As Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari took the floor in the general debate of the 77th United Nations General Assembly (GA) last Wednesday, his family had a big personal celebration in mind.
“Congratulations to Mrs. Zahra B Buhari on your graduation with First Class Honors in Architectural Science,” his wife, Aisha Buhari, had written of their daughter-in-law on Facebook the previous day.
Such moments are of great joy to every family. But the lady was graduating from a university in the United Kingdom. In Nigeria, which Mr. Buhari has led for nearly eight years, universities have been shut down for seven months on account of a legitimate teachers’ strike for which he merely wants to punish the teachers.
Still, when he bellied up to the microphone, Buhari spoke curiously of “enduring values.”
“…If my years in public service have taught me anything, it is that we must keep faith with those values that endure. These include, but are not limited to such values as justice, honour, integrity, ceaseless endeavour, and partnership within and between nations.”
It is in such moments that you realise just how much the United Nations institutionally betrays the world’s weakest. Yes, the general debate must have sounded like a wonderful idea four decades ago when the organisation was being set up: an opportunity for Member States to come together and reflect.
“Reflect on what?” someone in a committee must have asked.
“Emm…emm…on anything they please!”
“Okay! Anything they please.”
Officially, the organisation describes the debate as “an opportunity for Member States to raise any topic and statements often reflect issues of importance to the Member State.”
If that sounded promising in 1946 when the thoughts of the founding fathers were lofty, it is now no less than the definition of smoke and mirrors, a device by which the organisation anoints the world’s most hypocritical leaders as they come to cast themselves as saints and heroes.
Remember: When Buhari spoke in his first general debate in 2015, it was the 70th GA, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, of which the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a part, was being introduced.
Buhari identified the core objectives of poverty eradication and reducing inequalities as being “precisely at the centre of Nigeria’s new Administration’s agenda.” With the SDGs, he declared, “we have the opportunity to improve the lives of people not just in the developing world but in all nations.”
He bragged that his government was “attacking the problems we inherited head-on,” including “inequalities arising from massive unemployment and previous government policies favouring a few people to the detriment of the many.”
The following year, he told the 71st Assembly, “Fighting corruption remains a cardinal pillar of our administration. Corruption freezes development, thereby undermining the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. I am pleased that our efforts in fighting corruption are yielding positive results including significant stolen assets recoveries…We are also strengthening our capacity of government entities to institutionalise reforms to ensure transparency and good governance.”
That was 2016, coincidentally the year Nigeria became the poverty capital of the world. Not only did Buhari also stop mentioning the SDGs by name, his government has yet to address poverty and inequality in any structured or serious sense. So much for “the opportunity to improve the lives of people…”
As for corruption, the Buhari era has become Nigeria’s worst, with such countries as the US writing warnings against re-looting into MoUs for repatriating funds.
More debilitating has been corruption in the desecration of values and institution, and abandonment of accountability and common decency.
Consider: when Buhari arrived for the GA in 2018, First Lady Aisha had just ordered the arrest of her aide-de-camp, alleging that he had failed to deliver to her large “donations” of about N2.5billion received as gifts for her. That was the corrupt and crooked being made to sound respectable.
Consider also that in September 2018, Buhari’s APC re-election forms of N45million were bought for him by an unknown group called the Nigeria Consolidation Ambassadors Network. That was a gift the “anti-corruption” leader was happy to collect, in violation of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers in Part 1 of Schedule V of the constitution.
And consider that in January 2020, Buhari gave use of the presidential jet to his daughter for a class assignment. In the US, President Barack Obama would have been impeached had he authorised one of his daughters to use The Beast as an Uber. President Joe Biden would be impeached were one of his children to use Air Force One on a personal trip. It is corruption.
The point is that away from the podium of the GA, Buhari has superintended an administration that is contrary to what he advertises. It is one of contradiction, vacillation, duplicity, and political infidelity. The government refuses to be held accountable, as demonstrated by the scandalous annual reports of the Auditor-General since 2015.
It is why Nigeria is no less than a failed state. It is now one of the world’s most insecure countries (partly arising from Buhari’s refusal to confront and disarm the rampaging Fulani herdsmen); bandits and kidnappers menace and kill everywhere; corruption thrives because Buhari’s APC seduces and rewards the nation’s biggest crooks, and never identifies those from whom it has recovered public assets. In an administration which proclaims itself to be fighting corruption, it is the corrupt who dominate the land.
