All posts by Abubakar Usman

2015: The Battle Between Nigerians And the PDP, By Abubakar Usman

Abubakar Usman

In the past few weeks, some notable and not-so-notable Nigerians from the northern and southern part of the country have made comments that clearly indicate what interest they represent as far as the 2015 general election is concerned. Amidst several other side comments, the one that really began to give a clear indication of what to expect in 2015 came from the Special Adviser to the president on Niger Delta, and chairman, presidential amnesty programme, Kingsley Kuku.

According to Kuku, “It is only a Jonathan presidency that can guarantee continued peace and energy security in the Niger Delta.”

Although Kuku’s comment no doubt speaks volume of him pursuing an ethnic agenda and attempting to sell the candidacy of President Goodluck Jonathan with the believe that it is his administration that restored peace to the once troubled Niger Delta, one cannot help but give some credence to his assertion as events unfolding in recent times clearly point to the fact that any President elected from outside the region is likely to kick start another resurgence in attacks that could lead to significant drop in oil output as witnessed between 2006 and 2009.

Just recently, elder statesman and President Jonathan’s kinsman, Chief Edwin Clark declared that the Niger Delta people would not accept any position other than that of president. Clark’s declaration seems to be a confirmation of the earlier drumbeat of war sounded by former Niger Delta warlord and leader of the Niger Delta Volunteer Peoples Force (NDVPF), Alhaji Mujahid Asari-Dokubu that President Jonathan must have an uninterrupted eight years of two terms as President of Nigeria.

Dokubo buttressed his position, adding: “I want to go on to say that, there will be no peace, not only in the Niger Delta, but everywhere if Goodluck Jonathan is not president by 2015, except God takes his life, which we don’t pray for.”

Sadly, folks from the northern part of the country have not been any different in such uncouth remarks. Northern groups and individuals have also joined their counterparts in the Niger Delta to say that the presidency must return to the north. Notable among them is the Secretary of the Northern Elders Forum and one time Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Prof Ango Abdullahi.

Prof. Abdullahi posits that the North will never again compromise what rightly belongs to it, saying however that the forum had already put all hands on deck to see to the successful return of power to the region. He boasted that the North has the population, resources and all it takes to make them produce the next president.

But how and when the presidency becomes a right of the north or any region for that matter beats my imagination? What these people, both from the north and south have succeeded in doing is to reduce the contest for the Presidency to a regional battle, putting aside competence and other criteria that a candidate who can pull Nigeria out of this current mess should possess.

The unfortunate outcome of this development is that many Nigerians have caught the bug. Visit discussion forums and various social media platforms for instance, everybody seems to be speaking in favour of where he or she hails from or what religion he or she practices. Because of our quest to have our kinsman become the president in 2015, we have relegated other factors that are even more important to the background.

The people of the Niger Delta, particularly those issuing threats to other Nigerians for example have not been able to tell us what President Jonathan has achieved for the three years that he has been on the saddle. Not much can be felt even to his immediate constituency, except for millions of naira in contracts, training and rehabilitation that has been doled out to ex-militants. The social and environmental problems that pervades the region is still what it is prior to when President Jonathan assumed power. Suffice to add that the clamour for a South-South President is all about the believe that the region will witness rapid development if its own is at the helm of affairs.

In the same vein, the northerners agitating for a Northern President have failed to tell us what remarkable success several northern leaders were able to achieve for the 38 years it governed Nigeria. Even in the north where it is expected that they would focus attention on developing, they failed to do anything. Today, the region prides as the most backward in Nigeria, laced with poverty and uneducated population. Yet, that is one region that mounted the saddle for the better part of Nigeria’s existence.

While these selfish politicians have sectionalise the office of the President, thus making it a battle between the north and the south, for me it is a battle between Nigerians and PDP, who for 14 good years, compounded the problems faced by Nigerians.

Since 1999, when it assumed power, “the unreformed, governors-controlled, anti-people and undemocratic Peoples Democratic Party” has set us on a path of retrogression. The rate of poverty has increased, unemployment rate has skyrocketed, insecurity has continued unabated and corruption has assumed an unprecedented new. An average Nigerian is now his or her own government. He provides his own water by digging borehole in his premises generates his own electricity with the use of generators and secure his life from armed robbers, kidnappers and hired assassins by engaging the services of private security personnel or guards. Notwithstanding the huge sums of money that has been sunk into providing this facilities and services, the PDP has continuously failed itself and failed Nigerians.

