Monthly Archives: May 2012

Miracle… or Not: Lagos Miracle Baby

                “It is probable that improbable things will occur” – Aristotle

It is amazing how Nigerians gullibly believe miracles of events; too easily if you ask me. It is one thing to believe in miracles (as being possible) but it’s another to believe that just because someone appears to be levitating (flying) that it is a miracle. There are Muslims (perhaps Christians too) who don’t believe in miracles but I am not coming from that angle. I want to address this pernicious and pervasive credulousness that has infested us. The multi-million (Billion) Naira industry of Christian churches that market through miracles is a testament of its viral nature; but there are about 2000 sects of Christian churches in Nigeria so a few are implied here. I hear Lagos state now taxes this religious Market.

The recent headlines, for a few weeks now, has been the birth of a Baby in Lagos miraculously clutching a Quran. You can read the full account here. The jist is that a baby was born to a Christian woman while it was clutching a small Quran. When I read it, I shrugged it off casting my skepticism away especially since I couldn’t see how its truthiness or falsity has a bearing on me as a Muslim. But since then I have met with a number of people who not only believe this story but uses it to affirm their truth for being Muslims. Now that is a problem; even worse than the increasingly vocal ijaz disciples (who use scientific findings not miracles). Before I lose some readers here, let me say I actually believe in Miracles.

                When Sunday Vanguard visited where the baby was kept at 1 Shonde Street,  Ijeshatedo, Surulere,  Lagos, the place had virtually become a tourist centre, with a huge crowd converging to catch a glimpse of the baby. In the crowd were mostly Muslims from different parts of Lagos, chanting “Allahu Akbahu”. – From link above

First let me invoke skeptic thoughts by refering us to some hoax miracles from the past. A simple google search of religious miracles hoax is an entertaining exercise if you have time.

Was it the Quran or the Bible?

I was asked “why wouldn’t the Christians believe this miracle?”, I said it is for the same reason that Muslims gullibly believe it. I’ll explain.

Except for those naturally occurring “miracles” of Arabic names of God (appearing in the sky or shape tree trunk), I think most pro-Muslim and pro-Christian miracle stories are very similar. If we take the Lagos-Miracle-Story and substitute it word-for-word, what will happen; replace pastor with imam, church with mosque and Quran with Bible? Do you think the same believing Muslims will believe the story? Wouldn’t miracle-prone Christians believe it then? Belief in the story has nothing to do with the story but on the components that make the story because both believe they are on the right path to God and find it tasking to question claims about their benevolent God.

If you are interested in the polar reactions from the Muslim and Christian sides click on this link,scroll down and enjoy the comments.

UnSaid Connotations

Story telling is an art. Ask Mark Twain or anyone who enjoys a good novel or anyone who has been conned. It’s amazing how so many miracle-stories have a similar plot; not unlike when Nollywood movies used to always end with a pastor defeating a demon. At times an evil guy is shown a miracle who then repents, other times the evil doer gets punished by that miracle, and other times a nice person is shown a miracle so that they are saved. In the 3 mentioned scenarios, the stories appeal to our emotions of hope, vengeance and mercy respectively. I think the Lagos story can be seen as a story of hope or mercy; depending on a Muslim’s view of Christianity. Here are some interesting excerpts:

                “I repeatedly tried to abort the baby, but, instead, the baby kept  getting stronger by the day, which made me to give up on abortion. Then I started wearing a cross around my waist to protect the baby and myself but the cross kept cutting.” – The Mother

See how this part of the story has basically invalidated Christianity by the overwhelming powers of Islam.

                 “The amazing thing was that the family of Kikelomo is Christian. It shows that we are one from God, but came into the world to choose and go our separate ways.” – Imam of Ramatu Ishamiya Mosque in Ijeshatedo, Lagos

Uncritical Assumptions

We hear that a baby was born “clutching” a Quran. Immediately Muslims assume that is a good thing. This may not be influenced by how the story was narrated because even on reading the headlines, we take it to be something auspicious. Or could it be because it is reminiscent of Prophet Isa’s (Jesus) miracle birth? Aren’t these the same Muslims that see birth fluids as impure? The same ones that wouldn’t dare take the Quran into an impure place (like toilets)? But when the Quran comes out as such, it is a miracle?  I am surprised Muslims haven’t seen this as an insult to the Quran but I guess “miracles” out shadow religious animosity.

Follow Up

Nigeria has a deplorable journalism standard. Journalist copy and paste (make a few edits), are unoriginal and report rumors as a matter of fact. Many newspapers are actually tabloids filled with celebrity gossips/conflict (politicians are the biggest celebrities in Nigeria). In the least, even if they report a story as unsubstantiated, they do it precisely because they know their audience will be captured by such stories. The audience’ brains conveniently leave out the hints that the story’s not confirmed.

Has anyone followed-up the story? Like government contracts, we celebrate their beginnings. Has anyone bothered to investigate the story following a different channel? Has anyone bothered to confirm the “facts” given in the story?

What You Should Know About the Quran

You think the Quran is a Book? Well, not really. It is only a book insofar as a “book” means a revelation (as is used in the Quran). What the world (including Muslims) call the Quran today, is a book (usually paper) in which words of the Quran are recorded. The Quran is a Message and to limit it being a book is a pity.

There is no doubt that the Quran (as recorded during the time of the Prophet) has been preserved uncorrupted (you can ask respectable orientalists too). But copies of the Quran have their peculiarities even though the content is the same word-for-word. The extra-content may differ: page layout, fonts, page numbers, whether every page ends with the end of a verse, format of table of contents, introduction by publisher, extra supplications at the end etc. These peculiarities are usually unique to a geography e.g. Arabian peninsula may favor a different format compared to the Indian sub-continent or Iran-Turkey. There is in fact some (at least four) chapters of the Quran that are known by two names and so different geographies/publishers use one consistently. This can be checked in table of contents easily because the chapter number doesn’t change.

I am interested to know what is the publisher’s address on the first pages of the “miracle” Quran. I will like to know the format: page layout, page numbering, fonts etc. I will especially like to know which chapter-names (for chapters known with more than one name) appear in its table of contents (if it has one). This information is pertinent to any believer of this miracle; it means the format of this “miracle” Quran is the best since the divinity of this cannot be questioned.   Henceforth other formats should be discarded.

In Conclusion

Now whether the woman in the story converts to a Muslim or not is another issue. Even from the popular Muslims’ perspective, her soul is saved. But beyond her soul is the soul of the community which further exacerbates the tension between Islam and Christianity; either by Muslims thinking their superiority has been confirmed by God (if she converts) or that Christians knowingly disregard the true religion. I have heard a couple of stories about converts whose conversion shows no sincerity but exposes them to hands willing to help (economically).

If miracles are the occurrence of known physical laws in an unpredictable manner, then the physicists (second law of thermodynamics) know that miracles are not theoretically impossible only improbable. And thus any sensible person knows to make his plans/predictions/inventions on the highly probable premises.

