Thursday, May 27, 2010

The pump wars

So the water pump in my compound went bad yet again. This time, it occurred at the weekend (while I was away) two Saturdays ago. M was not quite coherent in his explanation of what happened, whether it was a power surge or low current that caused the damage, I don't know. But all that does not matter. What matters is that we have been without running water since Tuesday the 18th when the water reservoirs finally ran dry.

As I told y'all earlier, there has already been a battle between Mrs M. and Mrs S. over water rights (kind of like Egypt/Sudan and the rest of the Nile Valley). Two mornings ago, I heard the missus in the other flat (by the way, she is Mrs. P) shouting about the water situation. Who she was shouting at, I have no idea.

This morning finally, yours sincerely got involved in the pump wars when P. accosted me as I prepared to leave for work. He asked why we haven't fixed the pump, but forgot to ask how he would contribute to fixing it, and also forgot to mention that he hadn't paid for the last fix. So I let him have it.

Full disclosure here, I lost this skirmish. You see, he accosted me with a surprise light infantry charge which I quickly repelled with some RPGs. Boosted by my good response and his quick withdrawal, I confidently went on the offensive using just same RPGs. What I did not take into consideration was that he had armour in reserve, of the mechanized variety, and when she let rip, I retreated hurriedly and took serious cover. My ears are still ringing from the heavy artillery barrage I had to withstand this morning.

Mrs P.'s mouth is something else...

You see, when I noticed that the pump was bad, I had approached M. again to see how we could fix it. Apparently he had taken a hit from Mrs P., so he is in no hurry to fix it being that P. has still not paid his contribution from the last time. S. has not mentioned the issue either, but then again he has quite a few kids and two house-helps who march up and down in the afternoons with buckets and jerry-cans, so what's his business? The fallout of that conversation with M. was that I got the phone number of his mai ruwa, so whenever I need new supplies, I call the guy and he brings me some.

I reported this state of affairs to my little lady, and she took the side of M. on this one. She said, "M. has figured these people out correctly. If you fix the pump for them again, they will take it for granted that you will do it all the time. We don't have children yet, so we can ration our water usage. Whenever they are ready for equity, we will bring our contribution to repair the pump." This morning's event proves that both she and M. are right.

S. and P. are great examples of one of the big problems with the country on a macro level. We have too many free loaders who simply refuse to take possession of their environment and the things in it. We have cases of transformers going bad, water works running down, roads getting spoiled, public utilities going to waste, simply because they belong to 'government'. But if they are repaired, these same people want to come and make use of them for next to nothing. P.'s question this morning confirmed it all.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Quote of the day

“I am in politics because of my commitment to impact on the lives of the people and this is something I have started so many years back ever before I join THIS TRADE called politics and people will be ready to go with me to whatever platform I might decide to go to.” ---Senator Alphonsus Igbeke

Source

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The media is dead, long live the media

On the morning of June 8, 1998, I listened to a BBC World Service report that claimed that Sani Abacha, Nigeria's leader at the time had passed away during the wee hours. After the report, I had my bath, had breakfast, and being a UNIBEN student at the time, went for my lectures. In school, life went on as usual, no one paid much attention to the BBC report, although evidently not a few of us had heard it. At the close of lectures that day, Radio Nigeria confirmed what the BBC had told us hours earlier, and the whole of UNIBEN broke out in spontaneous celebrations.

The twelve hour time-lag between the actual event, and people receiving confirmation is simply not possible anymore.

On the evening of Wednesday, 5 May, 2010, I left the NEXT offices in the company of Yinka Oyeligbe, one of the senior editors. He dropped me off at the beginning of my street twenty three minutes later and we bid each other a pleasant night's rest.

I then took the walk down to my house, turned on the generator and took a shower. Just as I was preparing to go and turn off the generator, my phone rang. It was a friend from Abuja, and he wanted to let me know that President Yar'Adua was dead. Now this particular fellow usually comes good, so I knew immediately that I was in for a long night. Almost as soon as we finished speaking, the phone rang again. This time, it was Henry Okelue, (@4eyedmonk on Twitter). He had just picked the same story off of Twitter, and called the first newsman that he knew, me, to confirm. Apparently, ThisDay had also put it up on their website as breaking news.

Immediately I swung into action, called Atom Lim, one of the Copy Desk members who was on duty and informed him. Then I called Terfa Tilley-Gyado, our Abuja Desk head. He was already on the way to Aso Rock. By the time I was leaving the house ten minutes later, MTN had smiled to the bank with about N600 of my hard earned money.

