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Borno Burns, Bayelsa Boils, Buhari Dey Kampe

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By Tunde Odesola
The muffled weeping is unmistakable. It cuts into the thickness of the night. It sounds so far, yet so near, like wind whistling through a palm plantation. The weeping is so ghostly; so sinister it makes the hair stand on end, sets the teeth on edge, makes the head become heavy and transfixes the feet. This eerie weeping belongs only to the egbere, a vicious gnome in Yoruba folklore, who inhabits the forests and moves about at night with a mat. Anyone who dispossesses the egbere of its mat comes into stupendous wealth.
But the egbere will fight you to the death to protect its mat. In the quest for earthly possessions, many mortals have been dispossessed of their lives during combats with the egbere. When you dispossess the egbere of its treasured mat, make sure you kill it because if you don’t, be sure to have it as an irritable company, forever following you all about in tears, weeping, gnashing and urging you to return its priceless mat.
The egbere is not alone. In Ireland, it has a kindred called leprechaun – another gnome – whose pot of riches is highly sought after by Irish in search of instant wealth. Gnomes are, indeed, universal phenomena, symbolizing the existential duality of evil and good.
The Nigerian political leadership is an egbere capable of doing good but never does. Toss the coin of Nigeria’s egbere political leadership up a million times, it’s gonna land on its evil side. Generally, Nigeria’s egbere political class is so awfully dirty, annoyingly sluggish, utterly irresponsible, horribly selfish and insanely corrupt. Clutching its mysterious mat, our egbere political leadership weeps and wanders about aimlessly, seeking applause where its (in)actions deserve attacks.
Last week, Nigeria’s egbere political leadership was sighted in Ondo town. In this particular instance, it was enveloped in characteristic darkness. It took the halo of a Primary 1 pupil, Dele Rasheed, to shed light on our egbere leadership’s irresponsibility. Little Dele it was, who exhibited the passion and diligence lacking in governance,  taking her school homework to the ATM of a bank beside her residence, to do. To do her homework, the six-year-old Dele needed adequate electricity which our egbere governments have shamefully failed to provide despite the billions of dollars spent by the Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari administrations on phantom electricity provision.
The ingenious story of Dele’s plight shattered my heart into smithereens. I later braced up and I waited for the usual ridiculous response of the Buhari government to criticisms as Nigerians online condemned its failure to provide Dele with electricity, forcing the Ondo jewel to risk her life at night at the ATM. I waited to read those stupid government excuses and the blind support by some members of the public profiting from the misgovernance in the land. But there was none. The egbere and Buhari’s media aides were busy afield confronting a raging battle.
They were in Borno bailing the shameful flood of protests that drenched the President when he visited the North-West state as frustrated citizens, tired of burying thousands of family members and relatives killed by Boko Haram, massively booed the Major-General for living in perpetual denial of the fact that Nigeria now has a superior President in Lieutenant General Insecurity. I shook my head when I read the statement by Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, alleging that the opposition was behind the booing of Buhari in Borno; it’s obvious that media propaganda promoting a bad product has a short shelf life. Oga Shehu’s claim that a perpetually mourning ‘people came out to welcome’ the President was an unforgivable cold-blooded lie in the eyes of God and of Man. Several days after the show of shame in Borno, no government media organization has broadcast the hailing of Buhari in Borno.
Last week, the egbere political tendency moved from Borno to Abuja, where the Minister of Health, Dr Ogbonnanya Onu, announced Federal Government’s intention to gift N36m to anyone who finds a cure to the ravaging coronavirus. Onu’s statement sums up how worthless the Buhari administration views the citizenry. It also shows why academics who invest in intellectual property are held in disdain by an egbere leadership that promotes political thugs and motor park touts whose annual earnings are far more than professors’ life earnings. This kind of beggarly promise is what you get when a president’s son rides motorbikes worth more than N100m and his daughter flies presidential jets to buy zobo. Need Onu, a PhD holder in chemical engineering, be reminded that the winner of Big Brother Naija Season 4 got N30m cash and other prizes worth N30m, including a brand-new SUV, a trip to Dubai, home makeover, a year supply of Pepsi and Indomie; a smartphone, two tickets to watch European football final, among others?
Onu knows that there are scant public health facilities in the country that can conduct procedural tests for common tropical sicknesses such as typhoid, tuberculosis and Lassa fever let alone conduct extensive research on the novel coronavirus. He knows the country’s health system is a huge calamity, the reason why the President and the members of his cabinet jet out to treat ear, nose and throat infections, among others. Onu only made the N36m promise to taunt ‘sufferhead’ lecturers, professors, researchers, etc, who don’t get a mite of what the Federal Government doles out to the Super Eagles during a weekend game. He knows the N36m promised can NEVER be won by any Nigerian researcher using any public research facility in the country. In Onu’s promise lies the answer to why students are abandoning classrooms for chatrooms to engage prospective ‘magas’ in Yahoo-Yahoo.
Well, the egbere leadership later left the Ministry of Health and headed to the Supreme Court – all in Abuja, where it spread his mat and slept like Jonah. When he woke up refreshed, it headed southward to Bayelsa, where it is currently directing the blockbuster movie, “The highest bidder (Season 1).”
Though the egbere is reputed for weeping, it’s tears are not for free. The egbere doesn’t care if the labour of our heroes past go in vain inasmuch as there is money to share among stakeholders. One would think that the egbere would shed tears in remembrance of the late Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed, who was killed in a military coup on February 13, 1976. To the egbere, the dead should be left to remember the dead just as the living should be allowed to enjoy the spoils of office.
I see the egbere ambling towards the tent of the Amotekun with its mat, yawning and scratching its head in the hope that it would get enough space to nestle and regain the energy lost in its peregrinations. The six-joint owners of the Amotekun must expunge the clause in the Amotekun Act that states that Amotekun officers cannot be sued. This is an invitation to impunity. Are the six state governors planning to immortalize Amotekun officers who take innocent souls, rape or abet terrorism? The egbere is knocking on the door of the Amotekun, it must not gain entry.

