AVENGERS AND THE CIRCLE OF CHAOS

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

The sudden threat to resume hostilities in the Niger Delta region by Niger Delta Avengers should be to all a reality to worry about. The reason is simple. if such outing which they promised will be brutal, brutish and bloody is allowed, it will again portray us as a nation that has not learned any useful lesson from history and as well, marks the commencement of another vicious circle of chaos.

As a people, we have traveled one part too many. We have journeyed through a part consistently without result. Yet, we have refused to make a detour. As a nation, we have traveled to the southeastern part to watch the python dance. To the south- south to witness the ugly crocodile smile. And the recent episode of these drama series Code named: “Operation Octopus grip” as declared by the Nigerian Navy in the  Niger Delta region.

All these ‘dances, smiles and grips’ shares but a common outcome called chaos. They have a  way of leaving in their trails sorrows, tears and blood. The recent unprovoked invasion of the peaceful Ajakurama Community in Edo State in a drill code-named; Operation Crocodile Smile 11, bears eloquent testimony to this fact.

Despite all these unpalatable signals and feedbacks from the targeted ‘beneficiaries’ of these operations, our nation’s handlers have not deemed it necessary to appraise the entire process in order to situate if the strategy is achieving the premeditated result.  But instead, we  have pushed on, focusing on trivial concerns while forgetting to address the fundamental issues. Now, this systematic abandonment has succeeded in giving birth to the Avengers declaration which if handled with levity may plunder our nascent economic space into a more chaotic situation.

One point our military and the federal government fails to remember when opting for the military grill is that, when soldiers are long in the field, the resources of the state is depleted.

These endless operations coupled with  maybe a  decision to go after the Niger Delta Avengers may further  deplete our nation’s socioeconomic resources. Hence, it is my objective opinion that the hour has come for us as a nation to seek real victory  via dialogue and not through conquest .

To illustrate this position further, the Ijaw Youths Council(IYC)  recently in a release stated that the  Government is in need of money to carry out its programmes in the Niger Delta region. Even the N2b initial grant to the Maritime University at Okerenkoko for the school to commence academic activities in October last month has not been released. If the military has so much money to waste, why can’t it assist the Government in carrying out those projects?

This statement portrays a group that is development hungry and want to see resources channeled to development-oriented projects and not military drills. Expecting victory through military operation will remain elusive as history bears exemplified testimonies.

Again, I am well aware that the Nigerian military as an institution has public relations units or departments that function prominently in information dissemination. This is commendable but looking at PR as a practice, what is expected of this good office is much more than mere press statements.

A glance through the Mexican statement postulation on PR will  reveal that it involves analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organization leaders, and implementing planned programs of action which will serve both the organization and the public’s interest’

The above should be the way to go. It will not be out of place if the military PR units go a step further to monitor and analyze these incessant agitations with the aim of unraveling their root cause and advising both the constituted authorities which may include the federal government accordingly.

Who knows, their findings may also point in the direction of the ceaseless call for the nation restructuring that has refused to abate.

Already, the masses are aware that the asymmetrical posture of our political space is fuelling these agitations and effort to calm the agitators using military drills has resulted in this vicious season of threats.

The above fact has equally made it a worrisome development that a  reputable organization such as the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has not been able to make a statement stating their position on this restructuring debacle.  I have not as an individual stumble at, or heard about the Associations’  position on this all-important issue.This is not good for our polity and such silence is to my mind not ‘golden but betrayal’.

Restructuring debate is a constitutional issue given the fact that it was thrown up by the federal system of government as practiced in the country. This fact favours the NBA to be at the forefront of such discourse guiding the nation accordingly. But their loud silence is doing the nation more harm than good as the entire nation has initially looked- up to them at this constitutional trying moment.

But in maintaining this silence,  what our lawyers and others have forgotten is that ‘’the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at the time of challenge and controversy’’. It is my humble submission that this time is auspicious for our lawyers to speak up as a body.

Comparatively, the operation of the federal system of government on its own has become a problem not just in Nigeria but the world over. Hence, has become a discourse that we cannot shy aware from.

