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A BIRTHDAY MESSAGE- IYORWUESE HAGHER

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Today is June 25th. I have been celebrating since Sunday, June 21st. My friends, grandchildren, children, and other fathers and mothers, the world-over, held me up to an unforgettable Father’s Day celebration.

But that is not all. My friends, we all deserve to celebrate. To be alive during these perilous times when death is lurking and stalking to ambush and obliterate us all in the world is celebratory. We have become the narrators of the times of Corona Virus just like those present in their nineties and hundreds. They tell us of the pandemics of their time; the Spanish flu of 1918, that infected 500 million people and killed an estimated 20 to 50 million people worldwide.

But that is not all. We live in a special time in history. Not just special but extraordinary times. Globalization and technology have made small happenings in remote parts of the world to assume the gargantuan center stage globally. Everyone everywhere is now more vulnerable to the actions of anyone anywhere. Never has the whole world lived in recurring moments of global mutuality as we do now. While the COVID 19 has killed people irrespective of race, nationality, and economic status; it has also opened our eyes to see that oppression anywhere on earth is oppression everywhere and diminishes our common humanity.

Oppression is being resisted in uncommon ways. In the United States where I am Sheltering in Place with Nancy my wife, the people have risen to say “NO” to systemic racism; after the public lynching of a black adult George Floyd, by a white supremacist police officer. Never before have both whites and the black together risen up in such numbers and force to denounce and condemn the systemic racism against the black American citizens. This racism has kept the black of the United States perpetually backward and consigned them to a backwater precarious existence while white society wallows in growing wealth. It is more amazing that the millions of white, black, and brown demonstrators went out on the streets to protest that black lives mattered while putting their own lives at risk from the Corona Virus and white supremacist backlash.

These are memorable times. They will be remembered even in the 22nd Century when most of us alive today would be lying peacefully in our graves. Our grandchildren and their grandchildren will probably find through research that we lived in these memorable times. My own celebration is a co-mingling of surprise and gratitude. Surprise of how the single year 2020; can change the course of human history and gratitude of how God preserved me to be a writer in the last quarter of the 19th Century and now I also function as writer, and documentarist of the 21st Century.

HOW I SURVIVED THREE PANDEMICS IN NIGERIA.

I have more reasons to celebrate this birthday. I have survived three pandemics in my life and I am looking at the strong reality to survive this ubiquitous menace called COVID 19? In 1958, While I was in primary school a long time ago; when Nigeria was under colonial rule my school village Zaki-Biam woke up to horrendous deaths due to the smallpox pandemic. My Uncle’s wife Kuzuwa Kpurkpur was one of the first attack victims of the virus which spread in the air like COVID19. I lived with my uncle and his wife taught me entrepreneurship as a young schoolboy. I sold savory beans cakes she fried.

My aunty did not die. And we were not infected. The colonial office in Kaduna immediately sent the vaccine for all of the community. My aunt survived because of the tremendous love her husband had for her. She was promptly isolated in a remote hut far away from everybody including us the children. But her husband defied death. He was there with her both day and night cooking and caring for her blistering rashes, high fever, and oozing skin sores. To the glory of God, Aunty Kuzuwa is alive at the age of 93, as fit as a fiddle. Her name Kuzuaai means death has met its match. I survived smallpox that had killed over 300 million people worldwide. It was only eradicated in 1980. So allow me to celebrate in the time of COVID 19.

I suffered a second attack. My second pandemic attack arrived two years after I developed high fever just like other people who were dying in their droves without reason. There was no testing and no registration of deaths. Many older people who died were attributed to witchcraft until the staff and students of ABU and other universities in Nigeria started to demonstrate against France. As it turned out, almighty France had detonated its first nuclear bomb in February 1960 in Algeria during that country’s struggle for Independence. Nigeria was still a British Colony and I was neither a Nigerian citizen nor a British citizen. I was a “British Protected Person” in status. I was in primary four. And the mission dispensary helped me survive the French bomb flu which had carried radioactive emissions through the harmattan winds to cause fatalities in British Colonial Nigeria seven months to independence.

