All posts by Ogaga Ifowodo

Okonjonomics or The New Art of Money-Doubling, By Ogaga Ifowodo

Ogaga Ifowodo Portrait 2

I couldn’t help it. As soon as the new figures conjured by Dr Okonjo-Iweala out of Nigeria’s “rebased” Gross Domestic Product exercise came out, I shouted abracadabra! Then I chanted, “Come and see Ah-meri-ka wonder! Come and see Ah-meri-ka wonder!” I promptly substituted “Nigerian” for America in that spell-casting ditty of itinerant tricksters that used to haunt the busy bus terminals of our major cities.

I completed the expression of my wonder by crying out loud, “The more you look, the less you see!”  Enthralled by Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s fiscal miracle—Nigeria being a nation of miracle-seekers forever praying for the doubling of their portion of blessings—I remembered Professor Chandus, the money-doubler in Chinua Achebe’s classic of children’s literature, Chike and the River.

In that story, Chike, a starry-eyed village boy, dreams day and night of going to Asaba, a poor man’s Lagos that is in turn the-less-poor-man’s London. He comes very close to realising his dream when he goes to live with his uncle in Onitsha. But not even the seductions of Onitsha, a far bigger city with a fabled market, can quench his burning desire to cross the great River Niger. Yet, how to find the fare for the trip by ferry across the river and back? Several times, he thinks of asking his uncle, an unsmiling man, for it but perishes the thought.  And the longer he waits to cross the river, the more restless he becomes. So one day he damns the consequences and asks. Chike is coldly denied and sternly rebuked. As luck would have it, however, he kicks up a six-pence coin one day as he is returning home from one of his many trips to gaze at the river and imagine what lies on its other side. His booty is only half the fare, so his problem is only half-solved. Then his good friend, Samuel, alias SMOG—Save Me Oh God—comes up with the bright idea of visiting a money-doubler. But first, SMOG persuades Chike to spend half of the money on treats with the argument that once the change of three pence had been doubled to the original six pence, then it would be doubled again to make a shilling, the exact fare Chike needs. I don’t believe I need to tell you that Chike lost his money.

A children’s tale, all right, but I submit that there’s nothing juvenile about the moral of the money-doubling episode. You only need to reflect for a moment to see in Dr Okonjo-Iweala, our finance minister, a Professor Chandus unbounded by the need to actually show us the doubled money. You would also see an uncanny resemblance to the eponymous hero of the tale. Like Chike, Okonjo-Iweala is hamstrung by poverty and driven by desire. Poverty:  the inability of the economy of the country over which she wrested for herself the designation of its “co-ordinating minister” to afford even the most basic needs (food and fuel, for instance). Desire: Okonjo-Iweala must have always gazed enviously at South Africa, the continent’s richest economy. And always been reminded that much of the blame for the parlous state of Nigeria is attributable to her. Indeed, the similarity grows somewhat eerie as this is her second coming to the finance ministry—the first doubling act! Yet, with no hope of overtaking South Africa when Nigeria cannot even generate enough electricity to light up our homes, never mind for industry and manufacturing, there was nothing for it but to play money-doubler as a last resort. And she had the perfect excuse.

For twenty-three years, Nigeria had not rebased its GDP. Yet the International Monetary Fund, an institutional deity whom Okonjo-Iweala—as a former managing director of the World Bank—serves as a monetary high-priest, recommends that countries rebase their GDP at least every five years. True, the Nigerian economy has seen considerable growth since 1990 in the telecommunications sector and with the advent of Nollywood.

The stage was set for Dr Okonjo-Iweala to play Professor Chandus. But while fiction may imitate life and make us wiser, often while also entertaining us, only the ridiculous may be expected when life imitates fiction. In Achebe’s fiction, money-doubling is quickly exposed as the scam that it is. In Okonjonomics, however, fiction proves more anchored on reality than the supposedly real world of the total worth of all a nation produces. Chike learns quickly that he is the proverbial fool soon parted from his money. So if Nigerians went to bed in the night of Saturday, 5 April 2014, with N42.4 trillion naira in their collective pocket, and woke up the next day to their statistician-general’s revelation that they had grown richer by N37.8 trillion while they slept, wouldn’t they be fools to believe it if they remain as hungry and angry, homeless and jobless, as they were when they closed their eyes the night before?  Mind you, statistician rhymes well with magician! The real reason for this money-doubling miracle, we are told, is to position Nigeria as an investors’ paradise. If so, another miracle is urgently needed: the overnight transformation of Nigeria’s stone-age infrastructure. And don’t forget about the ravening monster called corruption while you are at it! Bearing in mind, also, that Chike is finally able to cross the river with real money earned from earnest labour.