It was very difficult finding a cab to take me back to the NEXT offices by that time of night, but eventually I did find one. Like the others, I showed him my ID card, then told him what happened, and why it was imperative that I got to Oregun as quickly as possible. While opening the door for me, he muttered that "Yar'Adua has died many times before so what is the big deal about this one?" I struggled to convince him that this time the man had really died.

Thirty minutes after I got into that cab, I was at the office. My colleagues had already put up the story, and we already had 98 comments. On Twitter, our alert had been retweeted 252 times, and the Facebook status update had over 500 redirects to 234NEXT.com. Another website famous for breaking the news quickly, Sahara Reporters, had crashed, obviously due to a higher volume of traffic than their servers could handle. We used to have that problem in the earlier days.

I had one of the staff on duty flip through the channels on DSTv, and to my disappointment only Al-Jazeera had taken the story up. Channels TV was continuing with regular programming, but had a little banner indicating that this had happened, otherwise they continued with regular programming. The BBC (who had inadvertently helped in the attempt to discredit NEXT months ago) were talking about the British general elections. AIT had the news on their scrolling marquee, CNN had nothing (so much for being the first to know). NTA, Nigeria's official state broadcaster was, well, it was showing something so irrelevant that I almost flipped!

Anyway, after that initial excitement, it was down to managing the deluge of comments that were coming into the website, getting as much information as we could, verifying the information, posting the live updates to 234NEXT.com and Twitter, as well as making sure that the website did not crash.

By morning, the entire country knew what had happened, and the public holiday which was declared by the new President was also common knowledge. It is significant to note that students who were meant to take their school leaving examinations were also informed that the exams would go ahead as scheduled, and things did not miss a beat. People were able to find out information, double-check, cross-check, then pass on the information very quickly. How did they do this?

The tools that enabled all of this information to spread so rapidly are collectively called new media.

New media is a term that attempts to describe the emergence of digital, computerized, or networked information and communication technologies starting at the end of the 20th century. Most technologies described as "new media" are digital, often having characteristics of being manipulated, networkable, dense, compressible, interactive and impartial. Examples include the Internet, websites, computer multimedia, computer games, DVDs and the almost ubiquitous mobile phone. New media does not include television programmes, feature films, magazines, books, or paper-based publications. However, in recent times, a lot of Western television stations are attempting to latch on to, and integrate new media in their programming.

Websites such as Twitter and Facebook have turned out to be especially effective at propagating stories, and the Yar'Adua story was no exception.

At NEXT, we are committed to making use of new media and have become Nigeria's leader in the use of such. Our Facebook page is constantly updated, same as our Twitter account. One of the nicer moments on Twitter came when Stella Damasus (via Twitter) observed that "u know when NEXT has come becos tweets start coming".

As a staff here at NEXT, my proudest achievement till date was the ground breaking exclusive when we let the world know that our former President (God rest his soul) was not coming back. Being that the story was exclusive, we released only a small portion of it in the morning. When we let out the full story, the reaction was immediate. Twitter went mad, as well as Facebook, not to talk of 234NEXT.com. A lot of people called us liars, but as time went on and we were proved right, our followership on both mediums (Facebook and Twitter), which had suffered slightly, especially after the fake interview granted to the BBC, began to grow almost exponentially. On the day Mr. Yar'Adua was brought back to Nigeria, we peaked at almost a hundred thousand individuals from around the world coming to 234NEXT.com that day, and somehow, despite our challenges, we have managed to maintain figures close to that.

All this is coming at a time when newspaper circulation figures worldwide are dropping. What does that tell us? The future is in new media. The Media is dead, long live the Media.

P.S: my favourite tweet ever was from Amara Nwankpa (@bubusn on Twitter), "about d Yardy thing. @234next was right afterall #lightupnigeria #enoughisenough."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Song...

Stand up, all victims of oppression

For the cabal fears your might

Don't cling so hard to your possessions

Really you have nothing, if you have no rights

Let ethnic divisions be ended

For respect makes inequality fall

Freedom is merely privilege extended

Unless enjoyed by one and all.