Like I said in the beginning, I believe in Miracles. But in an age of quick-money schemes and religious hustlers, I reserve my right to be skeptical. If I come off as being insensitive and if any of the details are incorrect, may God forgive me… and you the reader should inform me.  Peace.

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Charter of Demands: A Symposium on Corrupt Governance and Fuel Subsidy Report

Please find below a Charter of Demands which I promised to make available in a previous post Symposium on  Corrupt Governance which was organized by N-Katalyst. This charter of demands is likewise a product of N-Katalyst, posted here with their permission.

N-Katalyst

Mega-Corruption in the Fuel Subsidy Regime

Charter of Demands

 

INTRODUCTION

The Nigerian State and its people woke up to the reality of the removal of subsidy on petrol by the Federal Government of Nigeria on the 1st of January 2012. For virtually all Nigerians, it was evidence of an anti-people policy and a desperate move by the Federal Government to punish Nigerians for the corruption that that the Government itself organizes in the oil sector. This led to massive protests across the major cities of Nigeria in strong disapproval of the decision to remove the subsidy. As a result of the massive protests, the House of Representatives in an Emergency Session on the 8th of January 2012 set up an Ad-Hoc Committee to verify and determine the actual subsidy requirements in Nigeria. The Report of the House of Committee on the Fuel Subsidy disclosed that there is monumental and unprecedented level of fraud in the subsidy regime.

It was in this context that N-Katalyst, a non partisan network of individuals with a deep commitment to the promotion of Nigerian unity and progressive change organized a National Symposium in Abuja on 30 April 2012 to address the issues. The occasion was chaired by Maryam Uwais, a respected leader in the human rights community. The speakers were Dr Otive Igbuzor who reviewed the report of the Ad Hoc Committee, Prof Chidi Odinkalu, represented by Udo Ilo, who addressed the issue of corruption and the human rights of Nigerians, Dr Hussaini Abdu who surveyed the engagement of civil society in the anti-corruption struggle and Yemi Candide-Johnson SAN who reviewed the role of the judiciary and anti-corruption agencies. Bashir Yusuf Ibrahim address was focused on the imperatives on the executives on addressing the implications of the massive crimes carried out against the people of this country.

FINDINGS

The findings which covered the years 2009-2011 revealed the following. That only five companies (including NNPC) were involved in fuel importation in 2006; ten in 2007 and nineteen in 2008. By 2011 however, the number had jumped to one hundred and forty. The Ad-Hoc Committee discovered that the fuel subsidy regime was “fraught with endemic corruption and entrenched inefficiency. Much of the amount claimed to have been paid as subsidy was actually not for consumed Premium Motor Spirit (or Petrol).” The Committee reported that “contrary to the earlier official figure of subsidy payment of N1.3 trillion, the Accountant General of the Federation put forward a figure of N1.6 Trillion, the CBN N1.7 trillion, while the Committee established subsidy payment of N2.59 trillion as at 31st December, 2011, an amount more than 900 percent over the appropriated sum of N245 billion.” In addition, there are “outstanding claims by NNPC and the marketers in excess of N270 billion as subsidy payments for 2011.” The Committee, in its Report, established that “NNPC was found not to be accountable to anybody or authority”.

The Committee also found out that “some of the marketers were involved in claiming subsidy on products not supplied.” Between the 12th and 13th of January, 2009 (and within 24 hours) the Accountant General was found to have made payments of equal installments of N999 million for a record 128 companies, totaling a disbursement of N127.872 Billion.

Following a review of totally incomprehensible and contradictory presentations by Governmental ministries, departments and agencies, the Committee was able to make a credible estimate that the probable daily consumption of Petrol from the record of marketers and NNPC comes to an average of 31.5 million litres daily. It, therefore, proposed the continuation of subsidy for Petrol and Kerosene and suggested a budget of N806.766 Billion for the 2012 fiscal year. The Committee asserted that the 445,000 bpd allocation to NNPC is sufficient to provide the Nation with its needs in petrol and kerosene, with proper management and efficiency. The Committee recommended the refund to the treasury of the sum of N1.06 trillion, equivalent of $6.8 billion, fraudulently spent.

It is clear that fuel subsidy corruption has revealed a new trend of corruption in Nigeria. In the past, corrupt transactions took place mainly through contract inflation, over- invoicing and receiving of kickbacks. But the fuel subsidy corruption has witnessed situations whereby people collect subsidy payments without making any supplies, collect foreign exchange without supplying petrol and collect subsidy payments for not supplying petrol while collected foreign exchange for the purpose. The fuel subsidy probe presents a supreme opportunity for the people of Nigeria to be united in the determination to rescue our country from the stranglehold of thieves.

DEMANDS

N-Kalalyst believes that the monumental corruption unveiled by the investigation should be turned into an opportunity to create a tipping point for zero tolerance to corruption and for the institutionalization of transparency and accountability in our public life.

1) Ending Impunity for the Fuel Subsidy Cabal

Public corruption has run out of control. We are recent witnesses to the police pension scam and the unbelievable spectacle in the House of Representatives on the power probe where it was discovered that over $16bn was spent to provide electric power without commensurate results. We are looking at a pattern of organized looting of our national resources emanating from the Executive Branch. It continues because Nigerians do not stand up to fight and hold their leaders accountable for their actions. It will not be enough to insist that the culprits be prosecuted and punished. We must begin this fight by demanding the following:

i. All persons and institutions proven to have been indicted in the fuel subsidy scam should be punished. These include, but are not limited to, the Ministers of Petroleum Resources and Finance, the Board Members, MD and Management of NNPC, the Board Members and Executive Secretary of PPPRA, the Director of DPR and all public officials indicted in the Report by the House of Reps Ad hoc Committee.

ii. The freezing of the accounts and recovery of all illegal payments made to the Petroleum marketing firms, the NNPC, PPPRA and others which, according to the House Committee, amount to N1.2 trn or $6.8bn

iii. The immediate dismissal of the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke as she awaits prosecution for her crimes against the Nigerian people.

N-Katalyst commits itself to push these demands by exerting maximum pressure on the Federal Government to take action.

2) Getting the Judiciary to do its Work

The spectacular failure of recent high profile criminal prosecutions relating to corruption dramatizes the collapse of the system of public prosecution in Nigeria. Public prosecution rests on a tripod – the detection and investigation of crime, the prosecution of offenders and the conviction and punishment. All levels are in crisis due to the appointment of successive Attorney Generals who see themselves as the President’s poodle rather than an independent and impartial officer of the State determined to advance the cause of justice. There is no political will at the very highest echelons of authority to fight corruption in the country. Already, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke (SAN), has described the report as mere “fact finding” while the Political Adviser to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Alhaji Ali Gullack, described it as lacking credibility.

