The Room President Buhari Really Needs Now

At first, like every sane Nigerian, I took President Muhammadu Buhari’s response to his wife’s criticism of his government as a joke. And even agreed with Malam Garba Shehu’s description of it as as such on Twitter, that “(President Buhari) was obviously throwing a banter.” But the President’s unnecessary restatement of that misogynistic caricaturing of his wife in a subsequent interview, clarifying that indeed “she belongs in my kitchen, my living room and the other”, was devastating. And this was done as guest of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, a woman that manages a country more prosperous than his and ranks higher than him in the global political equation. Yet that wasn’t a clue to keep his patriarchy to himself.

The tragic thing is, what Mrs. Buhari said wasn’t even damaging. It was an explicit praise of the President, which was why I attempted to understand her interviews on BBC in Hausa and then in English as a PR stunt developed to exonerate the husband. For what’s a more convenient inference than her claim that the government has been hijacked by strangers and opportunists? I even likened her guts to that of her fictional American counterpart, Mrs. Claire Underwood, reputed for audacious ambition and manipulation of events to secure her husband’s political capital. House of Cards fans will get this analogy.

For a President serially accused of nepotism and parochialism, Aisha’s interviews, in those initial interpretations by me, seemed like strategic PR for President Buhari. Her criticism only portrayed him as he once described himself, that he “belongs to everybody…” All the things she said, intended to be a criticism of her husband, only projected a favourable image of the man.

For a fact, Aisha wasn’t speaking for me, probably not for anyone outside her circle of partisan elite. She’s speaking for those who deserved or expected rewards for supporting Buhari. The hunger addressed in the BBC interview isn’t really that of the masses, but that of a part of the Nigerian elite who aren’t eating as they had anticipated. So, following her logic, democracy is intended to be a grand house party for friends and family of the celebrant – the President.

Shouldn’t this have been explained by the President’s media managers as validation of the man’s famous declaration of belonging to nobody even though he belongs to all? Aisha Buhari’sargument could’ve been valid if she hadn’t based a point on Buhari inviting strangers and opportunists to his government. She painted her husband as a naïve, and that his government has been hijacked. Before him was an opportunity to describe her outrage as a misunderstanding of his magnanimity.

Perhaps the President was not disturbed by the media backlash that trailed his initial degrading response to his wife because patriarchy is a way of life in his country, and expressions as his aren’t interpreted as wrong and unacceptable here. We shouldn’t be fooled, millions of us like this male-privileging social order even if we can’t make the delusion of that grandeur public. Amongst ourselves, and deep within us, there’s a maddening patriarchal tendency seen in our reactions when we see a car badly driven, a lady living alone, a lady over 30 unmarried, a lady heading a big public institution. Like all privileges, men see this patriarchy as birthright, something hard to unlearn. Like that racist who can’t imagine a world of all equal. And it would be foolish to praise the President for publicly shaming us all.

Buhari has goofed by degrading his wife in the eyes of the world, and he should apologise to her. But her outrage over his approach to governance was harmless. There’s nothing wrong with the President of Nigeria appointing citizens he didn’t know, or had never ever met, which seems to frighten his wife the most. That’s a partisan concern, not a national problem. If anything, we should commend the man for refusing to reward only those who supported him as expected by his wife and her ilk. It’s one thing to say Nigeria isn’t functioning as promised by the APC, it’s another to say it’s so as a result of existence of “strangers” and “opportunists” in the government.

As we await the next episode of the first family’s rumble, the President needs a retreat to reflect deeply on the legacy he intends to leave behind, and the impact of this politically incorrect example he advertised in his reaction to his wife. Buhari used to be a flawless model to some partisans, and their intellectual allies could have written the story of his struggles and named it “The Best President Nigeria Never Had” if he had lost the 2015 Presidential Elections. Today, he’s falling down the popularity bar, and the speed with which this is happening is the only motivation he needs to sit up. It’s likely he may not have company in the “other room” soon, so what he really needs is a space to reflect—a Reflection Room. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

Forgetting Abdulmumin Jibrin?

I was part of a group that met the lone fighter on October 3. It was a mission arranged by a social media community to establish the fact of his conflict with colleagues at the House of Representatives, which has resulted in his suspension for 180 days. The meeting was a re-introduction to revelations the lawmaker has already made, and an opportunity for us to ask him questions surrounding his new-found activism, mostly upsetting. It was a convergence of people who, ordinarily, wouldn’t have been under one roof because of wildly differing political inclinations.

Jibrin began with a familiar description of the Nigerian lower legislative chamber, attributing the disdain for lawmakers to their double-standards. He said that such disdain was inevitable since they are wont to grilling government officials in the day and accepting bribes from the same characters at night. This came at the time a video of Hon. Herman Hembe, a lawmaker called out for his corruption on the floor of the national assembly, reappeared and going viral. As the Chairman of House Committee on Capital Markets, the lawmaker was confronted by his victim, Ms. Arunma Oteh, of how he swindled her agency, Securities and Exchange Commission. It was a humiliating clip, and horrifying that the same character got re-elected and even had the audacity to rebel against corruption allegations against the House.

