BUT white AIN'T S___T!"











Search This Blog



Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Former Black Panther patches together purpose in Africa exile

In America, Pete O'Neal was an angry man, an ex-con who found a kind of religion in 1960s black nationalism. In a Tanzania village, he's been a champion of children.
Many of the young orphans gather round to watch, and lend their support, as Pete O'Neal has fresh ink applied to his fading black panther tattoo. (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)
By Christopher Goffard, Los Angeles Times
January 29, 2012
Reporting from Imbaseni, Tanzania -- The fugitive shuffles to his computer and begins typing out his will. He is about to turn 71, and it is time. "My life," he writes, "has been a wild and wicked ride...."
All Pete O'Neal has amassed fits on two pages: A small brick home with a sheet-metal roof. A few road-beaten vehicles. A cluster of bunkhouses and classrooms he spent decades building, brick by scavenged brick, near the slopes of Mt. Meru's volcanic cone.  Everything will go to his wife of 42 years, Charlotte, and to a few trusted workers.
He prints out the will late one Saturday morning and settles into his reclining chair to check the spelling. He signs his name. Then, to guarantee its authenticity, he finds an ink pad, rolls his thumb across it, and affixes his thumbprint to the bottom of the page.
"I think that'll do it," he says.
Map: Imbaseni, Tanzania

Photos: A former Black Panther in Africa exile champions kids
When last he walked America's streets, O'Neal was a magnetic young man possessed of bottomless anger. He was an ex-con who'd found a kind of religion in late-'60s black nationalism, a vain, violent street hustler reborn in a Black Panther uniform of dark sunglasses, beret and leather jacket. With pitiless, knife-sharp diction, he spoke of sending police to their graves.
This morning, he sits in his living room uncapping medicine bottles. A pill for high blood pressure. Another for the pain in his back and his bad knee. An aspirin to thin his blood. Time is catching him, like the lions that pursue him implacably through his nightmares, their leashes held by policemen.
He pushes through his screen door into the brisk morning air. A slightly stooped, thickset man with long, graying dreadlocks, he moves unsteadily down the irregular stone steps he built into the sloping dirt. He makes his way past the enormous avocado tree, past the horse barn with its single slow-footed tenant, Bullet, past the shaded dining pavilion.
His four-acre compound bustles with visitors, many of them preparing for a memorial service for Geronimo Pratt, a former Panther who died in his farmhouse down the road, his affairs untidy, his will unfinished, his death a sharp message to O'Neal not to put off the paperwork any longer.
Most of O'Neal's big dreams have faded over the years, or come to feel silly. Like beating the 42-year-old federal gun charges that caused him to flee the United States. Like the global socialist revolution that he was supposed to help lead. Like returning home to the streets of his Midwestern childhood. Like winning citizenship in his adopted African country, and the prize that's eluded him on two continents: the feeling of belonging somewhere.
This is what's left: the shell of a 20-year-old Toyota Coaster bus that bulks before him in a clearing. It's a stripped-and-gutted 29-seater that he bought for $11,500 after years of squirreling away money. It came with dents, a cracked windshield, a peeling paint job, rotting floorboards, frayed seats.
Still, it seemed like a good deal until he found the engine had to be replaced, costing an additional $4,000. He's hired mechanics and craftsmen to rebuild the bus nearly from the chassis up, and a few of them are milling around now, informing him in Swahili of their progress.
He rarely leaves home anymore. Crowds jangle his nerves; traffic makes his hands shake. Yet nothing feels more urgent than readying this bus for an improbable 300-mile trip to the edge of his adopted continent.
A group of American high school students, mostly white, is gathering in the dining pavilion. They've been coming by the busload for years, many drawn by the intrigue of staying with a former Panther. They pay him $30 a night for a bunk. The money — together with sporadic donations from sympathetic friends here and abroad — pays the bills.
Pete O'Neal in his Black Panther days. (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)
The students pause before the big poster featuring O'Neal as a fierce young militant, rifle in arms, Charlotte at his side. It's hard to reconcile that image with the grandfatherly host who greets them in Swahili as if they were old friends, booming, "Karibu!" Welcome!
He asks where they're from. A girl says Missouri, which happens to be his home state, and he hugs her theatrically. Everyone laughs. "All of you are welcome," he says, "even if you're from strange places."
He plants them before documentary footage about his life. It's easier than explaining the whole story himself. Where would he start? His childhood in segregated Kansas City, Mo., where the amusement park admitted black kids once a year, a day so cherished that they went in their Sunday best? Should he start with the stabbings and shootings in the projects where he grew up?
"I lived in the streets," he says. "I didn't have time to be happy."
After one arrest, he was given a stark choice: reform school or the armed services. The Navy threw him out after he plunged a butcher knife into another sailor's chest over an insult, nearly killing him. He drifted in and out of lockup. He pimped girls in three states. He wore $300 Italian suits and a blond wave in his processed hair.
To the FBI, the Panthers were homegrown terrorists who romanticized lawbreaking with overheated Marxist rhetoric. To O'Neal, who founded the Kansas City chapter of the party in early 1969, it represented a lifeline out of an abyss of drugs and aimlessness. He blazed with purpose: End racism and class inequality, fast.
"I would like very much to shoot my way into the House of Representatives," he declared in a televised interview, angry at a congressman who was investigating the Panthers. Pressed to clarify, he added: "I mean it literally."
He stormed into a Senate subcommittee hearing in Washington, screaming accusations that the Kansas City police chief was funneling weapons to white supremacist groups.
Shortly afterward, a federal judge sentenced him to a four-year prison term on a conviction of transporting a shotgun across state lines. Out on bail, he decided to run. He and Charlotte fled in 1970 to Sweden, then to Algeria, and finally, in late 1972, to Tanzania, whose socialist government welcomed left-wing militants.
The O'Neals had $700. After a few years they bought a patch of inhospitable brush and volcanic rock in Imbaseni, a cobra-infested village of thatched-roof shacks in the country's remote northern interior. They were up before dawn, dancing with Al Jarreau on the tape deck, gathering locals for the day's work. Their two young African-born children, Malcolm and Stormy, carried bricks and water buckets.
Soon they had four walls, a roof, and little else. Plastic hung over the windows. No toilets
Soon they had four walls, a roof, and little else. Plastic hung over the windows. No toilets. It was the back-to-Africa experience so many black Americans talked about, minus the option of escape. They learned to grow corn and raise chickens. He jarred pickle relish, smoked sausages and bottled barbecue sauce for sale to local shops.
His temper was thunderous. When he heard something in Swahili that sounded offensive — such as wa-negro, a neutral description of black Americans implying no malice — he would scream, ready to fight.
"We were cowboys then," says Ikaweba Bunting, 63, a Compton-raised college professor who arrived in Tanzania in the 1970s and stayed for years. "We were big and hard-walking and hard-talking, and ready to beat people up — the whole street culture."
Exile was supposed to be temporary. O'Neal corresponded with other Panthers and planned to return home to help lead the revolution. He watched from abroad as the party collapsed from infighting, arrests and an FBI campaign of surveillance and sabotage. People stopped talking about revolution. Radicals found new lives.
O'Neal's exile became permanent. His fury abated. Some of it was age. Some of it was Tanzania, where strangers always materialized to push your Land Rover out of the mud, and where conflicts were resolved in community meetings in which everyone got to speak, interminably.
"It is so laid back, so reasonable, that to be otherwise makes you look, even to yourself, like a damn fool," O'Neal says.
Around that first crude brick structure, the fugitive improvised a little island of hope. He built a small recording studio for musicians and a workshop for artists. He gathered castoff computers and invited locals to come learn. He sank a well and opened the spigot to the village. It was, as he saw it, in the spirit of the free breakfast program he'd run as a Panther.
"He's had a chance to grow in a way that very few people get here," says his brother Brian O'Neal, 58, who lives in Kansas City.
Had he stayed in the States, Pete O'Neal believes, he'd be long dead from a shootout or street fight.
If exile saved him, it has also meant a life in which the sense of being a stranger never goes away.
"There's always a feeling of not being completely part of this culture. I know I am of a different tribe," he says. "People like me here, they love me, but I'm always other than."
Back in his house, he relaxes with a few shots of Jim Beam. He keeps a shotgun for snakes and a wall full of books. In mock-stentorian tones, he ridicules his early blood-soaked rhetoric. He puts a hand over his face, like an actor reminded of an embarrassing role, and says, "That was a man who was trying to find himself. He was trying to shed his skin, and emerge brand-new. I think he overstated and overacted."
For his radicalism itself, however, he won't apologize, even if — as he suspects — it is the one thing that might gain him safe entry back into the States.
"They will never convince me in my life," he says, "that what I was doing wasn't right."
All the orphans get a razored haircut -- both boys and girls -- and wash off the loose stubble under cold water at the tap. (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)
A few years back, an ambition seized him. The village had scores of destitute children, orphans from dirt-floor shacks and subsistence farms. He collected donations and built a concrete-block bunkhouse down near his tomato and pepper garden.
He spread word that he had room for a few kids. More than 100 appeared at his door, many shoeless. He had to send the majority away. The most desperate, a couple dozen, he informally adopted.
Now, they roam his grounds in lively packs, playing four square on the basketball court. They sleep in rows under malaria nets. Volunteers and a few staff members watch over the children and give them English and computer classes.
They call him Babu. Grandfather.
How big is the ocean?
So big you can't see across it.
So big you can go for weeks and never see land.
He shows them a globe.
See how much more ocean there is than land?
So is it bigger than Tanzania?
American high school students gather around Pete O'Neal in his compound's dining pavilion. (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)
The American high school students have questions, so he takes a seat before them. It's late, and he's weary, but this is his living. They want to know what country he belongs to, exactly.
He has no passport, he explains, and the Tanzanian government has rebuffed his efforts to become a citizen. "I'm not sure where the hell I belong at this particular point," he tells the students.
For years, he sought a way home. He found American lawyers willing to work for free to fight the gun charges. He would like to see his 91-year-old mother in Kansas City one last time.
His longing for the States comes at funny moments, as when he sees shrimp sailing through the air in Red Lobster commercials. He still dreams about the Kansas City he knew as a child, the bakeries and the public swimming pool and the ladies with their hats. But the city seems wrong, somehow, becoming weirdly unrecognizable.
In other dreams, he finds himself fleeing from things he can't see or name, urging his wife, "Charlotte, you gotta run!"
He regards his complex of bunkhouses, workshops and classrooms as "socialism in microcosm," he tells the students, though doctrinaire Marxism left him disillusioned. People, he concluded, are basically selfish.
Have his views on violence changed?
"I don't have the particular type of courage that would allow me to turn the other cheek."
One fresh-faced girl says she's been in Tanzania a week, and thinks it might be neat to move here. Does he recommend it?
Patiently, he replies: "It ain't that kind of party."
Of late, he tells the students, he's been haunted by the deaths of other exiled Panthers. One died in France last February, another in Zambia in October.
Then there was his close friend Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, the Panthers' former field marshal, who spent 27 years behind bars on a murder conviction before a California judge overturned it.
In 2002, Pratt bought a big farmhouse nearby with his false-imprisonment settlement, and O'Neal felt as though he'd rediscovered a lost brother. They drove through the village listening to Richard Pryor CDs, laughing until they wheezed and tears rolled down their cheeks.
Pratt was hospitalized with high blood pressure in May. He hated any confinement. He pulled out his IVs and went home. Days later, O'Neal found him on his side, dead in bed, just 63. His memorial would be tomorrow.
"People are dropping, man," he tells the students. He doesn't say that his thoughts were circling his own mortality so relentlessly that he couldn't sleep last night, and climbed out of bed to tally up what he would leave behind.
Pete O'Neal's four-acre compound bustles with visitors, some of them preparing dance routines for the memorial service for Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt, the onetime Black Panther who died in his farmhouse down the road. (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)
Hundreds gather for Pratt's memorial service. O'Neal sits on the stage under the avocado tree and tells a few stories about their friendship: How Pratt always told him his toes were ugly. How they joked endlessly about who was the bigger hayseed.
Amid the prayers and the singing and the tributes, he manages to steal away for a few moments to inspect the bus. The seats are lined up in the dirt, ready to be scrubbed and resewn. The windows are taped up so the painting can begin. Panther colors: black and light blue.
He remembers discovering the ocean.
He was in his late teens, a heartland kid who believed his fearful precinct of Kansas City was the absolute center of the world, its ugliness and bigotry a true picture of the world. It is why, to his mind, violent revolution looked logical and inevitable.
Then he arrived in California to report for duty in the Navy, and turned his head and saw the Pacific. His breath was caught short by the immensity of it, all that blue stretching out into other lands, other stories. It was the start of a decades-long lesson that the world is bigger, more complicated and interesting than his little plot of bitter experience had led him to suspect.
His orphans have never left this inland region of cornfields and malarial swamps. They've never tasted salt water, or felt hot beach sand between their toes.
"They have no idea — no idea — what the ocean is," he says.
Nights and weekends, they pile into his living room and watch documentaries about sea life. He tells them about whales, giant squid, blind fish in the lightless deep. He regales them with shark stories.
Will they eat me?
If they're hungry enough, they'll try.
Because they don't like me?
No, it's the natural order of things.
Now and then he indulges in what he calls "Kansas City exaggeration," and even the majestic sea gets some burnishing. The sharks in his stories grow bigger than houses.
The kids study the TV. The sharks don't look that big.
OK. But they do have sharks bigger t

