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The kids are targets because they can’t defend themselves—-Sam Ikpe-Itauma

2 May

By Ahaoma Kanu

Children at CRARN Centre Eket

He witnessed some kids being persecuted for a sin they were innocent of and that incident inspired him to start a movement that protects and takes care of the children perceived to be witches. In this interview, Sam Ikpe-Itauma, President of the Child’s Rights and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN) explains why he took up the challenge to become the defender of the children condemned by the community as witches and wizards.

Sam Ikpe Itauma, Founder of CRARN

I am Sam Ikpe-Itauma, the president of Child Right and Rehabilitation Network (CRARN). It was established 2003 when three children were attacked in a market close to where I am living when I came back from school in Calabar to visit my late mother who was hospitalised then. I enquired and found out that their only reason for being persecuted was because they came to beg and the traders believed that they were witches that were holding down the progress of the market and prevented people from making good sales. I intervened and talked to the people. I went back to school and on returning back home two weeks later, I discovered another two children held there; it became a continuous exercise. Before you could know it, other children in the different part of Eket and Akwa Ibom State as a whole were being attacked equally. I tried to work towards making government intervene in the problem and called on some of my friend that had some kind of influence in government for help and assistance to stop the killing of people who were branded witches. So in 2004, we got a friend who went to the government and was told that the situation could not at the moment be handled without involving a civil society organisation or a Non-Governmental Organisation. That was how we started CRARN.

When they government said that the issue could not be handled, did they mean that attacking the children alone was not a crime?

Unfortunately, the children issue and child abandonment due to witchcraft was springing on at different spots but the killing of the kids was not widespread before people started believing that the elderly ones initiated these children. We went to the police and reported these cases and we decided to drum up support for our cause but many of them thought that people were somewhere created information that never existed. Many were in doubt of what we were talking about even many people never believed in our website after we started but the information we were getting were real; children were being killed, thrown into the river, buried alive, burnt and tortured to death. Some of them were poisoned with a local berry called Eseri, but people never believed.

Do you have an idea how old this myth about witchcraft maybe?

The witchcraft persecution started exactly 10 years ago when a homemade video was released, the name of the film is The End of the Wicked and it was a very popular film in Nigeria and Akwa Ibom State. Before then, the issue of witchcraft has been there but it was attributed to the elderly and the wretched then; it has been there before I was born. It took a different turn when children became a target. You know, the elderly ones they call witches are not too strong; nobody will accuse an able-bodied man of being a witch. They cannot say that Sam is a wizard because they know I am big and strong but if you are aged and weak, you are a witch, that was then but the film when it was released in 1998 portrayed how the children are initiated into the witchcraft kingdom to attack people and cause all kinds of misfortune. In fact, any problem that any person experiences will be attributed to witchcraft; it got so bad that you could get drunk and blame a witch for drinking off your limit. We have carried out research and found that these witchcraft accusations does not exist, it is a non-issue because certain situations have made me believe it is a hoax. I also discovered that the Christian community in Akwa Ibom State is involved in the catalysis of this issue.

Ahaoma Kanu with chldren at CRARN Centre

Did the Christian community affect it positively or negatively?

On the negative side

Can you explain what you mean in clear words?

What I am trying to say is that the issue of witchcraft has been a traditional belief actually but the Christian community or pastors are now mixing the traditional belief with the Christian doctrine in such a way that the children are the victims. It gets to a point that one starts looking at Christianity as an institution of the problem that instigates catastrophes to so many families in the sense that they, through their divinity, bring confusion into these homes. When the churches started with their divinity and spiritually revelation of somebody being a witch, all the traditional doctors have closed their shrines and started up a church where they will equally reveal through their gods that someone is a witch; they have put up prayer houses and create fear in the minds of people by making them believe that someone is behind anything that’s wrong in that person’s life. I was once upon a time a believer that witches existed but now, I don’t think like that again. I remember that my father never took that issue seriously.

What were the initial challenges when you started the centre?

We suffered a lot by trying to convince the government; we tried to get them to listen to us and look at the documents we had been gathering so far. We tried to get the support of the wife of the then Chairman of Eket L.G.A and he was on our side and helped us a lot by talking to her husband. We involved the state government and I remember the Ministry of Women Affairs, then Prof. Ekaette Etuk was the commissioner and she helped us a lot at that time. Our major challenge was that the children were constantly being attacked by the community and we were attacked also, I mean our staff. We had to report all these assaults to the police and later to the State Security Service agents and I would say that they were very helpful to us. The DPO of Eket at that time, Udoka, was very helpful and had a listening ear to our cries then; he made sure that any of our properties damaged by the people were replaced. I remember a time we took the kids out on sporting activities around Eket and our action flared tempers from the community leaders; they sent people to warn us to stop bringing the children around them again but we continued with what we were doing. I later got to know that the people planted themselves on our way with guns to attack us so we reported the matter to the SSS and they foiled the plans and that made me know that government was really behind us.

You started this relief organization for these kids when you witnessed them been attacked, how were the initial early days and how rampant was the situation then?

Before the establishment of CRARN in 2003, I had been taking care of them since 2000. I discovered that children were being abandoned and stigmatized as witches and wizards, I also discovered that there was a pogrom was carried out on these kids and more than 200 were killed in Eket alone. It wasn’t an easy task. It was very rampant and it was because of the rampant nature of the situation that we knew we had to start off a movement to stop the killing in the community. It happened in our own community where some of the people accused were tied up and asked to confess to being witches, many denied and were killed while some more wise ones agreed to being witches but good witches that untie people’s lucks, those good witches were spared. We tried to talk to the people and enlighten them to stop killing people that they assume are witches and charged them to obey the Commandment of God which emphasizes that killing is a sin.

