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By: Ademola Orunbon

          As the primary of All Progressives Congress (APC) to the diverse positions across the country gather momentum, pressures continue mounted on the Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode to step down for Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, indeed, Ambode has done well for the state that could earn him another term, as the proverb says, ‘One good term deserves another’, and this is the man Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former governor of the Centre of Excellence, Lagos State describes as “an uncommon civil servant” who works for the state diligently and to the best of his knowledge, in which he discovered an embodiment of the sterling attributes of a great accountant. Imagine this assertions and it was when the road is good and smooth but now the reverse is the case, he has become “rogue, selfish, arrogant, rude and all”. The acclaimed political strategist with a knack for discovering great talents surely knows his onions. Even his successor then, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) in his letter of commendation poured encomiums on him for “the high sense of dedication, selflessness, loyalty and integrity” which he brought to bear during his glorious day as a public/civil servant in the State.

And during a public presentation of his biography at Lagos, The Art of Selfless Service written by Marina Osoba deafening applause greeted to the enviable life trajectory from across section of those who have known him closely for the past five decade. So, who is this illustrious and industrious son of Lagos State, nay Nigeria?

What is more meaningful and significant to this writer are the moral lessons and traits of a sound professional that Nigerian youths should imbibe, drink and digest from the flowing fountain of his wealth of experience, within a short span of 27 year being spent as a public/civil servant with Lagos State government before he become the state governor that he helped out during the crises of Obasanjo regime when he declined to give Local Government Council its allocation.

Another lesson has to do with his mission and vision to excel in whatever situation he finds himself. This, combined with an inner strength to conquer the hurdles that fate may place along his path, marks him out as a unique Nigerian. Ordinarily, he would have capitulated and turn himself into an area boy when his father died at the age of 18 years. But he didn’t because he wants to become something in the future in life. So, he chose to focus his energy fully on his academics which paid off handsomely today. From recording the second best result in the entire West Africa in the Higher School Certificate (HSC) in 1981 to graduating with honours in Accounting from the University of Lagos at 21 years and a Masters degree in Accounting combined with being a Chartered Accountant all at 24 years, the stage was set for a brilliant career in Accounting. One could therefore re-write his biography with the title: Ambode and the power of focus.

That brings us to his choice of where to ply his trade, many in his shoes would have opted for a private practice for quick monetary gains. Instead, Ambode chose the civil service job, with its bureaucratic bottleneck and slow-grinding rise to self actualization! Why did he do so? The answer, as exhibited by the landmark achievements he recorded at the various places of work is to leave an enduring mark on the sands of his Accounting profession. Only a man with the passion for selfless service would do that. And truth be told, there are few of them, not only here in Lagos but the entire Nigerian nation.

Rising from the humble position of a junior Accountant, he moved rapidly up the ladder of success to becoming the youngest ever Auditor General for Local Governments in Lagos State in 2001. Subsequently, he was made the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance in January 2005 before bring combined with the additional responsibility as the Accountant General in February, 2006. As one determined to make his mark the genius in him, restructured the financial transactions that resulted in the state budget’s performance of over 80 percent increased.

But of a remarkable achievement was how he assisted to keep the state running during the embattled period when the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration unilaterally stopped allocation to Local Governments in the State. A more critical look at his book: Public Sector Financing may shed more light on the strategies used to keep the State afloat in those dark days. The book simplifies government accounting system from the local government through the state to the federal level. Or, he may have to write another book specifically focused on how states and even individuals could survive the hard times. That was parts of achievement of Ambode when he was a civil servant which nobody can contend with, and that’s more reason Asiwaju Bola Tinubu fingered him then as Fashola successor.

There are some notable achievements which Lagos state political gladiators need to put into consideration for him to run for second term among them is the Backlog payment of N11billion as arrears to retirees of Lagos State Government, construction of Safety Arena, in Oshodi, in order to bring all the Departments and Agencies responsible for safety and emergency management under one roof, completion of more than 300 Local Government road projects, since 2015, repositioning of Lagos State Emergency Agency, LASEMA, and the Agency now operates via 4 centres, namely Command and Control Centre, Alausa, Ikeja; LASEMA Response Unit (LRU) Cappa Oshodi; LASEMA Response Unit, Lekki (by Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge) and LASEMA Response Unit, Onipanu. Construction of  LRU with modern equipment (trucks, power bikes, heavy-duty vehicles and fire trucks, Mobile Intensive Care Ambulances and Light Rescue Equipment, and 14 new BMW Power Bikes for on-spot reconnaissance assessments of emergency incidents.

