Friday, January 25, 2008

Good news or empty promises

Even though we can't take stock of the outcomes for the next 2 years but this Guardian article brings some welcome news. Not sure when last I was on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway but I have heard the horror stories of people killed by out-of-control lorries, or robbed because of a flat tire caused by a pothole (crater, in this case). According to the Speaker of the House of Rep, "the cost of the recurring congestion on the road is getting unbearable for the federal government". Really? Never mind the hundreds who've lost their lives on this expressway. "Over the years, public outcry about the appalling condition of the road has not yielded any positive result." Well now that we've established that our government is only human and looking out for its (leaders') best interests, we wait with baited breath to see if this development leaves up to its promise.

Expanding the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway

THE Federal Government's decision to expand the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and turn it into a 10-lane freeway is a welcome development. This particular road is no more than a death trap and a source of anguish to travellers. It is estimated that about 30 deaths are recorded on the road daily, due to accidents, most of which are avoidable. Something surely needs to be done to curb the carnage, and to protect lives.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Dimeji Bankole made the disclosure about the road expansion plan during a recent courtesy call on the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo. According to him, "the cost of the recurring congestion on the road is getting unbearable for the federal government". He added that the private sector will be involved in the reconstruction which is estimated to cost about $67 billion.

All the necessary details seem to have been worked out. The project is expected to be completed within two years. Apart from the engineering reconstruction of the road, including the introduction of underground tunnels, facilities will be provided along the entire stretch of the expressway. Traffic will be directed away from crowded religious centres in order to reduce congestion. Hotels and recreational facilities will also be provided at strategic spots on the highway for travellers.

The Lagos-Ibadan expressway was completed in 1978 but since then it has not undergone any major maintenance work despite the fact that it is one of the busiest roads in the nation. The road has been neglected and left to disintegrate. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Lagos-Ibadan expressway has become notorious in many respects. With massive vehicular traffic, daily, traffic congestion is perennial and disheartening. Commuters waste long hours in crippling traffic. Robbers, rapists, pick-pockets often capitalise on the chaos to attack innocent persons.

Lack of management has given rise to uncontrolled development on the highway. For instance, the many religious worship centres that occupy vast sections of the highway compound the traffic situation especially when there are major events that attract large crowds of worshippers.

Over the years, public outcry about the appalling condition of the road has not yielded any positive result. The federal authorities that ought to manage the highway occasionally send contractors who put up some appearance for a few weeks without making any difference. The Lagos-Ibadan expressway should be rescued from its present state of neglect. There is no doubt that its reconstruction is worthwhile economically. The road links Lagos to other parts of the country.
Whatever contracts that may have been awarded in the past to effect repairs on the badly damaged portions of the road have been carried out haphazardly. Indeed, the money meant for the last rehabilitation exercise was allegedly diverted by politicians to finance the ill-fated Third Term agenda of the former administration. It is instructive that the reconstruction will now be carried out by the private sector under a BOT arrangement. This will reduce pressure on the Federal Government, apart from giving the private entrepreneurs a sense of partnership. For now, however, not much is known by the public about the details of the partnership between the Federal Government and the construction company that has been granted a concession on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. There is need for transparency and accountability. Quality should be the overriding consideration. Public information and input where necessary should be accommodated.

The Nigeria Society of Engineers may be involved in the project to help monitor progress and standards. The contractor that would handle the road should be given clear specifications on what is to be done. The company should be closely monitored at various stages of the work. Most road contracts in Nigeria fail to meet international standards because the contractors are not closely monitored or made to adhere to specifications.

Since the proposed reconstruction is a major engineering work, there should be an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project. People and institutions that have structures that may be affected by the expansion are advised to cooperate with government. Undue litigation that may stall or delay the work should be avoided. Property owners should be aware that highways have a right of way that should be respected. Whatever disputes that may arise nonetheless should be resolved amicably with a greater emphasis on the public interest.

