DÉJÀ VU – In Tragic Vein – Newstrends
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DÉJÀ VU – In Tragic Vein

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By Prof Wole Soyinka

I arrived home from external commitments just over a week ago to an extraordinary homecoming gift. It took the form of a movement — sometimes angry, sometimes entrancing, poignant, sometimes strident, certainly robust in expectations but always moving, visionary and organized.

That movement demanded an end to brutality from state security agencies, focusing on a notorious unit known as SARS. But, of course, SARS merely stood for the parasitic character of governance itself in all ramifications. That dimension – albeit not in those very terms of course – was acknowledge by the first formal response of government, delivered through the Vice-President.

The movement involved members of the Nigerian Bar Association, Feminist Groups, Professionals, Technocrats, Students, Prelates, Industrial institutions, and Artistes – writers, cineastes, actors, musicians. It was markedly a youthful movement, its energy, creativity and resolve diffused throughout the nation through impressive strategies. It was, above all, orderly.

In places, one felt vibrations that seemed to echo concert grounds like Woodstock, other times, the massed processions of France’s Yellow vests or waves of Lech Walesa’s Solidarity movement. Even closer, more recently and pertinent, the patient, stoical gatherings in Mali that lasted weeks and, in whose resolution, our own nation played a critical role.

As I stated in my Message to Youth at the Freedom Park 10th anniversary events on Saturday, 17th, these youths brought fresh blood into tired veins. It was bliss indeed to be alive, to watch youths finally begin to take the future into their own hands.

But – and haven’t we been here before? — Suddenly, virtually overnight, it all changed. State security services – which specific branch, we have yet to identify – transported thugs to break up the protests. The videos exist, they have been widely disseminated – sleek motorcades with number plates covered – moved to recruit and disgorge thugs and breeds of hoodlums to break up the peaceful protests.

Those mercenaries set fire to the protesters’ vehicles where parked, set upon the gathered youths with cudgels and machetes. They broke open at least one prison to let out the inmates. It has since been established that some of those vandals were actually recruited prisoners who, we can only presume, have been paid not only in cash but in kind. Casualties began in single, sporadic numbers, climaxing in the shooting dead last night of a yet undetermined number of protesters in a Lagos sector called Lekki.

The mood, and climate of protest changed abruptly, and devastatingly with that diabolical intrusion. For the first time, anger and nihilism entered the lists, moving to dominate emotions. Organized militancy has been replaced by vengeful, omni-directional hatred. The capital, Abuja, has been torched in places, including the famous Apo market – that name itself evoking memories of an ancient massacre of youth – known as the APO Six — by SARS.

Yesterday, October 20, I set out to drive to my hometown, Abeokuta, to be on my own turf as the violence was spiraling mindlessly in multiple directions. After negotiating my way through some eight or nine protesters’ road-blocks, I was compelled to turn back. It was all déjà vu – the uprisings in the former Western Region of Nigeria, the anti-Abacha movement etc. etc. etc. The attempt however enabled me to assess the mood and transformation of the movement. I was better prepared. I rescheduled my trip for the following day ,– that is, this morning.

In the meantime, however, that is, within the next eight to ten hours, the tension has become unimaginable! At that earlier mention Lagos sector, Lekki, where most of the affirmative action gatherings had taken place, soldiers opened fire on unarmed demonstrators, killing and wounding a yet undetermined number. One such extra-judicial killing has drenched the Nigerian flag in the blood of innocents – and not symbolically. The video has, in accustomed parlance, ‘gone viral’. I have spoken by phone to eye-witnesses.

One, a noted public figure has shared his first-hand testimony on television. The government should cease to insult this nation with petulant denials.

I resumed my trip to Abeokuta at 6 am, this morning as scheduled, again negotiating road-blocks -– this time somewhere between twelve and fifteen, all distinguished by an implacable state of rage. It was in stark contrast to the inclusivity of the protesting ‘family of common cause’ of earlier days. All inherent beauty of instant bonding and solidarity evaporated.

At the block just before the Lagos Secretariat, the protesters proved the most recalcitrant. In the end, they exacted from me just the one offering to the rites of passage – I could sense it coming — I had to come down from the car and addressed them. I did. Little did they know what was churning in my mind: This is not real. This is Back to Abacha – in grotesque replay!

It is absolutely essential to let this government know that the Army has now replaced SARS in the demonic album of the protesters. My enquiry so far indicates that the Lagos governor did not invite in the Army, did not complain of a ‘breakdown in law and order’.

Nevertheless, the Centre has chosen to act in an authoritarian manner and has inflicted a near incurable wound on the community psyche. Need I add that, on arrival in Abeokuta, my home town, I again had to negotiate a road block? That went smoothly enough. I expected it, and have no doubt that more are being erected as this is being written.

