Thursday, December 30, 2010

Do You Know Where Your Neighbor Is?

It is so easy to wave away thorny issues like political and religious motivated conflicts in far flung parts of the world. We hear about Afghan and Iraqis been killed every day, but take little or no notice, except in a remote case of the involvement of a friend or relative. We hear about suicide bombers in Pakistan killing countless number of innocent poor people everyday – It is easy to dismiss all for our general lack of facts that allows us to see first-hand or feel what the other party feels.

Early this year, sequel to the unsuccessful mission of Mutalab aka “diaper bomber” on 25th December 2009, Nigeria was classified as a terrorist nation and all (including me) cried foul! We all wondered how millions of peaceful Nigerians could be so labeled, because of the actions of a single deranged man. But alas, today we know for certain that militancy is in our midst. We now hear about car bombs at public places on special occasions – we hear about endless religious conflicts between cult-like renegades who mask their deeds in the name of God. We hear about freedom fighters armed by politicians whose only objective is to promote an atmosphere of fear that allows them to continue to plunder that which belongs to the masses. While many may say this is all a new phenomenon that reflects the yearning for freedom, justice and equality. What we have not stopped to consider is its antecedence – our history.

Mans Wicked Heart
In a heated debate over the story of creation and evolution with my friend Otuije Otuije, I reminded him about 16th century, when Christian Europe, in the name of God had slaughtered thousands of Muslim children, men and women – We called that holocaust “the Crusades”. Mans wickedness to man is chronicled in the annals of history – from the crusades, to the holocaust, to the Jihads, etc.

Coming closer to home, barely four years after colonial Britain pulled out, Nigeria has been plagued on all fronts, since our trigger-happy war lords, like their tribalised forbears laid their bloodied hands on the mantle of leadership (leading to a civil war in 1967) we have not known peace. Then, like now, countless numbers of people in the west and north of Nigeria carried on, like nothing was wrong. To most, the turmoil and suffering of innocent children, men, and women in Eastern Nigeria (their erstwhile fellow Nigerians) were too far off to be felt. To others, Biafrans (innocent of not) deserved it for the audacity exhibited by their leaders. Due to self preservation, I am not surprised at their selfishness and folly, I can not argue justly who is right and who is not, However what baffles me is how all this go on under our very noses, like they say "in our own backyards" and yet nobody wants to talk about it. That is why I wrote this article.

The More You Look – The Less You See
In 1988, as a youth in Port Harcourt, I watched the most horrible video of my life . The videos was shot from a helicopter, and showed soldiers shooting villagers in a market place… Sounds familiar? Sounds like any Vietnam war movie? Well, No! This was Nigeria, Rivers State, Ogoni Land, Nigerian Soldiers and the Helicopters belonged to Oil giant – Shell.

This was before Ken Saro’wiwa was killed and the MOSOP (see factsheet on ogoni & shell). The VHS tape was smuggled into town by sympathetic foreigners and was very instrumental to the international declaration that gave every Ogoni the leeway to seek asylum in Europe and America. I was stunned to see how far a company would go to protect its investment and even more so, to see how a nation, lead by blind men could help to ensure same.
'The flames of Shell are flames of Hell,
We bask below their light,
Nought for us to serve the blight,
Of cursed neglect and cursed Shell" - an Ogoni Song
We havent learnt the lessons, this same act was to happen again in 1999. Thanks to Timaya a notable artiste from the deep south, most Nigerians would never know that entire villages were wiped out in the south to ensure the steady flow of crude oil.
They don kill them mama, dem papa, I say they don kill dem mama, dem papa… everyday for Nigeria na so my people dey die…
two decades on, and the story is still the same. The captions on recent papers – all paint the same eerie picture that suggests that this is still been practiced today in 2010. Captions like:-
  • 17 Movement of the Actualization of the Sovereignty of the State of Biafra (MASSOB) members arrested for hoisting the Biafran Flag in Abia State.
  • "General" John Togo, The New Face Of The Niger Delta Insurgency, Speaks
  • Multiple Bomb blasts on Christmas day
  • Oron Communal Clash
  • President of Human Rights Peace Justice Foundation gunned down
  • Jos Crisis – Allegations of bias not fair on soldiers
  • Bombs hit Political Rally in Yenegoa
  • Boko Haram Kills 3 in Fresh Maiduguri Attacks
  • Jonathan urges military task force in Abia, Akwa Ibom to wipe out kidnapping
The story remains the same, Still freedom fighters and politicians, Still - multinationals standing in the corner. Still, the rest of the world stands aloof, Still the curse of the black gold takes yet another life. Still, many people (even those so close to home) are not aware of this systematic destruction of innocent lives in nearby states. Case in point, Sahara reporters just got an interview with self styled Gen. John Togo of the Niger Delta Liberation Force (NDLF).