Said Jibrin, “What happened at the House of Reps wasn’t padding. What happened was a budget fraud.” And then came a clarification, that the National Assembly indeed has the Power of Appropriation, and that what he meant by his accusations of frauds by his colleagues was that that power was abused. He disclosed that projects were inserted in the budget by a clique led by the Speaker, with neither consultation nor feasibility studies. The clique created projects and gave their own cost estimates suo moto. How Legislators got to fix the costs of projects in the national budget over dinner or lunch really beats me. That is what they did. As to why his colleagues at the House of Representatives are unwilling to join his force against budget fraud, Jibrin answered that it’s because the Speaker has sworn to protect their allowances. And that, allowances, was my high-point of the meeting, the horrifying revelation that each member of the House receives N10 million monthly. I won’t even bother about the mathematics of this unfair use of public funds.

Though Jibrin was subjected to tough questions by participants, I thought it was a miscalculation for us to throw out the bathwater with the baby. My position is made even easier with his stance he’s not without blame and that the call for probity shouldn’t be centred around him. And true, somebody telling you his colleagues are abusing public trust and misusing resources of the nation isn’t asking you to make him a hero, he’s telling you to save your nation from those colleagues—and he’s not exonerated from the mess. I think that whether we like Abdulmumin Jibrin or not is immaterial. Our concern should be the veracity of his revelations and how to forestall recurrence of a gang of bandits creating projects for the nation and deciding their costs over a meal.

He only alerted the nation to a systemic flaw in an institution and how we are being serially scammed and taken for granted. It’s an insider’s revelation. Expected from a thinking nation is an alliance to facilitate conviction of all responsible, even him too, if found guilty. I don’t see how this is difficult to understand, why we have to be a drama queen over an unambiguous issue. Jibrin is a whistleblower. A “whistleblower” is only an insider who has information the people don’t. It doesn’t mean innocent participant. The word for that is “saint”, and saint is not a synonym of whistleblower.

To me, the worst twist since the House of Representatives corruption scandal began was APC’s letter to the whistleblowing lawmaker, asking him to stop revealing that abuse of public trust. That was evidence of one thing, that the governing party sees corruption as misuse of public funds or power by anyone other than those that represent its interests. Perhaps this is why the same APC-led government trying former government officials – and recording “successes” on the pages of newspapers – condones corruption by its people at CBN, FIRS and now the House of Reps.

Our politicians may have shown the public they are different, but the truth is they are all united in protection of their corrupt practices and roles in permitting them. Nothing was done about Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s revelations of corrupt practices in the Jonathan-led government, just the way nothing is being done about Jibrin’s now. Whether Jibrin too is guilty is a distraction. My interest is whether his revelations are true, and that if true the transgressors be punished. Of corollary interest to me is why these allegations are being “forgotten” by a change-advocating government and political party. But it is secondary to the veracity of Abdulmumin Jibrin’s claims and action of same. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

The Partisans’ Portrayals of the Critic as a Hater


Perhaps it’s sub-clinical, but partisanship as exhibited by Nigerians appears to be no more than just uncritical loyalty to a political party. It’s a psychiatric dilemma. Perhaps again this is only my lack of an explanation for, or an understanding of, the kneejerk reference to critics of the government as “haters” by those who were themselves “critics” before entering into political office.

The Critic-As-A-Hater— attention-seeker and most definitely “disgruntled”—is the perception being popularised by the legion of former critics. And they have really invested a lot in this shamefulness, such that even political appointees whose offices aren’t recognised by the Government (with creative portfolios as insignificant as their principal’s promises, only sustained by hand-outs), have joined the legion to taunt citizens who have voiced discontent with government.

This diseased mindset has been applied in their criticism of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. If there’s a medal for hypocrisy, zealous supporters of President Muhammad Buhari will bag the prize and millions in cash, without a challenger from any other political front. Some of the cheerleaders of the campaign have suddenly become its critics. This points to one thing, that their participation in this long-lasting campaign for the rescue of the girls of Chibok was not a show of humanity. It was just a restatement of their hatred of former President Goodluck Jonathan. And that’s why they are unwilling to accept that people can actually be legitimately critical of a style of governance, for they see everyone in their own image – as sycophants. To them, an apposition has to be rooted in an unrevealed interest. To them, an opposition has to be sponsored, any agenda has to be driven by bigotry or vendetta.

This justifies my advocacy for the development of Civic Education in Nigerian schools. Our understanding of government and the place of civic vigilance is dispiriting. Whatever is being taught right now clearly isn’t effective. And it’s funny when government appointees interpret civics as hatred of the government, even funnier when their partisan allies agree with such a pedestrian acknowledgement of the appointees’ inability to play their designated roles beyond serving as attack dogs. That those appointed to advise our politicians routinely identify critics as haters explains why our governments fail.

But since we survived the Jonathanians, we are strong to tell their successors, the Buharists, that praise songs don’t build a strong nation. A government is only as good as the people manning it and those that surround it. And if this holds any truth, now then is the time to speak the truth to power. This is the time to praise those still standing, those who have refused to compromise on their values, those immune to blackmail.

The political zealots have even resorted to blackmail as a part of their scheme to shut critics down. The latest victim is the US-based columnist, Professor Farooq Kperogi. In a bid to disrupt his scrutiny of the government, as he did to governments before this, his personal life was made a subject of public ridicule. The intent was to distract and dissuade him. First he was charged with bitterness for not having been given an appointment. It didn’t matter to them that he’s a highly regarded scholar at an American university, and evidently loved there for his service.

When it was obvious that the columnist was high above that shallow stream of mischief, a fiction was woven around his academic scholarship – that he was sponsored by a Nigerian university, and that it is a moral low to stay back in the United States even after benefitting from Nigeria’s largesse. “That’s flat-out false,” he wrote in a reaction to the blackmail on his Facebook. “My Master’s degree was paid for entirely by the University of Louisiana. I got a full tuition waiver and a monthly stipend for my duties as a graduate teaching assistant while I was a student there.” And then, “For my PhD at Georgia State University, I also had a full tuition waiver and a monthly stipend, and was a graduate teaching instructor.”