CHORUS:

So come brothers and sisters

For the struggle is still on

The People of Nigeria

Must be united in song

So people come rally

For this is the time and place

The Nigerian ideal

Is unity, peace and progress

Let no one build walls to divide us

Walls of hatred nor walls of stone

Come greet the dawn and stand beside us

We will live together or we will die alone

In our country poisoned by exploitation

Those who have taken, now they must give

And end the vanity of politics

We have one but one country in which to live

CHORUS:

So come brothers and sisters

For the struggle is still on

The People of Nigeria

Must be united in song

So people come rally

For this is the time and place

The Nigerian ideal

Is unity, peace and progress

And so begins the final drama

In the streets and in the fields

We stand unbowed before their armour

We defy their guns and shields

When we fight, provoked by their aggression

Let us be inspired by life and love

For though they offer us concessions

Change will not come from above.

CHORUS:

So come brothers and sisters

For the struggle is still on

The People of Nigeria

Must be united in song

So people come rally

For this is the time and place

The Nigerian ideal

Is unity, peace and progress

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Casus belli

Egypt has rejected a new agreement on how the waters of the river Nile should be shared. The agreement was signed by four upstream countries - Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Kenya, Democratic Republic Congo and Burundi may sign the agreement soon.

Led by Ethiopia, which contributes to over 80 per cent of the Nile’s water resource and yet enjoys an insignificant share, upper riparian countries among the Nile Basin countries have long sought an equitable share and a departure from pre-independent and colonial treaties. Egypt and Sudan alone enjoy 90 per cent of the River Nile’s water resource.

Negotiations between the ten countries of the Nile Basin Initiative to sign a Cooperative Framework Agreement (CFA) have been ongoing for at least 13 years. Last month, negotiations between Nile basin member countries stalled over Cairo’s refusal to give its stamp of approval to a new Nile water share plan that could see a reduction of its water quota. Sudan has always supported Egypt.

The Nile passes through nine countries, but a colonial-era treaty signed in 1929 gives Egypt and Sudan the right to 90 percent of its flow.

A summary of the 1929 agreement is as follows:

1) Egypt uses 48 billion cubic metres while Sudan uses 4 billion cubic metres of Nile water per year.

2) River flow for the dry season which is deemed to occur from 10th January to 15th July is reserved for Egypt.

3) Egypt reserves the right to monitor the flow in the upstream countries.

4) Egypt assumes the right to undertake river related projects without consent of upper riparian states.

5) Egypt has the right to veto any construction project that would affect her interests.

This ‘agreement’ which has been kept by all of these countries the last eighty years has been responsible for some of the worst human tragedies of the twentieth century. Witness the Ethiopian drought of the mid-eighties which led to possibly the greatest non-military catastrophe of that century. It is tantamount to slavery.

What I find sad is the Egyptian response to all of this, and the behaviour of Sudan, not to talk of Eritrea which has thrown its hat in the ring in support of Egypt and Sudan simply to spite the Ethiopians. A statement made by Mohammed Allam, Egyptian Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation says that "Egypt reserves the right to take whatever course it sees suitable to safeguard its share," he also added that the north African country saw the matter as a national security issue. "Egypt’s share of the Nile’s water is a historic right that Egypt has defended throughout its history."

Could there be yet another war in the horn of Africa region? This time one on an international scale?

A few days ago, Eritrea's president visited Egypt and made what this writer sees as provocative comments. President Isaias Afewerki said the Nile Littoral States (Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda) are making the "wrong agreements and regulations" on the use of the Nile river. In an interview with Egyptian Television, Isaias said the position of upstream Nile countries "not only aggravates the situation but also creates tension."

The Tanzanian Minister of Water and Irrigation, Prof. Mark James Mwandosya, downplayed fears that Egypt could attack the countries that had signed the agreement, saying, "Egypt cannot move all the way from Cairo and bomb Rwanda, Burundi or Tanzania. They are part of its family. They can always settle their differences amicably. Egypt and Sudan can always join the rest and sign the agreement since there is a provision of one year in which member countries can sign."


Personally, I wonder what brand of weed the Tanzanian is smoking. This kind of provocation and prevarication by the Egyptians and Sudan needs the kind of preparations in which all options must be on the table including either preemptive strikes or the need to counter hostile military action.

Some observers say Egypt is not serious about negotiating.

"Egyptians are behaving with the Africans the way they accuse Israel of behaving with the Palestinians: they say they are ready to negotiate but without committing to the difficult issues," one western diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

And Egypt insists that the Africans have other sources of water.

"Egypt only has water coming from the river. The Africans have it from the rains," one Egyptian diplomat said. I thought that Egypt was an African country? Or they are only African when it suits them?

In my view this is casus belli. They Egyptians think that they are superior to the others and as a result should have what they want, when and how they want. Times however, have changed...