In 1998 while serving as Nigeria’s Minister of State of Health, Nigeria was attacked by the HIV/AIDS pandemic and too many lives were lost. The international community refused to help Nigeria and even when I invited the American ambassador to my office to express the displeasure of government and pleaded for their assistance. He declined. Nigeria was an international pariah then. To make my case dire; My home State Benue had one of the highest infections and deaths. I had to resort to desperate measures in innovation for curtailment.

I brought medical doctors and theatre professionals to create public awareness. I had to personally join the Kwagh-hir performers in Benue to an effective mass education when the people were losing hope and fatalistically making witchcraft claims and blaming women for the spread. Generous offers from Julius Berger of condoms were accepted and distributed and we co-operated with the states to engage more actively to help contain the spread throughout the country through mass awareness and education about HIV/AIDS.

As a minister, I was horrified to see people dying in droves due to depression of stigma, discrimination, and stereotyping. We needed to offer a more humane and scientific way of presenting HIV/AIDS victims to be accepted by their communities to become care-givers. My personal smallpox experience of homestead care became a national norm. The highly knowledgeable medical staff at the ministry followed me to Ogobia in Benue State where a homestead policy was effective in enhancing care for the victims. Today it is difficult for us to imagine how HIV/AIDS ravaged the country. Nigeria survived because the government was upfront, innovative, open, and inclusive.

Prof. Iyorwuese Hagher

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS

I also celebrate my future today. I am facing the rest of my life with calm resolve. I will celebrate life. I will allow God to take charge of my life as I had always done. I will celebrate my wife of forty-five years every day, as part of my life. Together with Nancy, we have faced life and the world hand-in-hand. She gave me strength, courage, patience, and humor. We faced our vulnerabilities every day with faith, hope, and love. The presence of God’s potency in the unpredictable trajectories of our life has been palpable. But we are not a singularity family. We are a large family of teaming scores of sons and daughters and grandchildren in Nigeria and across the world even though we live in an empty nest.

My life is becoming busier. I have this month joined the family of US novelists fighting racism and imperialism through my forthcoming novel “ The conquest of Azenga.” Racism and Tribalism are dangerous myths. They are nonsensical beliefs and doctrines claiming that inherent differences in racial and ethnic groups determine superiority and the right to dominate and oppress other races or tribes considered as inferior. My task is to seek along with other writers to dismantle systemic racism in the US and systemic tribalism in Africa of which Nigeria is the worst offender. I have only my written word as a weapon. My prayer is that God will lead the fight for justice and I will merely be a translator of his will through my inescapable and inevitable complex reality.

We are all living in portentous times. Advances in technology, science, and medicine have accelerated the rate of change. Unfortunately, this acceleration is not matched by the human ability to adapt. In Africa, the inability of our people to adapt is costing the life of the citizens chafing under the weight of nonsensical and outdated demagoguery. The rest of the world is not just changing rapidly it is being dramatically reshaped, and starting to operate differently. Africa’s leadership, institutions, societies, and ethical choices need to cope, adapt, and be reshaped. This is a task to which all of you my friends are called to undertake.

I finally call out the intellectuals among you. And you are all intellectuals because you are on this platform with me. The 20th century is the Century of the intellectual. The whole world is suffering due to ignorance that is calling the shots everywhere. Let us build networks of new enlightenment for global social justice that can tear down the walls and monuments of racism, bigotry, and tribalism. We must all join hands together and march onwards. To do less is to allow evil to seize the momentum. As the philosopher Albert Camus famously warned:

“ The Evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance. And good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”

So I drink a toast to all of you my friends for making this date so memorable.