Like the Prophet that confessed to killing 110 kids; he might have killed that much. So it was rampant at that time and we cannot actually put a number to those that died but many died as a result of this menace of being branded as witches and wizards.

What are the ages of the kids that are labeled witches or wizards?

They don’t have any particular age they start from.

Can a year old child be branded a witch?

Even a three months old baby can be said to be a witch; it has become a maddening situation now and getting worse. They believe the spell is transferable to babies also. They may threaten maybe a child to know if he or she had been initiated the baby, the child will accent to their threats and they will now be left with the option to do away with the baby that they cannot question to know if she has the spell or not. Everything tends towards people without a say in the matter; people that cannot defend themselves, they are the victims. They cannot accuse able-bodied strong men or rich men in the society as being witches because such person will match them; they look out for the vulnerable ones to target. But I will say that the belief that people are witches is a myth that has been overblown to the extent that if a witch concoction and poison is kept here and people are asked to choose from, they would prefer the poison to the witch spell. It is really a problem here in Akwa Ibom State.

How many kids do you have at the centre?

The children keep running into sometimes 150-155; it keeps increasing and reducing in units of one or two but at the most five without efforts to reconcile some of then with their parents. The situation has become that of children being brought to the centre on a weekly basis. What we do is this; when we see a child come in, we take it upon ourselves the battle of reconciling that child with the parents.

How successful are those reconciliationss?

The reconciliation is a very cardinal process to us but also the moist difficult task that we are facing. Over the years, we may have reconciled up to 250 children with their families.

Do you normally run a check on the children reconciled with their parents to make sure a relapse of them being treated as witches doesn’t occur?

Yes, we go back and check them and it is also a difficult task doing that because some of them live at the riverine areas and in far places and these checks also need money for transportation for us. We have got on records from our volunteers that some of the kids are rejected. In July, some UNICEF officials came around and we went on checking some of the children that were reconciled and we found so many of them happy to be with their families. The reconciliation processes is of two types; reconciling a child who has been in the centre for quite a long time say three or four years is one thing and another is reconciling a child who has just been sent out or thrown away or abandoned. For the child who has been in the centre for a long time, we have two ways of talking to the parents. Firstly we try to let the parent know the child is not a witch and, depending on the response of the parent, we let tell them that the child has been delivered by some missionaries from America and the United Kingdom; many of them know we work with some foreign missionaries and they see us with them and they believe that the Whiteman has extra powers to deliver witchcraft. For those brought to the centre, we accept the children and don’t argue with them on whether the kids are witches or not because if you argue with them then it means that you don’t want that child alive in that community. We accept the child and tell them that we will deliver the child. We keep the child for some time and counsel the child and make him know that truly that he or she has never been a witch. Often times when these children are brought here, we ask them to initiate us into their kingdom; we give them bread or other edible things to infect with witchcraft and some of them will agree. We eat these things in their presence and nothing happens to us. After some time we will ask the child, why did you did not come to take us to your coven, some of them reply that they couldn’t because we are too strong. With time, that child will realize that we are mocking him or her. We find out that these children later become happy to know that somebody believes they are not witches and then they open up and confess that everywhere you say you are not a witch, you are beaten so the best thing for them is to comply and confess to being witches so they will not be beaten but thrown out. In doing that we change their mindset from believing they are witches. Some of these ones are very intelligent while some, due to the torture, cannot assimilate quickly. In dealing with these kids we have found out that these kids are threatened and made to pass through an ordeal which forces them to accept to being witches. I am happy that today that all that we have been shouting that these children are not witches is now a subject of concern in the country and in the world.

Yes, this is largely due to the foreign journalists that came around and made the world see what has been happening for so many years. How did you meet them?

The name of the journalist is Max Gaven and she came with her partner, Joost; we call them Max and Joost. They came across a news report in the UK Guardian that said that children were targets of Nigerian witch hunt. They came at a time we were about to launch our Prevent Abandonment of Children Today (PACT) campaign, they came to cover the event. They came here and conducted their interviews and research and because they were at Esit Eket, they believed that everywhere in Akwa Ibom was Esit Eket. So when they went back they wrote that it was only happening at Esit Eket but it is a serious issue in Cross River State and there is no denying that fact; it is happening at Bogobri, Watt Market, Calabar Road and so on. We have these kids at Aba in Abia State and spreading.  The UK Guardian must have gone through our website and saw the situation there before they wrote to us requesting to come and do a documentary. We consented to their request and they came in February and went back. Later they came back in April with the Channel 4 group and did the documentary that was broadcast. The result of the documentary is overwhelming but I must say that what you saw in the documentary is just a flash in the pan compared to the real situation but we thank God that the government is paying attention.

I saw some of the children going to school and will like to know how you hope to integrate them into the society?

We will always work towards reconciliation. Some of those children you saw are growing out of primary school age so we decided to start giving them primary education here in the centre. Many of them are being rejected in many schools around; they are stigmatized and rejected out rightly, which the government assisted in building with the hope that children from the centre can benefit from, had the indigenes of the community rising against having the kids come there. We withdrew them so that they will not harm them. We have volunteers and teachers that teach them and we are working hard to put other facilities in place. We thank the efforts of the then State governor, Victor Attah, who donated to the Stones Model School but we have been rejected and this reminds me that part of the fund that was supposed to be used for the feeding of these children was used to put up some blocks here.

How many teachers do you have at the moment?

We have seven teachers and a head teacher; we have three Live-in carers and two management staff and lot of volunteers. We are still optimistic of employing an accountant, security and many other hands. Right now, we don’t have the funds to pay but we believe that people will partner with us in this regard. The present State governor has also promised to help us. For those we have to put into secondary schools, we take them to very far schools because those nearby have rejected them and we are faced with the challenge of paying for their transport of which we don’t have much funds. Some children in the centre are being trained in some trades, like automobile, sewing, and other kinds of trade.

