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Citizens uniting to reclaim Nigeria’s democracy

By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
ON Tuesday this week, the civil society organisation called Citizens United for Peace and Stability (CUPS), made good on its announced plan to peacefully storm the National Assembly, to demand the immediate resignation of Senate President, Bukola Saraki.

The “#Occupy the National Assembly” demonstration had a list of demands which reflected the seething anger in Nigeria, about the 8th National Assembly. These included stoppage of the re-padding of the 2016 budget; scrapping of constituency projects allowances; return of the SUVs that Bukola Saraki purchased for senators at N35.5million each; and ending impunity in the Senate.

The group also wanted the National Assembly to subject itself to the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy. They also argued that it was an aberration for the country to be held to ransom because of the interest of a single person, in reference to Bukola Saraki’s trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

Powerful movement

Expectedly, a smaller pro-Saraki group, #SaveOurNass was on hand to carry out a counter-demonstration and it also attempted to disrupt the #Occupy the National Assembly protest. It was in the spirit of the times, that even in Asaba, Delta State, protesters also demonstrated against the disappearance of N16billion from the 2015 DESOPADEC budget. In response to #OccupyNass, Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, described the protest as a “wrong precedence and anti-democratic”; arguing that those who “did not elect (senators) cannot force (them) out…”

In January 2012, a massive national mobilisation confronted the Goodluck Jonathan administration’s decision to increase the price of petroleum products. It was a powerful movement that united the Nigerian people, while showing the potentials of mass action in the context of democratic disdain for actions of the ruling class. The #Occupy the National Assembly protest can also be located within the same tradition and is a reflection of the increasing levels of consciousness, that power belongs to the Nigerian people and the political elite must work for those interests or face the people’s wrath.

In truth, the 8th National Assembly has been particularly irresponsible in its ways, reflecting very much the tainted mandate of its leadership and the controversial manner that it came into position since June 2015. The leadership, especially in the Senate, has been more committed to its own survival and has never shied from using the resources of the National Assembly to buy the loyalty of members, at a time when Nigerians expected them to make sacrifices which reflect the spirit of the times in Nigeria. The purchase of the thirty-six SUVs, became the tipping point for the Nigerian people; it was clearly not better than a bribe to keep the senators in line, as the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, confronts the damaging evidence that began to surface at his trial at the CCT.

The fact that he was also one of the main people that were named in the “Panama Papers” expose, convinced the civil society activists that a man with the baggage which Saraki carries does not fit the leadership position of the National Assembly. The protests that commenced this week represent a symbolic manifestation of the citizens’ anger; they underline the fact that it is only the Nigerian people themselves that can force the hands of the political elite and potentially stop the impunity that has become embedded within the state system. No institution reflects opacity like the National Assembly; and no set of individuals in the political system prize their collective comfort without care for how Nigerians feel, like those in Senate. But the 8th Senate is becoming the most controversial of them all. Its actions and inactions have reflected the desperate corner that Bukola Saraki has boxed himself into. The #Occupy the National Assembly protests this week tell a very simple tale; it is the right of citizens to reclaim their country and to determine the nature and content of the democracy that can serve their interests.

Between the beer boom and dwindling church tithes

NIGERIAN Breweries recorded sales of almost N300billion in 2015, while Guinness is expected to record sales of N275billion; totaling almost N600billion (about $3billion), which is about 3% of our GDP.

That is about 3billion bottles of beer, or 20 bottles per person per year. The average Nigerian is either a Christian or Muslim. Both religions enjoin adherents to avoid alcohol.

So who drank N600billion worth of alcohol in one year”? I have reproduced fully a poser that was trending at the beginning of this week.

I received it on my phone as we waited for a professor in my PhD class at the Nigerian Defence Academy in Kaduna. And it set me thinking about the Nigerian social condition and the contradictory content of consciousness in society.

We live in a state of anarchic and contradictory modernisation, characterised by extremities of wealth and a mass of alienated people who have very little to look towards.

Existence for this mass of atomized and alienated represents an earthly expression of the hell that religion has constantly drummed into the heads of adherents. Consequently, religion is now a booming business, with priests becoming some of the richest people in our country: they own private jets; wear expensive clothes; live in palatial homes; run upscale schools and universities and sell hope and prayers and are lords of a boom prayers economy.

Their flock barely survives in the heartless conditions of our neocolonial capitalism and even the little they have, they are often willing to give as tithes and offerings.