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OPINION: Kano’s Midnight Kingdom

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By Lasisi Olagunju

Today, those whose ancestors snatched Kano are fighting each other over the city and their spoils. The Yoruba would look at their drama and sing for them the song of Ambrose Campbell/ Ebenezer Obey: Eni rí nkan he tó fé kú torí è/ Owó eni tó ti so nù nko? I won’t translate this!

Their victims are taking sides. I shake my head for them. May I never be found on either side of siblings feuding over whose turn it is to loot me.

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“Emir Sanusi II should be referred to as the 59th Emir of Kano (and) not the 16th – unless the history of Kano started after Dan Fodio’s Jihad and imposition of Emir Sulaimanu in 1807.” With these words, Journalist Jafaar Jafaar on Friday started an online war which is still raging as I write this. So, two wars are being fought simultaneously on and over Kano. The first is the game of thrones between brother and brother over the city’s kingship and its pricey palace. The second war is on social media being fiercely fought between a conquered people and their conquerors over when the history of the city started.

Jafaar, a Hausa, maintained that “from King Bagauda in the 10th century to Muhammadu Alwali in 1805, there were at least 42 Habe/Hausa rulers documented by history that ruled Kano.” He went on to claim that most of the symbols of authority of today’s Emir of Kano predated the Jihad and the ascendancy of Fulani rulership of the city. The charge and the pushback have been enormous online. Whatever is the fate of the Hausa of Kano today was foretold and it is recorded in their history.

Kano’s monarchy has a very well documented history. The best known by historians is ‘The Kano Chronicle’ – a list of rulers of Kano since the establishment of the Bagauda Dynasty in 998 AD. Long before Bagauda and his tribe of adventurers entered Kano, history says the founding ‘chief’ was a man called Barbushe. He was credited with enormous strength and spirituality – a man who could look very far and see tomorrow. The Kano Chronicle describes this strange man’s own ancestor, Dalla, as “a black man of great stature and might; a hunter who slew elephants with his stick and carried them on his head about nine miles…”

One day, spirit-possessed Barbushe told his people that in the coming years they would lose everything they had to a stranger.

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“A man shall come to this land with an army and will gain mastery over us,” he told the people of Kano.

If it was today, those people would snap their fingers over their heads and reject the prophecy. Barbushe’s people did not snap any finger, but they voiced their rejection in their own way. They told him: “Why do you say this? It is an evil saying.”

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The seer kept his peace; he ignored them. Then continued. He told the people that if their conqueror “comes not in your time, assuredly, he will come in the time of your children, and will conquer all in this country, and forget you and yours and exalt himself and his people for years to come.”

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The Kano Chronicle said the people were exceedingly downcast because they knew their leader told the truth of a future of slavery awaiting them. They believed him and asked: “What can we do to avert this great calamity?”

He replied them: “There is no cure but resignation.” Then “they resigned themselves” and have remained in that state of resignation till today.

It is a long story. My source is H.R. Palmer’s ‘The Kano Chronicle’ published in 1908. The prophecy is on page 64. You may read that portion and others and match that history with whatever is happening to these people today.