It is pathetic and unimaginative to claim, as some have done, that the continued protest is hurting the nation’s economy etc. etc.

COVID-19 has battered the Nigerian economy – such as it is – for over eight months. Of course it is not easy to bring down COVID under a hail of bullets – human lives are easier target, and there are even trophies to flaunt as evidence of victory – such as the blood-soaked Nigerian flag that one of the victims was waving at the time of his murder.

To the affected governors all over the nation, there is one immediate step to take: demand the withdrawal of those soldiers. Convoke Town Hall meetings as a matter of urgency. 24-hr Curfews are not the solution. Take over the security of your people with whatever resources you can rummage. Substitute community self-policing based on Local Councils, to curb hooligan infiltration and extortionist and destructive opportunism.

We commiserate with the bereaved and urge state governments to compensate material losses, wherever. To commence any process of healing at all – dare one assume that this is the ultimate destination of desire? — the Army must apologize, not merely to the nation but to the global community – the facts are indisputable – you, the military, opened fire on unarmed civilians. There has to be structured restitution and assurance that such aberrations will not again be recorded.

Then both governance and its security arms can commence a meaningful, lamentably overdue dialogue with society. Do not attempt to dictate — Dialogue!

* SOYINKA wrote from A.R.I. Kemta Housing Estate, Abeokuta, Ogun State

October 21, 2020

Opinion

Nigeria’s economic apartheid in electricity consumption – Farooq Kperogi

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Farooq Kperogi

Nigeria’s economic apartheid in electricity consumption – Farooq Kperogi

I am writing this week’s column from Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where I have come to deliver a talk on media theory. But this column isn’t about the talk or about South Africa. It’s about the enduring problems of electricity generation and distribution in Nigeria, which I have brooded over for quite some time.

It’s ironic that I am writing about Nigeria’s new economic apartheid in electricity consumption from the previous land of apartheid where electricity is a human right, where even the poorest of the poor “have a public law right to receive electricity” even before the abolishment of apartheid, according to F. Dube and C.G. Moyo in their 2022 article titled “The Right to Electricity in South Africa.”

I’m not sure there’s any modern country on earth where electricity is as precarious, as insufficient, as unreliable, and as socially stratified as it is in Nigeria. The hierarchization of electricity distribution into “bands” in which people classified as “band A” (read: the wealthy) get the most electricity and people classified as “Band E” (read: the most economically disinherited) get the least electricity is the most starkly state-sanctioned economic discrimination I have ever seen anywhere in the world. President Bola Tinubu should order that the bands be disbanded forthwith. This is embarrassing official idiocy.

The point isn’t even that so-called Band A electricity consumers don’t actually get the amount of electricity that their socio-economic status should guarantee them, according to the new state-sponsored economic apartheid that imposes discrimination on electricity consumers. The outrage is that the government would conceive of a program where a resource as indispensable to modern life as electricity is rationed on the basis of economic status.

Electricity is the cornerstone of development. It isn’t a privilege. It should be a human right. It should be accessible to everyone. It’s the driver of economic development, is indispensable to healthcare, is the backbone of education, supports modern agricultural practices, is fundamental to technological progress, powers social development, and enhances quality of life.

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The government’s goal should be to generate and distribute “Band A” electricity for all consumers in Nigeria—like is done in other countries, including countries much less endowed than Nigeria.

As I pointed out in a previous column, the depth of Nigeria’s electricity problems didn’t become magnified in my consciousness until July 2009 when I visited my mother’s maternal relatives in the city of Parakou, the capital of Borgou State (or, as states are called there, “Department”) in Benin Republic. Throughout the one week I stayed in Parakou, Benin Republic’s third largest city with a little over a quarter of a million people, electricity didn’t blink for even a split second.

Except for the distinctive sights, sounds, and smells of the city, it felt like I was still in the United States.

To be sure that the impressively continuous electricity we enjoyed wasn’t a fluke, I asked my mother’s first cousin (that would be my “first cousin once removed” in Standard English and my “uncle” in Nigerian English) in whose house we stayed to tell me the last time they lost power in the city or in the neighborhood.

He started to jog his memory and even enlisted the help of his wife because he thought I needed to know the exact day for record purposes. I told him not to bother, but I later learned from him that although power outages occur, often for maintenance, they are infrequent, relatively brief, and often announced ahead of time in the broadcast media.

This is particularly interesting because Benin Republic buys most of its electricity from Nigeria, although my cousin said that wasn’t true of Parakou. Most importantly, though, there was no invidious social differentiation of electricity consumers into “bands.” If there was, my relative in Parakou would be in “Band E” because he retired from the Beninese civil service on a modest rank.

