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You are here:Home>>Items filtered by date: January 2013
 
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AllAfrica News: Latest
All Africa, All the Time.

 

A Dutch court has ruled that a subsidiary of international oil giant Royal Dutch Shell should be held responsible for a pipeline leak poisoning farmland in Nigeria, as it had failed to take adequate measures to prevent sabotage. In its ruling Wednesday the Hague Civil Court rejected most of the case brought by Nigerian farmers and environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth against Shell, saying pipeline leaks were caused by saboteurs, not Shell negligence.

However, in one case, the judges ordered a subsidiary, Shell Nigeria, to compensate a farmer for breach of duty of care by making it too easy for saboteurs to open an oil well head that leaked on to his land.

 

It was believed to be the first time a Dutch court has held a multinational's foreign subsidiary liable for environmental damage and ordered it to pay damages. Pressure groups welcomed the judges' decision, saying the ruling opens the door for similar pollution cases against multinationals. Shell hailed the judgment as a victory.

 

"We are very pleased by the ruling of the court today," said Allard Castelain of Shell. "It's clear that both the parent company, Royal Dutch Shell, as well as the local venture ... has been proven right." The Dutch arm of Friends of the Earth, which represented the Nigerian farmers, welcomed the compensation order for one village, but said it was "stunned" by its defeats in other villages.

 

The group said the ruling could have implications beyond Nigeria's oil fields.

"The verdict also offers hope to other victims of environmental pollution caused by multinationals," said Geert Ritsema of Friends of the Earth.

The group has always maintained that much of the damage in the Niger Delta can be traced to what it calls poor maintenance of Shell's infrastructure, rather than sabotage, an argument the court rejected.

 

Lawyers representing another Nigerian community, Bodo, in a legal battle with Shell in British courts cautiously welcomed the Dutch ruling.

"Over many years Shell has denied any responsibility for these types of spills resulting from 'bunkering' or sabotage," lawyer Martyn Day said in a statement.

He called the Dutch court's ruling a major step forward "as it makes Shell aware in no uncertain terms that they have a responsibility to ensure that all steps are taken to ensure the illegal sabotage does not occur."

 

The level of damages in the Dutch case will be established at a later hearing, but that could be held up as Friends of the Earth said it plans to appeal.

Only one of the Nigerian plaintiffs, Eric Barizaadooh, was in court Wednesday and his claim was rejected by the court, but he said he was happy for the village that won compensation.

 

Plaintiff Eric Dooh waits for the start of the court case of Nigerian farmers against Shell, in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday Jan. 30, 2013. Dutch judges are ruling in a landmark civil action by Nigerian farmers who want to hold oil giant Shell liable for poisoning their fish ponds and farmlands with leaking pipelines. The decision being announced Wednesday could set a legal precedent for holding multinationals responsible for their actions overseas. Lawyers for the four Nigerians from the oil-rich Niger delta argue Shell makes key policy decisions at its Hague headquarters, so the Dutch court has jurisdiction. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)Plaintiff Eric Dooh waits for the start of the court case of Nigerian farmers against Shell, in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday Jan. 30, 2013. Dutch judges are ruling in a landmark civil action by Nigerian farmers who want to hold oil giant Shell liable for poisoning their fish ponds and farmlands with leaking pipelines. The decision being announced Wednesday could set a legal precedent for holding multinationals responsible for their actions overseas. Lawyers for the four Nigerians from the oil-rich Niger delta argue Shell makes key policy decisions at its Hague headquarters, so the Dutch court has jurisdiction. Photo: Peter Dejong


"For my colleagues who succeeded, that is victory," Barizaadooh said outside court. "Shell is brought to book. I believe this is a revolutionary case."

Shell's local subsidiary is the top foreign oil producer in the Niger Delta, an oil-rich region of mangroves and swamps about the size of Portugal. Its production forms the backbone of crude production in Nigeria, a top supplier to the gasoline-thirsty U.S.

 

Shell, which discovered and started the country's oil well in the late 1950s, has been heavily criticized by activists and local communities over oil spills and close ties to government security forces. Some Shell pipelines that crisscross the delta are decades old and can fail, causing massive pollution.

The company has begun an effort to improve its standing with local communities in the last decade by building clinics, roads and even natural gas power plants. It blames most spills now on thieves who tap into crude oil pipelines to steal oil.

 

"The complexity lies in the fact that the theft and the sabotage is part of an organized crime ... that siphons away a billion dollars a month" from Nigeria, Castelain said.

"This is organized crime," he added. In London, the company's share price closed down 0.1 percent to 23.62 pounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan approved the removal on Tuesday of $1 billion from the country's oil savings to distribute to state governors for unspecified projects, one of the governors said after a meeting with him.

 

The withdrawal leaves $8.242 billion in the Excess Crude Account (ECA), Nigeria's mechanism for oil savings, Rivers state governor Rotimi Amaechi said after the meeting.

Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has been on a drive to boost savings for Africa's second largest economy, doubling the balance in the ECA over a year before this withdrawal.

 

Economists have welcomed Nigeria's improved savings levels, but cautioned that there is nothing in place to stop them being rapidly depleted, as has happened in the past.

 

Jonathan and his team will be hoping this latest handout appeases the state governors, who have threatened to take the federal government to court over what it says are unconstitutional withdrawals from the ECA.

 

The governors are also in court trying to block the expansion of a Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) launched last year, which was supposed to replace the ECA and which has greater safeguards to prevent savings being removed. It will now run alongside the ECA with an initial sum of just $1 billion.

 

The SWF would in theory help Nigeria better manage its oft squandered oil funds by putting them out of the reach of its political elites, but without the governors' full support it is unlikely to take off.

 

State governors are among Nigeria's most powerful figures, some of them controlling budgets that are larger than those of other African countries.

Savings are usually depleted to pay for patronage just before elections and economists worry that if the SWF is not in place before a 2015 presidential vote, this will happen again.

 

Wednesday, 30 January 2013 16:07

US planning to establish a drone base in Africa

 

US planning to establish a drone base in Africa for better surveillance of region’s militants

 

Plans to base unarmed American surveillance drones in the African nation of Niger highlight the Obama administration’s growing concern about extremist influences in the volatile region. They also raise tough questions about how to contain al-Qaida and other militant groups without committing U.S. ground forces in yet another war.

 

In the short run, a drone base would enable the U.S. to give France more intelligence on the militants that French troops are fighting in neighboring Mali. Over time it could extend the reach not only of American intelligence gathering but also U.S. special operations missions to strengthen Niger’s own security forces.

 

The U.S. and Niger in recent days signed a “status of forces agreement” spelling out legal protections and obligations of American forces that might operate in Niger in the future.

 

Pentagon spokesman George Little acknowledged the agreement, but declined Tuesday to discuss U.S. plans for a military presence in Niger.

 

“They expressed a willingness to engage more closely with us, and we are happy to engage with them,” Little said, adding that the legal agreement was months in the making and saying it was unrelated to the recent fighting in Mali.

 

The U.S. has found some of its efforts to fight extremists hobbled by some African governments, whose own security forces are ill-equipped to launch an American-style hunt for the militants yet are reluctant to accept U.S. help because of fears the Americans will overstay their welcome and trample their sovereignty.

drone wwww.policymic.com

 

At France’s request, the U.S. has flown 17 Air Force transport flights to move French troops and their equipment to Mali in recent days, Little said. U.S. aircraft also are conducting aerial refueling of French fighter jets based in Mali, he said, and those operations will continue.

 

Other U.S. officials said the Pentagon is planning a new drone base in northwestern Africa — most likely in Niger — but the plans are not yet complete. It would provide more extended U.S. aerial surveillance of militants in the region without risking the loss of air crews. The main U.S. drone base in Africa is in Djibouti in East Africa.