Though, nobody has a monopoly of wisdom and a tree cannot make a forest, it is high time to prevail of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and other APC stakeholders in Lagos to be calmed, patient and re-consider their stand on Akinwunmi Ambode to continue the good work he has started, his giant strides on infrastructural facilities also includes launching of Amnesty period for land/property owners to obtain/regularize building permits. Between March 1 and August 31, 2018, Lagos State Government was not charge any penalty for those who have erected structures on their land without a building permit. This window offers a 6-month grace period for landowners to obtain their building permit, construction of 10-lane Oshodi–Murtala Muhammed Int’l Airport Road, scheduled for completion by December 2018, and Completion of palliative repair work on section of the Lagos-Badagry Expressway between Eric Moore and Okokomaiko. Work ongoing on Okokomaiko to Badagry section. Establishment of Lagos State Consumer Protection Agency, LASCOPA in 2017, for speedy redress of consumers’ complaints.

Governor Ambode acquired equipment worth more than 5 billion Naira for the State Police Command and Rapid Response Squad, equipment donated include 100 4-door salon cars, 55 Ford Ranger pick-ups, 10 Toyota land cruiser pick-ups, 15 BMW power bikes, 100 power bikes, Isuzu trucks, three helicopters, two gun boats, 120 power generating sets, 15 armoured personnel carriers, revolving lights, siren and public address system, vehicular radio communicators, security gadgets including bullet proof vests, helmets, handcuffs, uniforms, kits and improved insurance and death benefit schemes for officers. The governor has impacted meaningfully on the lives of many Lagosians and its residents through the launching of the Bus Reform Initiative, that bequeath a world class transportation system to the State and the construction of new bus terminals, introduction of 5,000 new buses, and construction of 100 modern Bus Shelters across the State. He had already completed Tafawa Balewa Bus Terminus and Ikeja Bus Terminus; Acquired 434 new buses for Ikorodu Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor; and commenced work on Oshodi-Abule Egba BRT corridor along the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway (13.5 kilometers; 14 bus stations; 14 pedestrian bridges).

The governor was able to launch the Lagos To The World (L2W) global campaign, to better market and communicate investment opportunities in the State. As part of the launch of L2W, the Ambode administration has also unveiled a deal book detailing investment opportunities in key sectors including health, transportation, oil and gas, among others and employed 1,300 teachers into primary education system; and provided free medical services and psychosocial therapy to 700 survivors of domestic and sexual violence. He also presented 500 million Naira in Grants to 275 Community Development Associations in July 2018 to enable them complete various self-help projects, installed Skywalk Bridge to link Terminals 1 and 2 at Oshodi Bus Interchange, upgraded 9,174 square meter Alfred Rewane Garden, Ikoyi and opened it for use by members of the public within and around the Ikoyi axis.

He further established N25 billion Lagos State Employment Trust Fund. The Fund has provided loans worth more than 5 billion Naira to more than 8,000 persons since inception, and helped create more than 11,000 jobs, commenced development of N49 billion Public Private Partnership Medical Park in Ikoyi, to be located at the old Nursing School along Awolowo Road, Ikoyi. (Lagos State contributing land; private investors putting up the funding). He redesigned Lekki-Epe Expressway to improve journey times and reduce gridlock by replacing roundabouts with traffic lights and launched Ready-Set-Work, an entrepreneurial and employability training programme aimed at ensuring that every student who graduates from any tertiary institution in Lagos has knowledge, skills, and attitude required to gain employment upon graduation. More than 2,500 final year students trained since 2016.