I saw the school compound and there was no fence around it which poses a security threat; I also saw the windows that have no blinds and I also did not see any medical centre out there and I want to ask how you take care of their medical needs because I saw some one-year-old children out there that are really vulnerable to diseases?

First I will like to answer by thanking my colleagues in CRARN because they are so committed to their work. Yes we don’t have the facilities for them medically but what we do is that we take them to the hospital for treatment if a case is severe and at such time, we pay the bills; nothing is subsidized for us. There are cases that are just treated at the centre; we have volunteers that come here once in a while and again, most of the not-so-serious cases are handled by my wife, Elle, who trained as a nurse. We have plans of employing other nurses to be here permanently. We appeal to Nigerians and the government to come to our aid in this regard because on so many occasions we have emergencies that require immediate medical intervention.

I also saw some of the beds without mattresses and some of the kids were sleeping on the floor, is that despite what has been revealed, the government did not see these necessities?

When you talk about the government, I have a complaint; the information officer in the government house may not brief the governor very well on the situation on the ground. I believe that the governor is well aware of our needs here. I believe that the present governor, Mr. Goodswill Akpabio, is really concerned about helping us and has been sending some delegations here. The names of these kids have been taken and I want to believe that they are working out modalities on how to help us.

You told me last night that since the Child’s Right Act was passed, the issue has been taken more seriously than before and that you are part of the squad that is involved in the onslaught on erring pastors, how successful has the campaign been so far?

The government is concerned and since they watched that documentary, they became very aware of the situation. The State governor has ordered that these so called men of God should be apprehended. Last weekend, the pastor that claimed to have killed 110 kids was arrested; I did the reconnaissance for the police and he was apprehended. He is just one of the thousands of these Bishops that propagate this evil. I took the Channel 4 guys to him and he roped himself in thinking he was getting publicity. The government is actually arresting these pastors; we arrested more recently and it will be a continuous process. But the problem we are facing now with the police is that some of them that are indigenes of this part of the state are protecting their kinsmen and thwart our effort and get those to be investigated to run away; I have complained to the head about this attitude and they promised to look into it.

You said that you have been receiving threat calls and I will like to ask, are you not afraid because where the centre does not have much security?

We will soon erect a fence around the centre because it is very necessary that we do that but for myself and death threats, you know, I have put myself into this issue and I can’t withdraw it. I must see this fight to the end and whether I come out alive or not is inconsequential. This pogrom involves children and I will not abandon the fight. I am not saying I will be careless with my life and security, I know that these pastors being arrested have followers who may want to attack us in reprisal attacks, we know that but we can’t stop now because we have gone far. What we have done is likened, to us, planting a seed that is growing and spreading against the earlier belief of alleging children are witches. I will not step down and I know that God will be on our side.

Akwa Ibom: Essien Udim People Demand Prosecution Of Cult Group Sponsored By Godswill Akpabio

8 Apr

The people of Essien Udim Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State are in the grip of panic arising from the activities of a vicious cult gang, Akwa Marines, said to be sponsored by Mr. Godswill Akpabio, Senate Minority Leader and former governor of the state. The group, led by one Emmanuel Ben, SaharaReporters reliably gathered, has been spreading terror around the local council for over a decade. Godswill Akpabio killer, Emmanuel Ben 2Godswill Akpabio killer, Emmanuel Ben

People in the council area are therefore calling for the prosecution of Ben and his gang as well as the restoration of peace in the area. Already, gang members are said to have started attacking those they suspect of providing information on their activities to the Police.

Emmanuel BenLocal sources said the group enjoys the support of other powerful and influential politicians, the reason it has enjoyed a free reign in Essien Udim, Mr. Akpabio’s local council. Ben is also said to hail from there.

Akwa Marines specialize in killing, maiming and intimidating of political opponents, robbery as well as sundry crimes

In 2014, Ben was said to have imposed a levy, dressed up as “security votes”, on traders during the communal harvest known as Oto-Okom. The levy, which was paid, was only recently challenged by a few brave members of the village. In February 2016, SaharaReporters was told, the gang carried out a robbery in the village market known as Urua Nsong Eto.

The cult group was also said to have kidnapped one Celestine Mel Ikpa (then a staff of Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation). On release from captivity, Ikpa reported to the Police, which arrested and charged the abductors to court except the gang leader.

Also on 28 September 2016, the gang murdered two young men, Udo Friday Udom and Udo Ekpenyong Uwa, ostensibly for stealing a goat.

Sources, however, disclosed that they were murdered for their refusal of offer of initiation into Akwa Marines. Udom’s mother, Madam Nse John Udom, was said to have told the Police that she saw her Akwa Marines members inflicting machete cuts on her 16-year old son and begged Ben to spare his life. The Akwa Marines leader, the traumatized woman was said to have told the Police, also ordered the victims’ bodies burnt. She subsequently fled the community.

A few days later, Ben, said sources, convened a meeting in the village square, where he took responsibility for the murder, saying there was a need to rid of community of goat thieves.

He was also said to have bragged that reporting him to security agencies would have grave consequences, adding that he has them all in his pocket all the security agents have been settled.

Apart from Ben, those who participated in the twin murders were Lucky Effiong Akpan (aka Pope), Marcus Ikut (aka Mbata), the group’s executioner-in-chief, and Philip Udo Udo Ben. Other members stood cult group stood by to watch as though it was a spectator sport.Godswill Akpabio killer, Emmanuel Ben

Godswill Akpabio killer, Emmanuel Ben

The murdered Friday Udom was a cousin to one Victor Udom who, along with Samuel Ikpa, a staff of Exxon Mobil, narrowly escaped assassination during a visit to their community in Midim. The assassination plot was hatched by Ben, Uduak Etim Udom and one Chrisanthus George Udoh.