Professor Ifowodo, a lawyer and a poet, teaches at the Texas State University in the United States.

Against Dialogue with Boko Haram, By Ogaga Ifowodo

Ogaga Ifowodo Portrait 2

The pattern is clear. The more bloodcurdling the atrocities of Boko Haram the louder the calls for dialogue with the band of murderous psychopaths whose official name is Jama’atu Ahlissunnah Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad.

True, there is no deranged act of murder and arson more blood-curdling than another in the unending orgy of crimes against humanity that this criminal gang has been committing since it began its quest to establish an Islamic kingdom in Nigeria. Yet some stand out by their sheer senselessness, serving as an even more brutal reminder of the total severing of ties to humanity by a group that purports to found a caliphate of superior moral character to any secular order.

Among countless other evils is the slaughter in their midnight sleep two weeks ago of “sixty” students of Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe State. That is not the exact number of the pupils shot dead at point blank range or burnt to death when their hostels were set ablaze. Not content with murder and arson, God’s warriors took a yet to be ascertained number of students as hostages.

Predictably, the slaughter of the sleeping students has raised the volume of the calls for dialogue but this seems to me a cry of fear, defeat and desperation. The taking of a life without provocation savages the essence of our humanity. It awakens our primordial anxiety over the continuity of life, the perpetuation of the species — especially when so abrupt and clinical that it leaves no room for self-defence or for coming to terms with the inevitability of death.

And then there is the rightly unappeasable feeling of guilt when the victims, as in the Buni Yadi case, are innocent children who, to compound intolerable grief, were asleep in a place of learning to which we had sent them. We are mortified, then, by a collective feeling of betrayal, of an unpardonable abdication of the duty of protection we owe the young and vulnerable. I am tortured by both feelings. Although it is all of thirty years ago now, I couldn’t help thinking on hearing the traumatic news, “I could have been one of them had I happened to be born two decades later and been sent to Buni Yadi instead of the Federal Government College in Warri!” So, then, what do I make of the cries for dialogue with the butchers of Boko Haram, masquerading and marauding as anointed founders of Allah’s kingdom on a patch of the earth it pleased same Allah to populate with people of sundry beliefs and tongues?

To my mind, there can be no dialogue with conscious, unrepentant and sneering evil-doers. In any case, we have tried that with outrageous results. Or have we forgotten so soon the stinging scorn with which Boko Haram dismissed President Jonathan’s offer of dialogue and amnesty? That it is they, arms deep in blood, and not the president, who have the prerogative of mercy? Thus, while chary of speaking in any simplistic terms of good and evil, it seems to me crucial, nevertheless, that a society must retain a clear sense of the fundamental distinction between the two. Lest, by blurring the line we sacrifice all to the dubious altar of peace.

Indeed, that blurring has begun now that we have reached the point of giving national honours to congenital coup-plotters who presided over the murder, maiming and jailing of thousands, serial traitors to the nation, by bedecking Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha with statesman medals. By that precedent alone, we should be honouring Abubakar Shekau for his outstanding services to the fatherland at the 50th or 60th anniversary of our flag independence!

So, what is to be done? The answer, I think, is two-fold: an all-out war to either wipe out the vicious sect or degrade it to the point of combat ineffectiveness, and the reinstatement of the foundational idea of Nigeria as a secular state. We have been so swept up by the dangerous tide of rabid religiosity that we no longer know the meaning of constitutional secularity, nor why it is a non-negotiable guarantee of our peaceful co-existence.

This means that the restructuring of the nation we all agree is a primary issue at the impending national conference must be understood to include a radical change in our religious consciousness and attitudes. The conference must ensure not to repeat the costly dereliction of duty by the 1978 Constituent Assembly which bequeathed to us the hydra-headed monster of sanctimonious politicians and religious politics. The question of Shari’a law, I say, must be settled once and for all! The core North, as a political entity, must be told that it can no longer toy with the peace of the nation in the name of God; that its endorsement of a juridical jihad is the strongest impetus for Boko Haram’s political version.

Anything less, whether or not by the seductive name of dialogue, would be futile and fatal. After all, with Boko Haram’s criminal-in-chief, Shekau, claiming to be obeying Allah’s will, how are the rest of us who do not purport to be in direct conversation with the Almighty to know the divine will? As the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, told President Jonathan, Boko Haram’s senseless killings is “the height of madness.” And whoever dialogued with a madman and managed to look sane?

