Thursday, 24 June 2010

War in the East

By Ibrahim Sheme

An upsurge in criminal activities nationwide in recent times has upped an already volatile security situation in the country.Armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, sectarian crises, assassinations, you name it,are just some of the more serious forms of violence that make life in Nigeria"solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" as well as - if I may paraphrase the Hobbesian dictum - inconsequential. The alarming rate of violence and criminality is bound to worsen in the coming months as poverty, unemployment,collapse of moral values as well as political thuggery increase.

While criminality is on an upswing nationwide,the eastern part of the country presents a bigger challenge. Almost on a daily basis, one atrocity or the other takes place in that region. Just about anybody could be kidnapped for ransom or killed. Many top politicians from the area,including members of the National Assembly, and other Igbo that have made it in business, the academia, the entertainment industry and other fields of humane ndeavour fear to visit their ancestral homes. Traditional weddings for successful Igbo are guarded by armed policemen or specially hired thugs.Consequently, many top Igbo avoid the region like the plague, choosing to remain in Lagos, Abuja and other cities. I hear that the Igbo's biggest headache is when they must of necessity travel to Igbo land for a wedding,funeral, thanksgiving, or at Christmas. Many would rather not go. Some have actually moved their parents out of the region.

As a favourite Igbo proverb says, when one finger touches oil it affects the others. The malaise is spreading fast. There have been kidnappings in far-flung cities like Lagos, Kaduna and Jigawa. In Kaduna,a Canadian volunteer of the Red Cross was abducted on April 16, 2009, and had to be rescued in a James Bond-style operation. The secretary to the Kaduna State Government, Mr. Waje Yayok, was seized at gunpoint in Kaduna on September 21, 2009, and driven all the way to Edo State where he was released after millions were paid to his abductors. Recently in Jigawa, the wife of the speaker of the State House of Assembly was kidnapped. Mercifully, she was rescued by the police; her kidnappers, who were at first reported to have been arrested, were all killed in a "shootout" with the cops.

In Port Harcourt, on June 11, the head of the Rivers State Civil Service Commission, Chief Anthony Egobueze, was killed by unknown gunmen around 3 a.m. The police, to whom he sent a distress call as the brigands were forcing themselves into his residence, arrived after the hoodlums had escaped. "No arrest has been made, but investigation is in progress," said the state Police Public Relations Officer, Dr Rita Inoma-Abbey, echoing what the police said in previous cases of unsolved assassinations in Nigeria. In the same city, two days later, unknown gunmen stormed a church at about 9:30 a.m., killed two worshipers and kidnapped the traditional ruler of Umuebulu community in Etche Local Government Area of the state, Eze Sunday Njoku. Inoma-Abbey simply stated that the hoodlums had driven towards Aba, Abia State, with their big catch and the police were waiting for them to make a contact, i.e., name their price. The following day, Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi said at a birthday party that his big headache was that the hoodlums perpetrating crimes in his domain come from neighbouring states. He appealed to Riverians living in border villages to watch the borders.

Are the Igbo mainly behind the upsurge in criminality in Nigeria? Reports tend to suggest just that. Recall that the Canadian volunteer, Mrs Julie Ann Mulligan, was kidnapped by Igbo elements. The federal government, which also seems to share this belief, appears to be fed up with the situation, which truly makes nonsense of its seven-point agenda and threatens foreign investment. It has, therefore, declared war on the criminals disturbing the peace in the South-East. Acting on a memorandum from the minister of Police Affairs, the Federal Executive Council revealed on Wednesday this week that President Jonathan has ordered the deployment of thousands of mobile policemen to the South-East.

Prof. Dora Akunyili, the Information minister,told reporters that the operation, codenamed 'IHE' - whatever that means -commenced simultaneously as planned across Anambra, Abia, Imo and Enugu states on June 6. According to her, 13 units of the police force were deployed to Abia, six to Imo, four to Enugu and 13 to Anambra. Throwing light on the operation at a different forum in Abuja, the inspector-general of police, Mr Ogbonna Onovo, revealed that 10,000 police personnel were deployed to the East"for search-and-rescue operation, as well as arresting the criminals and their sponsors".

