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OPINION: RE: Playing Politics With Power Sector

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Adetayo Adegbemle

On the 28th June, 2020, a well respected journalist, Simon Kolawole, in his ThisDay Column “SIMONKOLAWOLELIVE!” wrote a piece titled “Playing Politics With Power Sector”, in which he expressed his opinion on the state of the Power Sector. You can read it here(https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2020/06/28/playing-politics-with-power-sector/)

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In the Column, Simon Kolawole, while establishing the age long known excuses and shenanigans of the Power Sector, cunningly made attempts to defray the major and immediate challenges the sector faces.

In one of the opening paragraphs, Simon Kolawole laid this foundation, and I quote:

“But why are we still here? We can list a million reasons. When we were awarding contracts for the building of power plants in 2005, we did not think of how gas would get to them. We only remembered we needed to build gas pipelines after the turbines had arrived. Even when the turbines arrived, governors forced work to stop, arguing that the funding of power projects from the excess crude account was illegal. The multi-year tariff order (MYTO), designed to gradually phase out electricity subsidy and make the industry commercially viable, was not implemented for political reasons. The TCN does not have the capacity to “wheel” the power generated by GenCos. And so on.”

He further went on to question the motive behind the AdHoc Committee on Discos Ownership, formed by the National Economic Council(NEC), and headed by the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir Elrufai (who was also the Head of BPE while Privatization of the Old NEPA structure was being implemented). The Committee, (whose terms of reference was to determine the Equity Stakes of the 3tiers of governments in Nigeria in the Electricity Distribution Companies,) in its report, had recommended that a forensic audit of the Discos should be carried out, and this was after establishing the simple fact that the 3 tiers of government have not been effectively represented in the Boards of Directors of all the Discos.

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Mr. Kolawole waved off this cogent reason, alluding the effort at Audit of the Discos Books. In his words: “But the undertone, as I understand it, is that the government wants to reverse the privatisation of DisCos or dilute the ownership and take control of the entities.”

This is not good enough, as it distracts from the noble intention to ensure transparency in the spending and governance structure of the Discos.

Again, readers should note that the call for the Audit of the Discos Books and Governance Structure is consistent with the Terms of Reference of the Adhoc Committee.

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It would be interesting to know if Mr. Kolawole did submit a Memo containing these views when the Committee asked for a Public Submission in December 2019.

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Simon Kolawole’s columns have built an enviable reputation for dispassionate reviews of the nation’s politics and contemporary events. In this particular case, it is apparent that his analysis is spiced with pro….. propaganda. It is a no brainer to know whose drum beats Simon was playing to in his audacious write up on his knowledge of the sector. An investigative journalist like Simon Kolawole should have gone further to discover that it is the DisCos that consistently fail to pick up this load; that of the little they pick, they only make settlement for about 20 to 25 percent. How can the supplier of a commodity who never fails to make the supply be the bad guy while the seller who makes a return for just a quarter worth of the commodity delivered to them be the good guy? It is strange that Simon sees nothing wrong with Ikeja DisCo, for instance, entering into an agreement with a segment of its customers, at more than double the prevailing regulated tariff but views NERC’s tariff order as unacceptable.

To drive home his point of “pointing fingers” at the power generating companies as well, he further went ahead to ask why we did bother to sign PPAs(Power Purchase Agreements) with the Gencos in the first instance. In his words, “Why did we enter into PPAs with GenCos, some of which obligate us to pay millions of dollars monthly to one company, when we knew very well that the TCN did not, does not, and will not, have the capacity to take power from these companies in the life of the contracts? Even if we produce 100,000mw today, TCN can only take 4,000mw, otherwise their system will collapse and the entire country will be in darkness.”

