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The trial of Yemi Osinbajo by Sonala Olumhense

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I am delighted that Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo has entered the fray for the presidential ticket of the APC.  His candidature presents the potential for some answers Nigerian democracy desperately needs.

Two decades ago, Professor Osinbajo served in the government of one Ahmed Bola Tinubu, the current National Leader of APC who is also running for the ticket.  Some of the children who were born at that time may vote for the first time in 2023.

Of course, we only hope there will be an election. I doubt that even the Vice-President believes there will be one: the most significant achievement of his administration is that Nigeria has descended into the category of the unsafe and insecure.  Of course, should he emerge the APC candidate, he will campaign safely in an official government bubble despite its being an unofficial activity, but everyone knows that for voters and election officials, the challenge will be different.

And that is the principal problem which confronts Osinbajo: his candidature is trapped between ridiculous and incredulous.  In his declaration, he claims to have thoroughly known Nigerians in the past seven years, having travelled widely and been with most of them.

“I stood where they stood and sat where they sat,” adding, “I believe that the very reason why the Almighty God gave me these experiences, these insights, and these opportunities, is that they must be put to the use of our country and it’s great peoples.”

I will not challenge Osinbajo’s faith; that is between him and God.  But I will confront his presumptuousness and arrogance.  His government worked to make Nigeria increasingly unlivable.

He anchors his presidential quest on Buhari, a man he describes as “a true Nigerian patriot, a servant of the nation in war and peace, and a man of integrity,” and positions his effort as being to “complete what we have started.”

But of which nation is Buhari a patriot?  Perhaps Niger, which he does not hesitate to serve, or the United Kingdom, where he enjoys squandering Nigeria’s scarce resources on himself?  Certainly not Nigeria, where he is a remorseless nepotist who pens obituary and birthday messages in place of statecraft.

A patriot is a man who makes sacrifices for his country ahead of himself and would give his all for her.  Buhari is no such animal.

Integrity? It is not claiming to be something that makes you that thing: it is being so much of that thing that everyone identifies you as being that.  You cannot be honest and hypocritical at the same time, and Buhari is a hypocrite.

A man of integrity is a man of his word, but the past seven years prove that Buhari is a man of many words but not of his word.  A man of integrity is one who is not afraid to hold out his hands so people can see he has neither blood nor fecal matter on them.  He is one who is not afraid to open his front door to demonstrate that he has nothing to hide.

How did Buhari reward Nigerians for buying his propaganda about how he would combat corruption? The moment he got into office, not only did he “cleverly” refuse to declare his assets publicly, but he also began to assemble around him the nation’s most corrupt men and women.

“As far as the constitution allows me, I will try to ensure that there is responsible and accountable governance at all levels of government in the country,” he had promised at his inauguration. “For I will not have kept my own trust with the Nigerian people if I allow others abuse theirs under my watch.”

It was startlingly untrue: He ducked the public disclosure of his assets, ducked compelling his ministers to publicly disclose theirs, ducked his ‘First 100 days’ promises, and scandalously ducked naming the nation’s top kleptocrats as he had promised.  And that is how Nigeria commenced its descent into ungovernable, the world’s poorest and hungriest, with death and distress everywhere.

Integrity?  The Fifth Schedule of the constitution affirms that a public officer shall not ask for or accept property or benefits of any kind for himself, stating that “the receipt by a public officer of any gifts or benefits from commercial firms, business enterprises or persons who have contracts with the government shall be presumed to have been received in contravention of the said sub-paragraph unless the contrary is proved.”

And yet, within weeks of taking office in 2015, Breaking Times, an Abuja newspaper, fearlessly identified the new Nigeria leader as the owner of a lake front N2.1 billion mansion in Asokoro, near Aso Rock, providing lavish pictures of activities at the property.  The report was neither denied nor was the newspaper sued.

Similarly, in 2018, Buhari accepted a N45m gift from a shadowy organisation called the Nigeria Consolidation Ambassadors Network (NCAN), which paid for his APC presidential primaries forms.  NCAN then conveniently—and triumphantly—disappeared into the shadows.

In other words, Buhari indicated he was open to presidential gift-receiving, contrary to the constitution.  How do we know what else he has collected in the past seven years, and from whom? Nigerians and members of the international community are left to make up their minds whether Buhari simply does not care about Nigerians or about the constitution.

Among those watching eyes is the United States. EVERY year that Buhari has been in office, it has said in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights: “Although [Nigerian] law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, the government did not consistently implement the law, and government employees, including elected officials, frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Massive, widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government, including the judiciary and security services. The constitution provides immunity from civil and criminal prosecution for the president, vice president, governors, and deputy governors while in office. There were numerous allegations of government corruption during the year.”