In Buhari’s Nigeria, it does not matter that the universities are closed; there is an abundance of excuses and grievances but neither electricity nor jobs; manufacturing has stalled; the naira is on its deathbed; air and road travel have almost collapsed; following an attack on a commuter train on the Abuja-Kaduna line last March, the government cannot even operate any service.
In Buhari’s Nigeria, inflation is the champion; poverty is deepening; his nepotism has divided Nigerians broadly and diminished society deeply.
To hear Buhari at the general debate on Tuesday, however, and to see how slavishly his aides were quoting him on social media, none of these has happened. There is “Justice, Honour, Integrity, and Ceaseless endeavour.” Where and how?
If Buhari thinks indebtedness is wrong, why does he borrow recklessly only to beg for debt cancellation? For a government which has shown such disdain for the separation of powers, how has it “promoted the rule of law”?
By the time Buhari leaves in 2023, there will only be seven years left of the 2030 Agenda and that “opportunity to improve the lives of people.” When will he tell us what he has achieved?
These contradictions are possible because the UN has—in practice but contrary to The Charter—taken sides. In effect the general debate provides that if you are powerful enough, you do not have to be held accountable. That makes the UN as dubious as the leaders for which it covers up and guarantees perpetual conflict in the developing world.
I charge the UN with connivance and complicity. It must write accountability, particularly for leaders in their final appearance or facing re-election, into a new game plan.
OPINION: Let Our Judges Run From Esu’s Gourd Of Palm Wine
By Suyi Ayodele
Olodumare, the Almighty, sent Obatala down to Earth to create land from the water that filled everywhere. Obatala set to work, assisted by toad, hen, a calabash filled with sand and a pigeon. He successfully created land from the water and returned to the one who sent him. Satisfied by the beautiful work done by Obatala as confirmed by Alagemo (chameleon), Olodumare sent Obatala back to the earth to make human beings, who would fill the land he had earlier created. Obatala came back to do the assignment and he worked his heart out creating human beings in different shapes. His job was just to create the human figures while Olodumare would breathe the breath of life into the creatures. After exhausting himself, Obatala became thirsty. While in search of water to drink, the trickster deity, Esu, showed up with a gourd of palm wine and offered Obatala. Obatala took the first cup, and he found the content palatable. He asked for more and more until he got drunk. He went back to work in that tipsy state and began to make all sorts of human beings: some with bent noses, crooked legs, closed eyes and all forms of deformities.
Tired again, Obatala decided to sleep. But before he went back to sleep, he sent for Olodumare to breathe upon the creatures and Olodumare did. While sleeping, Esu took samples of the badly created humans to Olodumare. Olodumare was alarmed and had Obatala replaced. Thus, the deity of creation lost his prime position because he allowed the trickster, Esu, to tempt him with the alcoholic drink.
Two of the key ethical principles prescribed for justices are impartiality and incorruptibility. In order therefore to adhere strictly to those principles, justices are known to refrain from excessive socialising. Justice Olukayode Ariwoola as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) is the numero uno among justices in Nigeria. He occupies a very delicate position that stipulates that he must be above board. His sense of discipline should be next to that of Obatala, the deity responsible for creation. In fact, the CJN should have aspired to be at par with Obatala in discipline, self-restraint, decency and discretion. Any mistake from him can spell disaster for the nation. A simple mistake from Obatala is responsible for the existence of the physically challenged among us today.
Justice Ariwoola was in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on Thursday, November 24, 2022, as a special guest of honour at the commissioning of two iconic projects: the Federal Judicial Service Commission’s South-South Liaison Office and the Justice Mary Peter-Odili Judicial Institute, both built by Governor Nyesom Wike. As the head of the judiciary in Nigeria, we need to quickly say here that it is never out of place for the CJN to have been invited to commission the two projects. Justice Arowoola, I must point out, is far more qualified than any other player in the nation’s judiciary to commission and dedicate those two iconic projects. He is like Obatala, the deity assigned to mould human beings.