Who Killed Iyayi? Who Owns Nigeria’s Roads? By Ogaga Ifowodo

Ogaga Ifowodo

If you were looking for further proof that Nigerians are yet to attain the status of citizen, then look no further than the murder of Professor Festus Iyayi on 12 November 2013 by a driver to the convoy-death-and-injury-happy governor of Kogi State, Idris Wada. And now you should ask: Who killed Iyayi? The obvious answer is a yet unnamed driver under the influence of “power-drug,” the narcotic on which Nigeria’s ruling class and those in its circle are permanently stoned. But you would be wrong to hold the driver solely responsible for Iyayi’s murder.

The other culprit is Governor Wada who despite a previous convoy accident that claimed the life of his aide-de-camp had done nothing to prevent another needless death. Also in the dock is the federal government for fomenting the circumstance that put Iyayi and his injured colleagues on the road at the haunted hour of Governor Wada’s lethal convoy. By neglecting its duty to education, by signing one agreement after another with the Academic Staff Union of Universities for the rehabilitation of our dilapidated universities only to back out of its obligations the next day, the federal government created a needless crisis.

But Iyayi was slaughtered on a public highway, so you should also ask: Who owns Nigeria’s roads? The answer by our convoy-loving men and women of power is that they, and not all of us, own the roads. So they recruit and train drivers and policemen to drive us out of THEIR roads with whips and gun-butts. And where we do not get out fast enough, they smash our vehicles with intent to maim or kill so that we may never again dare to use THEIR roads, for they are never to be impeded when hurrying off to one more urgent business of dispossessing us.

You may think these to be the grief-soaked words of one mourning the avoidable death of a friend and mentor, a pillar of integrity and courage. But I say “with intent to maim or kill” advisedly, as a person must be deemed to intend the natural consequences of his or her action. The salient fact of the fatal “accident” — that the driver swerved recklessly out of his lane in a bid to overtake all other vehicles and take a position at or near the head of the convoy — fixes him with the presumption of knowledge of probable death or grievous bodily harm resulting from his action.

In 1985 when I entered the University of Benin intending to study law but nursing a burning desire to be a writer, I looked up to Iyayi more as the author of three exemplary novels that told the stories of the poor and powerless in which the depravity of the powerful was in full exhibition than as a teacher of business methods. It wasn’t long before I sought him out, eager to show him some of the half-formed poems I had written; in particular, the one that had just won me a consolation prize in a national anti-apartheid poetry contest and that would bring me to Lagos for the first time. That was when I witnessed the charming humility that endeared him to all, except the sworn enemies of the people. “So you are a poet?” he had said, with a slanted smile. “I’m a novelist. Perhaps you will teach me to understand poetry!” Many years later, as I grappled with a poem for his 60th birthday, the lesson of that first encounter became clear to me: he had sought to put the nervous aspiring writer at ease the better to remove any obstacle to full communion.

Iyayi loathed nothing more than the artificial boundaries created by power and privilege. But the riveting idealism of his social vision, I would learn, was matched by an earthy philosophy. When finally I overcame my doubts and showed him the first decent draft of my poem, he once again put me at ease. I had hesitated out of the fear that its rather pessimistic ending disdained his struggle and sacrifice. As I watched him face with equanimity his dismissal and eviction from the University of Benin, the many subsequent acts of official malice aimed at breaking him, the snail pace of his case of wrongful dismissal all the way to the Supreme Court, then his return to teaching on being vindicated, the respect and admiration spawned in my mind by that first meeting rose to the point where I might get up and leave the room if anyone spoke ill of him.

This was the man murdered by a power-drugged driver on a public highway. We have reached the dangerous point where powerful public officials and their minions believe that the people are their slaves, not citizens with inalienable rights to whom they are accountable. They own Nigeria and we live in it at their pleasure. It is time we reclaimed our roads, symbols of our shared heritage, of our collective existence as a nation. Time to reassert our citizenship rights, starting with the prosecution of the reckless driver. Iyayi’s widowed wife and half-orphaned children must seek, through civil action, punitive and exemplary damages against the Kogi state government. And we must demand an immediate end to official convoys; or, at the very least, their strict subjection to traffic regulations.