While we are conscious of the fact that government must be guided by the dictates of the rule of law and due process, the message we get from the Presidency is that they are in no hurry to identify and prosecute the culprits of this mega corruption. The President must come out openly and show commitment to ending impunity by:

i. Immediately terminating the appointment of the Attorney General Mohammed Adoke, SAN and appointing a credible Attorney General who has the skills and the will to combat and prosecute corruption.

ii. Announcing a time frame, not exceeding six months, for implementing the recommendations of the Farouk Lawan Committee report and commencing the prosecution of all indicted officials and all persons who benefitted, colluded or participated in the corruption scandal.

3) Restructuring of the Petroleum Sector

The structural conditions which allowed for the monumental fraud is that NNPC remains as the regulator, main producer and marketer of petroleum and its products, both upstream and downstream. It is a clear conflict of interest that allowed the organization to become a behemoth with no respect for laws and processes. There is a need for deregulation so as to stop NNPC from regulating the downstream sector. Oil Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke has a conflict of interest by being both on the board of NNPC – a fuel importer – and the supervisor of the subsidy regulator, the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA). We demand as follows:

I. A Judicial Commission of Inquiry should be established into the operations of the Petroleum Ministry and NNPC.

ii. The management and the board of NNPC should be overhauled and those involved in any infractions should be investigated and prosecuted. The company should be unbundled to make it more transparent and efficient.

iii. NNPC through local refining, swap arrangements and offshore processing should be able to provide enough fuel for Nigeria. Therefore the government has no reason to grant subsidy import licenses to other companies.

iv. The chairman and board members of PPPRA between 2009-2011 should be investigated for complicity or gross negligence. The executive secretaries of the PPPRA during that period should be investigated and prosecuted by anti-corruption agencies. PPPRA should conduct a full performance assessment on all companies who import fuel into Nigeria.

v. The passage, within a maximum of three months, of the original, undiluted Petroleum Industry Bill.

4) Providing Fuel at Reasonable Prices

N-Katalyst accepts the Committee’s estimate that the probable daily consumption of Petrol from the record of marketers and NNPC comes to an average of 31.5 million litres. It, therefore, proposes the continuation of subsidy for Petrol and Kerosene and suggests a budget of N806.766 Billion for the 2012 fiscal year. The Committee asserted that the 445,000 bpd allocation to NNPC is sufficient to provide the Nation with its needs in petrol and kerosene, with proper management and efficiency.

i. Kerosene subsidy should resume as a means of helping the poor and aiding the struggle against deforestation in the search for fuel wood.

ii. Government must, as a matter of urgency, privatize all its refineries because the refineries have become mere cash cows for NNPC bureaucrats. Private investors who were issued licenses for the construction of new refineries must be made to use these licenses or the licenses be withdrawn and issued to serious investors who are ready to build new refineries over the next three years to guarantee sufficient local supply of petroleum products.

5) Citizen Engagement

N-Katalyst is aware that Government will not act if citizens do not mount sufficient pressure. We Nigerians must act more as citizens and not subjects. The country belongs to us all and we can no longer leave the political space and politicians and bureaucrats, and for common thieves and crooks. The fight against corruption must be comprehensive and all encompassing; all sections of the society must stand up and fight until we bring this monster under control.

i. Pressure should be mounted on Government to engage the participation of citizens in the formulation of a plan of action towards ending impunity and corruption in our national life, including the possibility of making corruption a capital offense.

ii. N-Katalyst commits to working with other civil society groups to ensure that these demands are met.

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New Media and Governance

“You can try to avoid that’s why its pointless
but you can never avoid the voice of the voiceless” – Lowkey 
“The voice of the Voiceless… that voice is social imbalance”  – Immortal Technique

A conference titled New Media and Governance: Tools and Trends was held on the 14th to 15th of May 2012 (three days ago) organized by the partnership of Yaradua Center, EnoughIsEnough and Galaxy Backbone PLC (there are a ton of non-major partners).

New Media is a large concept and should not be subsumed in to social media, which is a part of New Media. New Media as a concept could involve the apparently primitive media tools insofar as information cost is lowered whereas social media is almost inseparable with electronic devices. If a town-crier best suit your purpose of disseminating information, there is no need for a whole village to subscribe a Blackberry plan. However due to demand of interactivity our discussions dwell on those tools that offer a two-way information traffic. And judging by the number of iPads at the conference, it would ve been disappointing not to talk about online tools.

Gidi Traffic alerts you of traffic congestion via twitter. When NYSC Corp members were not paid allowance, Ministry of Youth Dev did not find out through its bureaucratic channel but via social media updates. This could be the future of Nigerian governance. New Media may be extended to monitoring corruption by transparency (as in Ekiti State later on) and by citizen engagement (client engagement in terms of contract).

“Many World Bank projects have failed because citizens don’t engage in accountability” – Caroline Sage of World Bank

The essential ingredient of New Media is low cost, cost of information and cost of collaboration, which are significantly lowered by New Media; E.g information on budget can easily be disseminated via SMS and protests can be organized over facebook. There were so many real world examples given during the conference but for the sake of brevity, I’ll skip them.

A New Media organization is the big-guy that can stand up for the voiceless by relying on two major supports: Anonymity and Partnership. Such organizations/platforms can receive information anonymously (then perform necessary verification) and relay this information to their partners (or not as when mySociety flooded traffic authorities in the UK with complaint-emails without seeking permission first which would have been denied).

The style of this post is issue-focused. I noted some of the issue I thought were interesting and I’ll attempt to indulge in some. The reader may wish to jump to which sub headings they find interesting. The content of the conference was vast and quite detailed at times so here is a link to the presentations made for any who would ve wanted to attend (available for download). A few factual information in this post are taken straight from their presenters and not verified; also subject to my memory. I intended a section on technical details of the new media tools but that may make this post too long; a different blog perhaps on request. I will append a section at the end with a list (and links) to some of these tools.

INEC Situation Room

First, it was interesting to find out that Civil Societies love Prof Jega (Head of INEC); he is a kind of a celebrity. I got a different impression from internet comments but you know what, he seemed like a cool chap after many references to his participation in some endeavors… enough on Him. Cooler stuff await.

Did you know that INEC had a situation room? Neither did I. Perhaps my imagination is getting the best of me but I imagined it to be like 24’s CTU. There are large screens with major news channels (one was wasted on NTA), arrays of phones (landlines and mobile), and loads of people. An interesting sight is that the civil society ReclaimNaija had a section for itself in the situation room monitoring election in realtime. ReclaimNaija was using the Ushahidi Platform to monitor elections (more on that later).

#OccupyNaija and #FuelSubsidy Protests: Success or Failure

I won’t prolong the suspense. The consensus at the conference is that the protests were successful. It must be viewed from two perspectives to appreciate this answer.