Though the interview clearly portrays John Togo as an uninformed, misguided renegade of MEND, through all, what stands out clearly for those who have ears to hear, is that the delta – the goose that lays the golden egg, is dying, her innocent children, men and women are been slaughtered by the Joint Task Force headed by the Nigerian Army on a regular basis. The commentary on Sahara Reporters all seem to be focused on the persona of the actant and not on the idea behind their rebellion. What will it take for the Nigerian state to listen and act justly for cries of Isaac Adaka Boro, Ken Saro-wiwa, ... and I dare to add... John Togo. Something seems to be missing, why cant the rest of us see the sorry situation in the south? Why will people not consider the reasons that lay beneath this gory picture? Robert Nestor made popular this saying "He who feels it, knows it." Do I feel it cos I saw those images of beefy Nigerian soilders shooting innocent children in a village market? Do I feel it cos I know what that living next to a gas flaring site is the next thing to being in hell? Do I feel it cos I know that paddling a canoe is no mean feat for a grown man, how much less for a woman who has to go several miles away from her fising ground to fish due to water pollution and activities of the oil companies? Do I know this because I am from the Niger Delta and have first hand knowledge of what my people go through? To my mind, the readers have been 'lead on' to think the way they do. Mostly due to the fault of the media who often sell a one sided story.

While I applaud Sahara Reporters for the interview, it would have been better to get footage (if only still pictures) to better inform the rest of Nigeria and the world at large. Footage of the Christmas Day Bombs in Jos clearly shows how unresolved political or religious crisis can lead to wanton destruction of lives and property. Does the audaciousness exhibited by these few justify the killing of innocent women and children? Does the few seats in the local Jos council justify the killing of hundreds of people? I think not, We have to go back to history to learn how to right these wrongs. When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem, little did they know that only 200 years later Saladin would take it back, little did they know that a few hundred years on, Bin Laden would take the fight further. While Shell BP (British Petroleum) and the Crown covertly armed Nigeria against Biafra and watched millions of innocent children, men and women killed. In their quest to keep the oil flowing, they continue to prod the Nigerian government in her fatal dance with the love of oil to rub and kill the innocent. History will tell, one bright shinning morning, when the tables will turn. 3 decades after the Nigerian Civil War, the hatred of the minorities still persits - or what other reason will make a Northern dominated army open fire on innocent villagers. Thousands of years on, Christians and Muslims are still fight to make Jerusalem - or why else will someone decide to detonate a bomb on Christmas day.

Concerning the Jos crisis, Okey Duke Paulinus (the friend of a friend) wrote:-
Cried as i watched... I had in d past did a study on what could be in d mind of those who kill fellow human being in d name of God..In d course of d research i found that weird belief smeared with masked view of God' personality would a...always influence one to feel elated, happy and even rejoice as he/she massacre fellow sibling, mother, friend kids etc. Sometimes when a thief kills he may feel remorseful but when a religious bigot kills he would feel most fulfil and thankful to his perceived God... Hope the right interpretation of God and His personality would b communicated to those who kill in God' name..If not ... May the souls of the believers who lost their lives in Jos mayhem rest in peace."
So while you eat your jollof rice this season, while you are mesmerized by the twinkle of your 8 foot tall Christmas tree, while you sit under the pale blue sky awaiting the new year, give a thought to your neighbor and ask yourself how well he is.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Naija Leaks?