Ambode also launched Lagos State Traffic Information System (LATIS), a world-class traffic information and management system comprising hundreds of cameras, road sensors and electronic displays specially designed to collect and deliver real time information to city commuters, and thus help regulate traffic, launched Code Lagos, an initiative aimed at teaching 1 million Lagos residents to code by 2020. Currently, Code Lagos has trained over 31, 000 Lagosians to code while 364 Coding Centres have also been set up in 352 primary and secondary schools as well 12 Out-of-School Centres. http://codelagos.org/ and annual hosting of Lagos City Marathon, since 2016. The Marathon has placed Lagos on the global athletics map. The governor received Presidential approval for handover of National Stadium to Lagos State, to redevelop and transform it into a world-class  facility; and rehabilitated Agege Township Stadium to meet Confederation of African Football (CAF) standards; and Mobolaji Johnson Sports Complex, Rowe Park, Yaba

Where do you now said that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode gone wrong? he forged ahead to upgrade 14 flagship Primary Healthcare Centres (PHCs); procured 20 Mobile Care Unit ambulances and 26 Transport Ambulances across the State; he also approved the establishment of three new Maternal/ Child Health Care Centres to expand the scope and reach of public health service delivery, he also constructed Flyover bridges for Ajah and Abule-Egba residents to avert been knocked down by motorists, and Multiple Lay-by to ease traffic congestion along the Third Mainland-Iyana-Oworo-Toll Gate Road, he established Special Task Force, ‘Operation Restore Sanity On Lagos Roads,’ to clear Apapa-Oshodi Expressway of Trucks, Tankers and Trailers. Between July 20 and 22, 2018, the Task Force successfully cleared more than 2,000 Trucks from section of road between Toyota Bus Stop and Mile 2, he further rebranded and expanded the Lagos Countdown, into the One Lagos Fiesta, to boost tourism and entertainment. The fiesta now holds simultaneously at five locations across the state: Ikorodu, Epe, Badagry, Lagos Island and Ikeja

The establishment of three new Fire Stations at Bolade-Oshodi, Ejigbo and Abesan, and upgraded facilities at the existing Fire Stations in Alausa, Ikeja, Isolo, Agege, Ilupeju, Badagry-Suru, Ikotun and Agege, rehabilitation of 225 old fire hydrants in Lagos metropolis, and installed 50 new ones connected to the mini/micro water works across the State. He also employed 250 new personnel into the Lagos State Fire Service, and purchased new fire-fighting equipment, such as complete sets of Master Breathing Apparatus, Tripod Stand Rescue Equipment, Dragon Max Floodlights, Duraline Hoses, and Power Stream PPU Blower, and completion of Ojodu-Berger Flyover Intersection; also completion of 21 roads and two bridges with a combined stretch of 27.4 kilometers in Alimosho-Agbado-Oke-Odo area. He also established Relief Resettlement Camps in Agbowa and Igando to cater for IDPs across the State.

He also established Office of Overseas Affairs and Investment to promote and coordinate investments in Lagos State, and the Small Claims Court to fast-track justice delivery in commercial disputes involving claims not exceeding N5 million. The entire period of proceedings from filing to judgment will not exceed 60 days, Developed the Strategic Plan for Accelerated Agricultural Growth (SPAAG), and set aside 50,000 acres of land for agriculture in the State. The land will be allocated to farmers and investors for production of tomato, rice, fish, etc, he also collaborated with Kebbi State to produce LAKE (Lagos-Kebbi) Rice; and with Kano State to organize the first Lagos-Kano Economic Summit. He launched, in partnership with the private sector, the Cleaner Lagos Initiative (CLI), to improve waste management and processing in the State, among other interventions, construction of Transfer Loading Stations, Maintenance Depots, and Engineered Sanitary Landfills and signed into law the landmark Lagos State Electric Power Sector Reform Law, to guarantee 24-hour power supply in line with Governor Ambode’s vision to attain a 24-hour economy. Also signed into law an Amended Land Use Charge Law.

Though, with all these achievement not even enough for an open endorsement supposed to have stirred the hornet’s nest, from the PDP, Mandate Group of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and even the Pan-Lagos Development Advocacy Group (LDAG) who are rooting for Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, one thing is certain. Ambode certainly has the leadership qualities to build on the great works both Tinubu and Fashola had achieved so far. As an over comer of daunting obstacles, many are watching how Ambode would surmount the hurdles ahead.

Orunbon, a public affairs analyst, wrote in from Oke-Posun, Epe, Lagos State.

Can be reached via:orunbonibrahimademola@gmail.com, or 08034493944 and 08029301122.