Iyorwuese H. Hagher

2019 PRESIDENTIAL ASPIRANT NIGERIA

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Opinion

Ali Bello: The Unseen Architect of Progress in Yahaya Bello’s Legendary Administration

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By Joseph Ikani

In the tapestry of Governor Yahaya Bello’s legendary administration in Kogi State, one name resonates quietly yet profoundly—Ali Bello. A technocrat and administrative virtuoso, Ali Bello has been the invisible force behind the scenes, steering numerous successes that have defined the state’s transformative journey.

As Governor Yahaya Bello’s administration concludes on January 27, 2024, it leaves behind a legacy marked by a plethora of infrastructure and overall development in Kogi State. However, the first term, spanning from 2015 to 2019, was not without challenges. Heavy criticism emerged as the populace eagerly awaited the tangible dividends of democracy. While Governor Bello was fervently committed to infrastructural and rural development, his ideas faced resistance from some once-trusted allies and members of his administration. The divergence in priorities became apparent, with the governor emphasising infrastructure while others leaned towards human capital development and political empowerment.

The turning point came with the intense campaign for Governor Bello’s second term in 2019, a victory that solidified his commitment to the state’s progress. As the whistle blew for his second term, ongoing projects were swiftly completed, and new ones emerged, transforming the state’s landscape. Key projects such as the establishment of Confluence University of Science and Technology in Osara, the construction of the Ganaja flyover, the establishment of ultramodern general hospitals in Gegu and Isanlu, and the expansion of the general hospital in Idah to a zonal hospital began to take shape. At the heart of the execution of these monumental projects was the hands-on involvement of Ali Bello.

Governor Yahaya Bello, CON

One remarkable example is the construction of the Ganaja flyover, a project initially rejected by Governor Bello due to its high contract cost. The previous administration had awarded the flyover project at a staggering cost of over ten billion naira. It was Ali Bello and his adept negotiating skills that secured TEC Engineering Construction Company a more cost-effective deal, expanding the project beyond its previous design. The governor himself acknowledged that, without Ali, the construction of the flyover would have remained an unattainable feat.

While other associates of the governor were visibly present around him and within the government house vicinity, Ali Bello stood out by being ubiquitous at all project sites, spanning from Kogi East to Central and West. His relentless commitment, aimed at ending the era of subpar execution of contracts, became the driving force behind the state’s development.

This article aims to shed light on the unsung hero, Ali Bello, clarifying that any antagonistic disposition towards Governor Yahaya Bello’s first tenure was not out of malice but a genuine desire for the well-being of the people. As a staunch observer of the state’s affairs, it is imperative to commend those who positively influenced the change in governance. Ali Bello emerges not only as a catalyst for progress but also as a misunderstood figure. In his quest for transparent spending on people-centric projects, Ali became an inadvertent target of hatred and animosity, facing malicious victimisation, orchestrated plots, and accusations. Despite the adversity, Ali Bello’s diligent work, passion for excellence, and genuine dedication to the well-being of the people have played a pivotal role in the progress that Kogi State has achieved under Governor Yahaya Bello’s visionary leadership.

* Joseph Ikani, Ph.D.
is at the Centre for Public Accountability, Abuja
akinjoe1979@yahoo.com

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Opinion

ON BETTA EDU AND TUNDE IRUKERA

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* By Tunde Olusunle, PhD, FANA

Two notable events hallmarked January 8, 2024, the very first Monday post-yuletide this new year. Nigeria’s President, Bola Tinubu suspended Betta Chimaobim Edu, the young medical doctor who hitherto served as Minister for Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation. She was fingered in inexcusable financial infractions which ran counter to public service rules and procedures. In the second instance, the President disengaged from office Babatunde Ayokunle Irukera, the urbane attorney and executive vice chairman of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, (FCCPC). Alexander Okoh, director-general of the Bureau for Public Enterprises, (BPE), was also relieved of his appointment, same day. In different ways and to differing extents, I know Edu and Irukera, respectively.