In all successful societies of the world there are three aspects of human endeavor that permeates all facets of daily living. 1. That well thought out laws exist, are made or modified to fit the ever changing environment. 2. An effective means of enforcing the law by way of police, civil defense and other law enforcement agencies. 3. A proactive media to report both sides of any issue to all and sundry.

For my dear nation, Nigeria - I have written severally about the inefficiency of running this colossal engine of representative governance, its inherent cost implications, and its self-servicing policies, but I have said little of the (lack of) law enforcement. That is a story for another day. For today, I am going to write about the importance of the media.

Societies who fight oppression have often employed the "Power of the Pen" to garner grassroot support. As it is said that the pen is mightier than the sword. From the French revolution, through the American civil war, to every society that has had an uprising or revolution of some sort. The importance of the media can not be over emphasized. Even in times of oppression and anarchy, participants have used the media as a catalyst to promote their objectives. From The Jacobite, Hitler and the holocaust, Mao and Red China, Castro, Rawlings, etc.

I therefore find it appalling to open every other newspaper to find non-critical issues been pushed forward everyday. Considering the fact that for decades on end, the Nigerian masses have cried out for a change, for transparency, for a new order.

I could not find any empirical evidence to show what the average Nigerian news paper publishes - matters of public interest, sports, politics, general information VS those that generate income - paid adverts, etc. This would have created a rich picture of what the media is doing. this data will preclude pure commercial adverts that promote a product or service. None-the-less, a cursory look at the top nations tabliods shows that many published items are skewed towards creating an opinion (suggesting they were paid for) rather than giving both sides of the story and allowing the readers to draw a conclusion. Little wonder why in a bid to ensure their relevance in today's Nigeria, unnecessary attention is given to the same people who have plundered and raped this nation over the years.

What is the National Union of Journalist thinking? Are they aware of this? Or is the ever-present Naija demon forcing us to do it our way. Why do we give politics so much audience and ignore other important things like promoting efficiency, education, preventing crime and violence? Why do we promote opulence to the detriment of our generation? What is the NUJ doing to restore honor and dignity amongst our people? Even a little child in Nigeria values money more than his name, and young girls would rather suffer under an abusive relationship as long as the dough keeps flowing. Little wonder why the corridors of power are full of people who have little to offer, people whose only passion is to amass wealth at the expense of their fellow citizens.

Don't get me wrong, while I agree that there must be paid adverts, one expects objectivity, reasoning and creativity that all adds up to the greater good of the poor and downtrodden. A balance between the truth and commerce. To condone the sale of publicity is akin to selling the polity to the highest bidder and keeping the masses in perpetual darkness. It is only in Nigeria we talk about brown envelopes (the act of bribing a journalist) - to me, its nothing but black mail. Nigerian press will publish anything if you pay the price.

I asked my good friends Ndu Okeke, and Kari (both seasoned journalist), to inform their technology correspondents about my wind turbine project they both thought I must present some brown envelopes before this can be published.

For the past decade, been responsible for web communications of two separate corporate bodies has exposed me to many journalist within and outside Nigeria. One simple question I always put forward to them is "Why don't you write about what is really going on [the truth]?" Their response has also interestingly been simple... "Those stories don't sell newspapers or pay the bills". Obviously, newspapers and other electronic media need money to run, however they owe a greater responsibility to the societies they serve.

World over, journalist syndicate (publish) on other tabloids using pseudo names to avoid been victimized by the powers that be. In countries where the media is reluctant to publish the materials, journalist have gone a step further to publish internationally. With the advent of internet technology, more and more people are turning into journalist (even me - blogging for over 3 years now). Yet the average Nigerian journalist has chosen to be docile, and report only what is paid for and ignore the rest. Programs like "Newsline" that focused on tell the truth on the street and investigating issues that concern the average man have all been hijacked by the rich. Newline today is a showcase of the rich and the powerful, their childrens weddings, and what new toys they buy at the expense of the masses.