It is an understatement to say that we didn’t see this coming, but the problem is that we easily forget what tragedy befell us with the PDP in power each time elections are called to choose credible candidates and political parties. We simply have just refused to redeem ourselves from the long sufferings in pains inflicted on us by the so called largest party in Africa. We had the rare privilege of booting out the PDP government in 2011, after repeatedly failing to do so in previous years, but we failed again. The popular saying adopted by Nigerians then was “I am not voting for the PDP, I am voting for Goodluck Jonathan.”

Now they have voted for Jonathan, but can they beat their chest today and say ‘I’m proud I voted for Jonathan’? Here is one man with practically no track record of performance or any concrete plan of how to pilot the affairs of Nigeria. But for sheer providence, he was not even prepared to serve as President, yet they poured out en masse to cast their votes for him. They were simply deceived with slogans like “I have no shoes” and “breathe of fresh air”. To put it succinctly, President Jonathan rode on our backs to the Presidency free of charge.

Now, their mistake is staring them glaringly in the eyes, with nobody to come to our rescue, at least not until 2015. Whether they choose to say “we voted for Jonathan and not PDP” the fact is that they have come to terms of how much of a great mistake they made voting him in 2011.

The 2015 election is fast approaching and by then, another opportunity will be given to us to decide how we want this nation to be governed. The big question is, are we prepared to correct our mistakes? Are we going to forget the pains the PDP has inflicted on us and return the party to power in 2015 or are we going to give a chance to the opposition who has boasted it will correct the ills perpetrated by the ruling PDP? What is going to be the deciding factor on who gets our votes by the time elections are called? Is it going to be determined by the region we come from or the region we feel should occupy the presidency in 2015?

How we decide to provide answers to these questions in preparation for the 2015 election will go a long way in determining where Nigeria goes from there.

With the yet to be registered opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) gearing up to wrest power from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the 2015 election will no doubt be a contest that will be determined by its presidential candidate, but be that as it may, should we even give the PDP a chance at all? For me, the battle for 2015 is not about APC versus PDP; it is not about the north versus the south; it is a battle between Nigerians and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The pain the PDP government has inflicted on Nigerians does not know party affiliations, neither does it know regions or tribes. It is to all Nigerians. Therefore, every Nigerian, irrespective of tribe, religion, and party affiliation must unite to push PDP away from the presidency in 2015. We must look at the competence of the candidate, his track record of performance, ability to command political will and incorruptibility in deciding who gets our vote. It is high time we stop ourselves from being used by the political elites, who create the impression that they are protecting our interests, only to be abandoned when they have archived their aim. We cannot afford the risk of gambling another four year in the hands of the PDP.

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Abubakar Sidiq Usman is an Urban Planning Consultant and the editor of Abusidiqu.com. Engaged him directly on twitter @Abusidiqu or through abu_sidiq2000@yahoo.com

Boko Haram Amnesty Committee: Jonathan Goofed, By Abubakar Usman

Abubakar Usman

On Wednesday, the 17th of April 2013, the presidency announced the setting up of two presidential committees to engage members of the Boko Haram sect and define comprehensive and workable framework for resolving insecurity in the country as its primary objective.

The committees, which has prominent Nigerians, drawn different spheres of life, is to develop a framework for granting of amnesty to the Boko Haram sect; setting up of a framework through which disarmament could take place within a 60-day time frame as well as develop a comprehensive victims’ support programme, and mechanisms to address the underlying causes of insurgencies that will help to prevent future occurrences.

While the decision of the Federal Government to set up the two committees is quite commendable, especially as it might bring about peace in the country, revelations coming from some persons as well as their rejection to serve in the committee give cause for concern.

Two members of the Boko haram committee who are expected to play prominent roles in the success of the committee hav already rejected the appointment, citing various reasons for doing so.

First was a human rights activist, Shehu Sani, who in the past has repeatedly criticised the Federal Government over its handling of the Boko Haram insurgency. According to Sani, he was not consulted before being appointment into the committee. Apart from his believe that the best and easiest way to reach out to the leadership of the violent sect is to engage journalist Ahmad Salkida who had reported extensively on the insurgency. He also thinks he has said enough on what the government should do to end the insurgency, but that it seemed the government was not ready to heed his advice.

While the dust over Shehu Sani’s rejection of the appointment was yet to settle, another prominent figure and head of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria, Mr Datti Ahmad, turned down his own appointment. Mr Ahmed said his decision was based on his past experience dealing with the government on the Boko Haram issue. He cited two reasons. Firstly, he said government reneged on its agreement to grant the two conditions the Boko Haram sect demanded upon which successful dialogue would take place, thus displaying its insincerity. Secondly, that the report of the committee which he was expected to serve in might be filled with lies considering the fact that the chairman and secretary of the committee are serving minister and civil servant respectively, who according to him might feel obligated to tell the government what it wants to hear.