It sounds like the "police measures"(but in reality the deployment of federal troops to the battle front) declared on July 6, 1967, on the eve of the Biafran war. Both Akunyili and Onovo, who are Igbo, must be very disturbed by this cankerworm which their people appearto be orchestrating more than any other tribe in Nigeria. Onovo should worry more. The task of stopping the spiral in criminality nationwide lies squarely on his broad shoulders. Any increase questions his effectiveness as the nation's No. 1 cop. No wonder when elders from the Ihiala community in Anambra State visited him in Abuja this week, he poured out his fury over what"his people" are doing to the nation. And he even revealed what most commentators on the issue would have otherwise missed: it's an Igbo-on-Igbo vicious circle. Onovo fumed: "States in the South-East are the only states in the country that kill and maim their own people. This is not in the history of the Igbo people."

The history is fast changing, no doubt. The Igbo youths' fabled craving for money has apparently doubled. And with increasing poverty, occasioned by lack of jobs and an atmosphere conducive for trading -an area in which the usually industrious Igbo people made a name - that ancestral record may become even more twisted. Onovo's solution to the problem is putting the responsibility of securing the region in the hands of community elders. He told his visitors that they should rise to the occasion. He said:"This is time the elders and everybody, especially the Ohaneze Ndi Igbo,join hands together to stop these dastardly acts. Enough of all this criminality!"

It is a carrot-and-stick solution. While the IG beseeched the elders, he sent 10,000 cops to deal with it their own way.Hopefully, it will work. But while this two-pronged approach is pursued, it is equally important to embark on massive creation of jobs, not only for the Igbo, but for youths in other parts of the country too. For without creating the necessary environment in which Nigerians can live, the war declared by government on criminals in the East would have to spread nationwide. Then it would no longer be a mere "police measure," but a full military operation against hoodlums.

Published in LEADERSHIP, on Saturday, June 19, 2010

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Zamfara’s Poisoned Apples

Written by Ibrahim Sheme

Poverty will continue to visit havoc on our communities unless we wake up now. Many incidents in recent times have challenged our conscience on this startling reality. The frightening fact was further driven home by last week’s discovery that 163 people, mostly children, died in recent weeks from lead poisoning in Zamfara State. Henry Akpan, the Federal Ministry of Health’s chief epidemiologist, told The Irish Times that 355 people across six villages in the state had sustained lead poisoning, which would take up to a month to treat in those affected. The disaster took place in remote villages (Bukkuyum, Sunke, Dareta, Tungar Magaji) where poverty-stricken people tried to dig out gold and other precious stones from makeshift mines.

That the deaths occurred in the rural areas – far from the centres of power and wealth – shows that the catastrophe was not a natural one, and it affects only the poor. Those that design policy and those that benefit more from it are usually unaffected by such mishaps. This suggests that political leaders scarcely bother about what goes on in the interior. Had there been a close interface – or at best a responsible monitoring – the Zamfara disaster would have been averted or minimised. According to reports, the deaths kept happening for months, but health officials in the state had no idea why. The ‘elected’ representatives of the people were obviously too busy pursuing lucre in Gusau to know what was going on. It was only when a team from Medicins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) was testing for meningitis in the area that they observed a near-absence of children in many villages, and they wondered why. They carried out tests that showed high levels of heavy metal in the villagers' blood, and they alerted the authorities. Hitherto, the villagers and the politicians had concluded that the high infant mortality rate was due to malaria – and that it was an act of God. Of course, it was His will, and officials are wont to be ensconced in that truism.

But it does not remove the fact that a disaster of great magnitude has happened – and can recur. Zamfara, a state of about 2.5 million people, is like the rest of the northern states – backward in terms of social amenities, with a high rate of illiteracy. In this region poverty is a way of life and most mishaps, including the acquisition of illicit wealth by government officials, is said to be the will of God. High unemployment rate has pushed people to the edge of subsistence, forcing them to eke out a living from rudimentary sources, including raping the soil in search of precious stones. In many states, gold-digging is a lucrative venture, especially after the rainy season when farmers have stored or sold off their meagre harvests. Able-bodied men work their hands to the bone, digging the hard soil and rocky areas, threshing out the fine stones, which merchants from the cities buy.

But as the Zamfara case has proved, this source of earning a livelihood is also deadly. Large concentrations of lead are present in the soil excavated in the course of the gold search. They are inhaled from the crushed rock ore, drank from water or, in the case of infants, from breastfeeding mothers. Children, who experts say are more vulnerable to lead poisoning than adults, can also get infected from the fields where they play. Lead poisoning, even when it has not killed, can leave the victim in a permanent state of neurological disrepair.