 

Niger has accepted the idea of hosting unarmed U.S. drones as well as conventional and special operations troops to advise and assist Niger’s military on border security, but it has not endorsed armed U.S. Predator strikes or the launching of U.S. special operations raids from their territory, according to a senior U.S. military official briefed on the matter. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.

 

Africa is increasingly a focus of U.S. counterterrorism efforts, even as al-Qaida remains a threat in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. The recent terrorist attack on a natural gas complex in Algeria, in which at least 37 hostages and 29 militants were killed, illustrated the threat posed by extremists who have asserted power propelled by long-simmering ethnic tensions in Mali and the revolution in Libya.

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 30 January 2013 04:43

President Obama’s Big Speech on Immigration

President Obama’s big speech on immigration  in Las Vegas at an event where he is asking for sweeping reforms to the United States immigration laws.

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

 

Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you. (APPLAUSE)

 

Thank you. It is good to be back in Las Vegas.

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

And it is good to be among so many good friends. Let -- let me start off by thanking everybody at Del Sol High School for hosting us.

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

Go Dragons. Let me especially thank your outstanding principal, Lisa Primos (ph).

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

There are all kinds of notable guests here, but I just want to mention a few. First of all, our outstanding secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, is here.

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

Our wonderful secretary of the interior, Ken Salazar.

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

Former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

Two of the outstanding members of the congressional delegation from Nevada, Steve Horsford and Dina Titus.

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

Your own mayor, Carolyn Goodman.

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

But we also have some mayors that flew in because they know how important the issue we’re going to talk about today is -- Marie Lopez Rogers from Avondale, Arizona...

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

... Kasim Reed from Atlanta, Georgia...

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

... Greg Stanton from Phoenix, Arizona...

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

... and Ashley Swearengin from Fresno, California...

 

(APPLAUSE) ... and all of you are here, as well as some of the top labor leaders in the country, and we are just so grateful -- some outstanding business leaders are here as well. And of course, we’ve got wonderful students here. So I could not be prouder of our students.

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

Now, those of you who have a seat, feel free to take a seat. I don’t mind.

 

I love you back.

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

Last week -- last week, I had the honor of being sworn in for a second term as president of the United States.

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

And during my inaugural address, I talked about how making progress on the defining challenges of our time doesn’t require us to settle every debate or ignore every difference that we may have, but it does require us to find common ground and move forward in common purpose. It requires us to act.

 

I know that some issues will be harder to lift than others. Some debates will be more contentious. That’s to be expected. But the reason I came here today is because of a challenge where the differences are dwindling; where a broad consensus is emerging; and where a call for action can now be heard coming from all across America.

 

OBAMA: I’m here today because the time has come for common sense, comprehensive immigration reform.

 

(APPLAUSE)

 

The time is now.

 

Now’s the time.

 

Now’s the time.

 

Now’s the time.

 

I’m here because -- I’m here because most Americans agree that it’s time to fix the system that’s been broken for way too long. I’m here because business leaders, faith leaders, labor leaders, law enforcement, and leaders from both parties are coming together to say now is the time to find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as the land of opportunity.

 

 

Obama's immigration platform is based on the following principles, according to a fact sheet released by the White House:

 

- Continuing to Strengthen Border Security: President Obama has doubled the number of Border Patrol agents since 2004 and today border security is stronger than it has ever been. But there is more work to do. The President’s proposal gives law enforcement the tools they need to make our communities safer from crime. And by enhancing our infrastructure and technology, the President’s proposal continues to strengthen our ability to remove criminals and apprehend and prosecute national security threats.

- Cracking Down on Employers Hiring Undocumented Workers: Our businesses should only employ people legally authorized to work in the United States. Businesses that knowingly employ undocumented workers are exploiting the system to gain an advantage over businesses that play by the rules. The President’s proposal is designed to stop these unfair hiring practices and hold these companies accountable. At the same time, this proposal gives employers who want to play by the rules a reliable way to verify that their employees are here legally.

- Earned Citizenship: It is just not practical to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants living within our borders. The President’s proposal provides undocumented immigrants a legal way to earn citizenship that will encourage them to come out of the shadows so they can pay their taxes and play by the same rules as everyone else. Immigrants living here illegally must be held responsible for their actions by passing national security and criminal background checks, paying taxes and a penalty, going to the back of the line, and learning English before they can earn their citizenship. There will be no uncertainty about their ability to become U.S. citizens if they meet these eligibility criteria. The proposal will also stop punishing innocent young people brought to the country through no fault of their own by their parents and give them a chance to earn their citizenship more quickly if they serve in the military or pursue higher education.

- Streamlining Legal Immigration: Our immigration system should reward anyone who is willing to work hard and play by the rules. For the sake of our economy and our security, legal immigration should be simple and efficient. The President’s proposal attracts the best minds to America by providing visas to foreign entrepreneurs looking to start businesses here and helping the most promising foreign graduate students in science and math stay in this country after graduation, rather than take their skills to other countries. The President’s proposal will also reunify families in a timely and humane manner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 29 January 2013 16:29

I wont be as soft, as humble - Anyim

Anyim Pius Anyim, the Secretary to the  Government of the Federation, Nigeria and former senate president speaks on the  preparations for the country’s centenary(1914-2014).

 

I have never seen a man humble with power as Jonathan. I wouldn’t be as humble as that with power, I can tell you that I was not - Anyim

 

On the role of the political opposition during the celebrations

The time I was leaving the senate I was getting to 42 and I didn’t think about what I would be tomorrow. I walked away. Why wouldn’t people also think that the country should be above them? I had become chairman of the National Assembly and I said I had no business here again and I walked away and I had no plan about what I was going to do except that my father was a farmer and I had a farmland. It is as simple and straight as that. We must join hands to promote the country above every selfish interest. I think the duty is for us to elevate the corporate wellbeing of Nigeria because it is all our collective well being over and above every narrow and parochial feeling. Honestly and I think so.

 

 

Let me again empahsise about this issue of perception. If I were Jonathan, if I were him, I ordinarily try to simplify my life, (but) I have never seen a man humble with power as Jonathan. I wouldn’t be as humble as that with power, I can tell you that I was not. I have never seen anybody that is as tolerant with power as he. I have never seen any leader in Nigeria and I have been around, that has managed power the way Jonathan has and that is why everybody thinks we can rubbish him, ‘that one, what can he do? He wont do anything. We can step on him!’

 

We haven’t had it that way before. And I have told people, we have wonderful opportunity under Jonathan to deepen democracy because he will not interfere with anything, he will not interfere with what you are doing. He will not even challenge you. What you want to do, do! Those working with him, he doesn’t manipulate, he doesn’t control, just run your office. That is the basic principle that will advance our democracy. But we turn it otherwise to say, it is weakness. We have to choose between the principles of democracy or a peculiar type of democracy that is peculiar to Nigeria .

 

We have measured civilian regimes and military regimes. How would Abacha have done it? How would Murtala have done it? How did Obasanjo do it (no I don’t want to talk about that one o!)  But the truth is that the principle of democracy is universal. So you have to compare what he is doing is what should be or how the other people did it. Somebody told me that the kind of president Nigeria needs is the one with iron hand. When he comes you know he has come.

 

We shouldn’t take it for granted because instead of maximising the opportunity of the kind of person Jonathan is we are abusing it. I wont be as soft, as humble, as tolerant as he is in power. I will not be, I! I am saying so. You know I am saying the truth, if you step on me, I step on you!

 

Let’s get it right this is the duty we have to perform together, the country should be above every personal interest. You mustn’t rule. People will come and tell me it is the turn of the Southeast, it is the turn of this…. Who zoned it to South-south now? Who zoned it to them? God! Who gave it to Jonathan? This is a man nobody ever gave any chance. Who didn’t even want.