I remembered Barbushe’s prophecy when I saw the Hausa journalist and his online army asking questions and referring to their own ancestors as the ‘Habe’ rulers of Kano. The 19th century Fulani (and their successors) called any people they conquered ‘Habe’.

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The Hausa think the altered, contemporary king list of Kano city is rigged against their ancestors. They think it robs them of their royal and cultural essence. The people who enslaved them reset the calendar and the clock of their history. Their existence started with their defeat. Their fate is classic in how not to surrender to fate. Could the 1804 Jihad of Dan Fodio and its spread to Kano be the fulfillment of that promise of eternal subjugation; a rulership which history predicted would misgovern them “till they become of no account”? The prediction, and everything around it, even its myth and legend, appear to have come with a fatal ring of prescient finality wound around these people. Their resignation is proof that there is no medicine against destiny and no armour against fate.

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Students of Kano history would have no problem identifying successive emirs of the city as snacks of power. In some cases, governors munch, chew, and swallow them. Some other times, they try and fail. On January 1, 1954, Premier Ahmadu Bello installed his “close personal friend”, Muhammad Sanusi, as emir of Kano. The man succeeded his father, Abdullahi Bayero. But in August 1963, the friendship was over. Sanusi was dethroned even despite opposition from the federal. On June 8, 2014, Sanusi’s grandson, Lamido, became emir despite opposition from Abuja and its forces. He was there for six years and was dethroned by a governor who was deputy governor when he was enthroned. Last week, Lamido’s destiny brought him back to the throne even in the face of a blitzkrieg from federal forces.

Emirs are riverside reeds, precarious at all times. In 1982, Governor Abubakar Rimi had a big issue with the Emir of Kano and, in an interview, he described the emir as “nothing, nothing, nothing but a public person.” He said the emir was “holding a public office” and was “being paid from public funds” and his “appointment is at the pleasure of the governor of the state.” He said the emir “can be dismissed, removed, interdicted, suspended if he commits an offence.” Rimi said there was “nothing unique about Ado Bayero, the Emir of Kano… believe me, if he commits any offence which will make it necessary for us to remove him, we will remove him and we will sleep soundly.” His listeners shivered. The PRP governor proceeded from there to plot the sack of the emir “for failing to fulfill government orders or to show due respect to the State Governor.” There was opposition from the streets with thousands shouting: “we don’t want the governor; we want the emir.” Ado Bayero survived that coup and soon ate the exit cake of Governor Rimi. The opposite appears to be the case now with Bayero’s son, Aminu.

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Perhaps, more importantly, the Kano case has just confirmed to us that the country now has judges without borders; they sit anywhere -in the air and at sea, in their wives’ beds and on their concubines’ laps. They work 24 hours; they operate with the speed of light such that cases can be filed at 11pm and judgment delivered at 12 midnight while the other party is sleeping. Whatever they do is valid. It stands. There is no control again; the steering wheel is rusted and stiff. The state backs its carefully selected judges with everything it has –guns, threats, excuses, lightning and thunder.

The case should strengthen us to double down on our insistence that Nigeria is a federation and must be so governed. A Nigerian Federal High Court sat in the United States of America and plunged a knife into the tendons of Kano chieftaincy. And we are excusing the perfidy with lexis and structure of e-judiciary. You would think under our laws, chieftaincy matters are state and local government matters. That is what our law says but the offshore judge did not think it was necessary to respect that law. Popular comedian, Mr Macaroni, would ask: “Are you normal?” We are not.

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Section 251 of our constitution clearly states what areas the Federal High Court has jurisdiction over. The section has three subsections. Subsection 1 gives that court jurisdiction on matters relating to the revenue of the government of the federation and allied matters. It lists those matters. Subsection 2 gives it “jurisdiction and powers in respect of treason, treasonable felony and allied offences.” Subsection 3 gives the court powers to hear cases “in respect of criminal causes and matters in respect of which jurisdiction is conferred by subsection (1) of this section.” Nowhere in that section or anywhere in the constitution is the Federal High Court empowered to sit over chieftaincy matters. Yet, a judge who was not even in the country, assumed jurisdiction under the cover of midnight darkness in the Kano emirship tussle and, aided by candies of impunity, signed an injunction. That judge is, very soon, going to the Court of Appeal on promotion. One day, he will become the Chief Justice of Nigeria.

