Happy Independence Nigeria

Nigeria is 58!

Somehow, I am struggling to whip up the usual patriotic fervor to wish my beloved country a happy Independence Day celebration. In years past I was able to come up with something but this morning, all I feel is heaviness.
Heaviness at the number of basic things that are not working and the sense of hopelessness that envelops the land.

As a young child, Independence Day celebrations were a big deal. Food was exchanged between neighbours and friends; school children held parades, and old men drank in glee, when they remembered the nation was free.

But today I’m asking myself, ‘’what exactly is this freedom we speak of?’’

What is the real value of freedom when we lack the essentials of life?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating that we return to colonialism but how independent are we right now, fifty-eight years after independence?

Children are unable to afford books that cost less than a dollar at elementary school level. They struggle all through elementary school, sometimes studying in open air classrooms or under leaky roofs, sitting at broken down desks, taught by frustrated Teachers! A good number give up and drop out. An impressive number gets through and somehow make it to the end of secondary school. Then a bad dream becomes a nightmare. Gaining admission into the university is a struggle as difficult as David facing the lion and the bear, and very often this David does not make it out alive.

University life is fraught with the struggles of ancient books, broken down equipment and embittered lecturers. The list of woes is endless and becomes an undefeatable goliath when the child finally graduates and gets into the labour market!

There is a strong disconnect between the rulers and the ruled; government policies are beautiful on paper but have little relevance for the people. Democracy is nothing more than ‘’a shiny toy’’ that the people play with and whose value they have no understanding of.

In the past few weeks and months, I have had cause to travel extensively across Nigeria. Everywhere I have gone, the story is the same. The roads are terrible, the airports are shameful and infrastructure is in shambles. The usual ebullience associated with Nigerians is lacking and all I see is deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. Yet everyone seems helpless. I see the quiet desperation of people, struggling like they are in a pool of jelly, unable to get out though uncomfortable with where they find themselves.

So, again I ask, what is the value of this freedom we have?

Those who can send their kids abroad for better education. They go abroad for quality healthcare. We import food and drink, drugs and pharmaceuticals, etc. our best clothes are imported and our cars are imported. A foreign graduate is given consideration for jobs above his local colleague and yet we say we are free?

Happy Independence Nigeria, may your sun rise in the morning.



That speech


The President is back. And he has spoken.

“So what?’’ you say.

So, everything.

The President of Nigeria spends 103 days outside of the Country on medical leave and he returns and delivers a speech that leaves us wondering if someone is not trying to make a fool of us all.

The speech is at best weak, lacklustre and ineffective. At worst, it is downright annoying and possibly insulting. Let me explain.

The president has been away for longer than normal. In his absence, a lot of issues were raised and concerns expressed about various aspects of our national life. In fact, our very existence as a nation has been called to question, and there is a threat of a break up hanging over the nation.

In all of his time away, there was not one national broadcast to assure the people that all was well, or not. Naturally, expectations were high that upon his return he would deal with the plethora of issues on the ground. Unfortunately, not so.

President Buhari merely mentioned the issues we face as a Nation. There was nothing decisive, tangible or actionable in the entire 15 paragraph speech. The speech was like something hurriedly put together to fulfill the proverbial “all righteousness.” But one wonders why this is so.

The President arrived on Saturday and we were told he would address the nation on Monday. He had two clear days at the very least to prepare to deliver the speech. But then we know that no President prepares his own speech; surely, there is a team of speechwriters at the President’s beck and call?

Speechwriting is a serious endeavor; speechwriters conduct research, analyze issues and situations and then write speeches that speak directly to the occasion. This has not been done. We would have been better served if the address had been put on hold for a few more days to allow for greater input.

What the nation needs right now is a speech that will inspire confidence in the President’s ability to function, pull us closer together as a people and chart a clear course out of the present quagmire. And while we do not expect a complete economic blueprint, it would not have been out of place to say something that would ‘breathe’ some life into the economic landscape. Economies can, and do rise and fall based on a President’s words.