 

He wanted to remain in his small Bayelsa, they dragged him out overnight and you cannot see the hand of God in it? You think you can throw him away like that? It is not possible. It is because we do not believe in God that is why you cannot see God in anything. We should get it right. God has so pampered me in my life that I don’t sleep and worry about tomorrow. I don’t think about tomorrow, because I think my tomorrow is secured in God’s hand and I sleep very well.

 

On the role of the states

One of the major arguments we had in the senate was people from Kogi saying that Lokoja should host most of the activities, but that is why we said that states can come up with their own programmes and align with us. Lagos State can come up and tell us, this and this can be in Lagos, then we will now meet with Lagos, work it out and work out the funding plans because the states may have their own projects that they want to sponsor and others we may want to raise funds from alternative sources. So, it is not exclusive.

 

The role of former Heads of State

The programme we are doing is not fragmented on the basis of parties or on the basis of regions. At any level which ever programme that concerns anybody we will reach the person. We are interviewing people on what they say about Nigeria . Buhari has been interviewed, Babangida has been interviewed. They are yet to get Obasanjo, they haven’t interviewed him. On the flag off day, Gowon has a role to play, Abdulsalami has a role to play, Obasanjo has a role to play.

 

Why the centenary would not be manipulated to help 2015 agenda

If we do it party by party we would not even take off because political interests is not what you just resolve overnight because in this part of the world politics is life. So we don’t want to bring politics into this, we are talking about Nigeria .

 

We will not because if any party wants government, it is for INEC and the Nigerian electorate. It is different from what we are doing. The truth is that Nigeria is 100 years under Jonathan. It is not Jonathan that put 2014 neither is it Jonathan that put 2014 close to 2015! These issues will arise, but it is for you to put it right.

 

 

 

Source: Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Vanguard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When first class global economists, politicos, and business leaders gathered in Davos for the World Economic Forum, the last thing they want to do was to give an impression that Africa does not belong to the elite group of world who-is-who. Sprinkles of African elites were present and there was a discussion session at Davos that was set aside for the review of Africa’s political economy.

 

Of course few African leaders were invited to participate in the discussion and they probably convinced that they will be taken serious as the audience looked captivated as the discussion on African problem was being dissected by the political and business leaders from Africa.

 

The session was called “De-Risking Africa" and Presidents Jonathan of Nigeria and Zuma of South Africa were the principal speakers and analysts. How can we forget Graham Mackay, chairman of SABMiller, the largest growing brewing entity in Africa. To his credit, Mackay has managed to spread out his brewery empire around Africa.

 

By calling the session De-Risking Africa, World Economic Forum maybe trying to convey to the world that Africa is safe for business and investment. But the problem here is that African perception by the world cannot be easily altered by the session at Davos.

 

The western media and movie industry in the past have poorly projected and showcase Africa that it has become difficult to positively rebrand Africa as the global media is gearing up to do.

 

There is a new and emerging Africa, inasmuch that African contribution to the global GDP is quite minimal about or less than 2.7 percent, yet Africa has the fastest growing economy at the annual growth rate of at 5.2 percent in 2012 compared to the rest of the world that has experienced anemic growth of about 3.2 percent.

 

It is important that the world see Africa for what it is because investments and capital are needed to sustain the growth in Africa. The only way that Africa can succeed and alleviate her standard of living is to enshrine pro-growth policy but it cannot be doable without the necessary manpower and capital to move forward.

 

I do expect The World Economic Forum to do more for Africa not just by gathering some African leaders to speak on Africa but to create an environment where Africa is  'normalize' and the  label of the 'other' bloated out. Instead of setting aside Africa for discussion, Africa should be integrated into the discussion just as Europe and Asia.

 

Mackay in the discussion emphasized that problem of Africa must be left for the private industry to be “fix” with economic growth.  Mackay may be putting too much hope on the private sector as the panacea to the problems of Africa, for certain things are beyond the reach of the private sector. Peace and stability, responsible citizenry, law and order are needed to sustain economic growth and private sector have little role in them.

 

South African actress Charlize Theron was given 2013 World Economic Forum Crystal Award for humanitarian.


"Trust in economic growth to solve the problems of the continent, "Economic growth comes from the private sector: business will fix it, if it's allowed to. If you look at some of our operations in more rural parts of Africa and you see the conditions that have to be endured: these are heroic endeavors in many cases," Mackay said.

 

Africa needs both the private and public sectors to work together. Moreover, there are things that can be carried out by the private sector and there are things that government must do. Private sector should be the primary engine of Job creation and employments for the work force. The public sector should implement fiscal and monetary policies to promote wealth creation.

 

Both Presidents Jonatha and Zuma made an important point when it comes on the provision of infrastructures. They believed that Africa must developed modern infrastructures for sustainable economic growth. The private sector does not build roads, rails and provide power grids. This is the job of the public sector and that is where a functional government comes into play. Both private and public sectors have their unique roles to play in economic development and growth in anywhere including Africa.

 

President Paul Kagame  of Rwanda who was also in the audience said, “For me, the major problem I see is that Africa's story is written from somewhere else, and not by Africans themselves."   But the point Kagame missed is that in the global economy, investors send their investments to places they deem fit, simultaneously commentators and analysts from all parts of the world will follow accordingly where the actions are brewing.

 

President Paul Kagame speaking at Davos


News reporting on Africa has somewhat improved to more positive and good reporting, but the reality is that Africa has some fundamental problems that she must tackled to better improve her image. There are problems in the continent that are seriously hampering economic growth. And no matter how much de-risking you attempted with words, it cannot make it go away.

 

Actions, they say, speak louder than words. Action-oriented leaders are needed to fight corruption, build modern infrastructures and inspire the continent to achieve the goals she set for herself. The words and discussions at Davos may be good but action and determination must belong to Africa.

 

WEF

 

 

Emeka Chiakwelu, Principal Policy Strategist at Afripol.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"From presidential rivals to political allies, here's a look at President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's relationship over the years."  -  Vivyan Tran

President Obama and Hillary Clinton tour the Wat Pho Royal Monastery with Chaokun Suthee Thammanuwat, the Dean, Faculty of Buddhism Assistant to the Abbot of Wat Phra Chetuphon in Bangkok, Thailand, Nov. 18, 2012. AP

Obama and Clinton wave as they arrive at Yangon International Airport in Yangon, Myanmar, on Air Force One, Nov. 19, 2012. It was the first visit to Myanmar by a sitting U.S. president. AP

Clinton and Obama walk to the Oval Office from the Rose Garden of the White House, Sept. 12, 2012, after the president spoke on the death of U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens. AP

President Obama smiles as he is seated with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the start of a Cabinet meeting at the White House, May 3, 2011. AP

Obama, with Clinton, delivers a statement on Libya in the Grand Foyer of the White House, Feb. 23, 2011. AP

Obama meets with his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan, March 12, 2010, in the Situation Room. From left are, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, United States Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, and the president. AP

 

Hillary Clinton confers with President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama prior to a reception in the Yellow Oval Room of the White House for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India and his wife, Mrs Gursharan Kaur, Nov. 24, 2009. (Photo: White House)

Obama meets with his national security team including Undersecretary of State Bill Burns (right) and Hillary Clinton, Sept. 30, 2009, in the Situation Room.(Photo: White House)

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (left) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greet President Obama as he arrives to addresses a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol, Sept. 9, 2009. AP

Obama signs a proclamation celebrating the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in the East Room of the White House Friday, July 24, 2009. From left: Rep. Jim Langevin, Sen. Daniel Inouye, Rep. Steny Hoyer, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, Obama, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  AP

Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (left) talk in the Oval Office, June 26, 2009. At right is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. AP

President Obama tours the Sultan Hassan Mosque with Secretary of State Clinton in Cairo, Egypt, June 4, 2009.  AP

Obama talks with Clinton at a North Atlantic Council meeting in Strasbourg, France, April 4, 2009, during a summit celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  AP
President Obama gestures after his address to a joint session of Congress, Feb. 24, 2009. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is at left, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is at right.  AP
Obama leaves a news conference with Clinton, in Chicago, Dec. 1, 2008. Pictured from top left: Eric Holder, Janet Napolitano, Robert Gates, Joe Biden, and James Jones.  AP

Then-Sen. Hillary Clinton delivers a speech supporting then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, at a rally in Orlando, Fla., Oct. 20, 2008.  AP
Then-Democratic presidential hopefuls, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, debate at the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas, Feb. 21, 2008. AP
Source: Photos from AP, words from Vivyan Tran, Huffington post



The wealth and poverty of a nation: Who will restore the dignity of Nigeria?