The near-victims were rescued by a team of policemen on special surveillance duties. The team, led by one Mr. Effiong, an inspector, was said to have been alerted by indigenes. The matter was reported at the Divisional Police Station in Afaha Ikot Ebak, Essien Udim Local Government Area. However, the Police officers were reprimanded, ordered disarmed and subsequently detained by the Divisional Police Officer on the say-so of Mr. Nse Ntuen, the then Chairman of Essien Udim Local Government Area and an Akpabio partisan.  Mr. Ntuen, disclosed sources, claimed to have relayed the instruction of Mr. Akpabio, with whom he was in constant communication. Mr. Akpabio is from Essien Udim.

Last month, the gang broke into homes in the community, taking belongings from owners and destroying properties, an event that provoked a flurry of petitions to the Essien Udim Divisional Police Command, Area Command and the state Police Headquarters. But the Police have not been of much help. Two weeks ago, a victim said a policeman attached to the Essien Udim Police Command warned him against making distress calls whenever the gang decides to attack. The policeman was said to called key members of the gang on his phone in the presence of the victims.

Ben, the gang leader, was recently arrested by officers from the Inspector-General of Police Intelligence Response Squad, a development that was said to have brought out political heavyweights and traditional rulers in the state to demand his unconditional release. He was, however, moved to Abuja. There are indications that plans are being finalized to have him moved back to Uyo, the state capital, where the Attorney-General of the state will arrange for him to be freed.

Ben’s connection to powerful people, said local sources told SaharaReporters, was proved on 8 March at the High Court of Akwa Ibom State, where he was sprung from could also be gleaned from charges of cultism, murder, armed robbery and kidnapping among other atrocities. Delivering judgment on the matter (Suit No. HT/FHR/10/2017) Justice NFN Ntong of the Ikot Ekpene Division of the state High Court ordered Ben’s release. Last year, Justice Ntong made the controversial ruling restraining the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission and Police from investigating any past or present Akwa Ibom State government official.

“You Are A Failure, You Lack Zeal For Service,” Eket People Tell David Lawrence

24 Nov

 

 

Youths across the three geo-political zones of Eket State Constituency has risen against the Member representing the area in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Hon David Lawrence in what they termed as his ‘’ lackluster, insensitive and brainless representation’’.david-lawrence
The group, under the aegis of Eket National Youth Forum for Good Governance in a release signed by Iwaad Akpadiaha Udonsek, James Udotai, Mbre Monday, Udo Ekanem, and Glory Okposin among 15 others lambasted the lawmaker for not showing any interest to the plight of those who voted him into office.
They described him as a ‘’Lagos been to’’ and an opportunist who lacks the zeal for service’’, adding that he does not even pick calls put across to him by his constituents having derailed from his campaign promises.
‘’we are disappointed in Hon David Lawrence and we even regret voting out his predecessor Hon Ayang Akanimo Ayang who we have now realized performed better both in lawmaking and oversight functions’’, the stated.
The group said they have concluded plans to begin a recall process to remove him as their representative.
They revealed further that the people of Eket local government area wanted the lawmaker to sponsor a bill in the House for the compulsory establishment of government farms across the 31 local government areas of the State to address the issue of food insecurity but that the ‘’clueless Lawmaker’’ has over the past one year ‘’played hide and seek’’ including not picking calls.
‘’He even deceived market women including the entire people of Eket that he will build an ultramodern daily market for them within six months but unfortunately up till date, no sign of any development’’, they stated.
The group demanded to know the number of persons he has empowered in any form or scholarship he has granted any indigent student of the area.
You Are A Failure, You Lack Zeal For Service, Eket People Tells David Lawrence‘’ instead of representing us effectively, he is busy building mansions in Uyo for himself and family. We are really disappointed in him and we wish to let him know that he has no political future as long as the people of Eket are concerned’’, they said.
The group commended Governor Udom Emmanuel for the ongoing road rehabilitation in Eket.
They maintained that Eket State Constituency seat in the State Assembly was vacant due to the inability of David Lawrence to represent the area effectively in keeping with his campaign promises.

By Assam Abia

Why we cannot run away from genuine federalism —Obong Attah.

23 Mar

The CONFAB resumed its daily routine of predictable motions and meaningless expressions of gratitude to the Head of State. That was how General Sani Abacha wanted it, until Obong Victor Attah, who later became the governor of Akwa Ibom State for eight years, dropped a bombshell on Wednesday, July 20, I994.

Thereafter, things were never the same at the CONFAB; mostly because, like most gatherings of Nigerians, this CONFAB was also supposed to be dominated by the three large ethnic groups – Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo.

obong_victor_attahThe minority tribes would literally have to beg for any concessions to be granted to them by the big three. Instead, Attah, an Ibibio, one of the minority tribes, jolted them and challenged them with unprecedented audacity. The submission was a masterpiece in tone and courage. The Attah speech:

“I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for giving me this opportunity to join others in thanking the Head of State for convening this conference, for a very comprehensive inauguration speech, and for the opportunity to continue the debate on that speech; from which I intend to quote quite liberally.

I have a lot to say, in only ten minutes; so, I will right away deal with two quick issues before concentrating on my main area of concern.
The first is the question of leadership and good governance which have been proffered as the panacea for stopping coups.

The military has been condemned; the political class has been castigated. I have to ask in which market are we going to find a good leader and a good government to buy?
The truth of the matter is that you elect people and the government on trust, in the hope that they will govern well. At the end of their tenure in office, the people ought to have the unfettered right to assess the government and its leaders, and either endorse them to carry on or replace them.