From the foregoing, one can conclude that the Federal Government is still far from convincing Nigerians that it has the capacity to deal with the Boko Haram insurgency. The fact that the situation got to a stage where amnesty is considered tells how much the government has failed in doing the needful. Except for the fact that we are now looking the way of amnesty to restore peace to the northern part of the country, the ideal thing would ordinarily be that the insurgents be crushed and those who need to face justice for the senseless killing of Nigerians and destruction of properties be made to face the full wrath of the law, but here we are considering amnesty because incompetence has brought us to this stage.

The questions are why on earth should you nominate people into committees that are expected to deal with issues as sensitive as Boko Haram without consulting them? Why do we need to have politicians that are most likely going to hide the truth from government if we are really interested in dealing with the insurgency? What is the big deal in having someone who has interfaced with the insurgent group a member of the committee if the government is really sincere in pursuing peace?

The government needs to understand that the issue at hand is beyond politics and must therefore not use it as an avenue to reward political loyalists. The entire situation may not have gotten this bad if government had not played politics with it when it first surfaced. Now that there is a window of opportunity to resolve the menace, the government must do all that is necessary to bring the sect’s members to the roundtable and not renage on any agreement reached with the sect. The government must be open in its dealing, engage the right people who can muster the courage to mediate between it and the sect and stay away from playing politics with the issue.

Although, President Jonathan told us the Boko Haram members are ghosts, but Datti Ahmed’s account indicates that the government had dialogued with the group more than once in the past. My take is that if this had been possible in the past, it can still happen again. All that is required is sincerity on the part of all those concerned.

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Abubakar Sidiq Usman is an Urban Planning Consultant; Blogger and an Active Citizen working towards a better Nigeria. He blogs HERE and can be engaged directly on twitter @Abusidiqu

Amnesty For Boko Haram: What’s Sauce for the Goose is Sauce for the Gander! By Abubakar Usman

Few weeks ago, the Sultan of Sokoto, Abubakar Sa’ad asked the Federal Government to grant members of the militant group, Boko Haram, a “total and unconditional amnesty” for the sake of peace in the country. The Sultan’s basis is premised on the fact that a presidential amnesty to even one member of the sect could make others to lay down their arms for peace to reign in the nation. In reaction to the sultan’s call, President Jonathan, during his visit to Maiduguri, said his administration would not grant members of the group amnesty until such a time the group comes out in the public to dialogue with the federal government.

Since these two prominent figures made these comments, Nigerians seem to have been divided on the justification of amnesty for Boko Haram. Although this division can be understood if viewed from different perspectives, it is quite disappointing that most of the views expressed are either beclouded by sentiments or emotions, especially on the part of those who think that an amnesty for Boko Haram will be a tragic mistake. It is even more disheartening when those who are in support of amnesty for Boko Haram are immediately branded Boko Haram sympathisers, just because they dared to proffer a solution. It doesn’t even matter to this people if you have been affected in one way or the other.

I particularly decided to write this piece following an insult I got from a fellow on twitter because I dared to ask why we should continue to harp on the use of force to fight Boko Haram when that very strategy has failed to achieve any meaningful result. It shows the extent at which Nigerians make surface conclusion rather than analysing issues with the merit it deserves. I won’t be surprised to get more of that insult with this piece, especially from those who apart from displaying ignorance, are also beclouded by sentiments and emotions. However, it doesn’t change the fact that what needs to be said must be said.

It’s been over five years since the military were deployed to states like Borno, Yobe etc to fight the insurgency. Apart from the various atrocities which the military under the JTF have meted especially to innocent civilians in those states, the actions of the military have not succeeded in taming Boko Haram, rather it has fuelled it further. Bombings and killings despite heavy military presence are still occurring almost on daily basis. The question then is if you have applied a particular strategy to a problem for over five years without any meaningful progress, do you need to be told that there is need to employ other measures? While it is arguable that amnesty is the sole strategy that is needed to solve the Boko Haram insurgency, it is only necessary that it should be explored to see how far it can help in ameliorating the problem.

