[ Masterweb Reports ] - Senator Theodore Ahamefule Orji, representing Abia Central Senatorial District at the Red Chamber, in this interview with journalists in Abuja, speaks on the just concluded PDP ward, local government and state congresses, the party’s forthcoming national convention, the candidacy of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, problems created by Fulani herdsmen, among other issues.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ward, local government and state congresses held without any rancour. As a good party man, what were your observations?
Well, as a good party man I participated in the congresses at the ward, local government and state levels. And my impression about it is that this concept we have about rebuilding PDP is working. You see that our own was peaceful, there was no fight, there was no rancor. I believe that that should be the spirit that should, at least, guide PDP, now that we want to rebuild the party. Because we have learnt from our previous mistakes. You cannot bring a candidate and insist it must be this candidate. No. You don’t do it nowadays because this is democracy. Even if you have a candidate in mind, you have to bring a candidate who is generally accepted, a candidate that will perform, a candidate that the people will vote for. That is what democracy is all about. It’s not about impunity, it’s not about imposition. So, I think we are learning now and we are learning very fast.
But PDP at the national level seems to be having some problems as some groups are calling for the cancellation of the planned national convention of the party. What is your take on this development?
These things are things that are expected in a party that has a lot of people with diverse interests. In PDP, we know that we now have an Acting National Chairman in the person of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff. If he participates in the election for the party’s chairmanship position in the forthcoming national convention and emerges victorious and his victory is ratified, in accordance with PDP laws, he automatically becomes the National Chairman. When such happens I will implore all members of the party to support him, to move the party forward. If he doesn’t win, he knows the right thing to do, which is to hand over to the winner of the chairmanship position. So far, we have seen in him that he has the passion to rebuild the party. Let us give him the chance to try his best, especially now that he has agreed to be with the PDP. He has come with all his mind and heart, so we should accept him and give him all the support to rebuild the party. This is a time to rebuild and not to diversify. Therefore all I’m saying is that we should allow Sheriff to rebuild this party and let us watch him. If there is anywhere that he is not doing well, he should be cautioned and if he continues, the laws are there to remove him. But as at now, let us squarely focus on rebuilding the party and not creating different factions in the party that will divide us the more. All the factions should come together to build a united PDP.
What are the qualities that you see in Senator Ali Modu Sheriff that makes you think that he will deliver at the end of the day?
He has the experience. This is a man who has been governor. This is a man who has severally been elected senator and he has been in many parties. This thing they are saying that he has been to many parties, is an advantage to us in PDP, because he has garnered experience in ANPP and other parties. At least he knew and knows, as of now, the problems in those parties. And certain things will continue recurring in political parties as far as political parties are concerned. So if it occurs in PDP, with his experience he can handle it.
Now, a man who has made up his mind finally to come to the PDP, we shouldn’t seriously doubt his sincerity. And apart from having the capacity, the mental capacity and the experience to lead the party, he has the resources also to assist PDP now that we are no longer in the central government where people can help you out voluntarily because you are in central government. So I know he can help the party out to the extent that he can.
Recently, the Fulani herdsmen wreaked havoc in some parts of the country killing and destroying properties worth millions of naira. Some people are suggesting that grazing land should be allocated to the them. What is your position on this?
My position on this is guided by the position of my people where I come from. I’m a Nigerian, I agree, but I come from the South-east. And if you go around the South-east, you will know that there is no person who supports this issue of allowing cattle to come and graze freely because they come and destroy the farms. We are basically farmers and we guard our farms jealously plus the land, because land is very precious to us. We don’t have that expanse of land, so whichever that is yours, you guard it jealously. So it is very painful when you see cattle coming to graze freely on your limited, scarce farmland. And these cattle rearers come with impunity, carrying guns, threatening to kill you if you disturb them. That shouldn’t be tolerated in this country. Cattle rearing is a private business. Cattle rearing I know very well, when we were very small in Umuahia where I was born, there was one Alhaji Bako Mohammed. He lived in Umuahia, his business was selling cattle. He will go to Kano and buy a lot of cattle, put them on the train, because the railway was very efficient then. So, they will transport them straight to Umuahia, they will off load them in Umuahia Gariki. He had herdsmen whom he pays, who will now take care of the cattle. These cattle will graze and there wasn’t any trouble here. We lived harmoniously with them, and after grazing they can now transport them to Port Harcourt and sell and kill and the meat will go to every person. That was the system that time. Even if any cow strayed and entered any farm, you don’t start fighting with the herdsman. You just go to Alhaji Bako Mohammed, he will call them to order. Why is that type of thing not happening again? And the point I want to stress here is that these cattle are owned by wealthy people. They are not owned by these people who follow the cattle and take them to graze. Rich men own the cattle. Do you know how much AK47 costs? It’s wealthy men that buy these guns and give to herdsmen. So I don’t support the idea of free grazing. What I know is that cattle rearing is a private business; they should leave the private sector to drive it. These wealthy men who own these cows should go and buy land and develop ranches where these cattle will stay and feed and people will go there and buy thecattle for their use. Or if the government wants to come into it, then government should look towards the arid areas and import grasses to feed the cattle. It’s done in Israel. There are some deserts that are now fertile in Israel. Let them make those places fertile and grow grasses so that these animals can go there and graze. Let them not come to other areas that are peaceful, in terms of grazing, because we also graze in this part of the country. You know we rear sheep and goat and we know how to deal with such. You don’t allow them to enter the farm, you keep them in your house, in the morning,you take them to an open bush, not the farm, tie them to trees and allow them to feed. In the evening, you come and take them back. That one doesn’t cause any harm to any person. But, now, to allow your animal to go into another person’s farm to destroy his property and your own will be safe is unacceptable. Nobody will accept that. So my own suggestion is that private people should go and establish ranches.
But is it true that there is a grazing bill before the Senate?
There is no bill like that in the Senate. The senators were highly embarrassed when our numbers appeared in an online media outfit. So they picked our numbers from there and started bombarding us with insults. “Ah you are there and this type of bill is on and you are not doing anything. Okay finish and come home.” Some of them will say “okay you are there, we will recall you”. There were all sorts of insults and we started looking for the bill, but there was no bill like that in the Senate. The rumour was so much that Senator Abaribe had to raise the issue in one of our plenary sessions, which helped to douse the situation. And to those who were phoning me, I was explaining plainly to them without insulting any person. But some people on social media used that to castigate some senators, even myself. One girl called me one day and, while I was explaining to her, the woman charged. I didn’t know her. The next thing she did was to write my name that I was supporting the grazing bill, a bill that was nonexistent in the Senate. So that is part and parcel of the blackmail. Politicians are used to blackmail but eventually, one day, the truth will surface.
President Muhammadu Buhari recently signed the 2016 Budget into law. What are your expectations?
What we expect is that the budget should be religiously implemented, and it’s the executive that will implement the budget, not the Senate. On our own part, what we will do is to intensify our own oversight functions to help the executive to ensure that the budget is religiously implemented, to benefit the generality of Nigerians, especially the poor people. That is my expectation. Mr. President has signed the budget, the budget now is a legal document. The next thing is religious implementation. Let the executive implement the budget. The legislature will do their oversight function to assist the executive to ensure that the budget is well implemented for the benefits of all Nigerians.
You are the Deputy Chairman Senate Committee on Agriculture, what should Nigerians expect from this important sector of the country’s economy now that the budget has finally been signed into law by Mr. President?
Of course every person is now aware that agriculture is the Sector that hardly disappoints if well handled. The other day I was watching a programme where somebody mentioned an amount that is in the reserve of a country outside Africa and 80 per cent of that amount came from agriculture. If such a thing can happen in other countries why can’t it happen in Nigeria, where God has given us fertile land and also the human resources to cultivate the land, and the intellect also to do that. So we expect a revolution to start in agriculture from this budget. We should be in a position to feed ourselves without depending on imported food and the budget has taken care of some of those areas that can make this possible. Farmers at least will have facilities at reduced cost, where they can access finance and farm inputs provided it is put into agriculture. The government also has programmes to assist farmers by making farming attractive. Let’s feed ourselves first then if there is any surplus we can export. So this budget has, to a large extent, taken care of some of the problems we are having in the agricultural sector and I believe with proper implementation we will get the dividends.
As a governor you established what was called Liberation Farms in the three senatorial districts of Abia State. Are you thinking of introducing this policy to the national level?
Of course, when I was governor I made an impact on agriculture. For sure throughout my period as governor I produced the best cocoa farmer in Nigeria. Each time we went for agricultural exhibition, Chief David Onyeweaku will come first in the production of cocoa. And I brought this concept of establishing farms on senatorial zones. We called them Liberation Farms. We will go to one senatorial zone and the community will give us large hectares of land and people from that locality and zone will be employed to establish a farm, that will be in tandem with what that senatorial zone produces. We also got experts and trained manpower for those farms and they started working. I established one in Abia South senatorial zone, did one in Abia Central and did another one in Abia North. For that of Abia South we looked at palm, cash crops. In Abia Central it was cocoa, palm, cassava, rubber and vegetables. In Abia North we looked at rice, and rubber plantation, the farms were doing very well; it didn’t cost us a lot of money. The money it cost us was in terms of paying the staff and the agriculture inputs. So it’s an idea that could be sold to the federal government. And as we are there in the agriculture committee, when the opportunity comes, we will chip in such ideas and any other fresh idea that will, at least, improve agriculture.
Your Bill on Food Security was well received by senators. Can you throw more light on this bill?
Of course the importance of agriculture has made people to shift attention to that and you have to make laws that will at least make food production to be of priority. So that Food Security Bill that I sponsored is a bill that will ensure that food reaches every person. It will remove hunger. There are people who are hungry in this country. There are people who cannot afford two good meals in a day, the poor in the village. So the bill is aimed at making sure that they get what they can eat, including those who are disabled, including women who are mothers who are breastfeeding their babies. So it’s a bill that is very dear to me and I’m happy that it was received very well in the Senate and once it’s passed into law and implemented you will see the result. It will be for the benefit of every person both the rich and the poor.
You are a member of Senate Committee on Health. Recently the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile Ife, performed six successful open heart surgeries. How do you feel about this breakthrough?
It’s interesting but that is not the first time. I know that they have had open heart surgery in Lagos. That will show you that we have Nigerians who are ready to do very well in the medical sector. If you go to the US, to the UK, most of the Doctors who are working in those big teaching hospitals are Nigerians. They are using their talents to develop other countries and we want them to come back and help out. But those Doctors who are here need just the push, the facilities, the incentives and you will see that they will excel. That one in OAU is a typical example of that. Give them the little incentive, give them the equipment and make the environment very conducive for them you will see that they will perform. As it’s done in OAU, so also it will be done in Nsukka, done in Ibadan, done in Maiduguri, done in Kano or Sokoto where you have teaching hospitals. So we are happy with that because, you see, there are lot ailments nowadays. I know that Nigerians have tried to venture into areas of curative medicine. So if they have the conducive environment, if they have the incentives, if they have the facilities, they will excel. So I encourage them. When I was Governor of Abia State, I established a Specialist Hospital in Umuahia with the best diagnostic centres that extended to Aba. The Hospital is equipped with the most modern diagnostic equipment like MRI etc, a dialysis centre with five new dialysis machines, an eye centre with equipment comparable to the ones in Jons Hopkins Hospital, a Heart centre with the appropriate equipment and a children centre. This hospital attracted people from far and wide, and the Nigerian Medical and Dental Council inspected and certified the place as a training place for one year internship for new medical Doctors. Well-equipped hostels were also built for the fresh Doctors and allowances paid to them. This reduced the burden of fresh Doctors looking for a place of placement before proceeding for the NYSC programme.