I believe that if this had been allowed to happen in the past, barring the total indiscipline of the military itself, we might not have had any coups. The reason I say this is that, hardly ever a coup succeeded, in this country that was not considered a popular coup.

In other words, whether at the prompting of civilians or not, the military always took the opportunity of such frustration of the people’s will, at the polls, to fulfill only half of the people’s will. I say only half, because, while they would have helped to remove the bad government that the people wanted to see removed, they would then proceed to install themselves rather than give the people an immediate second chance to elect a replacement.
This is what the Head of State has to say about this in paragraph 34 of his speech and I quote:

”A common denominator of all forms of democracy is the belief that power, which is legitimate, is that which derives from the authority and consent of the people. It must provide for a credible and inviolable procedure for orderly succession”.

Answer to bad leadership
The answer to coups, to bad leadership and bad governance, can all be found in the provision that the people will have the right to decide; and their decision will not be frustrated by rigging, by the blatant declaration of false results or by annulment.

The second point that I would like to deal with, quickly, is the issue of the transition programme, and I thank the delegate whose amendment made it possible for the matter to be dealt with at committee level. I could not agree more with the delegate who suggested that the worst thing we could do is to send the military packing in disarray.

If NADECO and others, in that group, can go this far with a military government, there is no gain saying the need for us to plan our transition very carefully. But having said that, I have to admit that, today, Nigeria is treated like a leper in the community of nations.

Already we are familiar with the sanctions that have been clamped against us.
Last week the Times of London carried an editorial asking for the expulsion of Nigeria from the Commonwealth.

All forms of aid have been withdrawn; at a time that our own earnings are dwindling; trade missions have been cancelled; our appeals for debt relief have been rebuffed and capital inflow has totally dried up. In other words, we have been isolated to the point that, socio-economically, we are dead.

This is what the Head of State has to say about it:
“As you all know, we in the present government in Nigeria are committed to ensuring that there is a speedy and unimpeded transition to a civil democratic rule in which we shall not be participants”.
You will find that in paragraph 5. And in paragraph 41 he adds:
“No set of Nigerians look forward to early democratic rule more than patriotic Nigerians who are serving in this administration”.

Therefore, Mr. Chairman, sir, fellow delegates, none of us should feel hesitant to suggest that the military has already become a most unfortunate and regrettable anachronism and should be dispensed with very quickly so that Nigeria can begin to live again.

Now to my major mission which is to try and tackle the related issues of:

  • The Structure of the Nigerian State
  • Power Sharing
  • Revenue Generation and
  • Revenue Allocation Formula.

In bringing us here, the Head of State, in paragraph 8 of his speech said:
“History invites you today to bear the burden of our nation’s regeneration”.
Though representing various conference districts of various states, we are national delegates on a national assignment.
It was disturbing therefore to listen to several delegates speaking as though we have come here to see what we can take home to our various parochial enclaves.

NigeriaForm of federalism
A few, though, have spoken with varying degrees of concern for Nigeria, and those are the ones that I wish to join; in an attempt to find a possible solution to the problems that now plague Nigeria.
In doing so, I will affirm that, though from Akwa Ibom, whatever I am going to say, I would say if I had come from any other part of this country because I am going to dwell on principles.

Nigeria, in my assessment, has one essential problem; and, that is that we profess federalism and practice something else entirely. All the other problems seem to derive from this.
Dr. Ekeng Anamdu gave us a brilliant presentation of the basis and framework for the establishment of true federalism. I want to go one step further and say that true federalism, balanced federalism, genuine federalism, however we may wish to qualify it, has certain incontrovertible characteristics and all of them, to varying degrees, must be present in any form of federalism.

These characteristics include the empowerment of the federating units towards political and socio-economic self actualisation. In other words, much of the powers that the Federal Government now exercises are in contravention of the norms of federalism and must be taken back to the states.

Self propulsion of the federating parts implies the availability of the wherewithal. That is why derivation has become a cardinal principle of revenue allocation in any successful federation.
And that is why the 1963 Constitution represents the epitome of Federal Constitution making in Nigeria. It was this twin principle of empowerment and derivation that made it possible for the country to develop as it did in the past.

The West, in particular, was able, as we have already been told, to build Cocoa House in Ibadan, Western House in Lagos, several cocoa roads, and through prudent management of its resources, rather than through allocations from federal funds, was able to offer free education to its people.

My father did not go to the Federal Government to complain that he had to pay fees for me, my brothers, sisters and numerous others. He accepted that federalism did not mean uniformity nor did unity imply equality of means. Equality of opportunities, yes, but not of means.

The West did what it could for its people as did the North and the East and none was jealous or envious of the other. That was the golden age of federalism.
Then the coup of 1966 started a series of events that culminated in the civil war. As patriotic citizens, we offered this country the proceeds from all the oil within our continental shelf, so that this country could prosecute the civil war without having to borrow one red cent or one penny from any source.

And what did we get in return! A slap in the face — for being so naive and so trusting.
A law was passed, an obnoxious, vicious law, passed by decree called offshore —/onshore dichotomy. Decree No II3 of I970, so the oil whose ownership was never in dispute; the ownership of which was enshrined in the 1963 Constitution, became “our oil” – common property to be shared equally by all.

“That was the most unkindest cut of all for when the mighty Ceaser saw him stab, ingratitude more strong than traitors arms, quite vanquised him, then burst his mighty heart”. Quote from Shakerspears’s Julius Caeser.
Mr. Chairman sir, fellow delegates, that was indeed the most unkindest cut of all. A most devisive thing, that any people, using the strength of numbers, could perpetrate on their follow countrymen.

