Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Man of the People 1.

I remember reading “A man of the people” by Chinua Achebe when I was in SS3. For some reason that book has stuck with me. I think about Nigeria and I remember a “Man of the People”. To my mind, the book is a must read (i.e: go get a copy or borrow from a library). Though Achebe wrote the book in 1966, the story still rings true in 2012. For all its chauvinistic flaws, there are many lessons to be learnt from the book and this post is my first sermon.
In the book Odili (the co- protagonist) recognizes the ironic nature of our system-where we know the misdeeds of politicians especially with public funds yet we rationalize their actions. He said “As I stood in the corner of that vast tumult waiting for the arrival of the minister, I felt intense bitterness welling up in my mouth. Here were silly ignorant villagers dancing themselves lame and waiting to blow off their gun powder in honor of one of those who had started the country off down the slopes of inflation. I wished for a miracle, for a voice of thunder to hush this ridiculous crowd and tell the poor contemptuous people one or two truths. But of course it would be quite useless. They were not only ignorant but cynical. Tell them that this man had used his position to enrich himself and they would ask you- as my father did- if you thought that a sensible man would spit out the juicy morsel that good fortune placed in his mouth”. 
The only difference between Nigerians and the villagers is that we know those who enrich themselves corruptly but say things like “at least he/she is working”,  “if you get there you would do the same”, “that is the way our system is… it is not the people”. Some people even argue that the Bible says that you eat from where you work! (In all the Bible translations I have read, I am still looking for that verse). Last week, Delta State government’s comment on the Ibori sentencing was that “it is a private matter”. Really! The man stole money that belongs to the people of Delta State. 
 As a people, we cannot move forward if we encourage greed and dishonesty. Considering the outrage against PDP in January, it was surprising that PDP won re-elections in Kebbi, Bayelsa, Cross River, Adamawa and Sokoto States. What does this say about us? This tells me that we "love" the people that lead us. We encourage our politicians to be corrupt and not do as they should when we do not hold them accountable by voting out those who do not perform. We encourage our politicians to be corrupt when we expect and demand that they pay our children school fees, cater for our parties and attend to our sundry needs. We encourage them to be corrupt when we roll out congratulatory adverts for them in return for future favors. We encourage them to be corrupt when we arrange thanksgiving services and chieftaincy titles for the newly appointed. We forget that the system of waiting for your turn i.e. waiting for your person to get there so you can have your share of the “national cake” is not sustainable. For instance, "my person" is in government for 8 years. After his/her turn is over, what then? We insult and ridicule politicians who are not corrupt and want to go by the book. I can never forget the accusations against Chief Bisi Akande when he was governor of Osun State. His crime was he was too honest and he got voted out of power. We praise people who are corrupt and cry witch hunting and tribalism if a “our person” is accused of corruption. It is amazing the way corruption is defended and saddening that clerics have joined the bandwagon. 
 Why do we encourage our politicians to be corrupt? We do it because we are selfish and we support selfishness. Case in point: in the book was when Odili was campaigning against Chief Nanga and the police men in the village said they would support Chief Nanga because they “get some crumbs” from him. 
 We need to do away with this selfishness-what-is-in-it-for-me, leave-as-is-I-am – enjoying attitude. There are ways we can address this problem of selfishness. First as individuals we need to rethink our idea of self interest and may be develop “enlightened self interest” if not for anything but to save the decadence already caused by the need to know somebody before a service, a job, a contract, or a scholarship can be secured. There is a peace of mind that comes from knowing that a system is fair and just. Secondly, as a very religious people who are quick to call God into everything. Our clerics need to take a stance on corruption and walk their talk. It is not just preaching against corruption, it is refusing to honour and acknowledge people those who are corrupt. Maybe then who lead us would realize that they do not have to steal public funds for their fourth generation. 

 On another note: It is commendable that people are using new media to demand accountability by the government especially on the fuel subsidy report. This report I believe proves the success of the occupy riots. However, twitter and facebook would not make GEJ sack any minister. Why? Because those who are truly affected ( I am not saying that people like me are not affected by the level of graft on this issue but there more people worse off than we are) are really not bothered to demand accountability by the government. I think it is time for civil society to make market women, artisans and “villagers” understand the need to look beyond their daily survival and demand for a change.

