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[OPINION] Oluremi Sonaiya, The President Nigeria Badly Needs But Does Not Want By Obiukwu Onyedimmakachukwu

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election

It is less than 24 hours to the presidential election in Africa’s largest democracy, but not up to a fraction of Nigeria’s 180 million people know that OluremiSonaiya is contesting. A retired professor with no previous attachment to political power, she runs as an ‘ordinary Nigerian’ under the banner of KOWA—a party that has never held power at state or federal level. But ordinary Nigerians—powerless and mostly poor—have never been known to massively support one of their own, the reason the country’s rulers have virtually remained the same since independence. Sonaiya has not relented however; she avows her genuine care for the country and believes it is time for the many ‘silent’ clean citizens to wrestle politics from the dirty hands of the current leaders.

In Nigeria it is naive for a politician to claim that he or she genuinely cares about the country or its people. After over 50 years of avaricious, deceptive and disconnected leaders, Nigerians regard those gunning for political power as pranksters to whom they pay attention only when there is something in it for them. This ‘something’ cannot be promises of societal development–those kinds are scorned at. Only things like cash rewards and promise of lucrative contracts or positions can attract people’s attention. Thus, a Nigerian politician who runs around with the message of love for fatherland, and no brown envelope to prove it, risks ending up lovelorn—loving and not being loved. This is Sonaiya’sfate.

For ‘a whole’ presidential candidate, Remi doesn’t go on her campaigns with brown envelopes. Instead, she carries with the books she has written about Nigeria. One of them is Daybreak Nigeria: This Nation Must Rise! Reminiscent of Barack Obama’s the Audacity of Hope, the book laments this nation’s frustrations with the angsts of Jeremiah and expresses its hopes with the passion of Isaiah.Another, Igniting Consciousness: Nigeria and Other Riddles, plants incisive questions and waters them with sagacious commentaries, both germinating deep thoughts on what really is Nigeria and Nigerian. When I interviewed Sonaiya last month, these books were the only ‘gifts’ she gave me. I told her that her fellow contestants were sharing products ranging from bags of money to sacks of rice. She replied that she is just a retired professor living off her meagre pension. In my mind I retorted, no wonder you came here with just one car and two companions.

This is how Sonaiya goes around for her campaigns; with no convoy, no armed guards, no thugs, no rented crowds… she does not even have singing troupes. She only parades an amazing intellect, a rare nationalistic fervour and pride-crushing simplicity. Her gatherings are hardly ever noisy and often resemble brainstorming sessions. In these gatherings, she always displays a calmness that speaks volumes of her confidence, and an enthusiasm that shows her strong convictions.

This rock-solid belief in her cause is part of Remi’s problem; her stand on integrity and clean politics has left her a bystander in Nigeria’s election movie. Her campaign organisation is broke. It could not even afford posters and billboards, not to talk of adverts on national TV and Radio stations. Remi has had to do much of her campaigning through social media, tweeting and posting on Facebook by herself. But even in that turf she is bossed out by the big boys. Her little over 2000 twitter followersand less than 5000 Facebook fans are evidence of her decision not to, like her political contemporaries, rent social media cherubs to sing her praises. Sonaiya also tries to sell her vision through her website where she published a lucid and inspiring manifesto free of the gargantuan and abstract rhetoric regular politicians. But even that effort has had very limited success because most Nigerians are more prone to selling their votes than buying ideas.

During our interaction, Remi told me her campaign did not have the funds to tour the country and put up ads, because Nigerians were not donating. Apart from members of the upper class with vested interests, Nigerians generally don’t give money to politicians. They collect instead. The politicians are already looting the treasury, they would argue. But Remi does not have the keys to any treasury, and has refused to promise any of the upper class bigwigs the key, if she gets it. As a consequence, she does not have godfather(s) or a well-oiled political machine to impose her on the people and buy her victory. Ideally, this should make her the frontrunner, given that more than 90 percent of Nigerians are suffocating under the strangling grip of the few wealthy and powerful. However, ethnic and religious differences perpetuated by ruling class, have hindered the formation of such cross country rally against poor governance.

Remi has pledged drastic change in the concept of governance, the political culture and the socio-economic focus. But Nigerians, again, are not fans of drastic change. They could manage a little shift; from the ruling PDP to the opposition merger APC–half of whose members are former PDP anyway, or from a southerner to a northerner, even if both have a proven track record of failure. But when it comes to a candidate charging for an overhaul of the nation’s flawed structure, they are not so eager. Many are not even comfortable with a woman leading them.