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Power and its allure rob society of order. In William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’, we see how man with power enjoys the anonymity conferred on him by darkness. We see how control is lost and he strays calmly from goodness to savagery. America’s second president, John Adams, in March 1801, stayed up till midnight of the eve of his last night in office creating courts and signing appointment memos of his friends and supporters as judges to fill his freshly minted courts. US history remembers those judges harshly as “midnight judges.” The court ruling at the centre of Kano’s emirship logjam walked in from the United States at midnight on Thursday. The reinstated emir, Muhammadu Sanusi II, jogged into the palace midnight on Friday. The deposed emir, Aminu Ado Bayero, sneaked into the city under the canopy of darkness before dawn on Saturday. The security forces of the federal government soon filed out and took embarrassing positions. The hinge of their involvement was the tokunbo court order from a midnight judge who sat across the seas. Our courts no longer dread darkness and its forbidden fruits; they have become like hired killers, their fingers stained with the blood of justice.

Yet, the judiciary had seen better days – even in the so-called dark days before the white man came with his civilisation. There was a time in Kano when what distinguished judges were learning and piety. Sulyman, emir of Kano from 1807 to 1819, had a very tough mother and an upright alkali (judge). The emir’s mother was found on a particular day ill-treating a private citizen. She was charged for it at the court of Alkali Yusuf al-Hausi. The court found the queen mother guilty and pronounced corporal punishment. Emir Sulyman could neither shield nor save his mother – she served her sentence. Thirty-six years later, Emir ‘Abd Allah Maje Karofi took over the throne of Kano and was there till 1882. At a point during his reign, the emir bought a horse from a Tuareg and refused to pay despite repeated demands. The Tuareg took his case to court and Alkali Ahmad Rufa’i found the king guilty. The king’s punishment was an order that the emir’s confidant named Kasheka, who represented him in court, be seized and sold into slavery to settle the debt. A shaken Emir Karofi quickly arranged for the money and paid his creditor, the Tuareg. My source for these stories is Professor Tijjani Naniya’s ‘The Dilemma of the Ulama in a Colonial Society’ published in the Journal of Islamic Studies in 1993.

The period of those judgments was a time when kings feared and respected the law. It was an era when judges knew the law and applied it as they should, entertaining neither fear nor favour. Today’s judge would jail the creditor and shout rankadede to the debtor-king. The jungle of our judiciary has matured and the beasts grown in all departments.

In my moments of devotion and meditation, I watch wild animals on TV channels. Right before me is a vulture, hyena and lion sizing one another up over a banquet of skunked meat. What we witnessed between Thursday and Saturday night in Kano was exactly that. Beastly fights over meals are a natural feature of life in the jungle. Bayero was dethroned and Sanusi enthroned. Enthronement and dethronement are not strange with monarchies. It didn’t start today in Kano and elsewhere; it won’t end with this Kano matter. How did Sanusi become emir in June 2014? Was he the favourite of the kingmakers? Aminu Ado Bayero, the dethroned emir, how did he get the throne four years ago? General Ibrahim Babangida once said that the moment you get into power through a coup, you should expect that a coup would be staged against you one day. It is delusional not to accept this. It is like Napoleon thinking his revolution would be the last. Russian writer, Yevgeny Zamyatin, says exactly this in his novel ‘We’ – described by a reviewer as “a prediction of the natural conclusions of totalitarianism.” It was from ‘We’ that George Orwell pinched the whole idea of his monumental ‘1984’. In “We” is the warning to all who stand but who think their stability is forever: “How can there be a final revolution? There is no final one. The number of revolutions is infinite.” One era will be succeeded by another era just as one preceded it. There is no goodnight in power politics. Sanusi is back; Bayero is out, but may yet come back. There is no end to snatching and running away with power.

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The author, Dr. Lasisi Olagunju is the Saturday Editor of Nigerian Tribune, and a columnist in the same newspaper. This article was first published by the paper (Nigerian Tribune). It is published here with his permission.

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OPINION: My Pension, Your Pension In the Hands Of ‘Lagos’

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By Suyi Ayodele

Lagos does not have restraints when it comes to spending money. His first name is Nínál’owó (Money is meant to be spent). His middle name is Gbogbo ejò jíjeni (All snakes are edible). But I won’t keep quiet while he puts my future in the incinerator of his ways. Lagos is like an agbara ojo (erosion). Yoruba elders say àgbàrá òjò ò’lóhun ò nílé wó, onílé ni ò nì gbà fun (the mission of erosion is to destroy the building; it is the owner that will resist it).

The Yoruba word for spendthrift is àpà. There is Arungún (ruiner of inheritance) sitting very close to àpà. Both are relations of ikán (termites) in Yoruba semiotic. No matter the semantic shift exercise one carries out on each of them, they give the same meaning; denotatively and connotatively. Àpà is a waster. Arungún, otherwise known as Omo òsì (child of misery) is a destroyer of inheritance or estate. He is a typical reverser of fortune. Nothing is too precious for an àpà or an arungún to destroy. Termites eat up anything, no matter how precious.