But trouble started with the head of the Supreme Court, when he accepted the keg of palm wine offered him by the host governor, Wike, in the form of a state banquet, and did exactly what Obatala did after accepting the gourd of palm wine from Esu. State banquet, a euphemism for the street lingo, come and chop, is usually organised for a visiting dignitary to a state. There is no doubt that Justice Ariwoola’s presence in Port Harcourt, conferred on him the status of a “visiting dignitary”. The problem here is the issue of discretion. If I were him, I would have asked for the list of the invitees for the dinner. And don’t argue it: Justice Ariwoola, on whose honour the state banquet was organised, has the right to ask for those who would be in attendance. His protocol men would have gotten the advance list and discuss the propriety or otherwise of the CJN sitting in company with certain individuals, especially in this season of political madness all over the country.
And immediately the CJN discovered that the protesting PDP quintuplet-governors would be in attendance, I expected him to put on his armour of discretion and be at alert. It is not just bad that Justice Ariwoola would be found in company with the quintuplets of Governors Wike, Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia) and Samuel Ortom (Benue) at this time, it is fatally bad that the CJN would openly approve their rebellion against their party, the PDP and describe them as “these men of the integrity group”. He then went ahead to single out Governor Makinde, saying he was happy “that my own governor is among them…”. This is nothing but careless talk from the number one judicial officer of the country. The explanation that the CJN was merely joking would not suffice here. The CJN’s ‘joke’ at that event is not only in bad taste, but too spurious and a complete afterthought. I perfectly understand Festus Akande, Director, Press and Information at the Supreme Court and his attempt to damage control the ill-advised outing of the CJN at the Port Harcourt banquet. Akande, can use all the explanations in the books to explain off the CJN’s comments at that event; one thing he cannot take away is the fact that Justice Ariwoola, had, by those utterances, put the integrity of the judiciary on the line. I wonder if Akande was physically present at the banquet and if he was, what kind of debriefing did he give his principal before he uttered those statements? The nation’s executives sure need refresher courses in public communication.
It is not just the propriety of the PDP and its terrible members that is at stake here. There are many cases in the various courts in the country concerning the 2023 general elections. With the number of contradictory judgements from courts of coordinate jurisdictions, one has no doubt that many of the litigations would end up at the Supreme Court where Ariwoola is the presiding authority. If for instance, the case instituted by some of Wike’s loyalists, challenging the candidature of Atiku Abubakar as the PDP presidential candidate comes before His Lordship, Justice Ariwoola, how would he convince us that the memory of Port Harcourt would not be a factor? Even if he assigns the matter to brother justices, with the level of suspicion in the land, who will believe his objectivity? I will not be surprised if in the near future, litigants before His Lordship, the CJN, ask him to rescue himself from their matters, citing the Port Harcourt outing!
Here again, we need to sound a note of warning that Justice Ariwooa’s enemies in and out of government should not seek to profit from his gaffe like they did Kemi Adeosun. The imbalance in the nation’s administrative structure is too tilted in favour of a particular section, the north, to the detriment of other parts of the country. Cashing in on the Port Harcourt state banquet to give Ariwoola, the indecent treatment melted out to Justice Walter Onnoghen would spell doom. Already, the PDP has called the CJN out, describing his utterances in Port Harcourt as a violation of his oath of office. Debo Ologunagba, PDP spokesman, said the CJN’s comment is worrisome because “such a partisan comment by the CJN is in violation of his oath of office as the head of the country’s judicial arm, which is expected to be impartial and non-partisan”. The party went further to say while Nigerians expected the CJN to use his office to sanction any partial judicial officer, “the fact that the CJN is the one reportedly violating this critical ethic of neutrality, fairness and respect for the oath of office for judicial officers raises serious concern in our polity. The question is how do Nigerians and especially the PDP trust that the CJN will be an even-handed arbiter in any case or matter relating to internal issues in our party or those connected to other political parties”?