But the economic situation in the land today is even beginning to affect the takings in churches. SATURDAY PUNCH of April 16, 2016, carried out an investigation that confirmed a “considerable drop in tithes and offerings by members”.

As a matter of fact “there has been increasing demand on the church leaders for financial support towards feeding, accommodation and children’s tuition.”

Church takings and economic reality

A church leader in Akure reported that attendance of Sunday services “had dropped from 500 to between 200 and 350 members…”. The development he blamed on irregular payment of salaries to workers in the state.

A pastor in Ibadan added that: “the church is a component of the society. So, what is happening in the society will affect the church. Before, members would pay little, but now, they are not ready to pay anything.

In fact, they are looking for ways to get something from the church”. Critical theorists often argue that religious institutions also sell a form of intoxicant to adherents; spiritual booze. The economic condition is making things difficult for the vendors of spiritual intoxicants. But business is booming for the bottled version of intoxicants in our society, as we have quoted at the head of this piece.

Three billion bottles of beer were consumed in 2015 alone, and that generated almost N600billion, or 3% of GDP, Phew!

Another garland for Pinnacle Communications

LAST week in Las Vegas, USA, Lucky Omoluwa’s Pinnacle Communications Limited was given an award by GatesAir, the US broadcast industry manufacturer, at a Pre-NAB Channel Partners meeting which held at the North Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

The award was for Pinnacle Communications Limited’s “outstanding dedication to digital broadcasting, international business practice and creativity in rights implementation”. The modest and ever self-effacing Lucky Omoluwa was not present at the ceremony, but was represented by Pinnacle Communications Limited’s Executive Director, Dipo Onifade.

The Annual Convention of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), hosts the largest collection of broadcast equipment suppliers at its annual convention in April, in Las Vegas, and in recent years, as the Nigerian broadcasting industry has rapidly expanded, Nigerian broadcasters as well as broadcast entrepreneurs have become some of the most notable visitors at the gathering.

It is a convention that I have attended quite regularly in recent years too, because the convention also affords the opportunity to enjoy the multi-faceted delights of Las Vegas.

Pinnacle Communications Limited’s award has come against a backdrop of controversy in the Nigerian transition to digital broadcasting. Pinnacle Communications had won an open, transparent and competitive bid to become the Second National Carrier for the digitization process but the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the same body that announced Pinnacle’s success on national television and in the presence of the media, then went ahead to take steps which contradicted the original pronouncement. Nigeria’s digital transition was immediately put in jeopardy, as the dispute between the regulatory authority, the NBC and Pinnacle Communications Limited, became a subject of litigation in the courts.

The impunity associated with the NBC leadership under Emeka Mba, reflected the general disorder towards the end of the Goodluck Jonathan administration.  Not even the concerted propaganda by the NBC leadership could paper over the fact that the only stakeholder in the digitization process that had put its funds into the process, Pinnacle Communications Limited, was in dispute with the steps taken, that amounted to a subversion of a national process of the importance of the digital broadcasting transition. It took the defeat of the Jonathan administration for the impunity embedded in the process to begin to emerge. There were revelations about funds that were supposed to have been remitted into the Treasury Single Account (TSA), that were allegedly hidden away in some secret accounts.

The EFCC’s  invitation

While early this week, reports emerged of the invitation issued by the EFCC to members of the dissolved board of the NBC, to answer questions over an alleged N3.4billion scam in the commission. The EFCC’s invitation had arisen over issues that surrounded the sale/lease of broadcast spectrum to the South African telecommunication outfit, MTN, for $171million (about N34, 114, 500.00); and how 10% broker fees of N3.4billion was paid to a Technology Advisor, before the sale received presidential approval.

The defeat of the Jonathan administration in the last elections has led to the opening of a Pandora’s box of revelations about the mismanagement of Nigeria’s finances in the past five years especially, and the issues arising from the NBC represent a tip of the iceberg, of the many from several sectors. One of the more gratifying issues is the effort that the new administration is mustering to take the digital process forward, and this has been driven in recent months by Information Minister, Lai Muhammed. He also gave an undertaking that the impasse between the NBC and Pinnacles Communications Limited would be resolved to be able to bring all stakeholders back into the process, in the overall interest of our country. When a committed Nigerian company, such as Pinnacles Communications Limited, has put a huge amount of money into a defining process as the digital broadcasting process, after an open, transparent bidding process, it becomes imperative that such a process should be completed in an honest and honourable manner, in the overall interest of our country.

 

 


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