How to Get a Nigerian Passport Within one Week Without Paying a Bribe

Until August 2017, I was the Director-General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR), with the daunting task of reforming Nigeria’s Federal Public Service. As part of that role, I sought to move the focus of Public Service Reforms away from the Public Service unto the public. This was a deliberate tactical approach that sought to change the approach to public service reforms from inputs to outcomes. Problems with the Public Service are often complex and intractable. There are various reasons why Public Service Reforms are difficult in most environments and are particularly difficult in developing countries, such as Nigeria.

In countries such as ours, the public service reformer is often dealing with myriad systemic input problems in the organisation he is trying to reform, including lack of electricity, insufficient financial provision, lack of working tools, poor internet access, poor staff motivation and systematic corruption. The combination of these, and any one of them for that matter, is sufficient reason to explain away a lack of improvement in public service delivery. Focusing on the outcome expected, rather than the problems with the inputs, gives the reformer a better chance of driving reforms in dysfunctional environments. The need to deliver the outputs expected forces the system to align the required inputs to achieve the expected outcomes, rather than focusing on the difficult task of trying to solve all the input problems before we can get the improvements in service delivery that the public expects and deserves. We will use the tortious issue of obtaining a Nigerian passport as a demonstration of how it could be done.

Many Nigerians go through a painful, dysfunctional and extortionate process when they try to obtain an international passport. Given its population and the absence of a focus on outcomes by the Comptroller-General, Lagos residents suffer the most. It is virtually impossible to obtain a Nigerian passport in Lagos without “knowing someone” and paying above the official rate of N15,000 for a 32-page passport and N20,000 for a 64-page passport. Even after paying more than double the official price and making obeisance to god-like Immigration officials, applicants are still confronted with the claim that “there are no booklets.” The Comptroller-General of Immigration often makes a categorical, but hollow, assertion that there are sufficient booklets nationwide, but the experience of citizens is clearly contrary to that claim. It is either that the Comptroller-General is being economical with the truth or that his officers are deliberately making things difficult in order to derive corrupt benefits from the dysfunction, and that the Comptroller-General is not interested in doing anything about it. Overcoming this logjam is relatively straightforward. Nigerians can obtain an international passport in a week without needing to know anybody and without paying a kobo more than the official price. In the next few paragraphs, I will outline how this can be done.

The first step is for the Presidency to demand from the Immigration Service the service standards for issuing Nigerian passports. The last time, that I am aware of, such service standards were set for passport issuance was under the SERVICOM regime in 2004. At that time, the Immigration Service undertook to provide international passports within one week, but expectedly within 72 hours. Most people, including the Immigration Service, currently appear not to be aware of this service standard. Nobody monitors performance against these standards, and although passport issuance is part of the Ease of Doing Business initiative, the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) has achieved little or nothing in this regard. It is important for the Immigration Service to commit to this standard, or revisit the standard and set a more realistic one and make the targets publicly-known, and for PEBEC and the National SERVICOM Office to publicly report the performance of the Immigration Service against these standards.

In order to meet the existing performance standard, or whatever new standard is set, it is necessary to take a number of straightforward actions. First, all payments must be made online. Notionally, this is already the case, but in practice, citizens are often unable to make online payments, forcing them to have personal contact with Immigration officers and their touts, who extract corrupt rents for “helping” people. The payment systems are often unavailable, either due to weaknesses in technical infrastructure or as a result of deliberate sabotage. Indeed, those that “stupidly go and pay online” are made to suffer interminable delays and forced to regret their attempts to do things properly. The Comptroller-General and PEBEC should be monitoring the frequency of “network” downtimes by location and tackling cases where the downtimes are as a result of deliberate sabotage. The good thing about technology is that there is always an audit trail that tells you who has done what to the system, at what time, in which location. They should also be monitoring how quickly applicants that pay in advance online receive their passports.

Even when an applicant successfully pays online, another major pinch-point is the capture process. Nigeria does not really have a passport renewal process. Every passport application is deemed to be a new application requiring fresh biometric capture. This would ordinarily not be a problem, particularly given the sensitive security nature of international passports. The process of being “captured” is, however, another corruption ‘toll gate.’ It should be possible to simply book an appointment for capture online, appear on the appointed date and time and be captured within 15 minutes. Currently, the appointment system tends to give you an appointment in 6 years’ time when the validity of the passport you are applying for is only 5 years! This forces you to seek out an Immigration officer that will “help” you, of course in the expectation of “appreciation.” There does not seem to be any willingness on the part of the Immigration Service to apply the simple technical fix required to make the appointment system work.

The Immigration Service knows the number of passport applications that it gets each year. It also knows that Nigeria’s population growth rate is 2.6%. How hard can it be to ensure that we have enough booklets to cover all applicants? I mean really! Unlike National Identity Cards, passports are not issued for free but for a fee. The Federal Government should configure the Treasury Single Account to ensure that the fees generated from passport issuance is used to ensure the availability of passport booklets at all times. If, as a result of exchange rates, the price of the passport is too low, especially as it is currently printed abroad, the Immigration Service should review the price and gradually increase it over time. Passport issuance is not a social service. Having said that, every effort should be made to print passports in country.