Very recently, Frank Luntz, an American political pollster talking about the United State’s federal system remarked as follows ‘Federalism is about taking power away from Washington. It’s not about smaller or more limited government. Almost no one I interview cares about the size of government as much as the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of government. Americans want to empower states and governors to take a more active role in that governance because they’ve given up on Washington – Trump or no Trump.

This is a statement of fact which we must learn a lesson from.  If federalism is still viewed as work in progress in the United State of America, it will not be out of place if it takes the front burner of our political discourse. It is time to empower our states and made them less Abuja dependents.

Whichever way, no matter how long we live in denial as a nation, the need for restructuring has come to stay and the theatrical dramatization of ‘operations’ by our nation’s military apparatus shall remain a mere distraction.

But to make this piece valid,  it is important to note that to an average Niger Deltan, development of their region is synonymous with fiscal federalism or outright resource control. So, to avert these perennial crises, it is my opinion that time to return the ‘monkey’  to the owner is close at hand. If not, chances are that this vicious circle of chaos may continue.
God Bless Nigeria.

GWARZO AND THE CHICKEN CHASERS

By James Ume

Constructive criticisms are sometimes necessary for the smooth running of organisations. They help to keep the executives on their toes and call their attention to mistakes as they occur. Criticisms can also become pernicious and debilitating when they are made in bad faith. They are worse when they are based on false information and outright lies.

Mr. Mounir Haliru Gwarzo since he was appointed the Director-General (D-G) of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), on May 20, 2015 by former President Goodluck Jonathan in a letter signed by the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, has had a feel of the effect of evil manipulation of information. He assumed office as D-G after serving as a member of the board of the commission for more than two years in the capacity of an Executive Commissioner having been appointed on January 2, 2013.

The Director General of the Commission is, to all intents, a political appointment that must have to pass through the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for screening and eventual approval. The candidate for the job does not necessarily have to be a career staff of the commission. With his appointment as the D-G of SEC, he left from the board of the commission as a full time member and Commissioner as soon as the appointment was made. And if he had served for a minimum of two years on the board, he was entitled to ALL his benefits. A simple arithmetic will prove that from the time Gwarzo was appointed to the board and the time he was lifted to the position of D-G, he had put in two years and six months.

The board of the commission, at a meeting held on July 11, 2002 (eleven years before he was appointed to the Board of the Commission), approved, inter alia, that a permanent commissioner who has spent a minimum of two years is entitled to full benefits which can be monetized when leaving that office.  In the extracts of this board meeting, it was specifically mentioned that the benefits should accrue to permanent commissioners who have served for a minimum of two years of which the D-G was listed as one. To that extent, therefore, he is entitled to the benefits paid to him for his service as the Executive Commissioner of Operations Directorate. Mr. Gwarzo has not denied that these entitlements were duly paid to him as they were, indeed, his rights because they are attached to the office and not necessarily to the individual who occupies the office

Although a certain legal opinion was made public. But the fact is that in corporate governance, the decision of the board is binding on all. If there are contrasting views, opinions or objections and any other matter that is inconsistent with the decision of the board, the decision of the board renders those a nullity to the extent of the inconsistency.  Interestingly, the position of the Acting Head of Legal department relied upon by the mischief makers were dismissed by a counter opinion proffered by the Acting Executive Commissioner Legal & Enforcement and the Executive Commissioner Corporate Services of the Commission, both of whom are seasoned and senior legal practitioners. Regrettably, these counter opinions were not made public by the chicken chasers as they make clear the true position. The mendacity of the allegation is further demonstrated by the fact that the benefits were not approved by the D-G for himself as canvassed, but approved by the Executive Commissioner Corporate Services, whose statutory duty it was. It is, therefore, a deliberate act of mischief for anyone to adjudge the payment to him as illegal or that it contravenes any known law of the land.