As Governor, we built 712 health centres on the whole all to encourage health care delivery. Therefore every person should try in his capacity to encourage health care and the practitioners, Doctors, Nurses, etc.
*Photo Caption - Senator T. A. Orji
[ Masterweb Reports ] - The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has been thrown into confusion over who the real founder and leader of the group is, The Sun reports.
This comes on the heels of allegations by the former president-general of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Dr. Dozie Ikedife that Nnamdi Kanu is neither the founder nor leader of IPOB as he claimed.
Ikedife, in an interview stated that Kanu is only the director of Radio Biafra and adopted the acronym IPOB to operate.
He added that they were the people that founded IPOB as the Supreme Council of the Indigenous People of Biafra and has been used as the Bilie Human Rights Initiative.
But in a swift reaction to Ikedife claims, Emma Powerful, the media and publicity secretary of IPOB said the group under Kanu condemned Bilie Human Rights Initiative.
Powerful said: “The statement on the pages of newspapers that Kanu is not the leader of IPOB is not true.
“Bilie, meaning Biafra Liberation in Exile, now claiming to be a human rights organisation was formed abroad as freedom fighters in exile until IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu appointed Dr. Dozie Ikedife and other members of the elders forum of IPOB on advisory ground.
“When the elders forum and Ikedife started campaigning for APC in 2014, Kanu dissolved the forum and told them to stop using Biafra’s name to campaign for any political party. Ikedife is talking from both sides of his mouth.”
Kanu, director of Radio Biafra and the leader of the IPOB was arrested in Lagos in October 2015 on conspiracy and terrorism charges, which were later dropped. He is now standing trial on six counts of treasonable felony charges.
*Photo Caption - Dr. Dozie Ikedife
[ Masterweb Reports: Ismail Adebayo reports ] - The Emir of Zuru, Dr. Muhammadu Sani Sami, Gomo the II, has condemned the agitation for the Republic of Biafra, saying it is uncalled for. The emir in a statement said: “We all remember the tragic by-product of the war from 1967-1970, which led to loss of lives and grounded economy in its wake”.
He added that it was sad to note that people were wasting their potentials. “This is unacceptable and I call on all well-meaning Nigerians to continue to demonstrate their disapproval of such agitations,” he said.
The emir also decried what he described as menace of the Almajiris. He called on the legislative arm of government in respective states to enact laws that would ensure restriction of the children.
“In the current Almajiri system of education, parents send their children far away from them, where they become exposed to all psychological and emotional vulnerabilities of life,” the emir said.
He urged governors of states in the North to collaborate with traditional rulers to provide a result oriented approach to the Almajiri system by integrating it into conventional government schools.
The emir further urged Nigerians to be patient with President Muhammadu Buhari, saying that he has the political will-power to change the socio-economic and political landscape of the country. “We do know that PMB is capable, given his track record,” he said.
Ismail Adebayo reports from Birnin, Kebbi State.
The Emir of Zuru, Maj-General Dr. Muhammadu Sani Sami (rtd) last year in December in Zuru on the 20th anniversary on the throne as the Emir of Zuru spoke to John Ogiji on a wide range of issues. When asked about the agitation for Biafra, the emir said: "So many Nigerians have voiced out their opinion on this issue, but I don’t think there is any need for such agitations now within the country, because we have had nasty experiences in the past.
"We fought a civil war, for example, which claimed so many souls in Nigeria. We have leant our lessons, we know our differences, we know what to do and we had demanded the creation of states just to bring development to the people within the country.
"So, some of these agitations, I think, are uncalled for. Why should we go back to what we have done before? They want us go and fight another civil war again? What are we agitating for?
"If you have some things that the government has not done for you, come out and say it. You have your representatives both at the Senate and the House Representatives and you have your elders that you can channel your grievances through.
"So, so why don’t you explore those avenues? Why should you take to the street to start killing yourself for nothing?
"My advice is that the elders from the Southeast States should sit down and re-examine this thing, so that it doesn’t get out of hands. Let us not make another mistake again."
Below is Ogiji's report on his encounter with the emir -
Q. Congratulations on your 20th anniversary on the throne as the Emir of Zuru. From the barracks to the palace, how has the experience being in the last 20 years?
A. Well, very interesting. I was in the Nigerian Army for over 30 years.
I join the army in 1962 when I left the secondary Government College Bida, along with Generals Ibrahim Babangida, Abdulsalami Abubakar, General Mohammadu Magoro, Mamman Vatsa, Col. Sani Bello and so many others. I can tell you that we had a fulfilled military career.
So, after serving for 30 years, I retired and became a businessman in Kaduna and was doing very well and comfortable until I answered the call of my people to come and serve them at home, to become the Emir of Zuru, which am serving now.
I became the emir in 1995 and now I am 20 years on the throne. I give thanks to Almighty Allah.
I can tell you the experience is a wonderful one, because I enjoy working for my people, I like helping the needy and helping to improve the quality of life to the people.
I have spent a lot of my meagre resources to do that and I am happy doing it for my people.
Q. How have you been able to achieve peace among your people in the last 20 years?
A. I don’t want to blow my trumpet, but with experiences I have had in the military, as an ex-military governor of Benue, Sokoto and Bauchi states, and again as Chief of Staff, United Nations (UN) forces in Southern Lebanon, as well as other military responsibilities, coming home to serve my people in a small emirate shouldn’t be a difficult thing.
So, when I came in, I observed so many things among my people, including poverty, illiteracy and superstitious beliefs and these constituted a lot of security challenges, because these were causing friction among the people, especially among Christians and Muslims.
So, I decided to sit down and introduced inter-religious committee within the emirate headed my some prominent people in the emirate and which members were drawn from both Christians and Muslims.
That took care of all the religious frictions that we were having in Zuru, which died a natural death and since then, we have been living peacefully in Zuru Emirate.
I also did the same thing in the area of security, because before now, we were having serious security challenges here in Zuru. I sat down with all the security agents (agencies) and I asked why we were having security challenges and we were able to identify the reasons, worked on them and we have peace now.
Despite the calibre of people that Zuru has produced, development is still slow here.
Q. What are you doing to mobilise sons and daughters of Zuru to ensure meaningful development of the emirate?
A. Again, having achieved peace in the domain, the next thing was how to mobilise the people to tackle the challenges facing us and in doing that, we decided to constitute different committees and associations.
Right now, we have elders meeting in my Council. We have the Zuru Emirate Council meeting and we have an association that is given much responsibilities- Zuru Emirate Development Society.
So, we meet regularly with our elites to discuss developmental issues as it affect the emirate.
It came to a point that we agreed with the elites and we gave them assignment on what to do in Zuru. They can to see that we have started development the town, giving it a face-lift.
These are done by our elites willingly and in addition to this, I task them to always identify with their communities, because everybody has a village. They should identify with their communities and see what they can do for it.
Honestly, many of them have done a lot of things for their communities and the emirate has introduced a reward for anyone who has done something good for his or her community.
In addition, it may interest you to know that at my individual level, I floated a non-governmental organisation (NGO) called Sami HIV/AIDS Trust, which has been working in the area for the past seven years now, because of the high rate of the disease in my domain.
I decided to do this because we don’t want to lose our youths, who are very productive in agriculture and so many other things, so I have to float the organisation and I can tell you that awareness is very high here.
Q. What can you say about the current agitation by pro-Biafran agitators in the Southeast?
A. So many Nigerians have voiced out their opinion on this issue, but I don’t think there is any need for such agitations now within the country, because we have had nasty experiences in the past.
We fought a civil war, for example, which claimed so many souls in Nigeria. We have leant our lessons, we know our differences, we know what to do and we had demanded the creation of states just to bring development to the people within the country.
So, some of these agitations, I think, are uncalled for. Why should we go back to what we have done before? They want us go and fight another civil war again? What are we agitating for?
If you have some things that the government has not done for you, come out and say it. You have your representatives both at the Senate and the House Representatives and you have your elders that you can channel your grievances through.
So, so why don’t you explore those avenues? Why should you take to the street to start killing yourself for nothing?
My advice is that the elders from the Southeast States should sit down and re-examine this thing, so that it doesn’t get out of hands. Let us not make another mistake again.
Q. What can you say about Boko Haram?
A. The case of Boko Haram, yes, so many people have said a lot about Boko Haram, even some western countries have also advanced reasons such groups come up.
But I think it is poverty and illiteracy that is worrying people in these areas, and I think we should be able to address these problems.
Boko Haram was a religious sect that started under the watch of so many political leaders who do nothing about it.
We have had such experience before, the Maitasine in Kano, which was engineered by some politicians and the Army quelled it. I was part of those who did, because I was in 1 Division then. But the one in the northeast was unprecedented.
If the people in that zone had done their homework early enough, especially in Borno State, to suppress this sect called Boko Haram, it wouldn’t have escalate to this level.
We shouldn’t have allowed it to escalate beyond Borno state; we should have stopped it, by doing the right thing to settle those young boys.
I am one of the few people today who does not believe in the mobility of these people called Almajiri within our northern region particularly. Why should we allow Almajiri? Somebody from Maiduguri to come to Zuru, for instance, to come and learn Quranic school? Why? Don’t you have Quranic school there? Don’t we have mallams there? Don’t you have a local government there that can take care of these things?
I think our governors should sit down and re-examine themselves and stop mobility of these children. Every local government should hold its Almajiri and resettle them and do the correct thing, instead of allowing them to go to long places, giving wrong interpretation of this religion.
You have a mallam sitting down in his village with four wives and maybe 30 children. He doesn’t know what to do with them, so what he does at the end of the day is to distribute the children all over the place to go and fend for themselves.
That should be stopped, because we have passed that age now in this country. This is what is bringing about Boko Haram.
Q. With your experience in the military, why do think the fight against Boko Haram is taking this long?
A. There was a problem of insincerity, I am sorry to say. The former administration didn’t tackle it properly, and you can see what is coming out of the investigation that this administration is doing, how funds meant for the purchase of weapons to assist the military to quell the insurgence were diverted.
So, I think there was insincerity in the whole operation against Boko Haram, but now that President Muhammadu Buhari has come on board with a change slogan, things are changing quickly, the military ae being trained and equipped and being motivated to fight. They now know that they have a common enemy now.
So, very soon, the war will be over. Boko Haram don’t have any chain of command now anywhere. What they are doing now is gorilla warfare.
Q. Does it disturb you that most people involved in the arms deal are military men?
A. I don’t think that is correct. Yes, some military men were involved, but quite a number of politicians who know nothing about weapons were given contracts to purchase weapons and these contracts were not executed.
Again, some of the few military chiefs were insincere and greedy and didn’t do the right thing. The military was supposed to be clean and do the right thing, but it was only during our time that we did that. These days, I don’t know what is happening, so many things went wrong.
During the last administration, there were a lot of lies told to the public about the operation, equipment on the ground and the rest.
Those people were contractors, they were businessmen in uniform, stealing our money and doing nothing. A well-trained professional and properly disciplined military man will not do that.
Q. Don’t you think that this would affect the morale of the military, especially those on the battlefield?
A. No! How does it affect the morale of the military? Come to think of it, we have the Service Chiefs who should be able to work out all these things.
So, what happened was done for a purpose and that is why we are having this problem now because a lot of things were done by unprofessional people, not the military.
Unfortunately some few military men were co-opted into it to be able perfect the stealing of public funds in the name of arms purchase.
Q. As military administrator of Bauchi State in 1983, you introduced what you called back to land programme, which is one of your major achievements. What do think is wrong with our agriculture today?
