution is clear on this, and there must be no pretences, please.
S2. From the 50% remaining, the Federal government shall keep 20% while 30% is shared among the States (not Local governments) of the Federation according to the parameters in use now. I need say that the 50% derivation should cover all federally collected revenue (VAT inclusive). The responsibilities of the Federal government shall also be made to come to 20% of the current. Thus, agitation for more revenue to the federating units must go with increased responsibilities.
S3. Where minor constitutional amendments need to be made to cover re-alignment of responsibilities among the tiers of government in line with revenue allocations that should be done with speed.
S4. Because the 20% that the Federal government shall keep will still be very huge compared to a State's income, interventions by way of assistance from the Federal government shall help poor States in the interim as they explore alternative sources of income. Besides, there shall be established by law National Renaissance Account (NRA) with the Central Bank into which rich States of the Federation shall willingly make donations for assistance to poorer States. This shall function the same way agencies like the USAID and the IMF operate at the international level. Non-interest development loans shall be offered to less endowed Nigerian States from the NRA for strategic projects.
All talk about restructuring is nothing more than what I have tried to outline above; splinters of opinions are simply unabridged versions of the same thesis. States shall be held accountable by their people. The refrain of "Cake sharing" shall change to "Cake baking".
I must at this point comment on the recent CNN documentary on Nigeria's Niger Delta area and comments by Reuben Abati of the Nigerian Guardian newspaper. I was deeply horrified by the article written by Reuben Abati on the issue in which he saw everything wrong with the Nigerian government's reaction and absolutely nothing wrong with the CNN documentary.
Having read and commented on some of Abati's views in the past, and heard him comment on national issues on TV, I have come to the conclusion that I can easily predict what he will say on any national issue. Not only Dr. Abati, but many other Nigerian writers, would happily concur with any muck thrown on Nigeria by foreign writers and journalists. I have picked on Reuben Abati's writings and comments as they relate to the germane issues I am writing on here because he is the Chairman of the Nigerian Guardian newspaper's board of Editors and should be in a position to edit writings of many a writer on topical issues that affect the Nigerian nation.
I suppose people of Abati's hue have come to erroneously equate Nigeria with Obasanjo for whom they have unhidden hatred. Thus, if anything uncharitable, demeaning, and insolent is said about Nigeria, they quickly jump at it as yet another opportunity to lampoon Obasanjo, nay Nigeria.
A balanced writer should have pointed out any "over reactions" by the Nigerian government and the unbalanced reporting by the CNN (for not talking to any government officials on the situation on the Niger Delta) and offered amicable solutions to the seeming feud. What Abati did was to join the aggressor (CNN) to pour more sand and dirt on the victim (Nigeria).
The facts of the CNN reporting are these:
The USA wants a full military solution to the Niger Delta problem anchored on anti-terrorism war.
They have made indications that the government of Obasanjo should allow the USA assist in patrolling the Niger Delta (Meaning the Nigerian government lacks military ability to do so; that is what the CNN documentary sought to portray)
The USA feels threatened by the crisis in the Niger Delta and would like the Iraqi approach (which in any case is not working there). A cut in the supply of oil to the USA from Nigeria is quite dangerous to their economy.
Anyone that watched the follow-up to the CNN documentary would not have missed the leading questions that the anchor man was asking Jeff Koinange, like "Those militants move freely without worry and in total control of the region?", implying, there is need for foreign intervention or "assistance".
Only a few weeks ago, President Obasanjo was in Yola and said emphatically that Nigeria would never accept any foreign-induced policy of action from any foreign government. He was sounding a warning to the international community. There is this talk of AFRICOM which will be populated mainly by American soldiers and partly by African soldiers to fight "terrorist's threat in Africa". Can discerning journalists alert on this rather than have people like Abati spilling out rubbish? I must state that the Niger Delta problem is not amenable to military solution. No matter the goading by CNN and its friends like Abati, the government must resist.
