Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Repugnant

The Customs Area Controller, Seme Area Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Comptroller Willy Egbudin is a gentleman officer but the same cannot be said of some of his subordinates.
The irresponsible conduct of some customs officers attached to the command in recent times leaves so much to be desired and has regularly kept the command in the news for the wrong reasons.
One cannot but loathe the wickedness of some of these officers.
Perhaps the most detestable wickedness of all was the one perpetrated by one Nwaeze F.C., a Chief Superintendent of Customs and head of the Customs unit at Mosafejo Aradagun of the Seme Area Command.
Nwaeze F.C. attacked a woman identified as Tope Fadipe with acid because of an argument over money. Can you beat that?
According to reports, Fadipe, who served as a salesgirl at a local food business run by Nwanze for three years, was attacked by the Customs officer on Friday May 9th, 2014 after she argued with him when he accused her of not remitting N50, 000 into the business account.
What did Nwanze do? He became the accuser and judge in his own case and meted out jungle justice on the hapless Fadipe by bathing her with concentrated acid.
After the acid attack, the matter was reported at the Badagry Police Station, where Nwaeze had boasted that no one could arrest him. And truly, he had walked around free after a brief appearance at the police station until someone decided to push the matter to the public domain through the media.
The victim, Tope Fadipe, is currently being treated for her severe burns at the Badagry General Hospital. Witnesses and doctors say her condition has been worsening since the attack.
Nwanze’s conduct is criminal and he must face the full wrath of the law for his conduct.
Acid throwing, also called an acid attack is a form of violent assault carried out with the intention to disfigure, maim, torture, or kill a fellow human being. The likes of Nwanze throw acid at their victims, usually at their faces, burning them, and damaging skin tissue, often exposing and sometimes dissolving the bones.
As a result of the acid attack, Tope Fadipe may suffer blindness as well as permanent scarring of her face and body along with far-reaching social, psychological, and economic difficulties. She might be disfigured and battle psychological challenges all her life.
Apart from trying to destroy the life of a fellow human being, Nwanze is also guilty of misconduct unbecoming of a public officer. Security officers betray their oath of allegiance when they knowingly break the law as Nwanze has done. The Code of Conduct for public officers is clear enough for Nwanze to know that it is illegal for him to run a business while in the employ of government. So he must face multiple charges of assault and breaking the code of conduct.
Not any less wicked and repugnant is the alleged rape of a 23-year old lady by two Customs officers of the same command, Felola Uzezi and Mohammed Sanni.
Both officers, attached to Gbaji customs checkpoint, are now in police custody for the offence which, according to reports, occurred at Limca Bus Stop area, along Lagos-Badagry Expressway, Uzezi’s residence.
As the story goes, the victim, whose identity has been concealed for obvious reasons, and Uzezi met on Facebook and became friends. After months of online chatting, she agreed to visit the suspect.
According to reports, Uzezi invited Sanni, his colleague over to his place when the victim, who resides around Badagry area, came visiting. Uzezi was said to have pleaded with the victim to allow him make love to her. She refused, saying she was on her monthly circle. However, when Sanni arrived, they became violent and allegedly took turns raping her. Afterwards, Uzezi was said to have given the victim his boxer’s shorts to clean up with.
She immediately reported the incident to Area K Police Command and the suspects have been picked up. Officers were said to have found blood stains on Uzezi’s bed and the boxers with which the victim allegedly cleaned up herself.
Now rape is a crime against humanity. People who have been raped can be severely traumatized and may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition to psychological harm resulting from the act, rape may cause physical injury, or have additional effects on the victims, such as acquiring sexually transmitted infections or becoming pregnant.
So clearly, Uzezi and Sanni are in serious trouble for the few minutes’ pleasure they might have derived from their ignominious act. And no one should pity them. The full weight of the law must be brought to bear on them including summary dismissal without any form of entitlement whatsoever from the Nigeria Customs Service if found guilty.
Nwanze, Uzezi and Sanni should, as a matter of fact, be on suspension without salary by now.
Rather than try to defend one of the rapists by claiming that he was dating the victim, Comptroller Egbudin should allow justice take its full course. A boyfriend/girlfriend relationship is no license to rape anyone.
It has also become expedient at this time for the Seme Area Command to begin to teach its officers lessons in morality, personal and public conduct.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Before we set up another national carrier

As the Federal Government, through the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), plans to float a new national carrier within the next six months, it is important to remind the powers that be of pitfalls to avoid for the survival of the new venture.
Excessive interference by top government officials played an important role in the eventual demise of defunct Nigerian National Shipping Line (NNSL). Because it was seen as a cash cow, Federal Ministry of Transport officials found every excuse to meddle in its affairs and thus circumvent important decisions.