I do not live in any of those states where Boko Haram have laid siege and fortunately, I have not been directly affected by any of their atrocities, but I do not need to be or wait till I am before I seek a way out of the evil perpetrated by these men for whatever reason, because I may not be this lucky forever. My support for amnesty is not spontaneous. I actually kicked against it when it was first suggested, but over time, I realized the need for it and that reason is not borne out of the fact that I think Boko Haram deserves amnesty. Those evil men have caused untold harm to the Nigerian state and her people. Ordinarily, they should be made to face justice for their crimes and this I believe is the argument advanced by many of those who kicked against granting them amnesty, but while this has failed to bring about peace or at least succeed in putting a stop to the insurgency, it is only normal to give amnesty a try so as to prevent further carnage. After all, an unjust peace in the views of Cicero is better than a just war.

Even as some persons kicked against the amnesty, they have not been able to tell us what they think can solve the problem or at least guarantee peace to the affected people, except for a continued military onslaught whose outcome has resulted in more deaths of civilians than the Boko Haram members itself. There is no guarantee that amnesty will be all that is needed, but there is even a guarantee that the presence of the JTF in those areas affected will not stop the killing of citizens of those states. At least we have seen that for over five years.

The argument by some of these people is that amnesty for Boko Haram is not in any way comparable to the amnesty granted Niger Delta militants. What they failed to realise is that crime against a state is a crime. No doubt, the Boko Haram sect has killed countless number of people and destroyed properties belonging to individuals and the authority, but if Wikipedia’s definition of  terrorism which it says “refers to those violent acts which are intended to create fear (terror); are perpetrated for a religious, political or, ideological goal; and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants (civilians)” is anything to go by, then the Niger Delta militants are also liable, because they’ve also killed and destroyed properties, whether comparable or not to Boko Haram.  Although I quite agree with what the agitations of the militants were about, assuming it is true they did what they did in the overall interest of the Niger Deltans, it still doesn’t exonerate them from what many people want for Boko Haram. That is by the way though.

An amnesty for Boko Haram does not necessarily need to be the same amnesty granted to Niger Delta Militants. Fact is that not everybody in the sect will accept amnesty, especially those who are hardliners like Abubakar Shekau, but you can be sure that a good number of them will accept it, especially those who joined because their mosques were destroyed, their leaders or members were killed extra-judiciously or even those who joined because they suffered victimization from the hands of security agencies. Personally, I think amnesty for Boko Haram should come with a lot of conditions. Those who are willing for example could be asked to submit their arms; all members should be screened and those who actually deserve the gesture should be given, while those who are found to have committed heinous crimes should be made to face the course of justice. Also, the training and monthly allowance as is the case with Niger Delta militants should either be minimal or completely excluded from the amnesty package. As this is going on, a combined strategy of dialogue, improved intelligence gathering and use of force will be stepped up to tackle those who will not accept the amnesty. Gains against this terror group are even more realistic now that there seem to be different factions in the sect, as this must have weakened their ranks. There are no guarantees of success with this strategy though, but it will go a long way in reducing the number of enemies the government will have to deal with.

The government really needs to step up its responsibility of protecting the lives and properties of every Nigerians instead of playing politics with the issue. The claim by President Jonathan that Boko Haram is ghost and therefore cannot be granted amnesty is not only laughable, but irresponsible. We have not forgotten that the government told us severally that it is in dialogue with Boko Haram. We have also not forgotten that at a point, the government promised to publish the names of their sponsors which it never did. How come these same people all of a sudden became ghosts? President Jonathan said the elders of the terrorist stronghold should fish out the Boko Haram members.

When late President Yaradua granted amnesty to Niger delta Militants, he didn’t sit down in Aso Rock and asked leaders in the Niger Delta to fish out the militants. He empowered his vice president, who incidentally is now the President to enter into the creeks and dialogue with the militants before they finally accepted amnesty. Dr Goodluck Jonathan as vice president then worked in conjunction with governors and elders of the Niger Delta states to dialogue with the militants which eventually ended up in the amnesty. That exactly is what President Jonathan ought to do, especially now that the vice president is also a son from the north and not to sit down in Aso Rock and hand over his responsibility solely to those who do not have the requisite capacity to carry out such assignment.

Until we are ready to explore as many options as possible part of which is an amnesty, we may just have to continue to live with the evils of Boko Haram for a long time coming.

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Abubakar Sidiq Usman is an Urban Planning Consultant; Blogger and an Active Citizen working towards a better Nigeria. He blogs on HERE and can be engaged directly on twitter @Abusidiqu

Reclaiming Nigeria in 2015: Can the Youths Go It Alone? By Abubakar Usman

Abubakar Usman

Since the announcement of the emergence of All Progressives Congress (APC), which is a fusion of ACN, CPC, ANPP and a faction of APGA, Nigerians have been exchanging ideas, information and punches as to what difference the party will or can bring to the polity. These are not unconnected to the fact that politically conscious Nigerians hold varied opinions regarding the redemption of Nigeria. For the purpose of clarity, I have segregated these Nigerians based on their opinions into three groups.