Yet, a total overhaul is what Nigeria desperately needs. The current system of government, flawed and ineffective, requires total restructuring to make it truly federal efficient, just as the attitude towards governance needs an aggressive re-orientation that enshrines integrity, transparency and accountability. The same radical push is needed to pull the economy out of its dependence on oil, convert its rapid growth into real development, reduce the terrifying inequality gap, and most importantly to provide jobs for the millions of unemployed.

There are several other critical issues in demand of drastic measures: the extremely poor national cohesion and very high cultural cum religious intolerance, the appalling level of impunity and corruption in high and low places, and the often blatant disregard for human rights. One of the emphasis of Sonaiya’s manifesto is the reformation of the police, a paragon of the institutional ineptitude and indiscipline that plagues the country. Unsurprisingly, none of the two big parties made such emphasis; weak institutions serve their interest.

Given the mounting odds against a possible victory for her at the presidential polls, I asked Sonaiya if her candidacy was more or less a political statement. “No”, she said emphatically, “it is a process.” “I hope you will get this perspective,” she added,“We are trying to build something here. We are trying to sensitize Nigerians, to shift our attention from this kind of politics that is just draping with money but no service. I got her perspective. But judging from the body language of those on the streets, on whose account Sonaiya calls for this change, they don’t still get it.

About author: Onyedimmakachukwu is the Policy Editor of Ventures Africa, a pan-African business magazine and online business news and analysis platform. He resides in Lagos, Nigeria. You can follow him on twitter @afeksionate.

Opinion

Who Will Explain Coronavirus To Buhari?

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Coronavirus (COVID-19), an exorable doom, threatens life on the planet. It is exorable because it is conquerable. This explains why world leaders are taking the charge to combat this ominous apocalypse. It is a time for leadership from the fore-end; a time when citizens must hear their leaders speak to them; see them take action, making assurances and fulfilling those promises. The counsel, consolation and firm statement of a leader is imperative at this moment.

In Canada, Justin Trudeau, prime minister, despite being in self-isolation and his wife battling the virus after contracting it at a conference in the UK, is leading the fight against this dreaded disease from the fore. He is providing regular updates of the efforts of his government to roll back this scourge, listening and speaking to citizens.

In a popular broadcast on March 13, Justin spoke to citizens of Canada announcing measures to relieve the financial stress brought on by the pandemic on Canadians.

“We do not want any Canadian to have to worry about whether or not they’re going to be able to pay their rent, whether or not they’re going to be able to buy groceries, or care for their kids or elderly family members. We need to make sure that Canadians have the options and the ability to follow the best public health advice and keep themselves safe,” he said.

In the UK, Boris Johnson, prime minister, leads the struggle against coronavirus. He provides updates, alongside health experts, on the measures his government is taking to tackle the spread of the disease. And in the US, Donald Trump is not shying away from speaking to Americans on the virus.

As a matter of fact, President Muhammadu Buhari’s lapses are often easily dismissed by his supporters or by Nigerians who do not know better. Some of them say, ‘’ Why must the president speak when the minister of health and the NCDC DG are already doing that?” This is a contemptible rationalisation of incompetence. Are they suggesting the president lacks the capacitance to understand the issues?’’

Really, I surmise the president has been walled off the ‘’candid cameras’’ over the years by his handlers – not just now – because he lacks the intellectual propensity to understand and discuss incisive issues. The last presidential media chat he held was in 2015 and it was a woeful outing. Also, his non-choreographed media interviews have been abysmal to say the least.

The truth is the unfiltered Buhari is a vacuously gaffing one. On October 14, 2016, standing beside Angela Merkel, German chancellor, Buhari said his wife, Aisha, ‘’belonged in the kitchen and the other room’’, when he was asked to comment on the first lady’s criticism of his government.

On April 18, 2018, at the Commonwealth Business Forum in London, the president said the young citizens of the country he leads are lazy.

“More than 60 per cent of the population is below 30, a lot of them haven’t been to school and they are claiming that Nigeria is an oil producing country, therefore, they should sit and do nothing, and get housing, healthcare, education free,” he said during a panel appearance with world leaders at the forum.

In a February 2016 interview with UK Telegraph, Buhari dropped another clanger. He said the young citizens of his country have a knack for criminality and should not be granted asylum in the UK.

With the Buhari experience, it is indubitable that Nigerians must place a high premium on education — not just certificate – in choosing their leaders. The cost of electing leaders who do not have the intellectual grit to understand and handle matters is far too high.