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COLUMNISTS

Senator Peter Nwaoboshi’s Unlimited Lies 

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By Francis Udoka Ndimkoha

 

It was Mark Twain that was quoted to have said that “A lie can travel around the world and back again, while the truth is lacing up its boots.” This best describes the speed of light with which the lies peddled against the Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, Sen. Godswill Akpabio, by no less a person than the Senate Committee Chairman on Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, representing Delta North for a second time.

 

It is no longer news that the insistence of the Minister that the Forensic Audit instituted by President Muhammadu Buhari on NDDC must see the light of day has upset many interests in the Niger Delta, Chief amongst them being the various National Assembly Committees on  Niger Delta. Every spanner has virtually been thrown into the works, to ensure that the audit is crushed. The desperation on the part of those alleged to have held the region hostage has reached an unimaginable crescendo as they daily churn out spurious lies, half truths, twists and turns through various media channels.

 

Recently, the Senate Committee Chairman on NDDC, Peter Nwaoboshi, peddled a heinous falsehood against Sen. Akpabio about a certain N300m naira fencing contract for a Polytechnic in Akwa Ibom State. It is important to begin by saying that every other allegation, founded or unfounded, against the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Sen. Akpabio and the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC, at this time, is part of the attempt to distract them from the Forensic audit which they are supervising. This fact does not, in any way, deify these personalities. No! They are humans, with their weaknesses. But they are so bent on sanitizing the NDDC, at this time, that they need our support to see through the forensic audit.

Nwaoboshi lied without recourse to the oath he swore as a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to uphold the Constitution, while brandishing documents that have no substance in his allegations. It is surprising that a man who has found himself through the corridors of power for several years now is not done with such mannerisms as to deceive the public over what is a Zonal Intervention Project meant for Akpabio as Senate Minority Leader which has nothing to do with the NDDC budget as the Presidency, every year, makes provisions for the two Houses of the National Assembly.

 

That said, Sen. Akpabio has in response to the allegation of N300m contract, denied ever being an NDDC contractor, and insists that Zonal intervention projects of the Senate minority leader is different from NDDC budgeted projects. In real terms, zonal intervention projects of NASS are NOT done with NDDC budget. Project intervention which has a threshold for each Senator and each House of Representative member is a Federally approved Program of the NASS, annually. The Senators identify cum suggest the projects, in writing, through the Sustainable Development Goals  (SDG). In most cases Senators do not know the companies that win the contracts after the bidding is done, by the domiciling agencies. It is therefore shameful that a high ranking Senator like Nwaoboshi would seek to bring the sacred chambers of the National Assembly to riddicule. In his bid to stop the Forensic Audit of the NDDC, he has succeeded in undermining the integrity of the Senate and by extension, the Legislature.

Such is his unparalleled desperation that he has succeeded in corrupting the Clerk of the Senate and inducing him into an  inglorious path in exchange for an extension of his Service year, a move that has generated knocks against the NASS.

 

In fact, for a Clerk of the Senate begging for extension with retirement at his door step to release such zonal intervention letters to Peter Nwaoboshi for a press conference, with a view to deceiving the public, says a lot about how far desperate people can go to sink a good cause. Sen Nwaoboshi lied, in this case, as those contracts referred thereto were Senate Zonal intervention jobs and none has been paid for nor performed, since 2017! It is important for Nwaoboshi to also come forward with proof of payment for the purported job and effectively link the contractors to Sen. Akpabio. The supposed fencing project began and ended on that piece of paper being bandied by Nwaoboshi, unless he has added it to the 1,000 contracts awarded to his front man, Nelson Agbamuche. Otherwise, the embattled Senator should bring proof of the contract award with the name of the company to which it was awarded. Nigerians are not gullible  to believe the lying Senator who has failed to show evidence of payment made to any company belonging to Akpabio or his crony. Again, is there any proof that the job has been executed?

 

It has become clear that many Senators were deceived to suggest projects to be executed in their constituencies, and even though they were appropriated but were never executed. Why is Nwaoboshi desperate to cover the lies even before the Auditors are through? If payments were made for such jobs as he claims, is it not proper to allow the Forensic Audit expose the real beneficiaries? Is he afraid that other lawmakers will discover his grand deception over the years where he has used his position as Senate Committee Chairman to amass voluminous, phantom contracts to himself through his proxy? Should only one Senator be running amok on National Television over a Presidential order for a Forensic Audit?