Every Nigerian knows that if you give enough cash to Immigration officials, you can get your passport in less than 6 hours. We also know that Nigerians like to leave things late, often applying for a passport within just days of needing to travel. Of course, pressure of time on the applicant is a compelling reason why they would pay for “help.” It is easy for the Passport Service to put in place an Emergency Fast Track process that charges four times what the normal rate of passport application is. Those that are in a hurry can pay N60,000-N80,000 per booklet to government, rather than into the private pockets of Immigration officials, and the funds can be reinvested into improving the passport process and even incentivising Immigration officers. Those that are not in a hurry and can wait a week, or whatever the new service target that the Service sets, can pay the normal price and get their passports without begging or bribing anyone.

Finally, the recent data integration between the Nigeria Immigration Service and the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) is commendable. When a Nigerian has a National Identity Number issued NIMC, there is really no reason why they should not be able to obtain their passport within one week of submitting all required documentation. They should be able to pay online, book an appointment for biometric capture, get captured within 15 minutes without begging or bribing anybody, and be given an appointment for when to collect their passports. The performance of the Immigration Service on each of these steps should be monitored and publicly-reported. Until this is possible, the One-Government mantra in Executive Order E001 is simply hollow rhetoric, and the Vice President’s recent charge that Nigerians should not pay a bribe to obtain a passport simply a political statement. These suggestions are not new. They were given to the Immigration Service in 2017as part of a BPSR study on removing the bottlenecks to passport issuance when I was the BPSR Director-General. Before then, a SERVICOM assessment of the Passport Service in June 2006 came to pretty much the same conclusions. The Immigration Service seems to lack the willingness to address the issue and appears to have the power to get away with it. The Vice President, who is the head of PEBEC, should use the power of his office to ensure that they implement these recommendations and that the Passport Service does not continue to get away with the current dysfunctionin passport issuance, to the detriment of Nigerians.

JOE ABAH

Dr Abah is the former Director-General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms. He is currently the Country Director of DAI, a global development company. The views contained in this article are personal to him and do not represent the views of any employer past or present.

BEHIND THE FIGURES: The Enemies Within- By IJEOMA NWOGWUGWU

My initial instinct was to title this article, ‘Different Strokes for Different Folks.’ It was supposed to lay bare the double standards that have characterised governance under the Muhammadu Buhari administration. The administration had found a leader of the ruling party and former governor of Lagos State, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, free from sin just because he is a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

lay bare fear or equivocation had questioned why anyone would take leader of showing bullion vans entering his residence on Bourdillon Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, on the eve of the presidential election. According to him, he does not work for any agency of government, nor had he been awarded any contract, so there was nothing wrong with him spending his money as he deemed fit. “I’m on my own characterized and I am committed to my party… so even if I have money to spend in my premises, what’s your headache… if I have money, if I like I give it to the people for free of charge as long as it’s not to buy votes… So who are those watching my house and looking at bullion vans, they must be mischief makers. They report falsehood…,” he told reporters who had tried to confirm the veracity of the pictures that had gone viral on election day.

Tinubu, no doubt, has a right to spend his money as he deems fit. If his preference is to give away his money to the poor in and around Lagos, good for him. He would be joining a long list of philanthropists around the world such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Mo Ibrahim and Aliko Dangote. The big difference is that unlike him, they channel their excess wealth through the foundations that they have set up and through legal financial channels that can withstand scrutiny. Tinubu, on the other hand, is no different from the numerous past ministers and governors that served under the Goodluck Jonathan administration, but today are being tried for allegations of money laundering and handling cash outside regulated financial institutions in the days running up to the 2015 elections. But then again, these men and women, whom his newspaper The Nation gleefully gives considerable front page mention, are “sinners”. Tinubu, in contrast and owing to his membership of the APC, is worthy of sainthood.

But let me not waste too much time on what is very obvious to every Nigerian, except to the mindless sycophants who were around Tinubu when he spoke to reporters and yet found his response hilarious. I’m sure that those persons who were with Tinubu are no longer laughing as they contemplate and head into the governorship elections next Saturday. The Jagaban, as they sometimes call him, is facing a clear and existential threat that could consume him, depending on the outcome of the governorship elections in Lagos and perhaps Oyo State. That threat, ironically, is not from the non-indigenous residents, led by the Igbos, in Lagos, but from the enemies within.

Tinubu’s influence in Lagos, like I have long suspected and alluded to in passing, is fast waning. He has used the monetary patronage that Nigeria’s commercial capital illicitly provides him to rule the state by proxy for as long as he can, but even that no longer appears to be foolproof. On the day of the presidential election, he assigned his thugs and street urchins to scare away Igbo residents from polling units and has continued along this path, days after the election in order to suppress voter turnout during the governorship election in areas populated by non-indigenes. Unsurprisingly, Igbo residents in Lagos are seething and questioning what right Tinubu and his men have to deprive them of their civic rights in a place where they reside, as guaranteed by the constitution; are generally law abiding and contribute to the economic development of the state.