The first are those who have woefully failed in managing the affairs of this great nation. They are those who do not care about the security and welfare of the common man and that is why for 14 good years, they have not been able to fix the problems in just one sector of the economy. These set of people are those who do not want opposition because they want to rule and loot the nation for 60 years. They are members of the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party or their sympathizers who in one way or the other benefit from the party. For these people, APC will never work and even if it has the chance of working as it seems, they will do anything to scuttle it.

In the second group are those who believe that what Nigeria needs at the moment is an opposition party that will oust the PDP. To this people, APC is the best thing that has happened to Nigeria in recent times as they strongly believe that the problem of Nigeria will be far reduced if PDP can be defeated in 2015.

The last of the three groups are those who are neither satisfied with the performance of the PDP nor see the emergence of APC as the solution that Nigeria needs. To these people, the solution to the myriads of Nigeria’s problems lies in the hands of the youths. What this means is that old politicians should be completely alienated from the scheme of things as far as reclaiming Nigeria is concerned because they are either part of the problem or have at one time or the other being members of the PDP and their supporters who couldn’t solve, but compound our problems. They want the youths to form a party that will be solely comprised of youths who in turn will contest and fill up public and political offices. Anything short of this to these Nigerians is like putting old wine in a new bottle.

While this may be true and ideal to some extent, the question that should be asked is does it conform to the realities on ground? Is it something that is achievable in 2015? Agreed that the larger percentage of Nigeria’s population constitute of the youths, but is population alone the only machinery needed to win elections and take over governance? Yes, politics is a game of numbers, but while it is even debatable that a government run solely by youths is not a guarantee that the Nigeria of our dreams will be achieved, especially considering that youths who have had the opportunity to serve in various capacities in the country have done more harm than the old breed politicians, those who are advocating for a wholly youth lead political party all geared towards 2015 need to understand that numbers only become relevant when the things that need to be done as a build up to casting of ballot has been put in place.

Politics in Nigeria is not the same as what obtains in other climes. For you to be registered as a political party in Nigeria, there must be structures like the presence of the party in all states of the federation, when you succeed in doing this, you must obtain forms with huge amounts of money from INEC to contest for political offices depending on the position you are contesting; you will campaign, mobilize and even acquire supporters. All these require huge sums of money. How much of this money do the youths have? How much of these financial requirements can the youths raise between now and 2015 to be considered a serious contender for elective offices. I remember telling some people during a discussion that if political parties like the ACN, CPC and ANPP who have built structures over the years and have the financial war chest to prosecute elections are coming together to form alliance, why do we think that the youths who are not structurally on ground can perform better in 2015? The money we see that is flowing with carelessness among political players are not mere contributions of a few thousands by the stock of politicians we have today. As much as I know that a large percentage of this money is stolen from our coffers, they are real money and they play important role in the extent that political parties go.

The place of the youths in the democratic process remains cardinal for the growth of the nation especially in a country like Nigeria where over 60 percent of the population constitutes of youths, but as much as I canvass for the active participation of youths, it will be wrong to think that the youths should solely run the country. Youths championed the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, but who are the leaders of the two countries today, Youths?  Part of the reason why Nigeria seems to be what it is today is because the old folks politically alienated and socially excluded the youths from democratically participating in governance. We will only be repeating the same mistake if we do the exact opposite. The truth is simply that the two must work together. New breed without old breed, breeds greed as we have seen and that is why as the new breed prepares to take over, we must also involve the old breeds so as to avoid breeding greed.

What I think the youths should be preoccupied with at this point in time is how to make positive impact on who becomes the next president, governors, senators etc in the forth coming elections, while formulating long term strategies for opening up the space for youths to actively participate in political venture. The youths can set a target date where certain percentage of the governorship, senatorial, house of assembly seats etc will be reserved for the youths within a political party that we choose to align ourselves with. To achieve this however, we must prove that we are a force to be reckoned with, because nobody will give you anything on a platter of gold. Aside political positions, we must harness our numbers to be able to influence the decision making processes of any institution, political party or government we find ourselves. In a truly democratic setting, young people form their opinions and exercise choices as equal members of a community; this we can only achieve if we belong to that community as a bloc.

