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Opinion

At the Peter Obi Event in New York

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*By Sonala Olumhense*

As a Nigerian with considerable interest in public affairs, the Grand Ballroom of New York City’s Hilton Midtown Hotel, the venue of “Afro-Economics & Government Policy: A Conversation with Governor Peter Obi,” was my destination last Sunday.

The engagement followed others in the United States, some of which had been mismanaged by local organisers who chose to charge a gate fee. Not New York, which was free to every registered attendee, thanks to the Columbia University’s Africa Business Club and Black Law Students Association.

The Hilton Grand Ballroom is a cavernous facility capable of accommodating 3,000 persons. For a city with nearly 700 hotels pre-COVID, Hilton bills the facility as the city’s largest ballroom. At the height of the event, it was about two-thirds full.

On arrival, I was exactly half an hour ahead of schedule. I was therefore even more impressed to find over 100 other Nigerians ahead of me at the door, some of them from faraway states.

On the evidence of the New York event, I report that Labour Party presidential candidate Obi is not a myth or a hoax, contrary to what some snake-oil merchants suggest.

He is no product merely of social media, or merely an Igbo man seeking an Igbo presidency. The Nigerians I saw, heard, and interacted with were from various parts of Nigeria.

Who is Obi? He may be a Nigerian who wants the leadership of Nigeria to alter her story, history and trajectory, but he is the candidate of time and chance.

That makes him a formidable candidate, and on the evidence of last Sunday, I now fully understand those videos of widespread excitement each time he is identified in public, which offend the Nigeria political establishment (structure, if you like).

I have previously written in this column that Peter Obi, the metaphor, is the rephrasing of the question for the APC and PDP conglomerate.

Most Nigerians admit: Nigeria is a pathetic failure. Obi’s advocacy is a commonsense proposal to re-engineer the country beginning from its leadership recruitment.

The background here is no mystery: Nigeria is at its lowest ebb of morale and coherence since her independence in October 1960. Since then, she has suffered relentlessly at the hands of ruthless politicians and a mostly-rotten military machine which dresses up some of its most brutal, greedy and pretentious in civilian attire and dumps them on the nation.

The danger is that Nigeria is now rotting at a precipitous pace, the nation hurtling towards disintegration with nothing working for most people except those who wield power, their cronies and their families. What this means is what the rest of the world can see: a nation of tremendous potential that is running out of time.

It is the popular outrage against this mess that is fueling Mr Obi and his message: to reset Nigeria.

At The Conversation, he took questions from a panel of two, and then from a pile that had been written by the audience at the beginning of the programme. Throughout, it is significant that not once did he read from a prepared text. He did not have an army of aides whispering clarifications of questions or explaining elementary concepts. He avoided no questions.

Was I satisfied with every answer he provided? No. There were a couple in which I felt he was under-prepared.But was I satisfied with him? Absolutely. It was the first time since 1983 when, as a young journalist, I joined a panel to interview the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, that I encountered a Nigerian politician at a very high level who spoke with confidence, control, and conviction. He was on the floor for a couple of hours, pausing only to drink water. He did not go to the bathroom or pause for a doctor to monitor his vitals.

You could tell not simply that Obi is literate, but that he is educated and that should you seek his certificates, he will give them. You could tell that he is not intimidated by books or facts, and that should he see a library, he would walk in not as a tourist but as a reader.

You could tell not simply that he is educated, but that he wants to extend that privilege to Nigerians in their own country. He explained his philosophy, including why it is outrageous that in a country in which there is supposedly a government, the ASUU strike has been permitted to keep students at home for over half of 2022.

He addressed the correlation between education and poverty, advocating the first as the antidote to the second. He pointed out how, by merely implementing the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, such nations as India and China lowered their poverty rates.

Who should be the next Nigerian leader? He warned that the forthcoming election “will be about character we can trust, competence, capacity, commitment to do the right thing,” dismissing the absurdity about the presidency being conceivably someone’s “turn.” The election, he affirmed, is a political contest and “not a chieftaincy title,” and “will not be about connection.”