My advise to them is that they should try not to get caught in a proxy war that is no business of theirs. You see, Tinubu’s greatest fear is not the Igbos living in Lagos but members of his own party, the APC, who are circling like vultures and waiting to rip his carcass apart. In his party, Tinubu has made a lot of enemies that would like to see the back of him and get the same treatment that was meted out to Senate President Bukola Saraki in Kwara State just a few days ago. The presidential cabal does not like him, Akinwunmi Ambode wishfully prays for his downfall, Nasir el-Rufai cannot stand him, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi detests him, Ibikunle Amosun does not want him anywhere his state, Ogun, while the likes of Rotimi Akeredolu, Kayode Fayemi and Babatunde Fashola, barely tolerate him.

Within the APC, they see him as a spent force, quietly acknowledge that he has long been overrated and allege that he could not even deliver Lagos at the just concluded presidential election. They were unimpressed with the performance of the party under his watch in Lagos (and the Southwest), despite the suppression of voters and state-sponsored violence. Given what they all know, it is in Tinubu’s interest to suppress the Igbo vote if he must maintain his vice-like grip over Lagos. But my take is that he bears no personal grudge against the Igbos resident in the state and recognises their usefulness and contributions in making it Nigeria’s economic hub. The major snag, however, is that they pose a stumbling block to his desire to hold on to Lagos. Without it, he can kiss his presidential bid in 2023 goodbye. Without it, he will not be able to fend off the federal might using a section of the Lagos media and civil society groups that he funds and controls. Without it, he is finished!

Depending on the mood in Abuja, two scenarios are likely to play out in Lagos on Saturday, March 9, the date slated for governorship elections: One, is for the federal government to provide security cover to non-indigenes and other Yorubas who want an end to Tinubu’s reign to exercise their franchise without the looming threat of his hired goons. Some might argue that Tinubu was able to hold on to Lagos for 16 years when he was in opposition, despite everything that the federal government threw at him at the time. Yes he did, but they miss one important point: The PDP-led administrations, even under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, were not as vicious and unafraid as the APC-led government of today.

The second scenario is to allow Tinubu to have his way by not providing the security cover to those opposed to his hegemony. Should the latter happen, Tinubu would most likely hold on to his precious Lagos and install his anointed candidate Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Then, come 2023, when he turns back to the same non-indigenous residents and their brethren in the Southeast and South-south to back his presidential bid, I wonder what their response will be. Surely, Tinubu cannot be banking on the North to support him in 2023. That is a pipe dream best left to his imagination.

Besides, by his own doing, Tinubu has made Lagos irrelevant in the scheme of things politically. States like Kano, Kaduna, Jigawa, Borno and Katsina, according to the results produced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), had better voter turnouts in the presidential election than Lagos with the highest number of registered voters in the country, effectively downgrading the state’s status as a bargaining tool for future elections.

But it is not just Lagos Tinubu has set his sights on winning next Saturday. He is also zeroing in on Oyo, the second largest state in the Southwest geopolitical zone. To many people’s surprise, Oyo fell to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the presidential election. And this has caused Tinubu nightmares, which he has set out to overcome. He has convinced the former governor of the state, Christopher Alao-Akala, who holds considerable influence over his base in Ogbomosho, a major voting bloc in Oyo, to jettison his governorship bid on the platform of the Action Democratic Party (ADP) and return to the APC. The goal is to ensure Adebayo Adelabu, the APC governorship candidate, trounces Seyi Makinde of the PDP. It remains to be seen if Tinubu can trust Alao-Akala to deliver, given Makinde’s popularity and the general dissatisfaction with Abiola Ajimobi’s stewardship as governor of Oyo State for the past eight years.

Of course, Ogun State is a no go area for Tinubu. Amosun has in words and deeds made it abundantly clear that he wants to remain the head honcho in the state. Tinubu cannot even approach Ladi Adebutu or the aggrieved faction of the PDP in the state, as Amosun was quick enough to get them in his corner to support his candidate Adekunle Akinlade of the Allied Peoples Movement (APM).

My fervent wish is that Tinubu does not succeed in his grand design to hold on to Lagos and get the bragging rights over Oyo. Despite my opposition to the APC and particularly its policies, I cannot but stand with Tinubu’s enemies within. The grand theft and violation of Lagos must come to a close. Lagos, contrary to what its media would have the public believe, continues to punch well below its weight relative to other mega cities globally. The absence of or failing infrastructure, a workable waste management system, perverse corruption, dilapidated health care and education facilities, and chaotic transportation network in Lagos, are symptomatic of everything wrong with Nigeria. If Lagos is allowed to become the reformist and transformational pathfinder that it has the potential to be, the rest of Nigeria will follow suit.    

QUOTE

Tinubu’s greatest fear is not the Igbos living in Lagos but members of his own party, the APC, who are circling like vultures and waiting to rip his carcass apart. In his party, Tinubu has made a lot of enemies that would like to see the back of him… Within the APC, they see him as a spent force, quietly acknowledge that he has long been overrated and allege that he could not even deliver Lagos at the just concluded presidential election.