Road users should cooperate while the reconstruction work is going on. Bearing in mind the busy nature of the road, the work should be done expeditiously in order not to disrupt movement unduly or expose commuters to excessive hardship.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Kenyan point of view

I had planned to post this up over a week ago but due to the fact that i never received permission from the author of the email in question to post it on here (emailed but no response yet), i had put it aside. But sugabelly's comment on The Situation in Kenya spurred more rethinking on the issue so i decided to go ahead and post my preamble to the intended post, and a teeny weeny paragraph from the email which should at least give you another perspective into the violence in Kenya, i hope.
Below is an excerpt of an email from a Kenyan professor at the University of Newcastle about the crisis in his country. Reading it forced me to re-examine my earlier feelings towards the violence in Kenya. I most certainly don't condone the 500+ deaths that have resulted from Kibaki's "re-election" (Blame the pacifist in me but I don't think the loss of ONE life is ever justified, no matter how high the stakes) but I now have a better understanding of the struggle. I pitied the Kenyans for not having the fortune that we Nigerians had in seeing our elections end in peaceful (resigned) acceptance of the corrupt practices that went on across the board. But now I see how unfortunate it is that we continue to take the slaps of our leaders and turn our cheeks repeatedly because after all, we are the resilient, "happiest people in the world", right? I wish I had an answer to this problem of unaccountability in Nigeria. But I don't. I wouldn't say the Kenyans have the answer either, but at least they're not about to sit about waiting for another 4 years to see if the answer falls in their lap. They, unlike us, will not sit by and watch their government make a mockery of the people it is meant to represent.

It is only with the restoration of peace that reason will prevail. But there can be no lasting peace without justice. There is an urgent need for an open and thorough public inquiry to determine the veracity of rigging allegations.

It is disheartening that Kenyans are losing their lives senselessly because they wish to express disapproval on a flawed process. Many of these are ordinary people who can see a 'loaded dice' but importantly refuse to let the lie go away just because the higher ups think they can get away with it! This is the biggest crisis ever for Kenya but I think we will get through it. Though the news talks about ethnic fragmentation--Kenyans as a whole tend to have a greater sense of nationalism rather than ethno-centric parochialism. We are smart enough to be rational, what hurts the average Kenyan is the senseless loss of life. We are Kenyans and part of the reason that we are the most heterogeneous African community that has never had a civil war. We believe in the State but should politicians force individuals to thinks as ethnic collections, it will be a very sad day indeed for a country that has resisted and served as an example that bucks the trend against the so called “normal” ills on the continent.

Thank you, Funke, for sharing this email!

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Afro Beat Shout Out

Please check out William Kamkwamba's Malawi Windmill blog when you get a chance. Pretty amazing stuff he's doing to solve his village's (and eventually, his country's) electricity problems one day (one windmill) at a time. And he's only 20!! It came out of his frustration with the electricity problems in his village (na condition wey make crayfish bend, abi?) and from reading a book one day, he got this idea to try it out. Since then he's been sponsored by a tonne of social entrepreneurs from all over (probably mainly international...but i won't get started on that). The point is, this is another great example of young Africans challenging the way things are done now and making that change they want to see, one day at a time. I'm inspired people! Now, i'm off to build my own solar panels on my roof (er, spanner anyone?)

Thanks to The Afropolitan Network blog for posting his story and for inspiring us to get "Made IN Africa" (you heard it THERE first!).

Monday, January 14, 2008

Same Ol', Same Old?

It seems we're not the only ones writhing in that frustration that comes from the realization that hardly anything has changed when it comes to the key development issues Nigerians struggle with. This generation finds itself complaining about almost the same things our parent's complained about, if not more...we now have a flailing education sector to complain about,a dead health sector to add to our worries, a buried power generation sector, and an anti-graft sector currently in limbo. Abati laments/prophesies: "As it was in 1999, so it was in 2003 and so it is now, and so it seems it shall be for the rest of the year and beyond". We hope this is not the case. In the spirit of Nigerian Curiosity's person of 2007 Awards, we would like to know what you think is the most significant progress Nigeria had/made in 2007? It could be the obvious: The "elections"? the war on corruption? or the not-so-obvious: the war of poverty? relations with China? the commencement of the Abuja light rail? We know it'll be a tad difficult, but we hope you'll humour us...