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Yerima and his child bride

If we are to tell the truth, Mr. Sani Yerima's attempts at hiding behind Islam to justify his paedophilia does not even get the backing of the Quran.

Read more here.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Proper remuneration

Yet another from my NEXT archives...

"Also with immediate effect, all the present Military Governors, and the Administrator of East Central State, have been relieved of their appointments and retired."

---Murtala Mohammed

In the 1995 movie, The American President, President Shepherd offered consultant Sydney Wade a job in the White House so he could be closer to her. Sydney, a high powered lobbyist declines on the grounds that the country could not afford to pay her.

Early this month the White House in the United States released a list of all its members of staff. At about the same time in Nigeria, President Yar'Adua was ordering cutbacks to the salaries of the top echelon of the civil service in Nigeria. With the exception of two people, all those I have spoken with on this issue feel that our president did the right thing. I think they are all wrong. You see, according to the White House list, the President's Chief of Staff as an example, earns $172k a year, a salary which would mean that Wall Street cannot tempt him away from his job easily, and which more importantly means that he does not have to worry about the rain leaking through his roof. In the UK as another example, Sharon Shoesmith of Haringey Council used to pocket about £100k a year before she was dismissed. An amount that I know the value of especially as I used to work in that country. In Nigeria, our government is still talking of paying its top earners N2M per year (officially at least), and now Yar'Adua is speaking of reducing that! It is a dim witted move...

In September of 1975, a funeral was held at a house in Ebute Metta. The funeral was of a man named Obimbgo who was meant to have been the new tenant at that address. What was quite interesting about it was that Mr. Obimgbo had never lived in that house. On the morning of the day that he was meant to have finally moved in, he did not wake up from his sleep. He had passed away quietly. As is usual in most Nigerian deaths, no autopsy was performed, so the exact cause of death was never determined, but from all indications, Mr. Obimgbo died of a stroke. You see, he was entering into the great unknown after a life of certainty and stability, and at his age (he was around 50), he could not figure out where to go or what to do, especially having lived in Ikoyi since his youth. Mr. Obimgbo was one of more than 10,000 public officials and employees who were dismissed without benefits, on account of age, health, alleged incompetence, or alleged malpractice.

The purge affected the civil service, judiciary, police and armed forces, diplomatic service, public corporations, and universities, and was the action of the regime of Murtala Ramat Mohammed, the man who adorns Nigeria's twenty Naira note.

To a lot of people, and for sentimental reasons, Murtala Mohammed is a national hero. To me, he is not. For the records, the massacre at Asaba on October 7, 1967 was carried out by troops under his command, and despite the fact that he was not present during the actual shooting; no one was disciplined for those actions. A few weeks later, troops under his command also committed another atrocity, this time in Onitsha. But that is a discussion for another day and time...

When Murtala became Head of State of Nigeria, his first action was to sweep off the old guard of people who had worked under Yakubu Gowon. While I understand the action of retiring persons like Gowon, Wey, Katsina, Ejoor, Soroh, Ikwue, Salem and Fagbola, the action of retiring all officers of the rank of Major General and above effectively left the Army without guidance. After purging the Army, he turned on the Civil Service and did a whole raft of retirements, most of them, like Mr. Obimgbo, were essentially dismissed summarily, and expected to move out of their staff quarters with not a penny in their pockets. Nigeria is still paying for that action until this day.

The Nigeria Civil Service was modelled after the Civil Service of the United Kingdom. In the UK, only the best brains are allowed into the Civil Service and this after rigorous examinations. Once in, these people are essentially assured of being set for life. They are well paid, and well taken care of. Their pensions are not messed with. This is because the Civil Service is the engine that runs the country. Politicians come and go, but the civil servant remains in place, rising through the ranks, learning where the mines are, and defusing them. As long as there is an efficient Civil Service behind the country's executive, there will always be a smooth transition from one government to the next, projects will always get done on time and life will be steady and stable. The importance of these ingredients in a nation's life cannot be overstated. It was the same in Nigeria prior to 1975. Civil Service examinations were attended by the best our schools had churned out, and those who were lucky (and good) enough to be taken were assured of a car loan, a house set aside for them in government reservation areas and most importantly perhaps, a pension for the rainy days when they were no longer in service.