It is on record that Gwarzo as SEC D-G, supervised the purchase of three cars from Stallion NMN Limited, manufacturers and distributors of Nissan automobiles, as project vehicles. Once again, the mischief of the chicken chasers is exposed as records exists which shows that those vehicles were purchased in 2013 and not during Gwarzo’s time as Director General. At the time, all necessary approvals on the bidding process, purchase and other procurement guidelines in accordance with the provisions of the Public Procurement Act were obtained from the Bureau of Public Procurement. The vehicles were duly assigned to the various offices as project vehicles. They were never at any time assigned to or used by the person of the Director General or any other Executive Commissioner as private vehicles. Till date, the project vehicles assigned to the offices of Executive Commissioners which are vacant are packed in the premises of the Commission.

It is often said that a mischief maker is like someone drowning who desperately clutches to any available straw just to stay afloat. In their bid to cast slur on the excellent job the SEC D-G is doing since he assumed office, the chicken chasers (apology to Prof Chukwuemeka Ike) have been looking for tell-tale signs of abuse of office. And when one does not exist, it must be contrived somehow.  Government rules are clear on what a functionary should do in relation to other business interests. The matter is considered settled when the functionary in question resigns from or withdraws his interests in those other businesses. There is nothing in the statute books stopping those businesses as corporate entities from doing business with that or any other government agency. The intendment of the law in insisting on this is to avoid any conflict of interest. Before his appointment as Executive Commissioner, Mr Gwarzo had interests in two companies owned by his family, Outbound Investment Limited and Medusa Investment Limited. He withdrew his interests in them before his appointment into the board of SEC. That was on December 12, 2012. As for the other companies his traducers are hinging on to blackmail him, they are companies doing business with SEC as an entity with no connections whatsoever to the D-G as a person. The Public Procurement Act empowers the D-G as the Chief Executive Office of the Commission to approve contracts within certain thresholds. However, to ensure transparency in the procurement process of the Commission, the D-G has delegated every procurement exercise of the Commission to the Minor Tenders Board, completely excluding himself from the processes.

In the public service, there is a saying “if you don’t train them, don’t blame them”. It was in keeping with this aphorism that the Executive management of SEC considered the training of some its staff on some specific areas of its core operations. It is, therefore, surprising that staff training should be counted as a sin committed by the D-G. The initial plan was to assign that programme to a foreign trainer. But because of the exorbitant cost implication, the foreign trainers’ fee actually came to N700, 000 or its dollar equivalent per participant. The management, to cut cost, engaged the services of local trainers including the Lagos Business School (LBS) and were paid less for the same programme. Some received as little as N150, 000 except for LBS that got N300, 000. If updating the knowledge base of the staff is considered a sin, then it is a sufficient ground to assess the intentions of those alleging inappropriate conduct on the D-G especially with regard to what they think of SEC as a key play in the nation’s economy.

The circular restricting chief executives of government agencies to economy class in air travels was issued on November 2, 2016. Gwarzo travelled to Hong Kong for the IOSCO board meeting in October of the same year. He received payment for his airfare for that trip and travelled on Business class. Considering the time he travelled in October and when the circular was issued on November 2nd, only someone out to course mischief will allege misdemeanour on the part of the D-G. It is obvious that his trip to that Chinese city predated government restrictions on air travels and as such could not apply to that trip. This leaves me perplexed at the extent to which a person would fabricate tales to tarnish the integrity of another.

Every corporate organisation, be it public or private has its own ways of appreciating staff leaving service meritoriously. For SEC, it was called The Golden Hand Shake, a retirement scheme designed by the commission for certain categories of staff. Upon assumption of office as D-G, the Gwarzo led administration noted that the Commission was top-heavy and rolled out this scheme, to encourage staff within the cadre of Senior manager – Director to voluntarily exit the system with certain benefits. The scheme was accessed by 47 staff of the Commission within those cadres and duly approved by the board and funded from the commission’s budget. Instead of citing anonymous sources, the mischief makers should have referred to the relevant sections of the Investment and Securities Act, 2007 that empowered the board to approve the commission’s budget as well as to establish and maintain a fund the proceeds of which it may apply to meet its financial obligations.  The Golden Hand Shake organised by the D-G was carried out in line with statutorily laid down rules of the commission. Till date, some staff of the Commission have expressed regrets in not assessing the scheme at that time and have at various forum agitated for the re-opening of the scheme. Interestingly, the SEC is not the only organization to have rolled out the Golden Handshake as sister organizations such as the Central bank of Nigeria implemented a similar scheme which is tagged as Operation Eagle.