Sunday, January 29, 2012

OUR BLACK SKINNED BEAUTY Gabourey Sidibe Appears on american Dad!

Air Date: Sunday, January 29, 2012
Time Slot: 9:30 PM-10:00 PM EST on FOX
Episode Title: (DAD-6


[NOTE: The following article is a press release issued by the aforementioned network and/or company. Any errors, typos, etc. are attributed to the original author. The release is reproduced solely for the dissemination of the enclosed information.]


--"AMERICAN DAD" - (9:30-10:00 PM ET/PT) CC-HDTV 720p-Dolby Digital 5.1


Patrick Stewart ("X-Men"), Cheech Marin ("Cars 2"), Gabourey Sidibe ("Tower Heist") and Hulk Hogan Make Guest Voice Appearances

When Stan finally has enough money to afford a membership at the golf club he has worked at for the past thirty summers, his hard work and perseverance prove to be futile when the club gives a membership to Steve first. However, things are not all what they seem when Stan realizes who the club owner really is on the all-new "Stanny Tendergrass" episode of AMERICAN DAD airing Sunday, Jan. 29 (9:30-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX (DAD-615) (TV-14 D, L, S V)

Voice Cast: Seth MacFarlane as Stan Smith, Roger the Alien and Greg; Wendy Schaal as Francine Smith; Rachael MacFarlane as Hayley and Mom; Scott Grimes as Steve and Sully Sullenberger; Dee Bradley Baker as Klaus and Narrator.

Guest Voice Cast: Patrick Stewart as Bullock, Cheech Marin as Horatio, Gabourey Sidibe as Herself, Hulk Hogan as Himself.

BLACK POLYGAMY - FELA Married his 23 Wives! In Nigeria!