Since I was a teen, I have heard rumors of IBBs refineries in south America, reasons why an oil giant imports refined products. No journalist has investigated and published a single article. I have read over the years that Peter Odilli owns one of the finest hospitals in Africa, and not a single investigative work has been carried out. This brings to question their professionalism. The freedom of information bill (wonder under which table it sits now) may not help to wrestle power out of the hands of the powers that be in Nigeria, it requires a courageous and creative mindset that is lacking in the crop of present brown envelope hunting journalist. A few serious blogs have evolved, but I fear they may be in cohort with some notable politicians. Non-the-less, the likes of seems to be getting it right on a local level.

Perhaps one of 2010 ground breaking phenomenon is Wikileaks - a body that has existed for over 4 years and has a mission to tell the truth that others are too scared to tell by assuring the anonymity of their sources. Their profile says

"We believe that it is not only the people of one country that keep their own government honest, but also the people of other countries who are watching that government through the media."

The question now is if the Nigerian journalist would take advantage of this and supply the truth to a more courageous [my emphasis], creative reporter far removed form the our oppressive regimes. Will nations potentially come to face legal consequences as a result of evidence posted on WikiLeaks? Even the USA is in awe of this mode of enforcing transparency.

But like Wikileaks, I believe publishing improves transparency, and this transparency creates a better society for all people. Better scrutiny will lead to reduced corruption and stronger democracies in all society's institutions, including government, corporations and other organisations. A healthy, vibrant and inquisitive journalistic media plays a vital role in achieving these goals. We are part of that media.

Scrutiny requires information. Historically, information has been costly in terms of human life, human rights and economics. As a result of technical advances particularly the internet and cryptography - the risks of conveying important information can be lowered. In its landmark ruling on the Pentagon Papers, the US Supreme Court ruled that "only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government." We agree. Nigerian journalists over to you.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Say No to Looting of Nigeria.

As I have always maintained. Democracy, as practiced in the world today, is too expensive. Lets join the rest of the progressive world who are seriously trying to apply technology to bring government closer to their people - Direct Governance.

When Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Governor of the Central bank brought to our attention, the fact that the National Assembly was responsible for 25% of the national budget. I published an article titled Who Let The Dogs Out. The article addressed the gulf between the rich and the poor and reflected on my view on "A Promise is comfort to a fool.." which focused on Labours last strike which should have gone a step further to ask for a downward review of the "Maximum Wage". I wasnt surprised to learn that the Federal Government is cutting back 42% in the coming year. I am happy to learn that once more, the people have forced the hand of Government, even if just a bit. It shows that we can still take control, it proves that the folly of the people is really what the political elite thrieve on. That is why I want to share this short and straight to the point email I got from Usma Samaila (Probably a forward from one of his friends) this morning. The email read thus:-
Do you know that it costs tax payers 290m Naira yearly to maintain each member of our National Assembly in a country where nothing works & 80% of population earn below 300 Naira a day ? A working day earning of a senator is more than a yearly income of a doctor; it's more than the salary of 42 Army generals or 48 professors or 70 commissioners of police or more than twice the pay of the US president or 9times the salary of US congressmen. Please say NO to looting of Nigeria in the name of democracy by passing dis on.

The RMAFC approved salary and ALL allowances for each senator is as tabulated below

