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Monthly Archives: April 2011

Nigeria-Attacks on Youth Corpers:Doing Violence to the Idea,and Cause,of National Unity

According to news reports carried by http://punchng.com,”Post-election violence broke out on Sunday in about 10 states in the North shortly after results of the April 16 presidential election indicated that Jonathan would win. The violence which continued in some of the states till Wednesday has left scores of persons dead and properties worth billions of naira destroyed. Among the dead are corps members. As at Thursday, the whereabouts of 27 corps members attacked in Bauchi by some hoodlums were unknown. Four of their colleagues were confirmed dead by the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Amana Abakasanga.” Heart-rending stuff.Young people who answered the call to  service,of the fatherland so mindlessly slaughtered.What has me worried is that this slaughter may not have been mere happenstance.

There have been too many attacks on Corpers by their hosts,in the last few years,to discount the possibility that corpers have become deliberate targets.Many of these host-communities are ambivalent about the NYSC scheme.While they are quite happy to enjoy the services provided by corpers,as doctors and teachers,they resent what the corpers represent:modernity,westernization,secularism;a world they find so reprehensible they are willing to sacrifice national unity,in its destruction.For the NYSC scheme rests on the idea of promoting national unity,through the interaction of Nigeria’s disparate peoples.Created by the Gowon administration,in 1973,the national youth service corp,NYSC,was envisioned as a vehicle for fostering unity among Nigeria’s many peoples.The idea was that by posting corpers to states other than their states of origin,they would be brought into contact with people of different tribal,social,religious backgrounds.

It was hoped that contact,with people of different cultural and religious persuasions would boost understanding,and the cause of national unity.No one can argue with the theory.The reality,however,engenders much debate,and doubt.Every time corpers are attacked,the idea of fostering unity through the NYSC,comes under siege.More people are forced to question  its value.For members of Nigeria’s middle and upper classes,mainly southerners,the NYSC  scheme is viewed as a way to provide uncompensated skilled-labour for areas where these skills are in short supply,mainly in the north of Nigeria.For these people,it is a wasteful distraction from the business of getting on in life.With all the connections available to people in this category,the one year spent on youth service could have been put to better use,securing some plum job somewhere,or furthering their education,given that  service,especially  in rural areas  offers little in the way of attractive permanent employment.

On the other hand,for corpers from less-privileged homes,the NYSC could be an opportunity.Lacking the necessary connections to enable job-hunting,the service year is a chance to work and get paid.It is also an opportunity to see other parts of the country and to broaden the horizon of their minds.Especially for people without any city-based relations.If job-hunting is tough for those living in the city,imagine the odds against job-seekers who have to commute from their villages.I had school-mates in this position.Every time school closed,they had to go back to their villages.I always wondered how they would secure a job in the city,while living in their villages.For people in this category,the NYSC program provides a useful stop-gap that brings them into contact with corporate Nigeria.Also,the money they make during the service year gives them a level of independence that they have never known,and the savings would come in handy after service.And,not being so choosy,the service job,if it is made permanent, might be attractive enough as well.

So yeah,the NYSC scheme could work,if we make the following improvements.First,we need to provide adequate security for corpers.President Jonathan has charged state governors,to ensure the security of corpers serving in their respective states.We have to go further and accord corpers the same level of security enjoyed by officers in the military.When it becomes clear that an attack on a corper is equivalent to an attack on a military officer,these attacks will stop.Second,call-up waiting time should be a matter of weeks,not months.A situation where people are kept at home for months  or more waiting for call-up,further burdening parents and guardians who have sacrificed everything for them already,is unacceptable.A friend told me how she was forced to squat with an uncle,a taxi-driver with 6 children,for over a year,while waiting for her call-up,in an arrangement where she was somehow expected to provide “breakfast”for the family,being the “big-girl” from the university.Where she was expected to get the money from,only God could have known.

Third,corpers remuneration should be reviewed upwards.Let’s face it,these are qualified professionals.They should be better paid for all their sacrifice.At the end of the service-year,they should receive a healthy bonus,something substantial enough to subsidize their housing,medical and transport costs,for atleast two years.Finally,there should be greater emphasis on orientation.No,not for the corpers.For the host-communities.If the objective of national unity through the NYSC service is to be achieved,then toleration and accomodation must be mutual,between host and guest.While the corpers have to be considerate of the religious sensibilities of their hosts,these communities must come to terms with the secular,modern world in which a huge chunk of Nigeria lives,and of which the corpers are representative.Each must be tolerant of the Other’s otherness.Fro example,attacking corpers for allegedly violating the local dress-code,as happened a couple years ago when a female-corper was repeatedly raped,and then killed,for wearing “trousers”,is simply unacceoptable.What if her religion compelled her to wear “trousers?”Then what?Remember she was forcibly posted to that community;she did not choose to go there.