Death of Professor Festus Iyayi: When does the human sacrifice to the Nigerian state end? By Ogaga Ifowodo

Ogaga Ifowodo

I am stunned and saddened beyond description by the death in a road accident of Prof. Festus Iyayi yesterday (12 November 2013). As a student in the late eighties at the University of Benin, I was a front-line witness to Iyayi’s many battles to salvage our universities and for the civic rights and welfare of the Nigerian people. Having survived every vicious act of the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida, acting through minions in the university’s administrative hierarchy — acts that include his imprisonment without trial — it is not surprising that he should die in circumstances that fully implicate the government. As scholar, writer and humanist, I had always been inspired by the example of Iyayi and ensured to visit him whenever I was in Benin City, the last time being just four months ago.

As I write this statement, I find myself still undergoing the emotional see-saw of denying the horrid reality of Iyayi’s untimely and ghastly death in a clearly avoidable accident, to accepting it as more details of the tragedy are reported, and then to denying it again! I underwent a similar experience with the death of Chima Ubani, another doughty, intrepid and incorruptible fighter for a free and livable Nigeria. I will eventually come to terms with the brutal fact that, once again, a precious life has been sacrificed to the insatiable Moloch called the Nigerian state. And the question every grieving Nigerian must be asking now is, When does this human sacrifice end?

The facts of the tragic accident make it clear that Iyayi was a direct victim of the recklessness, irresponsibility and impunity that characterize the exercise of power at every level of our government. As far as I am concerned, the Nigerian state is alone to blame for this needless death. First, the facts of the accident. According to the uncontroverted reports, the driver of a vehicle in the rear of the convoy of the Kogi State governor, decided for no good reason to overtake the other vehicles in the convey and rammed into the vehicle conveying Iyayi and other delegates of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to a crucial meeting in Kano called to discuss the federal government’s current proposal for ending the four-month-long strike that has paralysed the federal and state universities. Every user of our roads has witnessed the thuggish behaviour of drivers in government convoys and many have indeed been killed or maimed by their reckless driving. Often, the urgent matter of state for which the convoys break every traffic rule and brutalise citizens who happen to be on the road at the same time with them, is to convey the “First Lady”— wife of the head-of-state or governor or even local government chairman — to a social function or on a personal errand.

We must demand an end to official convoys that flout with delight every traffic regulation and civilized behaviour, with the obvious condonation of their employers, thereby violating the right of citizens to a peaceable enjoyment of the roads built with their taxes, their commonwealth. Given the immediate circumstances of this tragic event, I call on the Kogi State Attorney-General to bring charges against the offending driver for manslaughter. In order to send a clear message to the federal and state governments and to all of the public functionaries who delight in the violent, often bloody, spectacle of official convoys, I enjoin the Iyayi family to institute a civil action, in which one of the remedies would be punitive damages.

Secondly, had the Federal Government understood its duty towards our public universities, and failing that, kept its commitment to ASUU in numerous agreements, then Iyayi, and his travelling colleagues lucky to survive the accident but now scarred for life by their close shave with death, would not have been on the road for the purpose of deliberating on the Federal Government’s needlessly delayed offer to end the strike.

Like Ubani, Iyayi died in active struggle—on the road at a time he should have been in his bed—to put out one of the many fires of national misgovernance.

A towering moral figure and indefatigable warrior in the people’s army, he will be missed greatly and his shoes will be near impossible to fill. Adieu comrade!

The Olu of Warri as Daddy Overseer Melchizedek, By Ogaga Ifowodo

Ogaga Ifowodo

What does the storm fomented entirely out of a “born again” king’s tea cup tell us about our rulers, “spiritual” or “temporal?”

By a proclamation, the Olu of Warri, Ogiamen Atuwatse II, sought to abrogate the ancestral title of Ogiamen on the ground that it implied worship of a false god, Umalokun the Itsekiri deity of the sea.

He also sought to change the national song (anthem) and other communal rites of his people. It was an attempt to rewrite Itsekiri history and folklore according to the Pentateuch and the New Testament.

Yet there had been no conflict between the personal beliefs of Itsekiri monarchs and the tenets of their monarchy, as he was promptly informed by his outraged “subjects.”

“I solemnly confess and testify that there is only One God,” the crusading king began his public confession of Christ as his lord and personal saviour, seeking thereby to also make that confession on behalf of all Itsekiris, irrespective of their individual convictions.

It happens, however, that he means the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the fathers of Israel,” the “Creator of all people and things . . . all worlds and realms, kings, thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, seas and abyss.”

It matters little to me what religious dogma, what sacred superstition, a person chooses to believe. After all, one goes to “heaven” or “hell” or simply rots alone.