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Justice Ariwoola and Akande, his defender-in-chief are Yoruba. The two should be familiar with the saying, though esoteric, that: “Àró Ìká kìí jajá; Òdòfin Ìká kìí jàgbò; Ejèmú Ìká kìí jòbúko; Olórí Ìká ò gbodò jori ajá” – The Àró (head chief) of Ika does not eat dog meat, Òdòfin (second in rank) of Ika does not eat ram meat; Ejèmú (head of the diviners) of Ika does not eat he-goat and Olórí (Head) of Ika must not eat head of dog. These are warnings for those in positions of authority to know what to eat; and to a greater extent, where to eat. A chief justice of a nation, who openly hobnobs with politicians invites trouble for the Bench. When a CJN drinks the palm wine of a politician, he will produce justice akin to the deformed creatures of Obatala. Nothing stopped my Lord from jetting back to Abuja after commissioning the two projects given the caliber of people that were slated to be at the state banquet. The commissioning exercises took place in the daytime. State banquets are dinner events. The CJN is an ‘Elépo’ (merchant in palm oil). The politicians he stayed back to dine with in Port Harcourt are the typical ‘Oníyangí’ (seller of sharp sand). The two are not known in history to hobnob. Whenever an Elépo meets an oniyangi at what we call ‘ese kogbeji’ (narrow path that can take one person at a time), in my native place, Elépo is advised to give the right of way to the Oníyangí. Oníyangí has nothing to lose if in a clash with Elépo, the two spill the contents of the containers on their heads. Wike and his friends have already recorded it in their political voyage that the CJN appreciated their war of attrition against their party by describing them as “men of integrity”. It is the CJN that is battling with the vicious attacks from the political class and public commentators, who see, and rightly too, his lack of discretion in Port Harcourt as unbecoming of a CJN, who is expected to be completely impartial. Permit me therefore to impose on Justice Ariwoola, a simple exercise in traditional discretion. When next the CJN comes across the likes of Wike, he should be circumspect about the chemical content of the cup of palm wine he is offered. More importantly, he should shout loud and clear, the eternal warning cry of our elders, to wit: “Oníyangí má ba tèmi je epo ni mo rù” – Oníyangí do not ruin my ware, I am carrying palm oil. I know the CJN is a Muslim but in Yorubaland we say no religion will stop us from doing the oro of our fathers. So, I plead with Ariwoola to appease Esu Odara by using his mouth to whistle six times: three to the left and three to the right side. He can then go home and sleep, mouth shut. May Esu not take control of our mouths to ruin us.
Suyi Ayodele is a senior journalist, South-South/South-East Editor, Nigerian Tribune and a columnist with the same newspaper.
OPINION: Oluwo And The Glorification Of Ignorance (1)
Welcome to Ìwó, the ancient Yoruba land where the parrot sings in paradox the poetry of truth and treachery.
The parrot is not a treacherous bird. For the Yoruba, the parrot is a sacred bird of historic symbolism, bearing on its head the feathers of truth, trampling underfoot the evil of treachery.
Abomination! Even though they domesticate it, the Yoruba don’t kill the highly revered bird, whose prized tailfeathers they use in ritual performance.
In Ìwó and many other Yoruba towns, the parrot is sentineled at home to keep an eye on intruders and spill the beans about their wrongdoing.
In Ìwó, the parrot sings to the rhythm of the agidigbo drum, whose proverbs only the wise can discern. Only the truthful can understand the song of the parrot. Little wonder the Yoruba christened the parrot Ayékòótó – the world despises the truth – but the empty barrel booms and expects a resounding applause for wisdom, forgetting that the cowl doesn’t make the monk, the sceptre doesn’t confer royalty, bombast is the signature of ignorance, a sophist thrives on fallacious argument.
Culture and tradition are rich in Ìwó though the town is home to Christianity with the Nigerian Baptist Mission especially, and other Christian denominations having a remarkable presence. Oba Samuel Abimbola, the predecessor to the immediate past Oluwo, Oba Asiru Kiladese, was a Christian. African religion worshippers are not without a place and presence in Ìwó, making the land similar to all Yoruba communities in terms of guaranteed freedom of worship.
When he was leaving Ile-Ife, the presumed cradle of the Yoruba with his entourage on an expansionist agenda, Yoruba mythology says an Ife prince, Adekola Telu, who was one of the sons of Oduduwa, consulted the Ifa oracle to foretell what lies in the belly of the journey ahead.
Ifa predicted that Telu’s peregrination would take him to a land brimming with parrots. “Dwell in the land,” Ifa told Telu. So, Telu transmigrated under the canopy of the wilderness, bursting into plains, ascending unto hills and descending into valleys, waddling through water.
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Then, he arrived at a river called Obà. And saw a bountiful flock of parrots with dazzling plumages. Eureka, Telu found it! Thus Telu settled around the riverbank and his coast soon enlarged. In the fullness of time, the settlement moved from around the river to the present-day Ìwó, where the land was even more auspicious.
The Oluwo of Ìwó, Oba Abdulrasheed Akanbi, Telu I, is my friend. I met him physically before he was installed as king by a former Governor of Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. A colleague, Soji Adeniyi, formerly of The Nation newspapers, introduced Akanbi to me in Osogbo when he was staking his claim to the throne of his ancestors in 2015.
