Friday, June 20, 2008

Rodeo Drive?!

So, our head honchos have, once again, gotten it completely... wrong.

Yesterday, it was announced that plans have been approved to construct a N50 Billion "Abuja Boulevard" stretching from Eagle Square to the National Hospital. It was said by a smiling (I assume) FCT Minister, that this would elevate Abuja to the status of other world-class cities in the world. The Boulevard will "boost tourism" and be a "24-hour business and shopping hub" and so on and so forth, ad nauseam. It was also said that the development will allow Abuja compare favourably with Rodeo Drive. Such is the extent of our rulers' ambition. Rodeo Drive is a street in some city in California, in good ole US of A. Our rulers want our national frakking capital to compete with a street in a state in another country!

It was also announced, for all ye lucky landowners in the area, that the premiums on land will go up from N2,000 per square meter to between N50,000 and N70,000 per square meter. Naturally, those who cannot afford the new rates are welcome to surrender their Cs-of-O and be reassigned plots elsewhere. And, before anyone dared quibble or grumble about the insane hike, Alhaji Modibbo informed us that MTN and Globacom are already chomping at the bit. Then before any fingers or hands were raised, Modibbo, with a combination of glare and growl that would have Segun Arinze turn green with envy, stated that the days of people getting a "free ride" from government are over. Said he, people got the land cheap in the old days, and when government has finished investing in infrastructural development, these people now sell their land for huge profits, and this is unfair! What kind of twisted logic produces that kind of statement? So, people should not sell land anymore because the government did its frakking job and provided development?

And then, here's the kicker - Alhaji Modibbo said areas whose value will be boosted "indirectly" by the presence of the boulevard will also have their premiums increased. This is likely to have landlords jumping for joy, and tenants groaning in pain seeing as the measure for determining exactly how and to what degree this indirect boost will be applied is as yet unkown. Well, Wuse II, is likely to be one, as well as Maitama, and Garki. And, since the Boulevard is going to head across Zone 6, the rest of Wuse will be in line for a value boost. How, you ask? Quite simple. If the presence of Abuja Boulevard indirectly boosts the value of land in Zone 6, making the said Zone a "choice area" then the boosted value of land in Zone 6 should indirectly boost the value of other Zones by their proximity to the choice areas, and so on and so forth. Heck, before you know it, the premium on land in Bwari will be boosted by being indirectly enhanced by its closeness to Dutse, which was boosted by its closeness to Gwarimpa, which was boosted by its closeness to Wuse II, which was boosted by its closeness to the Boulevard!

Don't you just love the frakking logic?

Here we are, myriad crises facing our government such as the situation in the Niger Delta, and the fact that electricity has been relegated to a pipe dream, and the fact that roads are shockingly bad, and the fact that there is no security of lives and property, and the fact that our teachers have finally gotten pissed off enough to challenge the insincerity and double-faced nature of government promises, and the fact that corruption is a way of life, and a thousand and one other problems, and all they can think of is Abuja Boulevard. They should all get medals for their innovative thinking. So, here's the rub, dear readers: in the spirit of reallocation of land, it is quite likely that the hapless landowners who cannot afford the new outrageous premiums on their land, will likely be reassigned to plots in Kubwa or Bwari, or, come to think of it, Abaji. Their land will then be in all probability reallocated to varied PDP stalwarts, and then the said stalwarts will get to resell the land to those who are expected to jostle for spaces in the area at profits that will have their account officers smiling all the way to the bank.

And, naturally, in the new spirit of the rule of law, anyone who doesn't like it can go *@&!#%. Or head for the Abuja Land Use Tribunal (which is pretty much the same thing).

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Rewriting History

I would have blogged about this the very day I saw the headlines, but work has kept me offline for a while.

A few days ago, people gathered for prayers to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the passing of the dark-goggled one, Gen. Sani Abacha. While alive, Abacha was recognised by the majority of Nigerians to be a violent kleptomaniac, who was only interested in hanging on to power at all costs, while filling his pockets with as much money as he could grab. It was said that once, the then CBN Governor had the temerity to notify Khalifa (as he was called) that there was no more Naira in the Treasury. Enraged, Khalifa picked up his telephone and ordered more money printed just to satisfy his cravings. I certainly cannot forget the "five fingers on the same leprous hand" which he styled as political parties during his divinely truncated "transition" programme. Or the senseless, spineless, and utterly insulting adverts that the NTA shamelessly aired proclaiming Khalifa to be the "key" to Nigeria's future. Or the even more insulting "who the cap fits" adverts aired by the same organisation. I remember that when Alex Ekwueme was being touted as a Presidential candidate, the man had to quickly come out and denounce his "promoters" and declare his loyalty to Khalifa.

Can anyone forget the "million man march" or the 65 year old "youths" who earnestly asked for Abacha?