The senate has asked the president to speak to citizens on this threat, and Nigerians are also asking the president to speak to them. This is an abnormality. Citizens must not beg to hear from their president. But because it is Buhari involved here, we have to beg and even excuse the crass inefficiency and vacuity.

Perhaps, the president is still trying to get a hang of it. I think he has ‘’capable handlers’’ who can break it down to him in ABC.

Mr President, speak to your citizens. The words of a leader are more resounding and assuring than the blandishment of proxies.

PS: Let’s follow all health protocol as advised by the NCDC.

• Wash your hands regularly with soap under running water.

• Cover your mouth and nose properly with handkerchief or tissue paper when sneezing and/or coughing. You may also cough into your elbow if a handkerchief is not available.

• Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.

• Avoid self-medication, report to the nearest health facility when you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms.

Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist.

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Opinion

Sanusi: Once Upon An Emir, By Wole Olaoye

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We are all potential Ex-es: ex-student, ex-director, ex-lecturer, ex-senator, ex-governor, ex-president, ex-oba, ex-emir…. The inimitable Zik famously reminded us when he had a spat with Ukpabi Asika that Ex was an inevitable prefix for any human being as was evidenced by the fact that a certain young man who would someday become an ex-Administrator, was the son of an ex-postmaster!

So, what’s so apocalyptic about Sanusi Lamido Sanusi joining the ranks of ex-potentates? Nothing? Everything! Don’t ever think that bell you are hearing is tolling for the former Emir of Kano. No. It could be signalling the beginning of a comprehensive demystification of traditional rulership by plebeians holding tenured political power. In centuries past, no plebeian messed with the traditional institution. The halo of nobility, the sheer vastness of a prince’s hereditary powers, rights and privileges, made the subject know his place.

Yesterday’s subjects are today’s political sovereign. They make no pretences to sophistication. They load a gun to kill a spider. When you dethrone a monarch and then deprive him of his liberty, forcefully banishing him to a place without electricity and potable water, you are playing god. If it was all a public relations Olympics, the calm dignity with which Sanusi handled the humiliation made people all over the world admire his chutzpa and hand him the gold medal. A

Life and its many puzzles! Why is it that for some men and women, “their sleep is taken away unless they cause some to fall”? What do you do about an ego that knows no satiation? As the Preacher in the Good Book timelessly says, “All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full… The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear content with hearing… there is nothing new under the sun”.

The Yoruba have a poem that says just that. “The horse struts and frets and then dies. Being a veteran walker is no immunity to getting lost. Nothing new under the sun. I’ve seen kings reduced to slaves; and servants who mounted the throne. Haven’t my eyes beheld both river and sea? Haven’t I seen a hunchback on spindly legs, and a midget climbing a ladder to add condiment to the soup pot? Tell me, has anyone ever started a building from the roof?

The new Emir of Kano, Alhaji Aminu Ado Bayero, is a cousin of his predecessor. As royal intrigues go, when the dust is settled the sword will be sheathed and brother will embrace brother. That is the way of princes. Eventually, outsiders will realise that all they can ever be in palace politics is outsiders. Our very own Nobel prize winning Kongi was not amused by the scandalous extra-judicial detention of the former emir.

He put the emir’s travail down to his progressive stance: “Emir Sanusi was a one-man EFCC sanitisation squad in the banking system, taking on the powerful corrupters of that institution…. “Most important of all, and most pertinently for the nation, Sanusi was one of the early warning voices against religious extremism whose bitter fruits the nation is currently reaping….

The doors of enlightened society remain wide open to Muhammad Sanusi. As for his current crowing Nemesis, a different kind of gates remain yawning to receive him when, as must, the days of governorship immunity finally come to an end.” Support for Sanusi is not limited to radical voices.

Veteran technocrat Alhaji Ahmed Joda penned a panegyric in support of the ex-emir: “The purpose of this letter to you is not to commiserate with you, because I know that you must have known the likely consequences  of the principled position you have taken. The reality we must face in Northern Nigeria is that the evil forces of feudalism that have kept us in bondage for so long are still there and fighting. You have been the only voice that has been telling us this truth….”

It is easy to kick a man given a pin-fall by fate, or piss on the grave of a fallen warrior. Dead men don’t bite. Real friends show up when you are in life’s valley. Say what you will, I would rather have a friend like Nasir el Rufai when the chips are down. In the midst of all the turmoil, conspiracy theories have surfaced to the effect that the dethronement is but a political sleight-of-hand to propel Sanusi to Nigeria’s presidency in 2023. Caution! Let’s separate the issues. Political succession is totally different from fundamental human rights. Sanusi is not my next president.

