Dame Flora Louisa Shaw

As hard as it is to gather one’s thoughts on Nigeria when the country lurches from one religious violence to another constitutional crisis, here are my unsolicited ramblings on the Nigerian experiment.

1. The office of the President of The Federal Republic of Nigeria needs to be drastically cut down in size and significance. It is now almost perfectly clear that only a thug can successfully lead Nigeria as presently constituted. The job of the President of Nigeria cannot be performed by a decent, honest man. Even Obasanjo for all his thuggery struggled to get a grip on Nigeria’s problems…it was afterall on his watch that MEND started throwing bombs….or maybe thuggery begets thuggery.

Only a pagan foreigner will be acceptable to all Nigerians perhaps. Nigeria and Nigerians have been consistently let down by the office of the President of the country throughout our 50 year history. It is heartbreaking that, with the exception of Murtala Mohammed perhaps, no Nigerian comes close to being universally accepted by the majority of Nigerians as a great leader.

We cant go on like this. 

The office of President is armed to the teeth with so much power to the point where such power is now dangerous in the hands of ANY Nigerian. 

It is also abundantly clear that, as a result of the above, Nigeria cannot afford to make a mistake in the person it elects as President BUT the system is set up in such a way that we are guaranteed to elect the wrong person in 2011. 

The cost of making a mistake in the choice of President cannot be overquantified. Yar’Adua fell ill on November 23rd 2009. Since then absolutely nothing has happened in the name of actual governance and moving Nigeria forward. Dodgy contracts have been awarded [£195k for the same body scanners that cost the UK govt £80k….$400m for a new runway at Abuja Int’l airport etc] while Nigerians have been distracted by the high drama set in Abuja and Saudi Arabia. 

The office of the President needs to be reduced to something only slightly above a ceremonial post. Presidential duties should only include tasks such as welcoming our footballers when they return from a tournament and meeting foreign Heads of States when they visit Abuja.

This, I am sure you will agree, is more than enough work for one man.

2. The amount of power concentrated in the Presidency has allowed our democracy to completely malfunction. The elected officials at the very bottom of the ladder can get away with doing nothing for 4 years [or however long their term is] other than stealing money. 

The powerful presidency also allows everyone to pass the buck upwards to Abuja. How on earth is Jonah Jang not being held responsible for the atrocities committed under his watch as Governor of Plateau State? Instead he’s allowed to blame everyone from the army to the Presidency over something that was completely preventable.

He will of course say he has no powers over the police as the appointments are made by Abuja and report to Abuja.

Instead we have to wait for Goodluck [who himself is under padlock] to send soldiers to Jos to maintain law and order. Of course Goodluck cant win since he is a Christian and the perpetrators of the last carnage were muslims. Once the soldiers go in there with their typical heavy handedness, we will simply be postponing the resentment and ill feeling in the land. 

Revenge, being a dish best served cold, will only be a matter of time.

3. Certain people are now a major pain in the neck of Nigeria. The country simply cant move forward as long as they are breathing and running about the land causing mischief. By any means necessary, Nigeria needs to say bye bye to these people…so that the country can move forward.

These people have amassed so much wealth and patronage that they will continue to influence every decision concerning that country. Given their antecedents for selfishness and outsized greed, the outlook is grim for Nigeria indeed. 

Take James Onanefe Ibori as an example. Having finished with Delta State after 8 years in 2007, he has since graduated onto the national stage thieving here and making mischief there. His nomination and frankly appointment of Michael Aondoakaa turned out to be the equivalent of setting the Nigerian constitution on fire. 

Such a man should have been confined to Delta State politics where the Delta people will eventually find a way to deal with him in time. As it is now, he has escaped their clutches [despite stealing all his wealth from them] and after a few years can return to the state in the manner of a hero. We can only watch helplessly in trepidation as we await what role he will play in the 2011 elections. All we are sure of is that he will play a prominent role one way or the other.

Because the Presidency or ‘center’ is so powerful in Nigeria, local thieves from different parts of Nigeria can team up to multiply their powers at the Federal level. 

We need a system that stops an Andy Uba from entering into an alliance with a James Ibori to cause havoc for Nigeria.

4. Our democracy is probably one of the most expensive in the world in terms of what it costs us just to keep it going. 

There cannot be a more useless gathering of men and women anywhere on the planet than what we have in Nigeria’s National Assembly. 

360 Ables [Honor withheld] in the House of Representatives with more than half of them having no idea why they are they are there in the first place. 109  Undistinguished Senators whose sole purpose in life is to be more stupid tomorrow than they were yesterday. They are on track in achieving their aims.