That they are frightened by the columnist’s commentary to the point of blackmailing him is itself a moral validation of his critiques of the President’s reluctance to lead the change he promised, to plagiarise the right things from Obama (like getting rid of the many presidential jets), to run a frugal government in view of the lean economy of the day, amongst other discontents. Kperogi isn’t a government spokesman, one of whom he’s even had a decorous exchange with over the veracity of a report in the Vanguard newspaper the Presidency didn’t refute, who yet expected the columnist to know it was false. But if It took a Farooq Kperogi column to have an official clarification on that report of the extravagance of our governing elite from Garba Shehu, then the critic achieved his aim. Ironically, the same partisans who, allying with Garba Shehu, questioned the credibility of Vanguard, rushed to share and quote Barack Obama’s praise of the President’s handing of the Boko Haram insurgency reported by the “useless” newspaper they have asked us to stop reading.

We must learn to see positive assessment of the government as recognition for the moments it fulfils electoral promises. Or, as encouragement to do more and better. This making governance look like a humanitarian service, as these shameless, shame-inducing legion of jokers insist on doing, is barefaced sycophancy. The politicians are not doing us a favour by patching up roads and rehabilitating other infrastructure. It is EXACTLY what they were elected and overly paid to do. And these aides of theirs, who criticise citizens upon civic dissent with their principals, even when the livelihood of both they and their principals are maintained by public funds, might just be in need of a psychiatrist to see the irreconcilable irony of their position. May God save us from us.

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

Change Does Not Begin with an Empty Slogan, Mr. President


Last Thursday, the Federal Government, obviously terrified by the burden of expectations on it, launched what is without doubt an exercise in propaganda. It is a social orientation campaign named “Change Begins With Me”. Introducing the campaign, the President said, “Our citizens must realize that the change they want to see begins with them.” And then, “Before you ask ‘where is the change they promised us’, you must first ask how far have I changed my ways, (sic) ‘what have I done to be part of the change for the greater good of society’.”

This is an audacious attempt to alter the definition of “Change” the APC proposed when it approached us in selling its beautiful ideas for Nigeria.  The governing party’s idea of change has been widely archived, and it’s just impossible to convince the people that the change they promised isn’t creating three million jobs yearly, providing free meals for public primary school public, offering N5,000 stipends to unemployed youths, adopting Social Welfare Programmes to cater for the poor, free maternal and children healthcare services, amongst similar visions as laudable as they were popular.

This is why the definition provided by the President is a contradiction of what the APC told us, that it would lead the way to our redemption. The Change promised Nigerians was framed as institutional and systemic, not this grand campaign for exceptional individualism. The problem, as I’ve repeatedly said, is not the person, not the Nigerian. It’s the institutions, stupid, to creatively quote an exceptional American who also came to power chanting Change. Institutions aren’t made by people, they are made by rules, fair rules impartially administered, hard to bend. That is the Change we were promised, it was the Change we expected and voted for, it is the Change that is demanded.

Have you ever paused to ponder why Nigerians beat traffic lights in Abuja but obey traffic rules in London? It’s because the UK institutions are strong. So, the change we anticipate must begin with institutions changing people. Telling some people that change begins with them is like telling a robber to stop stealing. No, you’ve to build a strong Police to change him, and strong social services so that petty theft for survival is diminished. Citizens are often only as good and as incorruptible as the country wants them to be, through its institutions.

An expatriate friend, an Australian, beats traffic lights in Abuja and he actually once described it as fun. He’ll never try it in his country. Why? It’s not patriotism. Words like “change begins with me” will never stop people from disobeying traffic rules. To achieve this, you need surveillance cameras and strong penalising institutions. Wait, why do you think Americans are afraid of evading tax? It’s the horror of having to deal with IRS. It’s not patriotism. Who’s afraid of FIRS? Definitely not the Nigerian big man who’s sure of his ability to make phone calls and get any case against him dropped! So, change should begin with the President addressing institutional lapses like those employment scams at CBN and FIRS, and apologising to the nation for condoning such nepotism.

Truth is, this “Change Begins With Me” campaign may only further give the President more excuses to skip electoral promises. He and his handlers will claim they failed to deliver as promised because the citizens didn’t change. Our President may go down in history as just another politician if he does not stick to the dream he promised which got him elected, with honest apologies or explanations where necessary.  He’s to lead and inspire a generation by giving them a functional nation to strive to change their realities. Change begins with having stable power supply, equipped and upgraded hospitals, developed road infrastructure, rehabilitated schools, countered nepotism, defeated crony capitalism…

Yes, you don’t need a witchdoctor to understand that the change promised by the APC means overturning our social conditions. Our people are hungry, forex is unstable, businesses are collapsing, and instead of changing their conditions, the government is shamelessly telling them that change begins with them. What the hungry citizens need isn’t an empty slogan, what they need is a favourable socio-economy to stay alive and thrive in. To say #ChangeBeginsWithMe when inflation is on autopilot is an understating of the nation’s reality, it’s a state-authorised insult. To deploy a slogan as facile and silly as #ChangeBeginsWIthMe in 2016 is an insult to the intelligence of even the dullest of the Nigerian electorate. Change means an improvement in the quality and responsiveness of our institutions, and we will never let the President CHANGE the CHANGE!