The Murtala Mohammed regime's rash action in dismissing so many without any benefits turned the Nigeria Civil Service on its head. The younger civil servants (not to talk of military officers) who were watching what became of their seniors such as Mr. Obimgbo took the lesson to heart, and took it to heart quite well. Whereas in the First Republic and during the Gowon era, corruption had always been simmering below the surface, only practiced openly by the so called big shots, it became an institutional thing from 1975 onwards, because people by nature have to set something aside for a rainy day. While in 1956, characters such as Obi Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe's No Longer At Ease could be sent to prison for abuse of position, by 1985 abuse of position had damn well become the language of business in Nigeria.

Things got worse with the collapse of oil prices in the early 1980s when Nigerians suddenly became very poor. But Babangida's actions are a story for another day. What is essential now is to recover our Civil Service. Nigeria cannot hope to even begin to recover if the Civil Service continues to attract people who were essentially the consistent worse performers from Primary School through to Secondary School. The first step towards attracting the brightest and the best though, must begin with proper remuneration.


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Making money

This was first published in NEXT some months ago...

Chxta is a very bright man. Chxta has a lot of business ideas. Chxta has a lot of potential. All that is true. But at the end of the day, has all that translated to Chxta swimming buckets of cash?

Not yet.

Maybe someday in the future: I certainly hope that someday in the future, all of Chxta's potential would be unleashed in cash terms. But at the moment, Chxta is just another person trying to make a living. There is a world of difference between potential and actual, and that is something that a lot of Nigerians do not get. Yes, we get it on the pages of newspapers and on television, but our daily statements and outbursts indicate that we do not get it.

You see, most Nigerians believe that Nigeria is a rich nation. Nigeria is not, and it shows very glaringly in the lives of so many Nigerians. Innovation is dead in the country and there are a myriad of factors.

The major reason why the country is poor is because so many Nigerians have come to live a life of dependence. You see it each month when the leaches at the helm of affairs in our various states trudge off to Abuja to collect their monthly allocations. Nigeria has become a rent economy where people just sit and wait for handouts without wanting to work for the money. Is that the way forward?

Our national existence at least since the so called oil boom of the 1970s confirms that it is not, and a simple calculation can confirm the stupidity of this dependence on oil...

At the best of times, Nigeria produces 4 million barrels of oil a day. At the best of times there are 365 days in a year. And at the best of times, the price of oil would be US$100 a barrel for any sustained period. A simple multiplication of ALL of these figures would yield the sum of US$ 146 000 000 000 (in English, that is a hundred and forty six billion American dollars). This is the maximum amount of money that Nigeria can make from the sale of crude oil in a utopian year where the price of oil holds at US$100. We have not subtracted the costs associated with the business, and for the purpose of this piece, we shall not.

Let us assume just for the sake of this argument that oil accounts for 50% of our national earnings. This would mean that Nigeria's national income for such a utopian year would be US$292 billion. There are companies on the planet that are worth much more than that.

One of NEXT's columnists, Kemi Mshelia does a good job of writing about entrepreneurial ideas, but like most others, she does not tell the complete story. The complete story of the Nigerian context is that there are so many factors that are killing us, and chief of these are our banking sector, and the NYSC.

Whilst I was a student at UNIBEN, I was in direct competition for a share of the souvenirs market with a young man who went by the moniker Asterix. Now, this Asterix fellow was a very innovative young man, who took to business like a fish takes to water. Unfortunately, we graduated from UNIBEN at a 'ripe old age', and by the time we were through with the waiting period and the NYSC itself, he had become conditioned to receiving 'allowee' each month and the spirit of entrepreneurship was gone.

In May of 2008, I approached Barclay's Capital with a business idea. After the company did a thorough risk analysis of what I had, they were willing to give me a loan that would have amounted to GBP 200 000. Unfortunately, I could not secure a British born guarantor for the loan, so the deal fell through. One of the things that I found interesting about the whole business were the terms they offered me. I would have begun to repay at 4.4% interest five years after taking the loan. When I returned to Nigeria in 2009, I approached a friend working in BankPHB with the exact idea I had used a year earlier. He told me to forget about it. Further inquiries revealed to me that had they given me that loan, I would have started to repay the loan almost immediately and at 19% interest! How can any entrepreneur survive under such a massive load?

There is a need for Nigeria to refocus from this dependence on 'oil wealth' because that is a logical fallacy, especially given the size of our population. For the sake of clarity, the United Kingdom, a country with less than half of Nigeria's population, and a lot less 'oil wealth' has a budget of US$1034.43billion. Almost 5 times Nigeria's total revenue from oil if that utopian year I described above ever happened.