Let’s compare our numbers with the numbers of the largest democracy in the world, India. The Indian Lok Sabha [Lower House] has 545 members while the Rajya Sabha [Upper House] has 250 members. India has a population of around 1.14bn people so they have 1 Representative for around every 1.4m people. 

Let’s also try the United States. The US Senate has 100 Senators and 435 members of the house. With a population of 307m people, the US has 1 Representative for every 537,000 people.

Nigeria’s population stands at 150m [real figure unknown] which translates into 1 Representative for every 319,000 Nigerians.

There’s no point getting into a debate about value for money as we can only reach one conclusion. But we can discuss why we have this bizarre system. Oil is the only thing that makes this waste possible. These men and women get elected and the go and hide in Abuja where most Nigerians cannot reach or even afford to spend a night in.

Of course if you are a thieving politician with nothing to offer the electorate, Abuja is the perfect place for you to be.

5. This whole idea of Federal Character is one big joke. This requirement means that when a President is selecting his cabinet merit must come second in his consideration. The most important criteria is what state you are from. No matter how eminently qualified a person is, once his state’s ‘allocation’ has been fulfilled he/she cant get in the cabinet again. 

This is the inane arrangement that led the Foreign Minister to declare recently that as long as he was Foreign Minister, Nigeria’s foreign policy will be determined by Abia State where he comes from. 

President Obama has 15 Secretaries in his Cabinet as well as 6 other appointees who have cabinet status.

Nigeria on the hand has around 45 or so ministers [including 3 Ministers for Special Duties…..a job which presumably involves testing the microphones at the FEC meeting and ensuring that the digestive biscuits haven’t gone soft].

Did you know that Mr J. C Odom is the Minister of State for the FCT? Me neither. More importantly what on earth does the Minister of State for The FCT do? And what value does he or she add to the Federal Republic? It is a recipe for disaster when ethnic consideration is the most important factor in choosing a Nigerian minister. 

You cannot preach national unity and then choose govt officials based on where they come from. Let the best man have the job…..heaven will not fall.

6. I have read several documents on the events leading up to the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914 by Lord Lugard. I have not come across one single piece of evidence that this was something that was desired by the people at the time. 

The name Nigeria was indeed coined by Dame Flora Louisa Shaw, Lord Lugard’s girlfriend [aponle ni consort….girlfriend ni girlfriend n’je] at the time. Not wife, girlfriend.

Questions must be asked if the foundations on which Nigeria stand are strong enough for a nation to be built. Yet talking about the composition and future of Nigeria is almost a taboo in Nigeria today. Predictably, those in Abuja do not want to hear any such thing. 

But what exactly is the point of Nigeria? Who benefits from Nigeria the way it is? Can anything good come out of a country built on such rubbish foundations until those underlying issues are addressed? Must we remain together as we are simply because Lord Lugard and his girlfriend said so?

The British left 50 years ago yet the seeds of confusion they sowed before they left continue to haunt us till today.

If we are to be honest with ourselves, Nigeria only exists in 3 places; Abuja, our green passports and inside our heads. Outside of these 3 places it is hard to find anywhere else where Nigeria exists physically or in any other form.

Should we all go our separate ways? Maybe, maybe not. But what is clear is that we need to be free to live the way we want without being forcefully joined together by nonsense policies like Federal Character and Rotational Presidency. 

This is very achievable but those who cannot see beyond their noses are too scared to even discuss it. At some point we will….if not tomorrow, the day after.

7. General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma is from Taraba State in Northern Nigeria specifically from the Jukun tribe. He recently announced that he made $500m from the sale of a oil well he was allocated and he didnt have the foggiest what to do with it. 

Now take a look at these photos to see where that $500m profit came from. In a country that has never been united and is facing all kinds of unrest in the Niger Delta as a result of years of neglect of the area, this is unacceptable and is asking for trouble.

How can one man leave his state in Taraba to go and extract $500m from one of the most neglected parts of Nigeria simply because he has been a member of the ruling class? 

It’s simple, the people on whose land the oil is found and who bear the brunt of the environmental damage it causes must take their own share first before the rest of the country starts dipping their hands in there. We cannot pretend to be Nigerians when it comes to oil and then behave like natives when it suits us.

Because of this ‘free oil money’ today there are states in Nigeria that contribute absolutely nothing to the national GDP. All their Governors do is collect money from Abuja every month, pay salaries and pocket the rest. 

We like to pretend that we are a capitalist country but this type of governance is extreme socialism.

8. Going back to the first point, if we reduce Abuja’s significance and cut it down to size, Local govt chairmen and councillors wont be able to hide anymore. Nigeria has 774 local govts each one with a Chairman presiding over it. Collectively these 774 LG Chairmen [ably assisted by around 7000+ Councillors] are a black hole into which Nigeria pours money every year….at a rate of return of -100%.