If one person believes in an almighty God that lives in the sky, a concept borne of the old belief in Sun-worship — incidentally, Moses borrowed the idea from sun-worshipping Egypt, hence the never-ending battle to impose this God on the previously heathen and polytheistic Jews after the exodus — and another believes in an almighty power beneath the earth, the realm of dead-but-living ancestors, while yet another espouses no religious convictions, all should, so to speak, have their day under the sun.

The problem arises when one superstitious, even if practical, dogma seeks to denigrate and dominate the other.

As in the shocking instance of the Olu’s inability to distinguish between his role as a ceremonial monarch and his personal quest for eternal life through a foreign religion. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s,” Jesus enjoined his disciples.

But in his frenzy, the zealous Olu gave no ear. Thus, no indication that he has ever thought about the proper relations between the spiritual and the secular or that he has heard of the doctrine of separation of state and religion.

Consequently, he yearns to be priest, prophet and king; a potentate whose personal whims and caprices must be adopted by everyone. He could not even say, like Joshua, to his people: “choose you this day whom ye will serve . . . as for me and my house, we shall serve Jehovah, God of the fathers of Israel!”

With no faith in his people’s history, ethical values, or metaphysical system, he deems them unworthy of his confidence.

He even mistakes the myths (which all nations, be they Christian, Muslim, Bhuddist or animist, devise to explain their existence and their societies) for verifiable history, thereby seeking to do away with the culture and knowledge they bear.

Yet, he does so by embracing wholesale the myths of another nation! Hence, his troubling — delusional, one might say — premise: that he was exercising his power “as a priest in the Order of Melchizedek” and using “the authority . . . name . . . and . . . power of the Blood of Jesus to destroy all ancient and new altars in Iwere (Warri) land not raised up to the Lord by the laws governing the new covenant of life in Christ.”

A charitable response to this sort of Sunday school or revival night drivel might be that the Olu would rather be a miracle-peddling pentecostal pastor than a monarch. For then the miracle of transformation of the king of a riverine community in Africa into a priest of the tribe of Judah might be understandable. Even then, one might wonder why he professes Christianity, and not Judaism.

Still the question: why did the Olu feel compelled to publicly renounce his history for that of another nation, to pledge his people to “the fathers of Israel?” A king, the pious Olu ought to know, symbolises the collective memory of his people, the “unbroken” connection of his people to their history, to their font of being, and to humanity at large.

I do not know what DNA tests convinced Godwin Toritseju Emiko (as he was before ascending his forefathers’ throne), a lawyer, that he is not only a scion of Noah but, specifically, a son of Shem who was Melchizedek.

A part of me is shamed by the price of self-abnegation that His Royal Highness had to pay for this coveted identity. Yet there is holy precedent for it, and on the authority of Christ no less.

The gospel of Mark at Chapter 7 tells the story of a Greek woman, and so a gentile, who beseeched Jesus to deliver her daughter of “an unclean spirit.” But “salvation is of the Jews” as a birthright — until it is clear that “he came unto his own, and his own received him not”— and not for gentiles or . . . well, dogs! “Let the children first be filled, for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs,” said Jesus.

And the distraught woman? “Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.” Only then does Jesus relent and deliver her stricken daughter. “For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter,” said Jesus.

I doubt that Ogiamen Atuwatse II sees himself as a dog foraging for the crumbs of the bread meant for the children of Israel. If perchance he does, he is sure to count it his singular blessing to be “saved” by the crumbs dropped by Shem/Melchizedek. How unlucky he must feel to be a king in benighted Iwere, far from “the Promised Land!”

Right of reply, omoliho@gmail.com

Yes, I Pardoned a Serial Treasury Looter but What Can You Do About It? By Ogaga Ifowodo

Ogaga Ifowodo

Presumably, President Jonathan and the members of the National Council of State who granted a state pardon for the convicted former governor of Bayelsa State, D. S. P. Alamieyeseigha, are aware of Section 14 (2) of the Constitution which states that “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice,” and accordingly “sovereignty belongs to the people … from whom government … derives all its powers and authority.” It is possible that Jonathan’s image-makers, better known as his “attack lions,” believe in this principle, just as much as they believe that the people are always ignorant, misinformed, mischievous, unpatriotic and wrong. Jonathan may also remember Abraham Lincoln’s famous definition of democracy, which we all learned in secondary school, as “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Still, it is clear to the world, now more than ever before (assuming that further and better proof were ever needed) that Jonathan thinks or knows very little of the concepts of democracy and the people.  Neither matters to him in his sordid game of power-for-its-own-sake. Thus, no deed appears to him too indefensible to warrant discretion. He may very well be a king since he operates by the credo of might is right. Indeed, that is what he meant when he said “I don’t give a damn” about transparency and leading by example. And that is what he has told us again by pardoning a confessed and convicted kleptomaniac who also happens to be his former boss.  By this latest show of contempt for the will of the people, Jonathan thumps his chest and sneers, “Yes, I pardoned a serial treasury looter. What can you do about it?”