A. Every administration gives it a name and mine was back to land, but it is not the name that matters; it is sincerity of purpose.
We depend so much on oil in this country and we are being told that it is a time to diversify, as oil will dry up one day.
This is agriculture; that is the main occupation in this country, but abandoned because we have a cheap source of funds. That is why we are having serious problem today.
But I am happy that the President, who is all out for a change, will do something about it. Recently, he came and commissioned an agricultural project in Birnin Kebbi sponsored by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
We have to diversify our economy. That is the only thing we have to do now. Relying solely on oil is deceitful.
In 1982 in Kuru, Plateau State, I produced a paper on local revenue generation and when I came on board as emir, I organised a seminar, invited some intellectuals from Kuru and Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria and we produced a very fine paper for the state, so that they go into revenue generation locally.
But nobody is looking at one;, we wait for federal government to send money. We must go back to land, if we must do well as a nation that is the only solution.
Q. What is your assessment of the present administration?
A. I think the President is on the right path, especially his anti-corruption campaign, the recovery of public funds from these thieves, which he is pursuing vigorously now and I leant he has recovered some funds, running into billions naira, for a start.
It is going to be tedious exercise, but I am sure the President, with the cooperation of Nigerians, will recover more money that could be used for development.
Again, the present administration is trusted by the outside world, they believed in Buhari very well, because he is honest and straight-forward, an achiever and a very disciplined military officer with great respect.
I have worked with him right from when I was a second lieutenant, so I know what he can do. He is a very dependable leader.
Let Nigerians support the man. He can take us to places; all he needs is support from all Nigerians.
*Photo Caption - Dr. Muhammadu Sani Sami, Emir of Zuru, Zuru LGA, Kebbi State.
[ Masterweb Reports ] - Tessie Nkechi Udegboka is the Executive Director of Whispering Hope Africa Initiative (WHAI) – a nonprofit organization that caters for poor women and people living with HIV (PLHIV), among other endeavours. Masterweb reporters on learning of Tessie Nkechi Udegboka’s selection as one of the participants in President Barrack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), met her at her Obosi, Anambra State base for a chat. Below is her story on the YALI:
It started in 2013 when I came across the YALI, Young African Leaders Initiative launched by President Barrack Obama. I went online, studied the initiative and application details, and then started working on the application questions. It took me not less than 11 days and some sleepless nights to complete and put finishing touches to my application. I submitted my application with the track on Civic Leadership focusing on my non-profit project activities.
My hope was high; I was counting days and hallucinating of been selected unlike my typical self, when I submit applications or proposals, I forget about them. Six months gone; I was neither shortlisted as a semi-finalist nor the finalist. It was highly disappointing and frustrating considering the number of days and sleepless nights it took me to work on the application.
In 2014, YALI announced its application opening again. Taking into account the bulk of work I have at hand then, the wakeful nights to work on the application which at the end won’t be shortlisted, I refused to apply. I shared the application links on the social media and encouraged every qualified youth on my network to apply. Though I didn’t apply in 2014, I followed and celebrated those who were selected.
In 2015, the US government announced the opening of Mandela Washington Fellowship (MWF) application submission. I hurriedly shared the link to my email contacts and on social media pages and encouraged youths to apply. Three youths on my network list did apply. They sent me their application draft for editing. Despite my busy schedule, I made out time, over two weeks to work on and edited their application answers. Though discovered they didn’t meet up with the years of experience required, I didn’t discourage them, rather was happy they attempted to apply.
From editing three people’s applications, I started getting inspirations, the track to go for and ideas on how to apply for mine. The deadline was fast approaching, yet I haven’t started the application process, rather was busy putting finishing touches to other persons application. A fellow Tech Camper and lecturer at Olabisi Olabanjo University (OOU), Ogbomoso, Akande Noah commented on the YALI application link shared on my timeline. He said the program is for me, hoping that I had applied. I replied not yet, that he should apply first.
Three days to the deadline, I started answering the essay questions that required deep thoughts and brain storming. I changed from Civic Leadership to Business and Entrepreneurship track. For 3 consecutive days, I worked on my application; got fresh new ideas daily on how best to answer the essay questions. Each day I see a new meaning to the same question and kept re-writing as the inspiration comes. So please do not be straight jacketed in answering such questions. I finally submitted few minutes before the application portal closed.
Typically, I do not submit/apply for opportunities and put my mind on them. I got engaged with the numerous other projects, activities and writing facing me and forgot about everything about YALI.
One certain Tuesday afternoon while at work with my staff, an SMS came in with an unknown MTN; “You are invited for an interview … ” I laughed and told my staff “see 419 message". I immediately deleted the message, admonishing them to be wary of such fraudulent messages inviting people for job interviews. There was MWF on the text but can’t figure out what it meant.
I DON’T BELIVE IN DREAMS
I’m a known unbeliever of dreams. Close friends and family know I don’t believe or act based on my dreams. I do dream but trash them immediately I get up from bed whether good or bad, I don’t bother praying over a dream I had. None of my dreams has come to fruition ,thus never put my mind on any.
After the Tuesday I deleted the ‘419’ SMS. My step-mum on Thursday morning called me and shared a bad dream she had on Wednesday night about something negative. I laughed over it and asked her I also had a rubbish dream last night; a nonsense dream I wouldn’t share with anyone but because she has shared hers, let me share mine.
I had a dream where President Barrack Obama invited me to USA. He took his time teaching me in a room after which we moved to another classroom, showing and teaching me things. While the president was busy and serious with what he was teaching me; I was busy looking for someone to take a photo of I and President Obama. I tried, couldn’t get anyone take us pictures and in the process of still searching, I woke up and sadly nobody took a photo of us.
I laughed and told my step-mother is a nonsense dream so has trashed it. That was on Thursday and the following day, Friday, at the close of work, got an email from @state.gov asking me to confirm immediately my availability for MWF/YALI interview the next Tuesday, congratulating me for been shortlisted as a semi-finalist.
I ran to my co-workers who where there when I deleted the SMS on Tuesday that it wasn’t a fraud; is real and that the e-mail has confirmed it. I looked at myself; I shortlisted? What did I write that will warrant this village woman from the semi-urban and working in the rural communities been shortlisted? I grabbed my laptop to get a copy of the submitted application form. I searched and searched my system, not seeing the copy of my application, rather saw the three I edited for others. I continued with the random searching on my laptop and lastly found it.
The next day, Saturday, something flashed through my mind and linked this YALI interview news to the dream I had about I with President Obama. I quickly picked my phone and called my step-mum, informing her about the interview and the dream I shared with her two days ago. I told her I’m scared for I don’t believe in my dreams and none has come to pass but let’s watch and see.
THE INTERVIEW EXPERIENCE
I prepared well for the interview except for the dress code. I wear and dress African, so I don’t have any corporate wear to put on and late for me to look for one. I visited and liked YALI Facebook page. Read blogs and shared experiences of past MWF semi-finalists. I got good insights which helped me know what the interview looks like.
I got to the interview venue, Barrack Obama, American Corner, an hour before the time allocated to me. I met three other applicants waiting for their turn. I was given an attendance sheet. Scanning through the sheet, I realized the day was for the applicants from Anambra state and there were about seven of us. None of the applicants communicated a word to each other. A video documentary was been shown on the TV screen which wasn’t of interest to me. However, whenever, it ended, it was been replayed again and again. A second thought crossed my mind: how am I sure some interview questions won’t come from this documentary video? I forced myself to pay attention to understand the documentary.
A staff of the US Embassy came in and asked if I’m Udegboka , I said yes, and noted something on the paper he had at hand. I observed that applicants, who went in for the interview, don’t come out again and so it strategically planned that interviewed applicants leave through another route and wont cross path with yet-to-be interviewed ones.
As my own time approaches; I said a short prayer, asking God to put words into my mouth, knowing I’m not good at verbal communications. I write well but may not verbally communicate well what I’ve written down. Next, I was called in. I met the interview panel of 4 US embassy staff, 3 Americans and one Nigerian. I was greeted with, “Congratulations, you were one of the 600 shortlisted out of the 10,500 applications reviewed, so congrats for making it this far” They introduced themselves and asked for my identity card. “We would like to know more of what you do, but please be brief with your answers as we have more others to interview and there is stipulated time to spend with you”, I was told. Then, the questions started flowing which I discovered; they have copies of my application form /essay answer handy with them.
How did you come about working with people living with HIV (PLHIV) and the stigmatization issues surrounding it?
In my application, didn’t mention of been a public health nurse. With the question, I seized the opportunity and shared my experience as a Couple/HIV Counselor under the then GHAIN Project of Family Health International (FHI). I reeled out relevant challenges, terminologies, acronyms and activities of the project, which they nodded in affirmation. I also shared my achievement and breakthroughs I had while working in the sector.
How come you are now into entrepreneurship and tell us more about HBSK.
ARVs are provided free for the PLHIV, however some of them find it difficult accessing the treatment. No organization then caters for their welfare. I looked at myself, not financially buoyant to be giving them money, so I thought of establishing a venture that will offer sustainable income to the people. I came across a product 80% of African women consume; been produced in USA where only about 20% women there use it. I travelled to Ghana, Burkina faso and Malawi discovered same one brand from USA serving the African countries. Since majority of Africans consume this product, why can’t we produce it here?
This led me into Research and Development (R&D) and discovered two of the raw materials used are been gotten from Africa. I relocated to the slums, formed a working team and HBSK is 50% ready to hit the market but lacked investors. Most potential investors asked I import the product from China to make quick money, I stubbornly refused. The idea of the venture is to impact the African economy and satisfy my passion of creating direct and indirect employment to PLHIV and unemployed semiurban residents, contribute to the labour force and nation’s economy. Asked if I have patented the kit, I said no but have already enquired from the Ministry of Trade and Commerce but yet to begin the patency process. They advised I patent it first.
I established a Resource Center, where semi-urban/rural residents walk in to get equipped for free and through which I mentor, train women and youth groups on information technology, personal and career/entrepreneurship developments.
In three words, how would your staff and colleagues describe you?
I paused for long, not sure of what to say. I stammered to say something as I forced words into my mouth. Next thing I heard was, “it’s ok, our time is up”. I was ushered to leave the room; however, I refused to leave and requested to ask some questions. “Oh! Sorry, please go ahead with your questions”. I had three questions to ask but respecting I have been told my time is up, I asked one: Why is it that investors do not like investing in a social enterprise? They took their time to explain. I quietly left the room unhappy that I have messed myself up for stammering to answer two of the questions asked. People asked me, how was the interview, fine but the best 600 have been interviewed, so I can’t really say I have performed well.
I was in Abuja for PoizeMedia training sponsored by Google and on the 22nd of March 2016, I had another dream. My Governor, His Excellency Willie Obiano, in company of his Principal Secretary paid an unannounced visit to my place of work.
A minute after they arrived, I came in. I didn’t let them in into the office; rather, we stood outside and was having a chat. I told the governor how I raised N10M to establish a venture, he was not happy and satisfy with that, rather asked it is not enough, he is concerned about my capability and skill to manage the venture. His Secretary whispered I tell the Governor about my selection into the President Obama’s Initiative.
I quickly responded before the Governor that I have not been finally selected, so can’t talk about it. All the while we chat, had my phone on my hand waiting for the time to have a photo with my Working Governor. Time to take the photos, I can’t find my phone any more, looked and searched around; I woke up and find my hand stretching round on the bed looking to grab my phone to take a shot with the Governor.
I said to myself, what a funny dream? I scripted the dream, less I forget it and later in the day shared it with the Governor’s Secretary. The only question he asked me was; “When was the last time you treated Malaria?” I said I have never been ill of malaria, thus don’t treat it. “So, it’s likely is malaria this time, please go and treat it” he said.