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There is an Ekiti folk song that warns of the activities of an arungún. The song warns of the implications of leaving one’s inheritance in the hands of a waster. Èhìn ayé enin/ kò se fi sílè fún omo òsì (One should not leave one’s estate for a waster child). No parent prays to have such a child to inherit his or her estate. No matter how many years it took the parents to build their estates, once such are inherited by an arungún, the estates go into ruins within a short period.

Years ago, an elderly man, a senior journalist, pointed at a telecommunications mast on Ugbague Street, Benin, to me. “You see that mast over there, Suyi”, he said. I followed the direction of his pointed finger and affirmed. He continued: “Will you believe me if I tell you that that plot of land and all the plots that have now turned to market once belonged to an Esama of Benin Kingdom?” I answered that it was not possible. My little knowledge of Benin chieftaincy matters tells me that only the wealthiest becomes the Esama of Benin. The elderly fellow affirmed that, and added that the owner of the property was once a wealthy man and was conferred with the title of Esama by the reigning Omo N’Oba then.

But upon his death, his arungún children sold off the estate the man had such that nobody could remember that their forebear was once the richest man in the Kingdom. The elderly fellow told me the story behind the ruinous heritage of the once prosperous Esama. I reserve that story for another time when we would have the time and space to discuss it. Pray you don’t have an arungún to inherit your estates; they leave such in ruins! Terrible!

Arungún omo abound in our localities. We have wasted estates of once prosperous parents in our neighbourhoods. Nothing can be worse than for people to say the family of Mr. Làkásègbé was once wealthy. Once an arungún manages an estate, the siblings end up as paupers! Because of an arungún, children of butchers beg for bones, and those of the wealthy roam the streets in abject poverty. Nigeria has been unfortunate with its arungún leaders, especially those we have had since the collapse of the First Republic. From the North to the South; from the West to the East, all the legacies left behind by the founding fathers of the country have been laid waste by the arungún children who took over leadership positions.

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Nigeria is a typical example of a family once in wealth but now in poverty. Our case is not because our natural resources have dried up. No. God has blessed us more than many prosperous countries of the world. We have many other natural resources that we have not even tapped. Our problem lies in the fact that we have had termites as leaders. We have been unfortunate to have wasters in the helms of our affairs, at virtually all levels of government. We are a nation led by leaders who don’t save for the future. We have been ruled and ruined by those who eat the yam tubers and the seedlings for future planting seasons. They are the type called òjusu jègùn (he who eats both the yam and the sprouting seedlings) in my native tongue. The elders of my place, again, say an òjusu jègùn has eaten the next harvest (òjusu jegùn; àmódún ló je).

Nigeria is the only country where people work in the civil service for over three decades and retire into penury. We are not known to pay gratuities to retirees at the point of their disengagements from public service. Many of them die without collecting their gratuities. While Kayode Fayemi was governor of Ekiti State, he came up with a ‘novel’ solution to gratuity payment. He asked retirees willing to get their entitlements to let go of as much as 25 percent of their gratuities, otherwise, they will wait till only-God-knows-when! The last set of retirees in the state who got their entitlements were those who retired in March 2014. In the last 10 years, no retiree in Ekiti State has been paid his gratuity. Worst hit are local government and primary school teachers’ retirees, who have not been paid gratuities since 2012! The same thing goes for the monthly stipends to retirees known as pension. Stories abound about how senior citizens die on the queues while waiting to collect their pension. These are people who spent their youthful years serving their fatherland!

To address the problem, the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo introduced the Contributory Pension Scheme (CPS), in 2003. Under the scheme, both the employers and the employees are compelled to contribute a certain percentage of the employees’ salaries to the fund on a monthly basis. The funds are also placed in the hands of independent financial institutions known as Pension Fund Operators (PenOP) to manage. The beauty of this scheme is that while government intervention in the management of pension is eliminated, employees in the private sector (corporate bodies), who were hitherto at the mercy of their shylock employers, are also accommodated.

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Speaking recently at a meeting with PenOP, Obasanjo said that one of the major reasons for the pension reform was his pain at seeing so many pensioners queuing up to collect their pensions, especially during his first term in office. The retired General stressed that he was particularly pained to see military men who had served the nation, spending hours or days to collect their pensions. “With this in mind, we resolved to see how the government could make pension management and administration private sector driven and more in line with global best practices. I was pleasantly surprised at the growth of the pension assets over the last 20 years as my administration instituted the pension reforms, and pushed to have a bill to reform the way pension administration was done in Nigeria. They did not think that the assets would grow this quickly and have the positive effect it has had so far.” The former president enthused. In the last 20 years, the funds in the various pension accounts, contributed by workers in the public and those in the private sectors, have grown to over N20 trillion. That is how leaders grow estates. That is how forebears take care of the future. But hand over such an inheritance to an arungún omo, the people will be in pain afterwards.