I first met Edu late 2018 in Port Harcourt, immediately after the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP) national convention which produced Nigeria’s charismatic former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as presidential flagbearer. The little-known Edu found her way to *Intels Camp,* an idyllic, oasis in the bedlam of the capital of the oil-bearing state, where Atiku’s delegates and political strategists were quartered. An amiable extrovert, she spontaneously cultivated friendships with some of us on that occasion. She desired a role in the presidential campaign, so she clung to us literally, for inclusion as politicking gathered steam ahead of the 2019 elections.

I visited Calabar not too long after. I was detailed on a specific assignment to Cross River State by the headquarters of the PDP. Edu was Special Adviser to Benedict Ayade, the professor governor of the state on Community and Primary Healthcare. She graciously assigned a car to me to move me around in the course of my visit. I had always longed to visit *Tinapa resort,* the baby of Donald Duke the first democratically elected governor of Cross River State, this fourth republic, conceived to recalibrate trade and economic activity in the nation’s South South. That 2018 visit provided a perfect opportunity and inspired a very despondent poem which features in my most recent volume ofpoetry, *A Medley Of Echoes.* Edu was quite helpful.

Edu and I were in touch from time to time thereafter. She excitedly shared video clips of her screening by the senate for confirmation as minister last year. I acknowledged them and wished her every luck. In our previous engagements, she had always expressed preference for a health portfolio, ostensibly because of her professional background. That was the last time I heard from Edu! One will need to interrogate the nexus between people’s previous personas, vis-a-vis the spontaneity of office-induced metamorphosis and heightened hubris. I’ve observed a trend over the years such that further scrutiny has become imperative. Like I always tell those who ask me why I don’t jump upon presumably well entrenched friends when they are in high public office, the point is that I have a “bad habit.” I won’t be found lounging on the corridors or waiting rooms of any friend in public office at whatever level, if we cannot have a telephone conversation and firm up an appointment.

An eminent and adulated public officer like George Akume, former governor, senator, minister and now Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF), returns people’s calls. How about Enyinnaya Abaribe, former deputy governor, high ranking senator and institutional memory of Nigeria’s parliament. Nobody therefore should consider himself too big or important to get back to people, and reach out. The immediate predecessor to John Owan Enoh, the sports minister, used to be my friend, or so I thought. He dragged me to sit with him on the high table at a post-inauguration reception hosted in his honour at the Transcorp Hilton, same day in 2019. His transformation thereafter was such that I never asked for the direction to his office all through his four years as minister! A Yoruba proverb pointedly enjoins us to be intentionally self-respecting so we can be reciprocally adulated.

Irukera and I knew each other by reputation for decades before we finally met. We lived with our parents and siblings in Ilorin the Kwara State capital over time, but never met. He was indeed at the Federal Government College, (FGC), at the same time with one of my siblings at some point, while I was at the University of Ilorin. On one of his visits to Abuja well before his appointment to the headship of the erstwhile Consumer Protection Council, (CPC), he insisted on meeting “this elder brother with whom he shares so many attributes.” We were both born in Kaduna at different times and bear the same name, “Babatunde” which in Yoruba lore presupposes that we are reincarnations of one of grandfathers, paternal or maternal. We are both Yagba from Okunland in Kogi State, and proud alumni of the University of Ilorin. We would further discover that we both got married same day, same month, same year! And so he visited first time and again, ever volunteering to be the one who visits more in deference to his older brother. This was until I insisted on knowing his place, so as to mitigate the “scores” if we were playing a game of football.

Betta Edu is on a yellow card for now relative to the ongoing inquest into her role in a bouquet of financial malfeasance, less than five months in office. While there is a broadsheet of untoward heist perpetrated under her watch, the fact of her approval to the effect that about N600 million be paid into the personal account of one of her proxies is on the front burner. The internet has been throwing up records of Edu’s activities during her stint in office. Her “testimony to answered prayers” at the December 2023 of the mammoth *Shiloh* prayer convention of Bishop David Oyedepo’s Living Faith Church is trending. Edu’s exhibitionist rocking and revelry alongside her “big girl” associates are also in the clouds. The irrepressible, dart-throwing Shehu Sani, former legislator and public engager has indeed applauded Tinubu’s decisiveness in promptly taking out Edu. He doesn’t miss the chance to take a swipe at the president’s predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari, who could only *ashuwa* Nigerians in every instance, never, ever able to act resolutely.