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Some history lessons on how the power sector works will be beneficial to the well-respected journalist especially on his call for a forensic and technical audit of the GenCos and TCN. The GenCos generate power after a day ahead declaration to the system operator, who communicates to them how much they can transmit subject to the nomination from the Discos (mind you, power is instantaneous- must be consumed or it is subject to demand). On the day of generation, the generated capacity passes through verifiable check meters measuring the exact megawatts, which is then measured again at the TCN busbar before transmission to the Discos. The invoicing process equally follows a more stringent process with the Discos, GenCos, NBET and TCN verifying before the abysmal remittance is made. Does Simon recall that the Discos lack of performance led the federal government to rescue the sector thrice now? In essence, the 1.8 trillion is payment for discos inability to meet their invoiced amount. Research shows the FGN is subsidizing the Discos by 75% monthly. What has Simon got to do with the fact of financial under-reporting by the DisCos as was discovered during the open-book exercise by NERC prior to TEM?
The writer should be informed that the DisCos utilise multiple payment platforms for energy consumed. This has resulted in the creation of multiple accounting streams for the different payment channels. This presents a loophole for unscrupulous operators to divert and hence under-report revenue inflows. Some of the identified revenue channels operated by most of the DisCos for energy payments are:
1) Analogue meter bill cash payments through the DisCo cash offices

2) Analogue meter bill cash payments through designated banks

3) Estimated bill cash payment through the Disco cash offices

4) Estimated bill cash payments through designated banks

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5) On-line payments for all the categories listed above

6) Pre-payment meter token cash payments through the DisCo vending stations.

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I will like to refer readers to an important piece of Data at this point. This is an historical Power Generation vs Power Uptake by the Discos since privatization in 2013. While available data showed that Average Generation Capability has increased from 4, 214MW in 2013 to 8, 145MW today, Average Power Uptake by the Discos has hovered between 3, 183MW in 2013 and 3, 987MW in 2020 (See attached).

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Impartial and concerned observers would be apt to ask what exactly have the Discos been doing in the last 7years. We have not even asked why the Discos has consistently been paying less than 50% of the Invoice Values from the Gencos. If Mr. Kolawole bothered to ask for these data, it would have been made available to him. At NO POINT has the Gencos received full values for their Market Invoice. This has accounted for the sub-optimal growth, inefficient operation and the current dire situation of the GenCos, which has huge negative impact on the entire power sector.

Allow me to also point out that while the Gencos has consistently been incurring costs for Gas, and in the case of the Hydro Plants like Mainstream Energy Services Limited (Concessionaires of Kainji and Jebba Hydro Power Dams) who has been paying an annual Concession fees of $50m(rate was around N160/$ in 2013 when they took over, now it is N420/$), the Discos has no similar liability on their books. The Story of GencosGenCos like Mainstream will still need to be told. The writer may want to appreciate that, every available capacity, whether dispatched or not, cost a huge amount of money to be maintained by the GenCos. There are massive fixed charges incurred to keep unutilised units available.

Mr. Kolawole went ahead to state the PPA signed with Azura, but what he cleverly omitted is the fact that Azura has NEVER received full value for energy supplied to the Discos. But hey! This agenda must be set.

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It is also unfortunate that Mr. Kolawole would conclude that “From 2015 till date, we have paid about N255 billion to five GenCos under the PPAs for power not delivered — principally because TCN does not have the capacity to take it.” First, it would be interesting to know where Mr. Kolawole got this information from, and secondly, why he deliberately pitched the GencosGenCos and TCN together. I can allow our readers to make up their minds on this. It is a fact that GenCos, who are entitled to about 60% of invoiced energy bills, face the greatest risk in the electricity value chain with an outstanding unpaid invoice of over five hundred billion (N500bn) naira. If at all, they deserve pity rather than ridicule and unfounded allegations is not only unfair but misleading to the Nigerian populace.