The Nigerian media has done a lot of harm to the image of this nation which quite out-weigh the good they have done. I have done articles on this. Some of them (Nigerian Media) have deliberately refused to publish my comments. I had cause to phone about two media houses few weeks ago to complain; and I am grateful to those that have.
I did a commentary on the un-researched article by Adeniyi of This day newspapers (another Editor of a Nigeria newspaper) on the recent visit of American journalists to Nigeria. In that article, Mr. Adeniyi made some imaginary claims which readers took to be factual about the motive for the visit and who "imported" those journalists. They refused to publish it. Are they not being "selective" (the fad word these days)? Who says the media is not engaged in warfare against the state?
Reading articles by many Nigerians, it appears like a group of foreigners trying hard to run down a foreign nation (Nigeria). Our foreign colleagues easily point to those writings and say,
"Your own people have said your country is bad and dangerous. They say nothing works there; so, how come you are saying differently?"
Even our leaders have engaged in the same pastime of denigrating the entire nation when fighting political battles. I hold the opinion that if this nation is making progress slowly (and here again, many Nigerian journalists and writers would take umbrage at the expression "making progress" and say "no progress is being made"), it is partly because many a Nigerian writer has destroyed the good will with their pen.
When writing, we must define our objective. This objective must capture the interest of the nation. What is the interest of the nation? The interest of Nigeria has been clearly expressed on our currency (coat of arms) thus-Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress. Accordingly, there is no barren service to "truth" offered by any Nigerian journalists and writers; truth in connection with Nigeria is what serves as a pillar supporting ALL (not some) of those four planks of national interest. Close observation indicates that those four planks of Nigeria's national interest appear in two mosaic combinations.
Mosaic 1: Unity and Faith- When I-a Nigerian-write or do anything in connection with Nigeria, I must ask myself this question. Can this action be objectively judged as a motivation to unity and inspiration to faith in Nigeria? If my writing or action will discourage direct foreign investment (in other words, make investors lose faith in Nigeria) for instance, however much "truth" I claim to be the content of that writing or action, I have done damage to Nigeria, and thus defined myself in the colony of enemies of state. In every problem, I must see a ray of hope. In every piece of criticism, I must suggest a solution. Life and creation come in pairs. Unity happens in the neighborhood of faith. Can there be any true nuptial union without mutual trust and faith between the couple concerned? We cannot have one without the other.
Mosaic 2: Peace and Progress- Peace is not the absence of dissent, but its presence with moderation and understanding. Dissent does not mean or require acerbic tongue and pen; rather, it is the respectful declaration that I have an alternative view. Therefore with peace is associated progress, which is the moving from a lower point to a higher on a scale of measurement in a coordinate system of values, information and knowledge, tools, and laws.
My writings and actions must not torpedo the ship of peace, progress, and unity and shred the fabric of national faith. If my speech, writings, and actions become injurious to peace and progress in Nigeria, no argument in support of their quantum of "truth" will be sufficient. Truth is not a barren desert; it is not vague either. Hope inspired in the heart can result in unimaginable levels of progress. We must not keep preaching a false gospel that nothing is working in Nigeria. We must humbly accept and appreciate what is working and suggest ways of making what is not working to work. I wonder if those Nigerian journalists, writers, and politicians who always say, "Nothing is working in Nigeria" live in a different planet. Every time a Nigerian writer embarks on the noble project of writing about Nigeria, the pervasive occupation of the mind should be that when a reader ends reading, a cold wave of despair must not envelop them.
O yes, people say electricity supply is poor (they don't follow that up by telling you that we now have a National Electricity Regulatory Commission set up by a 2005 law and that many private companies along with state and federal governments are building power plants to increase electricity generation in the country while transmission and distribution facilities are being put in place). They say how poor the condition of our schools is (but would not say the current reform efforts at re-shaping education in Nigeria with active involvement of the private sector). They would not be generous enough to point to the confidence of investors in the Nigerian economy as indicated by the phenomenal growth in the capitalization at the Nigeria Stock Exchange (NSE) now standing at over 5.6 trillion naira from a lowly 700 billion naira in 1999 and 1.7 billion naira in December 2005 (less than two years ago). I can go on and on.