Written By

IJEOMANWOGWUGWUI

The Message from Kwara By Olusegun Adeniyi,

By the time I left Ilorin, capital of my beloved Kwara State on the 6pm Arik flight last Friday to vote in Abuja the next day, the sense of excitement was palpable. Men and women who hitherto believed they had no power were buoyant. ‘O to Ge’ (enough is enough), the slogan of the main opposition party in the state (ruling party at the centre) had become an anthem on every lip.  I spent only 24 hours on the visit, but I left feeling that whatever happened at the polls, it would be good for our democracy that people had become conscious of the power they wield with their ballots.

A few hours after the polls closed last Saturday, results coming from across the state were almost difficult to believe. And then around midnight, I received a call. A friend of the Senate President Bukola Saraki said, “Segun, you are right; the Titanic can sink.” When I asked him to explain, he said results he was getting from Ilorin indicated that his friend was losing. He then reminded me of a conversation we had last year on the day Saraki left the All Progressives Congress (APC). I had argued that it was a miscalculation because without federal might to call upon, Saraki had left himself vulnerable and Kwara people would sense that this was their best opportunity to take him out.

At the time, the man had argued that Saraki could not lose power in Kwara State under any circumstance. In the course of the conversation, I had reminded him of one of the most instructive scenes in the ‘Titanic’ movie which explained his retort last Saturday. The captain was informing the ship owner that the Titanic had hit an iceberg. “From this moment, no matter what we do, the Titanic will founder,” he said. This elicited a sharp retort from the ship owner: “But this ship cannot sink.” The captain responded: “She is made of iron, Sir. I assure you she can. And she will. It is a mathematical certainty.”

Because of Saraki’s strong media presence which we know can bias perceptions, there was an air of invincibility regarding his hold on Kwara politics. While even he believed the hype, it is now certain that there is a new dawn in the state. The era of Saraki is over.

This, however, is not the time to gloat and I will never join those who do because I endorsed Saraki when he first ran for governor in 2003. I can attest to the fact that he started well. But somewhere along the line, Saraki lost his way by shifting his focus to the presidency of Nigeria – an obsession requiring compromises that go with such ambitions. In a recent leaked audio tape of a meeting with his supporters, Saraki said he expended between N200 to N400 million in each of at least 30 states of the country during the 2015 general election. Most Kwarans came to the inescapable conclusion that the money could only have been sourced from the state’s treasury.

While there will be a day to take an objective look at issues surrounding Saraki’s political life (including the positives), whatever may have been his other failings, it was pride that ultimately led to his fall. He treated our people with such disdain that even some of those who were contemporaries of his father he addressed by their first name. Once you display contempt for a people, it then follows that you will feel entitled to their resources. Besides, the moment a politician believes his word is law and must dictate everything, transparency and accountability are often the first casualties. For the past 16 years, it has been a one-man-show in Kwara. Having carefully cultivated a cult of followers and enforcers who worshipped him, Saraki saw himself as an emperor as he trampled on the dignity of our people. One event which many of the elders in Ilorin still recall speaks to the hubris that eventually led to ‘O to Ge’.

At the height of his arrogant display of power as Kwara Governor in 2006, Saraki, whose oldest son, Seni, is a rapper, invited Jay Z (Shawn Carter) to Ilorin. During the visit, a street was named for the American hip-hop artiste and the Emir of Ilorin turbaned him as a chief of the Emirate. But the real story was how Saraki practically commandeered respected elders of the community to the airport to receive his American visitor. These elders, including the venerable Alhaji Alege, had waited for almost two hours when a private plane landed and out came Jay Z in khaki shorts, earrings and gold necklaces. The epitome of Bling!

Alhaji Alege was said to have turned to another elder, Alhaji Akanbi Oke, and asked in the inimitable Ilorinspeak: “Akanbi, dákun tani wọ́n ní ka wá pàdé?” (Akanbi, please who exactly are we directed to come and welcome?). Alhaji Oke responded: “m to jáde nínú bàálù náà ni.” (It’s the young man that just alighted from the plane). Alhaji Alege then followed up with another question: “e m tó w òkòtò pémpé, tó fi yarinni s’eti, tó kó seeni s’́run?” (You mean the one in shorts, with earrings and necklace?). Following an affirmative answer, Alhaji Alege posed another question: “Iṣẹ́ kí ló ń se?” (what does he do for a living?) Obviously more informed, Alhaji Oke replied: “Alágbe ni” (he is a musician). That drew the last statement from Alhaji Alege: “Àlágbe ni Bukola ni k’áwá pàdé! Toh! Ó dáa b. Akanbi, bá mi pé d́ŕbà, èmi ń l ‘lè! (Incredible! So we had been directed by Bukola to come and receive a musician? Ok then. Akanbi, please call my driver, I’m going home).