As pointed out earlier, any chief executive will cherish constructive criticisms including from members of his own team. Raising false alarms on situations that does not exist can have diversionary effect that is not conducive for management practices. Gwarzo is human and like every human is susceptible to errors. When those errors are imagined, they are bound to be counterproductive. That is why they are frowned at especially in a sensitive corporate organisation like SEC.

Given that these allegations posses no merit of any sought, I would be amazed that a respectable institution such as the SEC makes any response, because in my opinion, these mischief makers do not deserve the attention of the Apex regulator of the Nigerian capital market.

Ume wrote in through james@channelkoos.com

 

THE GOVERNANCE STYLE OF PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI BY CHIEF MODESTUS UMENZEKWE

President Muhammadu Buhari was studying this Nation in a very, very close and uncomfortable arena. He was all the while in London going through his ill health thinking how Nigeria could be. Inspite of various accusations and name calling, still he was calm and humble.

Criticise Mr President today and hear his explanation tomorrow you begin to regret your earlier criticism. At a point in time, 90% Mr President’s illness was coming from corruption and mismanagement of the past; and he was doing everything possible to get an antidote to those evil monsters.

And also the team of his public affairs management was at their eloquence carrying the people along with them for Mr President. Until recently we never knew that Mr President’s own state Katsina has only a minister of State where as other critical areas have full substantive Ministers. One thing I find in Mr President is after his explanations to people, the people will go home satisfied including that of his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity Mr Femi Adesina. That man Femi is a wonderful public affairs guru.

In Presidential system of government you could constitute your family to doing the job that is very very essential to the people in order to achieve the best result. Mr President in his own style of public administration does not go behind the scene to monitor you once he has given you an assignment. People were using so many things I have said somewhere on Buhari, but whenever explanation is made I will be satisfied.

Take for instance, when Mr President constituted Special Military Operations to fight crimes that almost swallowed this nation, people were criticising him, but after two weeks or there about the same group of people turned round and started appreciating him. A lot of security threats are going on in almost the entire nation. A situation where a kidnapping kingpin turned around to be a billionaire, if you are in the position of Mr President what will you do?

Mr President’s appearance at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) was a wonderful success where so many nations were struggling to have a glimpse and audience with him, that the Jordanian Country within a twinkle of an eye offered to supply Nigeria with 200 Military armoured vehicles and several other things.

Above all the presentation and delivery of his short speech was a master stroke; and the whole world Nations that attended UNGA were wonderfully happy. Many thanks to his Public Affairs team led by Mr Femi Adesina. On coming back after a trip to London come the 57th Anniversary of Nigeria’s Independence. In all these a lot of development is going on.

The Vice President Professor Osinbajo on his own part was very wonderful. He got all frayed nerves to be calm. Thanks to the information management of the president for making all these things known to the public. I want to advice Nigerians that criticising Buhari cannot yield anything to them. Seeing Mr President in his robust look and promising good future for Nigeria; take for instance when he took over the mantle of leadership of this country he made a very wonderful visit to the North East where his predecessor did not attempt to go. The second time, on the 2nd October after the Independence Anniversary he made a snap visit to Maiduguri to celebrate the Independence anniversary with our gallant armed forces. Buhari is a wonderful human being.

On the issue of stability, restructuring, power devolution and alleged marginalisation, I want to make it clear to Nigerians that the marginalisation as claimed by certain sections of the country might not be true because;

1.    Certain area of this country was given Minister of Finance and coordinator of other ministries.
2.    Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) was confirmed to that area.
3.    Ministry of Aviation was confirmed to the same area.
4.    Ministry of Labour.
5.    Ministry of Petroleum.

All these very important ministries, a section in Nigeria was given only the Ministry of Agriculture. I don’t talk about National Assembly positions and other parastatals. Even in the military the same section was Chief of Army Staff and Inspector General of Police, yet they are crying marginalisation. Those ministries above could have made the area they came from a paradise and the rest of Nigeria. It is a fact that a section that had the Ministry of Agriculture, Buhari reconsidered that person manning that ministry to man the African Development Bank (ADB) yet we talk about marginalisation. Buhari as far as I am concerned has not committed any constitutional breach. The people crying marginalisation are marginalising themselves.