Almost every Nigerian I know who has traveled outside Nigeria shares the same experience as mine. A former colleague of mine at the Presidential Villa in Abuja who traveled to Iran for weeks returned and told us he didn’t witness power outage for even a fraction of a second throughout his stay in the country, which caused him to insist that if Iran was a “Third World” country, Nigeria must be a “10th World” country.

And that leads me to the question: why has it been impossible to power Nigeria? Why does every other country on earth seem to be doing better than Nigeria in electricity generation and distribution? I think it’s because we have never had anyone with a clue to manage Nigeria’s power sector. Let’s look at some of the ministers of power we’ve had since 1999.

In 1999, the late Chief Bola Ige, who became the minister of power, promised to “turn stone to bread.” He was deploying a biblical metaphor to imply that he would make the seemingly impossible possible. Well, he didn’t have a stone to start with, so there was no bread. His legacy was darkness.

On November 28, 2012, the then Minister of State for Power, Hajia Zainab Kuchi, told South African investors that “evil spirits” were to blame for Nigeria’s interminable electricity troubles. “We must resolve to jointly exorcise the evil spirit behind this darkness and allow this nation take its pride of peace [sic] in the comity of nations [sic],” she said.

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About two months later, her metaphysical explanation for Nigeria’s electricity difficulties got a professorial endorsement when, on January 23, 2013, Chinedu Nebo, a professor of engineering and former university vice chancellor, told the Nigerian senate that power outages were caused by “witches and demons” and that “If the President deploys me in the power sector, I believe that given my performance at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where I drove out the witches and demons, God will also give me the power to drive out the demons in the power sector.”

He got the job. But neither he nor Kuchi were able to exorcise the “evil spirits,” “demons,” and “witches” that they believed sucked the megawatts out of Nigeria’s power plants. Their legacy was more darkness.

Then on July 11, 2014, Babatunde Fashola said Nigeria’s electricity problems were political, even electoral. “The only way you and I will have electricity in this country,” he said, “is to vote out the PDP.”

Again, at the 7th Annual Bola Tinubu Colloquium on March 25, 2015, Fashola blamed “amateurs” for Nigeria’s power generation problems. He infamously said, “Power generation is not rocket science; it is just a generator. So just remember and imagine that your ‘I-better-pass-my-neighbour’ in one million times—its capacity but in one place. So, if you can make that size of one kilowatt, you can make a power turbine of one thousand megawatts…

“So, with all the billions of dollars that have been spent, the story is that we still live in darkness. Our government lies about it, but it is not because power is impossible. But to tell you very confidently that we do not have power because power is difficult to generate; we have darkness because we have incompetent people managing our economy. As one of my friends fondly calls them, our economy is being managed by amateurs.”

He was appointed the minister in charge of power a few months after this overconfident political diagnosis of Nigeria’s unending electricity woes. Within a few months of being in power, disappointed Nigerians nicknamed him the “minister of darkness,” and Buhari didn’t reappoint him to the ministry for a second term.

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He was replaced by a man who didn’t know what his job was supposed to entail, who didn’t know he was the minister of power, who was so colorless and so uninspiring that no one knew him when he held sway, much less remember him after his tenure expired.

So, from 1999, we went from treating our electricity problem as one that could be resolved through Ige’s poetic and theological flourishes to thinking that Nebo’s and Kuchi’s metaphysical delusions provided the keys to unlocking it, to imagining that Fashola’s two-bit, evidence-free, exaggeratedly partisan outbursts were any good, to the unpretentious shallowness of Fashola’s successor.

Now we have an Adebayo Adelabu, a completely clueless, unfeeling buffoon who is clearly out of his depth, as the minister of power. Here is a minister of power who is so hopelessly ignorant about power that he thought keeping freezers connected to electricity continuously was a waste of power that was peculiar to Nigeria and has championed the idiotic social stratification of electricity consumers.

Now he says if Nigerians are not prepared to pay an arm and a leg for electricity, they should come to terms with perpetual darkness. What kind of responsible government official says that?

This is especially tragic because everyone knows that electricity is the driving force of technology and innovation, not to mention basic creative comforts. Any country that can’t fix its electricity can’t participate in the increasingly digital economy of the 21st century and will be stuck in permanent developmental infancy.

Yet, in spite of the drag that poor electricity exerts on creativity and innovation, Nigeria’s youth have been some of the world’s most high-flying digital creators and drivers. Imagine what Nigeria would be if it had a leadership that cared and knew how to fix its electricity crisis.