Sadly, the President has managed to speak without saying anything.


It is no longer news that James Onanefe Ibori, former Governor of oil-rich Delta State, with the traditional title, Obidigborigbo of Africa, has been released from prison by the UK authorities. I will not comment on his jail term and the justice of it.

My comment is on his release and the people who are rejoicing because of it. A friend of mine says, “there are many moving parts..” Let us look at some of them.

First, some background. James Ibori’s rise to power is one of the many wonders of Nigerian politics. I recall when a friend first mentioned to me that my brother, James Ibori, was thinking of contesting for the Governorship of Delta State; my reaction was a good heartfelt laugh. I laughed the guy to scorn and told him to stop peddling rumours. He insisted it was true and asked me to investigate. I did, and when it was confirmed, I jokingly said they should advise him to not waste his time. I was one of those who believed that there was no way he could become the governor, he was without political, biological and geographical pedigree. My argument was based on his background as an Oghara man with new money, and not much else. Oghara people had never been reckoned with in the mainstream politics of Delta State. For some historical reasons that are not too clear to me, the Oghara people are somewhat regarded as outsiders in Urhoboland. Their language is different and in many ways they seem to have more cultural affinity with the Binis, who incidentally are their neighbours. I did not think Oghara was ‘ripe’ for the exalted position of Governor. I argued again that even if by some miracle, Oghara got thrown into the mix; James Ibori would not be a likely candidate because he was not from one of the more ‘political’ families in the clan. But I honestly could not see how the Ibrus of Delta State who had held sway for so long, and other political heavyweights in the state would allow a young unknown to run for and win the governorship elections.

All that is history. Ibori won, and he became one of the more colourful and controversial governors of his time. And then he was jailed for theft, and now he is out, and people are rejoicing, while some others are fuming and wondering why they rejoice at the release of a man who should be left to rot in jail for stealing from the people. So I am asking myself: why do they rejoice?

There are several categories of people rejoicing.

The first category is his kinsmen. They rejoice because Ibori made them politically relevant at a time when they had no hopes of becoming relevant. They found themselves with power, and they went drunk with it. Suddenly, Oghara, long ignored, became the centre of attention, and it was made possible because Ibori dared. He became their idol. They rejoice because James Ibori had a Robin Hood approach to governance. The system which is known in Nigerian parlance as chop-I-chop; He deliberately set out to empower his clansmen and friends and to develop his long-neglected community. Unfortunately for him, his dreams and its implementation had a fight and the development plans went south. But his people had tasted wealth, and new money became like nothing in Oghara. These people cared nothing for anything long-term so long as they had money to spend; and spend they did! To this category, Ibori is their political and Economic Messiah, and his gospel is to them the gospel of life. With him in prison, the star dimmed and lost its lustre, so now that he is out, they rejoice.

The second category of people rejoicing is ‘friends’ and political allies. These are people who used Ibori’s time in office to advance their political and economic agenda. It is rumoured that Ibori made more first-time millionaires than any other Governor in his day. They rejoice because they are hopeful that with his release from jail, they would become relevant once again, and possibly continue from where they stopped.

The third category of people, which is in the minority, are the people who genuinely love the man and are just relieved that his ‘ordeal’ is over. These are his direct family members who care nothing about his politics and his money; and who just want their ‘son’ back.

But is Ibori’s deal truly over? And should anyone be rejoicing? He still has several cases to answer, and it would seem that his political and legal battles are from over. And why are some many others angry at those who rejoice? They are angry because they believe it is an aberration to rejoice when a man who is convicted of stealing the Commonwealth is celebrated as a hero. But you see as they say, ‘one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.’ Whichever side of the divide you are on; this man’s issue is a hot one. To some, he represents all that is evil in the Nigerian system and should be punished accordingly. To some others, he is a man being unjustly punished because he dared the ‘establishment.’

The obidigborigbo is back, and the controversy rages on.