On corruption, Mr Obi drew attention to the importance of leadership by example. “Corruption kills entrepreneurship, professionalism, and hard work,” he said, stressing that it must be fought through the personal example of the leader, his family and those around them.

He called on Nigerians not to vote based on sentiments of religion or ethnicity because the same challenges confront Nigerians everywhere. “Don’t vote for me because I am from the South-East,” he said. “If you go to the North, it is not safer than the South. It will not be about religion (either); Muslims don’t buy bread cheaper than the Christians.”

Members of the PDP and APC have often dismissed Obi’s popularity on the grounds that his party lacks a structure. Responding, Mr Obi said, “The structure they talk about is the structure of criminality and that is what I’m coming to dismantle.”

Predictably, the crowd roared because everyone knows how APC and the PDP have rigged their way into those offices over the years with arrogance, using money, the security agencies, thugs, and even the electoral commission.

*What is Obi, then? If you think of him merely as a contestant for public office, you miss the point. Obi is a conversation, a confession, and an opportunity to rethink. He is the epochal conversation Nigeria has not had with itself since the rails fell off following the civil war in 1970. He is a confession that this conversation—demanded far more by the #EndSARS generation than the Grand Ballroom demographic—is not optional.*

I recommend this template,as a non-campaign engagement at home or abroad to hear and be heard. Office-seekers who are comfortable with ideas, or whose power is not in buying support with money or aides who love unearned riches more than they do their families, should try it.

*Let us talk about what constitutes hope for Nigeria. Let us hear your ideas. That is what Peter Obi is doing. And he is not renting his crowds.*

(Sonala Olumhense is a Veteran Journalist, syndicated Colunmist and Author)
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Aviation

WHY NIGERIA NEEDS THIS NEW KIND OF NATIONAL CARRIER – An introduction

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By Daniel Young

The concept of a flag carrier or national airline, gained currency in 1944 at the Chicago Convention, following an agreement by representatives from 54 countries present at that event.

From the agreements reached at the convention, and by the generally acceptable definition of national carrier as espoused by the house, two key factors stood out in bold relief: “substantially owned and effectively controlled by citizens and nationals of the country.” For many years this definition held sway until new interpretations of “substantially owned and control” began to emerge on the horizon and those phrases have now acquired new meanings and interpretations; countries and various aviation communities of interest have now begun to interpret this rule to match their various economic realities.

I shall attempt as time permits, to clear our doubts on Nigeria Air’ business ownership model and how it is an amalgam of both the Chicago agreement on national airline ownership rule and the new global airline ownership trends across continents. I must reiterate
at once that, the action of the Nigerian government in accepting a paltry 5% ownership, is a very legitimate one and it is in tandem with global best practice which I shall attempt to justify using case studies and parallels. I must emphatically state here that, there is nothing wrong with the choice of an Ethiopian Airline as partners- as there are easily discernible reasons to justify them as worthy partners in this venture. Their record as the most successful Africa national airline is a fact that cannot be challenged.

Friends, I have studied deeply the 14 misconceptions and fallacies about Nigerian Air by AON and others, which I have addressed in this document …but first, I would like to ask for your patience and understanding. Know this: the most powerful forces in the universe they say, are silent forces and becomes beneficent when rightly directed and destructive when wrongly employed. To ignore the silent forces being carefully marshalled by the most rabid critics of the Nigeria Air project is to deny their effectiveness in helping build a strong determination in those tasked with the delivery of the project to do –the right thing.

‘Substantially owned’ in all its varieties means: ownership of more than 50% interest and that means that Nigeria has passed the ownership test by Chicago agreement standard because, Nigeria and Nigerians own 51% of Nigeria Air -citizens and the government of Nigeria.

AIRLINE OWNERSHIP AND CONTROL-.

Europe has been in the forefront of this battle against ownership and control imposed on airlines by the Chicago convention and believes that where nations are able to ensure that all complimentary national safeguards have been be adhered to and, such relationships portend great benefits, the bars should be lowered to accommodate honorable interests.

