By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
BELIEVE me; but I have spent the past week looking for a rebuttal of the story. Last Wednesday, November 28th, DAILY SUN carried the report on its page 8; the Nigerian government had begun discussions on the privatisation of Nigerian prisons. Interior Minister, Patrick Abba Moro, disclosed the “privatisation gone berserk” plan “to leave prisons management into the private hands (SIC)”. There is nothing unusual about discussions within governments.
It is also clear that the PDP, since 1999, has turned privatisation into something close to a religious conviction; this despite its‘social democratic’ manifesto or Nigeria’s Constitution’s Chapter II, which prohibits concentration of wealth and the means of production in the hands of a few.
Neo liberal capitalism
But with triumphal neoliberal capitalism, especially in the United States, privatisation of prison, punishment and correctional facilities, has become popular. What is new in the Nigerian plan, is the intention, which DAILY SUN reported, that “the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and the ruling South Africa’s African National Congress have (…) indicated their interest to be involved in the management of the nation’s prisons”. This new twist in “privatization”, of prisons run by political parties, came when Abba Moro met a joint ANC/PDP delegation of PDP Legal Adviser, Victor Kwon and ANC Treasurer-General, Mathew Phosa, and declared that “government was not going back on its decision to privatise the prisons”. In the preferred manner of looting Nigeria’s public sector, the usual vehicle of theft, “Public-Private-Partnership(PPP)”, will similarly be deployed to handover prisons to the private sector. To this effect, a South African company, the Guma Group, headed by a certain Robert Matana, is “the company that intended handling the job on behalf of the PDP and the ANC”.
It is not a joke! The ruling parties of Nigeria and South Africa are taking on the “noble responsibility” of imprisoning Nigerians! Well, the ANC has a revolutionary tradition of liberation, but in recent years, under Jacob Zuma, we are witnessing an alarming slide of standards. Here in Nigeria, the PDP has messed things up in every respect: Infrastructural collapse despite huge appropriations of money; institutionalised corruption manifested in fuel subsidy scandal; pensions scams; the brazen theft of national assets in dubious privatisation scams; deepening impoverishment of Nigerians and anti-state uprisings in various forms, around Nigeria. Maybe, we should commend the PDP for taking up the challenge of running “privatised prisons”; because at the rate things are going, many of its members might end up in those prisons anyway. Didn’t its first leader come from prison to presidency? Prison seems a motif writ large in the ethos of the PDP apparently. They might not even go far to determine a suitable uniform for PDP-run “privatised prisons”. What about those uniforms they wear at rallies? Why not a matching prison umbrella in tow? It will be PDP’s novel contribution to running correctional institutions. Our ruling party, the PDP (it is also the largest party in Africa!), will now manage prisons having failed to deliver “the dividends of democracy”. What about a new slogan? “P-D-P? PRISON”! It’s a new day in Nigeria!
Chief Sunday Awoniyi: How did I forget the 5th anniversary?
LAST week, the 5th anniversary of the passing of our much-lamented Chief Sunday Awoniyi was commemorated. It took a few newspaper advertisements, to remind Nigerians of a wonderful patriot; statesman and the quintessential public servant: honesty; loyal and fearless! On the morning his death was announced, I was attending DAILY TRUST’s Editorial Board meeting. I called Alhaji Adamu, WazirinFika, who confirmed the news. I couldn’t stop myself crying! Later that day, I was requested to pen a front-page sidebar to accompany our comprehensive reportage. It was certainly one of the saddest moments of my life!
In the previous six years, I had become very close to Chief Awoniyi. He would offer very nuanced comments about my writings; volunteer clarifications about historical events and personalities involved; assist me, as he did others, to see links in events around us, and what went before. But it was in his passionate espousal of the ideals of the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, that one saw the full measure of the man. Sometimes I wondered that he actually saw the late Northern Premier in his mind’s eye as he recounted tales from his days at the Premier’s Office in Kaduna. He was remarkably in thrall and kept his loyalty to his mentor, till the end of his own life.
For younger generations of Northerners like myself, Chief Awoniyi was the essential link to an era recognised as the best period in our post-colonial history. And as contemporary experience of underdevelopment; increased alienation of the mass of the people; break down of inter-communal and inter-religious harmony; the poverty and scandalous depths of corruption led to greater despair, the tendency to romanticise those years deepened. Chief Awoniyi and members of the Kaduna “clan” of leaders of the old North, such as older patriarchs like Malam Yahaya Gusau; Alhaji Liman Ciroma and then Malam Adamu Ciroma; and AlhajiAdamu,Wazirin Fika came to represent what was highly respected about the Northern character, especially during those remarkable years from the killing of the Sardauna and maybe, up to the mid-1980s.
I learnt a lot from Chief Sunday Awoniyi; and I recall having lunch with him, a few blocks from his modest London flat, in an Italian restaurant, during the winter of 2005. The owner ushered us in with respect to his customary corner, on a cold afternoon, which he nevertheless warmed up with his effusiveness. He spoke for hours, letting me into issues of security; episodes in Northern Nigerian bureaucratic/political history; personal health issues; even the challenges of matrimony. My twin children were in their first year and he was full of wisdom about parenting! But he was particularly concerned about goings-on in the Nigeria of surreptitious plans for Obasanjo’s Third Term Agenda. I had received a death threat because of my anti-Third Term writings and his security tips were top draw, helping me navigate the worries of the period.
In Chief Sunday Awoniyi, Nigeria had an example of adutiful patriot. He loved his country passionately and felt that his generation had a duty to mentor younger people who would carry the touch of all that was decent about our humanity, into the future. It was testimony to his personal qualities and the trust he engendered, especially in Northern Nigeria, that his leadership of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), was universally acclaimed, all over the region.
Yet, he was not just a Northerner, because he built a network of friendships in all parts of Nigeria and he was genuinely mourned throughout, following his death. I had written on the day he died, that Nigeria was a head shorter, with Chief Sunday Awoniyi’s death; and that his, was one of our best heads. Five years down the line, as we wrestle with Lilliputians (in thought and action), messing up our country, we must certainly feel a tragic form of nostalgia for the giant of thought and action that Chief Sunday Awoniyi was!