 

Akpabio is the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and requests for patience because in no distant time the Forensic Audit will expose those complicit in the failure of the NDDC and all who joined to impoverish the Niger Delta region. In any case what has N300m fence job got to do with N3 trillion naira fraud? Or is Senator Nwaoboshi trying to justify his 1000 NDDC contracts, as alleged by the Executive Director -Projects (EDP), NDDC, Dr Cairo Ojougboh, against him and his cohorts, Nelson Agbamuche and co? Mr. Agbamuche says the hundreds of jobs he controls do not belong to Peter Nwaoboshi who purportedly acted and continues to act on behalf of members of NASS, but what is left is for Mr. Agbamuche to prove how he won all the jobs and why he merits such quantum of jobs per year.

 

It is a view held in some quarters that the self-styled oracle of Delta state Politics and Senator Representing Delta North Senatorial District mistakes the Delta in Niger DELTA Development Commission (NDDC) to the effect that the commission is a property of Delta State where his brazen rascality is dreaded by those who deify him. Thus he believes he can turn NDDC into his own ATM with which he churns out emergency projects, even in time of no emergency. Nothing else explains how NDDC under his oversight supervision is committed to over 2 trillion naira concerns which has crippled the agency.

 

The NDDC, therefore has no regional project to its name. Only emergency repairs and aimless trainings, running into billions of naira as well as his annual contract for the supply of plastic chairs to schools. This contract which gulps over 3 billion naira annually is usually executed in his personal warehouse in Asaba and never reaches the selected schools, yet, NDDC pays in full for it. These and many more are part of sleaze already exposed by the forensic audit for which they can do anything to make sure it is never completed.

 

As a matter fact, Sen. Nwaoboshi who has pending cases with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) involving over 22 illegal bank accounts is also the same man who purchased The Guinea House, belonging to Delta State Government, a deal that has become subject of public outcry. This is not a man who should adorn a saintly garb and pretend to care about anything except that which enriches him.

 

Part of the inability of the  NDDC to meet their mandate to the people is the penchant of Sen. Nwaoboshi and his counterpart in the House of Reps to sit on the NDDC budget for months into the fiscal year, until they extract some huge financial commitments from the management of the NDDC or phantom projects are padded into the budget, even if it means, as in most cases, supplanting meaningful projects in the region. This calls to question the source of the powers of a committee  Chairman to adjust timeline for budget defense and presentation, as Sen. Nwaoboshi has been doing.

Just recently, the duo of Nwaoboshi and his House of Representatives counterpart without recourse to plenary, extended the deadline for the submission of the NDDC Budget for 2019, submitted it 5 weeks to its expiration, in order to ensure that it is not implemented for the selfish reason of forcing the IMC to pay for old contracts awarded by the previous Boards.

The Budget failure is simply because only two people sit in the comfort of their hotels to assign details of the Budget, thereby allocating huge sums to Training, Medical Retreat and other non physical and meaningful projects.

 

It might also suffice here to say that whatever financial misappropriation levelled against Akpabio or anyone else, in the context of the NDDC can best be exposed by the forensic audit. So why not let it thrive?

 

It is obvious that Nwaoboshi has so much to cover up as he is running against time. Could it be that he was elected as Senator for NDDC since he has in the past few weeks devoted so much time and resources to frustrate the Forensic Audit by throwing ceaseless mud at the supervising Minister and members of the Interim Management Committee?

Senator Nwaoboshi’s unlimited lies only confirm that he has been the unseen hand that has run the NDDC aground and has kept the Niger Delta region in chains under the Change Government.

Will the leadership of the National Assembly look the other way while a senator cause such grave injustice to a people, so rich yet so helpless? Time will surely reveal the truth.

 

Francis Udoka Ndimkoha is the National Publicity Secretary of Citizens Question For Truth Initiative.

Contact: citizensquest247@gmail.com

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COLUMNISTS

The Anti Buhari Forces in NASS

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Written by Rachel Kufreabasi Nse

In an ideal democracy which Nigeria is copiously adopting, separation of powers is one of the pillars on which Government is anchored.