The over N20 trillion in the pension funds account is the next nectar that the Lagos man in charge of our affairs is targeting to lick in the name of building infrastructure. Having drained all the available resources, the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration is taking his predatoriness to the pension account. To many of us, we don’t find this behaviour strange given the fact that it fits perfectly to the financial identikit of President Tinubu as a Nínál’owó. Expectedly, since the Tinubu administration, through its Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Mr.Wale Edun, muted the idea of taking the owó ojú eégún (money kept in the masquerade’s grove), hell has been let loose on the government. Also, many groups, obviously members of the government’s Hallelujah orchestra, have been unleashed on the media space to defend the government.

Former Vice President and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, while reacting to the development said that the move is “illegal”, as “there is NO free Pension Funds that is more than 5% of the total value of the nation’s pension fund for Mr. Edun to fiddle with.” Atiku, who was with Obasanjo when the pension reforms that resulted in the over N20 trillion being coveted by Tinubu and his Lagos boys warned: “Even at that, this move must be halted immediately! It is a misguided initiative that could lead to disastrous consequences on the lives of Nigeria’s hardworking men and women who toiled and saved and who now survive on their pensions having retired from service. It is another attempt to perpetrate illegality by the Federal Government. The government must be cautioned to act strictly within the provisions of the Pension Reform Act of 2014 (PRA 2014), along with the revised Regulation on Investment of Pension Assets issued by the National Pension Commission (PenCom). In particular, the Federal Government must not act contrary to the provisions of the extant Regulation on investment limits to wit: Pension Funds can invest no more than 5% of total pension funds’ assets in infrastructure investments.”

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As it is wont to do, the Tinubu government unleashed his attack Rottweilers on Atiku and every other person that has risen against the intending daylight robbery of the pension funds. One of such nondescript groups, the Independent Media and Policy Initiative (IMPI), equally led by one Niyi Akinsiju, I am told he played the same under President Muhammadu Buhari, said that by voicing his opinion against the move to use the pension funds for infrastructural developments, Atiku had merely become “a government critic and opposition leader.” One wonders what Atiku is expected to do if he could not criticise bad government initiatives! The group quoted sections 5.1, 5.2 and 5.15 of the Pension Reform Act, 2014, to justify why the light-fingered Federal Government of Tinubu could dip its filthy hands into the pension pockets and spend the funds therein. Ridiculously, IMPI assured Nigerians that after tampering with the funds, the government would guarantee its safety on the jejune argument that the “…FGN issued securities are considered as the safest of all investments in domestic debt market because it is backed by the ‘full faith and credit’ of the Federal Government, and as such it is classified as a risk-free debt instrument.” Nonsense! Balderdash!! Bunkum!!!

It baffles me why some people deliberately choose to be fatuous. If the Federal Government could guarantee the safety of the pensions, why was the need for the pension reform in the first instance? Where was this Akinsiju of a mould, when pensioners were dying in their hundreds on the queues waiting for their pensions? Is he that ignorant to note that what this wastrel government intends to spend belongs to workers in both the public and the private sectors? That the pension funds belong to workers of the government’s civil services and those from the infamous AFAMACO JOB (work without pay) of Benin? Can Akinsiju and those in his caste tell Nigerians how many of those things committed to this government in the last one year it has been able to secure? Can he tell us how this government met our economy and how low it has taken it? What was the cost of living before Tinubu came on May 29, 2023, and what is the cost of living now? How on earth would anyone want to commit the future of hapless Nigerian workers both in the public and private sectors to the hands of these thriftless individuals who spare nothing? How long would our leaders behave like common arungún and we would clap for them?

 

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I have no doubt that this government is both deaf and dumb. I suspect also that compassion is in abysmally short supply in this era. I am equally of the strong opinion that neither President Tinubu, nor his boys and hangers-on, have any soupcon of respect for the Nigerian masses. But I want to quickly tell them that the pension fund is the life and last hope of many Nigerians currently working in the private and public sectors. If I were Tinubu, I would not touch their money!

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OPINION: Kneeling For Imams Of Northern Nigeria

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By Lasisi Olagunju

A minister suffered severe abuse and reprimand from the elites of the North last week because she asked the North to choose mass education first before mass marriage. Sixty-four years after independence, we are still struggling to understand Nigeria’s Muslim North and its ways. A 1950 letter to the editor of Gaskiya, northern Nigeria’s preeminent Hausa newspaper, should tell us something about the mystery of the region.