Significant reduction of government interest in airline ownership as in the case of
Nigeria air is such a good example of where the world is going now because:

The reduction of government interests in the airline would allow for increased access by airline to capital because the airlines would be playing in a highly competitive and expansive market where constant capital injection would be required to gain substantial market shares.

WHY Ethiopian?

1. 70 years of highly successful operation in air transport
2. Instant Connectivity with Africa and the rest of the world: South, East, West, North and Central Africa.
3. Leadership in aviation technology
4. MRO
5. Over 240 flights per day across Africa, Europe, Middle East, Asia and north America
6. Aircrafts of various types in their numbers
7. 10 years and counting, as the most profitable airline in Africa.

This is an impeccable pedigree in Africa where airlines die with the first 5 years. We must learn to also fix attention on peoples strength. The glass that is always half empty to some people, is always half full to others

To be continued…

(This is part of a contribution by Dr Young, an aviation trainer and Public Affairs commentator, to an ongoing discourse on Nigeria’s national carrier)

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Opinion

2023: I Stand With the Youths,The Old Ones Should Fade Away – Abdulsalami Abubakar

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Former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar has expressed reservations about the continued domination of political activities by the older people, saying it is time to create space for the younger generation.

“I think the right thing for the country is that old ones should fade away gracefully and allow young people to take over,”

“What we can do as former leaders is to mentor and tutor them in whatever way we can in order for them to lead the country.

“As a matter of fact, this is the time Nigerians should begin to support young, vibrant, and visionary leaders that would steer the country on the path of glory”

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Aviation

*AZMAN AIR, AVIATION FUEL AND THE WOES OF A NIGERIAN TRAVELLER*

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*BY FATIMA DAMAGUM*

*Aug 13, 2022*

For the past thirty-six days, I have not had any reason to be angry, raise my voice or contemplate strangling anyone in my mind. My mood has been mostly that of quiet contentment and a feeling of happiness that comes from spirituality.

All that dissipated the day we were scheduled to depart Jeddah to Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), Kano via Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. The designated aircraft was Azman Air and even though I felt a little apprehension, I counselled myself to be optimistic that all would go well, Insha Allah.

Wahala started when the flight which was to transport the remainder of all NAHCON officials back to Nigeria was delayed for four hours, twice. As a Nigerian whose stratum corneum is already thickened by layers of mediocrity, corruption and ‘anyhowness’, I was not too worried. In fact, I went prepared with snack bars, juice boxes, travel pillow, praying mat and downloaded movies on Netflix (just in case the internet connection messed up). While waiting, I spread my prayer mat on the floor and took a nap. It was supposed to be an early morning flight and so we did not get much sleep at night.

We finally left Jeddah around 11:30 am and arrived Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport at 2:45pm. An announcement was made for Abuja passengers to disembark and that we would be soon on our way to Kano Via Kaduna in a few minutes.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the few minutes they told us turned out to be six hours.

The first sign of distress was when the engines were turned off and the temperature in the cabin kept climbing higher. People started using the safety manual to fan themselves and after about forty-five minutes, we started grumbling and demanded to find out what was happening. I really believed the cabin crew at first when they said the plane was being refuelled. I had no reason to suspect a lie, but when after another thirty minutes passed with us seated in an increasingly hot and closed plane, our patience started to grow thin and before long demanded that the doors be opened. By this time women had begun to remove their hijabs and I remember smiling when I saw two women removing their scarf completely.
They no fit shout, the heat unbearable! All eight doors, including emergency exits were opened and before long we persuaded the cabin crew to allow us to disembark the aircraft. That is when we learned the truth- that there was no aviation fuel, the plane was not being refuelled and that they had no idea when the fuel was coming.

I swear to God, being a Nigerian should be a non-modifiable risk factor for Stroke.

There we were, with no idea when and if, the fuel would come. The crew denied us entry into the airport as we were not ideally in ‘transit’, so instead we had to lounge under the plane, right there on the tarmac. Some things have to be seen to be believed. If someone told me that one day, I would spread my praying mat on the tarmac, while using the airplane wings as shade or that we would be carrying out congregational Zuhr, Asr, Maghrib and Isha prayers on the tarmac, I would have laughed at the ridiculousness of it all.

