Tuesday, February 28, 2006

MEND - Non Compos Mentis Gang of Pirates

It is unconscionable and grossly maladroit that the situation in the Niger Delta has been allowed to deteriorate the way it has. We all acknowledge that there are very serious environmental degradation issues facing the people of the region, whose leadership has for so long paid lip-service to the matter and lived fat off the largesse and patronage of the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) and erring oil companies in return for their reticence and ineptitude. This of cause has resulted in the explosion of activist groups of all ilks, some with legitimate causes and others with illegitimate self-serving agenda.

From MOSOP to MEND, the clarion call has been for supporters to fight against the iniquities perpetrated by the FGN and oil companies in the communities. Countless souls have been lost to the cause, many of whom have been caught in the cross-fire between the FGN and activist groups.

The past few weeks have seen the escalation of frank terrorist acts by MEND in the wake of its spate of attacks on oil installations and kidnappings. The brazenness of these attacks and sophistication of the weaponry employed leaves one to wonder if indeed the Nigerian security agencies are up to the task of keeping peace and law and order in these regions.

The FGN should not stand akimbo and allow the breakdown of law and order to the extent that several of its security agents have been murdered as a result of MEND's seemingly unchallenged ambushes and acts of lawlessness. Even if they indeed have a legitimate cause, by setting fire to oil installations, murdering several Nigerian security agents and innocent civilians alike and kidnapping employees of oil operators, MEND has crossed the line, and no self-respecting government would condone such criminal acts.

MEND has several times admitted that it is a gang of pirates and oil bunkerers. Should the FGN be doing business with criminals? There are intelligence reports that MEND enjoyed the patronage of the impeached Bayelsa state governor, Alamieyeseigha, who bought their peace and quiet by paying protection money to the pirate organization in the name of security vote. In fact, one of MEND's primary demands in its January hostage taking was the release and reinstatement of the impeached and indicted governor.

It is disgraceful to say the least that this gang of a few hundred criminals can hold the FGN and indeed the world oil market to ransom. Their acts have led to the suspension of oil production activities in large sections of the Niger Delta, resulting in substantial reduction in daily national oil output (in excess of 10%) and indeed loss of revenue to the FGN. Allowing MEND free rein to terrorize folks with impunity in the Niger Delta puts the FGN in a bad light. It means that the FGN cannot protect the live and property of its citizens and expatriate workers. With no guarantees of security, economic activities are seriously hampered. The region will continue to suffer its state of abject underdevelopment as no business would invest in the unstable region.

The Niger Delta issue is a delicate one, but this is largely because many of these so called freedom fighters are dishonest, self-serving organizations whose agenda is to extort money from the FGN and oil operators. All one needs to do is ask what MEND and its ilk and affiliates do with all the monies they have over the decades gotten from the oil operators, the FGN and its agencies. The monies are shared amongst the leadership of these spurious groups and their patrons while the innocent indigenes of the Niger Delta are left to suffer the consequences of the environmental degradation that these organizations themselves perpetrate in their acts of sabotage and bunkering, during which they blow up oil pipelines in order to steal oil.

There should be no pretences. The FGN should stop seeking to be politically correct by its inaction while its security agents and innocent citizens are being maimed and murdered in addition to the attendant loss of revenue resulting from the shut down of oil production activities in these troubled regions. The solution, politically unpopular as it may be, is to come down hard on these murderers with maximum force. Route out every single member of these terrorist organizations and bring them to book. At the same time, the FGN should seek to do business with law abiding bonafide environmentalist groups who are genuinely pursuing the Niger Delta cause and not those wreaking havoc and asking for ransoms and billions of dollars in reparation to be paid to their leadership. No one has bothered to ask these pirates how the reparation money they demand would be disbursed to the common Niger Delta folk if the FGN is naive enough to grant their wish.

The FGN set up agencies such as the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC) into which it has poured several billions of dollars to cater to the developmental issues of Niger Delta. These agencies have been headed variously by indigenes of the Niger Delta since their inception in the 1960s, but alas have made little impact because they are replete with corruption. Should not these environmentalist groups in a concerted manner be directing their effort at ensuring that these agencies are properly run rather than perpetrating random acts of terror? Is it not better to garner the support of the international community through advocacy at international fora such as the United Nations assembly, Common wealth of Nations, European Union sessions etc? By their dastardly acts of terror, these belligerent groups deplore the Niger Delta cause, rendering it an unpopular cause to back by influential international environmentalist groups such as Greenpeace International and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), who have the clout to engender lasting change in the region.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Where are the Honorable Men & Women in Plateau State?