BLACK POLYGAMY in South Africa #1



BLACK POLYGAMY in South Africa #2

Thursday, January 26, 2012


http://www.marketwatch.com/m/story/7ae9076a-5d4e-4c72-8873-f4c7a307ca7c?pageNumber=1&allPages=True. erry Washington, Paula Patton, Shonda Rhimes, Octavia Spencer, & Pam Grier to be Honored at the 5th Annual Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon
--Essence Celebrates African-American Women Who Shine on the Big and Small Screen; Spotlights Black Women Writers, Directors, and Producers; and Addresses Re-Defining Roles of Black Women in Front of the Camera and Behind-the-Scenes --Essence.com To Exclusively Live Stream From The Red Carpet, Bringing Stars, Style & Sizzle Up Close! --Essence Annual Hollywood Issue Hits Newsstands February 12th
NEW YORK, Jan. 26, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- Today, ESSENCE is pleased to announce the 5th annual ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon honoring the industry's most exciting African-American talent--both in front of the camera and behind-the-scenes in Hollywood. Taking place on February 23, 2012 at the Beverly Hills Hotel, ESSENCE will celebrate five extraordinary women who have left an indelible impression with their work within the film and television industries: Kerry Washington (Vanguard Award), Octavia Spencer (Breakthrough Performance), Pam Grier (Legend Award), Paula Patton (Shining Star Award) and Shonda Rhimes (Visionary Award presented by Lincoln). This star-studded event commemorates ESSENCE magazine's annual Hollywood issue and in honor of the fifth anniversary, Essence.com is giving fans exclusive access to all the red-carpet celebrity style, action and interviews via live stream from 11:30am to 12:30pm PST and re-airing that evening at 9:00pm EST.
"Black women actors, writers, directors and producers still lack diverse opportunities in Hollywood and, unfortunately, are often overlooked during awards season," commented ESSENCE Editor-in-Chief Constance White. "The ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon exists to provide a fitting tribute to the brilliant talent and accomplishments of African-American trailblazers like Kerry, Pam, Paula, Octavia and Shonda and celebrate their collective work as an inspiration for generations to come."
Since its commencement in 2008, ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood has honored Halle Berry, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Angela Bassett, Queen Latifah, Taraji P. Henson, Viola Davis, Jennifer Hudson, Zoe Saldana, Mary J. Blige, Gabourey Sidibe, Jurnee Smollett, Ruby Dee, Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson, Loretta Devine, Gina Prince-Bythewood, and Suzanne de Passe. As one of the most highly anticipated events during Oscar week, this A-List event has hosted some of Hollywood's elite, including Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Amy Adams, Samuel L. Jackson, Forest Whitaker, James Cameron, and Laurence Fishburne, among many others.
Stay tuned to Essence.com for highlights and behind-the-scenes access to ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood. Follow us on Twitter @essenceonline #EssenceBWIH. Join in the discussion on Facebook.
Sponsors for the ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon include presenting sponsor Lincoln, as well as partner sponsors ING, L'Oreal Paris and Smartwater.
About the ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood honorees:
Kerry Washington: As the recipient of the Vanguard Award, Kerry Washington has built an impressive list of credits starring in award winning, critically acclaimed films such as The Last King of Scotland opposite Oscar Award winner Forest Whitaker and Ray for which she won "Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture" at the NAACP Image Awards. In 2010, Washington made her Broadway debut in David Mamet's provocative hit Race with James Spader and David Alan Grier. Washington appeared with Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Sean Penn in Howard Zinn's documentary The People Speak. In addition to earning praise for her accomplishments within her acting career, Washington was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities in November of 2009. She will next be seen in We the Peeples with Craig Robinson, 1000 Words with Eddie Murphy, and The Details with Toby Maguire. Kerry is set to star in the Scandal, the Shonda Rhimes drama for ABC, which premieres in April 2012.
Octavia Spencer:Octavia Spencer is enjoying a triumphant Awards Season, based on her stellar work in the Oscar-nominated film, The Help, opposite Viola Davis, Emma Stone and Bryce Dallas Howard. Her critically acclaimed performance has garnered her a first-time Oscar nomination for "Best Actress in a Supporting Role" as well as a Screen Actors Guild nomination for "Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role." She recently won the Golden Globe Award for "Best Supporting Actress-Motion Picture" and the Critics Choice Award for "Best Supporting Actress- Motion Pictures." Spencer is a 15 year veteran who has appeared in several award winning films which include A Time to Kill, Never Been Kissed, Big Momma's House, Spider-Man, Coach Carter and Seven Pounds. In 2009, Entertainment Weekly named Spencer one of the 25 Funniest Actresses in Hollywood. Spencer's upcoming projects include the independent feature film Smashed which recently premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and Diablo Cody's untitled directional debut opposite Russell Brand and Julianne Hough.
Pam Grier:A legend in every sense of the word, Pam Grier was the first African-American female to star as the lead in an action film becoming the face of early 1970s Blaxploitation movies like Jack Hill's Coffy, Friday Foster, Sheba, Baby and her most notable role Foxy Brown. Grier's career spans over five decades including television guest appearances on popular shows like Miami Vice, Martin, The Cosby Show, The Wayans Brothers Show and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. In 1997 she stared in the title role of Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, a film that partly paid homage to her '70s Blaxploitation movies. She was subsequently nominated for a Golden Globe Award for "Best Actress-Motion Picture" and for the Screen Actors Guild Award for "Best Actress Motion Picture" for her performance for Jackie Brown. Between 2002-2008, Pam appeared in six seasons of the Showtime series The "L" Word and 2010 began appearing in a recurring role on the hit science fiction series Smallville. She also appeared in the films Just Wright starting Queen Latifah, Larry Crown written, directed and starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, and the Film Mafia with Ving Rhames. She is set to film Man With Iron Fists directed By RZA and Eli Roth. In early 2010, Pam along with Andre Cagan wrote her memoir, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, a New York Times Bestseller. Her memoir won Best Memoir Award from the African American Literary Organization.
Paula Patton:As the leading lady in the newest Tom Cruise blockbuster Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Paula Patton has taken Hollywood by storm. Landing her first acting role in 2005 alongside Will Smith and Eva Mendes in the movie Hitch, Paula went on to appear alongside Outkast members Andre Benjamin and Big Boi in Idlewild. In 2006 she starred in the science-fiction thriller Deja Vu, starring Denzel Washington and Val Kilmer. Paula appeared in the film Mirrors, alongside Kiefer Sutherland in 2008 followed by the critically acclaimed movie Precious, where she was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for "Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture," Critic's Choice Award for "Best Acting Ensemble" and a Screen Actors Award for "Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture." In 2010 she starred in the movie Just Wright alongside Queen Latifah and Common followed by leading an all-star cast in the movie Jumping the Broom in 2011 which included Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, Tasha Smith, Meagan Good, Gary Dourdan and new comer Laz Alonso. Patton recently wrapped the independent film Disconnect also starring Jason Bateman, Alexander Skarsgard and Andrea Riseborough.
Shonda Rhimes:Shonda Rhimes, the creator and executive producer of ABC's hit series Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice, is still continuing to be hailed by audiences and critics around the world. Rhimes has garnered several awards including "Television Producer of the Year" by the Producers Guild of America, the Golden Globe for "Outstanding Television Drama" and several NAACP Image Awards for "Outstanding Writing in a Dramatic Series" for her work on Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice. Aside from her success with network television, Rhimes wrote the Disney feature film Princess Diaries 2: A Royal Engagement, and co-wrote the HBO produced movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, which won numerous awards including a Golden Globe and a Best Actress Emmy for star Halle Berry's portrayal of Dandridge. Rhimes is also the creator and executive producer of the upcoming ABC midseason drama Scandal.
About Essence Communications Inc.: Essence Communications Inc. (ECI) is the number one media company dedicated to African-American women, with a multi-platform presence in publishing, live events, and online. The company's flagship publication, ESSENCE magazine, is the preeminent lifestyle magazine for African-American women; generating brand extensions such as the Essence Music Festival, ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood and Black Women in Music, Window on Our Women and Smart Beauty consumer insights series, the Essence Book Club, Essence.com, and ventures in digital media (mobile, television and VOD). For 41 years, ESSENCE, which has a brand reach of over 8 million, has been the leading source of cutting-edge information and specific solutions relating to every area of African-American women's lives. Additional information about ECI and ESSENCE is available at .
SOURCE Essence Communications, Inc.
Copyright (C) 2012 PR Newswire. All rights reserved
Sent from my BlackBerry wireless device from MTN



Monday, January 16, 2012

The Nigerian Strike: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I came back from Nigeria yesterday evening, after some 8 days of stay. I arrived on Saturday the 7th.. in the heat of "there may be a strike next week" talk. And strike there was.. the whole week. By Saturday 14th, someone had named it "the mother of all strikes" in Nigeria. He is correct.