First, by viewing the protests as battles and social activism as the war. As highlighted, the lack of a unified/operational youth body made it easier for NLC to hijack the campaign which led to them settling for “half” of the demand. What matters is that the demand of citizens was listened to and the government’s callous decision was “half” reversed.

I think international media is to blame for perception of others that this was a failure. For the cost of creating a spectacle, international mainstream media labeled the “Arab Spring” a facebook revolution. Many candid Nigerians believed it and thought that simply facebook/twitter were enough to cause change. What they were not aware of is the prolonged struggle and sustained organization that were the foundations of the entire revolutions. Many Nigerians that came out to the street felt betrayed (by NLC) and are disheartened because it seems what they understood to happened in other countries has not happened in theirs. Simply because of misinformation. I guess New Media can exaggerate aspects of a cause. Critical reading of news becomes a priority.

The second perspective to understand this success is from the point of view of Civil Societies. These are people who do the behind-the-curtains jobs in addition to the on-stage actions like the boisterous protests. For example the FOI act recently passed was a result of sustained attempts for 12 years. Now the Civil Societies are feeling the change in response of the government to issues they were once aloof about. More publically, the recent senate probe on fuel subsidy that was reported was prompted by this change in dynamics: Now that is success.

Equal under God… Except if You Know More

Chidi Odinkalu made an interesting claim: that Nigeria is a nation of discrimination based on information. We are constantly reminded that we live in an information age, the truth of which may be contested. The Nigerian context, although may be far from the typical economic implication of “information age” but may be socially/politically in information age. The question is that why are civil servants the richest class of people in the country? or why does any rich person have to depend much on civil servants? The answer relevant here is that because civil servants have information, others don’t.

In this sense, Freedom Of Information act is supposed to bridge this gap (of course not focused on economic investments). Freedom Of Information is then Freedom in Information or Freedom through Information. In most cases government organizations are not willing to share their secrets so FOI requests likely end up in court.  But even Chidi (I think) mentioned how the will of Justice is easily swayed in Nigeria. In cases where FOI requests succeed, it means only a few people (the requesters) have their hands on it. New Media comes to the rescue.

For other government agencies that publish documents on their websites, that is New Media and potentially accessible to anyone. The few that win court cases on FOI requests could publish it on the Internet or any other New Media. Discrimination then may not be based on information bust based on effort to access the information (which is technically not discrimination).

Revenue from Transparency

It was pay day in Afghanistan and many police officers were excited. They had gotten a raise. Perhaps this raise comes with their new payment method which was electronic (notification on phones). What they found out later was that there was no raise and it was no mistake. It was simply that their commissioners used to carve out chunks of their salaries before paying them… for years. This was a story shared at the conference by Steven Livingston.

More relevant is the case of Ekiti state which was narrated by the Governor at the Conference. Tax Revenue from Ekiti before adopting New Media (electronic payment) was about N150 Million. Tax Revenue after adopting New Media immediately jumped to more than N600 Million. This means that only about 15% of the taxes get to government treasury, the rest was “lost” along the way in the hands of bureaucrats.

It seems the answer to transparency (and citizen participation) can be provided by New Media. But why have many government agencies not embraced it? The Minister of ICT mentioned at the conference that by 2014 about 50% of government information will be published online and that 15 to 20 services (in addition to tax and immigration) will be added to New Media payment. However it seems government agencies are resistant to these services so far because the prefer yahoo and hotmail to their .gov.ng domains. The MD of Galaxy Backbone Plc (who provide the service) confirmed that only 6% of this .gov.ng services are being utilized. This reluctance may become resistance to “intrusion” of New Media. I hope the reluctance is not because of unreliable service… that is another issue then.

Did you know that a recent study showed that people are more truthful on emails than on phones? Emails implicitly mean documented, thus accountability. I’m just saying…

Transparency’s Scourge Proved Wrong

Caroline Sage, from World Bank, talked about the information revolution in the World Bank. The default stand of the World Bank (as with most authorities) is that all information is private unless there is a need to make it public; which may not unrelated to court cases. However the revolution flipped the scripts: now World Bank information is public by default unless there is a reason to make it private.

The fear of World Bank (as many other authorities) was mainly that exposing such information might leave them vulnerable to attacks and criticism. However World Bank has recorded less complaints/criticism since the information revolution. This is probably due to the availability of clear information which formerly may not have been clear and so easily misconstrued.

Another interesting finding which will douse the fear of exposing New Media to rural areas is the case of rural farmers which Caroline Sage worked with. Keep in mind that New Media includes monitoring via SMS. Potentially anyone that uses a mobile phone can be a New Media agent. This is what Caroline Sage had to say about the rural farmers:

 “I don’t know about literacy but Nigerians (farmers) have grabbed ICT with a vengeance.” – Caroline Sage

Preventing Rigging by Participation

There was a discussion on the techniques of rigging election in the recent context where voters are registered before voting. This point came from an unexpected source. It was not a detective, forensics or sociologist; it was a musician BankyW. The logic is outlined in what follows. Bear in mind that youths (18yrs to 35yrs) account for over 60% of Nigeria’s population.

Assuming there are 100 Nigerians and two political parties; let us hypothetically call them HP (Honest Party) and PDP (Power for Darkness Party). PDP is the evil party seeking to rig election to their favor. 70 Nigerians register to vote, 40 came out to vote. Of the 40, 30 vote of HP and 10 for PDP. Now PDP is smart enough to know that it will be difficult to rig the elections since the number of voters can be accounted for. PDP then prints ballot-papers and cast 30 votes in favor of PDP. The election commission sees the result for HP as 30 votes and for PDP as 10+30 votes. And so PDP wins.

Of course it is not all this simple in reality as one may ask questions like: why isn’t biometrics used to confirm identity of voters, was the registration protected enough because PDP could have inflated the number of registrants in anticipation of the future… and so many other questions. The message is that by coming out to vote, you are also preventing rigging.

Celebrity Dilemma

On the second day three artists were invited for one of the sessions titled “Naija Generation and New Media”: they are Efe Paul, a poet; Darey, a musician; BankyW, a musician. All three entertained us well the night before during a dinner sponsored by the conference organizers. During the session however, there was more preaching and less performing. BankyW was the exception; he seemed to be doing both. The three gave inspiring and contemplative short speeches but I highlight the question of whether celebrities should meddle with politics; this point was emphasized by Darey.

Darey threw in the rhetorical questions and BankyW attempted to answer some. This has always been one of the fallacies of media especially in advertisements where a celebrity endorses a product with statements that his/her artistic qualifications don’t give him/her authority; e.g. what might D’Banj know about toothpastes to give him authority to say it is the best. Darey asked if celebrities shouldn’t be careful before jumping into politics and if they must, shouldn’t they require understanding of policy making? BankyW on the other hand has been partisan in many civil movements and so justified his stand on doing what seems right (I think according to constitution). This type of involvement is different from that of say D’banj who sang for the present president as endorsement. D’banj’s producer apologized to Nigeria after the president callously (and stupidly I add) withdrew fuel subsidy without approval of relevant stakeholders.