Yes, I can and have written about the deplorable state of our roads and general infrastructure with suggestions on how to make improvements. But I also look at and acknowledge the positive things. Why is the Nigerian media so afraid of acknowledging positive developments in our country? Why are they so fixated on just the faults, omissions, errors etc? Why are they so much unable to compel politicians to engage themselves on issues? Why do they feel their papers will sell more if they do mainly gossip journalism?
I should expect the Nigerian media to be the ones that would bring out through investigative journalism the dirty past of politicians who aspire to lead us instead of engaging in unfounded criticism of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). What efforts are Nigerian journalists making to ensure that only credible Nigerians are allowed to contest elections? Have they dug out the past of a single political aspirant? The answer is "No!" That explains the ineptitude of those people.
When Governor YarAdua emerged as the presidential flag bearer of the PDP it was claimed in the Nigerian Media that very little was known of the man. I think it was in the year 2001 that a "Media tour" was organized for journalists who "toured" their country to assess the performance of Nigerian State Governors. If Nigerians knew nothing of Governor YarAdua (who has been Governor for about 8 years), what does that tell us about the Nigerian Media other than they have failed to educate Nigerians about their leaders? Could it be that YarAdua did not do anything news worthy to the Nigerian media? Even then, what did the Nigerian media write about the "inactivity" of Governor Yar Adua?
We get conflicting reports in newspapers about important matters. Journalists who rely on foreign media for correct information about Nigeria cannot be relied upon for truthful reporting. The time has come for the Nigerian media to do some serious self-assessment. I must commend the Nigerian electronic media for the great work they are doing. A colleague (not Nigerian) of mine was pleasantly surprised when I told him Channels Television was a Nigerian station. What with AIT, the NTA (which against expectations report fairly; did anyone miss the unbiased reporting by NTA of the Court of Appeal ruling on February 20th?). Those TV stations seek views from all sides to create a balance. Since I returned to Nigeria, I have watched Nigerian News stations more than I watch the CNNs, BBCs, of this world. So, when I criticize the Nigerian media, I do not wholly include the electronic media, although they like human beings have their foibles.
For the information of foreigners that read me, there is no dictatorship in Nigeria. This is one nation with a courageous judiciary, a vocal (and often insolent and rude) media, combatant national legislature, largely uninformed "opposition", and an executive that is always put on its toes. President Obsanjo does not dictate things down here in Nigeria. Describing President Obasanjo as a dictator is an insult on and low estimation of the legislature (which has oversight responsibilities) who just few days ago called on President Obasanjo to "guard his utterances". Can people do those things they do to President Obasanjo to a "Dictator"? I think there is a serious misapplication of words in Nigeria.
Let Nigerians who can see the opportunities before their nation today stand up and write to tell the true story. Last month, while in New Orleans USA, I strongly protested and corrected the impression which had resulted in the rejection of my using a credit card to make payments before my trip. I had got an e-mail saying that "credit cards from your country are not accepted" (This was in spite of the fact that this was a Japan-issued credit card, although I had stated my Nigerian address). When I arrived, I demanded to know the reason for that action. The lady tried to explain to me their fears. I told her right there how misplaced the fear and impression were. I told her things were looking up in Nigeria, and fraud was being fought.
On a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, the Hostess asked to know those who were non-Americans as she passed around some immigration forms. There was a Nigerian by me bearing an American passport, who did not need to fill the form. I announced to the Hostess, "I am proudly Nigerian". She was so fascinated that she kept repeating the phrase, "Proudly Nigerian". Brandishing my green passport anywhere I travel is a matter of pride and not shame.