I am hugely delighted to return to my alma mater the great and only University of Nigeria to speak at your 42nd convocation. Twenty eight years ago I sat just like you those of you who are part of the graduating Class of 2013; excited by my graduation. It was 1985 and I was very privileged to be one of the then only 3% of our own youthful population that had the opportunity of a university education. Today, you are still fortunate to be one of the yet paltry 4.3% of your own youthful generation with an opportunity for university education. For Nigeria that percentage does not compare favorably with 37.5% for Chile 33.7% for Singapore 28.2% for Malaysia, 16.5% for Brazil and 14.6%.  Our lag in tertiary education enrollment is quite revealing and could be interpreted as the basis of the competitiveness gap between the same set of countries and Nigeria. The reason is that “…. tertiary enrollment rate which is the percentage of total enrollment, regardless of age, in post-secondary institutions to the population of people within five years of the age at which students normally graduate high school…….plays an essential role in society, creating new knowledge, transferring knowledge to students and fostering innovation”. The countries with the most highly educated citizens are also some of the wealthiest in the world in a study by the OECD published by the Wall Street Journal last year. The United States, Japan, Canada, South Korea, Finland, Norway, Israel, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia also have among the largest Gross Domestic Products. All these countries aggressively invest in education.

 

The same cannot be said of Nigeria. The crawling progress in tertiary education enrollment since my graduation more than two and a half decades ago is therefore one key reason former peer nations left us behind at the lower rungs of global economic rankings. Economic growth rate and ultimate development of nations are determined by a number of factors that range from sound policies, effective and efficient public and private investments and strong institutions. Economic evidence throughout numerous researches proves that one key variable that determines how fast nations outgrow others is the speed of accumulation of human capital especially through science and technology education.  No wonder for these same countries by 2011-  South Korea of fifty million people has a GDP of $1.12trillion, Brazil of one hundred and ninety six million has $2.48 trillion; Malaysia of twenty eight million people has $278.6Billion; Chile of seventeen million people has $248.59Billion; Singapore of five million people has $318.7 Billion.  Meanwhile with our population of 165 million people we make boasts with a GDP of $235.92 Billion- completely way off the mark that we could have produced if we made a better set of development choices.

 

More dramatic is that this wide gap between these nations and Nigeria was not always the case as some relevant data at the time of our independence reveal.  In 1960 the GDP per capita of all these countries were not starkly different from that of Nigeria- two were below $200, two were a little above $300 and one was slightly above $500 while that of Nigeria was just about $100. For citizens, these differentials are not mere economic data. Meanwhile by 2011, the range for all five grew exponentially with Singapore at nearly $50,000, South Korea at $22,000, Malaysia at $10,000, Brazil at $13,000 and Chile at $14,000. Our own paltry $1500 income per capita helps drive home the point that we have been left behind many times over by every one of these other countries. How did these nations steer and stir their people to achieve such outstanding economic performance over the last five decades? There is hardly a basis for comparing the larger population of our citizens clustered within the poverty bracket with the majority citizens of Singapore fortunate to have upper middle income standard of living.

 

Again, how did this happen? What happened to Nigeria? Why did we get left behind? How did these nations become productively wealthy over the last fifty years while Nigeria stagnated? How did majority of the citizens of these nations join the upper middle class while more Nigerians retrogressed into poverty? There are usually as many different answers to these sets of questions as there are respondents on the reasons we fell terribly behind. Some say, it is our tropical geography, yet economic research shows it has not prevented other countries with similar conditions from breaking through. Others say it is size, but China and India are bigger, yet in the last thirty and twenty years have grown double digit and continue to out- grow the rest of the world at this time of global economic crisis. Furthermore, being small has not necessarily conferred any special advantages to so many other countries with small population yet similarly battling with the development process like we are. Some others say it is our culture but like a political economist posited “European countries with different sorts of cultures, Protestant and Catholic alike that have grown rich. Secondly, different countries within the same broad cultures have performed very differently in economic terms, such as the two Koreas in the post-war era. Moreover, individual countries have changed their economic trajectories even though “their cultures didn’t miraculously change.” How about those who plead our multiethnic nationalities as the constraint but fail to see that the United States of America happens to be one nation with even more disparate ethnic nationalities than Nigeria and yet it leads the global economy! As for those who say it is the adverse impact of colonialism, were Singapore, Malaysia and even China not similarly conquered and dominated by colonialists?

 

That Nigeria is a paradox of the kind of wealth that breeds penury is as widely known as the fact that the world considers us a poster nation for poor governance wealth from natural resources. The trend of Nigeria’s population in poverty since 1980 to 2010 for example suggests that the more we earned from oil, the larger the population of poor citizens : 17.1 million 1980, 34.5million in 1985, 39.2million in 1992, 67.1million in 1996, 68.7million in 2004 and 112.47 million in 2010! This sadly means that you are children of a nation blessed with abundance of ironies.

 

Resource wealth has tragically reduced your nation- my nation- to a mere parable of prodigality. Nothing undignifies nations and their citizens like self-inflicted failure. Our abundance of oil, people and geography should have worked favorably and placed us on the top echelons of the global economic ladder by now. After all, basic economic evidence shows that abundance of natural resources can by itself increase the income levels of citizens even if it does not increase their productivity. For example, as Professor Collier a renowned economist who has focused on the sector stated in a recent academic work countries that have enormously valuable natural resources are likely to have high living standards on a sustainable basis by simply replacing some of the extracted resources with financial assets held abroad. Disappointedly, even that choice eluded our governing class who through the decades has spent more time quarreling over their share of the oil “national cake” than they have spent thinking of how to make it benefit the entire populace.

 

There are perhaps three broad classes of resource rich countries. The first are those which like Norway which have built up all other types of domestic investment from which revenue is generated and can therefore save their huge revenue from gas in foreign assets. The second are those mostly of the Middle East countries like Kuwait which also have saved huge revenue in foreign asset and generate sufficient revenue from the asset to be better off than other countries without resources.  However, for Kuwait this may be only because they live well from resource rents rather than becoming productive. The third category of which our country is a classic example are countries which though resource rich have neither been able to build up foreign asset for citizens to live well off of nor evolved new and alternative sectors of productivity.

 

The appropriate response to the revenue extracted from our oil over the period 1959 to date would have been to use it in accumulating productive investment in the form of globally competitive human capital and physical asset of all types of infrastructure and institutions. Such translation from one form of nonrenewable asset to renewable capital would have been   the right replacement strategy for a wasting asset like oil. Unfortunately unbridled profligacy has made us spend and continue to spend the free money from oil like a tragic Rentier state that we are called in development circles. We spend most of what we generate on mere consumption with no tangible productive asset to show for our so called “wealth”.

