Sunday, 28 February 2016

Boni Yayi: A wolf in sheep’s clothing

Benin Republic is a parasite, feeding fat on Nigeria. For emphasis, a parasite is any organism that lives and feeds off of another organism. At the death of the host organism, the parasite creeps out in search of another.
Benin Republic feeds off Nigeria’s nutrition and their uncanny President very much knows this hence his regular trips to Abuja to massage the ego of every sitting Nigerian President.
He visited Goodluck Jonathan every other month while he visited President Buhari for the 5th time in six months on Thursday 14th January. No Nigerian state governor has visited the President this much.
Boni Yayi’s government turns the blind eye while his countrymen wreak havoc on Nigeria’s economy through unbridled smuggling and several other economic crimes.
Benin Republic under Boni Yayi plays the spoiler role for Nigeria, taking advantage of our huge population at the detriment of our economy.
Under Boni Yayi, Cotonou Port became Nigeria’s biggest seaport. Yayi himself has described his country as Nigeria’s 37th state.
Chicken and rice – the most popular pairing in Nigerian cuisine – find their way into this country from Cotonou. More than 80% of these commodities are landed in the Port of Cotonou – a port facility purposely built so close to the Nigerian border at Seme – and smuggled with the active connivance with Benin Republic Customs and other agencies into Nigeria.
When Nigeria was collecting 20% tariff on imported vehicles, Benin Republic dropped its own to as low as 5%. The idea was to lure Nigerian importers to the francophone country to use Cotonou Port. The trick worked. As much as half of the vehicles used in Nigeria were imported through that country but the permutation took a turn for the worse when Nigeria in 2013 raised tariffs on imported vehicles to 70%. Nigeria immediately lost more than 80% of its vehicle cargoes to its unsympathetic neighbour.
The Nigeria Customs Service under its former Comptroller-General, Dikko Abdullahi, tried to stem this tide by entering into agreement with the Beninoise Customs. The agreement stipulated that every vehicle finding its way into Nigeria from Cotonou would be escorted by Benin Customs and handed over at the border post to Nigeria Customs officials. That way, the vehicles would be tracked to avoid being smuggled into the country and Nigeria would be able to charge and collect appropriate import duties on them. But the guys from Benin willingly bungled the agreement. It is not in their interest for such arrangement to work.
Everyday, you see thousands of Beninoise smuggle rice, frozen chicken and turkey into Nigeria. They smuggle these in bits and pieces on their heads, some on bicycles, tricycles and cars. Some daring big time use trucks and drive in late at night. Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh said recently that the kind of rice and other edibles coming into our country through Benin is not fit for consumption by even pigs.
Less than 20% of the chicken Nigerians eat come from Nigeria. The rest come from Cotonou port and sneaks over the border onto our shelves.
Tiny Benin Republic, with a total population that is about half of Lagos State imports as much rice as China and nearly as much frozen chicken as the whole of U.K. Its target is Nigeria with its huge burgeoning population.
Our automotive policy and rice importation policy have failed woefully and Benin is reaping bountifully. The tariff on imported rice was increased to 110 per cent to encourage Nigerians to farm and grow rice but ended up encouraging massive smuggling from neighbouring countries because they immediately crashed theirs to 10 per cent. The obnoxious rice policy is said to be leading to a daily loss of over N1billion to the Nigerian economy. Ditto the automotive policy and others. The policies are a curse to this nation.
Importers of rice and shipping lines no longer come to our ports. Rice was a major commodity at the Lagos Port Complex Apapa but the general cargo terminals have since dried up. The roll-on-roll-off terminals have also dried up. The ships that should come to our ports are all diverted to these neighbouring ports and the commodity is smuggled in bits and pieces into Nigeria while our customs officials look the other way.
As he enters into the twilight of his administration, Boni Yayi has done very well for his people but we must place on record that he is not a friend to Nigeria. He comes to the Villa as a friend but he is actually playing a role inimical to Nigeria’s economic well being. May we therefore never see another like him. Amen.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