These LG Chairmen just hide under the radar for 4 years after which they would have been become exceedingly wealthy. I imagine they cant believe their luck as to how easy it is for them to get away with grand larceny.

9. Religion is now a massive problem in Nigeria. Christians and Muslims now almost qualify as stumbling blocks in Nigeria’a path to progress.

As a Christian I can only speak for my religion. The brand [the only correct word for it is brand] of Christianity we practice in Nigeria has now succeeded in moving into the grey area of Nigerian life. 

Christianity can no longer be found in the black or white areas of our society. What happens in the larger society is disturbingly mirrored in our churches. ‘Touch not my anointed’ has become the equivalent of the 5th Amendment for our Pastors in Nigeria….aided and abetted by a culture by a culture that has never encouraged us to ask questions.

Churches dont ask questions about where their largest tithers get their money from. Granted, the church does not operate as a credit reference agency but in cases where people have been revealed to be tithing stolen money, the church has responded with deafening silence.

Pastors wives now collect multi million naira contracts from politicians. Such a Pastor cannot be expected to be on the side of the people if a politician is found to have been short changing the people. You might say there’s nothing wrong with this but I beg to differ. The church has not been called to hobnob with politicians. The church should always be independent, especially in a country like Nigeria where sitting down beside a politician alone is enough to corrupt you…so that the church as an institution retains it right and ability to speak truth to power.

10. Finally having lived in the northern part of Nigeria for a few years in the past it is clear to me that the brand of Islam practised in the northern part of Nigeria sees violence as an important tool. Christians and Muslims are bound to disagree all the time…forget all those stories about all of us serving one God….the 2 religions are distinctly different.

However being different does not mean we should want to kill each other over every disagreement. 

I remember many many years ago in Kaduna one fateful Friday. In those days, every Friday during Jumat prayers there would be a large crowd at the Central mosque. This mosque was was right in front of a dual carriage highway so what used to happen was that when the mosque got full people would spill out onto the roads and block one section of the highway. This used to cause untold traffic as everyone was then forced to use only one side of the road until the prayers were over.

In any case people kinda got used to this arrangement and you knew to avoid that road on Friday afternoons. However one particular Friday the traffic was so bad and at a standstill while the prayers were going on. One driver in the traffic was said to have complained out loudly to the hearing of one of the muslims saying his prayers….naturally this led to a heated argument and insults were traded.

To cut a long story short before that Friday was over, not a few churches had been burnt in Kaduna and one Pastor who was a friend of the Pastor of my church had his nose sliced off. The riots went on for around 3 days before the soldiers cracked down on it and imposed a curfew in town.

I witnessed quite a few religious riots in my time in Kaduna and what never ceased to amaze me was how people could be killed in their hundreds in the name of religion over what was sometimes a very petty argument.

What irks the most about the Jos massacre is the sight of babies and young children that were killed. 

The northern elite know the score on this one but they choose not to do anything about the situation as they themselves benefit from this easily deployed violence especially during election time.

In fairness it’s not just Muslims that kill in Nigeria…Itsekiris too kill Ijaws in Delta State and Ife and Modakeke did a good job of killing each other only a few years ago. But the frequency with which it happens in the north can no longer be ignored.

11. Final final point; we must learn not to show more respect than is absolutely neccessary to people who are currently in govt or who have been. Granted a lot of these people can be said to be smart and intelligent, the vast majority are not very bright at all.

The evidence is there for all to see….if Nigeria had been led by it’s best brains all these years, the difference would be clear by now.

As an example I recently saw the following status update on Mallam Nasir El-Rufai’s page. 

Recently I was at the Atlanta airport and
listened as the man who initiated the project informed the world that
that airport earns more money than the entire government of Nigeria.
This made me determined to push for the diversification of Nigeria’s
economy away from oil. We desperately have to educate our people s
that our youth can make Nigeria great by what is in their head not
what’s under their leg. Nasir

Now I have always viewed Mallam El-Rufai as perhaps one of Nigeria’s sharpest brains but to see him make a reckless comment like that is heartbreaking to say the least.

You can see the 2008 final accounts of the Atlanta Airport here. Needless to say the airport made a turnover of $661m in 2008. Nigeria’s oil production has now risen to just under 2million barrels a day. Yesterday the price of a barrel of oil closed at $80/barrel…..we will surpass the Atlanta airport’s annual revenue in something like 5 days.

At the last count 152 people have ‘liked’ the status update. If you are one of those people and you are reading this, quietly go back there and click the unlike button……let’s encourage the Mallam to raise his game.



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