If Nigerians had not changed, they wouldn’t have volunteered to campaign for Candidate Muhammadu Buhari who, addressing delegates at his party’s National Convention before the elections, said, “I can’t give you a pocketful of dollars or Naira to purchase your support.”  What he offered in place of dollars was a beautiful dream. In that dream, the people saw a Nigeria where they don’t need a “connection” anymore to secure a job. But that has happened under his watch. This is why I suggested #ChangeAlongWithMe as a more sensible slogan elsewhere, because the President was elected to pave the way for the change by, for instance, installing functional streetlamps and establishing strong penalising institutions for citizens to obey traffic rules, and by stopping recruitment scams at our federal agencies for the citizens to get the sense and essence of a Nigeria without nepotism. Psychologists call these conditioning!

But the usual governmental praise-singers, in their serial bid to endorse the campaign, say its critics are ignorant, revealing their amusing misconception of Civics. Some have written that Nigerians have a sense of entitlement. They miss, of course, embarrassingly, that Nigerians are not requesting effective institutional change from the President. We are demanding it as he promised. It’s our right, paid for in blood and votes, it is not a privilege to which entitlement and too much of entitlement can be attached.

Nigerians are waiting for the President have them conditioned into what he wants them to be, possible only through his policies and actions. He has access to the public treasury and administrative machinery to shape the destiny of this nation. That the government is resorting to psychological propaganda to hoodwink Nigerians into embracing a contradiction of its promises and capabilities, is dispiriting. Change begins with action, and with the President not abdicating his responsibility to champion it. May God save us from us.

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

Happy Recession, Nigeria!


We do not know the exact starting date of this historic festival, nor are we in the know of its end date. I mean this festival of inflation and hunger, unemployment and job cuts, liquidation and crime, mental health crisis and despair. There’s something savagely beautiful about celebrating our misery, about refusing to see it as a danger, preferring to call it a mere “word”, for example, since it does not threaten the existence of those in the political house – elected politicians and their allies in and out of the corridor of power.

Some think the decision to celebrate our misery was taken on our behalf by our foreign-sounding Minister of Finance, Ms. Kemi Adeosun. It’s a fact that she called the decline in our Gross Domestic Product by -2.06 %, a recession, a mere word. And it’s also a fact that she has not told us why a decline in one sector – which contributed only 15% of the GDP, according to her professional colleagues – has resulted in a recession. This is somewhat strange for an administration that claims to have been diversifying, contradicting reports that our non-oil exports have dropped by 43%.

Adeosun’s denial of our threatening reality is a familiar trend amongst our governing elite. Reacting to the ranking of Nigeria as one of the five poorest countries in the world by the World Bank, then President Goodluck Jonathan said, “Nigeria is not a poor country. Nigerians are the most travelled people. There is no country you go that you will not see Nigerians.” And then, “I visited Kenya recently on a state visit and there was a programme for Nigerian and Kenyan business men to interact and the number of private jets that landed in Nairobi that day was a subject of discussion in Kenyan media for over a week.”

This disheartening yardstick of measuring poverty was actually that of a President of a nation “with almost 100 million people living on less than a $1 (£0.63) a day” – according a 2012 data. So, it didn’t come as a surprise reading the similarly elitist delusion of Mr. Bayo Onanuga, a journalist whose class suicide as a firebrand critic of elitism and military brutality to a former senatorial candidate and now head of the government-controlled News Agency of Nigeria is as intriguing as it comes. He pandered to Jonathan’s thinking, that the luxurious lifestyles of beneficiaries of the nation’s most corrupt class represents the realities of a blacksmith in Potiskum, a roadside yam seller in Ogbomosho and a vulcaniser in Onitsha.

To Mr. Onanuga, a text message from his London-bound daughter – “Daddy, my flight is filled up o” – was a confirmation of his belief that reports of economic hardship in Nigeria were untrue and the true situation exaggerated. His reaction to the threatened existence of citizens who may go to bed tonight without any means is Denial. It is a style of engagement widely adopted by other government appointees, all understandably immune to hunger.

On various social media platforms, other outspoken political appointees have been publishing statistics that not only repel our realities but attempt to create an imaginary paradise for Nigerians. In line with the festive nature of the times, of course. Even the President’s media managers seem to believe their bogus statistics and grandstanding on Twitter will redeem the growing inflation and hunger nationwide. But the truth is that it is even their confrontational and combative style of communicating these alternate realities that will multiply the army of displeased citizens. It’s unfortunate that our friends who used to be critical of the government suddenly are now quick to say to say, “You guys are too critical” on finally jumping ship.

Like our politicians, the trappings of political power have confused the conscience of our former civic allies. They have become even worse than the Establishment they once antagonised. Instead of delivering on their roles of advising their principals, they are becoming intolerably obnoxious, giving the managers of our economy illusions of good performance and misleading public perception.

The governing elite have succeeded in recruiting the Bayo Onanugas into contradictions of their old values, so that they now see the civic vigilance they were once known for as a social nuisance. It has got to the point that when a critic points to a snake the politicians were given power to hire able hands to kill, he’s asked to tell the government how to kill it. And this, unfortunately, is the mentality of the praise-singing brigade stationed to defend our politicians. The critic highlights shortcomings to get the government’s think-tank ticking. You can’t be in possession of a fire extinguisher and ask the man who alerts you to fire to quench it for you!