Nigeria’s economic apartheid in electricity consumption – Farooq Kperogi

Farooq Kperogi is a renowned Nigerian newspaper columnist and United States-based Professor of Journalism.

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Who has bewitched our beloved America? – Femi Fani-Kayode

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Femi Fani-Kayode

Who has bewitched our beloved America? – Femi Fani-Kayode

I really do wonder whether those great patriots that fought a long and bloody war against

British colonial rule and founded the United States of America (US) in 1776 like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and so many others envisaged what has happened to their beloved country today?

I wonder whether the Pilgrim Fathers and great and wise men of old who, by faith in the Living God, left the Old World, crossed the Atlantic ocean in hazardous conditions and went to the New to establish a new beginning and build a new nation founded on freedom, equality, the fear of God and solid good old fashioned Christian virtues and values, would believe what the beloved nation they toiled, prayed for, established and worked so hard to build has turned into today?

Would they not all be turning in their graves?

A nation that was once referred to by both friend and foe as the “land of the free and the home of the brave” is now neither free nor brave.

A mighty nation that delivered itself from its own internal prejudices, contradictions and demons by fighting a brutal civil war to free the slaves and that presented a great hope for those that dreamt of a world where all men and women could have equal opportunities, regardless of class, history, color, race or creed, has now lost its sense of decency, equity, honor and morality and turned into a corrupt, power drunk, morally bankrupt, blood-lusting, war-loving, terror-funding, egocentric and idiosyncratic collection of self-serving, self-seeking, cowardly and deluded individuals who serve the interests of not their own people but that of AIPAC, the Jewish lobby and the State of Israel.

A rich and powerful nation of over 300 million people that delivered the world from evil in both the First and Second World Wars, that defeated and dismantled the curse of Soviet Communism, that entrenched democracy throughout much of the world and that literally rules the waves today as the greatest super power in the history of humanity in a unipolar world, is now nothing but the lap dog of little Israel?

It seems so hard to believe. Yet true it is!

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Like Lucifer fell from heaven, so you, O mighty America, has fallen from grace!

I weep for you.

Apart from your internal decay where the family system has been destroyed and traditional religious beliefs have been replaced by humanism and a godless philosophy in which the Lord is no longer revered, where men marry men, where abortions are encouraged, where homosexuality is adored, where Satanism is practised, where money is worshipped, where God has been banned from the schools and indeed every sphere of human endeavour and where the establishment of a New World Order is your ultimate objective, you have also, with the help of your servile and fawning vassals like the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Holland and others, debased and destroyed the fortunes and vision of many countries with your reckless and self-serving foreign policy and your insatiable thirst for power and world domination.

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Minimum wage, maximum deceit and moral cowardice – Farooq Kperogi

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Farooq Kperogi

Minimum wage, maximum deceit and moral cowardice – Farooq Kperogi

After three months of bootless committee meetings in the comfort of air-conditioned offices at the cost of one billion naira (President Bola Tinubu approved 500 million naira to “start with… first”) and about a month after the expiration of the last minimum wage approved in 2019, the Tinubu government has not been able to approve a new minimum wage for Nigerian workers even when it wastes no time to approve policies that inflict maximum suffering on poor people.

On May 1, I woke up here in Atlanta to the news of an increase in the minimum wage of workers, which would be backdated to January 1st. Although it’s the legal thing to do, I was impressed nonetheless, not only because I’ve significantly scaled back my expectations about what the government can do but also because I know most Nigerian workers could use the relief that the increase and the arrears would bring.

So, I started looking for the exact amount of the new minimum. I scouted social media platforms and news websites. I had no luck.

It turned out that I was mistaken. The national minimum wage has not been increased even though the current one expired on April 17, which is frankly untenably criminal.

All that had happened, I later learned, was that the federal government had approved an increase of between 25 per cent and 35 per cent in the salaries of certain civil servants, according to the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC).

“They include Consolidated Public Service Salary Structure (CONPSS), Consolidated Research and Allied Institutions Salary Structure (CONRAISS) and Consolidated Police Salary Structure (CONPOSS),” NSIWC’s spokesman by the name of Emmanuel Njoku said in a statement on April 30. “Others are: Consolidated Para-military Salary Structure (CONPASS), Consolidated Intelligence Community Salary Structure (CONICCS) and Consolidated Armed Forces Salary Structure (CONAFSS). The increases will take effect from January 1.”

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That’s some impenetrable mumbo jumbo for those of us who are not civil servants or who are not tutored in the tortured, tortuous ways of the civil service. It’s obvious, though, that this is not the new minimum wage.