“If we are sincere about addressing the power issue and stopping our treasury from continuing to service the pot bellies of the buccaneers, let us conduct a wholesale forensic and technical audit of the entire industry. We need to identify whatever is responsible for this shocking state of the sector, re-negotiate the suicidal deals we signed (the coronavirus pandemic will, hopefully, provide a force majeure), align the necessary elements, and take the critical steps to help Buhari’s renewed power initiative achieve the outlined goals and objectives. Renationalising the DisCos through the backdoor does not look like the magic formula to me. Let us not frog-jump from frying pan to fire.”

To be clear on this, I am not a lawyer, but my little understanding of declaring force majeure is in unforeseen circumstances. Are we now saying that almost 7years down the lane, the Discos are just discovering unforeseen circumstances? And how did Mr. Kolawole arrived at the “Renationalising the DisCos through the backdoor does not look like the magic formula to me” junction?

Yes, readers who are able to read between the line would agree that Mr. Kolawole clearly played his card too openly, and as one of the comments under the publication rightly said, “Mr. Simon, either does not understand, or as usual, would rather obfuscate, what ails Nigeria as is evident in the power sector, as well as other service sectors”. There are other similar comments to the publication.

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To my chagrin, Mr. Kolawole ended the piece with these words: “I’d be honest and confess that I am enjoying stable power supply where I live. Our estate has an agreement with Ikeja Electric which is going very well despite a few hitches — caused mostly by you-know-who: the TCN. We are not under MYTO, so we pay double the regulated tariff, and we are guaranteed at least 20 hours of power supply daily”. The mere fact that Mr. Kolawole concede that the Power Purchase Agreement signed with Ikeja Electric is not under the MYTO should have told him that though the regulators might have turned a blind eyes to it, THIS IS ILLEGAL. But because he enjoys an average 20hours power supplies at the detriment of other, and because he could afford it, he could care less about others who might have not been fortunate enough to afford it. I also wonder how many Transformers Ikeja Electric had to install in the PPA zones to make this magic possible.

To be clear about the illegality of the Premium Power Agreement, which is not in the legal MYTO framework for Billing, I advise that Mr. Kolawole should go check out the daily power uptake of Ikeja Electric, and see IF it has increased, or simply if it is same power that should have been equitably distributed is just being redirected to the rich folks. These data from August 2019 is ready available from TCN and published weekly.

We are all bothered about the situation of the Power Sector, and continuous engagement of all the stakeholders is ongoing, but we should not protect our friends to the detriments of the nation.

Mr. Kolawole at no point mentioned the plights of Customers and the inability of the Discos to Meter customers, replace faulty Transformers, improve quality of service to customers, etc.

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The advent of Service Reflective will expose all these inadequacies, and it is my prayer that we would not have to continue this escapists arguments. And this is in no way advocating for reversal of the Power Sector, in fact, I have covered these issues and offer several recommendations in solving our Power Sector Challenges. You can read here(https://news.powerupng.com/editorials/editorial-reconsidering-our-approach-to-solving-nigerias-power-problems), it is still relevant.

God Bless Nigeria.

Adetayo Adegbemle is a public opinion commentator/analyst, researcher, and the convener of PowerUpNigeria, an Electric Power Consumer Right Advocacy Group, based in Lagos. (Twitter: @gbemle, @PowerUpNg)

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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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OPINION: Northern Nigeria’s Paedophilic Mass Weddings

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By Suyi Ayodele

“Could you ‘please, possibly, perhaps’, send me to Kano?” I told my editor last Wednesday.

“You will meet me there” was his response.

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I laughed.

A moment later, a friend added his voice: “Why did the Kano government do such a thing under the table? They should have called for an expression of interest.”

We laughed again. I further suggested that the Kano State correspondent “should be penalised for concealing the info!” A friend extended the penalty: “Very well. His Bureau Chief too.”

The Bureau Chief came begging: “Oga mi sir. I am sorry sir. Help me appeal to them sir”

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We all laughed.

In my place, they say when a matter goes beyond weeping, one can only laugh. That is exactly what we did that Wednesday morning.