Something interesting happened: the Ohimaya (SA to the Minister of Youths) was also in the panel. In his passionate speech he accused BankyW for indecisiveness for not endorsing a presidential candidate and even praised D’Banj. He, in his activist days, had endorsed a presidential candidate different from the present administration which he works for. BankyW responded that he endorsed the Governor of Lagos publically but would keep to himself who he voted for president because none of the candidates impressed him. With crowd support for BankyW’s response (thus Boo to the SA), the SA chipped in that BankyW should then run for president someday. BankyW (who wouldn’t let it go) in a smirk reply insinuated that the SA has a better chance after all he has come from activist to SA to minister in such a short time. Enough of this! beginning to sound like a gossip…

Darey articulated his decision not to endorse anyone because he feels its every citizen’s responsibility to decide for themselves, without his imposition. I guess Darey has forgotten about “manufacturing consent”. My advice for artists is not to endorse any politician but to promote causes. I guess that is what BankyW does and what D’Banj didn’t do. As far as I’m concerned, I can’t listen to D’Banj’s advice on social matters because his actions indicate that he can be bought whereas BankyW has my ears. Not because celebrities like BankyW are experts, but because they have not corrupted themselves by association and have not given me a reason to doubt their motives.

Youth Poverty Alleviation

The minister of youth affairs was at one of the sessions. Today university graduates are selling phone recharge cards on a small scale. About 70% are unemployable because they lack skills needed by employers but these people could thrive in entrepreneurship. The ministry of youth affairs needs to launch programs on Youth Development.

Given the current situation, Youth Development is not possible because the ministry spends over 90% of its budget on Youth Management. Actually about 90% of the budget is spent on NYSC. The youths in NYSC hardly make up 5% (my guess) of the Nigerian youths which the ministry is set for. The implication of this is that New Media projects are not likely to be launched for youth development (or youth participation in governance).

This couldn’t have come at a worse time because many are optimistic that youth development can be achieved through New Media. A project currently running in India is providing cheap/free internet connection on android tablets via satellite. This exposes youths to a variety of free skills acquisition resources online.

Non-Tool Focused Campaigns

I feel the need to touch on this point again because it received a lot of attention during the conference. Simply put, it is that New Media is not synonymous with Social Media even though Social Media is New Media. This point was explained in the introduction of this post.

Therefore when planning for a campaign for which you hope to find a solution in New Media, don’t immediately think about Facebook or Twitter. Make your purpose clear and define your constituency then make a decision on the variety of social media platforms available. Anyone trained in software engineering sees this as intuitive but it is worth mentioning.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel, Make a Mercedes Benz

For the techy’s it is very tempting to want to create your own New Media platform from scratch especially after hearing about how do-able they are and after identifying some of the weaknesses. If you are a techy and that is your end aspiration, then by all means. However if your end is to achieve a social cause, your energy may be better utilized using existing platforms and customizing to your taste. You can then focus on the social cause not the tool. An effect of this approach is that if you can come up with a better version of the platform, others can benefit and improve on your platform since it is open source; the evolution begins.

An example of this approach was illustrated during the conference. Michael Best used the Ushahidi platform initially but found that it crashes when rate of incoming signals exceed 50 SMS/second (I think). They created their software based on Ushahidi and were able to achieve about 150 SMS/second.

The analogy in the above title is also to show the organic importance of New Media. If New Media is the wheel, the entire cause is the car and destination is the cause’s goal.

African Software Engineering

I am particularly interested in this issue not because I am from computer science background but because I live in a third world country where we tend to borrow “international best practices” and attempt applying them to our situations with scarcely any adaptive changes. But it gets better, Africa now has its own superstar software platform called Ushahidi.(being open source means that it may contain contributions by non-Africans but it is important that it was born in Africa and managed in Africa).

Ushahidi was developed in Kenya as a way to archive information and make it publically available for access. Ushahidi is a web platform that allows the gathering of messages via SMS, email, tweets and direct posting on the website. It has since been built upon to monitor disasters in Haiti, in Japan and other places. It has also brought about what Mike Best (at the conference) called the African Software Engineering. I didn’t get the opportunity to ask him further what the term involves but it suffice to say it implies a form of customization of software for African context. It might interest you to know that the ReclaimNaija election monitoring site is based on Ushahidi but had to be customized for the Nigerian context.

This for me is a revolution in New Media (or ICT) but hopefully will extend to other fields for both large scale (like free market capitalism) and small scale (like world bank funded) projects, when it comes to application in Africa.

Big Brother for Politicians

If you are excited about the title, bring it low because there are no surveillance cameras and drama among housemates (as in the Big Brother reality show). But I will encourage you to raise your expectations.

New Media provides opportunities to monitor what your elected officials are up to. MySociety is a UK-based organization that provides just that solution. MySociety basically facilitates citizen engagement and governance transparency by building websites. 55% of visitors to one of their sites “TheyWorkForYou” think better of their MPs after visiting the site (TheyWorkForYou monitors Members of Parliaments each with their pages). More recently MySociety worked with Mzalendo to monitor Kenyan MPs, which was re-launched in February 2012. IF you thought NTA’s live coverage of legislature proceedings is cool try any of the two mentioned above.

In a previous post, someone proposed that government contracts should be monitored during a symposium (on the report on fuel subsidy probe). Perhaps New Media in the form of MySociety could help in this regard; it’s the concept that is important. Contracts could be monitored through their lifecycles like MPs are. As such, budgets could be monitored online.

Denial of Justice Attack (DoJ)

In computer networking, there is a form of attack which can be targeted on servers called DoS attacks (Denial of Service Attack) The trick is to overload the server with requests which is beyond its capacity (usually by automating the requests and never terminating sessions). The result is that the server crashes/hooks because it cannot respond; thus made nonoperational.

The head of INEC Prof Jega explained their situation in regards to the minimal prosecution of electoral crimes. It turns out that his tenure has prosecuted the most electoral offences since the commission was established. A problem he pointed out is that the definition of electoral offences is so wide that they have a record of about a Million offenses but were able to prosecute only 250 cases. This I call the DoJ Attack (Denial of Justice Attack).

Prof Jega says the solution lies in the outcome of the Uwais Committee Report.

The solution I propose lies in acknowledging that humans are not computers. Generally, especially in the case of a simple DoS attack, a server is unable to prioritize between requests partly because most of the time they are the same high-priority requests. Humans on the other hand can single out the offenses that will pass the message the most e.g. high profile personalities for media coverage, strategically located culprits to serve as examples for anyone.

Internet Censorship… Say WHAAAT?!

