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Strictly Personal

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

Umeme, grain and coffee: Why Kenya should fear Uganda’s economic gamble, By Charles Onyango-Obbo

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Uganda, the 1990s shining Africa poster boy for privatisation, is engaging in what could be East Africa’s biggest economic liberalisation reverse gear. Last year, the Uganda government formally announced it would not renew the contract of electricity distributor Umeme in 2025, when its concession expires, and that it will form a state-owned entity to take over its business.

The government’s main criticism of Umeme is its margins are too high, so it has failed to lower electricity costs, and the expensive rates have hobbled Uganda’s industrialisation ambitions. Umeme counters that it is just a distributor, and the high electricity costs are passed on from the power generators.

In two years, the debate will be resolved. Uganda will be in the midst of campaigns ahead of the January 2026 election, when President Yoweri Museveni, weighed down by the wear and tear of 40 years in office, will likely be bidding for a record-shattering ninth term, with his son, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, among those trying to wrestle the crown from his head. It will be the worst possible timing because incumbents rarely make the most enlightened decisions during heated election campaigns. As the West Africans say, there will likely “be a lot of cry.”

Distribution concession

Umeme was formed in 2004 when the government of Uganda granted the distribution concession to a consortium belonging to Globeleq, a subsidiary of the Commonwealth Development Corporation of the UK, which held 56 per cent, and South Africa’s now inept utility corporation Eskom, which had 44 per cent. In 2006 Eskom exited the consortium, and Globeleq became the sole owner of Umeme.

The regional impact could be significant because, among other things, Umeme shares are cross-listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange. If it unravels, Kenyan shareholders would be left crying in their bowls, and we could be back to the feud over regional assets that followed the break-up of the first East African Community in 1977.

Too messy to swallow

The renationalisation of Umeme will not be unique. Kenya just tried to renationalise cash-haemorrhaging national carrier Kenya Airways but found it too messy to swallow. The recently elected new government of President William Ruto has decided to throw it back on the block.

The difference in Uganda is that Umeme is just the shallow end of the pool. There are other moves to renationalise the very lucrative liberalised coffee sector by granting a near-monopoly to a Vinci Coffee Company, owned by controversial and shadowy Italian “foreign investor” Enrica Pinetti, to process and export Uganda’s coffee. That would take Uganda back to the early 1990s when the disastrous Coffee Marketing Board was disbanded.

A similar move is being made to give the Grain Council of Uganda, on paper a non-profit membership organisation, the kind of sway over the country’s grain last seen in the colonial era.

The force behind the Grain Council is the otherwise amiable president’s younger brother, retired Lt-Gen Salim Saleh (Caleb Akandwanaho), a sly operator who is the second most powerful figure in the land. A nationalist and statist, Saleh has led a quiet but effective assault against laissez-faire liberalisation, which he argues has mostly benefited foreigners and left Ugandans with only holes in their pockets. He has taken over a large chunk of the country’s agricultural budget and several “development” functions under the amorphous state-created vehicle Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) that he heads and inserted disciples in key national economic institutions.

Return to old roots

This state of affairs is a dramatic return to old roots. Uganda launched the first of a series of economic liberalisations in the 1990s that were deemed impossible in Africa at the time and anathema in the hyper-nationalist traditions that were entrenched in post-independence Africa.

It was the first country in Africa to radically liberalise its foreign exchange market and still maintains one of the least-interventionist approaches to the money market on the continent. It was also the first in East Africa to pass laws that gave the central bank extensive independence.

It was the first on the continent in the early 1990s to liberalise the fuel market and scrap fuel subsidies. Again, in East Africa, at least, it is the government that meddles least in setting the price of gas at the pump. When fuel prices skyrocketed everywhere following the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year, it alone was the East African government to flatly refuse to even consider a fuel subsidy and price cap, as all the rest of the EAC states did.

Price of food

Uganda, too, is the country where the price of food is most considered none of the government’s business. When Ugandans read stories and political fights over maize in Kenya, and the government setting the price, to some of them, it sounds like a tale about an alien planet.

The country and economy that Uganda is today are about to change. Some of the changes have to do with the politics of the Museveni succession and how the family and vested interests that have coalesced around the State House view their future security. A lot of it, though, is because of some good things: the rebirth of the EAC; the end of the wars in Uganda and the ushering in of the country’s longest spell of peace; the rebound of a post-KANU Kenya; and the Rwanda post-genocide recovery.

If there are two people in East Africa outside Uganda, who have edged Uganda to the fork in the road where it is today, they are Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and former Kenya president Mwai Kibaki.

The author is a journalist, writer, and curator of the «Wall of Great Africans». Twitter@cobbo3

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Strictly Personal

In honour of Komla African scribes should lead renaissance, By Elsie Eyakuze

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Somehow the only news we watch on the TV at home is offered by the Tanzanian Broadcasting Corporation or any one of several Kenyan stations that the person who holds The Power chooses. As a result, I have been on an imposed “news diet” for a few years now.

It is nothing serious, just a touch of burnout with a soupçon of ennui for flavour. There are newspapers, too, but I am a decade past my paper-chasing days and I have noticed the click-bait flavour of headlines and I don’t like it.

In other words, I am growing older, crankier and particular about my news. This led me to believe that I am bored by the business that the industry might indeed be floundering — a position I do not really hold. After all, my job as a journalism-adjacent writer is to support the news and the people and institutions that bring it to us.

Maintain my optimism

I can’t afford to be cynical. I have to maintain my optimism and commitment, even through lazy editing in Tanzanian newspapers, and ulcer-inducing anxiety over Freedom of Expression when it is threatened.

But, yea, you know, it is 2023 — a year that honestly belongs in science fiction, not in real life. Like you, I get most of my news online these days, in small doses, and only when I want it. I have meandered off the path of keeping abreast into the woods of barely knowing what is going on, and it is has been wonderful for my mental health.

And that would have been that, but an energetic young journalist decided to invite me to the launch of the BBC’s Komla Dumor Awards, which took place last week in Dar es Salaam.

Apart from it being the Komla Dumor Award, there was a clear intention to spark some enthusiasm in Tanzanians to apply for the prize.

Observing old journalists encouraging young journalists while enjoying free snacks was just what the doctor ordered.

I watched young master Dingindaba Jonah Buyoya expertly handle a live recording of a show, saw a lot of familiar faces, and got reminded that journalism “is a calling, a vocation.”

Power of a calling

Nothing will kick the stuffing out of your cynicism like understanding the power of a calling, a vocation. There is a largely positive compulsion that drives people into journalism: Most of them are trying to help. They are hopeless romantics with a vision that the work that they do matters, that it can make the world a better place like a Michael Jackson song. So they take their notebooks and their electronics and venture forth to cover stories and bring them back to us in the comfort of our homes and devices.

If you spend any time thinking about it, this is a pretty radical thing to do. And we cannot live this modern life without the people who make it happen. The Komla Dumor Award is about fostering excellent African journalists, and I know exactly why young Tanzanians are hesitant to apply. I was a young Tanzanian once, I know.

They should take heart: If I managed to charm hard-nosed editors in Nairobi into letting me keep this gig, they can certainly conquer Africa, the BBC, and the world news.

We — I — need that from them more than they realise.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report; Email elsieeyakuze@gmail.com

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