Yet here we were, more than 250 NAHCON officials stranded at the Airport with no source of credible information. We finished our snacks and lamented our fate. By 6pm, passengers going to Kaduna had already become agitated as their airport did not allow flights after 6pm due to the insecurity that plagued the road from the airport to town. Hunger and thirst, the foremost catalyst for agitation began to set in. People started to scream and small fights started to break out between passengers and crew members. To be fair, the crew members themselves looked haggard and defeated.

While waiting, we discussed the aviation fuel scarcity with the Azman crew. All jet fuel consumption in Nigeria is imported; this creates pressure on the jet fuel supply chain. Jet fuel supply companies, both indigenous and multinational, are privately owned with no state vested investment. Jet fuel is imported by these companies or by Intermediate Shore Depots (ISD) owners based on their business projections and financial resources. Hence, importation may not be sufficient to meet the national needs. Also, the importation timeline is not very well structured, and this arrangement can easily result in supply disruptions.

More importantly, the process of obtaining jet fuel import licences and other financial and fiduciary documents takes time. Setting up a contractual arrangement with foreign refineries also takes time and resources, as this may require travelling to the location of the refineries for discussions and to finalise the deal.

So why did we not refuel in Saudi Arabia? It is cheaper in Nigeria they said. Why did you not communicate that we would need fuel when we arrive in Nigeria so that the tank would be waiting for us on arrival. It is not that simple doc, they explained. The fuel is simply not available! The company in charge of supplying the fuel have not been able to procure the amount needed as this is a large aircraft. So, I said to them, aviation fuel has now become like petrol? Sometimes it is there, sometimes it disappears? Yes, doc, now you understand.

I shook my head incredulously. Around 7:30pm, about five hours later the Octane truck arrived and we heaved a sigh of relief. Gone was the fanfare and professionalism of checking our boarding passes and smiling while we boarded; Instead we were rounded up and pushed onto the plane similar to the way cattle are made to board a truck bound for the south.
Nearly six hours on the tarmac and I thought the worst was over. Apparently not.

For the second time, these people held us hostage in a plane, even after refuelling while we roasted in the heat. Suddenly, a woman fainted. Another woman started having an asthmatic attack. A man collapsed and yet another woman went into hypoglycaemic shock. Pandemonium broke everywhere. Luckily, they were more than 80 health workers on board. I also have to add here, that the first aid box on Azman airport was completely useless save for paracetamol and hydrocortisone. No emergency drug was available, fortunately we had ours.

Again, for the second time, I disembarked the aircraft and asked what the problem was.

I swear, when the man replied, I had to ask him to repeat it again. Maybe there was wax in my ear from drinking too much Saudi Laban.

Ladies and gentle men do you know what his reply was?

That the pushback truck responsible for pushing the aircraft from its parking position was nowhere to be found. The Azman staff was even quick to add that it was not their fault, that it was NAHCO’s (Nigerian Aviation Handling Company) fault that the vehicle was not available. What the hell??

All the spirituality and calmness that comes with hajj, dissipated in that moment. Why? For God’s sake why are we so damn incompetent? How do you keep passengers waiting for more than six hours in an airplane and on the tarmac without food and basic amenities? Men were entering the bushes to relieve themselves while we watched because the toilets on the plane had become ineffectual. Some toilets stank and some had to be closed permanently. Why were we not allowed to enter the airport terminal to wait like civilised individuals?

The four patients were resuscitated and only when the pushback car was sighted did we agree to return to the plane. The engines were promptly switched on and the AC came back on.

We arrived MAKIA at about 11: 40pm; angry, defeated and depressed. There was some drama at the Airport when we arrived as the electricity had gone off, but that is a story for another day.

As I lay my head that night, the painful realization that no one would be held responsible for our suffering hit me.

Nigeria, our home.

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