It was interesting that many contributors favored content censorship or some form of enforcement and Internet legislation. When I first heard a comment to that effect my reaction was: Say WHAAAT?! Haven’t you heard about SOPA and PIPA and Wikileaks and aren’t you aware that this conference is for online techies?! then I remembered its not really for techies but more for activists. But that makes it worse when you have techies that are activists!

First Prof Jega called for a form of legislation recalling that INEC has been a victim of unfounded rumors and that INEC has reacted to wrong signals (perhaps as planned diversions). Then Minister of Youth Dev shared similar concerns; following his encouragement of some ministers to embrace online presence, they have been subject to insults and a Senator was issued death threats. I also remember a discussant passionately calling for prosecution of online-content “offenses”. Many others either contributed in favor or passionately applauded. There were three responses I remember.

Prof Steven Livingston called for “self correction of rumors” in social space; adding that truth outweighs lies. If there are a significant number of reporters of incidents, then mathematically, truth will kick out the rumors (assuming probability of truth is high). Gbenga Sesan pointed out that threats on twitter are probably by people who “can’t hold a knife properly” and that real threats are not advertised on social media. Y.Z. Yau made a presentation on a systematic approach to curbing rumors using a four-step approach. Unfortunately the Y.Z.Yau’s slides are not available among the downloadable documents.

Summary: rumors that can require action should be subject to a confirmation mechanism (a number of methods have been suggested); insults and slurs, if you are a politician live with it; threats/inspiring threats, most are empty but if eventually leads to action and can be proved then the culprit should be prosecuted. Government is allergic to New Media. Social Media Etiquette might be more reliable (next to common morality). Using force/legislation is simply the lazy/expedient option like it’s easier to wage a war than to struggle for peace.

Monitoring Bribes and the Bribe Market

Since we are on the issue of transparency, what if you could monitor bribes? The gigantic bribes are left to simple mathematics (addition, subtraction etc) to discover that corruption has taken place but hardly able to decipher how much of that was spent of bribe. But the most rampant type of bribe are those that happen outside of contracts: with the police man, with the gate man, with the security officer etc. Now it is possible to monitor petty bribes… to an extent.

An online mechanism that achieves this provides users with a form in which users/volunteers fill to report the bribes they have given. This method doesn’t seek to stop bribe directly but in the spirit of transparency it seeks to make the bribe information known and archived. Of course we then totally rely on the honesty of the reporters (on which many online tools count upon).

The first of these tools is ipaidabribe setup to monitor bribes in India. This is an excellent site because it has an informative visual display that gives you all sorts of information like number of reports and from which cities; As at the time of writing this post over 440 Million Rupees have been reported in petty bribes. A Nigerian version of the tool is bribenigeria.com which also offers similar services as the one for India. Bribenigeria.com might do well to make its graphical analytics on the home page. Bribenigeria.com seems underused with just about a total of 42 reports (Lagos topping the ranks).

It is also important to note that these tools also allow reporting cases where a bribe was expected but was not paid. I like to do this exercise quite a lot as in a previous post.

Perhaps bribenigeria.com needs to expose it’s site to Nigerian Software Engineering  and awareness to allow for more participation. SMS capabilities could be added to broaden constituency of reporters or Smartphone apps could be developed (prudent of apps though). And perhaps, some media awareness will help. But even after achieving huge participation, only a percentage of bribes can get reported. Statistical methods could be used to get a reliable figure for how many Nigerians are involved in paying bribes (or not) and how much is this bribe-market worth.

In the future we might be seeing statistics on bribes being quoted next to poverty figures etc of the country. I am interested to know if much bribery happens on weekends and perhaps whether intensity of bribery negatively correlates to dates of salary payments.

Handicaps Participation

20% of Nigerian population are disabled. That is a significant constituency. A representative of handicaps at the conference asked the Minister of Youths what efforts the ministry is putting into supporting the disabled. The response was not promising. I will like to propose a New Media solution to harnessing power of the disempowered.

For now I am more concerned with the deaf and the blind. Assuming a quarter of the disabled population (5% of Nigerians) fall under deaf or blind. Then imagine that policy-making information is available online and legislative members embrace the online monitoring system (like theyWorkForYou or Mzalendo). Then providing internet access to this 5% (more than 10% of citizens that voted) could make all the difference. Cheap and reliable internet devices could be provided as in India presently (which Prof Steven Livingston mentioned).

The technology that makes online content available to the deaf and blind is available. The disabled person only needs an additional device to interact but the issue lies in designing websites/online-content to be accessible/handicap-friendly. In fact such a standard exists: here is the guidelines and here is a tool for website developers to ensure that their sites are handicap-friendly. The University of York in the UK is committing a lot of research in this field.

Now to a more realistic analysis. Not all of the 5% may be literate enough to use the portable internet devices but they can use phones. We might need a little African Software Engineering there. Then by accounting other categories of the disabled (of limbs), shortage from the assumed 5% could be topped up by the excess in other categories. So indeed participation could be 5% or more. If New Media flourishes, we might see a disabled-persons union that has a political will. Now this is social justice!

Points of Action… Action!

Discussions and conferences can be insidious to progress if they are not translated to action points. Fortunately in this case, a few actions had already been taken by the end of the conference… talk about speed. And by this I mean those I have come to know about.

EnoughIsEnough have agreed to work with a concerned citizen from Warri which in his own words “does not have big problems… but extraordinary problem”.  Also, Omidyar agreed to sponsor mySociety’s work with EnoughIsEnough. Action!

New Media Tools 

Ushahidi
Crowd Map
OpenStreet Map
Open311
Mapbox 
M4ID
MySociety: TheyWorkForYou, WriteToThem, FixMyBarangay, FixMyTransport etc
Mzalendo
Gidi Traffic

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[Spoken Word] Muslim Identity Crisis

Lyrics

You must know who you are
Who are you?
Do you know who you are in this world, what is your world view?
What do you go through?
What are you learning in this so called “life”,
Do you have principles or do you flow with the wind?
Do you know your enemies from your friends? – [Rendition of Dead Prez’s]

If earth is made of matter, and the world is made of words
What are you made of, have you thought about your worth
No space for misogyny so i don’t mean your biology
But if kullu nafsin dha’iqatul mawt, then i mean your ontology

Your ideology- but not the type that’s based on mythology-
But based on Haqq, truth more reliable than geometry-
Where do u hail from? I’m sorry… where do you sail from?
Have you forgotten?! Your divine origin u remember seldom

A traveler, that’s what you are. Let us unravel the
Shells, peel off the layers of skin, burst the bubble,
The cocoons, your expedient jacket, straight jacket,
Morally non judgmental so keep your 2face but you coming 2shots
… i mean too short

You must know who you are
Who are you?
Do you know who you are in this world, what is your world view?
What do you go through?
What are you learning in this so called “life”,
Do you have principles or do you flow with the wind?
Do you know your enemies from your friends?