Rather than deceive ourselves that youths will take over the governance of Nigeria in 2015 which is just 2 years away, what we should be doing now with post 2015 as the target is to continue to mobilize an army of youths so as to have a structure with which we can participate actively in the process of governance. This mobilization must involve enlightenment and education so as to bring all youths up to speed as the overall goal and benefits accruable when we play active roles.

The process of transfer of leadership is gradual and systematic. If we are able to achieve the above, we will gradually take over the governance of the country and incidences where those who have been in government long before many of us where born remaining in government will be eliminated.

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Abubakar Sidiq Usman is a Urban Planning Consultant; Blogger and an Active Citizen working towards a better Nigeria. He blogs onAbusidiqu.com and is available for engagement on twitter @Abusidiqu

Mobile Phone Farming, the Goodluck Jonathan Miracle By Abubakar Usman

Abubakar Usman

Just when you are about to give him the benefit of doubt, President Goodluck Jonathan always come up with something new. He takes pleasure in providing his critics reasons to haul stones at him. For a president who promised to surprise Nigerians in 2013, starting the year with a lot of gaffes is definitely not a good not a good beginning, but those gaffes are nothing compared to what would seem as the latest in the series of pre-arranged scams his administration has penned down to perpetrate in office until we booth him out in 2015, God willing.

Just 3 days into 2013, the Jonathan administration commenced the unfolding of his baggage of surprises with a disclosure by the  Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ibukun Odusote that the administration has concluded plans to provide mobile phones worth about N60billion to 10 million rural farmers in the country.

The basis of the policy is reportedly that in the quest of the administration to make Nigeria self sufficient in food production, the government took the decision so as to enable the ministry of agriculture send sms on useful farming tips; such as when to plant, irrigate, harvest farm products, when and how to access fertilizers so as to maximise their yield on national food security.

In an economy where fundamental infrastructures like road, electricity, etc have been taken care of, one can pass the policy as a brilliant one, but not in a Nigeria where the least of the problem of farmers is a mobile phone.

Deploying mobile phones in agriculture services and rural developments has proved to be very helpful in increasing the income of farmers, especially in rural areas. It has also helped to improve the efficiency of markets, reduce transaction costs, and offer a great opportunity for innovative interventions, especially in service delivery, but in order to realize the full potential of enhanced communication of market information, the use of mobiles must be coupled with additional investments (in roads, education, financial services, amongst many others). This is definitely not the case in Nigeria.

I am still wondering how exactly mobiles phone can assist rural farmers in a country like Nigeria where lack of investments in roads, education, financial services and so forth is complacent and am also concerned about how it can help the government in attaining self sufficiency in food production which the Jonathan’s administration claims as its priority.

With the identified positive impact that mobile phones have on farming and agriculture as a whole, how applicable is it within the Nigerian context? First, you would want to ask how the Ministry of Agriculture came about the 10 million rural farmers. Does it have a data base of farmers in Nigeria? What criteria did they use in selecting the 10 million rural farmers? Well, I am not privy to whatever information the ministry has at its disposal, but one thing is sure, my grandfather, a very rural farmer is not among the 10 million farmers. I doubt if there is even anybody in the corridors of power that realises he exists as a farmer, even though it is a vocation he has practised all his life.

Now to the basics. Majority, if not all of the rural farmers whom the phones will be provided for live in settlements where electricity does not exist. The government said in addition to the mobile phones, the farmers will also be provided with solar-powered lamps with which they could charge the cell phones, but this is not just wasteful but also unsustainable. Realising also that most of these settlements or villages don’t even have telecommunication services present in the area, the federal government said they are talking with the telecommunication service providers to go into the hinterlands and create and expand their networks so that farmers can have access.. What they failed to realise however is that these providers do not set up their services just anywhere because the government wants them to, they do so because they want to make profit. These two phenomenon leaves us with the challenge of how the farmers will use their phones to communicate and power them for use.

There is also the issue of the literacy level of the rural farmers who are going to be the beneficiaries of the mobile phones. Since they said text messages are going to be sent to the farmers on what to do to improve their farm yields, the government is less concerned about how many of those farmers are literate enough to read whatever text message the ministry of agriculture will be sending.

Farmers are faced with the challenges of using modern farming equipments to go into mechanised farming and boost their yields, but this has not got the attention of the government. Even at instances where farmers strive to make outputs with the use of primitive farming equipments, several other challenges like how this produce are stored, how they are transported even to the nearest market stares them in the face.