The thief, the rich and the public service rot

When I think of the downtrodden who labour day in day out to make ends meet, I begin to wonder what goes into the heads of those guys who use their positions to steal and loot public funds. These shallow-minded fake ‘big men’ not only use their positions to amass wealth they’ll never need in their entire lives, they also abuse and oppress the very people they are elected or appointed to serve.
The recent revelations coming out of the trial of former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) is mind-boggling. Many NIMASA staff who knew all along that something was amiss while Akpobolokemi reigned supreme at the Maritime House could not, for the life of them, imagine the level of sleaze in that agency. What with a fashion design paid over N500million for doing nothing and without even submitting any request for contract? This happened at a time the agency staff were owed salaries and allowances.
Akpobolokemi came into NIMASA from a very modest background. He came preaching and sermonising. Every one of his public speeches was preceded by a homily of sort. He would talk about patriotism, the need for prudence, accountability, transparency, fear of God et al.
He slashed the DG office imprest by more than half when he assumed office shortly after his appointment in December 2010. He vowed to fight corruption and entrench Nigerian interests in shipping via strict implementation of the Cabotage Law.
I think he failed on both scores.
Until his disengagement in July 2015, Akpobolokemi rose to become one of the most powerful, controversial and divisive public officials Nigeria has seen in recent times.
He was loved by a few, hated by many. Many employees of the apex maritime regulatory body saw him as unapologetically biased toward his Ijaw ethnic group and sought to turn NIMASA into a second Niger Delta Ministry in defiance of the Federal Character principle. Some others saw him as an overbearing, arrogant man who didn’t care to carry people outside his ethnic stock along. He bestrode the maritime industry like an imperial potentate for 55 dramatic months. He enjoyed direct access to former President Goodluck Jonathan and woe betide any Minister that dared to stand in his way. Yusuf Suleiman was fired as Minister of Transport in 2011 over disagreements with Akpobolokemi. Idris Umar, who succeeded Suleiman cleverly avoided any direct confrontations with the man popularly called Akpos by NIMASA staff. Akpos had the world at his feet.
Several speakers and writers have tried to trace the root of the lootocracy that has eaten deep into the fabric of our public service.
Some have blamed the rot on the steps taken by the regime of former military ruler, the late Gen Murtala Mohammed.
According to this school of thought, the civil service reforms initiated by the then Mohammed-led administration should be blamed for the massive corruption in the public service.
“What happened to the civil service is the handiwork of the military. A typical civil servant back then obeyed financial regulations, general order and civil service rules. And they had targets for each ministry. A civil servant wants to work until his retirement age. He builds his house little by little, he is satisfied.
“But what happened? In 1976, this man Murtala came and started that tsunami. He retired and dismissed people at will. He was just sacking people in the name of reforms. So a new orientation came, it was the fear of the unexpected sack or retirement that led to this corruption.
“Today you see permanent secretaries building hotels everywhere and HoS acquiring property in choice areas. The political class too whether military or civilians are worse. They take their own and civil servants follow suit because nobody can take anything out of the treasury without civil servants knowing,” according to a retired former permamanent secretary in Ogun State, Alhaji Oyewole Egbeyemi.
So let us, for the sake of argument accept that this happened 40 years ago? I think forty is a really long time, long enough to correct observed anomalies in a system. Shall we resign ourselves to fate and throw up our hands in despair while a few who are lucky to get into positions loot the nation dry?
The suffering of the masses and the dysfunctional state of public utilities and infrastructure in the country today is a direct consequence of high level corruption.
Now is the time to change the system and make it impermissible for the kind of thievery and impunity we have seen in Nigeria since the return of civil rule in 1999.
I think our government must work on creating work environments that will make it impossible for anyone to steal. Value reorientation should start from elementary school and should be sustained all through key stages of life. Nigeria must instill a sense of responsibility in its people to discourage corruption from all angles. Parents and teachers should educate their children about corruption and its adverse effects on the society.
The anti-corruption units established during the Obasanjo era should be made effective and dynamic. They should be reconstituted and populated with honest officials to check the corruption from the lowest level to the top of every government agency.
A whistle blower protection law is also important not only to reward but also to protect government officials who expose corruption where they work.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Cadet life on the flip side