For me, the protests were on three levels. First, I was a complete stranger to the whole of it. Since I dont live in Nigeria.. and fuel costs 1.5$ in my residence country for a liter..it was interesting for me to watch the outcry. On a second level, as a Policy Adviser, I was listening a lot: about what my relatives were saying. I watched a lot of news on TV, followed the #OccupyNigeria and #FuelSubsidy tags on Twitter and tried to process all the public policy issues that were flowing through all of that. On a third level, when I had to hit the road from the Eastern part of the country to the Western part on the Thursday,despite expressed fears from my mother and close family members, then I became one of the actors.

From my end, here are a few of the things I saw as the good, the bad, and the ugly of the strike.

The Good:

The citizen mobilization. Oh yes! In Yinka's article, Social media was hailed as a magnifying force of the protests. The photo shot by Sunday (which I borrowed for this post) also shows how huge certain crowds got. Since the Arab Spring, millions of Africans having been desiring, hoping, scratching for a similar occasion.. to out their issues with the powers that be. In Nigeria itself, the OCCUPYNIGERIA movement had started before the fuel subsidy saga. So it was not a surprise that that the citizen mobilization was huge.

Corruption to the fore: Everybody says there is corruption in Nigeria. I am not in the secret of the gods and cannot say what strategy the Nigerian President - Goodluck Jonathan - may have put in place alongside the fuel subsidy removal one, but for once, the big question of corruption in Nigeria became a national agenda. Government says it wants to tackle corruption by removing subsidy and citizens insist corruption needs to be tackled while subsidy is maintained.. which ever way.. the strike has made it clear.. everyone in Nigeria agrees that corruption is THE problem and needs to be confronted.

Rise of critical questions: I listened to radio and TV programmes during the entire strike. I read the tweets and web posts. I have been impressed by the number of critical questions raised during the strike period. What happened to the subsidy money from diesel? Is kerosine subsidized or not? How does government spending in fuel subsidy actually add up? What are the exact costs? Where does the spending go? Who makes decisions in key energy issues? What about earlier promises made by government on energy-related issues? What is the role of the Bretton-Woods institutions on this? When are the refineries getting back to work? What does it take for Nigeria to get them started? What real mechanisms is government putting in place to REALLY tackle corruption? How come government is quick to remove fuel subsidy when it is so slow in fighting Boko Haram (The Militant Islamic group). So many questions..

Mutual respect: In the history of Nigeria, I am not sure that such a strong-willed confrontation has happened. The way the government took the citizens by surprise.. and the way the citizens reacted with a resilience that took decision makers by surprise as well. At first, the citizens thought the government will back out entirely after 2/3 days of strike.. and the government also thought that citizens will back off after 2/3 days of protests. It is now comfortable to say that there is that healthy respect; in which the government respects the power of the citizens and the citizens become aware that the present government has a strong will. Now that everyone is aware that everyone is aware.. things may never be the same again.

The Bad

The loss in productivity: This is the huge loss. There are figures that are flying around about how much the government was losing in productivity for each day of the strike. But the loss is incalculable. The economic, yes. But the social, the political and the personal. Simply put: Almost everyone in Nigeria lost.

No clear way out of the corruption quagmire: Though the question has risen to the fore and the need to tackle corruption has become a national agenda, the strike does not seem to have paved a way for it. Will the Nigerian government put more emphasis on transparency and good governance? Not sure. Will individuals adopt a less corrupt behaviour? No signs.. The strike may have been the "River Niger" of an anti-corruption move, but the "pacific ocean" of corruption remains cool, calm and undisturbed. Like the novelist Ayi Kwei Armah says: "The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born".

Issues with information: As in such cases, one thing was the strike, the other was the information management. It is not clear that the Nigerian government has put in place a strategic government information channel that takes into consideration the Web 2.0 era. Rumors had a field day. When I was setting off from Aba to Lagos, those in Aba had information that there was zero movement in Lagos and those in Lagos were under the impression that because Lagos was crippled for the major part, all parts of the country were. In truth, Aba and some other Eastern Nigeria cities were going about their businesses. Granted, banks were not open but transport was okay. In Lagos too, apart from the designated meeting areas, there was movement in town. If you add those to hackers who took the opportunity to hack key institutional sites.. the misinformation of both parties, and especially the international community was on "high level".

Lack of proper citizen education: In many of the responses to the fuel subsidy removal, almost all pointed to one key factor: there was not enough public policy education of the Nigerian population. The education of the mass did not happen. Some claim consultation did not also happen. Those who could quickly educate themselves "saw the point" in what government was "trying to get at" but not everyone can educate him/herself.

The Ugly

Greed. I think it should be called by its name. Owners of fuel stations who had products delivered at the initial price were happy to sell the same at the new price. In Aba, stations sold PMS for 150 Naira!! Somewhere in Lagos, people had to beg to buy at 138 Naira. It is easy to point at the corruption of others.. but for the owners of the fuel stations.. mhmm! There was also the "Okada" bike riders who doubled their prices. The airlines who were collecting 100$ each for ticket changes. The women at the market.. greed had a field day

Extortion: I had to send out a tweet when my driver panicked. He got news that youths armed with clubs were breaking windshields of vehicles at Ijebu Ode junction of the Benin-Abeokuta express way. On arrival, the sight that met my eyes was a very worry one indeed. At least 1000 youths had mounted road blocks at every 20 meters on either side of the highway and were collecting cash from every single vehicle that drove by. My driver paid in at least 12 points for a 500 meters stretch of road. It was sickening!

Deaths: Labour may have called off the strike, but the fact still remains that people died during the strike. Some from one kind of violence or another, and others as collateral. Like my mother will say, "it is only after the race that we will calculate the distance".

In years to come, Nigerians will look back to the second week of January 2012 and point at the many firsts..

I do hope that the good, the bad and the ugly of the week will serve us in a positive way.

For Nigeria, for Africa, for the world.


go_ada said...
You have made quite a good summary of it all. There have been lessons learnt. Very many, indeed.

Personally, I think the 1st big issue is TRUST. Do we trust that the government will do what they say they will do? Did the NLC really take cognisance of the peoples' views or were they bought over? This strike thing and the way it has played out has become a recurring act for each government desiring a price increase in fuel: take it up, strike, bring it slightly lower! Was it subsidy removal or just increase of fuel price?

The second is SURVIVAL. How will the average Nigerian fare, considering that there is no salary increase, yet the fuel increase has a ripple effect on all areas of his/her life, increasing his cost of living by at least 40%? Before now, I use N3500 to fill my tank. Now it costs me N5000. The prices of everything in the market has gone up, even childrens'school fees! The only people who seem like they would not feel the pinch are the politicians, enjoying very fat allowances from the government (actually, the people's) money.

The third issue is EMASCULATION. We were just told by the SSS & the Police IG (on Channels tv interview of 16th Jan) part of what constitutes treason. To my surprise, calling a president names is one of them. Military personnel with armoured tanks and guns on the streets forcefully stopping from engaging in a peaceful protest were said to be 'maintaining the peace & security' of the nation. Its rather ironic. It is infuriating and believe me, that's putting it mildly. These were the same people who were invited to dance and cheer on those same streets to support and vote ing the mandate of this present government. It hurts if a person you place your hope in betrays that trust.

There are other issues. I believe though, that the above-listed three throws a man into a state of 'retreat, ruminate, react'.

God help Nigeria

Friday, January 20, 2012




FROM TELL MAGAZINE,NIGERIA                              


Tackling the Subsidy Mess

Protesters on the road in Abuja, the FCT Protesters on the road in Abuja, the FCT

More than the sudden total removal of subsidy on petrol, a combination of corruption, opulent lifestyle of political office holders and mismanagement of resources by successive governments appears to be the main reasons fuelling the people’s anger and the driving force of the nationwide strike

She appeared ruffled and desperate. Clutching her baby behind her as she searched through heaps of refuse, the woman simply identified as Mama Tola was totally oblivious of her environment. All attempts to stop her from further running her hands through the smelly rubbish fell on deaf ears. “I can’t stop searching for it. It is the food I had just prepared for my baby and I cannot afford to get her another one,” she said. Too poor to afford a food flask, the woman had packaged her child’s food in a black polythene bag, which a neighbour mistook for rubbish and threw in the trash can. By the time she came looking for the polythene bag, the can had been emptied into a waste disposal truck. But since the waste disposal truck was still within the neighbourhood, Mama Tola thought it expedient to retrieve her baby food from it.