In the evening of the same day while in the Google training class, an SMS came in, now with customized name, ‘US Embassy’ notifying me I have been finally chosen to participate in the 2016 Mandela Washington Fellowship. I became disorganized in the class and kept mute to myself and others the rest of the day, meditating and reflecting on these entire scenarios shared.
Are dreams real? Should I start believing in my dream?
*Photo Caption - Ms. Tessie Nkechi Udegboka
[ Masterweb Reports ] - The APC national chairman, Chief John Odigie Oyegun was in Madrid Spain on March 4, 2016 to meet with the APC supporters Spain chapter. The group led by Steven Adeayo Tella and their spokesperson and media director Prince Kelly Udebhulu hosted the chairman to a dinner party and press session. The press session was covered by Masterweb Special Correspondent - Spain and the Daily Independent foreign correspondent, Uchendu Precious Onuoha, and media crew from Zenith magazine. Below are the excerpts of the interview with Chief Oyegun with Onuoha.
Que. As the chairman of APC the ruling party in Nigeria, what are your achievements and challenges so far?
Ans. I would say am lucky and privileged to be the first national chairman of course there was one interim chairman before. It was a privilege to be entrusted with that respect. I am running a party that rose up from the ashes of 3 to 4 other major parties, the ACN, NDP, CPC, part of APGA and others. And they turned it into a fighting force, of course with the intense cooperation of a lot of other major stakeholders of the party; we were able to turn it into a fighting force that succeeded in upstaging the government that was in office at that time which a lot of people thought and believed until the last minute it was not doable. For obvious reasons, it has never happened before, because they had access to so much resources and patronage that a lot of people thought it was undoable. But the good thing is that at that time, the Nigerian public was generally fed up with 16 years of PDP government.
The Nigerian public wanted a new direction, the Nigerian public was yearning for integrity, they needed leaders they could trust in governance and leaders they could believe in. On top of the stage so to say was such a personality in the person of Muhammadu Buhari, who is now president of the nation. And it was so clear, it was so obvious that he was the kind of person the nation needed at this period, a man who is transparent, obviously incorruptible, a man of very strong will and mind. And the only person who had the type of courage that it takes like we are experiencing today to tackle the MONSTER called corruption. I would say, it has been a pleasure, a wonderful experience, tough and difficult. I had to rely majorly on the compassionate cooperation of other stakeholders that together made the victory possible.
Que. Many Nigerians in Spain and diaspora are affected by the economic downturn of their host countries. Many are distressed and want go back home. Is there any plan on ground back home to rehabilitate such people?
Ans. I don’t know about rehabilitating those coming back home. But coming to join the struggle to change Nigeria, yes, and no question about that, they are very welcome. Talking about the economic downturn, it’s obvious that this is a worldwide phenomenon. Most nations of the world are experiencing economic difficulties. The Nigerian hazards originated from mis-government over 16 years ago. The lack of vision, the lack of direction, the lack of that will to build a nation and create something that was not there before. To be precise, the PDP government seems to have been contented within this period sitting on the resources that we have, distributing it, consuming it without creating for the future, without building for the future, without putting the economy on the footing for a sustainable growth. That was the period we have excess crude account. Meaning that we had more money coming in than we have planned from the price of crude our main export. The time crude was sold 130 to $140/barrel. We had that kind of money, but we did not plan, we did not build a single petro-chemical complex, we did not build a single refinery, instead even in the midst of plenty, we were still importing refined crude.
That was how visionless and totally plan less the situation was before APC took over. So to come back directly to your question, we too, apart from that plan less-ness, we also are victims of this major collapse of the price of crude from 140 to 30 dollars a barrel which is over 70% drop. So as fathers, just imagine what happens when you go to work and at the end of the month you come back with an income 70% less than what you have been used to. That has put us today in a situation of lack of infrastructures and total lack of facilities. So if you are coming, you know you are coming to join the major struggle to rebuild the foundations of our nation. Our nation is potentially great, make no mistake about that, we are resource blessed, there’s no question about that. And with the type of leadership we have now, we are going to rebuild that foundation. But what I emphasize is that, like you are experiencing here, these are hard times. So the choice is yours, do you want to come home, come and join the struggle there won’t be any bed of roses, one has to be practical, and there won’t be any soft landing. The foundations have been badly fractured that we have to rebuild. Once we get it right, the sky is the limit for Nigeria. That is the only thing one can offer.
Que. We have an array of Nigerian professionals in diaspora, how can the government harness this opportunity to turn the issue of brain drain in Nigeria into brain gain?
Ans. There is no question at all, those of you professionals abroad, this is really the time your knowledge, skills, experience and expertise are required because this is not the age of professional politicians per say. We need technocrats to get us out of the mess the economy has been plunged into. So for those of you that have specialized knowledge and skills, this is the time and you must hasten otherwise we are not going to make the kind of progress at the rate we must put in place for our country to recover.
Que. What plans are in process for Nigerians in diaspora to vote in the next dispensation?
Ans. That time will come, it will happen. You have heard the commitment of Buhari’s administration to the slogan we are shouting everyday which is, change. Again we have to fundamentally change the society and our attitude to politics and re-establish respect for right and disdain for what is wrong. We must establish respect basically for due process and rule of law. You can see that the electioneering has just been through, some of the cases are just been concluded in Rivers state, Bayelsa, Abia, Akwa Ibom. Cases which were visited with a lot of violence. Most cases went to Supreme Court for those who lost because of the nature of the electoral process. To be plain, to venture into that it has to be technically fraught to dangers and abuses and not for politicians to reap where they did not sow. The change we are now beginning to put in place is one of the thing that will go paripasu when we start to respect right and condemnation for wrong. There is no question at all given the large diaspora population that we have. What I have noticed here is the kind of passion with which you people have embraced this idea of change. It would be wrong to say NO, we cannot extend the possibility of diaspora voting, but the time must be right and the atmosphere must be right.
Que. Do you think the new trend where election victories are decided by the courts will augur well for the Nigerian democracy?
Ans. Let me say this in general terms then I go back to the APC change, the general Mantra, the challenges that are presently facing the regime. What is important is that the president believes strictly in the rule of law, strictly in enforcing existing laws. I am sure those of you who visit very often must have come across this talk that the APC say they have won the election but they are not behaving as if they are in power, meaning that people still have this old concept that power is having a sledge hammer and smashing everybody who is in your path. But the president is dedicating himself to due process and respect for rule of law. So he is shunning the big stick so to say and believes strongly that you can change society only when you have changed people’s attitude and it becomes second nature for them to do what is right and shun what is wrong. It’s going to be tough and difficult process, but it’s the only way we can depart from the past where might was right and unfortunately it sticked in the entire society. But the Buhari’s government is going to be very strict in enforcing due process, strict on the rule of law without respecter of persons. If you fail foul of the law, you pay the price whoever you are. There will be no exemptions and nobody is going to be too big to be touched. That is the only way change can become permanent. But it’s a longer route, the road we are travelling.
Que. Before coming to Spain, what was your impression about Nigerians in Spain?
Ans. I knew there is a very active and large Nigerian population here facing the struggles of life and the rest of it. I knew also there was an active APC wing here, one of the most active worldwide that I have experienced and that is why I chose to come here. I know that the economy worldwide is taking a tumble and I know you people are affected like people anywhere else. But the important thing is that in the midst of that, you have held your head very high and still truncating in social positive activities which are contributing in projecting the image of our country particularly at this time. So far I know it’s not yet “Uhuru” but I am impressed by the road that you are travelling.
Que. As APC national chairman and leader what advise do you have for other leaders in implementing youth empowerment policies?
Ans. The issue of youth is inevitability. It is inevitable because whether we like it or not, the youth at a certain stage are the inheritance of the nation. And everyone must endeavor to create opportunities for them and instill hope into their lives. Nothing like a youthful population that has lost hope. So they must always be engaged, they must always be challenged. The call in part of government is improving and restoring hope to the youths of the nation.
*Photo Caption - Chief John Odigie Oyegun
[ Masterweb Reports: Tony Adibe reports on Interview with Rev Fr Mbaka ] - Rev Fr Camillus Ejike Mbaka is the founder and spiritual director of Adoration Ministry Enugu, Nigeria (AMEN). In this interview, he speaks of his recent encounter with President Muhammadu Buhari, what transpired between him and Mrs. Patience Jonathan when she visited his ministry ahead of the 2015 general elections and many other issues. Excerpts:
What happened between you and President Muhammadu Buhari during your visit to the Presidential Villa?
Buhari assured me of good governance but his worry is democratic bureaucracy. If not for democratic bureaucracy, this country could have been a country for which everybody will say ‘Nagode Allah’ (I thank God), ‘Masha Allah’ (thank God for what this man has done), ‘Insha Allah’ (by the grace of God). But now, he has to pass through the Senate and the House of Reps. So, it’s no longer like when he was Buhari the military Head of State with Tunde Idiagbon. But Buhari still has the same spirit, the same enthusiasm, the same forcefulness, the same will power, the same determination to put Nigeria on the platform of excellence, but there is bureaucratic bottleneck. So, with an oath, Buhari assured me of giving Nigeria good governance.
Are you satisfied with what he has done so far?
It’s too early to judge Buhari, going by what we’ve seen in the past governments. But so far, Buhari has done very well. Look at the case of moral probity, how he, without mincing words, said no to same sex marriage. It’s immoral, it’s unnatural, and it’s un-African. Buhari said it’s not debatable in Nigeria, he said man should marry a woman and a woman should go and be married to a man. This is because, if sodomy and lesbianism and homosexuality are approved in Nigeria, the country will be in trouble. They are worse than economic collapse; because the bedrock of every successful country is her morality.
So if Buhari is touching the heart of the country, which is moral probity and enhancing spiritual value, he has succeeded. Number two, look at the issue of Boko Haram; here’s somebody who came to fight terrorism even though there’re skeletal attacks here and there, but the issue of “Boko Haramic” forces operating with flags and taking over some parts of the country, is dead. So, Buhari has succeeded, Kudos to him, no matter how other people are seeing in him, they must learn to see the good part of him.
He’s doing his best but Nigerians must do their best, too. Buhari cannot be in Abuja and be in Enugu or be in Ebonyi and be in Nasarawa or Kogi. All of us should be presidents in our own little way. We should clap for him, even if he has not gotten it 100 percent, 98 percent is not a small mark.
Now, come to the area of corruption, for the first time, the untouchables in Nigeria are being touched. Courageously, he’s moving like a lion, not to gain anything from it but to save Nigeria from sinking.
Take for instance, if it’s not someone like Buhari that’s at the helm of affairs, by now Nigeria would have been a country going for sale, going, going, going…gone. By now, Ghana must be pricing us, Ivory Coast will be pricing us, Cameroon and even Togo would have come to say “how can we buy you people?”
But the faith, assurance and guaranty Buhari is giving to the international community is worth more than a lot of things. They see him as a man that’s trustworthy, a man that’s not corrupt, a man that they can invest in his government or country, and they’ll go and sleep. And that’s why foreigners are coming to invest. People are now waiting for the budget so the country can kick off.
It’s the budget that’s slowing down things. And you cannot blame Buhari on the budget, neither can you blame the House of Reps or the Senate on the budget delay because there is fluctuation in the core source of the budget - oil. Today, oil is $29 per barrel; tomorrow it is $27 and before you know it, it comes to $31. But remember, the bench mark is $38. So, how can the budget be approved? Which means the budget, under this present predicament is unrealistic. Buhari was realistic when he made it but the economic decay and collapse has put everybody off balance. But, as I said, he’s fighting, saying corruption must die; his agenda is crusade against corruption. And can you imagine that it’s the same people who wanted to continue to rule us that embezzled 99 percent of the country’s resources, sending the money abroad. Is that not wickedness?