A 25 percent increase on the existing minimum wage, that is, 30,000 naira, would amount to a mere additional 7,500 naira, and a 35 percent increase is a mere additional 10,500 naira. That’s lower than Edo State’s new minimum wage of 70,000 naira.

This is both exasperating and unconscionable, especially given that this government, since its inception, has understood its role as consisting of merely conceiving, initiating, and implementing policies that squeeze the hope and life out of poor and middle-class folks.

The originative signal of the intensity of the hardheartedness of this government came from the precipitate, ill-conceived, thoroughly unjustified announcement of the removal of petrol subsidies on President Tinubu’s inaugural day.

He followed this up with the disastrous “floating” of the naira, which wiped out trillions from the economy, hemorrhaged existing foreign investments, and made nonsense of the pittance workers collected as salaries.

Not done, the government chose to hike tariffs on electricity (that’s barely there to start with) to amounts that regular people can’t afford. Fairly regular electricity will now become the exclusive privilege of people and companies that can pay extortionate amounts for it. This will, of course, exacerbate the existing cost-push inflation in the economy that was ignited by the removal of petrol subsidies.

Now life has become an unwinnable daily war for most people as a result of these policies. But President Tinubu brags that these life-sucking policies represent “courage.” By that, it is obvious he meant that these policies are so soulless, so callous, so predatory that normal people would violently revolt against them but that he damned that prospect and did what he did anyway.

He should be lucky that his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari, laid the foundation for the current mystifying docility of Nigerians, for the emergent national culture of toleration of injustice without a fight, and for the absolute death of critically collective democratic citizenship.

As I pointed out in a previous column, preying on vulnerable members of society who have lost the will to resist injustice is no courage. It’s moral cowardice. And there’s no better example of the deceit and cowardice of the government than its inability or unwillingness to implement a basic minimum wage for workers after realizing trillions of naira from the removal of petrol subsidies (which has devalued the worth of the existing minimum wage by several folds).

The government has never ever needed a committee to implement policies that hurt the poor and the middle class. All it usually needs is Tinubu’s cowardly and preposterous presidential “courage.”

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It only needs committees—which sit for extended periods because every sitting is a money-making venture—when any issues concern giving just a little welfare to beleaguered workers. Although the government is obligated by law to conduct nationwide public hearings as a precursor to increasing electricity tariffs, according to Femi Falana, the government chose not to be distracted by such pesky legalities in its haste to do what it seems to love to do best: make poor citizens squirm in torment and cry.

Accountable and socially responsible governments all over the world preoccupy their minds with finding ways to assuage the existential injuries that life episodically throws at citizens. But like the Buhari regime that preceded the current government, there appears to be a single-minded obsession by people in government with making life more miserable than it already is for everyday folks every day.

It seems to me that this government’s reason for being is to inflict pain and misery on Nigerians. It is what gives it its highs and delectations.

I get the sense that the strategists and tacticians of the government spend their time brainstorming on the next sadistic agony to visit on Nigerians. When they are out of ideas, they might choose to remove subsidies on the air Nigerians breathe, the land Nigerians walk on, and even the saliva Nigerians gulp.

By the end of this month, the Tinubu government will be one year old. Can it honestly point to a single thing it has done that has brought even a smidgeon of relief to our people, that has given ordinary people a reason to smile?

In less than one year, the Tinubu government has built a public image as a government that invests all its energy and resources into devising ways to hurt the people and to being a passive, unresisting servant of the IMF and the World.

We know that historically the IMF has always been opposed to increases in minimum wages. Last year, for instance, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that the planned minimum wage increases in many countries in Central, Eastern, and South-Eastern Europe (CEE) should be stopped because the “increases will result in more persistent inflation or lower employment, especially given relatively weak productivity growth in the region.”

The IMF always encourages, even compels, governments in Third World countries to totally remove all subsidies that benefit the poor but warns them against increasing minimum wages.

Could the reluctance by the Tinubu government to increase the minimum wage of workers be inspired by its fear of the IMF, its lord and savior? I don’t know, but it’s worth exploring.

Well, as I pointed out in a previous column, Nigeria’s elite have a personal incentive to obey the IMF. The increased financial burden that IMF’s policies impose on poor Nigerians helps to keep them in check and renders them more docile and controllable. The poorer people are the less strength they tend to have to resist oppression and the more likely they are to be esurient for crumps from their oppressors.

So, governance by sadism is rooted in the desire to keep the vast majority of the people dirt poor, miserable, ignorant, and therefore more manipulatable.

Minimum wage, maximum deceit and moral cowardice – Farooq Kperogi

Farooq Kperogi is a renowned newspaper columnist and United States-based professor of journalism. 

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