Thank you Oga . . . !!!!
Iam taking a break from local politics and confining myself to foreign affairs this week mainly because africa is on the march. Never in my wildest dreams had I anticipated that Nigeria, of all countries, could convene free and fair elections and achieve a smooth transfer of power. after our own successful elections in our tiny enclave we dare call a country, we can safely say the continent is on a roll.
I hope the strangely named Goodluck Jonathan got a call from our own very Cyclone Tom and Size Two to respect the will of the people.
If that happened, then we are indeed trendsetters despite being a measly enclave of only two million, 100 times less than Nigeria’s gargantuan population.
Nigeria is traditionally a place where all the unthinkable things happen. My only visit to that country was very revealing. My colleagues and I had to pay bribes to get our own luggage at the airport in Lagos.
We had checked in our bags at O.R. Tambo to fly to Lagos in the now defunct Virgin Nigeria, the airline founded by Richard Branson, before the flamboyant businessmen fled Nigeria’s cancerous corruption and closed the airline.
We had indeed confirmed at the boarding gate that our luggage was in. It’s something I always do.
But upon arrival in Lagos, and after all the immigration and customs formalities, we did not get our bags on the luggage carousel. It remains a mystery to me that only my suitcase and those of my four colleagues from Namibia, Swaziland and South Africa were missing.
after waiting for close to two hours in the boiling dilapidated so called murtala mohammed international airport, a man from the Nigerian customs department ushered us into a dim room to inform us that our bags had been left in Kigali, Rwanda.
We were all dumbfounded. We stared at each other speechless. This had been a direct flight from O.R. Tambo and we had not made any stopover in Kigali. There was also no chance that the plane could have mysteriously opened its rear doors to drop our bags in flight to the exclusion of all others. We explained this fact to the customs man, who had refused to give us his name.
He then shouted; “Kigali or no Kigali, do you want your bags or not…,”. It was way past midnight and we were all feeling drained in the tropical humidity.
“We want our bags please, please, please Sir !!!” We all responded at once.
“Then put $50 each on the table…,” the customs official barked. We were all stunned. We stared at each other once again speechless. I only had M200 in my wallet since our entire upkeep in Lagos was being paid for by our conference hosts.
Itumeleng, our colleague from South Africa, who had travelled to Nigeria many times before, then drew his wallet and gave the customs officer $200.
“That’s all we have…,” Itumeleng remarked. With a wide grin on his face, the customs officer grabbed the notes and left the room.
Seven minutes later, he reappeared pushing a trolley with all our bags. It then dawned on me that I was in the land of Oga.
Outside the airport building, there was a lone taxi left as the airport was by now largely deserted. Itumeleng politely asked the driver if he could take us to our hotel. The driver said he had already knocked off but could assist us for R50 000 Naira.
But because that whole money would go to his company, he demanded a further 20 000 Naira for himself. But since there were five of us and he would have to fit the four of us in the back seat, he demanded another 20 000 Naira just in case he is caught by police. Itumeleng had some wards of Naira from his previous visit and dutifully paid the driver a whooping N90 000 to get us to the hotel.
On our way, I posed a question to the driver. Why do we have to pay you a bribe to do your job? Why do we also have to pay a bribe to your brothers at the airport to get our own luggage? Itumeleng interjected me and said, “Hey you! Stop It! We are now in Lagos….” I then kept my peace.
The driver dropped us on one side of the road. It was by now raining heavily and in front of us there was a very wide storm water drain which was flooding and separated us from the hotel.
Another guy appeared holding two huge wooden planks and laid them in front of us to enable us to cross the drain. But before we could do so he demanded N1000 from each of us. again, Itumeleng obliged.
The worst was yet to come though. During my two week long stay I befriended a middle aged gentleman by the name Ibbo. His father was a one-time state governor and their family was filthy rich. Ibbo had a big problem though as he explained to me during a dinner date.