The management of NNSL was changed as often as Transport Ministry officials liked. Every NNSL Managing Director who was seen as uncooperative by the Ministry officials soon found himself in the labour market.
Frequent changes in the management were not for the right reasons and management programmes for turning round the shipping line were not given due consideration. The company and government could not react without delay to situations dictated by market and technological changes or development in the trade.
For instance, it took the Federal Government almost five years to approve the tonnage expansion programme and modernization of NNSL ships in the seventies. Perhaps the post civil war demands contributed to this. By the time the vessels were eventually built and introduced into the market, a measure of obsolesce had set into the original concept. It took another five years to convince the government about the need to phase out the 19 combo vessels with a view to introducing appropriate vessels that were technologically up to date as well as meeting market demands. Other decisions such as rationalization of staff were dictated by government policies rather than sound business judgment.
Another major factor which compounded NNSL’s woes especially in the 1980s and 1990s was that services performed for other arms of the Nigerian government by the company were not paid in time. Such services rendered by NNSL vessels to government were paid for in local currency while the company racked up operational expenses incurred in foreign currency.
NNSL ships played vital role in moving troops and materials into Liberia during the operation of the Nigeria-led Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) which was established in 1990 to restore peace to Liberia during its civil war. Not a dime was paid for this service.
Accumulated debts of NNSL to trade creditors originated from government’s failure to pay NNSL for the shipment of government project materials such as Aluminium Smelter Company, Ajaokuta and Alaja Steel projects. Efforts made by the management of the company to diversify into ancillary activities such as terminal operations, clearing and forwarding, oil tanker operation etc were not approved.
Regular changes in the headship of the Federal Ministry of Transport and the company brought inconsistency in its focus and vision.
Former leaders of NNSL that I spoke with agreed that government interference was a major stumbling block for the operation of the company.
Gerald Chidi told me sometimes ago that during his tenure as Managing Director of the NNSL from 1990 to 1993, he worked under four different Ministers of Transport while his successor who served for only two years from 1993 to 1995 also served under four Ministers of Transport.
Certainly, every Minister of Transport came with his own agenda and ideas on how to run the ministry with its parastatals which included NNSL.
“In some cases, changes in the headship of the company were engineered by officials of the Ministry (not necessarily by the Minister) for selfish reasons. It is this type of situation that a one-time Chief Executive of one of the parastatals who happened to be a retired General of the Army had in mind when he once said that the relationship between the supervisory Ministry and its parastatals could be likened to that of a military commander who sent a platoon of soldiers to capture a location and also deliberately sent another platoon of his soldiers to ambush the other platoon to ensure a failure of that assignment. This analogy is very apt.”, Chidi said.
As at the time it was drafted into the ECOMOG Liberia mission in 1990, NNSL was already in deep financial mess. Several of the company’s vessels have been seized in different parts of the world for alleged breach of contracts and unpaid bills.
In 1994, late Head of State, General Sanni Abacha approved the direct injection of cash into NNSL to enable it pay its creditors and secure release of some of its ships. The late dictator approved $45 million and another $20 million for NNSL but as a matter of fact, this act pushed the last nail into the company’s coffin. This was so because of avarice of some officials who colluded with outsiders to defraud the company as much as they could.
By early 1995, all of the vessels owned by NNSL had either been sold as scraps or downright shipwrecked without any hope of redemption.
In September 1995, the Minister of Transport, Major General Ibrahim Gumel shut down the operation of the Nigerian National Shipping Line, NNSL after 36 years. He appointed Captain Cosmos Niagwan as Liquidator of the company.
The NNSL story is a reminder to the decision makers of today that government has no business being in business.
While one applauds the renewed attempt to float a new shipping line, it should purely be a private sector driven venture with government’s role being that of providing an enabling environment.
I strongly recommend the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) model for structure of the new national carrier. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) owns 49% of NLNG while Shell, Total and ENI own 25.6%, 15% and 10.4% of the entity respectively. A structure like this has ensured the buy-in and ownership of the NLNG project by critical industry stakeholders.
My suggestion therefore will be that the NNPC, which is the cargo owner that the new national carrier is targeting, should own 25% share, indigenous ship owners under the aegis of the Nigerian Shipowners Association should own 49% while three oil majors – it could be the three mentioned above – should own the remaining 26% share.
NIMASA cannot own shares in the new venture because it is a regulatory agency. Its role in the entire arrangement should be that of a facilitator in line with its mandate of promoting shipping development in the country.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Leadership lesson from South Korea


Nigeria has so much going for it as a country. Our tsunami is bad leadership. The hurricane of bad leadership which buffets all facets of the Nigerian society from all sides has left the lands so devastated that its inhabitants are beginning to lose hope of the possibility of a revival.