It explains why he hardly tried to hide his hand. For, he has to have known that his ruse of granting absolution to a poster-face of corruption by simultaneously pardoning persons “previously pardoned” would be exposed before long. But, then, Jonathan does not give a damn about what the people think; does not believe the people can think. He does not care if the world thinks as Transparency International does, that his “decision undermines anti-corruption efforts” and “encourages impunity.” Those blokes at Transparency International, like the ignorant fools under his rule, assume, erroneously, that he has to prove his anti-corruption bona fides by strengthening and not relaxing sanctions against treasury looters. One might be tempted to say that Jonathan has hammered the final nail into the coffin of the war against corruption, but that would be admitting that there was ever such a war. In any case, rather than review his action, he has set his attack lions loose on the people.

I think I know now the source of Jonathan’s ill-advised bravado, strikingly unbecoming of one whose ascent to power has been more a matter of sheer good luck (I can’t tire of the pun) than merit or accomplishment. In being so dismissive of Jonathan as weak, clueless and totally out of his depth as president, we may have unwittingly created a political monster. Like the poor boy picked upon by every kid in the schoolyard and neighbourhood and who, to restore his dignity, finally takes a stand, Jonathan is now totally blind to reason or consequence. He will take on all comers, even if every one of them be twice his weight; even if he must spit in the face of the people at every turn. At least, then he can go to bed beating his chest and saying out loud, “I did it! That should teach them to call me weak and clueless!” Every serious decision has become for him an occasion to assert his political manhood. The unreflective display of machismo is spawned by a desire to appear strong and decisive. In short, Jonathan is governed by the fear of being thought weak, like the tragic Okonkwo in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

Yet, there are better ways for Jonathan to prove his political manhood. He could, for instance, have publicly declared his assets, thereby assuming the role of commander-in-chief of a real war against corruption. Or implemented all the recommendations of the Justice Uwais panel on electoral reform, thereby going against self-interest and the entrenched privileges of the powerful few who profit from rigged elections. Or prosecuted and jailed the trillion-naira oil subsidy thieves that bled the country white. He could convene or facilitate a sovereign national conference at which, for the first time since independence, we as a free people would agree on the articles of association for a prosperous, peaceful and equitable nation. He could … but none of these would project the image he craves of a strongman in a tall hat; they smack of bending to the will of the people, which is incompatible with an I-don’t-give-a-damn philosophy of governance.

Yet, for all the great wisdom we have been told informed the pardon, one crucial detail was omitted: an unreserved apology to Alamieyeseigha for his conviction in the first place. After all, how many treasury looters have been asked to explain the source of their instant wealth, never mind being charged to court? Bode George, Tafa Balogun …the few who did not get away scot free, must be wondering how much longer they must wait before getting their pardon.

Professor Ifowodo can be reached via his email account: omoliho@gmail.com

A Case for Punishing Corruption as Armed Robbery, By Ogaga Ifowodo

Ogaga Ifowodo Portrait 2

As the world moves away from capital punishment, Nigeria, always to be found in the rear-guard of progress, has embraced it with renewed vigour. Recently, the House of Representatives, that august gaggle of expensive and visionary lawmakers, woke up from its legislative coma to propose a bill to eradicate through the death penalty the crime of kidnapping that currently plagues the country.

As far back as 2009, Imo State had made kidnapping a capital offence. If the reports are true, several other states have since enacted a similar law; among them Abia, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo and Enugu. Rivers State, commendably, was not seduced by the siren call of capital punishment, opting instead for life imprisonment.

Under our penal codes, the crimes of murder and armed robbery are punished by death. In the latter case, the law is very specific regarding the manner of carrying out the sentence: “by hanging the offender by the neck till he be dead or by causing such offender to suffer death by firing squad.” The justification for such state-sanctioned savagery is that it deters crime. Simply put, the evil means of capital punishment is more than compensated for by the glorious end of societal peace and harmony.