Reminded that even if she were to retrieve the food, it would be unhygienic to give to her baby, the woman who ekes a living by sweeping houses within her Orile Agege, Lagos neighbourhood, was not bothered. “I can’t afford to prepare another food for her today again so I have to get this one or she will go hungry,” she explained. Mama Tola only stopped searching through the refuse when a neighbour offered her some money to make her baby another food.

She is not the only one faced with this kind of situation. Also in the same category with her is Emeka Anyaoso, an Imo State indigene, resident in the Ikeja area of Lagos. The father of four has been jobless for over three years after he was laid off at a tomato canning company in Lagos. Anyaoso was relieved of his duties when the company went under. Since then, he has had to struggle to feed his family. Towards the end of 2011, Anyaoso’s situation became so stringent that he had to send his son to a neighbour’s house to beg for food on Christmas day. That strategy is not his exclusive preserve. Every weekend, there are Nigerians who send their children to different party venues around their neighbourhood armed with big polythene bags. Their mission: Scavenge for leftover foods and drinks. The family will then feed on that for as long as it can last.

For this class of Nigerians, making a living and feeding had been a difficult task even before the federal government suddenly announced the total removal of fuel subsidy on January 1. With the rising level of unemployment particularly among the youths, the poverty situation has been compounded. In 2009, 70 million Nigerians, about half of the nation’s population, were said to be living below poverty line, relying on $1 per day. At that time, according to Magnus Kpakol, coordinator of the National Poverty Eradication Programme, NAPEP, the geo-political breakdown showed poverty much more grinding in the northeast and northwest with 72.2 per cent and 71.2 per cent respectively. They were followed by north-central, 67 per cent; southwest, 43 per cent; south-south, 36.1 per cent; and southeast, 26.7 per cent. Right now, with prices of goods and services going up by over 100 per cent, their situation is better imagined than experienced. Thus, many Nigerians appear to have been pushed to the wall such that the removal of fuel subsidy was just a catalyst for them to vent their pent-up anger. This much was captured by the Financial Times of London in its editorial last Tuesday. “Nigerians are justifiably angry,” the newspaper observes. “Since President Goodluck Jonathan’s government lifted a longstanding subsidy on fuel, the pump price of petrol has more than doubled, transport costs have soared and food prices jumped. For tens of millions of Nigerians living on the edge this represents a hardship too far. Moreover, it is one that has been imposed before the government can claim either to have raised living standards or significantly improved service delivery,” the newspaper argues.

Even then, the newspaper is not faulting the removal of fuel subsidy by the Jonathan administration. It actually subscribes to the opinion that subsidy has to go. Said the newspaper: “Every government for the past 30 years in Nigeria, both civilian and military, has known as much. What is questionable is the timing. An Islamist insurrection is threatening the fabric of the federation and dividing Nigerians along religious lines. The policy is the right one, but the reckless way he (the President) has gone about it risks pouring fuel on existing fires.” In the opinion of the paper, the federal government got it wrong on two fronts: timing and approach.

Nasir El-Rufai, former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, who is not known to be a fan of the administration, shares the newspaper’s sentiments. In addition to the wrong timing, El-Rufai said the policy would only further punish Nigerians who for many years have been impoverished by a combination of corruption and mismanagement of resources by successive governments. As far as he is concerned, Nigerians have no business living in the throes of poverty but for the fact that they have actually been made to subsidise the government for so long. “When a Nigerian pays N65 for fuel rather than N40, he is subsidising the incompetence of government by N25.

When a Nigerian has to buy a generator and buy petrol and diesel because electricity generation is worse off, he is subsidising the incompetence in government. When a Nigerian has to drill a borehole, buy pure water or bottled water rather than get public potable tap water, he is subsidising the inefficiency of government,” he says.

El-Rufai is also of the opinion that, “when a Nigerian has to maintain three phone lines or three different Internet subscriptions just because of call quality or crippled bandwidth, he is subsidising the failures of government regulation. When a Nigerian has to pay heavily to secure his life and property through personnel and gadgets, he is subsidising the failure of government to protect him constitutionally. For bad roads, we subsidise by having to visit the mechanic more often than usual or sometimes with our lives.”

“Situations such as these,” says Tunde Bakare, pastor and convener, Save Nigeria Group, SNG, “are some of the real reasons Nigerians took to the streets in protest last week.” For many of the protesters, the federal government’s decision to totally remove subsidy on premium motor spirit, PMS, otherwise known as petrol, was the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back. As they protested, shutting down the country’s economy last week, many insisted that government had no moral right to ask the people to pay more for what were obviously its failings. Many argued that the reasons cited by government for removal of fuel subsidy reek of corruption and ineptitude.

These are equally the views of Bakare. “In addition to the reversal of this painful overdose of punishment on Nigerians, we also demand that the issue of corruption in Nigeria, and in the oil subsector in particular, be addressed at this time. This is a golden opportunity to do just that,” Bakare declared, adding that “the monumental corruption in NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation) stinks to high heavens. As at today, nobody in Nigeria, with the exception of a few NNPC officials, knows how much we make from the oil sector. For example, if crude oil is sold in naira today and payment is made 90 days after at a higher dollar denomination, the figures usually released in Abuja are based on the lower naira denomination at the time of sale. The question is, what has happened to the difference? The obvious answer is corruption.”

To convince the people about its seriousness, Bakare who was vice-presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, in last April general elections wants government to arrest and prosecute those responsible for corruption in the downstream sector of the oil industry. That is one issue that gets the people angry. That was the submission of one of the associates of Dino Melaye, former member of the House of Representatives, earlier arrested by the security ahead of last week’s protest, after his release by the police. According to him, “This is a government that is strong against the weak, but weak against the strong.” The argument is that Nigerians are being made to pay for the greed of the influential few.  Not only that, Bakare also wants government to reduce its overhead cost. Said he: “It is pure madness that over 70 per cent of our annual budget is spent on financing the fancy and appetite of our political office holders. In the current 2012 budget before the National Assembly, the Presidency alone has a feeding allowance of approximately N1 billion. Over N1 billion is budgeted for medical treatment at the Aso Rock clinic. Over N1 billion has been allocated for fuel and generators. The Presidency has also budgeted N280 million to buy two bullet-proof cars, and N300 million for dining sets. The least security vote allocated to governors is N6 billion a year; some governors receive over N1 billion a month. This unbridled folly must be challenged and thwarted.”

This line of argument is pointing at the increasing cost of governance in all the three tiers of government, the sickening level of waste by politically exposed persons, their inability to fight corruption and their penchant to be strong on the weak and almost spineless in tackling the strong.  Again, it is believed that most Nigerian leaders are always quick to ask the governed to make sacrifices while they, the leaders, feed fat on the system.

Apparently unwilling to be tagged a selfish leader who also condones corruption, President Goodluck Jonathan in a national broadcast on the eve of the mass strike announced government’s decision to equally make sacrifices and fight corruption. “To save Nigeria, we must all be prepared to make sacrifices. On the part of government, we are taking several measures aimed at cutting the size and cost of governance, including ongoing and continuous effort to reduce the size of our recurrent expenditure and increase capital spending.” In this regard, the President said he has directed that overseas travels by all political office holders, including himself, should be reduced to the barest minimum. The size of delegations on foreign trips will also be drastically reduced while only trips that are absolutely necessary will be approved.

The President then went further to add what he considered a clincher. “For the year 2012, the basic salaries of all political office holders in the executive arm of government will be reduced by 25 per cent,” he said.