Also, Abacha was responsible for innumerable assassinations of those who dared demand the restoration of the June 12 mandate freely handed to MKO Abiola by Nigerians. Most prominent among the victims of this struggle against Abacha were Kudirat Abiola and Pa Alfred Rewane. Other pro-democracy activists of the day were forced to become the bird of Igbo legend who stated that since men had learned to shoot without missing, he had learned to fly without perching.

So, it is the memories of these people and countless unnamed others that the 3 generals attempted to rubbish with their asinine claims that Abacha was, basically, purer than the driven snow. Perhaps the most outrageous of all the claims came from none other than Maradona himself. He stated (probably with an enviable poker face) that Abacha never stole a dime! He stated Abacha was a humble man, and that the two of them were real close, right until the end.

We must then ask Maradona about the billions of dollars of loot which have been returned to Nigeria from Khalifa's various foreign accounts. Were they part of an elaborate hoax to portray Khalifa as a bad man? Were we all engaged in the exercise of giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it? I think not.

No, Maradona cannot pull the wool over my eyes. I remember the day Khalifa passed on to the great beyond. There was widespred jubilation of the kind unseen since the day we won the gold medal in football at the Atlanta Olympics. Bus drivers rejected fares, beer parlour owners rejected money, and from east to west and north to south, there was wild celebration.

I know we have a "tradition" of not speaking ill of the dead, but for heaven's sake, it doesn't mean we must become stupid. I know it is often said that Nigerians suffer from collective amnesia, and that we are either unwilling or unable to keep events in our memory, hence we allow the same rubbish to happen to us over and over again. But on this score, I dare say we might as well have been collectively lobotomised if we allow ourselves to forget the Years of the Locust that Abacha's rule represented.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Chuku Chuku

When Umoru took office in the aftermath of the PDP's brazen vote capturing, it soon became clear to both keen-eyed observers and the blind alike, that he would have little or no time for one of Baba's golden boys: CBN Governor Soludo.

Perhaps aware of the impending ill-wind about to blow through his office, Soludo hastened to inform the media and general public at large, that he would no longer be addressed by the name with which he took office - Charles, but would now be addressed by a new moniker: Chukwuma. As I said at the time, I had no idea he even had Chukwuma for a name at all. Indeed, on our Naira notes, he wrote his name in full as Charles Soludo. Granted, there was an initial there, but I always assumed it was a "B", and only the whole name change did I realise that it was, in fact, a "C".

But, to my mind, the reason for the sudden shift from Charles to Chuks was as plain as, well the corruption in Obasanjo's government. He had changed his name because to his "professorial" mind, there was no better shield to hide behind than the well documented history between the Igbos and their Hausa-Fulani brothers. As "Charles" he could be booted out of office without so much as a by-your-leave, and not too many voices would be raised in protest, even if he was of Igbo origin. However, the sudden removal of "Chukwuma" as CBN Governor would definitely trigger howls of protest from the Eastern part of Nigeria. There would be rapid claims of "marginalisation" and "tribalism" and so on. There would be full-page advertorials in national dailies bemoaning the sack of the "highest-ranking" Igbo son in the government. In short, there would be plenty wahala and katakata, and Umoru, unlike Baba, has little inclination towards either.

Never mind that the newly-minted Chuks had never identified himself with his Ohaneze "brothers" throughout Baba's tenure, what would matter would be the perception of the public that Umoru couldn't wait to toss the Igbo man out on his ear, and some would say it smacked of the pogroms which had led to the civil war. So, if Umoru wanted him out, he would have to do it in a way that left no room for any howls of protest. Cue the probes.

Currently, Chuks has at least 3 seperate on-going probes of various aspects of his tenure as the Guvnor. Some involve the Capital Market, some involve the AFC, and some involve the Banking sector, wherein Chuks has recorded his most trumpeted achievements. Now, Chuks spends his time running between the Senate, the House of Reps, and the ICPC, trying desperately to defend himself, and keep his job.

He called for the probe of unethical practices in the banking sector to be conducted in camera, claiming that "wild" statements emanating from the hearing could lead to a run on the affected banks. He stated that a bank could collapse in a day, and so, the public should not be allowed to hear just how the banks were treating their hard earned money, or they might just give in to the temptation to remove it. This suggestion is laughable in the extreme. If I discover that the bank I thought was solid was nothing of the sort, and was indeed wobbling on the verge of collapse, I have every right to pull my money out, and move it to a safer haven, my pillow, perhaps. It has long been suspected by the general public that all is not as rosy as it seems with some of the so-called "mega banks" in Nigeria, and I believe Chuks made the plea to the Committee with certain banks in mind.

Now, it is part of Chuks job as Guvnor to make sure that the banks operate within strict ethical and fiscal guidelines, and treat depositors funds with utmost respect. It has since been established that Chuks has no interest in this part of his job, and prefers to align himself with the very institutions he ought to be policing. Take the board of the AFC, for example. Chuks is the Chairman, and the CEOs of several Nigerian banks are the Directors. Hand in glove doesn't even begin to describe that relationship. And it leads one to ask if the dog is wagging its tail, or the other way round.