After Akanbi spoke with me, I was sold on his conviction to take Ìwó to greater heights; he spoke about the need to reinvent teaching, modernise farming, uplift arts and culture, and make Ìwó the proud home of the odíderé, the talkative bird the Anglo Saxon call parrot.
On the night of the second after my meeting with the prince, I went to seek a private audience with governor Aregbesola. On recognition, I scaled the outer rings of security and, in no time, arrived at the anteroom of the governor, where I met a clutter of people who looked tired.
I said my name to the security operatives and said to myself that that wasn’t the place to be at that moment because of the multitude. I was rearing to leave when one of the Department of State Services guys called my name and opened the door to the Governor’s Office for me. I was surprised but I grabbed the opportunity, all the same. I couldn’t have seen the governor till the noon of the next day if the governor didn’t fast-forward my visit.
Between the Governor’s Office and the anteroom, there was a little room to the left. I looked and saw High Chief Abiola Ogundokun, one of the foremost leaders of Ìwó. I greeted him and moved on.
“Ha, Tunde, a ma ri e ke, se ko si o?” Aregbesola ushered me to a seat, expressing surprise at the visit. “Ko si, sir,” I said, assuring him that I came in peace. I went on to tell him about the vision of Akanbi for Iwo. Aregbesola listened to every word I uttered without interruption.
When I was done talking, the governor said he was more predisposed to having a young man installed as oba than an old man. But he didn’t promise anything. I thanked him for the audience and left, stopping to greet octogenarian Ogundokun on my way out.
The Oluwo is my friend, so I won’t dwell on all the controversies that have characterised his reign. As good friends, we exchange chats on sundry issues – on a weekly basis. Vehemently, I disagree with the king all the time over his views about some issues relating to culture and tradition.
Some few months ago, there was a day our chats became so heated that I thought he was going to take offence and lay a curse on me. I had reached a point of no return and was past caring, anyway, but the king was slow to anger.
The bone of contention was what I considered his utter lack of understanding of the responsibilities the crown has thrust upon him and his grossly inadequate knowledge of myths, legends, folklore etc as they relate to culture and tradition.
A few days ago, I told the king that I was going to escalate our divergent opinions on Yoruba worldview in the media. Not one to slink away from confrontation, Oba Akanbi pelted me with more telephone texts of his thoughts on Yoruba mores – wrong and plenty enough to tear a crown.
Monarchy system of rulership was founded in Ìwó by Adekola Telu, son of the 16th Ooni of Ife, a female called Luwo Gbagida. Oba Akanbi himself testifies to this fact of history. Why Akanbi chose to call himself Telu I, however, beats the imagination when Adekola Telu institutionalised kingship in Ìwó over 600 years ago.
The Oluwo seems to be on a futile mission to erase certain aspects of Yoruba history because he lacks the understanding that history, whether good or bad, defines the experiences of a people and is critical in unravelling the present to prepare for the future.
The more I observe Oba Akanbi, the more I agree with the words of George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright, critic and political activist, who said, “Beware of false knowledge: It is more dangerous than ignorance.”
In his ignorance, the Oluwo fails to realise that there is no society that doesn’t have its traditional worship system. In his religious adventurism and intellectual mediocrity, the Oluwo seeks to curry the support of Muslims and Christians by acting as though he’s fighting paganism whereas he’s unable to distinguish between culture and childish messianic advocacy.
That the Igbo cherish the kola nut and use it to bless their festivities doesn’t make them fetish, they are only affirming their trado-cultural essence. The Yoruba put honey, water, salt, sugar etc in the mouths of their newborns during christening. This practice is not contained in the Holy Bible or the Holy Quran. And it’s not idolatry.
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In an interview, the Oluwo proudly said that he removed an 800-year-old deity from his palace. What nonsense! If it was in the advanced world, the actual age of the priceless treasure Akanbi called a deity and threw away would be determined through carbon dating, and it could lead to breakthroughs in unravelling of some historical, environmental or biological events.
Has the Oluwo stopped to ask himself why Europeans looted from Africa artefacts that he calls deities? Do Europeans worship the looted African artefacts? No, they don’t. Europeans know that without the old, there cannot be the new. Without the Old Gbagi market there cannot be New Gbagi, without Old York there cannot be New York, without the Old Testament there cannot be New Testament.