The letter appeared in the newspaper’s number 391 of 8 March, 1950 on page 2.

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It reads:

“To the Editor – I beg to lay this complaint before you, so that you may approach the Sultan in order that I may achieve my desire. I am of slave descent, belonging to one of the families of court slaves. Both my father and mother were slaves of a certain emir. My mother’s name is Munayabo, and my father’s Ci-wake. A well-to-do man has fallen in love with me, and I love him too, but he has got four wives already. For this reason, we find it difficult to make arrangements for living together. I asked a learned mallam, who told me to ask my father’s consent first, according to Islamic law, and also that of the authorities. If they agree to the proposal, I can become his concubine, Islamic law allows it. This is what the mallam told me. Well, Mr. Editor, my father, Islamic law, I myself and the rich man have agreed, only the authorities remain. May they agree to make proper arrangements for me so that I may be allowed into the harem of the man. My father’s and my mother’s names show that I really belong to a family of former slaves.

“I believe there are quite a number of girls such as me in the North. We have found that if girls in our position were allowed by the authorities, as is permitted by the law, to live as concubines in the harems of princes and well-to-do and important officials, the number of prostitutes who walk the streets would be reduced considerably. In this way, it may be possible for some of us to give birth to children who will one day be useful to the country. In this way, I may give birth to a son who may even one day become an emir. This will be better than our walking about in the towns and giving birth to children without proper fathers. Our religion permits it, but it is the authorities that are closing the door against us. I am sure that if the authorities allowed it, certain great houses in the North would accommodate thousands of us.

“Mr. Editor, I have given you a full explanation. We have come to an agreement with the said rich man, and are only waiting for the consent of the authorities on behalf of the Sultan. I wish you would lay my statement, as set out here, before the authorities and not allow room for destructive criticism. I should like the critics to understand that it is not my father who is trying to sell me into slavery. It is at my own free will that I desire to live in a big harem with a man who has already got four wives. I adjure you by Allah, Mr. Editor, to publish this letter so that I may get a reply and permission from the authorities.”

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(Signature)”.

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I got the above letter from Joseph Schacht’s ‘Islam in Northern Nigeria’, published in Studia Islamica, 1957, No. 8. The author said the signatory of the letter was “a well-educated young girl who had passed with distinction through the modern Government College for Girls.” Note that the letter was not written in the 19th century. It was written a few years before independence.

For better or for worse, a lot has shifted since that letter was composed. I do not think girls are still born over there into ‘slavery’ and thus have to beg to be allowed to marry. What I know (and everybody knows) is that the North routinely stages mass weddings for hordes of nameless girls and ladies. Are they children of slaves?

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I am a Muslim from southern Nigeria and each time strange things happen in the North in the name of Islam, I exchange glances of surprise with my brothers here. Schacht (1902-1969), the author of ‘Islam in Northern Nigeria’, was a British-German professor of Arabic and Islam at Columbia University in New York. He was the leading western scholar on Islamic law. In that article, he said the Muslims of our North whom he saw in 1957 “form a very isolated community.” He wrote that “most of their isolation is voluntary and intentional” and that “they are generally afraid of being contaminated by modern ideas, and particularly by the non-Islamic South.” I strongly believe they still prefer their isolation from “modern ideas” and from the South. And we are still in the same country. Shouldn’t we just restructure and redefine boundaries and contacts?

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I am being very careful choosing my words as I write this. I have written some paragraphs and cancelled them because I am, like the girls of Niger State, an orphan with no capacity for self-defence. But, it would appear that northern Nigeria’s biggest business today is mass wedding and mass production of children. After child-making, it has religion, very economically lucrative political religion. With this combo, it wrecks itself and stunts the country, and sows contagious poverty across the land. I hope no one is going to contest these.

I will be shocked if you did not follow last week’s big fight between the Minister of Women Affairs, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, and the northern elite led by imams from Niger State. The woman offended the North because she said no to a plan to shell out 100 orphaned girls to some randy men in a mass wedding. And because of that, press conferences and acid rains of sermons poured across the swarthy region on Friday. They said the ‘condescending’ female minister from the South overstepped her bounds. They said it was their religious culture to assist female orphans to solve their problems by marrying them off en masse, so that they can multiply and fill the earth with children. They did not tell us if their culture has plans only for the girls while male orphans are left to roam the street as Almajirai.