Notwithstanding the above, they still  complement each other in the onerous task of nation-building and in guaranteeing the positive growth and development of the country.

 

When the 9th National Assembly came into being, and the leadership emerged with the backing of the ruling party, unlike the 8th Assembly that preceded it, the people expected that there will be a better working relationship between the executive, the legislature and of course, the judiciary.

 

Though they exist independently, they are meant to perform the role of checks and balances. In doing so, they avoid encroaching on each other’s responsibilities and constitutionally assigned roles.

As the representative of the people, the National Assembly should be seen to align to their constitutional responsibilities and shun all forms of political and party leaning, in the course of discharging their duties. The above can not be said of this 9th Assembly.

 

The 8th Assembly were rancorous with the executive leading to myriads of challenges and endless crisis arising from disagreements over the manner of emergence of the leadership of the NASS, budget padding and delay budget passage, jumbo pay, refusal to clear nominees of the executive timely, among other issues.

The leadership crisis lingered beyond expectation which led to defection from one political party to another.

 

The  ugly moments took another turn when in a commado style political thugs invaded the Red chambers creating pandemonium made away with the Mace, the symbol of authority of the Senate. The nation watched with dismay and disbelief the show of shame and gross misconduct by one of its own which led to the desecration of the hallowed chamber of the Senate.

 

With the emergence of the 9th Assembly from the leadership of the party, one would have expected more support and cooperation from the National Assembly to the executive. The legislators carry this heavy burden of effective representation with all the seriousness it deserves.

 

The President has expressed his readiness and commitment to the development of the Niger Delta region. Happenings of recent has shown the NASS in the light of a clog in the wheel of the process of development of the region.

 

Heeding the call for accountability and probity by the Governors of the region, the President set out to redirect the course of development by calling for a Forensic audit of the funds that accrued to the region through the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Due process was followed and the FEC approved of the auditing firms. The President not wanting any interference set up the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the NDDC to oversee the forensic audit process. The IMC is  recognized under the act of the NDDC and they set to work.

 

The auditing firms are gathering momentum and gearing up to deliver within it’s approved time frame. They are carrying out with the cooperation  of the IMC put in place by the President for this purpose.

 

The NASS being fully aware of the Constitutional powers of the President to set up the IMC, bickered over the composition of the IMC. Not done questioning the legality of the IMC, they went a step further by dragging the IMC through a media trial by accusing the 7 month old IMC, for the late passage of the 2019 Budget and other financial misappropriation.

 

In the midst of all these, it is the Niger Delta people that suffer. There’s an urgent need to address the challenges of power failure, critical infrastructural decay, insecurity, crass poverty, corruption, environmental degradation in the Niger Delta region, amongst others.

 

The legislators are brazenly undermining the President who in exercising his executive powers set up the IMC to oversee the Commission while it undergoes the forensic audit from inception till date.

The NASS is exhibiting a callous disregard of the democratic principles which empowers the Executive to appoint into positions in office.

A dangerous trend is being set and it’s threatening the continuing practice of democratic structures in the country, if care is not taken.

The Constitution provides for the full adoption of the doctrine of separation of powers and not antagonistic show of strength as the NASS is seen to be of the executive.

 

NASS in a recent resolution have declared  constitution backed forensic auditors of no mean repute as illegal. This is an affront not only to the executive arm of government that hired the auditors following due process but the Judiciary since the NASS have illegally arrogated to themselves the judicial powers of declaring the firms illegal.

 

Rachel Kufreabasi Nse writes from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State

State Coordinator, Citizens Quest for Truth Initiative

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COLUMNISTS

Pendulum: “I’ve Seen Dictators Rise and Fall. Beware, America”

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www.securenigeria365.com

By DELE MOMODY

Email: Dele.momody@thisdaylive.com

Fellow citizens of the world, the above title is not original to me. It is the headline of a very profound and inspired article written on June 3, 2020, by one of the greatest novelists of the last century, Salman Rushdie, in the Washington Post.

I know many of today’s readers may not know who Salman Rushdie is, so let me a give brief description of this prodigiously gifted writer and how significant he’s been in the past three decades. I first encountered the novels of Salman Rushdie around 1989 as a reporter at the Weekend Concord. Rushdie had just released his controversial book, Satanic Verses, which many Muslims found gravely uncomplimentary and deeply offensive to their religion and faith.