For me, it’s a rape of the economy. The past governments raped Nigeria. All of them should be kneeling down with their hands up, apologizing from morning till night that they should be pardoned. They raped our morality, they raped our economy, and they raped our security, they raped our spirituality because they gathered even the men of God to be singing for them, and they were giving them money. It is a holistic rape of a country.
The way you often fall out with politicians make people to wonder why you’re against them…
Politicians want to make themselves god and I’m serving God. I’m a servant of God. I’m worried when somebody becomes an idol to be worshipped and makes himself a sacred cow that cannot be touched. I’m not against politicians. Politics is not evil, and not all politicians are evil. There’re some good people in politics. I encourage Christians to join politics with good heart; it’s only good people that can change the country. Even if you’re not a Christian, and you’re a good man, join the government.
Let’s go a bit back to when Mrs. Patience Jonathan visited the Adoration Ministry. You prayed for her and poured oil on her head. And not long afterwards people alleged that you requested for money and her phone number, and when those things were not provided you changed your mind. Can you tell us what actually happened between you and her?
Praise the Lord. I’m just laughing because many people try to enter into areas they don’t know anything about. Prophetic life is a life that is spiritual and the Holy Spirit controls that atmosphere.
So, when it comes to prophetic life, it should be an area that should be left for the person who has the spirit of prophecy. It’s not a lay man’s football field for people to play in. It’s not even a journalistic field to rattle words. It’s the spiritual zone that the unschooled in it can enter and if you don’t know how to swim, you can be drowned inside.
Right from my primary school, God has been using me for prophesy. In the case of Jonathan and his wife, God in heaven knows that apart from the offertory the woman gave on the altar, which I knew the amount, I took that amount and put back inside the same bag that one of the former aides of Jonathan brought - small bag filled with dollars in appreciation of, not as bribe.
But the Holy Spirit said, ‘send back this money’. She didn’t give it to me directly. She gave it through somebody and I returned the whole money plus the one she used for offertory, all of them were returned. There is no kobo of Mrs. Jonathan or Jonathan in my hand; the Holy Spirit rejected all of them.
When the saga was going on, I put my hands on the altar and swore an oath that if I ever touched Jonathan’s one kobo, may he win the election, but if I never did and I am being accused of it, God knows he will fail the election.
I demanded the telephone number, not for any personal encounter but so that if any message comes I can give to her privately. Some prophecies should not be made public, but when the person that should receive it privately inhibits the opportunity of giving it to him or her privately, God may force you to air it publicly because the thing burns like fire in your life. I don’t take bribe from anybody.
God blessed me o. Many people think that I’m living by the people’s offertory. Throughout my 18 years in GRA, I never fed with one kobo from the offertory. I’m a musician. I have released some music and they are multi-million naira worth of musical works, and my music is a gift just like this prophecy. I go to bed to sleep and the songs come. I wake up and I’ll remember. I don’t even know how to write solfa notation. It’s just a gift but I’ve taken an oath that whatever God will give to me, I’ll use it for charity; to help the poor, the less privileged and to assist the ministry and the church.
So, what am I collecting money from Mrs. Jonathan to do? If I need money from them, I know what was offered me; it ought not to be that kind of money. When the saga was going on, some people said I was given N5m, but if I tell you the amount of money in the bag they came with, you’ll drop that tape-recorder you are holding. What happened on the altar that day, we were praying for them to win the election o. I didn’t give any message. I didn’t prophesy on the day the woman (Mrs. Jonathan) came.
I prayed for them because they came for prayer. But the message on 31st night (December) was pure prophecy, undiluted, just like the prophecy of 31st December 2013 that the Nigerian oil boom is going to turn to oil doom. That Jonathan should wake up and diversify our economy; that in no distant time our naira would have a problem while our oil would fall in the international oil market. Let us maximize the boom time to be ready to face the oil doom period.
The analogy given then was Joseph in Genesis 49:19 that he continued to gather and gather until there was more than enough, but nobody listened. Many men of God started criticizing me. Why can’t you do your own prophecy and go? I never criticized any man of God because of his message, if it’s true, let it come to pass. If it’s not true, let it be the way you and your God will understand it.
Tony Adibe reports from Enugu, Enugu State.
*Photo Caption - Rev. Fr. Ejike Camillus Mbaka
[ Masterweb Reports: An Interview With Dr Kusum Gopal by Iftikhar Ahmad ] - Many of us Afghans are extremely fearful of what the next day will bring. The bombs and shootings continue to cause us great anguish. Our entire region has been desecrated, there is so much suffering and sadness caused by the ongoing forty years of civil wars, political catastrophes beginning with the Soviet occupation and natural calamities such as the drought, famine which has forced over ten million of us to seek refuge outside. Our religious leaders, tribal chiefs, Elders and our parents, those of whom are alive and whom we respect and love are not being consulted although we know their wisdom is priceless. We have deep love for our land, and we want to regain our glory. We want to become once again strong, independent and in control of our destinies. We want to go to bed waking up with the knowledge that not just the next day, but the weeks, months, decades if not the century will bring hope and joy in our hearts and our mothers can smile again! We want to live together in peace and harmony as we used to, to return to the certainty we value. In this context I spoke to Dr. Kusum Gopal after an informative lecture she gave at Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi. She believes that peaceful governance and prosperity in this region can only happen if correct political solutions are applied through a deep understanding of our history, our culture, our hopes and dreams. Dr. Kusum Gopal, an anthropologist who has served as a United Nations Expert and Technical Advisor to government agencies, is also revising her previously published manuscript on Afghanistan, now tentatively titled “Charting Afghanistan, the heart of Asia; learning from her heritage and wisdom”.
Q: Why Do You Say That Afghanistan Is The Heart Of Asia? And Could You Elaborate On Our Early Culture, Our Heritage As You Describe It?
A: That Afghanistan is the heart of Asia was observed since the earliest recorded history. Written accounts since Plutarch to the Emperor Babur and more recently, for example by Allama Muhammad Iqbal indicate how this region has been held with great sacredness and respect. For over two thousand years, the open-frontier traditions of Afghanistan have determined the pulse, the rhythm of the Indian Subcontinent-- whatever is happening here affects the rest of the region, profoundly. The Khyber Pass has remained the main conduit for the movement of peoples, trade, armies and, new communities across this ancient terrain. Indeed, its civilizations have been powerfully influenced by the geography and historical affinity with the Indian Subcontinent to which it is tied to in perpetuity reflected in customs, belief systems, the common cuisine, attire, indeed, dance such as the attan, and music. Straddling the Hindu Kush makes for significant connections between inner and outer Asia, thus with the Iranian plateau and, unified cultures of Central Asia. These powerful confluences led to pluralistic engagements informed by syncreticism unique to the Subcontinent. Balkh, for example was the birthplace of Zoroaster: Zoroastrianism flourished alongside Buddhism. Indeed, Balkh was also the birthplace of Jalauddin Rumi. There are valuable written sources such as the Pata Khazana, containing Pashto poetry from over two thousand years. Some other famous poets from the region are Khushal Khan Khattak, Rahman Baba, Ahmad Shah Durrani,Timur Shah Durrani, Shuja Shah Durrani, Al-Afghani, Ghulam Muhammad Tarzi, Ghulam Habib Nawabi, Massoud Nawabi and women poets such as Rabia Balkhi and Nazo Tokhi. These compilations are a testament to the powerful written traditions and pluralism of this region. Indeed, the tragic fates of Laila Majnun and Sohrab Rustom are an integral part of the folklore of India as much as Afghanistan.
Archaeologists working in this region have noted that this region – 5000 years ago had integral connections with the Indus Valley civilisation. As a matter of fact many ancient temples and mosques can be found in this region from the Hinglaj in Baluchistan formerly part of the Afghan territory -- and extending into Sindh. This region remained connected with all Empires in India whether it was the Indo Greeks, the Indo Bactrian Empire or Mauryan rule --Emperor Asoka placed stupas here with inscriptions in Aramaic, the official language of the Achaemenid Empire) and build palaces, libraries, gardens in Kandahar; also, building roads from Kabul to Punjab connecting to the Gangetic plains. This region has been significant to the Silk route. During the Mughals knowledge transmission and cultural syncreticism remained characteristic of the Subcontinent where inspite of later political dissensions – collapse of the Mughal Empire -- boundaries did not exist.
Integral to open –frontier traditions has been acceptance, for example is suli or bond brotherhood is to forge voluntarily kinship relations between different ethnic groups and individuals through formal adoption of one by the other mainly by the offer of sanctuary, intermarriage, offer of material goods, of land made explicit through sophisticated ceremonial rituals of mutual hospitality of Pukhtunwali. For example, Alexander the great was offered a wife whom he married called Rukhsana as indeed later on the Arabs such as Osama Bin Laden who came here during the Cold war. Pukhtunwali is based on ancient principles of moral authority and etiquette founded on several interrelated institutions and concepts: traditions of hospitality, melmastia contained in Mehrman Palineh defining meraneh or codes of manhood such as imandaari (righteousness), sabat (steadfastness), ghairat (of property), namus protecting women and purdah. Purdah is incorrectly interpreted as seclusion of women- it refers to virtuous living and good domesticity. These belief systems extended far beyond Pakhtun cultural arena into the Subcontinent—zan, zar zameen. The connectedness with the rest of the Subcontinent is reflected in its belief sytems: nasib or fate is seen to depend on the divine who is paramount: everyone’s fate nasib is determined by Allah on the basis of his merit, circumstances, and capabilities. . . Each one stands in his own place and position, and hence all people should be grateful to Allah...The proper attitude of every Afghan should be gratitude, for it is Allah who has determined one’s position in life and gives blessings --ni`mat. Arrogance or kibr cannot be respected as such people are gharur. These forms of etiquette were accepting of other tribes and peoples while strengthening their own. They also required a vast command of material and social resources and an egalitarian polity in which to flourish. Indeed, immanent traditions are key to understanding the heart of Asia theme.
Q: Yes, We Have Pakhuntwali In Our Hearts And Minds And We Expect Those Who Come Here To Understand And Respect That. There Is So Much Misunderstanding Of Our Culture In Official Policy Making Even If The Intentions May Be Good. For Example, ‘Ethnicity’ Is Not How We See It! Explain This?
A: Yes, many Afghans have been at pains to point out that Ethnicity (as it is currently wrongly interpreted using colonial and Euro-American terms of reference,) needs to be qualified within the context of the history and syncretism of this region, for instance, the nomenclature Pathan and Afghan have been used synonymously; however there are over twenty different groups that had coexisted, interacted, intermarried and assimilated for over three thousand centuries. Nowadays, Pashtuns are referred to as Pathans; whilst they are in the majority, many other minority groups exist such as Tajiks, Turks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Baluchis, Aymak, Farsiwan, Brahui, Turkoman Arab, Nuristani, Kohistani, Pamiri, Pashae, Kyrgyz, Gujjar, Mongol, Arab, Qizilbash, Punjabi, Sindhi, Sikh, Jat etc each having contributed to a rich linguistic diversity, with Pashtu and Dari is spoken by the majority; all have adopted Pakhtunwali with ease. The interconnectedness among all people forged through interdependence and centuries of interaction needs to be emphasised and colonial interpretations of exclusion, boundaries and difference must be challenged for Afghans to once again forge a peaceful existence.