While returning back to Nigeria, I was asked by an African American at New Orleans airport how many wives I had. He asked this after I had told him I was a Nigerian, and of course, he was joking. Some believe that every married Nigerian has more than one wife.
When I meet with some foreigners on my travels and some of them say, "You don't speak like a Nigerian", it is because they expect Nigerians to speak in a particular way with a particular accent.
You can see the point. Rightly or wrongly, strong opinions and judgments have been formed about Nigeria and her people, and some Nigerians are more proud to introduce themselves as citizens of their adopted countries. The Nigerian print media (to make a clear distinction) has either failed to change the wrong impressions or contributed in their formation. I hope the Nigerian Guild of Editors will have some introspection about the direction of journalism in this nation. They are wrongly focused and shallow, and so the Nigerian people that depend on them for information and education are shallow in thinking.
The Media should set the parameters of assessing government performance. For instance, there was a general complaint in the first four years of the present government that there was no "Economic blue print". Now there is an "Economic blue print". The media is confused now; in this confusion, is so much unnecessary reportage and gossip. We need more informed Economic reporters and analysts; more informed specialized reporters in every sector of production to enrich the minds of Nigerians. We have had enough of gossip and impulsive journalism.
I can see hope for my country and I make my students see the same. I would not apply for or seek citizenship of another country because we must make ours better just like other people have made theirs.
In my next article on "Struggling hope from the womb of despair part 2", I shall choose another national issue. In this article, the Niger Delta issue is the sample topic of engagement. Our appetite is enlarged but for refined news and analysis combined with enriching fruits of investigative journalism.
In conclusion, can I make this request please? Could Nigerian politicians and government officials stop running to report Nigeria and Nigerians to foreigners (white skinned), please? We are not under any foreign government. If the old generation are benumbed and hypnotized by the presence of white skin, we the younger generation are not. We do not accept that white ideas are superior. We have studied with them, taught them, worked with them and seen that they are not superior in reasoning or intelligence (contrary to the assertion of Thomas Jefferson). Would it be too much a request to make? My birth day comes up in May, exactly 10 days before May 29th. I would take it for a birthday gift if Nigerians stopped going to foreign governments (USA, UK etc) to talk about Nigeria's doom and dictatorship. I also must add that we should not forget our history. Abiola did same but was not helped. Any Nigerian politician seeking outside help is indirectly telling us Nigerians that we don't truly matter. Whatever help we cannot give a Nigerian politician, the same can he not get from abroad. For their information, we do not have the yoke of Paris club and London club debts hanging around our neck anymore. We are slaves and servants of nobody. What interesting moments for Nigeria! Now we have room to make progress; now is the time to build an enviable nation.
Leonard Karshima Shilgba, is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics, Abti-American University of Nigeria, Yola.
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If the old generation are benumbed and hypnotized by the presence of white skin, we the younger generation are not. We do not accept that white ideas are superior. We have studied with them, taught them, worked with them and seen that they are not superior in reasoning or intelligence (contrary to the assertion of Thomas Jefferson). Would it be too much a request to make? My birth day comes up in May, exactly 10 days before May 29th. I would take it for a birthday gift if Nigerians stopped going to foreign governments (USA, UK etc) to talk about Nigeria's doom and dictatorship. I also must add that we should not forget our history. Abiola did same but was not helped. Any Nigerian politician seeking outside help is indirectly telling us Nigerians that we don't truly matter. Whatever help we cannot give a Nigerian politician, the same can he not get from abroad. For their information, we do not have the yoke of Paris club and London club debts hanging around our neck anymore. We are slaves and servants of nobody. What interesting moments for Nigeria! Now we have room to make progress; now is the time to build an enviable nation.
I like much of the writer's recommendations for solving the Niger Delta crisis. I would only add that 50% derivation should be a baseline, a starting point on the way to full resource control or 100% derivation in the future. The incremental progression from 50% to 100% can be worked out through a process of negotiation. This solution is good for everyone as it doesn't suddenly take everyhting away from the non-oil producing parts of the country.