The resignation of the South Korean Prime Minister, Chung Hong-won, over a ferry accident that claimed about 300 lives has again underscored the fact that many of the atrocities and shortcomings of Nigerian leaders will not be tolerated in civilized climes where value is placed on human lives.
The Sewol ferry with 476 people aboard – over 300 of them school children and their teachers -sank off South Korea on April 16 while on a trip to the holiday Island of Jeju.
Shortly before announcing his resignation as the Prime Minister of Asia’s fifth largest economy, Hong-won cited official corruption and deep-rooted evil as factors responsible for the sinking of the ill-fated Sewol, a RORO/Passenger vessel known in shipping parlance as Ropax.
When he visited the families of the unfortunate passengers at a hall provided for them by the government, the families vented their anger on the sober Prime Minister. Despite the barrage of insults and curses hurled at him, Hong-won remained sober and apologetic. He did not raise his voice or try to defend his position. He kept apologising to the bereaved and took responsibility for not doing enough to protect their loved ones.
He admitted the slow response of authorities to the tragedy. Chung Hong-Won admitted he had not been up to the task of overseeing rescue operations after the Sewol capsized offering his unreserved “apology for having been unable to prevent the accident from happening and unable to properly respond to it afterwards.”
“As the Prime Minister, certainly, I had to take responsibility and resign,” he announced. Now that is one decision many Nigerian leaders will find difficult to come to terms with.
Hong-won is a man of honour. He admits errors and takes responsibility. He knows that a leader can delegate authority but must shoulder responsibility. He is a leader who understands what it means to take responsibility especially as it affects the lives of the citizenry.
Hong-won said when he saw the pain of the grieving families and the resentment of the public towards the government; he thought he should take the responsibility as the Prime Minister. I watched in awe as he bowed to the families of the victims appealing and apologising to them. I was moved to tears. I found myself telling whoever cared to listen that the man is a great leader.
A few days after the Prime Minister announced his resignation, the President also tendered unreserved apology to South Koreans over the unfortunate incident.
Now let us come back home. On 27 January 2002, at least 1,100 people died as a result of the Lagos armoury explosion at Ikeja Military Cantonment in Lagos. Then President Olusegun Obasanjo visited the cantonment the following day and while the wives of some of the dead soldiers were weeping and demanding explanation and compensation, he climbed onto the bonnet of a vehicle, standing akimbo with microphone in one hand; Obasanjo lambasted the bereaved for “insulting” him and stormed out of the military barracks in anger.
On 15 March 2014, the Minister of Interior and the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) organised an infamous recruitment scam. Hundreds of thousands of jobless youths were asked to apply for jobs in the NIS. A fee of one thousand naira was collected from each of the applicants numbering over 500,000. The youths gathered in their hundreds of thousands at various stadia across the country to write some phony tests. Safety measures were not on the agenda of the greedy leaders despite the large army of youths that thronged the advertised venues. There was no provision even for crowd control; only money collection points were provided. Stampede eventually ensued claiming the lives of 16 of the applicants with scores of others suffering various degrees of injuries.
The Interior Minister’s initial comments were appalling as he blamed the applicants for their own misfortune.
Speaking in Jos, Plateau State, where he inspected the exercise, Abba Moro said the applicants should blame their “impatience” for the stampede and the deaths!
He said applicants refused to follow instructions handed them by the recruiters.
“The applicants lost their lives due to impatience,” he told journalists. “They did not follow the laid down procedures spelt out to them before the exercise; many of them jumped through the fences of affected centres and did not conduct themselves in an orderly manner to make the exercise a smooth one. This caused stampede and made the environment unsecured.”
He blamed the victims. He said those who died killed themselves. What could be more appalling? And Abba Moro is still in office as Interior Minister!
Several other examples abound about the worthlessness of lives to Nigerian politicians. Perhahps the only lives that matter are theirs and those of their families. Or how else do you explain the fact that the Federal Executive Council did not as much as observe a minute of silence for victims of the Nyanya, Abuja bomb blast but would go as far as cancelling its meeting of 30th April, 2014 in to “mourn the younger brother of Vice President Namadi Sambo” who died in a road accident few days before?
Our politicians and political leaders made Nigeria the Sodom and Gomorrah it has become because they lack moral consciousness.
South Korea might be described by the West as a Third World country but the country is certainly not in the same league with Nigeria.
In his book titled The Trouble with Nigeria, Chinua Achebe aptly captured Nigeria’s leadership problem: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”