Basic Salary


Hardship Allowance @ 50% of Basic Salary


Constituency allowance @ 200% of Basic Salary


Furniture allowance @ 300% of Basic Salary


Newspaper allowance @ 50% of Basic Salary


Wardrobe allowance @ 25% of Basic Salary


Recess Allowance @ 10% of Basic Salary


Accommodation @ 200% of Basic Salary


Utility @ 30% of Basic Salary


Domestic staff @ 75% of Basic Salary


Entertainment @ 30% of Basic Salary


Personal Assistant @ 25% of Basic Salary


Vehicle maintenance allowance @ 75% of Basic Allowance


Leave allowance @ 10% of Basic Allowance


Total Per Annum


A Senator’s Legitimate Salary Per Month


109 Senators Grand Total = N3,264,329,264.10
ADD: Illegitimate allowances = N85 million per quarter = N340,000,000 per Annum
Total per annum = N369,479,749 and a terminal one-off payments at the beginning or end of the tenure not included above:
-Severance gratuity @ 300% N7,452,736.50 at the end of tenure
-Motor Vehicle allowance @ 400% of Basic Salary = 9,936,982.00 every four years
Additionally N17,360,000 every four years.
I haven't taken time to assess the figures here, but I can assure you they are not far from the truth. They quite in line with what I have been asking for months... please feel free to share with your friends.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Who Let The Dog Out II?

When Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Governor of the Central bank brought to our attention, the fact that the National Assembly was responsible for 25% of the national budget. I published an article titled Who Let The Dogs Out. The article addressed the gulf between the rich and the poor and reflected on my view on "A Promise is comfort to a fool.." which focused on Labours last strike which should have gone a step further to ask for a downward review of the "Maximum Wage".

I suspected that the coming days were likely to usher in something out of the ordinary. The captions on tabloids were not disappointing. The Nations "Jumbo Pay of Lawmakers" by Dapo Fafowora caught my eyes. It highlights most of my views concerning the outrageous and unholy figures our lawmakers earn. In his own words,
This huge pay is damaging to the overall health of the national economy and is in the long run, unsustainable... it simply does not make any economic sense to commit such vast amounts to administrative costs, when there is a crying need to invest more in such critical; sectors of the economy as education, health, and infrastructure.
Dapo chronicled the total emoluments of the 1st republic Nigerian politicians. I was stunned to learn that the chief justice of the federation earn more than the Prime Minister. Like me, he seems to be calling for a reduction in the total emoluments of our lawmakers, citing the 1st republicans. All in all, he opined that representative democracy is expensive, and therefore needs a review.

While I agree with all he had to say, I disagree with his reference to revert to the old. eGovernance for me is the only way out. Call me an optomist or T.D. (Technological Determinist: one who thinks that technology solves all problems) but only a more refined form of direct democracy can bring us out of this strangle hold.

As usual, who will bell the cat?

All is not lost... when I look around me, I see changes in many areas. Even the politicians are now tinkering with eVoting. They know that it is inevitable, while the PDP seems to be averse to internal democracy - and pokes at eVoting with a long stick, the Action Congress on the other hand embraces. ACN is already using electronic forms of democracy, I wasn't surprised to learn that droves of PDP middle class are joining up. The citizens are not left out either - Across the nation, several student unions now conduct their own elections on electronic platforms. Soon, all of us will be so attuned to it that we will reject all other forms.

Back to the matter at hand. Will the lawmakers reduce their remuneration? or will this also be swept under the carpet like 2 previous bills by Yar' Adua to cut all public officers earnings by 20%? Only time will tell. I know the lawmakers are all campaigning for 2011, and will come back with a vengeance. SLS Beware!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Who Let The Dogs Out?

What a week!!! It all started on Monday, when I read (with joy in my heart) that at over the weekend at convocation ceremony of Igbinedion University, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (SLS as he is fondly called) the Governor of the Central bank of Nigeria in his typical down to earth manner stated that the National Assembly appropriates 25.4% of the nations budget (N136.3b out of N500b yearly). I was not only happy that someone in government could stick his head out that far, but It also reaffirmed my stance that democracy is too expensive and that 3rd world countries like Nigeria should rather look for better forms of “direct” governance other than representation. These ideas I have written about in my article titled “a Promise is Comfort to a Fool”.

Over the years we have watched the senate bully Nigerians - bureaucrats and technocrats alike, at the slightest provocation. I knew that Lamido’s statement would set off several people in the upper and lower chambers of the National Assembly and reckoned some arm twisting would be in the offing any time soon. As usual, I expected them to deploy their No. 1 weapon – Bullying. This underarm bully tactics in the form of a public hearing had gotten the desired results in the past – El’Rufai, Ribadu, Okonjo Iweala, and Soludo all faced this same fate at one point or the other.