 

Due to profligacy we have dismal human development indicators which are inconsistent with the scale of our earnings. For example using life expectancy as a proxy measuring how we score on human development, 51.4years for Nigerians falls far short of the 80years for citizens of Singapore and South Korea, 78years for citizens of Chile, 73 years for citizens of Malaysia and 72years for citizens of Brazil. We may in fact be the world record holder in the rank of natural resources rich countries that tend to have worse human development scores when compared to countries without endowments. As our human development scores have lagged, we continued with our binge on oil revenue and became trapped in cyclical decline of national competitiveness.  It explains why every other economic sector in Nigeria has suffered the effect of the oil enclave economy. Oil has unleashed shocks and volatility of revenues on our economy due to exposure to global commodity market swing, proliferated “weak, ineffectual, unstable and systemically corrupt institutions and bureaucracies” that have helped misappropriate or plunder public resources.  Nations with abundance of natural resources especially in Africa, Latin America and part of South Asia have experienced the fueling of official corruption and “violent competition for the resource by the citizens of the nation”     .

 

While there may not be concurrence on the causes of Nigeria’s colossal underperformance, most of our citizens however agree that poor governance and the more visible symptom of corruption have had virulent impact in arresting the development of Nigeria. The poor in our land have paid the highest possible price for being born into the world’s best example of a paradox. The common wonderment of these poor citizens – whether east, west, north and south- is “why would more than half the population of a country that earned nearly one trillion dollars in oil revenue since the Oloibori discovery of crude oil; continue to wallow in poverty?” Well, economic evidence shows that the answer which we must all ponder deeply is that oil wealth entrenched corruption and mismanagement of resources in government and warped the incentive for value added work, creativity and innovation in our public, private sectors and wider society. This being the case, the larger population of our people is deprived of the opportunity to overcome poverty and this is what economists call the “resource curse”.  The oil revenue induced choices made by our ruling elite over the five decades of political independence cursed several of our citizens to intergenerational poverty!

 

Endowment of oil resulted in an indulgent elite class – the generations of your great grandparents, grandparents and parents in leadership- who have made disastrous choices that have trapped the destiny of Nigeria in oil wells. It is the reason our economic structure has remained unchanged for more than fifty years. Fact is that our political elite suffers from delusion of greatness simply because we sell barrels of crude oil to finance 80% of our national budget, cover 95% of our foreign exchange and petroleum sectors represents a larger portion of industry’s contribution to our GDP.  Little wonder that manufacturing is a mere 18% of our Gross Domestic Products compared to that of all those other nations with which we set off on the development race. Manufacturing which has its major driver as education enabled those nations develop a huge base of human capital with skills and competencies to drive new ideas, creativity and innovation. They embraced their comparative advantage, mimicked nations that were ahead of them, perfected some aspects of manufacturing and became extremely competitive.

 

While these countries moved up the manufacturing and economic development ladder in my fifty years of existence all I can say for Nigeria is that during the same period I have known at least five cycles of commodity booms that offered us rare opportunities to use revenues generated from oil to transform our economy.  Sadly, each cycle ended up sliding us farther down the productivity ladder. The present cycle of boom of the 2010s is however much more vexing than the other four that happened in the 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s. This is because we are still caught up in it even as I speak today and it is more egregious than the other periods in revealing that we learned absolutely nothing from the previous massive failures. Furthermore, it is happening back to back with the squandering of the significant sum of $45 Billion in foreign reserve account and another $22Billion in the Excess Crude Account being direct savings from increased earnings from oil that the Obasanjo administration handed over to the successor government in 2007. Six years after the administration I served handed over such humongous national wealth to another one; most Nigerians but especially the poor continue to suffer the effects of failing public health and education systems as well as decrepit infrastructure and battered institutions.   One cannot but ask, what exactly does Nigeria seek to symbolize and convey with this level of brazen misappropriation of public resources? Where did all that money go? Where is the accountability for the use of both these resources plus the additional several billions of dollars realized from oil sale by the two administrations that have governed our nation in the last six years? How were these resources applied or more appropriately, misapplied? Tragic choices! Yes. Our national dignity continues to be degraded by cycles of stagnation because of the terrible choices my generation and those before repeatedly make as a result of free oil money. The wealth and poverty of a nation never found a better Symbol!

 

There is no better example of the cost of the imprudent choices than what has happened to Education. The failures and limitations of the education you have received during your time here leading to your graduation today will become clearer to you should you ever seek to do what was very easy for me to do –that is, gain admission to one of the best schools in the world for my graduate studies simply on the strength of my University of Nigeria education. Countries invest in the human skills that can help their citizens use modern technology and eventually rise to the stage where those same citizens can develop their countries’ own technology. A country’s educational system is the key to its long-run development. According to economic study of the role of education in economic development, “Less than half of the rise in living standards since 1960 in industrial countries has been due to savings and investments from its citizens. The rest of the increase – more than 50% has been due to rising educational levels and to improvements in technology that raise factor productivity across the board”. I had known this as a Minister of Education in this country a few years ago. That knowledge inspired and fueled my zeal to bring education to the front burners of our national development at that time. The result of the diagnostics that we produced on the state of our education system and sector was so heart wrenching that I was filled with angst at how low we had sunk educationally. Deciding to channel the angst positively, we built a strong team that articulated some three hundred and sixty eight ‘root and branch’ reforms measures across the six levels and aspects of education- early childhood, basic, secondary, tertiary, special needs and adult/informal education. The response of resistance by some of the key political elite to the absolutely necessary reforms when we laid them out before the nation to generate consensus and implement is made clearer by what one today knows of the incentives that drive the choices of extractive elites. I will return to this as I get closer to the conclusion of my speech.

 

I read an article by David Wraight in which he posits that there is a globalized generation of youth – often referred to as the Millennial Generation. “They believe that they can change the world for the better, but they are unsure what they should change the world to; so they search for an ideology or system of belief to use as a foundation for the change they seek. They are actually searching for something worth living for and dying for.” They are optimistic and idealistic with a deep desire to make their mark in the world. They dream of what can be, and follow their dreams with passion and perseverance. They are no longer prepared to be spectators watching the world go by, but want to be ‘players’, to get their hands dirty, to make a difference. They are knowledgeable about the affairs of the world and very mobile, travelling as much as resources and opportunity allow.”

 

As globalization and modern technology continue to shrink our world people are connecting worldwide as never before – particularly young people – and overcoming cultural, geographical, language and ethnic barriers with ease. For the first time in human history we are seeing the emergence of a global youth culture with common values, dreams and desires. You are actually not different from your generational peers in Tunisia, Egypt, the United States and many other countries that have have questioned and overturned the status quo and established new norms in the governance of their nations. When it becomes an imperative for your generation to save Nigeria from its cycles of disastrous and destructive choices promoted by the older generations then you can rightly be called the Turning Point Generation. The turning point is when there begins to emerge a New Nigeria that is radically different from all that we have known of failure. The turning point is the point of restoration of Dignity. Yes. That quality or state of being worthy of esteem or respect; of being regarded as nobility and having worth!

 

One of America’s legendary leaders; President J. F. Kennedy called it the “source of national purpose” when he said “I believe in human dignity as the source of national purpose, human liberty as the source of national action, the human heart as the source of national compassion, and in the human mind as the source of our invention and our ideas”. Like individuals, nations have or lack dignity depending on how well they practice these famous words of John D. Rockefeller – “I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living”. Dignity of honest toil and the sweet triumph that results from such strenuous effort is after all what confers deserving honor on people and societies. Booker T. Washington expressed this Truth powerfully when he wrote that “no race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem”. We must take way a lasting message from the profound thoughts of these historical figures that helped build the still greatest nation in the world- the United States of America.