When Will Nigeria Ever Make It?
By Reuben Abati

There is nothing more exasperating, living in Nigeria, studying Nigeria, and analyzing Nigeria, and being Nigerian, than the realization that our lives have become one long piece of monotonous repetition of failures and uncertainties. We celebrate our capacity to manage the crisis in our lives, the optimism that is derived from our religiousity and our capacity like tragic heroes, to suffer and endure, but for a nation that seeks to make progress, the biggest challenge remains the development challenge. We seem rooted in one spot...absolutely nothing appears to work.

Even that which works, even that which appears to move eventually careers towards a dead end, and we greet the closure of our dreams, the abbreviation of our enthusiasm with a little spittle, some intra-class name-calling, the media makes the usual noises and soon, very soon, we all move on and adjust to the reality of our circumstances. Next year and the year after, almost interminably, we repeat the same patterns.

Companies manage to survive, crawling from year to year, even if the banks declare absurd balance sheets in a country where no real productivity is taking place. Tokens, mere tokens make us happy, and so we get called the happiest people on earth and we celebrate even that as if it were the badge of valour. A new year has started and there is still little to celebrate. Those of us who spend our time on public affairs would soon discover that last year is no different from this year, and that thematically, the year to come may not be different because, our nation is trapped in the vortex of half-measures, and tokenisms and sheer monotony...Check the newspaper editorials, every year they comment on essentially the same themes. Check the commentaries: the subject matter is the same.

And these are not happy stories at all, but necrophilous accounts of the lack of progress in national life. For eight years, we talked and wrote about the crisis in the energy sector, about the poor supply of electricity and how our cities are almost permanently in darkness and the power generator mafia that is smiling to the banks while electricity regulators try to increase tariffs for services they do not provide. We are starting a new year and the subject is the same because we have not moved an inch nearer the satisfaction of public expectations in this regard.

For eight years, we lamented the rot in the education sector, the collapse of such a strategic part of the national development plan. Schools are under-funded, standards are so poor, rich parents are either sending their children to private schools or abroad. Today, employers of labour prefer to travel abroad to recruit Nigerians in diaspora who are supposedly skilled because they have been exposed to a different education system.

They are compelled to do so because of a terrible skills shortage in the Nigerian environment, many of our local university graduates have skills no doubt but certainly the wrong kind of skills: the girls are adept at luring men to bed in order to secure advantages, many of the young men are graduates of cults and 419 groups. And there is the latest phenomenon of crime on campuses: the menace of "the Yahoo boys" who are simply internet fraudsters. All this while the Academic Staff Union of Universities, the umbrella association of university teachers has been asking government to pay more attention to the education sector. In 2008, it is the same crisis of funding and empowerment of the education sector that we are still talking about. Not even one step has been taken at any level to address the identified problems.

For eight years, we lamented the insecurity of life and properties, and the reign of violence in our lives. Rather than abate, the culture of violence in the Niger Delta and elsewhere has remained a problem. Armed robbers, bandits, and terrorists are so bold they even challenge the state openly. And so we continue this year again to write about unresolved murders, about armed robbery, about national insecurity. The list of the stasis in our lives, the predictable uncertainties in our lives is so long, and never short.

Government is unable to make a difference because governance in Nigeria is yet another veritable ritual. Public officials are more interested in the perks of office rather than the difference they are expected to make in the lives of the people. They want official cars, they want to live in government quarters and buy those houses later for their personal use; they want to collect fat salaries and allowances, they all want government land in choice areas for themselves and their spouses. They all want to use, abuse and advertise power and travel around in siren-bearing vehicles which enable them to chase other Nigerians off the streets.

As it was in 1999, so it was in 2003 and so it is now, and so it seems it shall be for the rest of the year and beyond. I lament. We are a terribly short-changed people, holding the wrong end of the stick. Civil servants work with every government that comes along, one after the other, but the Nigerian civil service at all levels has the largest collection of saboteurs within the national boundary. Civil servants are the ones helping the politicians to run Nigeria aground. And they are privileged and powerful, these are entrenched forces helping to sustain a tradition of national failure.