So I was not surprised when I learnt that SLS had been summoned by the Legisla”thieves”. In a battle of wits (though with half wits) I watched with much admiration as SLS boldly held his own amidst several angry lawmakers and their barrage of questions all bent on eliciting an apology from the CBN governor. The proceedings where clearly laughable, the lawmakers drew the short straw this time as they unsuccessfully wrangled SLS. I guess the Omesire led senate committee must have planned to send a strong message to the Nigerian public, by inviting the press to a public hearing. However, one thing they didn’t count on was the unwavering character of the CBN governor. So much so that the Nigerian Television Authority (including its world-wide satellite channel) abruptly stopped airing the proceedings, when it became clear that the wrangling was proving futile amidst cheers from the spectators present.

To Nigerians and international observers alike, the facts are clear, the whole idea wasn’t about where he got the facts from, but the truth the gulf between the rich and poor in Nigeria is unprecedented. And the activities of the rich, especially the lawmakers heats up the system and creates bubbles – Unnecessary price hikes without an underlined increase in value. For instance, the rent regimes and real estate is such that one wonders why an undeveloped plot of land in Abuja can sell for as high as N400,000,000.00 (about $2,666,666.00). Only the rich can thieve in such an economy. It is behind this backdrop that SLS commented that the law makers activities are inflationary. This is in line with my idea that rather than increase the minimum wage alone, something should be done to the maximum wage the senators are getting.

This charade, though insightful - in terms of the quality of representation at the national assembly, but it is also eventful in our onward match towards good governance. We need good people. Men and Women who know what they are doing. People whose only interest is the future of Nigeria and our unborn children. People who are not thinking of what they can take out, but what common good they can create from what is available, people who are bold enough to stare these goons in the face, and still have the decorum to say the truth. People who are passionate and integrity – Men like Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. Hear him:-
“My name is Sanusi Lamido Sanusi” my name is not CBN Governor. I will not be the CBN Governor for ever, but I will always be a Nigerian… I enjoy my job but if you want me to quit, I will honourably quit”
On his own part, the Minister of Finance Mr. Aganga had earlier threatened to cut the budgetary allocation of the Assembly. Something he quickly denied in the face of clear hostilities. By so doing, wrote himself out of my good books. But we hope others would act when called upon and not be overwhelmed with cowardice and fear. For the first time in the history of Nigeria, a powerful agent of government declares publicly that he is ready to vacate his job based on principle. But that will only make them happy. We should be ready to also stand up and be counted amongst the change champions. I will design a flyer urging the NAS to apologize to the Governor.

This storm is not over yet. I know the days to come will be action packed in this never-ending soap opera. It is time to act. I wonder what Nigeria would be like, if 5 more people like SLS were strategically placed in different sectors? Would we have the sorry state of affairs we have today? Would a “convict” lead a panel of inquiry? Would the NAS be a law unto itself? Would I be writing this, or sitting lazily in my boat off the Lagos lagoon? If someone who we all know has good intentions is forces out of office, would we seat and watch or would we stand up and make that match to NAS to press home our demands? Do we have to wait until then to act? Shouldn’t the Labour union act on this and set the ball rolling? – Isn’t this revolution we so long for at hand? Starring us in the face. How will history write these days? “Another Opportunity Missed” or “How the cookie finally crumbled”.

I hear the lower house has also summoned SLS before it, with a view to further disgracing the governor - Makes one wonder who advises them, cant they see the writing on the wall? Who is going to be the fall guy today?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Naija - Majoring the Minor - 2

A few days ago I wrote about our tendency to do the Nigerian thing - the "Naija way", instead of following well laid down blueprints, guides, accepted standards. For instance in language, we coin our own English words, ones that make no meaning outside Nigeria. In politics (for obvious reasons), we have refused to deploy IT to solve the lingering rigging problems - hiding under the guise that a Nigeria Centric voters system needs to be evolved, etc... I called that piece Naija - Majoring in Minor (many thanks to Nsuki for the title). Today I want to talk about the first of these standards - focusing on the roads.