* To be continued.
OPINION: Between The Content Of Our Character And The Colour Of Our Currency
By Suyi Ayodele
There was a Second Republic politician, a stark illiterate, who played a prominent role in helping a particular government to power. He was duly compensated with the post of a commissioner in the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs. As time went by, the man had irreconcilable issues with the appointing authority, the governor, and he was fired. The commissioner boasted that nobody would ever occupy the office he left. Nobody took the boast of an illiterate seriously. The governor went ahead and appointed a replacement. When the sacked commissioner heard about the appointment, he approached the new appointee and said: “Bùòdá, èyin ni wón gbé s’íbè. Aso tí ìpìn bá bó sílè kò sí baba eranko tó lò wo láíláí” (Elderly one, you are the one appointed. Whichever cloth the insect, ìpìn, puts off, no other animal will ever wear it). But before the new man assumed duty, the government changed every piece of furniture in the office, changed the rug and repainted. They knew that the immediate commissioner was very versed in metaphysics. The former man laughed it off. He waited like the old vulture he was. The new appointee was sworn in and moved to the office. Then the unexpected happened. The new man collapsed and was rushed out. When contacted, the sacked commissioner said he was shocked at the ignorance of the government, which went about changing the office paints and the furniture. He intoned that whether the furniture was changed a million times and the walls painted as many times as possible, the curse he placed was on the nomenclature of that office. The government got wiser thereafter and never appointed anyone into that ministry until the government ended its tenure.
Ìkórè (harvest) season used to be the liveliest period of our Anglican Communion in the days of yore. We always looked forward to those colourful celebrations. The healthy competition among the various egbé (groups) in the church was infectious. The womenfolk were the most colourful. My late mother belonged to the Egbé Ìgbàlàyemì (Salvation Befits Me) group. Women younger than her were grouped into Egbé ÌwàbíOlórun (Character like of God). There were other groups, fighting for the Àsíá (plaque). Those women could sing. Most of their songs then were philosophical as they were didactic- speaking to morals, ethos and the dignity of humanity. One of such songs speaks to our discourse today. I crave your indulgence to render the lyrics in its native form. It goes thus: Ùwà l’ènìyàn – Character is the man/Hójé hùnkàn pàtàkì – It is of great value/ Olori Egbé yá múra súwá o – Leader of our group, pay attention to your character.
The women of my mother’s epoch (1927-2006) knew that character is of great value. At any given opportunity, they impressed on their leaders that they would need good character to be able to steer the ship of the groups to the shore of glory (ibùdó ògo). So, they constantly encouraged their Ìyá Egbés to be mindful of their character. Character is the man. What wisdom!
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The educationists, who designed our curricula for our early education, were equally wise. They included in the learning processes of those days, ethical orientation programmes that ensured that before we started our classes, we were made to affirm the place of good character above academic excellence. We called it “Àkósórì” (rote learning). Most of the “Àkósórì” were poems written by the best of that era in children’s literature, Joseph Folahan Odunjo, popularly known as J .F. Odunjo. As we assembled to pray and listen to the daily instructions from the headmaster, we would recite one Àkósórì or the other. One of such recitations has its first clause as: “Tojú ìwà re òré mi” (Take care of your character, my friend). The recitation says money, beauty and education without character is nothing.
For wrote another poem in his Alawiye Series, titled, “Ise Logun ise” (Work is the antidote for poverty). He emphasises the need to be self-dependent and rely on one’s efforts and cut off entitlement mentality. The import of the messages in all the poems is about good character. If any man, and by extension, a nation or a people must make any progress, the character of such a man or people must be above board. No nation without leaders of good character can make any progress. You may change the policy directions as many times as you can, without a change in character for positive dispositions, nothing will change. These are the lessons we were taught in those good old days. The question now is: How many of our leaders still remember those messages? How many are applying them in the running of the nation?
On October 26, 2022, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, announced that our currency, the Naira, in 200, 500 and 1000 denominations would be redesigned. The CBN top shot said that one of the principal factors responsible for the policy is the issue of hoarding of the banknotes by some Nigerians. Like edible commodities, some Nigerians are in the habit of hoarding the nation’s banknotes. According to Emefiele, over 80 per cent of the currency in circulation was outside the vaults of the commercial banks. He gave a worrisome figure. Of the total sum of N3.2 trillion printed Nigerian currency in circulation, as at September this year, a huge sum of N2.73 trillion was in the hands of individuals, outside the vaults of the various banks. What the CBN Governor was saying in the usual government diplomatic parlance is that some greedy Nigerians are in possession of over 80 percent of our entire money in circulation.