The Buhari government has never contradicted this indictment.  The truth is that to describe the impact of the Buhari administration merely as a “failure” is an act of self-deprecating generosity.  The appropriate term for their work is “betrayal.”  Former President Goodluck Jonathan did not perform as abysmally as this when Buhari demanded he resign.

In other words, concerning Nigerians, Osinbajo has not “stood where they stood and sat where they sat,” but with Buhari.  If he wins the presidency, will he denounce the betrayal of which he was a part, as an honest starting point?

Clearly, it is because Tinubu knows how rotten Nigeria has become that he has found no reason why he should seize it as he has Lagos State. It is why he immediately dismissed Osinbajo as a ‘bastard,’ declaring: “I have no son grown enough to declare [for president].”

VP Osinbajo may never become President, but with Buhari to his right and Tinubu to his left, it is an act of courage for him to have determined he must run.

But if Osinbajo claims loyalty to God, he is the one who is now on trial.

This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials.

Strictly Personal

The post-budget crisis in Kenya might be good for Africa, after all, By Joachim Buwembo

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The surging crisis that is being witnessed in Kenya could end up being a good thing for Africa if the regional leaders could step back and examine the situation clinically with cool-headed interest. Maybe there is a hand of God in the whole affair. For, how do explain the flare not having started in harder-pressed countries such as Zambia, Mozambique and Ghana?

As fate would have it, it happened in East Africa, the region that is supposed to provide the next leadership of the African Union Commission, in a process that is about to start. And, what is the most serious crisis looming on Africa’s horizon? It is Debt of course.

Even the UN has warned the entire world that Africa’s debt situation is now a crisis. As at now, three or four countries are not facing debt trouble — and that is only for now.

There is one country, though, that is virtually debt-free, having just been freed from debt due to circumstances: Somalia. And it is the newest member of the East African Community. Somalia has recently had virtually all its foreign debt written off in recognition of the challenges it has been facing in nearly four decades.

Why is this important? Because debt is the choicest weapon of neocolonialists. There is no sweeter way to steal wealth than to have its owners deliver it to you, begging you, on all fours, to take it away from them, as you quietly thank the devil, who has impaired their judgement to think that you are their saviour.

So?

So, the economic integration Africa has embarked on will, over the next five or so years, go through are a make-or-break stage, and it must be led by a member that is debt-free. For, there is no surer weapon to subjugate and control a society than through debt.

A government or a country’s political leadership can talk tough and big until their creditor whispers something then the lion suddenly becomes a sheep. Positions agreed on earlier with comrades are sheepishly abandoned. Scheduled official trips get inexplicably cancelled.

Debt is that bad. In African capitals, presidents have received calls from Washington, Paris or London to cancel trips and they did, so because of debt vulnerability.

In our villages, men have lost wives to guys they hate most because of debt. At the state level, governments have lost command over their own institutions because of debt. The management of Africa’s economic transition, as may be agreed upon jointly by the continental leaders, needs to be implemented by a member without crippling foreign debt so they do not get instructions from elsewhere.

The other related threat to African states is armed conflict, often internal and not interstate. Somalia has been going through this for decades and it is to the credit of African intervention that statehood was restored to the country.

This is the biggest prize Africa has won since it defeated colonialism in (mostly) the 1960s decade. The product is the new Somalia and, to restore all other countries’ hope, the newly restored state should play a lead role in spreading stability and confidence across Africa.

One day, South Sudan, too, should qualify to play a lead role on the continent.

What has been happening in Kenya can happen in any other African country. And it can be worse. We have seen once promising countries with strong economies and armies, such as Libya, being ravaged into near-Stone Age in a very short time. Angry, youthful energy can be destructive, and opportunistic neocolonialists can make it inadvertently facilitate their intentions.

Containing prolonged or repetitive civil uprisings can be economically draining, both directly in deploying security forces and also by paralysing economic activity.

African countries also need to become one another’s economic insurance. By jointly managing trade routes with their transport infrastructure, energy sources and electricity distribution grids, and generally pursuing coordinated industrialisation strategies in observance of regional and national comparative advantages, they will sooner than later reduce insecurity, even as the borders remain porous.