His close relationship with these persons cannot but lead to questions about his independence, and indeed, loyalty to his office. The revelations from the Capital Market probe in which he sought to lay blame for the over-subscription for shares at the feet of the subscribers and not the banks was instructive in this regard. Here was a CBN Governor being asked how he abdicated his oversight functions so glaringly, and instead of offering any explanation, no matter how far-fetched, he chose to threaten the people who had been wronged with prosecution. Now, I am not suggesting the government should become heavy handed in the issue of regulation of banks, but the Enron fiasco showed that too much liberalisation is a very dangerous animal indeed. Investors literally lost their shirts because the banks were in cahoots with Enron, and surely a stronger and rigorously enforced regulatory framework could have prevented that from occuring. There are those who say regulation stifles growth and development, but I say that works in the same manner that armed robbers will complain that the police stifle their operations (of course, in Naija, most people would say that our police actually enhance crime, but imagine if there were none at all).

Chuks has been good for Nigeria in some ways, no doubt, and there will be those who say you must take the good with the bad, but when you occupy such a sensitive position, the first things on your mind should be integrity and honour at all times. You shouldn't turn into the Maurice Iwu of banking. And sadly, this is what Chuks has done. No doubt a close relationship with the banks is required, given their importance in economic development, but the CBN is supposed to play the role of a kind but firm parent to these precocious kids, and not act as the booze-purchasing frat brother.

I've said before that Chuks should have gone quietly after the redenomination fiasco, and kept his dignity. He refused to do so, perhaps completely ensnared by the addictive elixir of the power he enjoyed under Baba. Power which enabled him to ride roughshod over his Deputy Governors and render them just about irrelevant. And power which enabled his to be the most important economic voice in the nation. The power went to his head like the powerful narcotic it is, and he refused to see the writing on the wall.

Sadly, I don't think he's going to have the option of a quiet exit anymore. He's made too many enemies who now control his fate. And his comfy seat of power must now be feeling a mite prickly.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Ike & Tina

I drank a can of Red Bull last night in hopes of being awake to watch B'rock clinch the Democratic Party's nomination. I apparently hadn't considered exactly how tired I was, because I promptly fell asleep, and didn't recover my wits until about 3 am. At which time I got to watch B'rock clinch the Democratic Party's nomination (which proves that everything does happen for a reason). Anyway, as soon as I saw that he had not only reached, but zoomed past the magic number of 2,118, I immediately sent texts to my Dad, my Mum, and Chxta.

Needless to say, I was utterly estatic. I had never given Senator Obama a chance initially, and I thought he'd be like Jesse Jackson, win a couple of states and then return to his Senate seat. Of course, as the race went on, I saw that my initial projections had been as accurate as a goal attempt from Emmanuel Adebayor, and I realised that I was watching history. I began staying up on primary nights until the last vote had been counted, and I said here that B'rock needed to hit Hilliar back for all the negative things she was saying about him. I was wrong again, proving I do not have a future as a political adviser (at least not in Yankee).

So, last night/this morning, when I watched his victory speech I got a little misty-eyed, and immediately prayed that God would erect a bullet-catching force field around the man posthaste. Then I settled down to watch Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN. There, several analysts discussed Hilliar's refusal to concede the nomination even now that it was clear that she had lost. Then one of them dubbed her and Bill "Itchy Willy" Clinton the "Ike and Tina Turner of American Politics." I rolled off the chair laughing, and I'm sure I disrupted the peaceful sleep of my neighbours. For I had never heard a more apt description of the pair, except that she's Ike and he's Tina. Now that the nomination is lost, I'm sure neighbours will have to deal with the sounds of lamps breaking as she berates him for costing her the nomination with his statements in South Carolina, and not bringing her the black votes he promised. No doubt Chelsea Clinton will come in for a broadside as well for not energising the young voters like she was supposed to.

As the nomination contest wore on, it became clear that Hilliar was far from being the benign former First Lady she often portrayed on television. In appearance after appearance, Hilliar showed the world that she was, in fact, a shrewish fishwife. From her "misspeaking" to her constant refusal to back down, to her statement that the nominating contest should have run until June because that was when Robert Kennedy got killed (while he was the frontrunner) she told us that Hilliar was in the race for Hilliar and not for the American people as she had always claimed. And watching her change her tone as often as she changed clothes was truly cringeworthy. At one point, Florida and Michigan didn't matter, then suddenly Florida and Michigan were the keys to the nomination. At first the popular vote didn't count, and now she claims that winning the popular vote is the key. And whether she liked it or not, the voters paid attention to her constant shifting.

For sure, Obama beat her, and beat her fair and square, but those punches she landed on her own nose did him worlds of good.

Now, it's on to the White House for the Obama Express.

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I love my country, enjoy a cold beer once in a while, rabidly support Arsenal FC, but I don't get Diet Coke...