Mr. Chairman sir, I wish to say, with all the solemnity that I can command, that law could never have been passed against any of the three major tribes in this country.

From federal to unitary system
With the onset of military rule, we had started the very unfortunate process of transforming a beautiful federal system into a unitary system.
Of course at that time, we had so much money from oil that was seized by force from its rightful owners that we did not know what to do with it.

So we relaxed. We allowed indolence to massage us into a stupor. So much so that when we were confronted with another constitution making exercise in 1979, we refused to confront the real issues. Instead we came up with an apology to the military in power who evidently preferred an approximation to a unitary rather than a true federal type of governance.

That Constitution remained silent on the cardinal issue of derivation and that is why today, the question of how much rightfully belongs to those from whose land and continental shelf the oil is being extracted has become a matter for capricious jerry meandering.

Derivation is not a matter of how much you give me, it is not manna from heaven, it is rather a question of how much I give you out of what is extracted from my soil, my waters and my toils and enterprise.

Mr. Chairman sir, fellow delegates, I want to assure you that I would be repeating these same principles if, rather than the oil in my backyard, we were discussing the gold in Sokoto, the precious stones in Niger, the salt in Abia, the marble in Ikpeti, the tar in Ondo, the granite and other rocks that we quarry, the clay, the limestone or any other sub soil minerals which I understand have been found in such large quantities that this government was considering setting up a separate ministry for solid minerals.

Monstrous system
So, please, there is no selfishness about the position that we are taking. What we want, in fact, is that Nigeria will enjoy total development rather than develpment of the oil sector only. After all, one day, the oil will finish.
When I hear people say that we should come and put all our complaints about marginalization and domination on the table to determine who has been the victim, I feel quite distressed.

Why do we want to indulge in such futile exercise of tribal witch- hunting? It is sufficient to know that, by our own foibles, we have transmogrified a federal system into a monstrous unitary system that appears to have terrorized all of us.
All we need to do is to confront this monster and kill it and, in its place, install a true federal system.

If we do that, we will never again have cause to go to the Federal Government with a plethora of complaints which are borne out of a series of political and socio-economic dislocations and misconceptions.
As has been said here before, waiting on oil money will not help us to truly develop. And, unless we develop our resources, there is no state, including the new ones that we are being urged to create, that cannot live in some measure of abundance.

Late Sani Abacha

Late Sani Abacha

I will give you a few examples. Start from the East. We have allowed Malaysia which, only a few years ago, came to borrow palm nuts from us, to outstrip us. They are now trying to refine palm oil for use in lieu of petroleum oil. But the oil producing areas have some excuse because, quite apart from the fact that their land has been confiscated, other oil related activities such as flaring will destroy your crops and damage your buildings for several kilometers around the oil flares which are all over the place.

A lot has been said about the disappearance of the ground nut pyramids in Kano and I want to add that, recently, UAC of Nigeria had to close some of its textiles mills because it could no longer get cotton. And this has happened since oil money was used to build several dams for irrigation. The people have taken instead to selling currency in the streets of Lagos and other state capitals.

If you go to Adamawa, you find that the Savannah sugar plantation land is more than three times the size of the Island State of Barbados. Yet that Island is exporting sugar from five plantations to large areas of the world. But Savannah, even along with Bacita and Sunti, cannot give Nigeria sugar, because we have oil money with which to import. What will we do when the oil dries up? As, indeed, it will.

I designed the tea factory on the Mambilla Plateau in Taraba State, and I know that the Highland tea from there was sought after in the London Tea Exchange because it was of such high quality that it was used to blend and improve the poorer quality tea from certain other parts of the world.Today we have all been reduced to Yellow label tea lovers. And that same Mambilla Plateau could flood this country with milk cheese and butter but instead we have to pay N20:00 for a tin of Peak Milk.

Drought and the threat of the desert are no excuse either because a lot of dams and irrigation systems have been built. Far more money too has been spent on afforestation and desert control than has ever been spent on erosion control. And what is interesting is that, though Niger Republic is far more into the desert, it is able to produce so much more cattle and sheep that, every Sallah, we go there to import rams into Nigeria.

Justice and derivation
Please do not misunderstand me, I am not saying any of this to pillory or castigate anybody. I am merely appealing to us to accept that this oil has already done a lot to develop this country but most of it outside the oil areas themselves. The fly overs, the dams, the dual carriage ways, electrification projects — none of which you will find in the oil producing areas. Even, this new Federal Capital territory where we are.

We are not querreling with any of this. We are proud to have been the cause of it all.
But we are certainly saying that we should now also be able to share in it.
It is time for us to return to justice, equity and fairplay by reinstating the derivation principle.
This appeal would not be difficult for anybody to understand and accept except for the fact that we have come to confuse revenue generation with allocation.

The Head of State in paragraph 23 of his speech had this to say:
“Any useful and long lasting revenue allocation formula has to conform with the political structure of the country One of the valid observations which has been made is that revenue allocation should complement rather than substitute revenue generation”.

Anti-federalism
We have for too long now been substituting generation with allocation, and this is anti-federalism.
In this regard, I will say that I was very disturbed, by something that was claimed to have said by Prof. Bala Usman, in an interview.

He was quoted as saying that Ogoni claim was baseless. That they had lost all claims to whatever they might have had when they were conquered by the British and this conquest – listen to this very carefully, dear fellow delegates – this conquest has since been transferred to Nigeria.