It’s said that Muslims are intellectually dead and creatively asleep
If you understand this, your heart might skip a beat
It means u a zombie, and well… U BE ONE BIG DONDEE a DONKEY
But if i’m a zebra, I’ll earn my stripes and none will be on me

I’m not saying none is beyond me but I know what’s on me
Is a challenge: IQRA’. Prophet was the champ of IQRA’
It’s supposed to be difficult but it fits with my Fitra
Keeping fit for this ID crisis so I be too fit for this Fitna

Now I come back to the question of what are you worth?
Is it your status, your looks, your smell… the Davidoff?
Your cuteness, astuteness, your highness, your beauty… is wearing off
Your riches, your facebook pictures, so what if you have enough?!

Who are you?
Do you know who you are in this world, what is your world view?
What do you go through?
What are you learning in this so called “life”,
Do you have principles or do you flow with the wind?
Do you know your enemies from your friends?

Are you the Burqa, Niqab, Jilbaab, Hijab or Jallaba
The Gyale, Dankwali, Mayafi, Zani are all part of Al’ada
Hula, Kufi, Dara, turbans or any forms of Kufiyya
If your identity is limited to these things, I’m saying ku shirya!

We are going beyond your wardrobe like in Chronicles of Narnia
Beyond the land of symbols, Sha’aa’ir, Aqeedah and Aqeedamia
Are you Sunni or Shi’a, Ash’ari or Mu’tazil, NOI or NOG
Maliki or Hanbali, Shafi’i or Hanafi, Ithna Ashari or Isma’ili?

If you are who u say you are, where’s the proof that you are but
I thought you are who you are… you think i’m trying to argue AHHHH?
No! The opposite is what I am proposing precisely
Hold onto Fitra! Free ourselves from turbulent identity crisis

Who are you?
Do you know who you are in this world, what is your world view?
What do you go through?
What are you learning in this so called “life”,
Do you have principles or do you flow with the wind?
Do you know your enemy from your friend? 

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A Symposium on Corrupt Governance

Yesterday (30th April 2012) I attended a Symposium titled “National Symposium on the Findings of The House Committee on Fuel Subsidy” which was organized by N-Katalyst and other civil societies. N-Katalyst promised to publish a charter demand soon so that the ideas shared can be translated into action. I will post the link here when I get it. This post attempts to highlight the issues that were brought up, especially those I found to be amusing and interesting; so it won’t be a boring reading. I present this in three themes, in this order: amusing ideas/issues I indulge, ideas/issues worth thinking about, AND account of event.

[Skip this paragraph if you don’t like reading names] The symposium was chaired by Maryam Uwais. The speakers were: Dr Otive Igbuzor, Dr Chidi Odinkalu, Yemi Candide Johnson SAN, Dr Hussaini Abdu and Bashir Ibrahim.

Unfortunately, I arrived late. It was during the conclusion of Dr Hussaini Abdu and I was present for all of the talk by Bashir Ibrahim. During later discussions, the jist of Yemi Candide Johnson became clear. If you are not familiar with these names, I am not either so forget the names and remember the ideas. Lets indulge in some amusing ideas that were discussed.

On Anti-Corruption Agencies

Yemi Candide Johnson pointed out that all the anti-corruption agencies (ICPC, EFCC) are complicated beautification of existing laws. His argument is that if the agencies are being set up on a federal level so that there is autonomy and distance to the “crime scene”, experience has shown these two premises have not been realized (and may never). First flaw is that these are government agencies that are not independent of the executive (probably funded through the executive), hence their image as “Government Hounds”. Do anti corruption agencies need government permission to pursue cases? Secondly being at the federal level makes it closer to federal crimes (which are the majority, or at least get most attention); it is not farfetched to assume EFFC or ICPC itself has taken part in some federal economic crimes (and I don’t mean by turning their gaze).

Yemi suggested these laws should be enacted under the Nigeria Police; as a division. This should take out the aristocratic-air around economic crimes; when an ex-government official is captured by the Nigeria Police. The same Nigeria police that were seen capturing armed robbers last week; I think this symbolic connection needs to be made. Now, any person publicly being hunted by the anti-corruption agencies (after all is said and done) is perceived as a “successful” person and the charges against him/her may well be a pushed by disgruntled colleagues.

This leads to two other issues raised: federal centralization of power AND lack of backdoor-pressure on the legislature by the executive.

Centralization of Power

One of the participants felt that concentration of power at the federal level is enabling corruption. If anti-corruption agencies operate at the federal level it will be overwhelming for them to deal with corruption at state level; so inefficiency is implied. Further, there is a relationship of dependence by the state government on the federal government to deal (or more appropriately, not deal) with its corruption. It turns out only Lagos recently enacted/provided-for its anti-corruption laws; the other 35 states await federal govt. It shows lack of commitment to punish corruption on state level. And this works out well for sooooo many in those states.

Lack of Back-Door Pressure on the Legislature by the Executive

The person who raised this issue is a member of House of Representatives (HOR). According to her, this administration has given them free reigns in conducting their legislative duties without pressure from the executive. It should be noted that due to the embarrassing failure of this administration (which is common knowledge), she started with the phrase “lets give credit where credit is due”. Rightly so, we cannot give credit where credit is NOT due. This may be a case of confusing failure with virtues.

It is common knowledge that the HOR Committee on Subsidy Reform has been under unrelenting pressure from the executive. This was publicized by the chairman of the committee. One of the demands by the executive is that certain private marketers should not be invited to the HOR to answer for their shady dealings. Another case is the known struggle for the office of Speaker HOR. On one side are the executive and minority of legislature and on the other side is the majority of legislature. The latter side won but not without pressure from the executive. What can be said is that the executive has failed, even in shady practices. The former administration was at least competent in such dealings. Failure is not a virtue, even if it is on questionable endeavors. “My failure to steal your bread doesn’t make me a nice guy, just an incompetent bad guy”

On another note, to show international perspective on this administration’s failure this is what the Financial Times had to say about the Nigerian president.

Man against Machine

The Nigerian machine (system) needs loads of repairs and spare parts, unfortunately not all the spare parts are found in china (or elsewhere). Nigeria has to fabricate some of them.

“When given the job of a slave, do the job like a free man” a Yoruba proverb paraphrased from Yemi Candid Johnson

The issue raised was due to the question: “what is the role of the Attorney General in prosecuting corruption cases?”. The issue however is Attorney General VS Minister of Justice. One person is given these two offices that have been merged as one. However, their goals can be antagonistic. The Minister of Justice seeks to protect the ruling administration while the Attorney General seeks to protect the Nation. The Minister of Justice is simply a political appointment whereas Attorney General is an office provided explicitly in the Nigerian Constitution. Based on experience, the masses see this person as a Minister of Justice with powers of Attorney General. This translates into a lot of retrogression for the nation when immense power is misused. A known case is how James Ibori (a former state governor) eluded justice because he had Oandoka (then the Attorney General) in his pocketsssssssssss.