The book was banned by the Islamic faithful leaders. Riots took place all over the world as the heretical book was burnt and shops stocking it were attacked.

On Valentine’s day, 14 February 1989, a death fatwa was proclaimed and issued on Rushdie’s head by the then spiritual leader of Iran, the much revered and feared Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Khomeini. For those who may not know the meaning of fatwa, let me quickly explain. It is a ruling under Islamic Sharia law which leads to a culprit who has committed heresy against Islam or the holy Prophet Muhammad, being declared a persona non grata who deserves to be killed wherever and whenever he is found. This sentence may be enforced by any Muslim faithful and such a Muslim immediately becomes a Martyr. This was certainly dangerous and perilous times for Rushdie. He knew the faith, calibre and fanaticism of those whose faith he had abused and promptly went into hiding under the protection of the British Government. The situation was so charged and inflamed that the British Government and Iran broke off diplomatic relations over the fatwa.

Rushdie himself was not to surface for many years, eventually doing so and appearing, at a U2 music concert in London in August 1993.

Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie was born in Mumbai, India, on June 19, 1947. By the time his second novel, Midnight’s Children, won the prestigious Booker Prize in 1981, he was already recognised and acknowledged as a distinguished writer. The book was subsequently rated “the best novel of all winners” of the Booker Prize on two occasions, the 25th and the 40th anniversary of the prize. But in September 1988, he bit more than he could chew when he wrote The Satanic Verses.

The book as I have said attracted widespread criticism and protests across Muslim countries and other nations including the UK where Rushdie was then living, when some people realised what they claim to be the irreverent depiction of the holy Prophet Mohammed. He received death threats and ultimately a bounty and the fatwa were placed on his head. Incidentally, ironically, and by a quirk of fate, Ayatollah Khomeini died on 3 June 1989 after having five heart attacks in ten days, barely only four months into the fatwa that he had proclaimed against Salman Rushdie. It is also significant that the Rushdie comment that I am reproducing here was written on the 41st anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s demise.

I first got hold of the highly controversial book in March 1989, through my boss at the Weekend Concord newspaper, Mr Mike Awoyinfa. It was sacrilegious to be seen with the book at the time, although the hullaballoo was not that prevalent or ferocious in Nigeria. We are both greedy about books.

Since the Satanic Verses debacle, I’ve been a keen follower of Rushdie and purchased most of his works. He moved from England to the United States in 2000 and has permanently lived there, acquiring American citizenship about four years ago.

I was excited to stumble on his essay yesterday as I was getting ready to write my weekly column. The article was lucid and logical and I decided to make it available to my African readers for the benefit of the strange acolytes of President Donald Trump in Africa who seemed to have been conned and scammed by the antics of a man who has never hidden his pathological hatred for people of colour. Some of the ugliest descriptions of colour were coined and “patented” by Trump. But for those who think Trump can do no wrong and that he is infallible, the unfortunate and unnecessary wasted blood and life of George Floyd seems to have united the world against the white supremacists of which Trump is the undisputed champion. Let me allow you to read and savour the words of Salman Rushdie…

“In my life, I have seen several dictators rise and fall. Today, I’m remembering those earlier incarnations of this unlovely breed.

In India in 1975, Indira Gandhi, found guilty of electoral malpractice, declared a state of emergency that granted her despotic powers. The “emergency,” as it became known, ended only when she called an election, believing she would win, and was annihilated at the polls. Her arrogance was her downfall. This cautionary tale formed a part of my novel “Midnight’s Children.”

In Pakistan in 1977, Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq staged a coup against Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and executed him in 1979. This dark story was the inspiration for my novel “Shame.” The circumstances of my life have given me some understanding of the dictatorial cast of mind.

Extreme narcissism, detachment from reality, a fondness for sycophants and a distrust of truth-tellers, an obsession with how one is publicly portrayed, a hatred of journalists and the temperament of an out-of-control bulldozer: These are some of the characteristics.

President Trump is, temperamentally, a tinpot despot of this type. But he finds himself in charge of a country that has historically thought of itself — by no means always correctly — as being on the side of liberty. So far, with the collusion of the Republican Party, he has ruled more or less unchecked. Now an election looms, and he is unpopular, and flails about looking for a winning strategy. And if that means trampling over American freedoms, then so be it.