If a leader expects more from critics after being shown a flaw in his idea, he’s either incompetent or his lieutenants are due for the sack. The similarity between a critic and a politician is that both have ideas. The difference is what matters. Only one has access to popular political legitimacy, administrative machinery and the public purse. But since we are in reality being asked to celebrate this severe economic downturn, let me kindly wish Nigerians toasting to national misery a happy recession. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@GimbaKakanda On Twitter

Dear FCT Minister, this Centre no Longer Holds!


I was dissuaded from writing to you, from alerting you to things you are likely too busy to see. The main reason given for this was that writing to you is futile and, in some cases, there was the added collateral argument that you do not exist. My stubbornness is informed by my having seen your photographs hanging on the walls of several offices in this Abuja, enough to object to the mischief of They who shall remain nameless. I know it’s not easy serving as escort to a jet-setting President, accompanying him to the airport whenever he travels and receiving him there on his return. When I brought this up, They dismissed even that tasking role as a proof of your existence and love for us. They refused to see that you’re Agent Double O Seven, protecting the President with whom we are still in love. In fact, and forgive me for saying it, They said you’re a ghost worker. I have no interpretation of this other than your perception – by them, that is – of you as ceremonial administrator.

I gather that the FCT Budget for the 2016 fiscal year has just been signed by the President. This has moved me to point out some of our problems you don’t seem to have acknowledged. I want you to see the things we see the way they are, this city’s gradual fall unto ruin under your watch. Over the years, we dealt with the horrors of the city’s urban slums, how such monstrous poverty managed to find an incubator in this city of limitless wealth and billionaire policymakers. Outside the city were even more dehumanising evidences of poverty fed fat by years of elitising public policies. Aside from Abuja Municipal, which was fixed to serve as paradise of our criminally rich politicians, the other five Area Councils – Abaji, Gwagwalada, Kuje, Bwari and Kwali – have been an eyesore.

As a man of piety, to which those who know you have testified, the de-elitisation of public policies and reforms is expected from you. Even though your background as former head of an organisation tasked with managing religious activities, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, was cited in your early days to question your capacity, I am indifferent to such an allegation. But it’s devastating now to see you not only seem to lack plans for the five neglected Area Councils but further seem incapable of keeping Abuja Municipal in shape. You have to prove us wrong, Sir.

The metaphor of the decay of this capital of Nigeria, once proclaimed “the fastest-growing city in Africa” by a drunkard I’m yet to identify, came to me around 5 PM, on August 26. The epiphany happened in Maitama, arguably Abuja’s most beautiful district. In the course of the day’s rain, Nile Street attempted to become the river it was named after. The street was flooded from up to the Nile delta at Alvan Ikoku Street. And the message I got was a loud cry for intervention, for simply a working drainage system. I assure you it’s worse elsewhere. It should frighten you that rain causes flooding, damage and safety risks even in Maitama.

You may want to go for a lone tour of FCT. You don’t have to fear for paparazzi or kidnappers, since you’re really not known outside your office. Do this at once and see what this city looks like when it rains. Do so at night too, and see the dysfunctional streetlamps. My cousin assures me that half of the streetlights between Berger and Kubwa do not work. Go out for a walk in the afternoon and note that there are no signposts to alert your citizens to the death traps that are the missing manhole covers along our streets. Sewage runs across the street regularly in Garki and Utako. Sir, there’s far more to city management than taking over the role of Mr. President’s Head of Protocol.

Yet, you’re a lucky man. You seem to be under no pressure to deliver because your office isn’t elective, and is thus protected from the outrage of a disappointed electorate. But no matter what, there should be a channel for communicating your development plans and how you seek to take us by surprise by outperforming even your worse predecessors. You’re appointed to serve the people, and isn’t it weird there are no explanations for these perpetual risks of flood, health hazards from open sewers and traffic mess as a result of malfunctioning streetlamps and stray herdsmen who, some have said, mistake the city for Federal Cattle Territory?

A friend once observed that it’s the “dormant” chairmen of FCT Area Councils that made your own inactivity too obvious, and I’m wondering why there seems to be no communication of the reasons our five other Area Councils look like big villages of a country emerging from a decade-long recession. These people are economically downtrodden, denied basic social amenities, and forsaken. I was once a part of an NGO that navigated places with no motorable roads, no healthcare centres and poorly equipped schools, in this Abuja. The pupils couldn’t even afford books and uniforms. Isn’t it disgraceful that small NGOs build boreholes and schools for communities just a thirty minute drive from your office?

If you’re ever allowed to join the President’s jet to one of his trips overseas, how would you respond to questions around the state of the nation’s capital by potential investors? Because it will be sheer fraud to deny, in Washington DC or London, that Abuja is neither dysfunctional nor even convenient for investment or habitation. An existence threatened by flood, traffic lawlessness, power outage, sanitation systems not maintained, disorganised and unreliable intra-city transportation, amongst others, is too much baggage for any serious investor seeking to migrate to Nigeria’s supposedly most organised modern city.

Malam Mohammed Bello, Abuja residents don’t have to wake up and find themselves floating in water before you intervene. While you’re deciding what to do with the budget, respond to these collapsing features of the city. At least, embark on fixing the drainage system, restore the missing manhole covers, have streetlamps fixed at strategic places, stop the shit from getting on the streets and make the placing of signposts a priority of your administration. Be creative, court private partners. These things don’t cost a fortune. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

Dilemma of the Nigerian Youth

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These past weeks, I’ve had reason to reflect more on the place of the Nigerian youth in politics and public service. The inspiration for this was the hypocrisy I witnessed all the times our gerontocratic political establishment opened its door for the young join to them. The strangest dilemma is this: the youth advocate inclusion in governance and participation in politics yet any time a young person is offered an appointment, the first argument is over his or her “lack of experience”. Further, how an “experienced” person ought to occupy such an office. “Experience” has always been a code for age, it is gotten by years and not competence or experience. Just be old enough, ergo, you are garlanded with “experience” as well.