Several questions come to mind, and it must be recognised in this context that Ogoni is only representational of all the oil producing areas.
Does Ogoni not belong in Nigeria that inherited the conquest from the British; can Ogoni people therefore be wrong in claiming that they are now suffering from internal colonization from Nigeria; are they therefore not justified in asking for their independence?

cartoon-derivationSimilarly, I want to counsel that we discountenance and dismiss such specious arguments as, “they did not put the oil in the ground so they are no more entitled to it than we are”.
Such arguments can only lead us to serious confrontation. We heard the man from Bonny say that if a father ill treats a child for too long, the child has the right to renounce the father.

We heard the Ijaw man say that if Nigeria rejects them, they cannot reject themselves.
These are weighty statements but the Akwa Ibom man is not saying anything yet than to hope that we will come up with a Constitution that will give everybody a sense of belonging and guarantee justice, equity and fair play”.

-culled from vanguardngr

I will establish industrial renaissance in Akwa Ibom – Amb Assam.

21 Mar

 

Amb Assam Assam at a town hall meeting in Houston

 

The Nigerian Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Russia and Belarus, His Excellency, Ambassador Assam Ekanem Assam  (SAN) has lauded the Akwa Ibom State governor, Chief Godswill  Akpabio for  changing the infrastructural landscaping of the State and making the state accessible to industrial revolution. Ambassador Assam made the commendation early this week   in a Town Hall Meeting with business community, intelligentsia and socio-cultural groups in Houston, Texas, the United States of America.

He maintained nobody was capable of faulting the governor when it comes to his infrastructural transformation agenda. He argued that when Akpabio talked about making changes with anger, it did not translate to mean he was an angry man; rather he came and saw the road decay, got angry over it and in the same vein, transformed it.

Ambassador Assam Assam in chit-chat after Town Hall Meeting in Houston

Ambassador Assam Assam in chit-chat after Town Hall Meeting in Houston

Ambassador Assam said when elected into office, he will transform the state to an industrial renaissance in a few years in office. He said there was no denying the fact that people of the state have complained bitterly about hunger and poverty as one of the indices critically bedeviling the state, a case which he said his administration will pay serious attention to, especially in areas of agriculture, technology, industry and trade.

“There’s no doubt that this administration has adorned the state with infrastructural facilities; and you will agree with me that this is the dot that connects industrialization. Akpabio must be applauded for this; and even his critics will be silent on this salient fact. I will no longer donate too much time on this direction but to ensure that our people get opportunity for massive employment. You cannot go to school and study when you’re hungry; you cannot even take medication with empty stomach. That’s why I’ll make Akwa Ibom an Industrial hub for massive employment to set in. It is a goal I want all of you all both at home and in Diaspora to support me with.” Assam said.

Ambassador Assam Assam chatting with top academic during Town Hall Meeting in Houston Texas

Ambassador Assam Assam chatting with top academic during Town Hall Meeting in Houston Texas

On whether he was intimidated that Governor Akpabio was fronting a particular candidate for the governorship position, he said he was not aware of anybody being anointed by Akpabio to succeed him, and the governor being a true democrat, he will not venture to impose a candidate on the people, as the people will resist such imposition. He maintained that any qualified candidate of the state will not hide behind the governor or the president to seek an elective office; only the misfit could do that.

“My people, I don’t think governor Akpabio has anointed anybody to succeed him. Let’s assume that this is coming from the rumor mill. The governor, whom I know, is a true democrat; and true democrats do not impose leaders on the people. The people are allowed by democrats to elect their leaders. If anybody intends to impose a leader on the people, the people will rise against such imposition. You’re the people, will you allow anybody to impose any leader on you? Assam asked rhetorically?

On whether the zoning system affects him adversely or favorably, Chief Assam maintained he was not contesting the governorship position based on the zoning arrangement. He stated that the rotation and zoning principle was entirely the People Democratic Party’s (PDP) affair. He explained that since zoning principle was enshrined in the PDP constitution, it was the party decision to make arrangement based on its constitution; and if it decided on the zoning, it would be more favorable to him given that he’s from Eket Senatorial District (ESD) which governor Akpabio and majority of the people of the state have zoned the position to; but if it were going to be a free for all contests, he sees himself as the most qualified candidate given his vast administrative, political, social and professional experience.

“I have served in various positions of the government. I graduated as lawyer since 1979 and was called to Bar in 1980. I have played active politics since then, and have represented my people both in the local, State and federal levels most diligently; this you all know. I have represented a lot of you sitting here, my brothers and sisters, in various cases in court and won. I have been an Attorney General of the state; today I am representing the Federal government of Nigeria as an Ambassador of Russia and Belarus. I don’t need to sing my praises; I just want to remind my people of the quality person that you will have to support as a governor of your state. It is my credentials that intimidate other aspirants. That is why some of them want to hide behind somebody to contest election.”

Assam called on the Diaspora to participate actively in the politics at home to change the thinking and orientation of the people and fight the culture of ethnic politics which is currently raging like wild fire in the state.

Amb Assam Conferring with Business Community during the Houston Town Hall Meeting

Amb Assam Conferring with Business Community during the Houston Town Hall Meeting

Akpabio’s 2015 Shenanigans: Overrules His EXCO, Eliminates Effiong Abia from Endorsement.

28 Feb

 

*Dangles SSG Position on Bassey Albert 

By Weekly Insight Newspapers

Governor Godswill Akpabio has again dipped deep into his bag of tricks and shenanigans, overruling his executive council barely 24 hours after he had made them sign an unprecedented endorsement document on who should be governor in 2015. On Tuesday, February 25, 2014, Akpabio called another meeting of his Executive council, where he informed them that the three candidates they had endorsed were too many. 

 

He said it was important to further narrow the choice to two candidates to make room for a better choice and a more effective coordination. He told them that Effiong Abia should be delisted leaving the battle for Udom Emmanuel and Ekpenyong Ntekim. As would be expected, there was no challenge to the governor’s decision, though coming just a day after he had led the exco members to select the trio of Udom, Abia and Ntekim.