Last December, *Leadership* newspapers one of Nigeria’s respected tabloids named Irukera’s FCCPC “Government Agency of the Year.” The organisation was so recognised for “promoting fairness, regulatory stability and consumer protection within the marketplace.” Irukera was applauded for pursuing “a transformative journey in reshaping and rebranding the CPC, into a proactive and consumer-centric FCCPC.” *Leadership* posited further: “Irukera’s oversight of the commission’s transformation and operationalisation beginning from January 30, 2019,” has been a game-changer. He was credited with his “unwavering dedication to fostering a dynamic and responsive regulatory environment and recorded numerous milestones across diverse sectors including healthcare, digital finance and electricity.” The tabloid noted that “one standout accomplishment is the strategic development and implementation of the “Patient’s Bill of Rights,” among a host of other plaudits.

Irukera hosted a media engagement on the eve of Christmas where he disclosed that the FCCPC had weaned itself off from government funding and was now self-sustaining. According to him, rather than draw from the federal till, the FCCPC indeed remitted N22 Billion to the federation account! Irukera volunteered at that encounter that 90 per cent of the internal revenue generation, (IGR) of FCCPC came by way of enforcement of payment of penalties by defaulting companies. In a milieu where many government funded establishments overdraw their allocations, expend their IGR and go cap-in-hand for supplementation, the FCCPC generated N56 Billion last year out of which N22 Billion was remitted to the federal treasury. Such has been the quantum transmogrification of the FCCPC under Irukera, who inherited an IGR of N154 million in his first year in office in 2017.

There are insinuations to the effect that Irukera has been so treated because of his relationship with former Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a professor of law and senior advocate of Nigeria, (SAN), who was instrumental to his appointment in 2017. Osinbajo and Irukera were partners in a Lagos-based law firm. Osinbajo contested in the presidential primary of the All Progressives Congress, (APC), in June 2022, which was won by Tinubu. Even before both men met at the ballot at the *Eagle Square,* Abuja, Tinubu never disguised his disaffection towards Osinbajo his own protege, who dared run against him. Osinbajo served as attorney general of Lagos State under Tinubu when the latter was governor from 1999 to 2007. Tinubu also threw Osinbajo up as running mate to Buhari after the APC presidential primary in December 2014.

Irukera is grateful for the opportunity to have served Nigeria’s “incredibly vibrant and loyal consumers.” He is glad to leave behind “a strong institutional advocate in the FCCPC and an outstanding team of soldiers who work there daily for the cause of fair markets.” Irukera offered transparent leadership at the FCCPC, took bold and daring steps, made far-reaching decisions and achieved much in the Commission’s mandate to protect the consuming public from unfair practices. He fearlessly brought to their knees, otherwise powerful local and international companies infringing on consumer rights and made them accountable. Such is the sterling legacy Irukera is leaving in FCCPC, a hitherto little-known government concern.

The period of Betta Edu’s suspension should serve as one to holistically rethink the whole concept of the Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation ministry; the National Social Investment Programme Agency, (NSIPA), and their affiliates. Since their emergence under the Buhari administration, they have been fraught with allegations of mindless thievery and mammoth fraud. From Sadiya Umar-Farouk who pioneered the ministry under Buhari; through Halima Shehu the NSIPA chief executive who was recently dismissed by Tinubu and now Betta Edu, the rancid smell of fiscal cannibalism, chokes. Nigeria’s commonwealth to the tune of N88 Billion is alleged to have been fleeced by these three.

Truth is that all the so-called poverty alleviation and empowerment archetypes have only provided for the colossal bleeding of the national wallet. The *tradermoni,* “public works programme” and “conditional cash transfer” among others, have been most dishonest in serving the interest of vulnerable groups. Who authenticates the number of individuals or households provided with tokens for poverty mitigation? The entire poverty tempering superstructure under its various aliases and nomenclature amount to a consolidated scam.