 

The clear message is that Dignity is conferred on a life of effort and hard work and not on a life of ignoble ease for the latter can easily become dulled by contemptible wealth.  To be born into inheritance like our nature endowed oil wealth does not of itself confer any deserving honor on us and our nation. Our oil rich nation merely makes us a Rentier state. Even worse, the oil wealth has created not the right kind of Elite class across the length and breadth of our nation but rather an Extractive Elite class. These political and business elite have been comfortable with living on rent from oil revenue without seeing the desperate need to redirect the focus of this nation to sources of economic growth that are more lasting than the depleting riches of natural commodities. They fail to realize that a Rentier economy like Nigeria sows the seed of its implosion if it does not advance into a productive economy. Had we been of a lesser population, we may perhaps have been able to all comfortably live off the income from oil as the revenue will make Nigeria sufficiently rich to be able to provide all of us high incomes on a sustainable basis like my friend Paul Collier so scholarly wrote drawing a parallel between individual bequeathed and inheritance and a nation blessed with natural resources. Collier wrote “just as a billionaire can ensure that his descendants need never work. But, just as many billionaires realize that it is good to earn a living, so all societies sensibly aspire to be productive. Resource extraction should make a society more productive”. My dear young friends, all Nigerians but especially our very prebendalist leadership class must realize that it is good for both individuals and nations to earn their living!

 

So I ask you as representatives of your generation, “Who will restore the Dignity of Nigeria?”  As my big brother, former President of South Africa -Thabo Mbeki- once asked along the same vein “When will the day come that our dignity will be fully restored, when the purpose of our lives will no longer be merely to survive until the sun rises tomorrow”! Your word of response to my difficult question will not persuade anyone. It is the follow on action that stands the chance of being persuasive. The reason is simple. Word is cheap.  As was profoundly observed by Marti Jose, “other famous men, those of much talk and few deeds, soon evaporate. Action is the dignity of greatness”. So I ask you again, “Who will WALK AND WORK to restore the Dignity of Nigeria?”  Through my probing question, I abide with the challenge of Shriver Sargent who believed that every new generation must be taught the dignity of work- “Do we talk about the dignity of work? Do we give our students any reason for believing it is worthwhile to sacrifice for their work because such sacrifices improve the psychological and mental health of the person who makes them?” Do you know that your embrace of a new mindset – an entrepreneurial mindset that takes pride in problem solving can change the course of our history and place us on a new economic development trajectory? Do you know that in order to herald a New Nigeria we must accept the words of Michelle Obama on learning about dignity and decency – “that how hard you work matters much more than how much you make…..that helping others means much more than just getting ahead yourself” is what we need to herald a New Nigeria?

 

A New Nigeria would be one where the citizens and leaders alike converge on a common vision for our nation. That vision need not be complex. It is in fact extremely important that because everyone who reads it must desire to run with its ideals that the Vision must be simple. For me a simple Vision will read- “we believe in Dignity”.  Although it sounds so ordinary but it profoundly conveys that we believe in the Dignity that lays within ourselves and not the fleeting sense of wealth that oil money creates. WE are our best endowment. Our capabilities- nurtured and nourished by a just society- and not our oil, not our gas not even our thirty four classes of minerals scattered across the country represent the lasting and renewable asset of our nation.  Whereas as a Madagasy proverb says, oil induced “poverty won’t allow us lift our heads; dignity which is the fruit of hard work won’t allow us bow them down.

 

For Nigeria’s dignity to be restored your generation must build a coalition of your entrepreneurial minds that are ready to ask and respond to the question “What does it take for nations to become rich? Throughout economic history, the factors that determine which nations became rich and improved the standard of living of their citizens read like a Dignity treatise in that they all revolve around the choices that ordinary citizens made in defining the value constructs of their nation. We learn that it takes a very strong interplay of political and economic dynamics for nations to climb out from the rung of poverty and raise the standard of living of citizens. The political foundation of nations emerges as the principal reason why some nations grow rich while others remain poor in the field of development economics. A ground breaking work by Daren Acemoglu, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and James Robinson (economist), a Harvard professor has brought politics to the center stage of economic development. Although sound policies and access to capital for investing in development priorities remain very important for economic success no country can however achieve development without having a strong political foundation made up of political players, system, processes and structures that are grounded in inclusivity and accountability. The active participation of the citizens who seek to restore their individual and collective dignity in the politics of their nation is what ensures that THE PEOPLE and not a bunch of power hungry and extractive elite will set the agenda and determine the quality and substance of governance.

 

The simple version of this thesis is “sort out a nation’s political mess and you improve the chances of getting a productive economy that grows and delivers the benefits of growth in the form of jobs and improved incomes to all citizens”.  Although this advice is rooted in empirical evidence from economic research it does sound very basic. Not being one of those earth shattering solutions that Nigerians are often enamored of, we may choose to ignore it.  Yet if we are willing to confront our past and present reality with sincerity and ruminate on our political history, this thesis may actually be a Turning Point “Aha” moment for us. The Turning Point is that moment when we all suddenly realized that Politics- a process that defines the How, Who, Which, Where, When and for What any individual or group of persons who seek to govern Nigeria- is indeed the root cause of our  repeated failures. Neither our thirty four years of cumulative military governance nor the nineteen cumulative years thus far of our democratic governance provided us “inclusive and accountable governance.” Evidently, it is the undeveloped character of our political history, inchoate political structure and system and mostly uninspiring cast of political leadership that threw Nigeria into a hole from which it must climb out quickly to secure its continuing existence. Instructively, a person or as in our own case; a nation is counseled to “stop digging when in a hole”. Lamentably, in our case we have consistently rebuffed the wisdom behind that counsel. We have instead dug deeper and the more we have dug, the deeper into the hole we have sunk and all because of political misadventures.

 

Trace the political history of our country since independence in 1960 and you will better understand the horror of our faulty political foundation.  The first democratic government ushered in an independent Nigeria but was cut short  by a coup in 1966, a counter coup in 1967, civil war from 1967 to 1970, military rule from 1970 at the end of the war until another coup in 1975, another unsuccessful coup in 1976 the then Head of State was murdered, continued rule of the military until 1979 when a successful political transition ushered in the second republic but it became a democratic process that was known more for its prodigality than for governance until it was cut short in 1983 by yet another military coup but this new junta was itself sent packing by a coup in 1985 with a new military junta ruling from 1985 until 1993 when it thwarted the political rights of citizens who had elected a democratic president by annulling the elections.  It responded to the public disturbance and agitation that followed by installing an interim national government that lasted only three months following yet another military intervention that was more heinous than ever until 1998 when divine providence cut short that particular leadership ushering in yet another military ruler who committed to and successfully conducted a transition that ushered democratic governance in 1999. That it is now fourteen years of uninterrupted even if fledgling democratic governance since 1999 is perhaps the very tiny ray of light in what is otherwise a canvass of political tragedies.

 

Yet, despite the general consensus satisfaction with the record number of democratic years since 1999, darkness still ominously clouds our political landscape.  While the nation continues to experience the paradox of plenty and citizens are once again provoked by this latest round of prodigality of our political elite one cannot but sigh in disbelief that these casts of gladiators seem not to have learned anything from our inglorious political history. The recklessness and impunity with which public institutions and resources are being handled; the daily news of systemic and now democratized corruption by political office holders and their business elite collaborators has entrenched cynicism and pessimism in the land. How can our political elite not see that we are all sitting on kegs of gun powder? How can they not see that whatever peace we may appear to have at this time is like the peace of the graveyard? How can they not see that the teeming population of extremely angry and more interconnected young people cannot be silent for too much longer? How can they not know that preachments of patience and sacrifice will no longer placate the two million young people who annually enter the terribly constrained labor market pushing up the already worrisome 40% unemployment ratio among our youthful population? How can they not see the hypocrisy of the platitudes on sacrifice to poor citizens who thanks to greater access to information are able to closely follow the lifestyle of delusional grandeur and debauchery that their leaders finance from the public treasury? Where is the much needed innovative and entrepreneurial mindset that the public sector must earnestly deploy in solving the multiple problems of our nation?  Why does our own variant of political elite not even understand the most basic necessity for change of the status quo methods that have failed to deliver benefits of governance to citizens? “Elites resist innovation because they have a vested interest in resisting change — and new technologies that create growth can alter the balance of economic or political assets in a country. Technological innovation makes human societies prosperous, but also involves the replacement of the old with the new, and the destruction of the economic privileges and political power of certain people,” wrote Acemoglu and Robinson. Yet when elites temporarily preserve power by preventing innovation, they ultimately impoverish their own states. Sadly, they most often do not care what happens to the rest of the nation, and that arguably has been the lot of Nigerian through the years.