To understand how people relate to each other in time and place requires humility accompanied by unhurried, long term engagement in the field with the people as also philosophical rigour and scholarship of their history going back a thousand years if necessary. And, it is indeed not just a tragedy but counterproductive when people’s cultures and belief systems are not treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve. This is because the received wisdom deeply embedded in the structures of governments and Powers- that- Be seeks immediacy, wants quick solutions, favours fixed structures of thinking by imposing an overarching order, a formal logic and coherence when such an order, indeed logic cannot reflect the realities, frustrating governance. For example, policy makers advocate the objective approach not recognising that they are also always being subjective ---objectivity’ is rooted in culture, language, selective perception, and ideology – which permeate human and scientific activities.
Further, the professional act of detached observation effectively dehumanises the observed, reduces him or her or them to an inferior position. It is extremely essential to immerse oneself wholly in the society where one is residing or doing research and partake of daily activities along with the people and respect their customs. When the researcher refuses to go beyond the facade of outward behaviour and become a part of the inner workings of the community’s existence, he/she presumptuously assumes that his/her outside understanding of the observed is somehow more valid than the community’s own involvement with the world---there is no such thing as objectivity—everything is subjective. Good scholarship means privileging the world view of the local people and integrating their hopes and dreams into policy making- the particularity of emotions need to occupy centre stage which only a narrative approach can restore fidelity to experience. What we need is holistic intuition that is sensitive to context that ethnographic research can alone provide. The interconnected worlds we inhabit and chronicle demonstrate our common bonds, our common civilisations. Many aspects of human life such as beliefs and values are subjective and resist quantitative measurement—such subjective phenomena may nevertheless determine certain critical patterns of behaviour and practice and need to be assessed- subjectivity of the research does not necessarily mean subjectivity of the method.
Q: Most Of Us Afghans Are Not Aware Of Our Past -- Particularly Specific Structures And Forms Of Governance That Existed Before The British Partitioned Our Land. In Your Lecture You Spoke Wesh And Egalitarianism. Please Explain:
A: Until the British intervention in this region, wesh embodied the spirit of land distribution. Traditionally, newly conquered tracts of land were allocated among the tribes and clans. Tribal land continued to be periodically re-apportioned according to the principles of an elaborate system known as wesh where land assigned to a tribe was called daftar and the individual shareholder a daftari. Under wesh, the tribe was obliged to redistribute its daftari lands on a cycle of between five and thirty years. This redistribution involved not merely the shares of individual daftari, but those of whole lineages and segments, thereby necessitating the movement of entire groups to new lands. One scholar suggests that such redistribution was a regular re-enactment and reminder of the heroic conquests and settlement which first brought the Pathans to the region. Thus, wesh ensured equitable distribution by preventing particular groups or individuals from benefiting from the best land by holding it in perpetuity. Thus, the principles of wesh mirrored the ideology of egalitarianism and honour, which was central to this society. In the same egalitarian spirit composition of the jirga was decided by the votes cast by all the daftari of the tribe while decisions affecting the tribe were taken by the jirga (council) of senior men, the respected and religious leaders. Jirgas were mostly convened to discuss issues on a case-by case basis, and did not have permanent powers. As in most egalitarian societies, the traditional figure of chief, khan or mansabdar emerged as an individual of authority and particular honour only in specific contexts and situations, rather than having any permanently ascribed status or power, and no daftari paid tribute or revenue to individual leaders. These were the forms of civil society that evolved naturally and the people were keen to protect. From the eighteenth century, the increase of centralised rule and taxation of mansabdars by the Mughals, and later Kabul kingdoms caused disruptions within this region on account of bankruptcy. This led to an increase in the collection of tribute and revenue by a chosen few in return for grace and favour rights over areas of land while they were exempted from paying revenue themselves. Such intervention by the Mughal state began to put a strain on the ideals of re-distribution enshrined in wesh.
Q: From What You Say, It Means That Everyone Had The Chance To Have The Best Land And Democratic Principles Of The Jirga As It Evolved Naturally Meant That There Was No One Was Allowed To Exploit Their Authority. Did This Happen With The Durand Line? And, How Has This Impacted On Governance?
A: Yes, the Durand line changed many things. In addition to drawing boundaries, the British made two further structural changes through the introduction of the Black Letter Law. Although these changes were imposed on the ceded tribal districts came to be known as the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). They became the settled districts over which, even today very little jurisdiction can be exercised. After the British annexation the entire tribal system was abolished within these settled districts through a set of Acts: the damaging effects of the colonial policies in these regions continue to cause great suffering to the people of this region, and indeed, in the entire Subcontinent.
The original Mughal system of placement of mere grace and favour rights was replaced by the allocation of full exclusive legal ownership of tracts of land to favoured khans. This decisively undermined the wesh system, the spirit of which was quite contrary to fixed tenure ownership. Thus, the most important innovation introduced by the British land policy in India was the concept of ownership itself. By custom, the traditional system had granted people different rights in the land and to its produce: no one could be dispossessed of rights to land as all were deemed to belong to the land. This changed: at the top were the 'big khans' who were chosen as the ‘natural leaders’, and deemed the landed aristocracy by the colonial authorities—as in India, they were given extensive privileges typically owning thousands of acres, with the wealth, pomp and status and exercised patronage over the villages.
This new landed elite were to secure political control and carry out judicial, administrative and fiscal services in the interests of Empire. If this local landed elite did not exist it had to be invented and between 1868 and 1880 the British administration set out detailed rules concerning land ownership, rents and tax, and this codification in effect created serious differentiation among an egalitarian people. Secondly, crucial for the political and social life was the transformation of the traditional jirga structure. Traditionally, a tribal jirga had to perform simultaneously the roles and duties of police, magistrate and judge. It sought to maintain or restore peace and order in times of trouble but was also an authority for settling disputes and dispensing justice reviewing cases including breaches of contract, disputes about tribal boundaries, distribution of water rights, claims to land and pasture, infringement of custom, enmity between cousins, and the frequent questions of inheritance among other issues. The jirga’ s members were elected by the whole body of the tribe, mostly from among elders, men of experience and integrity, and the memories of the elders would serve as a record of decisions and precedent. Now the colonial officials reconstituted the jirga and gave them responsibility for adjudicating on criminal cases according to the newly introduced ‘Black Letter’ laws.
As we discussed, traditional jirga decisions were consensual and often ambiguous, with the focus on limiting conflicts rather than locating blame, passing sentences of a restitutive rather than a penal nature. The new role, however, obliged the jirgas to make clear-cut decisions on guilt and levy fines, now paid of course not to the victims but to the State. The government appointed its newly created landed elite to the jirgas and expected them to exert firm control over its decisions. Thus, the Act of 1904 gave the jirgas extended powers of arrest and imprisonment without right of appeal. Since the jirga members were no longer elected but appointed, and since there was no mechanism of appeal against its decisions, the egalitarian tradition was gradually undermined; therefore, the two major changes brought about by colonial rule had combined to produce considerable disaffection among the people. By the early twentieth century, therefore, two major changes brought about by colonial rule had combined to produce considerable disaffection among the people leading to violence. Many tribes were forced to seek refuge with their kith and kin across the border in neighbouring Afghanistan as scarcity of land and resources caused by the new land tenure system threatened landlessness and starvation.
Q: We In Afghanistan Are Not Comfortable With The Durand Line- It Has Caused Us So Much Suffering. Some Of Our Dwellings Remain Constructed Over It. So Many Afghans Cross It To Meet Relatives And Family.
A: Yes, the social effects of territorial loss and confinement of human communities inhabiting a region which Afghans could no longer regard as an open frontier has left a sorrowful legacy of ‘ethnic’ conflicts and confrontations not just between the people of these regions but many parts of the colonised worlds that remain unresolved. Well, we need to understand what happened first. Afghanistan became a pawn when the British wanted to rein in Tsarist Russia :In 1883, the British seized the Bolan Pass, south-east of Quetta, from the Khan of Kalat and some areas of Baluchistan which were part of the Afghan millat. And, this was the Great Game -- two imperial Anglo-Russian boundary commissions without consulting the people fixed resolutely the frontiers in east forcing them to agree, thus the Durand Line of 1893 running from Chitral to Baluchistan: Quetta, Pishin, Harnai, Sibi and Thal Chotiali – all Pashtun territories were snatched by the British dividing this unified region; later, the north- east and the north- west became Russian Turkestan as Russian Central Asia came to be called. The Wakhan Corridor on the high Pamirs was to remain with the Afghans as it served to act as a buffer between British and Tsarist territories. Those tribes who suffered most on account of this Partition were the Kyrgyz and Wakhi tribes: they no longer could practice transhumance in the Central Asian Steppes, graze their livestock; it damaged their lifestyle as nomadic pastoralists. In 1893, the distraught Amir Abdur Rahman himself is recorded to have said,
"How can a small power like Afghanistan which is like a goat between two lions? Or a grain of wheat between two strong millstones of the grinding mill, stand in midway of the stones without being ground to dust?
The great Badshah Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and his party, the Khudai Khitmatgars won thirty out of the fifty seats in the elections of 1946 but, they were scuttled by the colonial regime. Had they succeeded in their non violent struggle against the British there would have been stability in the Indian subcontinent, indeed, a better world. What is clear from the vast corpus of assiduous archival documentation is that colonial scholarship inspired decisions and actions that have harrowing consequences. Possibly, the colonial administrators outran their own intent with outcomes far beyond those foreseen or intended, grounded as they were in spectacular ignorance. The Soviet occupation had been deeply traumatic and what followed has deepened wounds. We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it – and solutions can happen by resuscitating pre-colonial traditions between Afghans stressing mutual dependence based on respect and dignity for every person.
Q: The Taliban Are A Mystery To So Many Of Us. Who Are They? We Do Not Know What Mullah Omar Looks Like. Also, The Taliban Are Not Nurtured On Afghan Soil, -- They Cannot Understand Us.
A: Yes they do not understand how sacred indigenous belief systems and culture are to Afghans who accept that being Muslim is a way of life, not to be contested for men and women. What is often not recognised is the deep resentment against what Afghans perceive to be presumptuousness of Punjabi domination -- doing kibr – such overweening arrogance – gharur is be ghairat (without honour) as to them it violates what they take for granted: their codes of identity, community, friendship, authority, love, even enmity. Bangladesh happened because Bengalis felt marginalised, persecuted and severely exploited, to them, being Bengali is as important as being Muslim; on the same grounds the Baluchis are also seeking separation. Such developments illuminate how the politics of the Partitions in the Indian Subcontinent has traumatised all people be they Punjabi, Sindhi, Baluchi, Afghan, as indeed, Indian.
The Taliban, now appear to have become a franchise. Here it is difficult to determine who did what, although the Tehreek-i-Taliban make public acknowledgements, time and again. It is clear there has been no guarantee of safety for human life or position, it has been the rule of the gun. The Cold War has much to answer for –after Soviet occupation over ten million fled across the border to Pakistan and Iran. This is how the mujhahideen joined one of these many political alliances be it Hizb- i-Islami, Ittehad-i-Islami and so forth--they drove the Soviets out. Also, disenchanted, many idealistic young boys and men found solace in the ascetism of the Deoband school selected possibly because of its roots in early Islamic strictures. The Deoband School had emerged in India and was set up by Muhammed Qasim Nanautawi (1833-77) and Rashid Ahmed Gangohi (1825-1905 who as Deobandis sought to revive Islamic values based on Shari’a and Tariqah (spiritual practice). Until the Taliban embraced it, it was little known. The leadership of the Taliban studied at the Dar-ul-Ulum Huqqaina in Akhora Khattak, and it was Samiul Haq who mentored Mullah Omar. It is inevitable that many Pakistanis talibs were to play a critical role as the Taliban are regarded as their brothers. To the Deobandis, there are no boundaries and separate countries for Muslims, although there is one for Islam.