Road Traffic Code.

There are many factors that affect the way one values or rates a society. The first and perhaps tPDP Posters will not let us see these road signs. As soon as one is put up, one politician posts his poster over themhe most important is the economic climate. I read somewhere that one can easily tell how robust an economy is by counting the number of cranes in the skyline. And as a project manager, I know this to be true – the more strategic projects in a society, the better its economic situation. Another index is the political climate. This factor, though exact, cannot be readily seen by looking at the people or their representatives. Nonetheless, one social phenomenon easily lends itself to measuring this problem.

On arrival at any destination, It is one of the first things anyone notices. It goes a long way to tell one how things run... how effective law enforcement is, how the health system functions, and most importantly, it shows how the people of that society think. Your thoughts might be running in tangents trying to process what this social phenomenon is, No! It is not one serious political platform, but the simple art of driving.

Down town New York traffic, London West-end congestion and Boston traffic are good examples of gridlock due to construction or city congestion. But Nigerians will agree that Manhattan traffic jams are nothing compared to a typical Lagos or Port Harcourt “Holdup”. Many questions come to mind, I still wonder why they are called holdups (means rubbery in session to the rest of the world), could it be because they rob you of your time? Why is it that traffic flow in every Nigerian city crawls? Why?

Ask any Lagosian one thing they would love to change about the city, and the traffic situation should be amongst the top 3. But why the solution has eluded us for years remains to be seen. This driver is reading a newspaper, parked on a Zebra crossingNigerians have tried several failed experiments - I recall that odd and even number vehicles alternated in Lagos in the 70's (all households duly registered both odd and even numbers to have access to the road each day). But its not rocket science. Things would be a lot better if the average road user knew the basic road traffic code and obeyed them.

Foreigners are scared to drive in Nigeria because not only does everyone drive like a maniac, they seem to be an unwritten Nigerian Traffic Code. Who on earth started these “Naija” Driving Rules?
  1. Rule 1. If you know the road traffic code, leave it at home because its is useless in Nigeria
  2. Quick flash of your lights mean different things depending on who is seeing the light and their relationship with the driver... “Hello” if they know the driver or “See me here o!” if you don’t.
  3. Sounding of the horn – same as above (except for taxi drivers who toot their horn every 6 seconds to remind themselves to exhale).
  4. Put your hazard lights on to signify you have switched to tunnel-vision mode (can only see your destination), and your inability to see things happening around you.
  5. Forget the taillights (they probably don’t work anyway) you have to look out for hand signals, and hope to God the driver warns you before he turns right.
  6. The average Naija driver would rather start his own lane than wait behind the person in front of him (Just like he would in any other queue).
  7. They will hug the speed lane, and crawl at 30mph.
  8. If that is not enough, they trafficate left to tell you “I want to stay here”.
  9. The only way you can over take them is to pass from the right hand side, the wrong side.
  10. Nobody has the right of way – the rule of thumb is, he who dares wins
  11. Don’t yield to anyone, especially in roundabouts – block the path of oncoming vehicles to ensure that you get to the finish line before them.
  12. Take advantage of the size of your car, force other road users off the road.
  13. If you do a lot of night travel, buy as many fog lamps and blind other road users to submission.
  14. If your car breaks down on the road, park where the darm thing stopped with your wife and kids in the car while you run off to call a mechanic to fix the car on the spot.
  15. Give way to anyone who drives rougher than you, if they are not robbers, they just might be law enforcement
  16. Worst of all, is that all the above can happen right in front of law enforcement.
On a more serious note, lets ask the important questions;