In most of the rural areas in Nigeria, roads from farm settlements to other places especially markets are nothing to write home about. Farm goods are essentially transported primitively as they were produced because there are no inter-connected roads that are motorable from one village to another. What this means is that most goods, particularly the perishable ones are destroyed before they get to their destinations. To make matters worse, storage and processing facilities which would have helped to preserve these goods at least for a given period of time before they are finally transported are not available in those rural areas, the resultant effect is that huge amount of money which ought to accrue to the farmers from those produce are lost, with further effects noticeable in areas like job creation and empowerment.

Sadly, none of these is of concern to the government. What they are rather interested in are shot cuts that eventually leads to nowhere, except for the money that usually ends up in the pockets of individuals.

Even though I have stated the benefits of deploying mobile phones to boost agricultural production, and the needs for farmers to own one, not minding other challenges that stares them in the face, the government has absolutely no business in its provision. The N60 billion the government has planned to purchase the mobile phones for rural farmers will not add an inch to our sorry state of self sufficiency in food production in this present circumstance. Such money should rather be channeled into investments in agriculture which has tripple effects on the eventual output that are made in farming activities. Such investments will not only make farming lucrative, it will lead to the production of sufficient food for local consumption and even exports if need be.

The N60 billion naira for example can be channelled into opening rural road that connect farmers from their farmlands to the market. Just as I was putting this piece together, I watched the Nigerian Television Authority interview a rural farmer who specialises in the farming of onion. The farmer said he can produce 8 to 10 bags of onion per farming season, but because of distance and absence of market close to his farm. he has to keep them at home for family consumption because he cannot transport them to the market. How much of these onions do you think the farmer and his family members can consume? A large quantity of it will definitely be thrown away when they decay.

N60 billion can purchase a minimum of 1500 tractors which can be distributed to all the local government in the country so as to aid farmers in the cultivation of their farm lands rather than employing the use of the conventional hoe and cutlass that produces low output. N60 Billion can also go a long way in providing processing facilities in most of our rural areas, so that most of the perishable goods which ordinarily cannot be transported in its raw form can be processed into finished or semi-finished good to avoid loss. The government can do this by making the fund available to investors in form of equity contribution so as to encourage them to establish such processing centres close to areas where the produce are harvested. The government can use the money to provide storage facilities for the farmers so as to prolong the life span of the produce.  Ultimately, the government can make the N60 billion it intends to use in importing mobile phones available as low interest loans to farmers through micro finance banks and co-operative societies with strict guidance on its application to ensure the effective utilisation of the fund for the required purpose.

All of these do not matter to the government. What is more important is how available money can be distributed among cronies under the guise of awarding contract to would be suppliers of the phones. Suffix to add that most of these phones, if they are eventually imported as we have been told, may not even get to a large percentage of the would-be beneficiaries. After benefitting from the supposed importation of the phones, it is the same set of people that will pop up imaginary names of farmers whom the phones will be given to.

Our president has promised to surprise us in 2013 and given the record of lows that has come from his plans, policies and programme, Nigerians should only brace up for more heart breaking policies geared towards ‘transforming’ the country.

Abubakar Sidiq Usman is an Urban Planning consultant and an Active Citizen working towards a better Nigeria. His goal is to positively influence the way you think about everything in the society.

He blogs on http://abusidiqu.com and can be engaged on twitter – @Abusidiqu

After reviewing the constitution, what next? By Abubakar Usman

Abubakar Usman

The 108 members of the Nigerian Senate and the 360 members of the House of Representatives had just recently returned from their various Senatorial Districts and Federal Constituencies respectively to seek the inputs of their constituents in the proposed amendment of the 1999 constitution. Both arms of the National Assembly embarked on the exercise to satisfy the yearnings of most Nigerians for a constitution that truly reflects the wishes of the people; one in which the people are involved in the process of its amendments. The general belief is that the 1999 constitution in its present form is a document handed down by the military and therefore lacks the basic provisions in a democracy, hence the need for the review.

The question one may be forced to ask is: to what extent will these constituencies’ visits or the involvement of the citizenry result in bringing about a people’s constitution? The various constituencies and senatorial districts public hearings, as I heard, cost tax payers a whopping sum of N1 billion to be organised, but there are indications that those public hearings would be the only thing people will ever know about the amendment exercise.

The rest of the review exercise would be done by the constitution review committee and the National Assembly along with the 36 State Houses of Assembly before it is passed into law. Can this make it a people’s constitution, especially when the wishes of the people as being expressed during the various public hearings may not find its way into the amended constitution?