Our source, a commissioner who attended the meeting said the entire proceeding was dominated by the governor, who continuously boasted that no power anywhere in the world can stop him from having his way as far as the 2015 governorship election was concerned. He said that he had the magic wand to buy over supporters of other aspirants not favoured by the Exco arrangement. He told them that even if it means using the state’s six months allocation to achieve his purpose, he was willing and committed to doing it. He said he has so far commenced the process of buying other aspirants’ supporters with the number of PRADO Jeeps already distributed, adding that more jeeps and millions of naira would be dangled before some of the aggrieved party members.

“His Excellency boasted that with the amount of inroad he has made in Abuja; that not even the national chairman nor the president of the country could stop his choice and urged us not to entertain any fear of defeat”, the commissioner said.

He was said to have pressured his Finance commissioner to drop his governorship ambition and support the preferred candidates. He was promised the office of SSG after the election. This was as a result of the commissioner’s refusal to sign the Monday night endorsement document in a meeting coordinated by Mr. Don Etim, regarded as the “Dean of Commissioner”.

This will be a major blow to supporters of Barr Effiong Abia, who had been upbeat since the signing of the endorsement document that included his name. His upcoming thanksgiving service in Oron next week has received a wide boost following the said endorsement. But one of the supporters of the Mbo-born politician insists that whatever the governor or any person is doing cannot change what God has already kept for Abia.

The elimination of Abia from the list is a surprise move by Akpabio, prompting many to assume that the governor has not still made his final moves. One Edet Amba, who spoke to Weekend Insight, insists that Abia remained the governor’s choice, adding that all the necessary assurances have been extricated from the governor.


Weekly Insight Newspapers

MAKE YOU VOTE COUNT NIGERIA 2015 – Reason #4

13 Feb

By Paul Inyang

INEC Chairman

INEC Chairman

Two weeks ago I was opportune together with Dr. John Okon to attend a program sponsored by the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) here in Washington, DC. As reported a great many Nigerians and indeed Africans participated in this program. As represented in an earlier report by the Premium Times Newspaper (posted on this forum) the forum was titled—Preparing for Nigeria’s 2015 Elections: Key Challenges and Priorities. The keynote speaker was the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof. Attahiru Jega. I will not bore you with the details because the Times was quite accurate in its reporting. Here are some of my personal reflections on the on the forum:

I was quite impressed by Prof. Jega and honored to meet him in person. He presented what I thought was a well thought out paper—a fair outlook for the elections and elucidating on some of the challenges that INEC and the country at large would be facing enroute to the elections. I found him to be earnest and as honest as he could possibly, considering his audience which was quite diverse. There did not seem to be much that was political about him—he sounded mostly like the social scientist he is. Like any technocrat in his position, he attempted to strike a balance and most of all painted an encouraging picture of the upcoming elections. He was able to listen and get feedback about some of the concerns expressed by Nigerians and civil society organizations like—the Policy and Legal Advisory Council, Nigerian Women Trust Fund, Independent Election Monitoring Group, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Center, South-East Governance Network and Stakeholder Democracy Network to name a few.

In Forums like this, things that are not said are often as important as what is said. Time was also a concern, as Prof. Jega did not have enough time to expand on the activities of INEC and answer questions raised. There were two issue that were of particular concern to me—the time table for the elections and security. Prof. Jega cited two basic reasons for the early February elections. He indicated that the elections were set two weeks apart because experience has taught INEC that it is logistically impossible to hold ALL elections on the same day. By that he meant that the National assembly and Presidential elections would be held on Feb, 14 2015 and the local elections comprising of the —governorship and state house of assemblies on Feb, 28 2015. He suggested that Nigeria does not have the resources to make it possible for the elections to be completed in one day. He complained about the lack of funds, resources and the logistical challenges posed by such an enormous endeavor. The question of how the National elections would influence the local elections was not broached. The underlying political motivation which is suspect and the fact that it favors the incumbent parties was largely ignored and unexplained. The other, was to allow time for the legal processes to be exhausted. However, the question of the political timeline sequencing with the legal time-frame was not answered. It is assumed that the courts will work within the framework of the political timeline—this has never been the case. As most of you know some political court actions raised during the 2011 elections are still being litigated till date. The Nigerian legal system has never been able to work within an expeditious timeline—the courts have a mind and framework of their own. At the end of the day the courts will cite the expiration of the statute of limitation—reverting to the status quo— which will deny aggrieved parties much needed judicial relief.

The question of security remains the foremost concern of most Nigerian as expressed during the forum. Prof. Jega noted that INEC was working with security agencies to streamline the election process and protect votes. He disclosed that INEC would be setting up of collation centers which will be videotaped for the record to ensure credibility. These centers will be responsible for the “count” and “announcement” of the election results it is presumed—under the protection of the security of the security agencies one would assume. Most Nigerians have seen security forces in action during election—safety and objectivity would not be what they would ascribe to this process. What would be different? Also, there are instances where the party apparatus have totally usurped and ignored INEC role in the past and used a simple spreadsheet to report results with impunity—this was unaddressed raising questions at least in my mind about INEC’s preparedness. The other essential element of the elections is the distribution of material. How is INEC going to assure that election materials arrive on time or arrive at all? The issue of what happened in Anambara, where the material meant for some wards did not make it in for the elections without an adequate explanation from the INEC official in-charge was also discussed. Prof. Jega offered that they would be prosecuted—most Nigerians would say—hmmmm. Since 1959 this has been an issue how can we get it right? The issue of the accompanying violence was not addressed appropriately and will shared with on a later date by this writer.

Please register to vote, help others register and protect your vote!

Paul Inyang – 2/12/2014

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