Let me at this point congratulate Dr Ibrahim Oloriegbe who was last Saturday elected to represent our people in Kwara Central at the Senate. I wish him well. But the focus is now on the governorship election scheduled for next week. What the people of Kwara now expect is the coronation of Alhaji AbdulRahman AbdulRazak for whom I have a word of caution. The votes last weekend should not be seen as an affirmation of what anybody or a political party represents. Ballots were cast by the people of Kwara as a rejection of Saraki’s overlordship. APC simply provided the platform for a simple slogan to awaken the consciousness of the people.

I am well aware of the many contradictions within the APC in Kwara (comprised of strange bedfellows). Apart from the fact that they provide no alternative vision beyond a common desire to rid the state of Saraki, if they don’t quickly come up with ideas on how to reposition the state, the people will kick them out in four years’ time.

That perhaps then explains why the message from Kwara should not be interpreted simply as the defeat of one man. It is about the changing character of Nigerian politics which only the discerning can see. In my column, ‘Lagos and the Godfather’s Rage’ published in October last year, I offered perspectives on what led to the defeat of the Lagos State Governor, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, at the APC gubernatorial primary. In alluding to how patronage politics has in turn empowered a few individuals to decide the fate of others during elections, I also added that every political empire has an expiry date and those who believe they can forever lord it over the people will ultimately be upended.

Yes, Nigeria is still replete with godfathers who anoint candidates for offices and believe their position on every issue must prevail irrespective of whether outcomes reflect what the majority of the people desire or would actually benefit from. But if there is anything last Saturday’s election in Kwara has shown, it is that our people have also imbibed the role of responsible citizenship: voting intelligently and demanding accountability of those who represent them. And now they are also aware that no empire lasts forever.

Despite recurring incidences of violence in sections of the country and institutional challenges facing the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), our democracy is increasingly strengthened because people of all classes see the value in participating in the political process. Nowhere was this more eloquent than at the Victoria Garden City (VGC) in Lagos. The photograph that went viral last weekend, showed men and women who ordinarily would not vote sitting patiently (and comfortably under a canopy) while waiting to exercise their franchise. And when their ballots were eventually cast and counted, they sent a very powerful message: They voted overwhelmingly for the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar – even though they share the same estate with the incumbent Vice President Yemi Osinbajo of the ruling APC who also voted there.

I am still compiling notes on what happened last Saturday at the polls. But it is instructive that Buhari supporters are already circulating messages that the president lost in both Abuja and the abode of the elites in Lagos because “many of the rich and powerful people in this country have built their personal fortunes from sources not wholly clean.” So, invariably, the over 11 million Nigerians who voted against Buhari did so because “corruption is fighting back”. It is a shame that a senior presidential aide can join in spreading such nonsense.

The lesson from last Saturday across the country should be very clear. Nigerians are desperate for leaders they can trust, at all levels. Our people are not stupid. In all the critical institutions that govern our public space, whether at the federal or at state level, they can see the destruction of ideals, enthronement of nepotism and bigotry, the ‘Iberiberism’ of forcing election officials to declare results at gun-point, and the arrogance of power by those at the helm of affairs–all to their collective detriment. And what they are saying, even when they may appear docile, is: This is not the Nigeria we want, or for that matter, deserve.

As our democracy matures and the people use their ballots to ensure ‘uncommon defeat’ for their oppressors, that message will resonate more and more in who gets what across the country, including in Abuja.

THOUGHT FOR FOOD!

Ordinarily, campaign should end after election. However, with the rejection yesterday of the presidential election results by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, it is obvious that we are now in the second phase of this battle. The legal option taken by the defeated Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate is legitimate and within his rights. But in the light of the corrosive campaign that preceded the election, especially by the foot soldiers of both Atiku and the re-elected President Muhammadu Buhari, I am adapting (and editing) a WhatsApp message for the benefit of our young men and women on social media:

Senate President Bukola Saraki was the DG of Atiku’s campaign while his sister, Gbemi worked for Buhari. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo supported Atiku while his son, Juwon campaigned for Buhari. Dr Doyin Okupe worked for Atiku while his son, Ditan mobilised for Buhari. Alhaji Buba Galadima campaigned for Atiku but his daughter, Zainab is working for Buhari. You are not a son or daughter to any of these personalities. You are just their promoter/defender on social media. When CBN job is vacant, it will not be advertised because it is for their children. It is the same with jobs in NNPC, NLNG, NPA, NIMASA, NCC, presidency etc. But when forms for recruitment into the police and civil defence are out, that will be made public and you can apply along with hundreds of thousands other Nigerians. Their children school abroad while they leave you to battle the perennial strikes of ASUU, ASUP, NASU and the likes. If you therefore think you can continue to make a nuisance of yourself on social media platforms just because you support these folks, then you need somebody to lend you brain.

Enough said!

Adieu Prof Elebute

The death last weekend of Professor Emmanuel Adeyemo Elebute (CON) at age 87 hit me badly. The last time I saw him was at the public presentation of my book, ‘Against The Run of Play’ in Lagos on 28th April 2017. There will be a day to write on one of the most accomplished medical practitioners ever produced in our country who had great affection for me and was a regular reader of my column. I pray God grants mummy (Prof Mrs Oyinade Elebute), egbon Kunle, Mrs Fola Laoye and other members of his family the fortitude a time like this demands.