Nigeria-2011 Presidential Election:A Referendum on Zoning

According to http://wwwpunchng.com,”INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, declared Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party winner after the results of the nine states whose results were not taken on Sunday at the National Collation Centre in Abuja had been announced. Jega said that apart from having the highest number of votes cast in the election, the President was also able to meet the constitutional requirement on the spread of votes.According to him, Jonathan scored the mandatory 25 per cent of votes cast in 31 states and the Federal Capital Territory to emerge the winner.” Explaining further,the INEC chairman said, “The constitutional requirement is that parties must be able to score at least 25 per cent in two third of the total number of states and the FCT.Based on this, the positions of the parties are as follows: Ribadu of the ACN scored 25 per cent votes in four states; Buhari of the CPC scored 25 per cent of votes in 16 states and Jonathan of the PDP scored 25 per cent votes in 31 states.” Out of the 38,209,978 total valid votes, Jonathan polled 22,495,187 votes (58.9 per cent) while his closest rival, Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change came second with 12,214,853 votes or 31. 98 per cent.

Nigerian presidential elections have never been about issues or programmes,they are usually contested along the fault-lines of ethnicity and religion.Victory is usually secured by the incumbent- or for the pro-establishment-party,depending on whether the transition  is civilian-to-civilian or military-to-civilian.Thus political parties do not act as vehicles for aggregating political thought;no,they are more like cartels designed to trade access to power.But in order to avoid “civil war” within the ranks of the ruling elite,it became necessary to establish some sort of order of precedence.Given the emotivity of ethnicity and religion,a zoning formula based on these two had to be instituted.Thus came the PDP,Peoples democratic party,zoning accord of 1999,which allegedly stipulated that power should rotate between the North and South;each zone was to get 8 years.

According to this arrangement,after president Obasanjo‘s 8 year-tenure,power duly returned to the North with the presidency of Yaradua.But death intervened,truncating Yaradua’s presidency and leaving Jonathan,a southerner,as president.When Jonathan decided to run for president,certain segments of the North felt cheated,feeling that it was still the North’s turn,given that Yaradua did not complete his tenure.So the 2011 presidential election was about zoning.It was not only Northern elements who favoured zoning.Plenty of people within the southern elite also supported the zoning principle.In and outside of the PDP.It was no coincidence that of the four established parties,three had Northerners flying their presidential flags:Nuhu Ribadu of the Action congress of Nigeria,ACN;Ibrahim Shekarau of the All Nigeria peoples party,ANPP;Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for progressive change,CPC.

From this analysis,it is clear that support for zoning cuts across ethnic,religious and party lines.And no surprises there,for it is an elite stitch-up that enables the fleecing of the commonwealth.The reality is that irrespective of your ethnic or religious affiliations,if you are not a member of the elite group,you do not benefit from the zoning of offices.You,in fact,lose.Only members of the elite,those actively involved in the divvying of our wealth,benefit from zoning.And ordinary Nigerians seem to have caught-on.So they trooped out last Saturday to proclaim a loud NO,against zoning.Jonathan’s victory is a clear rejection of the burden of zoning.The South West provides dramatic evidence of this.Having rejected the PDP,in favour of the ACN,during the national assembly elections a week earlier,the people went out and voted for the presidential candidate of the PDP,rejecting the presidential candidate of the ACN,a Northerner.The elite stitch-up might have thrown up a Norherner as presidential candidate,but the masses were having none of it.

Nigerian Elites:A “domestic-diaspora?”

“Many members of the so-called elite group monitored the National Assembly elections on television, from the comfort of their homes or from far away, abroad. It will be a useful exercise to check how many Nigerian CEOs and captains of industry went out to vote on Saturday, April 9. The truth is that as Nigerians go to the polls, many Nigerian “big men and women” have since travelled out of the country. They won’t return until the elections are won and lost and they are sure that there is peace in the country. These are the same people whose businesses will be affected by National Assembly legislations. They would be quick to complain should there be unfavourable legislations affecting their businesses, and yet on election day, they’d rather stay at home, and allow their drivers, house-helps and bricklayers to be the ones to decide how Nigeria votes. In other parts of the world, it is the middle class and the elite that take the driver’s seat in determining the future of the country. In Nigeria, the rich are often too lazy to vote except when the election is like a business enterprise for them, that is a direct source of livelihood.”