He had committed fraud and faced a lengthy prison term. The judge handling the case had nevertheless reached out to him and promised Ibbo acquittal if he paid the judge a “good” bribe. The problem, as Ibbo explained, was that they could not agree on the appropriate quantum that would constitute a “good” bribe.
Ibbo said he had offered the judge one million naira which had been respectfully rejected. He had thus asked the judge to set a figure. Before stipulating an amount, Ibbo claimed, the judge had demanded to visit Ibbo’s house to assess the value of his house, his vehicles and his household property.
The judge had also demanded to visit Ibbo’s village to see the number of cattle he owned in addition to demanding to see all of Ibbo’s bank statements. Ibbo dutifully obliged and took the judge to his home and village.
rmed with all this information, the judge completed his evaluation of Ibbo and demanded a N10 million bribe. Ibbo felt the one million Naira he had offered was adequate and was unhappy with the judge’s demands.
“It’s up to you Oga, Either you pay or you go to prison for 10 years…..,” the judge allegedly told Ibbo.
Said Ibbo. “I had no option but to pay. Here in Nigeria, you have to pay a bribe proportionate to your wealth and judicial officers demand to assess your worth before levying an appropriate bribe figure .”
“How do you do it in Lesotho?,” asked Ibbo. I explained to him that in our Kingdom, the judiciary is absolutely incorruptible and completely bribe free. He couldn’t believe it. “So I must come and live in Lesotho then,” he remarked. I told him he is most welcome.
That visit of mine to Lagos was way back in 2005 after Nigeria had already transitioned from military rule. Abdulsalam abubakar had given the reins to Olusegun Obasanjo after the 1999 democratic elections. abubakar himself had assumed the reins from the vile and despicable Sani abacha, who had been poisoned by two prostitutes while having a threesome.
Abacha, who stole more than $10 billion from his country’s coffers and stashed it in foreign banks, used to deploy Nigeria’s military planes to collect prostitutes for him mainly from India and Thailand.
He would then indulge himself at presidential villas before getting the prostitutes transported back at huge cost to the Nigerian taxpayers. abacha’s enemies, who knew his ways, were thus easily able to access him using these prostitutes.
fter assuming the reins upon abacha’s death on June 8 1998, Abubakar proved to be the perfect gentleman and opted to do things differently. He swiftly released all political prisoners including Obasanjo who then went on to win the 1999 elections. But before vacating office, Abubakar did what successive Nigerian military rulers knew best.
He emptied the country’s treasury. Though he relinquished power to civilians, abubakar is reputed to be wealthier than Bill Gates, Roman abramovich, Patrice motsepe and Warren Buffet combined. He maintains lavish homes populated with young concubines around the world.
He is living life to the very fullest, courtesy of Nigeria’s emaciated taxpayers. But for returning his country to democracy and for breaking with his mentor abacha’s horrific past, Nigerians were able to forgive him and let him enjoy his loot.
fter taking over from abubakar, Obasanjo did not entirely cover himself in glory. His handpicked successor Umaru Yar’adua was a wreck. He died in office 5 May 2010 without having changed the fortunes of Nigerians. But unlike Abacha, who died in ignominious circumstances, Yar’adua succumbed to illness.
Nigeria is a huge paradox, just like so many other African countries. after the rebasing of its economy, Nigeria is now ranked the wealthiest country on the continent. Yet a majority of its nearly 200 million people are depressingly poor. Infrastructure is close to non-existent and its towns and cities are near slums. Nigeria is africa’s largest oil producer.
Yet its citizens face frequent fuel shortages. This is largely due to its lack of refining capacity as successive military rulers exported billions of dollars into theirs and their children and concubines’ private Swiss accounts instead of building refineries to process crude oil. Like most of africa, Nigeria thus exported its crude oil for refining in Europe only to buy back refined petrol at a much more expensive cost.
ut because money would have been stolen in large quantities there would be little left to buy adequate fuel.
Despite being elected in civilian elections, Obasanjo and Yar’ Ardua seem to have perpetuated the same old story with no marked improvements in the living standards of ordinary Nigerians.