This near predictable trend of reaction was witnessed most recently with the appointment of Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman as Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority. The loudest and, to me, the only known, critics of her appointment were members of her constituency: the political youth. She was portrayed as not only a creation of opportunism, but one lacking requisite experience and age to manage an organisation that complex. 

One may then wish to know what our generation means by advocating inclusion in government. How is that a logical demand when one of us is suddenly seen as unqualified, by us, on the basis of her age? One may also wish to know whether those older were chosen based on track records earned in an extraterrestrial world. I mean, whether those older have always been older. It didn’t matter to them that Hadiza has had fair experience working with the current Governor of Kaduna State, and has been involved in some of the nation’s most effective administrative reforms and political and social advocacies. This is what some of her detractors chose to miss—that she understands the architecture and intricacies of the Nigeria the same youths have been furiously asking for. 

Some of us who support the “Not Too Young to Run” bill and campaign aren’t doing so in agreement with the view that the youths are (potentially) smarter administrators or possess extraordinary traits no longer exhibited by the older generation. A friend of mine, in the period running up to the 2015 presidential election, promoted Candidate Muhammadu Buhari as the most qualified, citing age as his reason. I dismissed that as an affront to younger Nigerians, because such insidious and dangerous thinking only justifies the very gerontocracy our generation is allying to demolish. One may be tempted to ask the youths to come together and form a strong political alliance or a party in a bid to restate their relevance, size and actual capacity to govern. The youths, according to a National Bureau of Statistics data, make up 70% of the nation’s population. But the same youths that ought to champion a campaign for good governance, inclusion and relevance are divided in defence of their oppressors on social media and various fora, virtual and offline. The same youths are betting to meet at Sofa Lounge for fisticuffs!

It’s hard to determine the ratio of conscious youths to the nonchalant. Our problems require strategic and gradual alliance and inclusion to eventual correct this systemic exclusion. The advocacy shouldn’t be that the youths are smarter, but that they are capable, and shouldn’t be wasted as inconsequential errand boys, which is what some of these PAs, SAs, SSAs are. Because if youth comes with exceptional vision to lead, the newly independent Nigeria, managed by youths, would’ve been a good foundation for us. Similarly, if old age means a thing in governance, Nigeria would’ve been a model nation, from the youths who took over from colonialists to today’s grandpas.

We may allow the idealists to go with their divergent theorisation of the youths as sharper visionaries or as symbols of new new idea. What we know for a fact is, past attempts to unify the youths and establish a strong force in our political equation have failed. Woefully. Today, we remember promising youth groups and advocacies we once embraced as our salvation, with troubling nostalgia. From 20MillionYouthsFor2015 campaign to Generational Voices, the hope was high, and down it came crashing.

Dazzled by the composition and vision of Generational Voices, I wrote then: “I’m happy that I was not a distant witness of Generational Voices. Having been closely involved, and in deep thought, I see a movement about to be built on the foundations of OccupyNigeria, that deferred revolution. But as beautiful as its grand visions are, we have to resist ideological indoctrination and correctly understand that GenVoices is not OccupyNigeria. This is where our task commences.”

Unfortunately, like all before it, it didn’t go as anticipated. Perhaps we were too hungry to recognize its essence. Perhaps our partisan allegiances frustrated its growth into required force. Whatever, we need to restate our political will by overcoming this seemingly genetic political skepticism. Affirmative action from the Establishment may be frowned at by some, but that, and not our polarization, is really what we need, to defeat perceived marginalization of the youth. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@GimbaKakanda On Twitter

Nigeria Army’s Three Wanted Friends


Last week, the Army declared three people it suspected of having “links with the Boko Haram” wanted and this became a subject of intense debates especially as the trio—Mr. Ahmed Umar Bolori, Mr. Ahmad Salkida and Ms. Aisha Alkali Wakil—promptly expressed their shock. The military institution, they wrote, knew them and how to contact them yet they hadn’t been informed or invited in any way before the public notice.

On Facebook, not long after the declaration went viral in the online media, stirring up divisive interactions on social media, Ahmed Bolori published a screenshot of his SMS correspondence with a top military officer. “Salam General,” read the text. “This is Amb Ahmed Umar Bolori. I got the news that I and other 2 are declared wanted (sic). I’m bringing myself. Where do I come to? Thanks.” 

The General asked him to report to “Provost Marshal Army (sic)”. His next Facebook updates, later that day and the following day, was of his 10 AM appointment and struggles to be attended to by the Army. It’s amusing that someone declared wanted, purportedly a threat to national security, was literally pleading to have an audience with his supposed hunters. 

Ms. Wakil released a statement to confirm her relationship with the security agencies, and that she had had meetings with the Chief of Army Staff and had even given the Army conditions for her involvement in any dialogue between the terrorist group and the Federal government. “(T)hey know where to find me,” she wrote in her own expression of shock at her declaration as wanted person, and then “but wonder why I had to be declared wanted on national news even mentioning my husband’s name alongside (sic).”

The most popular of them is the journalist Ahmad Salkida who, for fear of his safety, has long been in exile. Salkida had reported extensively on the activities of the terrorist cult, being a witness to their emergence and evolution into the nation’s deadliest group. Some of the nation’s exclusive reports and breaking news on the Boko Haram were presented to us by Salkida. His publication of the Boko Haram’s video of the abducted girls of Chibok instigated the hunt.