Of course, the mining activities our people turned into a vocation are illegal. It beats one’s imagination why the authorities condone the crime while the stones are a veritable source of government revenue. Most states have ministries of mines. But local officials who are fully aware of the criminality of illegal mining turn a blind eye to it, smugly regarding it as the people’s way of life. They also know that it can be very dangerous. Consider that recently in the small village of Yargalma in Bukkuyum Local Government Area of Zamfara State, some abandoned mines exploded when some illegal miners climbed them, killing scores of people, most of them children between the ages of five and 10 years. Most children who hunt for gold are supposed to be in school. That incident was a precursor to the mass deaths, but it was obviously not enough warning to the powers-that-be.

We can summarise the sob story of the lead poisoning and deaths in Zamfara State into a few disturbing conclusions. One, the victims were common people who, impoverished by lack of responsible leadership, tried to fend for themselves in any possible way. Secondly, there was apathy on the part of local authorities and health officials who were aware of the frequent deaths, but simply shrugged. Thirdly, there was lack of technical expertise on the part of those whose duty it was to check the menace before it got out of hand. Without the initiative of foreign health bodies such as the MSF, more deaths would have occurred. And then when the epidemic was detected, government had to rely on international aid agencies such as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the World Health Organisation, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and The Blacksmith Institute, a New York-based anti-pollution consultancy, to help clean up the mess.

Collaboration in such situations is important, but Nigeria needs to develop at least a detection mechanism in order to help minimise casualties. Billions have been spent in recent years in the area of health care, but you wonder where the money went, as nobody could tell why hundreds of Zamfara children were dying within weeks.

We must understand that disasters such as this one will continue to occur if nothing is done to avert them. Illegal mining is still rampant; even in Zamfara, the villagers say they will continue with their occupation as soon as the officials leave. They cannot think of alternative means of earning a livelihood. This means that many more people may die from lead poisoning in the coming months, especially with the advent of the rainy season. The state government must ensure that even if the mining activities will continue (so that youths in the area do not veer into cattle rustling or even robbery), it should be in such a way that safety is guaranteed. Officials should remain alert to their responsibilities. No kobo from the N240 million budgeted by the state government for the clean-up exercise last week should be diverted.

For the North, a lot needs to be done. There are many other violent phenomena that kill the poor en masse. Polio, a huge shame to northern leaders, is one. Sectarian violence is another. Coupled with general insecurity, poverty and unemployment, you’ve got tinderboxes waiting to explode, one at a time, all over the region. Who can stop that from happening? Your guess is as good as mine.


Published in LEADERSHIP
Saturday, 12 June 2010

Friday, 11 June 2010

Court Orders Arrest Of Kano Chief Censor

Written by By Abdulrahman Tonga
Thursday, 10 June 2010

The Kaduna State police command has been ordered by a judge to arrest the Director-General of the Kano State Censorship Board, Malam Abubakar Rabo Abdulkarim, for his failure to appear before it on two occasions.

The judge, Alhaji Nasiru Idris Lere of Magistrate Court 1 in Kaduna, gave the order for Rabo’s immediate arrest by the police.

Rabo was billed to appear in person in the court after five members of the Kaduna State Filmmakers Association sued him for criminal defamation.

He was reported to have claimed in a live television interview in Kaduna that Hausa moviemakers were now engaged in the production of pornographic films and that the people of Kaduna State should rise against them.

He reportedly claimed to have bought a copy of such pornographic movies in the Unguwar Sarki area of Kaduna metropolis.

When the case opened in court last week, the Kano chief censor failed to appear, citing ill-health. His counsel sought a postponement, a plea to which the filmmakers' counsel, A.S. Suleiman, did not object.

During yesterday’s hearing, counsel to Rabo, Mr. Gabriel Didam, told the court that his client could not appear in court in person as a result of insecurity in the state, adding that his client was also sick. He, however, apologized to the court on behalf of his client.

Counsel to the plaintiffs, Malam Sadau Garba, appealed to the court to issue a bench warrant against Rabo, pointing out that this was the second sitting in which he was not in the court. According to the lawyer, information reaching him was that the accused was determined never to come to the court.

“Justice has to be done,” he said. “The accused person had complained that he was sick, but no written document had been produced. And information reaching us is that the accused is bragging that he will never be present throughout the case and that nothing will happen. We therefore apply that this honorable court issue a arrest warrant to make him appear and take any alternative measures to bring him to the court”.