The rain stopped as Jude turned into the road that went up through the football field; coming out on to a narrow street.
There was the bungalow, better still the face-me-I-face you house with the faded painting on its wall and zinc roof. 
As Jude entered into the narrow passage, passing by stoves, woods, buckets and all manners of household items, he almost choked from nausea.
Three rooms down to his left, he tapped on the door gently.
“Well, Jude,” Kura said as he opened the door.
“Hey man. How you day?” Jude said, moving into the room.
They shook hands and embraced each other. 
“It’s cold and dry today. Not my kind of weather,” Jude said.
“It’s the harmattan wind. It’ll blow like that for a few days,” Kura said.
“Is your dad in?” Jude asked.
“No. He has gone to his shop. Come on sit.”
Jude sits on a section of the only three-seater in the room. The chair has seen better days.
“Do you have a drink,” he said.
Kurt went out to the kitchen and came back with two glasses and a bottle of local gin popularly called ogogoro.
“Is this alright?” He asked.
“Very good,” Jude said.
Kura placed the drink and glasses on the table standing between the three-seater and the bed, sitting across Jude on the bed. They drank.
Jude stretched out his legs on the centre table.
“Better take your shoes off,” Kura said.
“It’s cold and I’m not wearing any socks.”
“Well, you can’t put your shoes on the table. My parents eat on this table.”
“Can you turn the TV on,” Jude said.
“No light,” Kura said.
“Got anything to read?” he asked.
“Only an old sports newspaper.”  
“I’m not celebrating José Mourinho’s sack. I think it will affect Chelsea’s fortunes,” Jude said.
“The chosen one had to go,” Kura said.
“No one is perfect. He had his flaws but he’s still one of the best in the world,” Jude said.
“His ill-judged and inexcusable attack on the medical team after and opening draw with Swansea offered the first indication that he was losing control,” Kura said.
“I heard he left Stamford Bridge cursing. That’s not good for the team,” Jude said.
“Some said he left weeping. Anyhow, it’s not his first sack. Who knows, he might be back again someday.”
“If Man U does not snatch him.”
“They may have already known that Pep Guardiola was heading for Manchester City but now that football’s worst-kept secret is out, Manchester United have a serious question to answer in terms of their response to their noisy neighbours’ major coup.”
“Now is the time to swallow their pride and hand Jose Mourinho the job he’s been longing for.”
“But how can Man U fans who hated him at Chelsea now so desperately want him to be their next manager?’
Kura reached down the local gin bottle. His big hand went all the way around it. He poured into the glass Nick held out.
“Let’s get drunk.”
“All right,” Jude agreed.
“My old man won’t care,” Kura said.
“Are you sure?” Nick said.
“I know it,” Kura said.
“I’m a little drunk now,” Jude said.
He drained his glass. Got up and stretched like a wild cat. He held out his glass. Kura filled it.
“There’s just one more shot,” he said.
“Got any more?” Jude asked.
“There’s plenty more but dad only likes me to drink what’s open.”
“Sure,” Jude said.
“He says opening bottles is what makes drunkards,” Kura explained.
“That’s right,” said Jude. He was impressed. He had never thought of that before. He had always thought it was solitary drinking that made drunkards.
“How’s your dad?” he asked respectfully.
“He’s all right,” Kura said. He gets a little wild sometimes.”
“He’s a swell guy,” Jude said. He poured the last shot of gin into Kura’s empty glass.
“You bet your life he is,” Kura said.
“My old man’s all right,” Jude said.
“You’re damn right he is,” said Kura.
“He claims he’s never taken a drink in his life,” Jude said, as though announcing a scientific fact.
“Well, he’s a civil servant. A public officer. A court clerk at that. My old man’s a carpenter. That’s different.”
“He’s missed a lot,” Jude said sadly.
“You can’t tell,” Kura said. “Everything’s got its compensations.”
“He says he’s missed a lot himself. He’s spent all his life working for government,” Jude confessed.
“Well, my dad has had a tough time,” Kura said.
“It all evens up,” Jude said.
Kura brought another bottle of whisky. They sat drinking and talking some more.
“I really wish I could go back to school,” Kura said.
“I wish I could too. But we can’t,” Jude said.
“They won’t admit us to complete our training until we acquire seatime experience,” said Kura.
“But how do we acquire seatime experience when there are no ships for training or ships owned by Nigerians?” asked Jude.
“For the past five years since after my ND and that I’ve been at home, I’ve asked the same question everyday,” said Kura.
“You’re lucky. I finished my ND seven years ago. Can’t get a job. Can’t get a ship to do mandatory seatime. Can’t go back to school. Tough luck,” Jude said.
“Our counterparts in other parts of the world are already neck deep into their careers; making a living and supporting their families. We have to make it too. Any how. Any way,” Kura said as he got up slowly. He opened a small cupboard not far from the window. He brought out two locally made pistols neatly concealed in a brown ankara wrapper. He was now quite drunk but his head was clear. He could think clearly.
“How do you feel?” Jude asked, feeling quite drunk himself.
“Swell. I’ve just got a good edge on,” Kura said, buttoning his shirt.
“It’s good to be drunk,” said Jude.
“You can say that again,” Kura said as he downed the last shot from his glass. He handed one of the pistols to Jude who tucked it neatly into the back of his trouser.
“Now we need to go outdoors and make a living,” Jude said.
“Sure sure. Where today?” asked Kura.
“The traffic should be building on Eko Bridge by now,” Jude said.