Our laughter was over a news item by the Daily Trust newspaper that morning. The headline reads: “Hisbah allocates 50 mass wedding slots to kano journalists” According to the report, the Commander-General (see rank) of the Kano State Hisbah Board, Sheik Aminu Daurawa, announced that journalists practising in the state had been allotted 50 females out of the number of women that would be given out in mass marriage in the state. Sheik Daurawa, who said that the previous mass marriage during which 1,800 women were married off was a huge success, disclosed that the Hibah Board had decided to expand the scope by including professional bodies as beneficiaries of the mass wedding, and he was generous enough to allocate 50 slots, sorry, 50 women, to journalists in Kano State.

I read the story and I felt that the editor should post me to Kano that moment. Unfortunately, he too had his eyes on the 50 slots! My Editor was not alone, his General Editor too was calling for an “expression of interest” – who no like beta thing?

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As I penned this, the possibility of going to Kano was still open as Sheik Daurawa had not disclosed the date for the second mass wedding, which the Islamic scholar said was conceived “to promote moral values in the society and reduce immorality among young men and women.” We shall return to Kano presently.

When it comes to matters of the other room, it does not rain in northern Nigeria, it pours. Something bigger than the Kano mass wedding is about to happen in another state in Northern Nigeria. On May 24, in the Year of the Lord, 2024, dignitaries from all walks of life will be gathering in Mariga Local Government Area of Niger State as the Speaker of the Niger State House of Assembly, Abdulmalik Sarkin-Daji, will be marrying off 100 girls in a mass wedding. Now, wait for it! These 100 girls are not willing spinsters of marriageable ages. No!

They are children who became orphans because bandits struck their villages and killed their parents!

The children became orphans not by their choices but by the failure of the government to protect them and their parents from the killer machines known as bandits. And to ‘ameliorate’ their suffering, the “Rt. Hon. Speaker” Sarkin-Daji decided that the best way to do so is to marry them off.

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These wives-to-be are the luckiest of the 170 females under the same circumstance.

And if you think that Mr. Niger State Speaker is alone in this shenanigan, you are damned wrong! The governor of the state, Mohammed Umar Bago, and the Emir of Kontagora, Alhaji Mohammed Barau, are to serve as guardians to the female orphans during the mass marriage ceremony! Neither the governor nor the Emir has denied this.

What about the ages of the 100-would-be wives? While the ‘father’ of the mass brides, Sarkin-Daji, did not disclose their ages, a source, who should know, volunteered that the oldest among the ‘intending brides’ should be around 16 years! “This is just the conservative age. I know that a girl of 13 to 14 years in that locality is already a multiple mother”, my source volunteered! The speaker, who had already listed the proposed mass wedding of the orphans as part of his “constituency empowerment project aimed at alleviating the suffering of the impoverished”, waxed more ‘generous’ by saying that he would be paying the dowries for the bridegrooms, in addition to procuring “all necessary materials for the mass marriage ceremony.” And of course, his soulmate in the generous act, Sheik Aminu Daurawa of the Kano State Hisbah Board would be on ground to witness the ‘grand’ ceremony.

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The mass weddings in Niger and Kano States would be conducted without any recourse to the psychological make-ups of the would-be-brides. I don’t also know if the would-be-husbands would also be allowed to ‘inspect’, feel and touch the girls, the way a buyer feels goats on their tethers before buying them. Don’t worry; we have sunk deeper than this as a nation! Phew!

On this page last week, we discussed the issue of the age of admission to Nigerian universities by the Minister of Education, Professor Tahir Mamman, who proposed 18 years. His argument was that any child who goes to the university before the age of 18 is “too young.” The professor of Law further argued that those “too young” undergraduates “are not mature enough” to cope with the rigours of life in the tertiary institutions, and attributed most of the problems in our higher institutions to the ‘immature’ undergraduates. This is the irony of Nigeria. Professor Mamman is from the north. This is how a friend, Rev (Dr) Bola Adeyemi, responded to the referenced column last week: “In his part of the country, girls of 13 years of age ‘are mature’ for marriage; boys of under 18 years are mature enough for ‘almajarism’ and terrorism, but not for education.” I could not fault the Reverend gentleman. How on earth do we explain our situation to the sane nations of this world without sounding not all there? How do we justify the proposed mass wedding in Niger State without looking like people from the Stone Age to listeners from other countries?