Pendulum: Four Years After, We Are Back to Square One

Fellow Nigerians, how time flies indeed. About four years ago, we went through this very ritual, though the election was shifted by six weeks, for reasons we believed was an excuse to get the ruling government better prepared to consolidate its grip on power. Before long, the six weeks arrived, and there was no hiding place. Even as I write this, many doubting Thomases still believe the APC government is not sincerely ready for today’s Presidential election and that it may still spring a surprise on us. Thus, there have been unconfirmed stories of the elections being postponed for a matter of days because of logistic problems. For my own part, I doubt that the authorities will act in such a cavalier manner, particularly as there are numerous local and international observers and world media around. All eyes are on us.

As you know already, my people are never short of conspiracy theories. These have been fuelled by strange events and activities that are occurring very close to E-Day! For example, there have been reports of sporadic fire outbreaks in a few INEC centres, very strange indeed when one considers the proximity of such fires to the election date. However, I have not seen much coverage explaining the magnitude of the respective conflagrations. We have also read reports of some sample ballot papers being found inside many sacks in Kano. Again, no one has come out to explain what any sane human being could be doing with sample ballot papers. The main thing is that PDP is being treated to mind-games in this high-stakes plot, the end of which no one can predict.

Say what you will, I choose to trust two key people in the whole of this election saga. The first is the Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, who has already attained the peak of his academic career and would not want to taint and end his distinguished life as a fiendish villain despised by all and treated like a maggot. So far, Professor Yakubu and INEC have managed to acquit themselves well in the preparation and run up to these general elections. They may have blotted their copy book particularly with regard to INEC’s role in the Osun State governorship elections but as this is one of the election cases currently trundling through the courts, I will say no more. It would be the height of foolishness and foolhardiness on his part to lower the bar as set and measured by what his immediate predecessor, Professor Attahiru Jega, achieved with a resounding ovation, barely four years ago. I refuse to imagine that Professor Yakubu would sacrifice his personal reputation and remarkable life, for politicians whose lives have almost expired.

Two. The other important man I choose to trust, almost blindly, although I know little or nothing about him, is the new Acting Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, who recently took over from the querulous, cantankerous and rambunctious Ibrahim Idris who fought more battles against real and imaginary enemies than he tackled the horrendous security challenges in the land. I have taken time to watch and study Adamu, as meticulously as possible, in the short time since he has been appointed acting I-G. and I’m reasonably convinced that he is educated, intelligent, smart, charismatic and cosmopolitan. I am unsure about some of the decisions he has taken, one relating to the re-deployment of Commissioners of Police in Ogun State. It seems to me that this decision is in good faith and is made because of the disgraceful way in which street urchins and thugs were brought into the arena to hurl stones at the President and other APC leaders during the Presidential rally in Ogun State.  This was a remarkable show of shame orchestrated to serve the interest of an opposition candidate and shows the real tragedy that has befallen APC, as the general elections loom. It is inconceivable that the Police would not take steps to ensure that the mayhem that occurred that day is not allowed to repeat itself during the elections. For me, it would be a calamity if it turns out later that I have wasted all these superlative adjectives on another recklessly irresponsible police officer. It is always a pity seeing some overzealous people throw decorum to the winds in order to please a god with feet of clay. Time will tell.

For whatever it means, and because I bear him no grudge, I have said it numerous times, and reiterate, that I personally like President Muhammadu Buhari. His personal attributes particularly his discipline and abstemiousness are worthy of emulation. He has demonstrated in the past that he is a credible person, although that has been put to question by some of the actions that his government has recently been taking. There is a hint of desperation to cling to power which does not augur well for our country or indeed the President himself.  I therefore will wish, and pray, that President Buhari meant every word he uttered in his various promises to the nation that he’ll execute free, fair and credible elections starting from today. I have no reason to doubt him. He is acclaimed as a man of integrity. This is the time for him to prove that he is indeed a man who is passionate about Nigeria and means his word that the country will not be broken up and Balkanised.  God has been very kind to President Buhari and his family. He practically returned from the dead less than two years ago and has somehow managed to steer the ship of State from then till today. Nigerians have not complained too much about the situation they found themselves. Rather, as is typical, they prayed for the restoration of good health to their President and their prayers were answered. Therefore, if Nigerians reject him at the polls, in a free and fair contest today, or whenever it pleases the almighty INEC, he should thank Allah for the uncommon opportunity and grace given to him for the second chance to serve Nigeria as it’s supreme ruler. He should go home in peace, to enjoy quality time with his gorgeous wife, beautiful children and adorable grandchildren. The Presidency is nobody’s personal property or fiefdom. He should take solace in joining the commendable and enviable company of other incumbent Presidents in Africa, like Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and John Dramani Mahama of Ghana, who made no fuss before accepting defeat in good faith, no matter the secret pains. President Buhari should remember to call his successful opponent, most likely, Atiku Abubakar, and offer his best wishes. I promise, this gesture will turn out to be an icing on Buhari’s cake for final retirement. His apotheosis would also have been guaranteed instantly.