But this offer, which many describe as belated and an afterthought, has since been taken apart by the opposition parties, labour movements and civil society groups. The Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, described it as “mere tokenism.” Francis Njoku, a legal practitioner, wonders what percentage of the total take home pay of political office holders does their basic salary represent. “We all know that the basic salary is very small.  Why limit it (the cut) to the basic salary. If the President wanted to be taken seriously, the cut should have affected the entire emolument, not basic salary that is nothing. It shows that this administration is not serious about trying to create equilibrium in sacrifices. We all know that their allowances are mind-blowing.”

This is equally the view of Peter Ozo-Eson, chief economist, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Abuja. “If we must face reality, the cost of maintaining the executive, as well as the legislature, is becoming a burden [on] the economy. This has nothing to do with their salaries. Even if you place Mr. President on zero salary, the office would still be attractive because a colossal amount of money is spent on his feeding alone, not to talk of other allowances,” he argued.

This perhaps explains why Njoku asks, “What business [do] the President and his vice have placing the burden of the feeding of their families on people, budgeting N1 billion for their food when they are paid salaries? Why should the Senate president be earning N600 million annually in all allowances? Is that not madness?”

And he sure has good reasons for saying so. Members of the Nigerian legislature are some of the highest paid in the world. Senators in the United States, US, earn about $6,000 (or N948,000 monthly or N11.4 million per annum) and that is about what a university professor, or a director in a state department, or a doctor with 20 years experience, or a teacher with 25 years experience earns in the US. 

In Nigeria, a senator earns N245 million per annum, representing the salaries of about 25 vice chancellors or 50 medical doctors or 60 directors in the public service or 500 schoolteachers. The Nigerian senator’s salary, which is far in excess of what Barack Obama earns as US President, still excludes a severance package running into several millions of naira.

This is also in spite of the fact that upon resumption of office, each of the senators for instance is paid a lump sum of N130 million. This was said to have been the monetised value of their housing in Abuja, cost of setting up a constituency office as well as for the purchase of an official car. In spite of this provision, each of the senators still got an official car bought at government’s expense purportedly for community work. Commenting on the legislators’ mouth-watering salaries and allowances in Abuja during the nation’s 51st independence anniversary last October, Richard Dowden, a British journalist, had described as unacceptable the fact that Nigeria, a country with 10 per cent of the world’s maternal and child mortality and 10 per cent of the world’s children out of school, has the highest paid politicians in the world. “1 million dollars for a parliamentary salary with another 1 million dollars in expenses is obscene,” noted Dowden.

But the wastage in government is not limited to that. For instance, whereas the US President has only two aircraft, Nigeria’s President has nine in his fleet and voted money recently to buy one more. The British Prime Minister has only two official cars; his counterpart in Nigeria has about 23 in his pool and only recently voted N300 million to buy two more bullet-proof cars. The US, almost the size of the entire African continent, with about 312.8 million people, is administered by a President assisted by 24 ministers working through 32 government parastatals and commissions. In Nigeria, the President has 42 cabinet ministers and 20 special advisers all working through over 400 government parastatals, many of which workers are so idle that even the President or even the supervisory minister may not know they exist.

Whereas government argues that the N1.3 trillion spent on fuel subsidy within the last one year was unsustainable, nothing has yet been done about the revelation of Hamman Tukur, former chairman of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, that government spends about the same amount yearly on the emoluments of federal government, 36 states and 774 local governments’ political, public and judicial office holders.

While announcing federal government’s decision to equally make sacrifices, Jonathan said his administration is already looking at committees, commissions and parastatals with overlapping responsibilities while calling on all ministries, departments and agencies of government to cut down on their overheads.

Onyekachi Ubani, a lawyer and social activist on his part, says the sacrifices announced by the President are simply not enough. “We have gone beyond salary, we are talking about gross corruption and ineptitude in government,” Ubani said.

In search of a solution, Njoku says political office holders should not live above the means of Nigeria as a country. “A situation whereby over one third of the budget is spent on political office holders, that is where the problem lies, and not the peanut that is purported to be spent subsidising petrol. One should expect a minimum of 50 per cent reduction in the total emolument of every political office holder and their advisers,” Njoku said.

For those in this school of thought, there are examples to draw from other parts of the world. Concerned about growing complaints over income inequality and rising prices for housing, transport and other basics, the government of Singapore recently decided to effect a pay cut of 36 per cent. The pay cut saw the salary of Lee Hsien Loong, the country’s prime minister, reduced by over $1 million. He is not alone. David Cameron, prime minister of Britain, did that when he got to office.   Faced with the economic meltdown, Obama decided to freeze his salary and those of his cabinet members and all federal workers.

Beyond pay cut, Reclaim Nigeria Group, a social rights movement, wants government to prove its seriousness by putting in place a law that makes stealing of public funds an offence punishable with public execution. The group also wants the immunity clause, protecting governors and the President from litigations, to be removed at both the state and federal levels. In addition to that, the group wants the President to sell off all the aircraft in the presidential fleet; sell the presidential villa and replace it with not more than 6-bedroom apartment; provide not more than one official car and no foreign medical treatment for any political appointee. The group is also calling for the scrapping of the office of the First Lady among others while adding that “we are the employers of the President and his appointees, anyone who is not satisfied with this term of engagement should resign.” But Nigeria is not in want of a law against sharp practices; it is just that there is a great deal of impunity among political office holders. Aside from that, the call for the scrapping of immunity clause has been a vexed issue over the years. But Nigerians suspect that there is a conspiracy between the executive and the legislature over this matter.

On his part, the President appears as equally concerned about the issues agitating protesters. “If I were not here to lead the process of national renewal, if I were in your shoes at this moment, I probably would have reacted in the same manner as some of our compatriots, or hold the same critical views about government,” he said.  He, however, said that though these are tough times, “tough choices have to be made to safeguard the economy and our collective survival as a nation.” He said his administration is also concerned about the challenge posed by corruption while insisting that the deregulation policy is the strongest measure to tackle this challenge in the downstream oil sector.

But Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State and leader of ACN, says if government were sincere in this regard, it would have used an entirely different strategy. He argued that government ought to have looked at the removal of fuel subsidy as an evolutionary, long-term process instead of as a sudden event accomplished by executive fiat.

“If government had proceeded along these lines, it would have first perfected the plans for the new programmes and projects that would receive the funds previously allocated the subsidy. These plans would have been in place and ready to implement. Only then would the subsidy be removed. To say that they will develop programmes once the subsidy is removed suggests government’s heart is not in these alternatives. Government only raised this possibility as a public relations afterthought to douse public opposition,” Tinubu reasoned.

Diezani Alison-Madueke, minister for Petroleum Resources, disagreed.  “If the issue of fuel subsidy was removed earlier as part of the components of deregulation, by now we would have seen private companies both indigenous and foreign investors in both domestic and export-oriented refineries across the country as they did in the upstream sector,” the minister said.

With that statement, Alison-Madueke may be trying to pass a message that the current crisis has a history that predates the Jonathan administration. The Olusegun Obasanjo administration actually started the process of full deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry. The administration sold 51 per cent of government’s shares in the Port Harcourt Refinery to the Bluestar Oil Services Limited Consortium, owned by Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola, both businessmen.   The process was however truncated by the late president Umaru Yar’Adua government following agitations from the labour movement and civil society groups that the sale of the refinery be reversed.

Abubakar Yar’Adua, the then group managing director, GMD, NNPC, appeared before a Senate committee to also argue that the corporation was capable of turning the refinery around, adding that it was actually prevented from doing that by the Obasanjo administration which he claimed was more interested in selling the plant. He also argued that what the nation needed to do was to devote money to the repairs of the existing four refineries and also build new ones. The then NNPC GMD promised to deliver the well-refurbished refineries in six months.

In view of this, government refunded $721 million to the Bluestar Consortium while $80 million was released to the NNPC for the repairs of the four refineries. Over four years after, the refineries are still functioning at less than 30 per cent of installed capacity, necessitating importation of petroleum products and provision of heavy subsidy by the government. These are some of the reasons Nigerians are now wary of trusting the current administration or any of its agencies when it promised to use monies saved from removal of subsidy to repair the existing refineries or build other public infrastructure.