Chapter Two of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (As Amended), deals with the “Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy.” Section 14 (2) (b) of the same chapter states specifically thus: “the security and welfare of the people SHALL be the PRIMARY PURPOSE OF GOVERNMENT (emphasis mine)” This is exactly the responsibility the government has failed to discharge in Niger State, and in most states of the north, and the entire country in general. On a daily basis, we read, hear or witness, the killings of Nigerians in their homes, on their farms, on the highways and schools’ dormitories, by felons the state was expected to checkmate. About two days ago, bandits stormed a university in Kogi State and whisked away about 15 students.

Everywhere you turn in Nigeria, it is like the song of the iconoclast, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, “sorrow, tears and blood”. Yet we have various levels of government. We have people we voted to power to do the job for us. We have the National Security Adviser (NSA), whose only interest is to collect cybersecurity tax while bandits kill at the rate of 10 for two Kobo! We have Generals in all our Armed Forces; we have an Inspector General of Police and other top hierarchies who superintend the rank and file. Bandits struck in Niger State, as in other places. Parents were killed. Children were orphaned as a result of such crass irresponsibility on the part of the government. The only response we got is a proposed mass wedding for 100 orphans, whose parents were victims of a remiss government, to only God-knows-who suitors! Who are we as a people? What are the core values of our being as a nation?

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The education of the girl-child has been a troublesome issue in Nigeria. A February 26, 2024, article on the issue, titled: “Gender desks on frontline of girls’ education in Nigeria”, and sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO’s International Institute for Education Planning, states: “In Nigeria, where 50% of girls are not attending school at the basic education level, major planning efforts are underway to promote gender equality in and through education.” The paper posits that between 2024 and 2027, the roadmap for the Education Sector “aims to bring 15 million out-of-school children back to school in the next four years.” Again, in an earlier piece by Ada Dike of Daily Times newspaper, published on October 15, 2023, on the topic; “Problems facing girl-child education in Nigeria”, the author said: “poverty, peer pressure, early marriage, unwanted pregnancy, being their family’s burden bearers and lack of parental care are parts of the challenges hindering girl child education in Nigeria”. All these identified factors are more prevalent in the north. The most vicious of them all is the issue of “early marriage”, the type Speaker Sarkin-Daji of Niger State and Sheik Daurawa of Kano Hisbah Board, are promoting with crass impunity.

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), as of October 23, 2023, gave the figure of out-of-school-girls in Nigeria to be 7.6 million, with the caveat: “mostly from the northern region.” Of the 20.2 million figures of out-of-school children in the country, the international body said that over 60 percent of the total is from the North. The figure, as given by Christian Munduate, UNICEF Nigeria Country Representative, in Kano, during the International Day of the Girl Child 2023, which had the theme: “Our Time is Now – Our Rights, Our Future”, said: “Nigeria, alarmingly, accounts for 15% of out-of-school children worldwide. Yet, only a mere 9% of the poorest girls have the chance to attend secondary school. This is not just a statistic, it’s a wake-up call…” She added that Kano State ranked second in the number of out-of-school girls in Nigeria, with Kebbi State leading with 67.7 percent.

The elite of the north, nay all Nigerians, should be deeply worried that the data on literacy level published, recently, by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), showed that of the 10 uneducated states in Nigeria – Kebbi, Yobe, Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto, and Niger States, all make the list! Little wonder then the states in the north have a large number of girls to be married off at mass wedding ceremonies. That is our collective shame as a nation. This is why Nigeria keeps crawling, and drooling, 64 years after independence. No matter the pace the other regions of the country intend to take, our stunted brothers up north would keep slowing us down!