On the other hand, if Atiku Abubakar, fails in a free and fair contest, he should accept his destiny with equanimity. I can understand that it would be a difficult time for him because it has been a long arduous journey for him to eventually land the presidential candidacy and ticket of a mainstream party. It is natural that he and his supporters will feel very disappointed having worked extremely hard to defeat and unseat President Buhari. Atiku should take solace in the fact that he has fought a good fight. His campaign has proceeded in a decent manner and he has concentrated mainly on the issues and not allowed himself to be dragged into the gutter politics that has sometimes been employed against him by some of his more overenthusiastic and fanatical opponents. Atiku must accept that in every contest, only one person can win. As long as the election is free and fair enough, the over-all interest of the country must be considered. Besides, there are remedies already embedded in the electoral act if there has been any unfairness. Justice may tarry, but it will come eventually, no matter how much people may try to manipulate the system and the judiciary.

My only worry is about President Buhari’s footsoldiers. From their utterances and body language, it is obvious that they are spoiling for war and are only ready to go down fighting. They do not seem to care about the outcome of free and fair elections as long as their candidate does not lose. They have boisterously announced to the world, and the President himself has echoed them, that no one can unseat him. That statement may be considered condescending and outrightly arrogant and capable of pouring petrol into the raging fire.

This is very sad because only four years ago, we witnessed the public ignominy suffered by Elder Peter Godsday Orubebe who was busy throwing tantrums like a baby while results of the contest between Buhari and President Jonathan were being announced. It was such a show of shame. Why would the government that came in after that disastrous melodrama repeat the same nonsense? Indeed, on reflection, it seems to me that this Government has in recent times been following the same path to perdition that the PDP and Jonathan followed towards the end of that administration.  It is like history repeating itself.  There is a surreal element of déjà vu playing out. It is my hope that the same silly season and scenario does not repeat itself come the final collation and announcement of results. Nigeria cannot afford such shame and indignity again.

What is wrong with some of the young folks in APC who behave as if they can’t find other things to do expect government work? And because of their own personal avarice and self-aggrandizement, they are unconcerned about the greater good of the greater number of people and their country. No one should ever think of setting Nigeria on fire again. Nigeria has been too kind to these people, and they should, please, leave Nigeria in peace and not in pieces.

From where I stand, I can see very clearly that whatever happens, whenever this election is held, now or in the near future, the ruling government is clearly in trouble and the ruling party has virtually collapsed, with almost no hope of redemption in sight. A house divided against itself that still wishes to stand tall may be mere wishful thinking. APC has abdicated governance and its leadership has started behaving like Emperors and conquerors. The in-fighting is so much that we no longer know who is actually in charge. In all honesty, how can a party that can no longer direct its own affairs, and a President who seems to be clueless about how to maintain party unity, discipline and loyalty, and is apparently not in charge of virtually anything, ask for people’s votes in good conscience? Such a party cannot deliver good governance, much more the change that was promised four years ago. However, it is ultimately the people’s choice as to which road they want to traverse.

From Lagos to Ogun to Adamawa to Imo to Rivers to Zamfara to Kaduna to Delta, it has been one tale of woe or the other. And it all boils down to the refusal of party chieftains to act as true democrats. What is worse, the party has rubbished some of the key figures that brought it to power, many of who have since returned to where they came from, PDP. The major assets that brought Buhari to power have all collapsed and it mainly liabilities that can be seen all around.

The day of reckoning is here. The People will have their say. The contending gladiators must also ensure that the People must have their way. Their choice must prevail no matter whose ox is gored. Nobody is bigger than Nigeria.

Written By Dele Momodu

Oby Ezekwesili: The joys of Sacrifice

Let me quickly get a few things out of the way before I proceed with my reflections.

If you are one of those abusing, insulting, rubbishing, ridiculing, and mocking Oby Ezekwesili, take a piece of paper, jot down these five points, and frame them for future reference: 1) there will never be a history of Nigeria written in which Oby Ezekwesili will not feature as a heroine; 2) there will never be a posterity of Nigeria evaluated in which Oby Ezekwesili will not feature as a patriot; 3) the harshest that history will be to her is to classify her as a great Nigerian; 4) the kindest that history will be to her is to classify her as one of the greatest Nigerians of our generation and one of Africa’s best contributions to the world stage in our generation; 5) should fate ever settle on a female president for Nigeria in our lifetime, you’d rule out Oby Ezekwesili only if your mind was puny.

Two factors necessitate this intervention, and both are products of the tragic collapse of Nigeria’s education ecosystem and its repercussions evident in the remaking of the social character of our body politic. That remaking is, sadly, completely negative. The first factor in the remaking of the social character of our body politic is hostility to excellence and all matters cerebral. This manifests mostly in the fetishization of mediocrity and illiteracy. Excellence is refashioned and re-imagined as that which is alien to us and our culture, a foreign imposition. A language of derision and sarcastic put-down is even fashioned for it – “saner clime”. The apostles of this new culture fan out across social media, asking – who saner clime epp?