I have lived in the United States for 20 years and been a citizen for the past four. One of the most important reasons for becoming a citizen was my admiration for the ideas of freedom embodied in the First Amendment to the U.S.

Constitution. Trump, whose regard for the Second Amendment is well known, needs reminding of the First, which, if I may help, states in part that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

And yet, the man whose incompetence allowed the pandemic to tighten its deadly grip around our necks, and whose inflammatory language full of racist dog whistles has played a significant role in unleashing white-supremacist bigotry upon us all, stands in the Rose Garden of the White House and announces without an iota of shame that he wants to protect peaceful protesters. At that very time, just down the street, his security forces, some of them on horseback, are attacking a peaceful protest with tear gas and rubber bullets. A moment later, he characterizes the demonstrators as terrorists and characterizes their protests as crimes against God.

He has the pictures to prove it: the fleeing young people, the clouds of tear gas, the line of horses advancing in the name of the Law. If there’s one thing Trump knows, it’s how to construct an image the cameras will like.

This man who, before he got his present job, was almost never seen inside a house of worship, then holds up a Bible outside a church to demonstrate his piety, and if the bishop of the diocese denounces him soon after, accusing him of misusing the church in the service of “a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus,” what of it? Once again, he has the pictures, and they speak louder.

We are so inured to the behavior of this man, so used to his lies, his inexhaustible self-regard, his stupidity, that maybe we are tempted to think of this as just another day in Trumpistan. But this time, something different is happening. The uprising that began with the killing of George Floyd is not fizzling but growing. The man in the White House is scared, and even, for a time, takes refuge in the basement and turns out the lights. What is such a person to do at such a time?

If he is allowed to use the actions of a tiny minority of criminals and white extremist infiltrators to invalidate the honorable protest of the vast majority against the murder of Floyd, the violence of the police toward the black community and the entrenched power of American racism, he will be on his way to despotism. He has threatened to use the Army against American citizens, a threat one might have expected from a leader of the former Soviet Union, but not of the United States.

In my most recent novel, “Quichotte,” I characterized the present moment as the “Age of Anything-Can-Happen.” Today I say, beware, America. Don’t believe that it can’t happen here.”

Thank you, Sir. Nothing more to add with respect to the reckless and dangerous bully that Trump is. For me, his day or reckoning is imminent, and he will get his comeuppance very soon at the conclusion of the November 3 election in America. Maybe then, the scales will fall from over the eyes of those black people, particularly Christians, who see Trump as some sort of Messiah who has come to provide them salvation from the heathens that other Americans represents to them. On the contrary, for me Trump is the archetypal Anti-Christ doing exactly as the Bible predicts and deceiving the shallow and the unwise.

However, it is important to draw lessons from the above piece by Rushdie for African leaders who think they can rule in perpetuity by using ethnicity and religion to divide their people. It may work for them for some time, even a long time in some countries, but that time will finally end and the people will suddenly realise how much they have been brainwashed, hypnotised and hoodwinked by these selfish and unpatriotic leaders. The day is therefore coming, and very soon too, when the people of Africa will wake up from their deep slumber and reject the primordial sentiments, packaged as parochial bigotry and prejudice founded on the insular and divisive tenets and platforms of sectarianism, ethnicity and religious intolerance. Unfortunately, these divisive policies have kept most of us in Africa in bondage almost forever.

Those who have ears to hear and eyes to see should watch out, listen, and see how the death of one man can ignite the fire of togetherness and unity across the world. There have been too many deaths before now. But this is obviously one death too many. The frenzy for equity and justice for George Floyd in particular, and people of colour in general, is reaching fever pitch all around the world. The fire will consume all in its wake who do not see the conflagration reaching out to tear the barriers, shackles, manacles, blinkers and blindfolds that have prevented Blacks from achieving real freedom, egalitarianism and emancipation for themselves. What is becoming clear is that Black people will not wait for these to be handed to them anymore, they will grab it themselves by fire, by force. George Floyd’s blood was not a sweet blood for vampires and, so, it has turned into poison coursing through their infernal veins and internally and eternally worrying and exterminating his killers and their ilk.

May George Floyd’s soul rest in peace…

#icantbreathe

 

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