The chronicle of events in Plateau state over the past few weeks has reduced the state to a theater of farce. On the one hand, we have a governor who has admitted to impropriety with the state’s ecological fund to the tune of 1.6 billion Naira, (Approximately $12 million); on the other we have people who are lending their support to him because he has fingered others with whom he allegedly committed the impropriety.

What boggles the mind is that rather than condemn this abominable conduct, the members of the state’s assembly who are supposed to check the state chief executive officer’s conduct are suing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for effecting an order freezing the state’s accounts and federal allocation in the wake of the morass the governor has worked himself into.

It is true that stanching funding to the state will create hardships and make governance difficult. But that is precisely what the EFCC seeks to achieve. By so doing it first of all renders unavailable funds prone to potential misappropriation, and second hopes to galvanize the honorable members of the state house of assembly to investigate allegations of graft and gross misconduct committed by the governor and subsequently impeach him if he is found wanton, to strip him of the immunity from prosecution he enjoys as governor, and allow for his indictment. If indeed honorable members of the state assembly are worthy their epithet, then it behooves them to judiciously and without bias, to investigate the allegation and cooperate with the EFCC to resolve the issue rather that assume an antagonistic posture that suggests their wholesale complicity in the matter.

They argue that the EFCC has no right to freeze the state accounts, but fail to acknowledge that the money comes from the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) and as such the FGN has every right to question how the money is disbursed. Let me remind my honorable plateau state members and governor Dariye that in as much as plateau state is entitled to the FGN subvention, they are answerable not only to plateau state indigenes but every Nigerian citizen, all of whom to which monies allocated to states and FGN agencies belong. If you think because you are in plateau state, you can misappropriate FGN derived state funds, you must be grossly disillusioned. The money belongs to every Nigerian and must be properly accounted for.

Dariye was arrested and charged for money laundering in the United Kingdom in late 2004. He jumped bail and escaped to Nigeria back to the Plateau state government house, yet not one public figure in plateau state questioned this. Rather, we have so called prominent plateau politicians under the umbrella of Plateau Consultative Assembly paying the indicted and fugitive governor homage at the government house, in Rayfield, Jos to register their support. What exactly are they supporting? What message are they sending? Is it that they condone acts of graft, or that they are shameless and of dubious and crass political substance, or perhaps that they are in cahoots with the governor in the alleged acts of fiduciary impropriety?

Are there no honorable men and women in Plateau state? Are they all cronies of Dariye? If a state government and its house assembly have decided to institutionalize corruption, then the FGN has every right to withhold its subvention. The FGN has the primary responsibility to look out for the over 3 million citizens of plateau state, if the few hundred people elected and appointed to represent them are so blinded by greed and frank insincerity to do so.

The honorable thing for any public official to do under these circumstances in the civilized world is to resign, but of course water will sooner be squeezed out of a diamond than for Dariye to do this. Since Dariye would not resign and his cronies in the state assembly are reluctant to investigate him, then withholding the state’s subvention is the right thing for the FGN to do. After all, no right thinking person will keep his money carelessly where it will easily be stolen. Until the issue is resolved, it will be unwise for the FGN to continue to fund the state at the risk of the monies being frittered away into some state government official’s private bank account.

Friday, February 03, 2006

JCRC Throws out Three Terms of 4 Years Proposal - A Good Start

Members of the Nigerian national assembly Joint Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution (JCRC) finally got it right yesterday when they resolved to exclude the three terms of four years for executive offices of the president and state governors proposal from the list of proposals for review. By so doing they have shown moral courage and integrity, and proved that they are not mere instruments of injustice and insincerity in the hands of the various governors and other political pundits and stakeholders that have given support to the proposal.