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Strictly Personal

‘Slow burner’ Tanzania is at it again, but she needs to learn to make more noise, By Charles Onyango-Obbo

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Tanzania has been up to its tricks again. The Minister of Livestock and Fisheries Abdallah Ulega said Monday that the country’s meat exports have risen dramatically, jumping from 1,774.3 tonnes in 2022 to 14,701.2 tonnes in 2023.

That is a growth of a head-turning 729 per cent, the type that blows socks off. He attributed the growth, not surprisingly, to “the government’s efforts to revitalise the livestock sector,” including a substantial increase in budget allocation for the sector.

That budget allocation, he said, rose from Tsh32.1 billion ($12.2 million) in the 2021/2022 fiscal year to Tsh112 billion ($42.6 million) in the 2023/2024 fiscal year.

You can’t scoff; that is a 249.18 percent increase. It is not often that African governments increase spending at that level in productive sectors. They do so for MPs to buy cars and travel abroad, for State House so the president can feed his patronage machine, or for dubious “classified expenditure,” not livestock or beef.

Of course, the Tanzania government doesn’t own cattle in any significant number, so the beef is ultimately the product of farmers’ enterprise. These farmers have given Tanzania 36.6 million head of cattle, the second-largest cattle population in Africa, after Ethiopia.

This news will be surprising to many people outside Tanzania. Few would associate Tanzania with leadership in anything to do with cattle or beef. We never hear noises and see photographs of long-horned Ankole cattle or read claims about how Tanzanian beef is the meat of the gods. Tanzanians don’t even seem to know how to polish cattle horns, adorn them with beads, or compose cow poetry. Or so it would seem.

But they know their cattle. They just don’t make noise about it. In East Africa, this is known as the “silent Tanzanian approach,” and the country is dabbed the “slow burner”. The only Tanzanian we know in the rest of the world who brags about his wealth and gifts is the phenomenally successful musician and dancer Diamond Platnumz, easily East Africa’s most blinged artiste.

Tanzanian Mohammed Dewji is a dollar billionaire and one of the wealthiest people in Africa. He is the youngest, wealthiest person on the continent. Although he is handsome too, he does not flood the media with stories of his fortunes and expensive lifestyle. In fact, a few years ago, some goons — or even possibly shadowy state operatives — kidnapped him, and days later released him in a maize garden or something like that. Shameless lack of respect for money.

I can count on my hands the countries in this fair world where Dewji would own the president, and the army and police chiefs. And, in many places, he would be the last thing you see before you go to bed and the first thing you see when you wake up.

Tanzania recently launched East Africa’s first electric train running on a standard gauge railway. After a few mentions in the media, that the project is underway.

Elsewhere, it would have been after 10 years of daily bragging, and by the time it comes to reality, it would have been mentioned 10,000 times. The launch event would be loud; with drums, dancers, the police band, and the president would show up to cut the tape with 100 hangers-on in tow. He would declare that the train is part of the country’s unstoppable journey to be one of the world’s top 10 economies in five years.

We leave it to Tanzanians to explain to us what kind of madness this is; being shy to proclaim your small, medium, and big achievements from the top of Mountain Kilimanjaro. They are wasting the highest mountain in Africa, leaving it mostly to foreigners to climb. Kinjikitile “Bokero” Ngwale, that great man who led the Maji Maji Rebellion against colonial rule in German East Africa (present-day Tanzania) must be writhing in his grave.

We are being jocular here. More seriously, slow-burner Tanzania represents a distinct tradition in the East African narrative of development. It shines a light on how local politics and geopolitics shape how people speak about progress.

A part of it goes back to founding Father Julius Nyerere, a modest and studious man who lived an embarrassingly simple life. Nyerere would today be too unglamorous to be a State House gardener in a couple of African presidential palaces. His ways, though, rubbed off strongly on political culture. Some years ago in London, I went to an event where President Ben Mkapa was speaking.

He mingled with the rest of us hoi polloi during the coffee break. I went over to where a couple of people were talking to him, his security standing off in the distance. There he was standing, talking away, with what must have been his favourite beaten briefcase, clasped between his legs.

It would seem that the slow-burner thing is also what happens when a long-ruling party like CCM derives its legitimacy not primarily from providing bread and butter, but more philosophical and intangible goods like “unity,” creating a “tribeless society” and being an African liberation vanguard.

Geopolitics also influences whether one will proclaim from the rooftop or not. Countries which exist in a hostile international environment, where foreign forces assail the state’s or government’s legitimacy and record on the global stage, need a megaphone to shout back their defence, and to display their record on a high billboard.

Tanzania hardly has enemies these days. It doesn’t have to make noise.

Many African countries could use such good fortune.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3

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