My views on power rotation are well documented. The ex-emir will go down in history as a champion for the rights of the poorest of the poor. He advocated for a new Northern Nigeria where old backward practices such as the almajiri system and irresponsible parenting will be abandoned. His was the voice crying out in the desert, lift my people up from the cesspit of penury. The attempt to demonise him after dethronement through various allegations, including one on religious fundamentalism, is dead on arrival. The same fate will befall the vilification of El Rufai on account of his loyalty to Sanusi. Please quote me: Modern challenges can never be resolved with a resort to medieval solutions.

Christopher Hitchens’ Q&A may someday apply to the ex-Kings College boy who’s now an ex-king.

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Opinion

Sanusi Dethronement: The North Only Beheads The Bearers Of Truth

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By Fredrick Nwabufo

Northern Nigeria is prostrate. It is the axis of uglies – banditry, insurgency, kidnapping, diseases, ignorance, and drug abuse. Alas! The region’s elite are aware of the problems, but look away because the disequilibrious status quo sustains them. What is petrifying, however, is that they maul and clobber at anyone who spits the truth in their faces.

I think, this is the mortal sin of Muhammad Sanusi II, emir of Kano – beyond his politics with Abdullahi Ganduje, governor of Kano.

But wait!

The World Bank says 87 percent of Nigeria’s poor are in the north. And that while poverty is plummeting in the south, it is rocketing in the upper region.

READ: Dethroned Sanusi Will Be Under House Arrest – Ganduje’s Aide

“Poverty in the northern regions of the country has been increasing especially in the north-west zone. Almost half of all poor lived in the north-west and the north accounts for 87 percent of all poor in the country in 2016,’’ the Bretton Woods institution said in its report entitled ‘Advancing social protection in a dynamic Nigeria’ in February 2020.

In August, 2019, the federal government revealed that 1,460 people were killed by bandits in seven months. And that the north-west is the worst-hit by this bloody enterprise. The killings have steadied, expanding in proportion and execution in the region.

In his accustomed manner, Sanusi recently vocalised these depressing figures of retrogression in the north – as regards the World Bank report — earning himself praise from progressive Nigerians and reprimand from the usual suspects — those stuck in the cesspit of bigotry.

Also, the gadfly emir of Kano, whom I regard as the John the Baptist of the north for his vociferous condemnation of this status quo, is alone in his advocacy against irresponsible polygamy, Al-majiri and child marriage – practices the northern elite espouse. He is the face of a progressive north; the northerner of the new age.

As a matter of fact, on different occasions he had complained about the northern elite whom he said wanted to silence him for speaking the truth about the region.

‘’Our colleagues and compatriots among the elite do not like statistics. Numbers are disturbing. I recently gave a speech in which I said the north-east and north-west of Nigeria are the poorest parts of the country. This simple statement of fact has generated so much heat; the noise has yet to die down. The response to this speech has been a barrage of personal attacks and insults aimed at silencing any voices that dare shine the light on the society to which we are saying Bring Back our Girls,’’ he said at a lecture held to commemorate the Chibok girls abduction.

READ: Sanusi Breaks Silence After Dethronement As Emir Of Kano (Video)

And I guess they can only take the throne away from him but cannot take away his royalty in the community of decent humans. Really, I believe the emir would rather give up his throne than be gagged by the shareholders of iniquity.

To say the least, Sanusi’s dethroning was not unexpected. Ganduje had always shown his hand in this plot. Really, the emir of Kano never hid his dislike for him. But what is there to like about a governor who was allegedly caught on camera stuffing wads of dollars into his babariga? In the build-up to the 2019 governorship election in the state, the emir was not shy in expressing his disapproval to Ganduje’s candidature.

So, Ganduje, who considers Sanusi a ‘’loud mouth’’, plotted a bitter revenge after he was re-elected. He had moved to remove the emir in 2018 but for the intervention of some ‘’higher powers’’. However, he whittle-down the power of the emir by creating new emirates from his domain. He was not done though. He rustled-up allegations, set up probe panels – all in the desperation to embarrass Sanusi.

But Sanusi was still talking.

Really, one of the most abrasive places to exist is in the circle of non-progressives. You talk different, think different or act different, they will feel threatened. Even when you try to clown around; the aboriginal clowns will still feel threatened because you do not look the part.

I think, Emir Sanusi is light-years away from the people he is dealing with in Kano government. He is needed more at the top echelon of government where he can contribute more meaningfully to the development of Nigeria.

Northern Nigeria is not ready for an emir like Sanusi. He is ahead of his time.

Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist.

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