But what is the way forward? As far as El-Rufai is concerned, those giving economic arguments for or against fuel subsidy withdrawal miss the point totally. “It is not about economics. It is about trust… from about 2010 till date, nearly N10 trillion has been spent on government officials, trips abroad and other perquisites. In the 2012 budget, National Assembly intends to spend N150 billion on itself, the same amount as in 2011 to pay those huge allowances. It has not been reduced. That is the issue and government can only earn that trust through small steps,” he said.

There is a dilemma here. To earn the people’s trust requires time, which Jonathan’s government does not appear to have in abundance. The federal government needs to move fast to resolve the stalemate. This is why many stress the need for labour and government to reach a consensus so that the country can move forward.


Adejuwon Soyinka

Adejuwon Soyinka

Adejuwon Soyinka is a Senior Assistant Editor/Head, Features desk and member, Editorial board of TELL Magazine. He is a journalist and writer with over 11 years experience. A graduate of the Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and International Relations, Soyinka also took professional journalism training at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Ogba, Lagos. He also holds a diploma in Law degree from the Lagos State University.
Soyinka started his career as a journalist at TELL, Nigeria’s foremost investigative news magazine in 1999. He has over the years, had the privilege of networking and interacting with key individuals in virtually every sector of the Nigerian economy.
As a journalist, Soyinka has reported almost all the major sectors of the Nigerian society, economy and politics. In the process, he has been able to develop very robust relationships with individuals and organizations cutting across the various segments of the society both in the private and public sectors.
He has also worked at The PUNCH Newspaper as a Senior Correspondent from May, 2006 to July 2007. During this period, Soyinka reported health, education as well as wrote feature stories on subject areas like science, health, education and other development issues.
The rich, deep and varying degree of Soyinka’s experience can be aptly demonstrated by mentioning the fact that he won the Aviation sector reporter of the year award at the 2006 Nigerian Media Merit Award (NMMA). At the same event, he was equally adjudged runner up for the Political Reporter of the year award. Soyinka was also runner up Political reporter of the year award, NMMA, 2005, runner up Environment Reporter of the Year, 2007 and 2009, NMMA; winner, Professor Wole Soyinka Prize for Investigative Reporting, 2009, winner, Capital Market reporter of the year award, 2009; Winner, NMMA, Environment reporter of the Year Award and Winner, NMMA, Human Rights Reporter of Year Award both in 2010 among others.
He also had the privilege of taking a six-month break from active journalism between January and May, 2006 to work with an International development organization with a lot of experience in the Nigerian oil and gas sector.
During this period, his responsibilities were two-fold: Manage a portfolio of oil companies to whom he provided community relations/media consultancy services and drive a process of change in information management within the organization.
As a news manager, Soyinka is currently responsible for the coordination of the Features desk of TELL magazine. He is also directly responsible for generating story ideas and editing stories to be published in the Front of the Book, FOB and Back of the Book, BOB sections of the magazine, which includes every other story published by the magazine except the Cover story, Business stories and Politics, the other broad sections of the magazine.
Soyinka is married to Adebukola CEO, JADES communications Limited and the marriage is blessed with two girls and a boy.