This was taken to its extreme in the seventies when the federal military government, still steeped in the depredations of the Civil War, valorised firing squads and subjected the nation to the televised bloody rituals infamously dubbed “the Bar Beach Show.” The current state of armed robbery in the country presents a perfect measure of the amount of deterrence achieved.

I am against the death penalty for all the good reasons that prove it to be unjustifiable, chief of which is that it fails to acknowledge human error. As the use of DNA evidence has shown, many wrongly convicted persons have been killed by the state, but who will go to hell or heaven to bring them back to life and restore them to their former lives and status? What possible humane goal can the death penalty achieve that life imprisonment cannot?

Yet, in spite of this I am willing to suspend, temporarily, my opposition to the death penalty and argue for its application to all cases of corruption involving amounts up to and above one billion naira. Conviction for any amount above N100 million but under one billion would be punished by life imprisonment; one million to under N100 million by a jail term of 5-25 years; and any sum under a million naira would be treated as a misdemeanour.

Corruption is eating Nigeria alive. If we must have capital punishment, then it shouldn’t apply only to the poor and weak who must die irrespective of the amount stolen, insofar as armed with a gun, a knife or even a wooden club in the act of robbery but as well to those armed with a pen and who steal astronomical sums in one heist.  The rich and powerful cannot be immune to the great good of deterrence that the death sentence purportedly serves.

This discrepant morality of crime and punishment was shown once again by the scandalous sentence of two years imprisonment or a fine of N750,000 given to John Yakubu Yusuf, an assistant director in the federal service, accused together with six others of stealing N32.8 billion from the Police pension fund. It wasn’t the first time such a travesty of justice would issue from our courts, aided or condoned by the Minister of Justice. We are all reminded of the many high profile felons who, having been convicted of stealing staggering amounts, were literally told to reach in their back pockets or purses, put whatever they found there on the table and go home.

By contrast, barely a day after billion-naira-thief Yusuf dropped his back-pocket change and became a free man (until he was re-arrested for supposedly different crimes), a Magistrate’s Court sitting in Ikare, Ondo State, sentenced one Adepoju Jamiu to three years imprisonment without the option of a fine for stealing a mobile phone worth N17, 000. As Premium Times which reported this case pointed out, had Yusuf and Jamiu been judged under the same law and “ratio of years of sentence … relative to the amount stolen,” then Yusuf would have bagged at least 110,000 years in jail.

Under the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act, any person who commits the offence of stealing with the aid of a firearm “or any offensive weapon” or is merely “in company with any person so armed” is liable upon conviction to death. While an ordinary pen or any virtual signature or authorisation tool cannot be defined as a “firearm,” it seems to me that given its lethal role in inflicting grievous harm to our body-politic, in the massive dispossession and “wounding” of the nation, and so the consequential death of countless citizens denied life-saving provisions or support, it can and should be included in the definition of “offensive weapon.” The phrase, “adapted for use for causing injury to the person” in the interpretation section of the Act renders it amenable to this redefinition. Perhaps then, the moral warriors of the national and state assemblies may speak convincingly of the death penalty for deterrence. And I would reconsider my “strategic” pro- death penalty stance after the first execution of a billion-naira thief!

Mr. Ifowodo, a published poet and lawyer, is currently a professor of literature in the United States.

Ekwe and the Raging Army of God’s Protectors, By Ogaga Ifowodo

Ogaga Ifowodo

The omens remain frightful regarding what awaits us this year in the moral conscience arena of our ever more degenerate social landscape. On Monday, 14 January, a holy mob in Ekwe, a village in Isu Njaba Local Government Area of Imo State, arrested three men suspected of having consensual sex, beat them up, stripped them bare to their dangling nuts, tied them together and paraded them through the streets. The photo image of this latest evidence of our headlong descent into a sadistic barbarism joins the shameful gallery of others in the past year yet to fade from the world’s memory: the lynching of the Port Harcourt Four, the Mubi student massacre, scenes of the unending bloodbaths in Plateau State and of Boko Haram’s exploded bombs.

Let us examine the image in all of its rustic innocence. An unpaved path with bush and trees on either side, no house or sign of a dwelling in sight; certainly no indication that it would lead to a police station, the physical symbol of law and order, or to an elder’s house, where wisdom, moral counsel and counsel may reside. In the forefront, the three naked men, tied together at the waist with a yellow rope long enough to round them securely and still trail out of the frame; enough for a leash and I suspect that the more righteous and eager ones in the mob took turns to drag the already “judged” men to their assured condemnation; as one might drag a rabid dog to the slaughter. Then there is the mob behind them, mostly of young men and women. The one that appears the most indignant is a man dressed in a predominantly red tee-shirt with an image difficult to make but the top of which resembles the head of a dragon, and in a mostly orange pair of long shorts. He is right between two of the older-looking naked men, one of whose arms are folded across his chest in seeming surrender to his humiliation.