I understand that this current exercise of reviewing the constitution is not a comprehensive one and so may have some shortcomings, but if Nigerians truly believe that the problem we have in terms of the constitution is because it is not a people’s constitution, why don’t we have a comprehensive review of the constitution in which people will be actively involved in its preparation, then subject its outcome to a referendum to enable them decide what should be included and what should not. That is one sure way to the making of a people’s constitution, but what we are likely to see from the current exercise is that the same people at the helm of affairs will impose their interests, especially as it satisfies their insatiable quest for the domination of the common man, on the constitution.

The sad thing about the outcome of this jamboree is that whatever is arrived at, at the end of the day will require the approval of the 36 State Houses of Assembly members who are saddled with the statutory responsibilities of law making, to pass it into law. These members might be lobbied and just act as a mere rubber stamp to approve whatever they have enlisted in the amended bills, and then it becomes our law.

Be that as it may, the basis of this discourse is not to analyse whether the proposed amendments to the constitution is one that will reflect the wishes of the people, but to analyse whether the constitution in its present form is the reason why the Nigerian state has continued to find itself in what it is today.

Many have advanced arguments that democracy and good governance have refused to work in Nigeria because the constitution has defects in many areas. Well, I do not entirely share in this assertion. The constitution, no doubt, has areas that need to be brushed up to conform to some certain realities especially in a democracy, but the real problem is not the defects of the constitution, but on the inability, greed and selfishness of those who are saddled with the responsibility of implementing it.

Many, for example, have agitated for the removal of immunity clause from the constitution so that public officers who are found to have embezzled public funds can be prosecuted. Is that the real reason why the law has not been able to catch up with any of them, despite the wide scale theft and brazen embezzlement we see on a daily basis? A governor for example spends a maximum of 8 years in office and afterwards, lost immunity from being prosecuted, but how many of those governors long after their tenure in office have even been tried, let alone jailed for stealing public funds?

Save for Chief Olabode George who got a two year sentence for a criminal act that should have kept him behind bars for years coming, others have being completely shielded from prosecution or have been given a soft landing in the name of plea bargain.

Today, the likes of the Dariyes, Tinubus, Nyames, Odilis, Nnamanis, Bankoles and others too numerous to mention, in spite of the various evidences of their monumental corruption found against them, are still seen working the street of our society free. Many of them are either holding one public office or the other or still active players in our polity, therefore giving them more avenues to loot the treasury. Some of them are even members of the Senate and key players in our various political parties. Now, the questions are: Is it the defect in the constitution that has prevented this people from being prosecuted? Is it the defect in the constitution that was also responsible for the judiciary to discharge and acquit James Ibori upon his admission to have laundered billions of dollars belonging to Delta State, who is now serving a 13 year jail term in the UK for the same offense Nigerian judiciary ruled he was innocent of?

Within the last few years, there have been three amendments to the constitution; with the current exercise making it the fourth, but what change has it brought? Has it been able to provide justice for the common man whose rights are continually trampled upon? Has the amendments of the constitution changed the allegiance of our leaders from the looting of our treasury to the service of you and I? Has it fulfilled the guaranteed rights of every Nigerian’s access to education, good road, hospitals and security as contained in the constitution? We can amend the constitution one million times, but if there is no will on the part of its implementation by those who should, the constitution will never work. It will just be an exercise in futility. Everything seems to be schemed in favour of the powerful men and women in our society, where the highest bidders win it all.

Our political leaders must realize that the selective implementation of the provisions of the constitution is a deliberate attempt to perpetrate injustice; and where there is injustice; there can never be peace and progress. It is because of the failure of our system, due largely from the selective implementation of the constitution that we have had incidences like the Aluu 4, Boko Haram, Niger Delta militancy and so on. It is because of the failure on the part of those who are saddled with the implementation of the constitution that Governors, Ministers, Directors and what have you, embezzled money meant for road development, provision of schools, payment for pensions and yet still work free on the streets and are even given opportunities to steal more.

Now that the majority of the citizens are yearning for an amendment of the constitution and the National Assembly has begun the process, irrespective of whether it is going to be a people’s constitution or not, the time to take the issue of the constitution beyond just providing beautiful and well crafted provisions, but ensuring that those provisions are followed for the good of all is now. The constitution must not just be made a document whose provisions shall have binding forces on the authorities and persons of Nigeria, but must be seen to be so.

More importantly, however, there is need for the Judiciary to rise up to the challenges of ensuring that the provisions of the constitution are duly carried out. The Judiciary, they say, is the hope of the common man. If the Judiciary wakes up to its responsibility, other arms of government will be forced to follow the spirit and letters of the constitution.

Abubakar Usman is a Town Planning consultant and an Active Citizen working towards a better Nigeria. He blogs on http://abusidiqu.com and can be engaged on twitter with @Abusidiqu