We suspended strike, mass protests to avoid massacre —Owei Lakemfa

Against the popular belief, the Acting General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Owei Lakemfa, in this exclusive interview with our Assistant Editor, Soji-Eze Fagbemi,  revealed the main reasons behind the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and NLC’s suspension of the general strike and mass protests against the fuel subsidy removal, even when their demand for reversal to N65 per litre was not met.
Comrade, in terms of success or otherwise, how will you describe the last general strike and mass protests over the removal of fuel subsidy by President Goodluck Jonathan?
The last strike and mass protests came at a huge cost in human lives. We are still compiling the figures of those who died and those that were injured, but the country has lost at least about 25 persons. The deaths were avoidable; take for instance the youths that were playing football and were shot by the police. So, it was a challenging period for all of us and we want to ensure that they did not die in vain and that those that were injured also do not suffer in vain.
In the process, Nigerians showed that sovereignty belongs to them and re-asserted such sovereignty. The message they sent out is that no government can take them for granted and we know that that basic lesson has been learnt by this administration and also by politicians who may aspire to public office. The third thing is that the government was made to shift its position which they had earlier said could not be reversed. The Nigerian people through their mass actions have shown that they can move mountains.
Another point is about corruption especially in the oil sector, because the oil sector is corruption-ridden, in fact the other name for the oil sector is corruption. We are trying to push the government and the government is saying that there is nothing they can do about it. But we are saying no, you can do something about it, Nigerians should not be made to suffer for such corruption in the sector. Now, the government has asked the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to move in and they are probing.
The House of Representatives is also doing a good job through the Hon. Faruk Lawan Committee and we can see the revelations. In fact, all the government agencies have various versions of all that is happening.
What has happened is that the truth is the major casualty in all these. We did not know how many litres of fuel, PMS we consume in this country. We have disputed the figures that it is up to 34 or 35 million litre per day and we said we want a practical demonstration to find out how we consume about 34 or 35 million litres a day. And that is what the government said; even the minister of petroleum gave those figures that we are consuming those figures of fuel in a day.
The presidency has given those figures, only for the Petroleum Products’ Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) to now come out to say that they are paying for 59 million litres a day. So, you can see the monumental fraud there. The Customs have come out to say that they don’t know anything about the importation in the oil industry.
That they are told to stay clear, so they don’t know or have anything about the bill of lading for ships bringing PMS to Nigeria. And so we have scored successes in those ones, and of course in showing that the N1.34 trillion the government has been claiming to be spending on subsidy is false.
The Minister of Petroleum last week admitted under oath in the House of Representative that the N1.34 trillion the government was talking about included payment for 2009 and 2010 and not the 2011 they are claiming. She also admitted that even out of that N1.34 trillion, at least N300 billion of it went for kerosene subsidy and not for PMS.
So, we have some of those gains that we have better information. Of course, the NLC along with the TUC had stated this when we met the President, that many of the claims by the Finance Minister, Mrs Okonjo Iweala, were false, that they had manipulated figures to suit their purpose and the cabals in the oil industry. At that point, the President had told us that ‘okay, we would want you to disprove us by bringing your own statistics.’
But as you can see, even the government itself had admitted that these things are fraudulent. For instance the Kolade Committee that is supposed to implement the SURE Programme is supposed to be working on some figures. Out of the N1.34 trillion, about N500 billion would go to the Federal Government but as you can see, there is no N1.3 trillion in the first place.
So, we think these are gains and what we need to do is consolidate on those gains.  That is why we are going to engage the Alfa Belgore Committee which the government has set up, and we are also telling Nigerians, please don’t give up. Don’t just let these eight days protests end like this. If you have information, bring out. Let us continue to push, because what those eight days show is that we as Nigerians, in unity of purpose, we can bring about a change in our country, better governance is the basic thing we should evolve.
Initially, you demanded for a reversal to N65 per litre but the government merely reduced it to N97. Why did you suspend the strike when government did not meet your demand?
In the first place, we stopped the protests and rallies before the President even announced anything. As the organisers of those mass actions, as the people who have mobilised and brought tens of millions of Nigerians on the streets, at every given time, we are to analyse information that was coming in. Get information, analyse it and take decisions and one thing that was paramount in our mind is that we must do this thing peacefully and that there must be no loss of lives or even injuries.
That was paramount to us, but we knew that the government, the forces we are confronting, might not have such mind and might want to shoot, which happened in a number of cases. Secondly, we were quite conscious of the security situation in the country and that was why we warned the government months before that we have security challenges in Nigeria that are very serious like the bombings going on in most parts of the North, armed robbers that have taken over many states in the West, and kidnappers in the South-South and the South-East. We told government that ‘there were these security challenges, so don’t compound it by carrying out a policy that will mobilise the people solidly against you, because that time, you will then divert attention from the issue.’ And that was what happened, the entire government attentions, security forces, the Armed Forces, Police and State Security were diverted to the issue of strikes and protests, leaving the primary issue of security. So, we had mentioned those issues.
We continued to analyse the situation and by Saturday it was clear that the government was going for broke. By Sunday morning, we knew it was.
It was at that time we knew that the government had called all the governors together; we knew they are going for broke. Shortly before that meeting, we got hints that the Armed Forces had been let loose to go into the cities like Lagos, Abuja and Kano and take them over by force, get protesters off the street. We knew the Army was not going to use tear-gas, they are not going to use sticks or batons, we knew they were not going to use water cannons or rubber bullets; that they were going to use life ammunitions.
So that Sunday, we had to debate until the early hours of Monday, till past 2 a.m.; we had to discuss and debate whether we should stand, ask the people to continue protesting on the streets and confront the soldiers, police, the Navy and the Air Force who were there to shoot and kill which could then result in a massacre. It is not as if we thought that if there was a massacre, therefore the government would win, no!  We knew that that point is a point of no return that anything could happen.
So the government was really ready to kill?
That was why they sent out soldiers. When you send out soldiers to seize streets from determined people, you are not sending them to go and hold a rally or negotiations, you are sending them to go and shoot and kill. And so, we had to debate and discuss whether we should risk that or begin immediate demobilisation, get people off the streets and go on with the small gains we have got including the lesson learnt. We debated that, it was a major thing and we thought as at that 2.30 a.m. on Monday morning, 16 January, that we should ask for a tactical withdrawal of Nigerians from the streets with our heads held high. So, it had nothing to do with the price of a litre of fuel at that point. In any case, this was announced the next day. It was not whether they offered us N97, no! We did not negotiate with the government, we did not. Hopefully now, we would go on and negotiate.
From what you can read on the social networks, many Nigerians are already blaming labour, accusing labour of collecting money to suspend the strike, how will you enlighten them to know the truth?
We don’t need to let anybody know whether we collected money or not, it is not an issue, because if it was about money, then we didn’t need to go on strike in the first place. If it was about money, then we wouldn’t have to let the strike linger for more than one day when it was very clear that Nigerians were angry and the government knew it. But you see, Nigerians have become quite sceptical. They would just think that nothing will happen without money. But I have told you what the issue was.
We had an obligation that we led Nigerians in their millions out on the streets; we had the duties and obligation to bring them back to their homes and their offices.
You said you were not in agreement with the Federal Government on the fixed N97 per litre of fuel?
Yes.  We didn’t negotiate anything with them.
So, what is the way forward?
The way forward for us is that these revelations can also lead us to our own conviction that N65 was too high for us to pay in the first place. These revelations, provided the government is also interested, can lead the Belgore Committee in a different direction from the so called withdrawal of fuel subsidy. They might just find out that there is no subsidy in the first place, or as it has been shown in the House of Representatives, that the subsidy is mainly about fraud. About fuel that did not come into this country which they know because if the Minister of Petroleum and in fact the Presidency come out to say that we are consuming 34 million but in trying to find out whether it is true and the PPPRA says it is 59 million they are paying for, do you need anybody to tell you that it is all a fraudulent venture? And the whole thing about the PPPRA template is also a padded thing.
So, you are going to engage the Belgore Committee?
Beyond the Belgore Committee, we are also going to engage government and put pressure for good governance. The President of the country had addressed the nation and told us they are going to cut the cost of governance.
We would be pursuing that to ensure that the cost of governance is actually cut. The President of the country has told us that he is going to go after economic saboteurs who are destroying our economy, causing economy adversity, so we would have to follow this up to ensure that is done. The President of the country has said they would cleanse the oil industry; we are interested in cleansing the oil industry.
What are you presenting before the committee?
Which committee?
The Belgore Committee?
As you know, there are all sorts of facts that are available. Even if we are not going to bring our own fact, if we are going to rely on government facts, facts presented by the petroleum minister, by the NNPC, by the PPPRA, facts presented by Customs, by NEITI, they just show that the whole thing is just a fraudulent venture. Even if we are just going to use the facts presented by government agencies and government’s spokespersons, you know it is fraudulent.
Then of course we have our own facts, and we also have statistics that show that if we are going to refine fuel, we may not pay more than N40 per litre. We are going to present that fact to government, let them disprove it. If we are going to import fuel, we also may not pay up to N65.
Despite the suspension of the general strike and mass rallies by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), some groups of people still want to continue. What is labour’s conclusion on this?
The labour movement has led those protests and strikes and we have had this modest success. Any where any day, we will hold our heads high. We do not owe apology to anybody for our decision to stop a massacre on our streets. Now, there are some bodies, associations or politicians that said ‘no you shouldn`t have done that and we are going on with the fight,’ we say please go on, you have the constitutional and fundamental human rights to go on. We embarked on strikes and protests; we are not stopping anybody from doing that.
We are saying that we do not have the same objectives. Labour is not interested in regime change or change of government; we are interested in ensuring that governance is better, that we participate in the act of governance.
We are interested in a better country, we are interested in pushing our leaders, we are interested in insisting before the leadership of this country in accordance with Section 14 of the Nigerian Constitution that sovereignty belongs to the Nigeria people.
We are interested in fundamental human rights, we are interested in cutting the cost of governance, we are interested in ridding our country of corruption to the barest minimum and on all those we insist.
If there is need for a change of government, let us go to the ballot box through our constitution. The NLC and the TUC are not interested in changing government through any means except through the constitution.
But when you know these things initially, why did you allow those people making such statements to be part of the labour rallies and mass protests?     
When we mobilised Nigerians, we said please come out on the streets and ventilate your feelings, organise protests in your communities, organise rallies, organise street protests in your cities and wherever you are, go on strike, shut the markets, shut air space, shut the roads, shut the country, shut the ports. However, we did not say people of certain political inclination, or politicians are excluded because these people, as far as labour is concerned, are Nigerians.
They and their political parties have the rights to demand for a change, for a replacement of government; what we just insisted on is that they should do it through the ballot box. So if a party comes out and say ‘if we are power we will not allow this kind of things to happen, in fact, if we come to power we are going to reverse this whole thing, they have the right to converse.’ We were not going to, and we are still not going to start censorship to decide what A can say and what B cannot say. No, the NLC is not interested in that.
Nigerians are free people; they have the right to canvass their position. We just say as labour, we want this position, if we are going to have a change, let it be through the ballot box.
With your continued engagement with government from now, do you still see the possibility that the fuel price can come down from the present N97 in the near future?
We are asking government to be led by facts, not by conclusion. So, if you go through the facts and we come into conclusion that the price of fuel should be lower, even lower than N65, there is no reason why government should not accept. Secondly, we are saying that there is nothing wrong in any manner with subsidy.
It is not a crime, in fact it should be part of governance to subsidise your people in various ways, especially in a sector as vital as the oil sector, which has immediate implication and can affect the people negatively. That in line with any type of economy system, we must have a comparative advantage for what we produce, and so when they say market forces, we say no, if we produce oil, then we must have some benefits for producing it. After all, we are suffering from economic problems, environmental degradation, disruption of our waters, of our wells, of our farms and the air we breathe and so you cannot come and tell me that we are going to get the same thing as the non-oil producers are getting. So, there is nothing wrong in subsidy.
From my understanding of the issue, it is not that labour is totally against deregulation, but from time, labour has been demanding for certain things to…(cuts in)
What is deregulation? Deregulation for Nigerian government is increase in fuel price, so it is not deregulation.
But you are canvassing for certain things to be on ground, such as good and effective transportation system, adequate power supply and the rest before subsidy can be tampered with?
We are even saying that those are basic needs.
Electricity is not a new technology and all modern countries whether it is China, USA, Germany or Russia have developed using electricity. Electricity is not something that should not be affordable, electricity is a need, so it makes sense for any government to provide electricity. Not just a provision but also to ensure it is extremely cheap and can be used by people for development. The same thing about roads, people should be able to move around.
The same thing about mass transit, you cannot have a country of 167 million people and you do not have a mass transit system like rail to move people from one point to the other. So you don’t even need the whole issue of fuel subsidy withdrawal or any battle about fuel to provide these things.
They are basic needs and it is a shame for any government to come out and say because we are going to provide this, so we withdraw this. Don’t forget we have budgetary provisions, what are they used for.