I want to draw this Nation back to early 70s when Federal Allocation began, a certain section of this nation cried blue murder that they were denied Federal Allocations and other goodies from Federal Government at that time. And they did that to embarrass the then administrator and Governor of that area until the then Minister of Finance Chief Obafemi Awolowo came down and cleared the air with very clean and transparent explanation.

Take for instance the road infrastructure; that Onitsha-Enugu Expressway awarded to Lodgiane Construction Company whose Chairman then was Alhaji Musa Yaradua, first Minister of Lagos Affairs and father of General Shehu Musa Yaradua and former President Umaru Musa Yaradua was constructed wonderfully well where the camp of that construction firm was where Anambra State Government too to became the first government house through the signatory of Chief Arthur C.I. Mbanefo (Odu of Onitsha). Before then the old Onitsha-Enugu road was awarded to some indigenous construction firms from the areas crying marginalisation but the job was not executed despite the huge sums of money spent there; yet they still cry about marginalisation. Old Oba-Nnewi road was awarded to indigenous construction firms of the area crying marginalisation for over seven times and yet nothing happened until a foreign construction firm was brought in to do the job. Another one, New Oba, Nnewi Amichi, Uga junction, Arondizuogu and to Umulolo Okigwe junction; that road remained after the initial construction, subsequent awards were made to indigenous constructions firm from that same area, uptill this moment that road remains impassable. When Buhari’s administration fixes the road the people will not even remember that. Take again Onitsha, Aguleri to Nsukka road; that road might have been awarded to indigenous contractor and the same story is maintained.

In addition, old Nnewi Owerri road was in the same false claim until the government of Chief Obasanjo came and awarded the reconstruction of Onitsha Oba, Owerri road that is passable now to a foreign contractor. Nnewi, Nnobi, Igboukwu, Ekwulobia, Oko, Ufuma, Umunze and Ibinta Okigwe in Imo State, that road was awarded to Messers RCC but subsequent awards were given to indigenous construction firms from that same areas for repairs by FERMA and nothing came out of it. The road originally was done by Shagari-Ekwueme administration. Another one is Owerre-Ezukala border town with Isuochi in Abia State to Ogbunka, Umunze, Umuchu, Amesi, Uga, Igboukwu firstly awarded by Chief Jim Nwobodo to an indigenous firm of which one of the management of the indigenous firm made that road impassable by creating a very big gully erosion in Umuchu until the arrival of Senator Dr Chris Ngige who made that road passable from Owerre-Ezukala to Igboukwu using foreign/indigenous construction firms based in Abuja. How those elites from these areas of South East mismanage the accruals that are coming to that zone of the country and turn around to cry marginalisation.

The APC and Buhari administration will right the wrong of these influential indigenous people that made people to loose their own share of the national cake. Even in the Power Sector, the power under the present Minister –  Fashola will do marvelously well. Buhari shall be the great leader before the independence those area never had.

Finally, I am appealing and thanking Mr President to please hear out through the leadership of the Ohaneze Ndi Igbo Chief John NniaNwodo (Ike Ukehe) out. Since his leadership of that organization both the common and the elites understand all about governance. I do not envisage all about this issue called marginalisation. I won’t align myself with the position of Devolution of Power; and in area of restructuring, I see it as something that had started since the independence, the creation of Midwest region in 1963 and creation of 12 States in 1967 with subsequent state creations that made Nigeria 36 States. As we are today is not as we were in1914.

Restructuring is a common human phenomenon. Even in the US that is an advanced democracy,b they continue restructuring. Devolution of powers would give the states more power to manage their own affairs with little expected of the centre. We should remember that those calling for state police may not know the consequences until they revisit the issue of Danduka in the North and Kotuma in the South. So if you meet those who experienced such in the past, you will not like to share such experience. In conclusion, my fellow Nigerian let us be patient and give Buhari a chance.

Umenzekwe is an APC Chieftain from Anambra state but based in Lagos, Nigeria