Why are there so many bad drivers on Nigerian roads?
Like many other things in Nigeria - education, law enforcement, judiciary, basic amenities, other infrastructure, etc. standards were ignored and over the years, mediocre administrators busy with their self-servicing policies looked the other way, paving way for all this rubbish. In the absence of credible forms of Identification, banks and other corporate institutions have relied on an international passport, national ID card or drivers license. unwittingly forcing everyone who desires to have a bank account to seek the easiest of the above 3 forms of identification. This ever increasing demand has overwhelmed the authorities. This is further convoluted by the fact that the license expires 3 years after you get it. Compared to my British drivers license which will expire when I am 90 years old or in the event of an accident or illness when my GP write the DVLA - the Nigerian case seems to give police reason to stop and arrest people on the road. Worse still is the lack of a centralized repository of data. For instance, I have a license issued in Nasarawa State (meaning I live there), Trust me I don't even know which part of the map the state is on. While I suffered to get mine, Titi just had to pay her driving instructor to get a license. So in the final analysis, nobody in this country goes through any serious scrutiny (physical or mental) to get a drivers license.

What can we do to reverse the ugly situation?
On the issue of kidnapping in Nigeria - I suggested to a friend over 19 months ago that the only way out was to register all mobile phone users. This will not only reduce the incident of kidnapping put also curb the activities of 419ers. He told me it was impossible. Almost 2 years on, I hear it is now a new NCC policy and soon all unregistered lines will be barred. Back to this problem at hand. the only way to stop this ugly situation on our roads will be to train law enforcement and then phase out all existing licenses. Let go back to the basics, follow the standards. not do it the Nigerian way, but the only way, a way acceptable to all.

Naija - Majoring in Minor

I recently went on a road trip to Ilorin Kwara state – a round trip journey of over 1400KM all in the name of felicitating with my boss on the occasion of her daughter’s wedding. I knew Ilorin had few if any flights on a good day, and with the joining of two “Rich Kids” all flights were fully booked. So I decided to hit the road. As you may have imagined, the journey was as terrible as hell, the road was worse than you can imagine – Hill and gully rides that saw as crawling at less than 60km/Hr for most part of the journey. The outward leg from Abuja – Okenne – Kabba – Ilorin took 7 hours 30mins, while the return leg via Ekitti took about 6 hours. So I spent more time sitting in the car than I spent at the Church and reception combined.

Throughout my journey and indeed, at the wedding ceremony, I couldn’t help but notice how diverse our cultures are, from subtle hints in the architecture in each village, I watched how straight lines made way for Islamic arches in great and small buildings... I watched how the dressing of the common villager changed to reflect Christian and Muslim values. On the several 2011 election posters that littered each community, I noticed the Yoruba names of aspirants in the middle of Kogi State (reminded me about one of my old blog articles on Igbo names and Ikwerres in the deep south). As we approached Ilorin, I noticed the strong Muslim presence and recalled that history of the Usman Dan-fodio led Jihad that brought Islam as far as the Ilorin in western Nigeria. All this gladdened my heart – to see how dynamic culture is, and how civilisation propelled by education and enlightenment can change a people, regardless of how remote their location. The expeditions of Usman Dan-fodio, Mungo Park, John & Richard Lander (the Lander brothers) and the early Christian missionaries have all added their unique hue to the kaleidoscope before me.

As expected, I must have seen something wrong, something odd, something most would ignore or not bother about. Yes indeed. I noticed how blinded the present Nigerian is about carving his own identity, distinct from the norm. I noticed that despite the evolution of things around us, that we have decided to chart our own course – even if it leads to nowhere... Before I am beheaded, let me outline the things I noticed.
  • That there were only a few modern buildings in each village I passed – probably belonged to the political elite in the community – ex Senators, Representatives, and local councillors
  • But there was always a (new) hotel, even in the midst of poverty – probably belongs to the politicians, built to accommodate his guests on the event of a country side getaway, funeral, turbaning, etc.
  • The ever increasing loot of the political elite is evidenced by the size of the houses they build – I saw forts, castles, not palaces and mansions as we are used to. No doubt this is fuelled by their unholy remuneration – something I have written about in the past.
To my mind, one obvious thing that was missing was standards. We lack standards, our yardstick for measuring success is not based on any firm globally acceptable benchmark, but on our ignorance and greed. I will elaborate on some of these issues in the months to come, but for now, I will concentrate on only one, standards on the road.