It is common cause that if a meteorite were to hit earth, it will most likely hit a group of Nigerians, either standing or sitting playing a game of drafts in Kathmandu, Christchurch, Greenland, Texas, the North Pole, Mokhotlong, Benghazi, Belfast or any other corner of the world.
Even before democracy returned to Nigeria, its citizens had always voted with their feet. I have met Nigerians in places where I have least expected to encounter any human being. Don’t ask me what I would be doing there.
TBhe April 2011 elections which ushered in Goodluck Jonathan into power after Yar’ ardua’s death left 800 people dead. Muhammed Buhari who had participated in all elections since 1999 and lost all of them cried foul and his Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) refused to accept the results. If Obasanjo was bad, and Yar’ardua was Nigeria’s most ineffective, sickly marshmallow president, then Jonathan was a hopeless disaster.
The insurgent group of religious drunkards that pass by the name Boko Haram festered under Jonathan. Even as it slaughtered tens of thousands, Jonathan remained so indifferent that many rightly began thinking that he was a Boko Haram shareholder.
Many thought the flamboyant Jonathan would simply rig the polls, cause untold bloodshed and plunge Nigeria deep down the precipice. But for allowing the democratic process to unfold by allowing free and fair elections and for boosting Africa’s image by handing power peacefully, I am prepared to say to Jonathan; Thank you Oga!! Many many thanks Oga!!!
Nigeria is a sad story. It is a textbook example of how bad governance kills a nation’s hope. With all that Nigeria has experienced, I would have told you to go for a head transplant if you had told me prior to the just concluded elections that Jonathan would allow a free and fair poll. But that is exactly what he did. We must all applaud.
The power emblem is now firmly in the hands of another military ruler turned civilian, Buhari. I am very hopeful. Buhari dethroned Shehu Shagari and lasted only 20 months in power until 1985 before being dethroned by Ibrahim Babanginda. Babangida is also renowned for deploying 30 tonne trucks to empty the Nigerian treasury on the eve of his leaving power.
Buhari ranks as the only Nigerian leader to not steal or if he did steal, to have stolen very little. The sandal wearing 72 year old is reputed to be a firm disciplinarian and the only leader to have attempted to tackle corruption decisively in Nigeria. He is a strict disciplinarian renowned for whipping Nigerians who disobeyed Nigerian including those who reported for work late.
Since africa’s backwardness is partly attributable to the laziness of its people, that must have been a good thing. I am very hopeful of Buhari’s presidency. Being the biggest oil producer in Sub Saharan Africa, the seventh largest Opec exporter of crude, and africa’s most populous and wealthiest nation, at least on paper, the least we should expect is to have a Nigeria that continues embarrassing the continent. Let’s hope Buhari can deliver. Democracy, is meaningless unless accompanied by good leadership.
Closer to home, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete has announced that he is looking forward to retiring in October after serving his final term. Describing the job of president as stressful and thankless, Kikwete said he was looking forward to spending more quality time with his family.
No attempt to cling to power at all. Which leaves Robert mugabe as the only sore point on the continent. Our god forsaken Zimbabwean brothers and sisters, who have become as ubiquitous as Nigerians in terms of being found in every corner of the world, now enjoy the dubious honour of being ruled by the oldest president in the world.
Israeli’s Shimon Peres, who at 90 competed well with mugabe, since gracefully retired. Peres was in any event a figurehead or ceremonial president of Israel. Why Mugabe is not ashamed of himself is beyond any rational comprehension.
During his live press conference with President Jacob Zuma this week, mugabe appeared like he would collapse into the microphone and lectern due to old age. At 91, he is not about to give up power and has declared he wants to remain in office till he is 100. He has just completed a vicious purge of all those in his party who want him to retire including his respected former deputy, Joice Mujuru.
Perhaps just like Abacha, the biggest contribution mugabe could have made to his wretched people and towards improving africa’s image is to have died a long time ago.
Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (left) and his successor muhammadu Buhari.