Writing from his Dubai base, Salkida noted his contributions to reporting terrorism in Nigeria. “Clearly, my status as a Nigerian journalist who has reported extensively, painstakingly and consistently on the Boko Haram menace in the country since 2006 is an open book known to Nigerians and the international community,” he stated.

This got us to the obvious question: why declaring citizens who weren’t on the run wanted? What’s wrong with an invitation being sent first before, if declined, publishing such damaging notice about people who were previously not tried for a crime in question? This and similar unprofessional conduct by our security agencies are piling up, day by day, and it was the same recklessness that got the EFCC operatives going after the blogger Abusidiq without notice. They are yet to even publish what exactly he did wrong. The risk of declaring somebody wanted without any established evidence of his culpability or invitation to hear from him or her one-on-one is grave in a country where jungle justice is an everyday tragedy. I’m sure the Army itself is aware of this, and yet it went ahead.  Somehow, it has succeeded in putting the lives of these people in danger, and somehow a misinformed mob might spot them and move to lynch them in their own understanding of patriotism. All for a “crime” yet to be determined.

Our security agencies need to restore professionalism in their dealings with civilians. Showmanship seems to stimulate them, but obsession with this approach to crime prevention and control will only embarrass them and ridicule what they stand for. The two home-based citizens have already submitted themselves to the military, and inferring from the Channels TV interview of the Spokesman of Defence Headquarters, Colonel Rabe Abubakar, the declaration was hasty and misleading. 

“Declaring them wanted was not our intention,” he was reported to have said on Channels TV. “We are inviting them to come and shed more light on Boko Haram so that collectively we can achieve the desired goal.” 

This is the essence of civic vigilance. But this retraction isn’t enough. Their hurriedly prepared and dispatched blunder has already jeopardised the lives and prospects of these people. What’s expected is a clarification through the very medium it employs in damaging the trio. Seeking partnership, which is what the spokesman means by “collectively” by declaring your would-be partners wanted is akin to publicly harassing a woman and then asking for her hand in marriage. 

One is tempted to agree with the conspiracy theory drawn by the popular public affairs analyst, Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde. He sought to see a link between the media trial of Ahmad Salkida and General Tukur Buratai’s Dubai property scandals. When the Army said the Boko Haram were responsible for the leaks of Buratai’s ownership of properties in Dubai, he pointed out that the convenient inference was Salkida would be roped into it. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda
@gimbakakanda on Twitter

Boko Haram: the End of a Conspiracy?


If the past administration took the Boko Haram for granted, making the disaster a justification for grand treasury theft and even failing to correct perception of its key figures as sponsors of the the group in conspiracy theories promoted to gullible and polarised citizens, the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, despite its controversial handling of the economy, clearly takes its predecessors as a bad model for conflict management.

A prominent politician once told me that the war on terror failed under former President Goodluck Jonathan because, aside from our popular ridiculing of the man as uncharismatic and clueless, he was “afraid of his service chiefs.” This is interesting considering the involvement of heads of our security institutions in one of the biggest heists in the history of Nigeria, diverting funds voted for counterterrorism to their private causes and personal accounts. The region was thus allowed to be destroyed by the Boko Haram because the evil benefits these morally irresponsible public officers.

Quite unfortunate was the politicisation of counterterrorism, with the President even seeking to make it a Muslim agenda against his Presidency while conspiracy theorists in the north, indoctrinated by former Governor Murtala Nyako and even Malam Nasir El-Rufai, portrayed the spate of killings as a covert operation of some Christian organisations or personalities eager to decimate the dominating north and its politically overpowered Muslims.

I have always seen the Boko Haram as a real conflict that emerged from our cultural flaws and thrived on our institutional lapses. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s a reality to which many of us are firsthand witnesses.

I campaigned against Jonathan possessed by rage over his deliberate refusal to serve as a unifying figure at that critical point of our polarisation and distrust, for even making policy statements as he jumped from one pulpit to another, home and Israel.

I don’t think the past administration sponsored the Boko Haram, they just let it happen because of the billions allocated to our security agencies by the tricked and paranoid dispensation. Yet, the past few days, with the liberations of many towns previously sacked or occupied by the insurgents as announced by the Nigerian troops, internally displaced persons have been reunited with the only place they call homes, giving another chance for them to breathe freedom again, and rebuild their lives.

The recent images of happy “returnees” posing for selfies with their liberators, the soldiers, were the most beautiful symbols out of Nigeria since 2009, the year the terrorist cult became an uncomfortable menace from a carelessly managed face-off with the security operations in Maiduguri.

The liberators are the same soldiers we once derided for their “tactical manoeuvres”. What has changed? Leadership. Responsible and effective leadership, not one that diverted the resources meant for the welfare of these rank-and-file soldiers to causes other than counterterrorism.