The observation,quoted above,was made by Reuben Abati,in an article he published on a Nigerian website,the Nigeriavillagesquare.com.Any keen observer of Nigeria,would have noticed the same thing.The Nigerian elites live in Nigeria,but Nigeria does not live in them.They are like ex-territorial citizens,seemingly above Nigeria’s constraints.They are so detached from Nigeria,they are like expatriates:they do not send their children to Nigerian schools;they do not use Nigerian hospitals when they are stricken by sickness;they would rather bank their money abroad;they only live in Nigeria to make money.A few years ago,an expatriate acquaintance,a Dutchman working for one of the oil-companies in Port-Harcourt,told me a very revealing story.As a member of his company’s negotiation-team,he was privileged to attend meetings between representatives of the government,the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC,and those of the oil-companies.He said one of the bitterest complaints made by the NNPC guys was that,”expatriates do not invest in Nigeria;they do not use Nigerian schools or hospitals.” when he finished speaking,he looked at me,and we both started laughing.How funny.

Now,it is right that expatriates invest in Nigeria.But how can you make this point,when the top echelon of the government and the NNPC do not send their children to Nigerian schools or use Nigerian hospitals? Should they not lead by example? Nigerian elites are engaged with Nigeria superficially,and that through their economic activities,only.For them,Nigeria is useful,only for the rent-seeking opportunities it provides.As long as the government remains a captured agency,which exists only to award contracts and share the oil-money,the gravy-train will continue to churn.So why should they worry about which party “captures” power?They know that there is very little difference between our politicians,irrespective of party;these are the same politicians who jump from one party to the other,on the basis of expediency not ideology.They know that whoever wins,regulatory capture will ensure that business continues to be very lucrative,for the connected.

Of course you can argue that this indifference has a cost,as the resulting bad governance has consequences,in poor security;bad schools and hospitals;poor infrastructure and even worse power-supply.A cost that affects everybody,including the elites.Sure,it costs a pretty penny to pay for the foreign schools,medical treatment abroad,24 hour generator-power at home and at work,private security.But this dysfunctional system is contrived to ensure even greater gains for the connected.Far more gain than it’s cost.I recall that when the GSM mobile phone started in Nigeria,one of the companies claimed that,given the poor power-supply  situation in the country,it had to buy 9000 generating sets to power its system,on the basis of which it went on to charge,probably the highest phone rates in the world,with the condonment,if not the connivance of the regulatory authorities.Just a couple of  years down the road,the company had netted billions of Naira in profit.This is a typical business scenario here;in collusion with government regulators,businesses pass the cost of doing business in an uncompetitive business environment,on to the consumers,who are without any form of consumer-protection.

What is sad about this situation is not just the huge amount of money sent out of Nigerian each year,in the shape of medical or school fees,but the human capital-flight involved.Although Nigerians abroad repatriate millions of Dollars each year,most of these Nigerians sending money home are not children of  Nigerian elites.These are people from ordinary homes who are sacrificing so much,in order to send help to those at home.Children of the elites,on the other hand do not send a dime home.They do not need to.Instead,they live on money sent them by their parents,money  creamed from the Nigerian people.And as we all know most of them do not come home to work after concluding their studies,choosing to remain abroad instead;so they repatriate neither money nor skills.As far as Nigeria is concerned,sending them abroad to study is a total loss,a financial as well as a brain drain.

What is most distressing about all this,is that members of the middle class,those on $60000 or less a year,are getting in on the act.Any one in the oil-industry will attest to this fact.It is the rage now for even low-level staff,to plan for a foreign university education for their children. Where they cannot afford to send their children to Europe or America,they opt for Ghana.Imagine how much money Nigeria loses each year as it’s best paid professionals decide to hand the money over to foreigners?Think of the opportunity-cost of such huge sums.Consider how much better off we would be,if we invested such sums in our education system.If we all want a better Nigeria,scrambling for the oil-money,and then handing it all over to foreigners is not the way to go about it.