Many who joined the Taliban were young men who studied in particular Punjabi run madarassas funded by Zia’ ul Haq’s military ISI unit in government and has had the tacit support of the Pakistani government since. The madarassas were attended by several hundred orphans and some children who had one or both surviving parents. These were the “children of the jihad’ (as Rashid Anmed has described them) who were learning to survive and cope under extremely punishing conditions: they had never known peace. They had no memories of their tribal genealogies and were unable to recount their tribal and clan affiliations or even remember their abandoned farms and valleys. They were also not aware of the shared heritage or the contributions of multi-ethnic groups and religions minorities in Afghanistan; they only understood their version of Islam.
There is idealism in this school but unfortunately it is fractured. They take a constrained view of women --who are to them, not to be seen or heard. Islam under “an all male brotherhood was a way of life they have been brought up in and have grown accustomed to. They are taught that women are an evil temptation and would distract them from their purpose in life. Women cannot work and no education is permitted. They had to remain indoors or be accompanied by a male relative at all times. All males had to grow beards. In addition to that the exact length of the beard to be worn by adult males was stipulated and was a punishable offence; a list of Muslim names to be given to new born babies, abolition of celebrations of Nauroz and traditional sports banned. As indeed a ban on dancing, music or flying kites. All agencies that employed women had to leave the country. TV sets were smashed, sports and recreational activities banned, and the population was disarmed. They also oppose all forms of hierarchy among Muslims but also preach a rejection of other expressions of Islam including the cult of the saints.
Naturally, Afghans feel uneasy with such draconian alienating strictures. The Taliban preach an understanding of Islam which derides tribal culture advocating that Afghans make a complete break with indigenous practices such as Pakhtunwali and they deem munafaqeen or hypocrites, other religious and philosophical systems. Unlike the traditional clergy who valued the cultural and historical ideals of early Islam that were accommodating of tribal structures, practices such as the jirga and Pakhtunwali and, also of religious minorities, the Deobandis denigrate the tribal structures and pursue a purist, exclusive, doctrinaire understanding that many Afghans deem as anti-Islamic.
In South Asia, Islam has for over a thousand years espoused the Hanafi figh. The majority of Afghans, including most of the Ulema, believe in Sufism in principle and rely upon and strongly espouse the Hanafi jurisprudence. Almost 80% of the Afghans belong to the Sunni Hanafi sect, the most liberal of the four sects with a minority sects scattered across the country. Such levels of intolerance have led to continued persecution and random killings of Shia Muslims and others. Thus, the Taliban have demonstrated their interpretations are violently opposed to fundamental Qu’ranic Injunctions which advocate inter-faith dialogues and kindness.
Q: What Will Happen After 2014 Worries Many Of Us? Any Comments?
A: Most important is that representatives of all Afghans must get together – and put forward their plan for a self-determination and peaceful governance. Well, in these difficult times maybe an inclusive movement could come into being and it would be best to have to advocate selective areas of centralised forms of governance—such as the army, police, public transport with strong regional bases. Trust needs to be built as factionalism or gundi is rife, and to Afghans it negates the intrinsic and natural unity of their communities. How can trust and co-operation be established? There is a need for dialogue and scholarship- dissemination of knowledge of their heritage and wisdom. It is only through agreements with all political groups could warring factions cement better understandings. Also, all foreign governments present must take responsibility their actions - and do their best to purge the bitter legacy of human suffering that Afghans have experienced over the last forty years.
As we discussed Hamid Karzai and his government of jirgas have had to face many challenges post Taliban. And, there has been so much opposition to his government. The important thing is that the Constitution of 1964 has been rehabilitated with revisions and the 2004 Constitution in keeping with the Qu’ranic principles according to Hanafi fiqh establishing once again the sanctity of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. There is now an Army to defend Afghans and a police force. However, with departure of NATO and the elections let us hope that wisdom and peace will come to prevail. It needs to be recognised that the Taliban are highly motivated well-armed with funds; they have been playing a waiting game. It is important to co-opt the Taliban into the government and to agree to a cease fire.This is where the international communities must continue to assist Afghanistan with military support such as an UN peace keeping force.
Q: What Would You See As The Most Pressing Problems Now And What Solutions Must We Apply?
A: Firstly, I think there is a great need for leaders from all regions to meet with all political parties –including Taliban to set their differences aside and call a ceasefire for safety of all inhabitants to ensure that citizens receive clean water on tap,food supplies, health and housing provision as mandatory. Very little of the terrain in Afghanistan is cultivable only 10-15% and it remains heavily mined. And the laying of mines in the most fertile agricultural areas and, in fruit growing estates as the orchards of Kandahar is extremely upsetting. Although experts are trying to remove the mines, one notes that Kabul still has 200 square miles out of 500 square miles covered in mines. It needs to be urgently addressed - mines need to be removed in the major cities, and the countryside. There is an acute shortage of food and people do not have money to buy food. They are completely dependent on aid agencies or food supplies and housing. The Afghan population has been displaced not just once but more than five or six times. Homes have been ransacked and devastation has been immeasurable.
It has been ten years since the first comprehensive United Nations Environment Programme Expert surveys in thirty-five random rural locations and thirty-eight urban locations following the bombing of Afghanistan. UNEP surveys of drinking water in four cities Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kandahar and Herat show extremely high levels of faecal contamination. This report completed in March 2003 documents air pollution in urban areas mostly from car and truck exhaust and the burning of toxic materials. Scores of children have died of cholera, tuberculosis and typhoid; indeed, many adults are wasting away with these diseases. There are no health facilities for the ordinary Afghan citizen and, this is exacerbated by an acute shortage of medicine and medical personnel. Reports compiled since then note that very little has changed since then. This needs to be addressed immediately, solar energy and building with traditional materials straw etc has been initiated but needs to be done in every region. This would create livelihoods; further cottage industries must be encouraged. We are aware of industries that cause pollution—and these must be avoided, Planting of trees and growing crops with the help of technological innovations would make it possible for a secure food supply.
Q: Finally, You Say A Nation State Is Not Viable For Afghanistan. Why Is That?
A: As you may know nation states are seen to be not just the ideal but the only form of governance. In Europe various regions once part of the Roman Empire and then subsequently other empires the Hapsburgs, Bourbons and so forth evolved a regional consciousness naturally deciding over three centuries the need to separate to exclude based on of their particular form of Christian worship, language, culture and thence polity: nation states are a consequence of specific cultural and historical events. And yet, they remain negotiable, for example, the boundaries of the former Westphalia State remain unresolved in some instances, as also the recent question of Scottish Independence.
There are many forms of governance that can keep a region together – and, wrongly, the nation state is seen as the only solution. In Afghanistan the synthesising of cultural processes by encounter and exchange happened naturally continuously enriching different spheres of life. By such time honoured open frontier traditions and practices, Afghanistan has emerged primarily as a confederation of tribes and khanates, a legacy of some thousand centuries. It is also a form of government that the Afghans have preferred, as they are a fiercely independent, egalitarian people who have never favoured a central authority, particularly, if it is seen as being imposed from the outside. Also, as a corollary, the Sunni Hanafi creed encourages decentralised, non hierarchical orders to function with minimum government: state interference is nominal as important decisions are carried out by the tribe and the qawm. Thus as rule by centralism has always been a serious issue of contention in Afghanistan we need to re-think rather than impose solutions by force. Given the fierce egalitarian tradition which now also included, bitter tensions it would have been more advisable to revitalise traditions of governance Afghans are comfortable with alongside a few centralised institutions such as the Army.
As a matter of fact the foundation for an Afghan state as a nation state was forced upon them by the British when Anglo-Russian empires divided territories to consolidate their international boundaries at the expense of the peoples inhabiting those regions. The Amir who was appointed was forced to accept British control of foreign policy and this generated a lot of pressure on him to seal his kingdom and centralise administration, something Afghan people were not used to. Inspired by European precedents he established absolutist monarchy and declared himself the Imam of the Afghan millat, the vice-regent of Allah-mujtahid. The powers of the ulema, religious clergy over religious endowments such as waqf were curtailed; they became the paid servants of the state. Inspired by Ottoman janissaries, Abdul Rahman sought to breakdown tribal polity by substituting the idea of a grand community, an Afghaniyat qawm. He split major provinces into districts and sub-districts without taking into account tribal settlements. Thus, the twenty years of his reign witnessed almost continuous warfare to safeguard his kingdom from the moral threat posed by the British. To consolidate his empire, rebellions were crushed by ruthless mass executions and deportation of tribes, for example, the forced resettlement of Ghilzai Pashtuns among the Hazaras, the massacre of Hazaras, Uzbeks, Turkmen and Tajiks; even the remote mountain people, Kalash of Kafiristan who were animist and some Buddhist were converted and renamed Nuristani.
We must acknowledge David Edwards for his excellent scholarship on this region. He notes that Afghanistan’s predicaments have, “less to do from divisions between groups or ambitions of particular individuals than from the imposition of the ideal of a nation state. The imposition of a centralised, political relationship in Afghanistan and its extension into the precincts of local principalities has caused local principalities and tribes to resist, as much as possible its intrusion and domination. There has been no moral discourse on statehood in Afghan society that was shared by the majority. It has always been competing forms of moral authority such as the qawm that are challenging the state and its legitimacy and indeed, its role in providing meanings to ongoing events. Afghans acknowledge that they fight among themselves, that bitter enmity exists as it does everywhere, but in comparison to the hierarchical, centralised world, theirs is a world of sure ethical standards and fierce loyalties. In Afghanistan other notions of community have persisted on an equal level with the state, other moral orders have endured despite the consolidation of power by the state and these orders continue to challenge the state and its assertion of supremacy.” Thus, by respecting indigenous cultural sensitivities, engaging with local support and by revitalising traditional institutions in the process of reconstruction and recovery it is possible that the Afghans can determine their own destiny and the international community will be able to contribute more positively to Afghanistan’s future.
Iftikhar Ahmad reports.
*Photo Caption - Old Afghanistan map
[ Masterweb Reports: Hon. Chuks Ibegbu ] - Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro is the president of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council (OYC), in this interview with Igbo Information Network (IIN), he x-rays some local and national issues.
Q We understand the OHANAEZE NDIGBO YOUTH COUNCIL IS ABOUT TO COMMENCEA TOUR OF THE NORTHERN STATES. WHAT INFORMED THIS TOUR.
A YES, THE TOUR GEARED TO BUILD BRIDGES AND SYNERGY WITH NIGERIANS FROM THE NORTH AND TO EMPHASIS ON THE NEED FOR INTER-ETHNIC AND INTER-RELIGOUS DETENTE BETWEEN NDIGBO AND THEIR HOSTS IN THE NORTH.
Q WHEN IS THE TOUR COMMENCING.
A THE TOUR WILL COMMENCE BY THE LAST WEEK OF JANUARY AND IT WILL TAKE US TO ALL THE STATES IN THE NORTH. WE HOPE TO INTERFACE WITH YOUTH LEADERS AND ELDERS IN THE NORTH.
Q HAS THIS TOUR ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE PRO-BIAFRA PRTESTS.