May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter

Ese Oruru: How the North and Islam Became Scapegoats of a Teenager’s Folly

Ese photo

There is a usually predictable, almost robotic, pattern of reaction to any story in which an individual or a group from the north of Nigeria is a major character. This is the error of contemptuous generalisation, taking the action of a few individuals for a collective decision of the entire region. Or visiting the “sins” of the colonial north upon the millennial. This diseased lockstep of the mind is then applied to our social interactions, influencing both the outcomes of our political activities and even one’s sense of safety or social integration in any region other than ours. 
The case of Ese Oruru, a girl of 13, 14 or 17, depending on the narrative one subscribes to, only opens a big playgroup for some of the most bigoted suspects to amuse us with their insularity. These analysts and emergency activists proudly exhibit how they were influenced by stereotypes and sincere ignorance to perceive and portray the north as a continent of barbarians. This is an easy inference from the barrage of insults and condescending commentaries that attribute the travail of the “southern girl” to the religion of Islam and people of the north. 
The bottom line of her story, as popularised by the north-shaming narrative is, Ese was kidnapped in Bayelsa by an 18 year-old Yunusa Dahiru, also known as Yunusa Yellow, and taken to Kano where, against her will, she was forced to become a Muslim, married to the boy, and then sheltered in the palace of Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II of Kano Emirate. Thus, the catch lines, especially for those yet to forgive Sanusi Lamido Sanusi for his part in the fall of a “southern President” became: “Emir Sanusi Abducts Bayelsa Girl”, “Emir Sanusi Forces Bayelsa Girl into Islam”, “Emir Sanusi Justifies Kidnap of Bayelsa Girl”, and the stories came in various screaming headlines and sensationalised by both the mainstream media and blogs desperate for massive web traffic and mischief. A pathetically ingenious blog even carried that Ese was abducted by Yunusa to be made the Emir’s concubine, citing the former CBN Governor’s recent marriage to an 18 year-old and describing him as paedophile!  
The embarrassed Emirate Council countered the sensationalised narrative, confirming its awareness of the story and the role it played. The Council was approached by the family of Yunusa and, in its disapproval of the mode of union between Yunusa and Ese, it wrote to the Kano State Shari’ah Commission and the Office of the Assistant Inspector General of police, Zone 1, to have the poor girl reunited with her family. This was the last the Emirate heard of the case until it became a viral advocacy that attributed to it a role it didn’t play. 
“At the police office,” according to Yunusa’s 55-year-old father in a March 2 interview with the Premium Times, “And before Ese’s family, the girl cried that her life was in danger and that she rather died than go back with her family. In sympathy, the police said Aisha should be taken back to Kura.”
That account of Ese’s “father-in-law”, Malam Dahiru Bala, indicts the Police as culprits in this story, and also contradicted what she told newsmen at the Police Headquarters in Abuja: that she didn’t know how she got to Kano; that Yunusa wasn’t even her boyfriend, just a patron at her mother’s restaurant; that she didn’t remember consenting to elope with Yunusa; that she didn’t recognise her mother when the latter came to Kano; that she wasn’t married to Yunusa; that her conversion to Islam was not consensual; and that she regretted what happened and that, if she sees her alleged husband, she wouldn’t even know what to do, because “I’m confused… I don’t know what to do.”  This is from her interview with The Sun of March 3, 2015. Ese’s post-freedom accounts are even more intriguing, as claims of her love affair with Yunusa is now even dubious. But what may frustrate the denial is her mother’s version of the story, that when she found out her little girl was missing, the first suspect was the 18-year-old Hausa boy. But what matters now that she’s regained her freedom is the legal perspectives of this unfortunate, as the dual legal systems operational in both the south and north have provisions for penalising the guilty party at the Court of Law.
While we await the outcome of that, it’s pertinent to challenge the mischievous labelling of the north and its people in the court of public opinion by a legion of bigoted southerners who wore the garb of activism not truly out of sympathy for the girl, but to amplify their bigotry. Some of them are the same hypocrites who dismissed the abduction of Chibok girls as a hoax and anti-Jonathan propaganda. Because the case of Chibok is, as expressed in pidgin, “na dem-dem!” – a northern affair. Their empathy is thus geographically responsive.
If the welfare of the girl was indeed their concern, why are they silent about the growing baby factories across the southern half of the country? They can’t claim to have no knowledge of the existence of these dehumanising places. A few months ago, in Asaba, police detectives raided a place opposite the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria office to free 8 pregnant teenagers. On June 13, last year, Enugu State Police Command raided a baby factory in Etiti in Amankwo-Ngwo Udi Local Government Council to free pregnant girls as young as 17. And even in Ese’s place of origin, activities similar to such advocacy-worthy atrocity takes place. Not long ago, the State Coordinator of Child Protection Network, Ms. Mariam Kombo-Ezeh shared stories of child abuse in Bayelsa State including the death of a 7-year-old from HIV/AIDS acquired from a rape. She also recounted the story of a 4-year-old girl raped to death by a 40-year-old man, but how many of these self-styled activists know the 40-year-old monster or bother to track this case and ensure delivery of justice? Theirs is only to sensationalise that of a particular people, which they generalise to register their savagery.  
If ignorance had not been applied in our clamouring for the freedom of Ese, whose case is of course heart breaking to all sane minds, the north and Islam wouldn’t have been made scapegoats of a teenager’s foolish adventure. A simple enquiry would’ve shown that Islam does not condone elopement, and it’s perhaps the same wisdom the Kano Emirate Council identified with, in admonishing the Police and Sharia Commission to “repatriate” her.  The Muslims have their tradition for formalising union between a man and woman, referred to as “Katb el-Kitab” – marriage contract. In a famous Hadith, the Prophet of Islam said: “Any woman who gets married without the permission of her guardian, her marriage is invalid, her marriage is invalid, her marriage is invalid.” Note the repeated clause. What Yunusa did is a crime that has no place in Islam or the northern society. Activist-types barely disguising their pet bigotries insisting that it is, for purposes of their own devising, will not make it so. They will only make communication and mutual understanding more fraught. My God save us from us! 

By Gimba Kakanda

@gimbakakanda on Twitter