I was privileged to be taught elementary Economics in secondary school by two brilliant minds; Messrs Alebiosu in Form Four, and Fabamise in Form Five. These two gentlemen, if they were to explain the scenario painted by Emefiele, would simply say: because such a huge amount of our currency are outside the banking halls, where the banks could lend them to investors, our economic development is halted and where there are no companies and cottage industries, the unemployment rates will be high. Alebiosu and Fabamise would then swear that should that be the case, poverty, a very crushing one, would be the lot of the people. Simple Economics! That is exactly what we are experiencing in the country today. The CBN boss said that to arrest the situation, we would have to redesign our currency notes from the N200 denomination to the highest, which is the N1000 note. Then, measures were put in place to ensure that those hoarding the Naira notes would not be able to deposit them in large figures. I will not bother with all those measures for just one simple reason: those who have the capacity to hoard 80 percent of our money in circulation also have the capacity to frustrate any measure aimed at getting at them.
Why would anyone, for instance, bury say, N1 billion in a hole in his bedroom? What sort of human beings would mop up over 80 percent of a nation’s money in circulation and keep that to themselves while poverty walks the streets of Nigeria in three piece suits? The answer is, again, character. Only a man of character, and good character for that matter, would realise that a wealthy man among millions of poor relations is the poorest of all men. Character alone would teach a man that appropriating a communal purse for personal use is tantamount to pure madness.
That is why, on a personal level, I find Emefiele’s policy of redesigning the Naira as not only inappropriate, but highly ridiculous. I will leave economists and financial experts to deal with the issues of the implications of the policy on the nation’s economy. I will equally not bother myself with the negative effects many of the aforementioned experts said it would bring to bear on our already comatose economy. My point here is: how long, after the redesigning, will it take the same hawks to mop up the newly introduced notes and hoard them the same way they did to the ones Emefiele and the voodoo economists of the Muhammadu Buhari administration are planning to change from December 15, 2022 to January 31, 2023? How do you redesign a currency without a corresponding redesigning of the character of the players in the nation’s economy? It is amusing, you know. The policy reminds me of the story of a Second Republic politician told above.
Rather than changing the colours of our Naira notes like a chameleon, Nigeria needs to change the characters of the money bags, the politicians, the businessmen and women, who get tax reliefs without any corresponding effects on the lives of the average citizens. When the government gives the monopoly of virtually every commodity to an individual, such a government ought to go a step further to check how much such commodities cost in the Nigerian markets. When a multi billionaire gets tax relief for many years, we need to ask him what he is spending the extra money on. Is it on what is beneficial to the mass of the people or what? We need to put a punitive system in place such that once we discover a huge amount of money on someone’s farm; such an individual is heavily punished.
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If it is true that a few Nigerians are hoarding over 80 percent of our Naira notes, we need to ask ourselves questions. For instance, how many of our past governors have been indicted for financial infractions? How many billions of naira have we traced to them? Where did they invest the money? How many of them are in jail houses for such infractions? Was it not recently that the same government, which promised to fight corruption, granted amnesty to former Governors Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame of Plateau and Taraba States, respectively? These were individuals jailed for helping themselves to their states’ funds and before they could finish their terms, they were set free. What message is the government passing to the current and future hawks occupying leadership positions in the country? Is it our currency and its colours that should change or our orientation as a people? I can go on and on. For me, I think the issue of currency hoarding goes beyond changing the colours of the Naira notes. What Nigeria needs, and what it lacks in a very devastating magnitude, is the ethical orientation that would make such hideous practice a condemnable act, punishable by the laws of the land. What we need is a strong institution that punishes infractions like currency hoarding or currency decimation. A country which promotes, worships and rewards rogues like Nigeria does can change the colours of its banknotes as many times as it wishes; without a change in the character of those running roughshod over the affairs of the country, the currency redesigning becomes another hollow ritual! Like we say in my Ekiti dialect: hi a luffecti – it will have no effect. The exercise is like a woman who changes her husband without changing her character, she will still come back to the same old problem.
Suyi Ayodele is a senior journalist, South-South/South-East editor, Nigerian Tribune, and a columnist with the same paper.
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