 

In the course of the last six months of my returning home to Nigeria after five year in international public service at the World Bank in Washington DC, I have many times come across the cutting anger of unemployed, disillusioned citizens who are louder in their disaffection with the condition of the country. The strident voices of citizens in public debates of national issues are louder and more penetrating than ever before. We are indeed at a turning point. How it turns however will be determined by you my dear friends. Today, you are the generation that holds the ace. You are the generation for whom the stakes are highest on the issue of how well this nation turns its governance corner. You are the generation that can define a new character and quality of politics in Nigeria and inherently the quality of governance outcomes in the decades and century ahead. You are the generation that can birth a New Nigeria devoid of all negatives that have inhibited our greatness and one in which every citizen is mobilized to construct a “National Integrity System” which is imperative for the building of every decent society.

 

You can do so by seeking to understand and to engage the stunted political context and nation that you have inherited. You will have to take hold of both and turn them around into a mature democracy and nation. What you must seek to do is to create a new political context in which citizens’ demand for good governance and accountability begins to compel those who govern to persistently make choices that will more likely improve the outcomes of economic management for the larger number of Nigerians. You have the tools needed for massive political and civic education of your illiterate peers on the importance of political rights and participation in the political process. By virtue of your university education and experiences you understand the economics of politics in Nigeria better than your illiterate peers who ignorantly trade off their political rights and chances for better governance outcomes for a mere mess of porridge.

 

Economics teaches us that there are some basic Smithian conditions (as espoused by Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations) for sustainable economic growth. No country has become rich, and stayed that way, without establishing these conditions. Countries such as Great Britain and the United States became rich because their citizens overthrew the elites who controlled power and created a society with political rights more broadly distributed and the government accountable and responsive to citizens. In these countries the great mass of people could take advantage of economic opportunities and so the entire nation prospered. To the contrary, nations dominated by self-centered elite fail and they are extremely poor.

 

Your generation can work as collectives across this country and set the agenda for lasting positive change in the political architecture of Nigeria. Only after reading Why Nations Fail did I finally understand the wise words of Plato that “one of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors”. Therefore, do not be like me and my kind who have ignored politics and left it to professional politicians to determine its character and substance. The incentive that must drive your own impulses on whether to engage or not is the knowledge that except the insalubrious political context that has produced a persistently failing Nigeria changes positively; your individual talents, opportunities and greatness will not materialize nor be maximized. In deciding to free Nigeria from its legendary political failures, you will actually free yourselves to excel like your contemporaries in the rest of the world. “The positive dimensions of succeeding at this task democratizing political powers beyond the minuscule are accountability, property rights and rule of law, which in combination provide low transactions cost so that markets can work effectively and efficiently. When these conditions are absent, a society faces corruption, instability and poor human rights. Investors, including domestic investors, flee such settings”. Do you now see how inextricably connected our political and economic fortunes are in determining the quality of life of the Nigerian? Do you now see what our Big Problem is?

 

A recent global survey showed that your generation around the world stands out as the most connected to the developments in international affairs. So, most of you will assuredly be aware that not just in our nation but that everywhere else world over, people are seeking for those who can solve the Big Problems in their respective nations. In several other nations the solutions to Big Problems are coming from your generational peers. Surely, having established that our own Big Problem is the failure of politics to deliver the right environment in which a productive economy can thrive outside of the extraction of natural resources that fuels the destructive choices of our ruling elite you have the information needed for driving change. You would have to decide whether you are ready to play the role a change catalyst or would rather adopt the safer option which is to “siddon look.”  There is no better time to make such life changing decisions than the day of one’s graduation from College.

 

I should know about making decisions on graduation day! On my graduation day in 1985, my fertile mind having absorbed as much of the eclectic knowledge available on this campus as possible was budding with curiosity about the challenges of good governance in Nigeria. I made up my mind at that time to never lose my VOICE in the society and that for as long as I lived, I would always speak up on matters of governance, transparency, accountability and probity. Divine providence followed that decision and the supportive actions I took to back it and my steps began to be ordered on a trajectory that had me as one of the leaders of our own generations’ campaign for democracy and good governance- The Concerned Professionals with the likes of Pat Utomi, Sam Oni, Morin Babalola and many others. Staying committed to that decision that I made on graduation day was what provided me the rare privilege of becoming one of the few co-founders and a founding director of Transparency International the Berlin based global non-governmental organization that pioneered the work on anti-corruption and promotion of transparency. That decision that I made on graduation day informed all my life choices and paved the path for what you know of my vocational endeavors. So what decisions are you prepared to make today, dear friends? I assure you that the greatest gift of God to mankind is the power to choose. You are therefore empowered to make decisions and choices today that will ultimately determine what, where and how you will be in the next twenty eight years and beyond……..

 

But I warn you to be mindful and not rush to decide. You will need to fully assess all the possible costs of your decisions and choices and then determine whether you have the strength of will to bear them. Whatever choices you make from today for the purpose of helping build a New Nigeria will most certainly cost you something. Such is the reality of nation rebuilding. Those who truly build their societies pay a price. They are not For example you cannot be one given to the lure of free money, one who cannot defer gratification and one for whom the path of least resistance holds abiding fascination; and then say you are part of the Turning Point Generation. No! The willingness to “enjoy” wealth that is not earned is not consistent with such Turning Point paradigm.  For example, for anyone of you in the Class of 2013 you cannot having perverted the maxim “reward for effort” cheating in exams or using forged certificates to gain your admission and say you are a catalyst for the emergence of the New Nigeria.  If your decisions or choices from today are driven by some selfish interest of replacing the failed and fading generations so as to repeat their nation-hobbling pattern then please know that you are not of the Turning Point Generation.

 

I have spoken to you today to stir up your collective effective angst at the indignity of your inheritance. If I have succeeded in raising your determination to free our nation from the trap of oil, then my coming is worthy. If I have succeeded in helping you see how continuous education not more extraction of oil will help you outperform and take Nigeria up the economic development ladder, then my coming worthy.  If I have succeeded in preparing you to embrace dignity of labor as your philosophy of life –never shunning legitimate vocation that helps you earn a living regardless of how lowly it might seem- then my coming is worthy. If today, I have succeeded in preparing you for a life of private and public integrity then my coming is worthy. If I have deposited in you a deep seethed contempt for poor governance, then my coming is worthy. If I have succeeded in preparing you for a lifetime of costly choices that invariably ennoble your path then my coming is worthy. If I have succeeded in helping you realize that you are not weak- that you are actually very powerful- and have both the exceptional opportunities and the tools like your peers in other nations to solve our own Big Problem then my coming is worthy. If I have moved you to decide that you will be one of those that will redefine and build a New Nigeria of our dream then is my coming worthy. If I have succeeded in inspiring a resolve within you to uphold from today a strong sense of personal responsibility for the political governance of Nigeria then my coming is worthy. Above all, if I have succeeded in getting you motivated and empowered enough to walk out of this hall seeing ready to walk and work as a part of the Turning Point Generation that courageously dares to restore the dignity of Nigeria then my BEING is truly worth it!

 

I salute you, the great lions and lionesses of the class of 2013! All of you, my dear fellow alumnae of the University of Nigeria are indeed the true Wealth, the Greatness and above all the Dignity of Nigeria!!

Thank you for listening.

Dr. Ezekwesili, a former Minister of Solid Minerals and of Education and former Vice-President World Bank, delivered this keynote paper  at the  42nd convocation of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Thursday, 24th 2013. Currently,  A Senior Economic Advier, Africa Economic Policy Development Initiative at Open Society Foundation.