The media is the fourth estate of the realm, we probably will never get tired of documenting the rot in our lives, out of patriotism, out of a sense of obligation and out of a feeling of commitment. Nigerians can talk and there is clearly no shortage of pundits; in Nigeria, opinion is cheap, every certificate holder is an intellectual claiming to understand the issues better than the other man. But it looks like we can only do that much, charting the paths and identifying the issues for leaders who do not even read newspapers or do not listen to local news, and who are quick to boast about this.

Nigeria needs nothing short of transformation at all levels. The catalyst for that must still come from the leadership, a leadership that is willing to dispense with the boring routine that the civil servants, and political contractors have imposed, a leadership that is prepared to take the problems one after the other, day after day and slaughter the dragons that have kept us at the shore of progress. The cock is crowing in other lands; in Nigeria it is silent. Shall we prod this cock to crow or slaughter it for dinner, and damn the consequences?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The show must go on...

Just when you thought Nuhu Ribadu was quietly on his way out, the EFCC strikes again! The show must go on, for this IS a show, (the last edition of The Economist conveniently dubbed it "THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE PRESIDENT") one of high stakes (according to official estimates, corruption has cost Nigeria over $400 billion), a stellar cast (8 governors have been officially charged to date) and 200 million spectators (well, 200 million PLUS ONE, if you count our dear Presido).

Nigeria Graft Boss Strikes Again - BBC News Africa

Nigerian anti-corruption agents have issued an arrest warrant for an eighth former governor.

Lucky Igbinedion of Edo State is accused of stealing more than $24m (£12m) through three front companies.

The BBC's Ibrahim Dosara says the warrant shows EFCC chief, Nuhu Ribadu, is trying to bring people to book before he leaves office next month.

Mr Igbinedion left Nigeria shortly after the end of his tenure as governor in May last year. His whereabouts are not known.

"Wherever he is, we have a network and we will get him," EFCC legal officer Isa Bature Gafai told the BBC.

The EFCC alleges that Mr Igbinedion channelled money through companies registered to members of his family.

The charge sheet lists 142 counts of money laundering.

Mr Igbinedion was a key figure during the election of former President Olusegun Obasanjo's chosen successor, Umaru Yar'Adua.

As the head of the Governor's Forum, he persuaded other state governors to withdraw from the party primaries in 2006 giving Mr Yar'Adua a clear run to the presidency.

The move comes just weeks before Mr Ribadu is due to leave his job in February.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


The past 4 days have seen Kenya, the darling of East Africa, propelled into post-election violence, which some are now referring to as "genocide". The name, "Rwanda" keeps coming up in reports of this "unrest", which pits the majority Kikuyu (who make up ~22% of the Kenyan population) supporters of Kibaki against the 3rd largest ethnic group, the Luo (who make up ~13%), who support the opposition (Odinga). About 300 people are estimated to have died and tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes. The military has been deployed to assist in averting a humanitarian crisis but from CNN footage on the turmoil, they don't seem to be having much success in stopping the violence. According to a source in this article, "Ordinary Kenyans who are dying never participated in the irregularities being cited in the electoral process. They only exercised their democratic right to vote."
The US and UK are "calling for compromise," African Union Chairman, President Kufuor, and Desmond Tutu are scheduled to visit Nairobi, as well as Condoleeza Rice and David Miliband.

This situation is more shocking specifically because Kenya has always been viewed as a stable democracy. No one would have been too surprised if our dearest "troubled giant" had found herself in this sort of mess after our 2007 elections but thankfully we didn't. Now it is up to the international powers-that-be AS WELL AS our own African leaders to put pressure on President Kibaki to put the people of Kenya first, even if it means stepping down while a full recount of the votes (under international supervision) is conducted. Unfortunately, the US and UK have stopped short of calling for this although they have noted that there have been serious irregularities in the vote-counting process (on both sides).

Why can't we get democracy RIGHT in Africa? Could it be because it wasn't MEANT for us? Then again, democracy hasn't always existed, and the democratic powers-that-be didn't get it right in one day/decade/century. Maybe it's time to start developing a theory of "Democracy LITE", that would account for our failure to get elections (government OF and BY the people) and power transitions right. All eyes on Ghana in '08 & South Africa in '09 to show us how it's done, mayhaps.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


Here's wishing us all a wonderful 2008 ahead, with many pleasant surprises!