This “leader” of the holy mob is close enough to slap, shove and knock around the men being shamed in rope-chains, and to shout obscenities directly into their ears. Most of the others are content to spit out their outrage and curses and a few to record the scene with their mobile phones by way of photos, videos and text messages — as two young men in the right foreground of the photo are visibly doing. To his or her credit, one person in the left foreground, perhaps a woman (not completely shown), appears to be walking away from the shameful carnival. Perhaps out of respect for the viewer’s sensibility, the publishers of one version of the image covered up each of the naked men’s genitalia with bushes of hair so dark and thick that their good intention has the unintended effect of a desire to hide something sinister and evil. After all, the prevailing unscientific and so grossly uninformed view of the righteous majority of our countrymen and women is that homosexuality is unnatural and a sin against God. It is only proper then that anyone who was not there in Ekwe be spared the trauma of seeing the offending organs with which this greatest of sins was committed. Yes, far more than murder, kidnapping, massive and systemic corruption in government, rape, the rigging of elections, child abuse, wife battering, etc., the emerging consensus of our rabidly religious country, across tribe and creed, seems to be that same sex intercourse is the greatest sin and a threat to human existence.

No African belief espouses the fire-and-brimstone condemnation of sexual difference that the Abrahamic religions exult in. Homosexuals did not drop from the sky into our corner of the earth yesterday. But until quite recently when the fire of Pentecostalism, finding inexhaustible fuel in the unprecedented poverty and misery of the people, began to lay waste to our land, homosexuals were not demonised and persecuted. Mocked and teased, perhaps, but not condemned to second class citizen status, stripped of their basic human dignity and subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment for consensual sex behind closed doors.

In a three part essay on the rising tide of homophobia in our country — see “Homosexuality and Nigeria’s Enochs and Josephs,” “Homosexuality, Biology and the Bible” and “Sex and the Church’s Missionary Position” in The Guardian of 19 and 28 December, 2011, and 9 January 2012 respectively, also available online at SaharaReporters (http://saharareporters.com/columnist/ogaga-ifowodo) — I addressed the dangerous fallacies spewed from the nation’s bankrupt pulpits and parliament that drive the orgy of hate against our fellow citizens. I am concerned here with what I see as the gradual coarsening effect of the self-righteous mob on the moral soul of the nation as shown by the Ekwe show of shame. The majority of those in support of the criminalisation of what at best is a sin would protest if told that they belong to the same camp as the Islamic fundamentalists of Boko Haram; that they have common cause with those who will stone to death a woman who commits adultery and cut off the hand of a man who steals a goat. Yet from inter-tribal wars to the oppression of woman (as the primal order of history) on to slavery and colonialism, every morality of the majority deemed to be the law of God/nature, becomes a sanction for mindless cruelty to the minority or the weak. And, invariably, the result is that victim and victimiser are brutalised simultaneously.

Take the sad spectacle of Ekwe. Whereas the three men engaged in a private act, the holy mob broke in upon them, stripped them naked and paraded them before the eyes of the world. But none in the mob could claim to have been hurt by the men’s alleged act. So coarse and hardened of heart do holy warriors become that they will not see the inhumanity of their actions. They forget that it was God himself, and not Lot, who meted out the justice of fire and brimstone on Sodom in the seminal Judeo-Christian tale of homophobia; a tale that established the idea of homosexuality as the unpardonable sin. Which is why Lot would offer his two daughters who “have not known man” to the Sodomites and watch them raped rather than witness the sin of “sodomy.” Indeed, by the end of Chapter 19 of Genesis, when Lot’s virgin daughters “lie with him,” the Judeo-Christian God has no problem with incest.

But what would Jesus have done had he come as the Messiah not to the Jews but to the Igbo and happened on the Ekwe scene? Would he, perhaps, have said to his (God-the-son’s) holy protectors what he told the men set to hurl stones at the woman accused of adultery: “He that is without sin among you, let him tie the first knot and lead the shame parade?” Our righteous warriors will do well to heed the injunction of loving one’s (sinful) neighbours as oneself, and to let God, as Baal, fight for himself. They should be consoled that none shall escape judgement — unless of course they do not believe their holy books.