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The image a mass-wedding evokes in me is that of tethered rams at sallah markets. Or, more appropriately, a mass of what slave merchants called dabukia (female with plump breasts) and farkhah (female with small breasts) in mid-19th century Sokoto, Kano and Katsina slave markets. I have read some defences for the botched mass wedding of Niger State. Some said the girls and their families begged for it and the speaker paid as a man of God. Let us assume the girls truly begged for the weddings, couldn’t their helper just give the ‘help’ without the humiliation of a mass sale?

Yet, it is said that the loud mass weddings we see in the North are followed almost immediately by quiet mass divorces. Yusuf M. Adamu and Rabi Abdulsalam Ibrahim, both of Bayero University, Kano, did a seminal work on what they call “the rashness of divorce in Hausa society.” In their ‘Spheres, Spaces and Divorcees in Zawarawa: A Hausa movie (2018)’, quoting Solivetti (1994:252), they say Hausa Muslim society has “one of the highest rates of divorce and remarriage in the world.” It is also in that piece that I see a raw passage on commodification of marriage in Hausa land. A character in the movie exclaims: “The prices of things in Nigeria are rising, especially crude oil, gold and diamond. The prices are rising. But why has the value of women fallen so low? (Tattalin arziki ya na ta tashi a Nijeriya, musamman ma na man fetur da gwalagwalai da lu’ulu’u. kullum dada hauhawa su ke. Amma farashin mata, ya a ke ya fadi wanwar?).” Read the various defences in support of the controversial mass wedding in Niger State. Do a character assessment of the suitors, especially the two said to have assisted their in-laws to pay ransom but now want “marriage without delay or their money back.” Have the angry Imams and mallams asked what kind of husbands those ones will be?

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Nigeria is a composite of contradictions; what is poison in the south is sweet sauce in the north. The Ovimbundu (Bantu) people of Southern Africa say that the mist of the coast is the rain of the desert. In the place where I come from, mass children is interpreted as mass misery (omo beere, òsì beere). We also warn that marriage is easy to contract, what about soup money? Mass weddings were conducted yesterday, last year and in the last decade in the North. What happened to them? Where are the benefits beyond their adding to the hardship of the destitute? Where I come from, we say a mother does not feel the weight of her baby (omo kìí wúwo l’éhìn ìyá è). But the trunk of the North’s elephant is, by choice, made a burden for it to carry. The North’s way of life hurts where I come from – Western Nigeria. I am not the only one who has this thought. While the southern bird avoids waters that degrade the girl-child, the duck of the North preens and bathes in them. Embarrassing stories such as of this mass wedding stuff are so common with northern political and religious leaders. A hail of threats against counter views comes common too. And when they happen, questions are asked down south about the sense in sharing this Nigerian complex.

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‘Season of Migration to the North’, described by a reviewer as a “sensual work of deep honesty and incandescent lyricism”, is a 1966 novel by Sudanese novelist, Tayeb Salih. Its setting should have been northern Nigeria. Forced marriage is part of that story. And, in that story, we hear the voice of Hosna bint Mahmoud promising “like the blade of a knife” that “if they force me to marry, I’ll kill him and kill myself.” And, she does just that. Such involuntary, fatal nuptials are routinely tied in our North. They always do it. We will always beg them to stop because their way hurts us.

The people I am begging here are the real kabiyesis of the North – the Imams and the mallams. They make the rules and reign as the lords of the north-west, the north-east and parts of the north-central. But, will they listen and stop? They will not. They are what the Yoruba call kò níí gbà, omo elétíkunkun. And we won’t keep quiet.

Nigeria is an unending struggle against conscientious ignorance. The fundamentalism that rules Afghanistan has its professors in northern Nigeria. It is not edifying to faith. Read again the letter I started this article with. Pre-independence northern Nigeria had what was called ‘Fight Against Ignorance Committee’. There is no need to ask what the result of that initiative was. If the committee succeeded, the North would not have the world’s largest number of out-of-school-children; it would not attack a minister for asking it to choose education over marriage; banditry and terrorism and mass poverty would not be the region’s stable staple.

So, when we ask the elite of the North to drop their bad ways, it is not because we hate them and their North. No. It is because we benefit from the Hausa wisdom that emphasises peace over pie: “it is easy enough to find food but hard to get away to a place where you can eat it in peace (Ba samu’n abinchi ke da wuya, wurinda zaka chishi ke da wuya)”. We live in the same house with the North, and while doing so, we strongly believe that we deserve our peace. That was why that woman minister from the south, Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, tore the North’s mass-wedding scroll and insisted on Nigeria adding real value to the lives of those 100 hapless girls. It is the reason I wrote this.

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