” … the only one that’s gone to jail is this man called James Ibori. He’s gone to jail because he made the mistake of leaving Nigeria and gone to Jail in Britain” Mark Doyle, BBC Reporter in the documentary Nigerian Crossroads

The consensus from the symposium was that Nigerian’s can’t rely on institutions or offices but on the man in the office; at least for the time being. This is a sad concession but an appropriate course of action. In the case of Attorney-General/Minister-of-Justice, the person-in-office determines which of the two offices dominates the other. An Attorney General that we look forward to is the one that makes commitments to prosecuting corruption. It was also noted that the legislature can assist in this by preempting the office-holder to make commitments (which he/she should be held accountable to)

Masses that were not present also agree with this consensus. If you disagree then how do you explain new found trust in INEC only because the head was changed (Maurice Iwu to Attahiru Jega), OR the breeze of new hope when the Attorney General (Oandoka who protected the now convicted Ibori) was changed, or the mass’ confidence in police capability and integrity when the Inspector of Police was changed (from Ringim to Abubakar). This pattern of behavior highlights Nigeria’s lost trust in the Machine, only the Man, blind to the fallacy therein. Nonetheless, an upright Attorney General is more influential than an upright head of INEC.

Innocent Until Proven Guilty… or Is It?

” … the only one that’s gone to jail is this man called James Ibori. He’s gone to jail because he made the mistake of leaving Nigeria and gone to Jail in Britain” Mark Doyle, BBC Reporter in the documentary Nigerian Crossroads

According to the Nigerian constitution (as well as everywhere except France perhaps), every citizen charged with an offence is considered innocent until proven guilty. Therefore the plaintiff has the task of having to prove (beyond reasonable doubt) that indeed the defendant is guilty. These are wonderful ideas but theory does not promise adherence in reality. Anyone that has had dealings with the Nigeria Police knows that.

In a typical Nigeria Police Station, there is always someone locked in a cell who is putting effort to prove that he/she is innocent. In its simplest scenario, anyone can walk into a police station (or better yet, get a police on the street), report that some other person has committed an offense against you. You could leave with a police or two, go and bring the accused in. Your accusations become temporary truth and the burden of disproving the accusation rests on the accused. The important requirement is that you have enough “lunch” money for the cops.

Imagine having a good day… until someone decides to point a finger at you for some offence; cops pick you up, take you to the station, perhaps rough you up a little, and then leave you locked with the burden of proving your innocence.

A genius proposed that why don’t we use similar tactics on financial crimes. After all this is the type of justice a typical Nigerian lives every day; the majority poor are guilty until proven innocent while it’s the reverse for the minority rich. I remember once watching on local TV that a man had been in prison for over 15 years simply for being suspected of stealing a chicken… sad case.

It may not be constitutional to treat the rich like the poor but it is an idea that gets me excited. In any case, there is no crime more suitable for this justice than financial crimes. Before an accusation is made, some funds, entrusted to the accused, may have seemed to disappeared. We are talking about Millions and Billions in funds. A Nigeria Police tough-love is excused… actually welcomed

Till Death Do Us Part… or You End Up in Prison for Corruption

“Sex, drugs, murder, politics and religion
Forms of hustlin’, watch who you put all your trust in”
Black Thought of the Roots

Creativity in the symposium was not dying. Another issue raised was the complicity of citizens (most of us in the room that is) in economic crimes. The focus was on the two social spaces: Place of Worship and Family.

It was agreed that the 2nd highest beneficiaries of economic crimes are religious leaders. Most religious leaders are smart enough not the bite the hands the feed them but dumb enough to neglect what they preach. Well perhaps not so dumb because their sermons are starving from words with remote meanings to social justice, equity, good governance etc. The few that talk about corruption, shout CORRUPTION with a populist lean. Now next to promising water and electricity, politicians now promise to eradicate corruption; as if they can contract it out (and make something on top).

The point was that religious leaders should preach against these despicable acts AND refuse patronage from persons they suspect to be of shady dealings. The last bit will be hard to swallow. Imagine if people like Pastor Chris, Pastor Oyedapo or Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi denounce such dealings and calling their congregations to action; there will be historical impact.

The other aspect of this is close monitoring by family. Your spouse may suddenly be able to afford (and buy you) things that were not possible just yesterday… and it is not the end of the month. It could be your siblings, or Parents. If you find something shady, would you confront (or report) your spouse or parents? Think hard about this because this can make all the difference. With mass conscience, one person does it and by the time there are 20 reported cases, looters will start being more careful. After all the spouses or children may be assisting by demanding more than can be afforded and thus provide the criminal with a reason when conscience starts acting up.

It was interesting to find out that the only case (or famous case) of such family monitoring was that of a father reporting his son. I didn’t see that coming… neither did his accused son.

Other Issues Raised that I thought are Worth Thinking About

Question: If NNPC’s misappropriation accounts for about 70% of the funds lost to the fuel subsidy scandal, then is the suggestion for deregulation synonymous with restructuring NNPC?

In other words, if fixing of NNPC can save 70% of the misappropriated funds then perhaps that should be the government’s focus not nation-wide deregulation (especially when implemented so inefficiently).

Question: Do anti-corruption agencies need executive order to pursue prosecution around this fuel subsidy corruption (or any other case for that matter)?

Suggestion: Like some developed countries, CAC () should publish all registered companies annually so that concerned citizens can cross-check that companies being awarded contracts do exist (as published in contract awards)

Suggestion: Salaries [basic + others] of the top 1000 civil servants so that Nigerians know what their leaders should be able to afford and more importantly, what they shouldn’t.

Suggestion: The solution for Nigeria is Fiscal Federalism, using the derivative principle. (Don’t ask me how this is related to the subject of the symposium)

Bashir Ibrahim’s Contribution

Since this was only speaker I listened to completely, I should be able to summarize his points. Bashir Ibrahim is a politician and business man. His background is important because it affected the approach and content of this talk. Being a politician, he didn’t need to be sensitive in his statements (because they are known opponents). For being a business man, he appears to be the free market type (unlikely to be keynesian). Below are some of his propositions titled “Urgent Imperatives on the Executives”

  1. Remove all from office that have been indicted, shown-neglect or incapable of checking the fuel subsidy issue. They include Minister of Petroleum, Minister of Finance, Members of the Board of Directors for NNPC & PPRA, and others.
  2. All marketers must refund monies unaccounted for by them
  3. Pass the reviewed Petroleum Industry Bill
  4. Deregulation of Petroleum Downstream (showing his favored economic philosophy)
  5. * Commercialize management of NNPC (using incentives, if I remember correctly)

On a related note, the Chair of the Symposium (Maryam Uwais) added that NNPC should be stripped off its regulatory powers so that it must be required to balance its books (accountability). This implies that it also won’t have easy access to the government’s treasury with a laissez faire attitude. It will then become simply a marketer that must compete to survive.

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