Monday, 28 January 2013 04:53

Who are the Sunnis and the Shiites?.

In 622 AD, Mohammed founded the first Islamic State in Medina, a city in Saudi Arabia, north of Mecca. There are two branches of the religion he founded. Sunnis and Shiites. In the Christian world, it is similar to Catholics and Protestants. About 70-90 percent of Muslims are Sunnis, while about 10-20 percent are Shiites.

 

Sunni is an Arabic word for followers-followers of Mohammed. Shiite came from Shiat-Ali “partisans of Ali”, after the Prophet's cousin and son in law whom they favored to be Caliph. In time, they became known as Shiite.

 

Though they have differences, they also have commonalities. Both believe in the five pillars of Islam-daily prayers, fasting during Ramadan, alms giving, pilgrimage to Mecca, and belief in one unitary god. Both also believe in the Koran, praying in the direction of Mecca and observing the same dietary and general social restrictions.

 

They also have differences. The Sunnis recognize the first four Caliphs as Mohammed’s successors. They recognize the heirs of the four Caliphs as legitimate religious leaders. These heirs have ruled continuously in the Arab world until the breakup of the Ottoman empire at the end of World War one.  Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey abolished the Caliphate in 1924.

 

In contrast, the Shiites believe that only the heirs of the 4th Caliph, Ali, are  legitimate successors of Mohammed. Another difference  concerns the Mahdi “the rightly guided one”, whose role is to bring a just global Caliphate into being. For the Shiites, the Mahdi has already been here and will return from hiding. Sunnis believe that the Mahdi is yet to emerge into history. Another difference is that the Shiites have a hierarchical structure of leadership like  the Grand Ayatollahs, Ayatollahs, Hojatolislams, Mullahs, etc. The Sunnis don't have such a leadership structure.

 

The Shiites are dominant in Iraq, Iran, Bahrain, Lebanon and Azerbaijan. They form the second largest sect in Pakistan. This area is known as the Shia Crescent. There are few Shiites in Nigeria, and they are concentrated in the town of Sokoto. However the Sunnis are dominant in the rest of the Islamic countries like Indonesia, Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Jordan, Niger, Algeria, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Malaysia, the Comoros, Libya, Tunisia, Mali, Burkina Faso etc.

 

Majority of the Muslims in Nigeria, China and India are Sunnis.  It is important to note that India has more Muslims than the entire Arab world put together. There are about 177 million Muslims in India. Also with the exception of Egypt, Nigeria has more Muslims than any Arab country. There are about 70 million Muslims in Nigeria.

 

A lot of the conflicts in the Middle East are fueled by the Sunni-Shiite conflict. The rebellion in Bahrain was  led by the majority Shiites against a minority Sunni led govt. With the support of the United States, Saudi Arabia sent in troops to help the minority Sunni led government put down the insurrection. It is not in the interest of the United States for a Shiite  government to take power in Bahrain, because of the influence Iran will exert.

 

The opposite is the case in Syria. The current rebellion in Syria is led by the majority Sunni population(90%) against a minority Alawite led government. The Alawites are an offshoot of Shiism. Iran which is a Shiite state, is a strong supporter of the Assad regime because of this religious connection. The United States and Saudi Arabia are supporting the Syrian opposition because of Iran's connection to the Assad regime.

 

The Sunni Shiite divide also played a significant role in the Iran-Iraq war. With the exception of Syria-which has a Sunni majority but an Alawite minority government-all the majority Sunni countries supported Iraq, primarily because of the fear of Shiite expansion. Moreover, in Sunni dominated countries, the Iranian revolution was not seen as an Islamic revolution, but as a Shiite revolution, and therefore not welcome. Pakistan is currently experiencing a conflict between the sects.

 

A lot of the Islamic terrorist groups also follow the divide. The Muslim Brotherhood is a Sunni organization, so also is Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaeda, as well as Hamas in Gaza and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Hezbollah and Amal in Lebanon are Shiite dominated organizations.

 

 

Thumbnail*Dr. Leonard Madu is President of the African Caribbean Institute and African Chamber of Commerce. He is also a Fox TV foreign affairs analyst and writes from Nashville, TN.

Monday, 28 January 2013 04:49

Igbo And The Elusive Seat

The Igbo are ubiquitous; they are everywhere. In the remotest villages, the farthest part of the earth, North Pole, Down Under, all over the world, into anything, commerce, transport, drugs, producing the best brain, etc, you’ll find them there.

 

Despite producing the current Nigeria Chief of Army Staff, Deputy Senate President, Deputy Speaker House of Representatives, Secretary to the Government of The Federation after 50 years of Nigeria’s independence, the Igbo still demand more.  But they are not complaining too loudly.

 

After former Vice President Dr. Alex Ekwueme’s humiliation by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Board of Trustees, BOT, he still returned to the PDP. Like the saying in Igbo language ndoro ndoro (push me, I push you).

 

Igbo names are synonymous with commerce, ruggedness, affluence, wealth. Igbo that produced Emeka Emeagwali, Chinua Achebe, Barth Nnaji, Emeka Anyaoku, Dora Akunyili, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Alvan Ikoku, Augustine Ilodibe, Sir Louis Ojukwu, etc., should be respected.

 

A tribe regarded as the most industrious on the continent of Africa, Igbo on the other hand mean different things to other tribes in Nigeria. Igbo means cheat, make money at all costs, advanced fee fraud, drug baron, armed robber, human trafficker, anything dirty, the ultimate goal: WEALTH!

 

Known for displaying wealth, the Igbo worship wealth and affluence. The number of cars you parade increases your standing in society; they love chieftainship titles. They have an environment ravaged by gully erosion. Igbo nation has the worst road network in Nigeria, no thanks to bad leadership. In over 50 years of Nigeria as a nation, Igbo have never held the exalted office of the President and Commander-in-Chief, except for the brief period of General JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi in the 60s. Many reasons can be adduced for this, but a giveaway is what is known in local parlance that Igbo could and should not be trusted. And successive administrations have cashed in on this by appointing Igbo as ministers of information.

 

A Yoruba adage says Omo ina la ran si’na, which literally means: To subdue fire, you have to use its antidote. From the first republic to the sixth and during the military era, Igbo were handed this job of minister of information.

 

The 2007 elections [selections] were supervised, signed, sealed and delivered by an Igbo. And it was the last straw that broke the Igbo’s quest of becoming Nigeria’s president, parading 15 or thereabouts presidential candidates from the same ethnic nationality contesting for one position.

 

The presidency will continue to elude the Igbo unless they come together. The Igbo are easily disorganised politically, ‘settle’ them and they forget their ambitions. If current trend persists, I see a situation where the Igbo will never have a shot at Nigeria’s highest political office in the foreseeable future.

 

The Igbo’s woes are self-inflicted; to turn things around they should begin by putting a stop to pointing fingers or blaming the north or the south-west for these woes.

The Igbo cannot afford to continue to weep; rather they should brace up and reverse the trend, and make the prospect of a president of Igbo extraction a reality in 2015. A word is enough for the wise!”

 

The storm is getting settled now, with less than two years away to 2015 general elections. PDP again (known for it’s anti-internal democracy) is technically sidelining the Igbo from the 2015 presidential race. Who will rescue, save and help the Igbo?

With the demise of Dim Odimegwu Ojukwu, APGA’s fragmentation (Igbo’s political party), Ohaneze’s  lack of clout, Igbo nation should as well forget Nigeria’s highest political office.

 

The Nigeria civil war is over but in tragic sense, Nigeria has now been made safer for ethnic, tribal, and religious vengeance and the great earthquake we called Nigeria Civil War has now been eaten by termites called Igbo.

 

•Adeyemi is Country Representative, Whisper Poetry. E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . 0816-950-3218.

 

 

 

 

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