Monday, April 16, 2012

NASS, CPC and consumer rights



    Where I come from, there is this proverb translated as “It is God that chases flies for the tail-less cow”. It is safe to assume that in Nigeria, if you do not have connections,only God would fight for you. One can also make it a daily prayer that influential Nigerians should suffer the indignities regular Nigerians suffer so that these indignities are addressed. My beef on this issue relates to consumer rights and the helplessness of the tailless Nigerian. Three examples suffice. About three weeks ago, 125 Nigerians were deported from Oliver Thambo airport, South Africa for carrying “fraudulent yellow cards”. This issue escalated and was addressed by the government mainly because a Nigerian senator was among the deportees. It is common knowledge that South Africa is a xenophobic country and Nigerians are/have being/been mistreated in that country. However, the Nigerian government did not address the abuse of her citizens until a senator was involved. Second, the House of Representatives recently summoned Hyundai motors to explain why a faulty car was sold to a former representative. Is the National Assembly so caring that it now protects consumer rights? Third, I purchased a black berry phone with a one-year warranty from an authorized dealer. After two weeks of using the phone, it stopped working. I returned it to the manufacturer for repairs and/or replacement. After the run around the company gave me I resorted to using the police and an arrest to get a new phone.
   These examples illustrate the disorderly nature of our system where there are no structures and processes and where the use of might makes right. One would think that there are no consumer protection agencies in Nigeria with the way customers and clients are exploited and treated by organizations in Nigeria. However, it is interesting to note that there is a Consumer Protection Council in Nigeria. A function of this council is “providing speedy redress to consumers complaints through negotiation, mediation and conciliation”.
    On the paper this organization is the answer to the prayers of Nigerians but in reality, the organization is not as effective as it should/can be. Remember that I had issues with a phone dealer. I tried to contact CPC on their hotlines to no end. No one picked. If the defender is not available, how does one get redress? A second issue is that the organization has its hands in many pies. Some of the functions of CPC are also carried out by organizations such as Stanadard Organization of Nigeria (SON) and National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) resulting in duplication of functions. Third is that there are no contacts of responsible persons that an aggrieved customer can reach. On the website of the organization, you can send in a complaint. You receive a generic your-case-has-been-received-and –would- be- treated reply. However, there is no Chidi or Sola @cpc.gov.ng that I can reach if I do not get any response from the organization. The fourth issue with CPC is that of awareness. A considerable number of Nigerians do not even know the organization exists. The institution has to work on making itself known so can it can cater to its target audience- Nigerian consumers
    For CPC to function effectively, its role should be streamlined to consumer protection in the areas of exploitation, redress and advocacy.The organization can do this by:
- Ensuring that industries including government agencies have standards how clients and cases should be treated. Remember the stale pie you bought at an eatery and when you went back to complain you were told nothing can be done because you already paid for it or the meal you ordered did not look as advertised but you still had to pay for it. CPC can ensure that the food services industry bear the cost of their “off days”. 
- Promoting a retail  culture in the country: the organization can build trust among customers and businesses by building a retail culture  tilted initially in favour of the consumer. How many times have you bought something you want to return but cannot because “all goods bought cannot be returned or exchanged”?
-Visibility: the organization should create awareness not by jingles and adverts but by making public examples of offending businesses and organizations. I would be more likely to report an issue if I learn that MTN was penalized for authorized withdrawal of customer’s airtime or that Park n Shop was penalized for poor customer service.
   If CPC gets its acts together and is able to streamline its mandates and carry out these mandates effectively and efficiently, all Nigerians regardless of their social and economic connections and statuses would be protected from exploitation and one of the many  problems of Nigeria  would be checked off.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Boko Haram: Is the Nigerian Government this helpless?

After about three weeks of respite, Boko Haram (BH) struck again. Nigerian security agencies anticipated these  attacks and stated that adequate security would be provided and they were ready to quell BH attacks. Yet, BH struck successfully. The Easter sunday attacks in Kaduna left between thirty to fifty people dead.
Two things are known about BH. First is they are not spirits, they are known. President Jonathan has said so himself. Second is that  BH menace is political. For instance, how do we explain why BH, an organization against western education, is suddenly concerned with the pay of legislators and has issued threats to the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC)? or that they attack christians and defenseless people and not the pillagers of their communities?
There is nothing to say or write about BH that has not been said or written. I wonder if the government is truly helpless in containing this group or if the government is unwilling addressing this problem. There are many conspiracy theories I can think of on why the government has failed to effectively deal with BH. Methinks that the government does not truly care.  It would be saddening if all these lives are lost and the government begins an amnesty program to "reform" BH members. It would be truly sad.