A WE SHALL DISCUSS ANY ISSUE THAT WILL ENSURE THE PEACE AND STABILITY OF THE COUNTRY INCLUDING OFCOURSE THE BIAFRA ISSUE. ALL STAKEHOLDERS IN NIGERIA HAVE TO CONTRIBUTE THEIR VIEWS AND SUGGESTIONS ON THE WAY FORWARD FOR OUR POLITY. LET ME TELL YOU EVEN IF YOU HAVE TO HAVE BIAFRA, OTHER NIGERIANS HAVE TO ALSO MAKE THEIR OWN OPINION ON THAT. WE HOWEVER CALL ON THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO RELEASE NNAMDI KANU . HIS CONTINOUS DETENTION DOES NOT SERVE ANY GOOD BUT WILL CONTINUE TO CREATE TENSION IN THE COUNTRY. I ALSO THINK REFERENDUM MAY BE THE BEST OPTION TO SOLVE THIS AGITATION ONCE AND FOR ALL. BRITAIN HAD A REFERENDUM RECENTLY. WE IN TH OHANAEZE NDIGBO YOUTH COUNCIL STILL BELIEVE A UNITED AND JUST NIGERIA IS A BETTER OPTION FOR NDIGBO. NIGERIA MUST CREATE A CONDITION FOR ALL HER CITIZENS TO BE CARRIED ALONG. ELSE THESE AGITATIONS WILL CONTINUE.
Q WE UNDERSTAND OHANAEZE YOUTH COUNCIL IS ALSO PLANNING AN IGBO MAN OF THE YEAR AWARD IN ENUGU ON 30TH OF JANUARY.
A YES WE INTEND TO DO THAT AFTER DISCUSSION WITH ALL STAKEHOLDERS AND OTHER CONSULTATIONS. WE HAD FIXED IT INITIALLY FOR THE 30TH OF JANUARY BUT WE ARE SHIFTING THE DATE BY TWO WEEKS TO CONCLUDE THE CONSULTATIONS. THE AIM OF THE EVENT IS TO HONOUR NDIGBO THAT HAVE CONTRIBUTED A LOT TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF IGBOLAND.
Q SOME PEOPLE ARGUE THAT CHIEF CHIBUIKE AMAECHI WHOM YOUR ORGANISATION CHOSE AS THE IGBO MAN OF THE YEAR IS NOT QUALIFIED FOR THAT. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THAT.
A .WELL, CHIIBUIKE AMAECHI IS AN IGBO SON FROM IKWERRE LAND. IKWERRE IS IGBO TERRITORY. LET ME TELL YOU ONE THING. MANY IGBOS IN THE SOUTH SOUTH FOR SURVIVAL REASON IN THOSE DAYS DENIED THEIR IGBONESS. ITS UNDERSTANDABLE .THE SCENERIO IS DIFFERENT TODAY. IF YOU ARE FACED WITH A GUN MY BROTHER YOU CAN EVEN SAY YOU ARE AN ARAB JUST TO LIVE. WE HAVE TO APPRECIATE THAT. IN ANY CASE CHIBUIKE AMAECHI HAS NEVER SAID HE IS NOT AN IGBO AND WHENEVER OHANAEZE NDIGBO IN RIVERS STATE CALLS ON HIM HE LISTENS. HOWEVER WE ARE STILL CONSULTING ON THAT AND BEFORE THAT TWO WEEKS TIME EVERYTHING WILL BE SORTED OUT.
Q HOW ABOUT THE OTHER AWARDS. WHAT CRITERIA WAS USED.
A WE CONSIDERED THE PEDIGREE AND ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE AWARDEES BEFORE PENCILLING THEM DOWN.
Q WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ON THE ANTI-CORRUPTION WAR AND THE HANDCUFFING OF OLISA METUH.
A WE CONDEMN THE HANDCUFFING OF ONLY OLISA METUH OUT OF ALL THE SUSPECTS ACCUSED OF FRAUD. WE STILL WANT TO KNOW WHY HE WAS SINGLED OUT FOR THAT TREATMENT. IT IS REPREHENSIBLE EVEN THOUGH WE WANT ALL THOSE FOUND GUILTY OF SLEIZE AND DIVERSION OF ARMS FUND TO BE DEALT WITH APPROPRIATELY.
THANK YOU MR ISIGUZORO FOR THIS INTERVIEW
A YOU ARE WELCOME
INTERVIEW BY IGBO INFORMATION NETWORK (IIN).
Media Contact: Chukwudi Ibegbu; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
*Photo Caption- Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro
[ Masterweb Reports: On Biafra Referendum by OEAS ] - Washington DC: Biafra is a charter member of the Organization of Emerging African States (OEAS), an international governmental organization that promotes self-determination and the end to colonial era boundaries in Africa. Today the people of Biafra are locked in an epic struggle with the Nigerian federal government, the inevitable result of which will likely be some form of self-determination for Biafra.
The OEAS has called for a snap referendum on Biafran self-determination to be held within 90 days with OEAS, UNPO, and UN, EU and AU nonaligned observers supervising the balloting process. Various effected groups and individuals have asked for details which OEAS can now provide.
Why a Snap Referendum?
The people of Biafra have waited almost 50 years to legitimize their choice. There is no need to prolong the process. A lengthy delay will no doubt result in violence and bloodshed as out of the area ruffians and intimidators come into the region to try to unlawfully influence results.
Who will be eligible to vote in the Referendum?
All persons living within the confines of the borders of the former Republic of Biafra as of January 1, 2016 will be eligible to vote. In addition, persons living outside the borders who can demonstrate significant ties to Biafra by family or property may choose to vote as well.
What are the choices?
A. For total independence and the restoration of the Republic of Biafra as a sovereign independent nation.
B. For internal self-rule as an autonomous Biafra republic with its own parliament, currency, police and prime minister but with external affairs and other matters handled by the Nigerian federal government. This would be an arrangement similar to Scotland and the United Kingdom or Greenland and Denmark.
C. For no change.
How many votes are required?
Whatever option above gets a plurality will be the chosen result.
If we choose an independent Biafra, what then?
After an orderly transition period of no more than 180 days, Biafra will again be independent. Those who wish to maintain their Nigerian citizenship may do so but will be under Biafran rule and must affirmatively register themselves as aliens. Likewise, those outside Biafra with ties to Biafra may become Biafran citizens after renouncing Nigerian citizenship.
What about former federal government property.
Property of the federal government within the borders of Biafra will become property of Biafra. The Nigerian government however will retain all national debt. Biafra will then release the Nigerian government from any obligation to pay reparations for crimes committed during the war of independence 1967-1970.
What about the borders?
The borders with Nigeria must be settled by the time of independence in order to avoid disorder and discord. On the other hand, Biafra should not be obligated to follow any agreements between Cameroun and Nigeria, any loss of territory must be subject to a democratic referendum.
Is all this really possible?
We answer emphatically YES. The people of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea made their choice to leave Ukraine under far more stressful circumstances. The vote was so overwhelmingly in favor that no country has seriously challenged the will of the people.
Finally, what about those criminals who have oppressed Biafrans and committed crimes and atrocities against the people of Biafra?
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission composed of Biafrans and other experts will establish the truth and investigate political and genocidal crimes from 1967 to present. The Committee will have the power to grant clemency and forgiveness but also may make recommendations as to prosecution in the most serious cases of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide.
For more information, contact:
Dr. Ebenezer Derek Mbongo Akwanga, Jr.,
Secretary General OEAS
Dr. Jonathan Levy, Solicitor
Chief Administrative Officer OEAS
*Photo Caption - OEAS logo
[ Masterweb Reports: Uchendu Precious Onuoha, Masterweb Special Correspondent reports ] - The Nigerians in diaspora organization Europe (NIDOE) annual general meeting recently held on November 12 – 15 in Stockholm Sweden has opened a flood gate of business, investment interest and business opportunities between Nigeria and Sweden. The three day event which featured a Nigeria – Sweden Business Summit which attracted corporate participants and government agencies was hosted by NIDO Swedish chapter in collaboration with Swedish chamber trade, Nigerian embassy, Swedish West Africa Chamber of Commerce – SWACC and NIDOE. Declaring the summit open, the president of NIDOE, DR. George Manuwuike stated that NIDO acts as interface between Nigerian professionals in diaspora, the federal government and would -be investors from Europe to Nigeria. Stating that the new government in Nigeria is interested in bringing investors to Nigeria. And he urged the participants to use the summit as a stepping stone for a larger cooperation between Sweden and Nigeria as both countries stand to gain a lot from each other.
In the opening speech by the host Ambassador, Her Excellency, Mrs. Jane A. Ndem (Charge d’ Affairs, Nigerian Embassy Sweden) she highlighted on the transformations that have taken place in Nigeria especially on the peaceful election and democratic transition and how that offers enabling ground for investors. According to the Ambassador, a successful transition in the African contest indicates that the country has matured democratically. The President has been the chief marketing officer since May 29, assuring foreign investors about the business opportunities in Nigeria. She identified corruption as the biggest demon hindering business investments. The President has declared war against corruption. And once corruption is addressed, that will open the free flow of business. She stated that the current challenges that arise from power, mining and agriculture are challenges but at the same time opportunities. Nigeria has the enabling ground for investment and is a window to Africa. The Nigerian government has established the foreign investment council to boost investment in Nigeria. And Nigeria has the largest market in Africa She therefore urged Swedish investors to take the current challenges as opportunities to create wealth.
Among the areas of interest for investment by the Swedish corporate participants includes, green technology, waste management, water purification and solar energy.
Our Foreign Correspondent who was in Stockholm to attend the event had interview with the NIDOE chairman Dr. George Manuwuike. Below are the excerpts.
Que.To what extent has NIDOE gone to achieve its founding objectives?
Ans. We are working towards that objective. The plans are realizable. That includes the transfer of technology to Nigeria scientifically, financially, human capital development also giving the government a quality formation. We might not have gotten there but we are sure of getting there.
Que. What are the immediate challenges facing NIDOE?
Ans. The immediate challenges we have are challenges that bother on membership. Bringing together professional Nigerians who could have formed the critical mark of moving the organization agenda forward. But we are mobilizing our members and creating the enabling environment to bring on board those Nigerians that we believe have the wherewithal to help us in achieving these objectives. It is a working progress. The challenges are there also back home, we have not been able to have correct interface between NIDOE and the federal government to be able to work together towards achieving this objective. But with the present administration, we hope to achieve this because the government has given us the indication that they are interested in working closely with the Diaspora.
So we believe some of these challenges we have been having over the years would be resolved through government collaboration. Also, we are confident we would be able to cross some of these hurdles that have bedeveled the organization in the past through collaboration with the National assembly. For example, the Senate has created a committee on Diaspora. And so this committee will be saddled with the responsibility of working closely with us. And we shall help them formulate policies that will be in the best interest of NIDO. Also we are aware that the house of Representatives has a committee on Diaspora affairs. And the chairperson of that committee Honorable Rita Orji is desirous of working with us to ensure that the objectives and visions of NIDO are realized within the very possible time.
Que. What is the relationship between NIDOE and the Embassies?
Ans. The relationship has been cordial to a large extent. The Embassies have been doing their best to support the NIDOE cause. We desire more. The transformation has been progressive. The awareness has been created and NIDOE has their structural set ups in various Embassies. It is now left with the various chapters to plug into these structures to make sure they realize the purpose for which they were set up.
Worthy of note is the high level and manner of proper coordination the plenary session was conducted. The session was a hob-nob of Nigerian professionals who came as delegates from various chapters and countries of Europe. Interesting and commendable is the mature manner and discipline exhibited by the delegates on issues. Despite their different views on issues, they expressed their views on matters objectively and in orderly manners, a rare feat unusually not common among meetings of most Nigerian organizations. Even the National assembly should take a cue from NIDOE.
*Photo Caption – NIDO logo