For his inimitable altruism and diligence in service to nation, for opening the eyes of government to the fact that state institutions can be transparently and profitably run, Irukera deserves proper recognition. People who apply themselves to service the way Irukera has should be invited for a handshake and photo opportunity with the President. On such an occasion, Tinubu should ask him to name a particular government department he hopes to help his “renewed hope” agenda. The National Productivity Centre, (NPC), and the Ministry of Special Duties should immediately list Irukera for applicable honours, as different from the Buhari “all comers” epoch.

*Tunde Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author is a Fellow of the Association of Nigerian Authors, (ANA)*

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Opinion

MUSINGS ON NIGERIA’S INDEPENDENCE DAY CELEBRATION

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The uneasy thing about Nigeria’s Independence Day celebration reminds me of Frederick Douglas’s thought-provoking speech which he delivered on the 4th of July, titled “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”. This famous and powerful address was made on July, 5, 1852. Douglas, an African American abolitionist and former slave questioned the hypocrisy of celebrating American independence and freedom while the black people were inhumanely treated under the shackles and manacles of slavery.

In that famous address, Douglas argued passionately that the celebration of freedom and independence was a hollow gesture for the African slaves and thus challenged the moral conscience of white America, urging them to confront the moral depravity and injustice of the institution of slavery.

Douglass began by acknowledging the significance and achievements of the American Revolution, praising the architects of the American republic for their commitment to the cause of liberty and justice. However, he quickly shifted his focus to highlight the stark contrast between the ideals professed and captured in the preamble of the American constitution -“we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal…” in the one, and in the other, the horrid condition experienced by the enslaved African people. In that speech, Douglass draws heavily and eloquently from the Bible, the American Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence to reveal the contradictions and ironies inherent in the American society.

It is in that sense, that we as Nigerians must reflect on Frederick Douglass’ powerful words and draw parallels from that knowledge and experience with a view to inspire us to critically examine the significance of Nigeria’s independence. Although Nigeria’s independence from colonial rule on October, 1, 1960 marked a pivotal moment in our history however, it also revealed the complexities and challenges that accompany self-rule 63 years down the line.

Like Douglass, who highlighted the stark contrast between the ideals of liberty and the reality of slavery in America, we must also interrogate and understand the overreaching implications of independence for Nigerians.

Independence should not just be about political freedom or self-rule, but entails also, the responsibility to harness our God given potentials-both human and natural in order to live up to the promise of a free and prosperous nation. This would mean, tackling poverty, misery, unemployment, inequality, illiteracy, insecurity, corruption and ethno-religious tension that persist within the Nigerian society.

Similar to Douglass’ call for justice and equality for all Americans, it is crucial to recognize the fact that true independence encompasses freedom from man-made hardship and suffering, systemic oppression and other forms of insecurity.

Frederick Douglass believed that the Fourth of July should be a time for reflection and self-assessment, urging Americans to confront the hypocrisy of celebrating freedom while denying it to a significant portion of the population. In the same vein, Nigeria’s Independence Day should prompt us to critically examine the discrepancies between the nation’s founding principles and the troubling reality of a vast majority of Nigerians today. By every conceivable standard, Nigeria is a deeply troubled nation.

We therefore must engage in introspection and ask ourselves challenging questions: Are we truly living up to the ideals of a united, prosperous, and just nation? Are all Nigerians able to fully enjoy the benefits of independence, irrespective of their social class, religious and ethnic background? How can we genuinely address the governance deficit and put an end to the failure of successive administrations with a view to better the social and economic conditions of all citizens in Nigeria? Do we really deserve the kind of leadership foisted on us for decades? Must Nigerians continue to adjust and readjust in order to survive under the grip of a highly perfidious elite operating an economic and political system that thrives on injustice and corruption?

Think about it!

Joelengs
01.10.2023.

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