What they are really doing is creating a culture in which MC Oluomo is “more grounded”, “more relatable”, “closer to the people’s heartbeat”. MC Oluomo thus becomes a role model in a culture ready to dismiss and excoriate Wole Soyinka or Chimamanda Adichie as alienated intellects disconnected from the people. Yet, what they are hostile to is excellence. What they are normalizing as “our culture” is mediocrity. What they are fetishizing are ignorance and mediocrity. Sometimes, the dumbing down of national culture can be a deliberate political move to normalize absurdity. I have seen self-abnegating PhD holders snigger at the value of a PhD just to create a room to normalize and rationalize President Buhari’s absurdities.

The second factor in the remaking of the social character of our body politic is the language in which this circumambient hostility to excellence is delivered. For more than a decade now, my research and scholarship have focused on new Nigerian/African socialities and cultures produced in such novel spaces of meaning and phatic communion as social media. I have researched and lectured widely on the cultures, attitudes, and innovative spirit of the millennial generation and youths who inhabit and animate these new spaces. So, I know that the dominant idiom and mode of expression in these new spaces are rooted in irreverence.

Irreverence is a major culture shift and I have always argued that whoever puts himself or herself out there must be prepared to be at the receiving end of it. However, as is the case with everything Nigerian, we have extended the meaning of irreverence beyond every conceivable boundary. Our public space is littered with some of the most potty-mouthed, execrable worshippers of mediocrity whose hostility to excellence can only be delivered with scatological registers.

Because of the national culture of celebrating mediocrity and attacking excellence that we have created, whoever comes to represent excellence and cerebral brio in the collective imagination of these children of anger (apologies to Reuben Abati) becomes a target, subject to their boundless scatological vocabulary. This is the interweaving loop of factors and contexts informing the bazaar of insults and ad hominems that have been poured on Oby Ezekwesili since she quit the presidential race last week. Undeserved insults have always trailed her post-service public career through the various movements she has led in the service of motherland, from BBOG to the Red Card movement and many more. However, it reached a crescendo last week.

Oby Ezekwesili bears the burden of excellence in an environment that is very unforgiving of excellence. It is a testament to the character of our brave new Nigerian world that somebody could hail and tuale pictures of MC Oluomo being ferried overseas in business class for medical treatment and at public expense in one tweet and, in the very next tweet, descend on a two-time Federal Minister, former World Bank Vice President, board member of major global intellectutal foundations and think tanks, abuse her in the crudest possible manner, and accuse her of running for office because she is scheming for a ministerial appointment!

I do not know any measure of assessment in which Oby Ezekwesili does not tower above a Muhammadu Buhari or an Atiku Abubakar. The CVs are just not comparable. It is day and night. I almost feel that I owe her an apology for mentioning her CV in the same breath as those of these two men. Yet, it is a testament to the character of our brave new world that somebody will get off from tweets praising these two morally and ethically-challenged men and begin to rain invectives on someone who outshines them in every way imaginable. Who among these men can hold a candle to Oby Ezekwesili? From where did you get the idea that, as a supporter of the corrupt status quo, you have an Archimedean standpoint from which to insult a compatriot who has so much more to offer Nigeria than the decrepit men you are hoisting on a pedestal?

Rotimi Amaechi it is who says in a leaked tape that he has encountered only one true Nigerian – Olusegun Obasanjo. And he anchors his definition on what he says is his subject’s selfless pan-Nigerian soul. If that is how to define a true Nigerian, it means that Rotimi Amaechi has never met or listened to Oby Ezekwesili. I laugh or chuckle when I encounter ignorant attributions of uncatholic motifs and intentions to Oby’s service and actions by the children of anger.

She is just simply not cut from the same cloth as the despoilers of Nigeria that so many of you worship. There is an unquenchable pan-Nigerian fire burning in Oby Ezekwesili’s soul. I have listened to it in candid conversations, have felt it. It is love, selfless love for all of Nigeria and every Nigerian for which she has paid a huge price without complaining. What then is the basis of these insults?

I have deliberately borrowed Buchi Emecheta’s ironic titling of her most famous novel, The Joys of Motherhood. We know that motherhood brings Nnu Ego pains and tears. Yet, it does not dampen her enthusiasm for the fundamental essence of motherhood. Offering to serve Nigeria has attracted her so much scorn, insults, and derision but I know that nothing will ever dampen Citizen Ezekwesili’s love and zeal for her country.

As for the insults. They will continue to come her way. I will get my own measure of insults for this op-ed but it is ok. Social media insults are water off the back off a duck for me – completely inconsequential. Continue to insult Citizen Oby. The Yoruba have a proverb which perfectly captures her situation: egan o pe k’oyin ma dun. Insults and ill-will are powerless against the sweet taste of honey.

Written By

Pius Adesanmi