When ruling on the request, the judge said, “The accused person did not follow the proper way to channel his complaint to the court, a behaviour which may leave the other party to feel they are not treated equally.

“I will not believe him that there is insecurity in Kaduna. It’s an excuse by the accused person. And he has to tell us the names of those that thinks are after him so that court will stop them from coming to its premises.

“Since the inception of the case he has been complaining frequently, but the accused never did in the formal way. Under the section 153 of the CPC, the accused has to be in court. I am left with no option than to order his arrest under section 70 / 1A / B by the Commissioner of Police, Kaduna State.”

Hearing in the suit was adjourned till June 16, 2010.


This is sequel to the story published on June 2

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Al-Mustapha: Ending It All

Written by Ibrahim Sheme

Published in LEADERSHIP
Saturday, 05 June 2010

The story of the detention in prison of Major Hamza Al-Mustapha and others is one of the most intriguing political sagas in modern-day Nigeria. Al-Mustapha, the Chief Security Officer to former Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha; former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. James Danbaba; former head of the Police Unit in the Presidential Villa during the Abacha regime, Chief Superintendent of Police Mohammed Rabo Lawal, and former Military Administrator of Zamfara State, Col. Jibrin Bala Yakubu, have been stewing in Kirikiri prison in Lagos for 12 years over their alleged role in the murder of Kudirat Abiola and the attempted murder of the publisher of The Guardian, Mr. Alex Ibru, and the former Delta State Director of Sports, Mr. Isaac Porbeni. Their cases have been ensconced within Lagos courts, stuttering to nowhere.

While the accused men languish in jail, their beloved ones wait anxiously for the day that they might hug them. To many, that day will never come. Al-Mustapha’s father died three years ago and Danbaba’s daughter Josephine – who used to take diabetic drugs to him in prison – died last year. Last week, Al-Mustapha’s aged mother returned from Saudi Arabia, where she was diagnosed with a heart ailment. At an annual prayer session on her return to commemorate the death of Al-Mustapha’s father, the detained major’s brother Hadi expressed trepidation about the old lady dying without seeing her favourite son again.

Meanwhile, blames are being traded over who is responsible for this messy situation. We have heard tales from various quarters. Al-Mustapha himself blamed former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, for his ordeal. Only two days ago, on the VOA Hausa service, Alhaji Mustapha Jokolo, the deposed Emir of Gwandu, accused the National Security Adviser, Gen. Aliyu Mohammed Gusau (rtd), of being responsible for Al-Mustapha’s continued detention, alleging that he it was that advised the then President Obasanjo against releasing him, citing security concerns. Now, Jokolo’s may have been a case of sour grapes following his removal as emir, but his story has, nonetheless, highlighted the political dimension of the case, which is the attempt by some top Northerners, including the Emir of Kano, to secure the release of the detained men.

The question whether Al-Mustapaha and co are guilty is obviously quite immaterial to most Nigerians. What most people believe is that politics, rather than judicial considerations, informs the detention. And the moral burden falls on all Nigerians of conscience to canvass for the release of the former security men.

My concern is both with the moral and the judicial sides of this case. The continued incarceration of these unfortunate men no longer makes moral, strategic and, above all, judicial sense. Twelve years is too long for detention without conviction. If guilt has not been established against them all this while, then there is simply no basis for their continued detention.

The question is how to get them off the hook.

Clearly, we cannot divorce politics from this pitiful saga. The accused persons have argued, ever since we began to get their side of the story during the Oputa panel hearings, that they were being persecuted because of their work as security men during the Abacha regime. They said certain highly connected Nigerians of, ironically, northern origin had decided to “teach them a lesson” because of some misdemeanours, such as denying them easy access to the head of state or some forms of disrespect. The big men were said to have sworn to extract their pound of flesh from the security goons and were glad to have found an opportunity in the Ibru case. The detainees also argued that the lurid tales we heard from prosecution witnesses were all cooked up in order to nail them.

Another story was that Obasanjo sat on the case because he was jailed by Abacha and that Yar’Adua was disinterested in it because of his brother Shehu’s death in prison during the Abacha era. Now, what stops President Jonathan from doing something about the case? The long tale of Al-Mustapha and co’s incarceration should be ended by the authorities.

The political dimension of this saga presupposes that many people, especially in the North, view the matter as one in which the region as an entity has failed. There is a widespread belief that northern laxity and hypocrisy are fertilising the issue. The North must recognise the fact that if Al-Mustapha and co were Southerners, the region’s elites would have used their political clout to ensure that their brethren were removed from the clutches of detention.