Of the 36 state governors in Nigeria, all but 9 have lent their support to the three term proposal. It begs the question if and how those governors in support are different from the sit-tight military regimes most of them were vociferously against in the days of Abacha and IBB. Asking for three terms of four years each means that a certain governor or president could be in power for a total of twelve years, far more than any government, military or civilian has stayed continuously in power. Regardless of performance, we may be stuck with the same executive officer for 12 years. This is how despots are made. By 2007, many of those clamoring for a third term to be added to their tenure would have been in power for eight years and yet have no real achievement to show for their leadership. Many have turned the state coffers into their personal piggy banks and I suspect that the reason why they seek a third term is so that they will continue to enjoy the protection of the immunity clause in the constitution, that way shielding themselves from indictment for graft and other acts of gross misconduct.

The JCRC should seriously take a look at this clause in the 1999 constitution of blanket immunity for executive officers, particularly the governors, because as has been proven by Mbadinuju, Alamieyeseigha and Dariye it is prone to abuse and ridicule. If there is anything positive that should result from the work of the committee, it should be reviewing this seriously flawed aspect of the constitution and making it applicable only to legitimate acts of governance. Nobody should be immune from prosecution for heinous crimes such as murder and graft for which some ex-governors have been indicted. Democracy is based on the principles of equality and justice and our elected officers are expected not only to dispense these but also to abide by them. If defined properly and applied correctly, immunity clauses are embedded in the constitution to enable the dispensation of justice and equity and not protect unjust and iniquitous governors from prosecution.

Another proposal that the JCRC should consider throwing out of their scope of deliberation is the issue of rotational presidency. There is no sincere logic other than selfish tribalism and rabid jingoism driving proponents of rotational presidency. Crafting a constitutional instrument to legitimize this will be the greatest disservice to democracy and justice. Not only will it breed mediocrity and an unwarranted sense of entitlement, it will deprive the Nigerian populace of the most able leadership at each point in time since the available choices will be limited only to candidates from the region to which the presidency has been zoned. If there are six zones as being proposed, then we are talking of excluding 83.33% of the potential pool of candidates, a gross miscarriage of justice and frank perversion of democracy.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Malu's Murkiness

Erstwhile Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Victor Malu's statement yesterday at the Arewa Consultative Forum (AFC) meeting is unfortunate, and to say the least shameful. It only goes to show the level of depravity, decadence and arcane sense of entitlement that permeates the Nigerian military, borne of years of their illegitimate usurpation of power. Victor Malu should know that had he forcibly taken over from a democratically elected government, not only would he have committed a treasonable felony, but he would have constituted an illegitimate government. Nigeria clearly deserves a more discerning mind at the helm. If Malu wants power, he should vie for it at the polls and not seize it like the other rogue military misadventurists before him.

Just because a soldier is given the opportunity to serve his country does not mean that he has the right to bully everybody with the military resources at his disposal and seize power to lord it over the same people he has sworn to protect. Military governments are not only a gross betrayal of trust and duty; they are anachronistic and have no place in the present global political landscape.

The many years of military incursion into governance in Nigeria undoubtedly is the bane of the country's present socio-economic, cultural and political predicament. The military is trained in the art of violence and war, not governance. They have done a woeful job at governance each time they have expropriated power from the people. All the despotism and the greater portion of the corrupt acts of graft, human rights abuses and embezzlement of public funds have been perpetrated by and during military regimes. The intermittent interferrence of the Nigerian military in governance has been the reason why Nigeria is politically immature and economically inept. But this notion is probably too abstract and complex to grasp, and lost on a bitter mind such as Malu's.

It is no wonder that President Obasanjo relieved him of his post. He was obviously drunk on the power that he had been bestowed as the Chief of Army Staff, and now that he is bereft of it, he is a bitter sulking sod. The Nigerian Army and indeed the entire Nigerian polity would be better off if people like Malu were not given audience. Gunk bleeds from a broken mind. And we should be spared the grief of listenning to it. We can only hope he has not succeeded in tainting the minds of the younger men and women of the Nigerian military. He should be thankful that he made this base statement in democratic times. I doubt that he would have dared to make such an unguarded statement under a military regime (Abacha would have skinned him alive). It is ironic that he regrets not snuffing out the very same freedom he currently enjoys just because he disapproves of the president's style.

Malu, what would you have done, had you succeeded in taking over from OBJ and some bitter ex-COAS uttered the very same statement you made at the ACF meeting? I bet you would have charged the sorry sod for treason. Should the same fate apply to you under the present dispensation?