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The girl-child is an endangered specie in the north. We all witnessed how a former two-term governor and senator of Zamfara State, Ahmad Sani Yerima, was changing neonates as wives the way a nursing mother changes diapers. We only watched and we did nothing! The man sat in the hallowed chamber of our highest law-making body to join in making laws “for the good governance of the country” while he wantonly destroyed our future with his incurable paedophilic propensity. The best we did was to hide under the blackmail of culture and religion. We never interrogated the mentality of a man above 60 years pulling his trousers at the sight of a 13-year-old girl! And we have millions of Yerimas all over the country, prowling and devouring our young girls. Nobody says a younger girl should not marry her grandfather if that is where she finds ‘love’. Our argument here is that it is morally wrong, mentally inconceivable and legally inappropriate for any man, no matter his age, status and political exposure, to snatch an underage girl in the name of marriage. Nigeria practises universal adult suffrage. That gives one the feeling that the age of consent cannot be lower than the voting age of 18 years.

Even, on a moral scale, picking an 18-year-old for marriage while her mates are still in school is eternally despicable. But our leaders do it with impunity! The deposed Emir of kano State and former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Alhaji Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (SLS), secretly wedded Sa’adatu Barkindo Mustapha, the daughter of Lamido Adamawa, in 2016, at the age of 18, before making the affair public in 2020, when Sa’adatu turned 22. The former Emir of Kano was 55 years old then! But that was not all with the deposed traditional ruler. In the same 2016, SLS was fingered in the abduction of Ese Oruru, a 14-year-old girl from her Yenagoa, Bayelsa State home, by one Yinusa, aka Yellow. The girl was taken to the Emir of Kano’s palace, where she was forced to ‘marry’ Yinusa. Attempts to retrieve the little Oruru from SLS’s palace were met with stiff resistance until Nigerians rose in an outcry. One of those who fought for Oruru’s release, Fineman Peters, said then: “This case defies sanity… This is the most blatant state-sponsored case of paedophile (sic) that I have ever seen…”

The barbaric case of paedophilia which Google defines as “sexual perversion in which children are the preferred sexual object. Specifically: a psychiatric disorder in which an adult has sexual fantasies about or engages in sexual acts with a prepubescent child”, is not a native of the north. It has mild and largely negligible expressions in virtually all states of the Federation. The difference between the north and other parts of the country is in its prevalence up north and the tendency to wear cultural and religious cloaks on such an act of depravity. From Delta to Edo, Osun to Ekiti; Akwa Ibom to Rivers and Abia to Enugu States, cases of cradle snatchers abound. We have senators whose pastime is seeking young girls to devour.

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One of them from one of the Niger Delta States, an unrepentant paramour, who would not go for outright under-age girls, stocks his harem with girls that could easily pass for his granddaughters! We all condoned him and rewarded him with an election to a higher legislative chamber. The shame of it is on all of us! Now, the chicken is coming home to roost. On Sunday, May 12, 2024, we all read the account of the 28-year-old father of little Faith, a five-year-old girl, who posted on his Instagram page, the naked photos of the toddler. Faith’s father, who had since been arrested in his Auchi base, by the men of the Edo State Police Command, was said to have taken the poor little girl to a hotel, took off her clothes and took her naked photos which he uploaded on his Instagram handle! Thank God for the immediate response of the police on this matter.

When one begins to read cases like these, especially from our brothers up north, one cannot but feel sad. Ironically, the region we all pity is like the proverbial troubled soul on whose behalf we all fast and pray, but who keeps on having three full meals everyday (eni aa tori e gbawe to nje osan). How do we address this issue? That informed the banters at the beginning of this piece. The elders of my place say: oro to ba koja ekun, erin laa fi rin – when a matter goes beyond weeping, one can only laugh). And like we say in the Niger Delta region: make persin laugh before persin kpai! Let me ask my editor again: Any chance of going to Kano?

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