They did it many times. Ralph Uwazuruike, leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), a secessionist organisation listed by the Federal Government as a terrorist organisation, did not recognise the Nigerian state. He fought it with arms. But he was released after a heated campaign by his Igbo and other fellow Southerners led to the quick dispensation of the case in court. Ganiyu Adams, factional leader of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), a militant Yoruba nationalist organisation, launched a violent campaign against “Hausa-Fulani” in the South-west, leading to the massacre of scores of “Hausa-looking” Northerners. But he was released from detention after his court case was exhausted. Today, he is one of the “respected statesmen” of that region. So revered he is that the governor of Kano State, more of whose citizens were killed in the OPC’s bloody campaign, invited him to Kano recently to commission some projects.

However, while the political dimension is explored, more should be done on the judicial front. The judicial gladiators in the saga should be made to speedily conclude the trial. Lawyers who obtain injunctions on preliminary objections while failing to battle the substantive suit (thereby hanging the case in months-long adjournments) are not doing justice to the detainees that hired them. For it is plausible that the delay in dispensing justice in this case has created a vicious circle in which only the detainees and their families pay dearly for it.

Isn’t there a chance of plea bargaining in the case as a way of ending it all? Northern leaders in particular must come out of their cocoon and campaign for the release of these men, using political and judicial instruments. Trading blames is tantamount to playing with the lives of these unfortunate men.

Al-Mustapha and co should not suffer the fate of the suspects in the murder of Pa Alfred Rewane. Five out of the eight persons who stood trial for their alleged role in the 1995 murder of the NADECO chieftain have died in prison custody under mysterious circumstances. On Wednesday this week, a Lagos High Court acquitted one of the surviving accused persons after he had spent 15 years in Kirikiri.

Both the Jonathan administration and the Lagos State government can enter a no-submission plea in the Al-Mustapha and co’s cases. Most of these men are ill, suffering from one ailment or the other. If they die in prison, the ghosts of the incarcerated would not let many of our leaders sleep in peace. Amen.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Defamation: Hausa Filmmakers Sue Kano Censors Board Chief

Written by Abdulrahman Tonga, Kaduna
Tuesday, 01 June 2010 19:14

Members of the Kaduna State Filmmakers Association yesterday dragged the Director-General of Kano State Censorship Board, Malam Abubakar Rabo Abdulkareem, to a magistrate court in Kaduna over alleged criminal defamation of character and inciting the public to violence.

In a complaint charge filed before Chief Magistrate Nasiru Idris Lere of Magistrate Court 1, Ibrahim Taiwo Road, Kaduna, six filmmakers argued that a television interview granted by Rabo to the DITV station in Kaduna a fortnight ago had ridiculed their image and lowered their reputation in the eyes of the public.

Rabo was quoted to have told the TV station in a live broadcast that Hausa moviemakers were now engaged in the production of pornographic films and that the people of Kaduna State should rise against them.

He reportedly claimed to have bought a copy of such pornographic movies in Unguwar Sarki area of Kaduna metropolis.

Describing the censorship board chief's assertion as false, the plaintiffs said such statement was capable of inciting violence in the state.

“His statement that people should rise against us has made our members to live in constant apprehension for fear of being attacked by the public,” they said.

Rabo’s allegation was contrary to sections 392 and 114 of the penal code, they added.

The complainants consist of executive committee members of the Kaduna filmmakers association. They are: Ashiru Sani Bazanga, Rabi’u Mohammed Rikadawa, Aliyu Abdullahi Gora II, Sulaiman Sha’ani, Aminu Musa Carlos, and Jamilu Adamu.

LEADERSHIP learnt that the court summons, which was endorsed by a magistrate in Kaduna, was received by Rabo yesterday in his office situated within the Kano State-owned City Television in Hotoro, Kano.

The hearing comes up tomorrow in Kaduna.

Relations between the Kano State Censorship Board and Hausa filmmakers has been frosty since Rabo’s appointment by Governor Ibrahim Shekarau in 2007 following the Hiyana scandal.

Many artistes and producers were either jailed or heavily fined for one offence or the other by the censors board’s mobile court in Kano.

Rabo was sued by the Kano State Filmmakers Association last year over comments he made against them in a radio interview, but the case did not go far, with the filmmakers alleging that it was frustrated in the courts by the state government.