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Strictly Personal

Ekweremadu, Igbo curse and crime of passion, By Lanre Adewole

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The Law Society of England and Wales, better known as The Law Society, was formed in 1825. It is the professional association that represents solicitors for the jurisdiction of England and Wales and prides itself on providing services and support to practicing and training solicitors as well as serving as a sounding board for law reform. Records have it that members of Society are often consulted when important issues are being debated in Parliament or by the Executive.

This august jurisprudential body thinks the United Kingdom criminal justice system is long broken and needs a retrofit. It believes the sectoral crisis is an emergency and began to rally the public and stakeholders last November to force the government to commence a re-fixing, using its policy recommendations.

In the advocacy, titled “Fix the broken system-back our criminal justice campaign” the body listed the major problems confronting the system, including; increasing shortages of criminal duty solicitors, inefficiencies and unfairness in the system, more and more courts being closed, and crucial evidence not often being disclosed.

The body, currently led by its first Asian-Muslim president in history then delivers a damning verdict, “All of these problems show the criminal justice system is at breaking point. Without urgent action, it will fall apart.Things are going wrong at every level and every stage. It’s become a nightmare journey through the system for the accused, for victims and for solicitors alike.”

The assessment sounds like a Third World country’s situation, but this same wonky system has just recorded “victory” against another Nigerian big-man, just like it has been doing, bringing men and women, feared back home because of their power and influence, to justice, according to what it is, in the United Kingdom.

When now-convicted former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and his wife, Beatrice were arrested in June last year for an alleged organ trafficking offence, the Law Society believed the criminal justice system that would try the couple was anything but functional. Yet, nine months after, Ike and Nwan are about to commence a jail term in London, though appeal windows are still open to them. If the UK criminal justice system, has been, over the years, as broken as the eminent Law Society and other distinguished advocacy groups have pointed out, how has it remained clinically effective against offenders from Nigeria and elsewhere? My guess is that the operators over there have likely resolved to always swiftly make a scapegoat of offending foreigners, while still sorting their domestic mess, so everyone won’t think the system is a latrine, for all kinds of maggots.

Yoruba will call this fear factor, killing patas monkey (ijimere) for its mates to fear the hunter. Nothing buttresses this more than the fact that the Ekweremadus are the first convicts ever, under the Modern Slavery Act of organ harvesting conspiracy, though the law came into existence in 2015. I ran through organ transplant statistics in UK in the last five years. The majority procedure has been kidney transplants. The total for organ exchanges in 2018/2019 was 3,952, 2019/2020, was 3,760, 2020/2021, was 2,947 and 2021/2020, was 3,415. At the risk of appearing to push an allocutus for the couple who now await sentencing on May 5, is the UK authority saying that all the over 13,000 organ procedures of the last five years, not to talk of the whole eight years when the law came into effect, were without blemish in the course of beneficiaries concessioning their kidneys?

While kidney donation is lawful in the UK, their law says the transactional goodwill becomes a criminal enterprise once a reward of money or other material advantage comes into the equation and the donor arranged for ailing Sonia, Ekweremadu’s daughter, was, according to the prosecution, offered up to £7,000 and the promise of a better life in the UK, which allegedly tainted the entire process.

Knowing the way of Nigerians, both the leaders and the led, there was no way monetary offer, wouldn’t have played a major role in the deal. Down here, despite our public piousness, money is the second god we worship. Those who already have it at the expense of the public like Ike and Beatrice, keep seeking more, to secure permanently control over those in lack. The latter are seeking all available means, mostly crooked, to join the big league. Practically no one is satisfied. These days, most of the times, I sit back, to ask the “WHYs” of the rat race.

If the Jurors that convicted the Ekweremadus had seised themselves of the adversarial humanity between men of power in Nigeria and the impoverished victims of their misrule, they wouldn’t have needed a whole 14 hours to come to the guilty conclusion. Ike had told the Old Bailey court that he was advised against seeking a donor among his family. That is strange because family should be the haven to run to, in time of trouble. It is either Ike hasn’t been good to his family or his family isn’t a delight to have. Whatever is the case, it shows there is a dysfunction which must be fixed once his legal troubles are however. For someone who was elected five consecutive times to the Nigerian Senate by his people of Enugu West, it is also strange that no constituent of his, could be approached for the goodwill gesture and had to resort to fishing for a supposed nobody on the street of Lagos. The saddest part is that none of his colleagues would learn any lessons from this. Some would reason he wasn’t smart enough. Some might say it was his destiny to be jailed. The religious ones, might turn to prayer warriors who don’t see sun (permanently kept in the basement) to ward off the kind of evil and misfortune that brought Ike down to zero.

The biggest lesson for anyone to learn in the Ike saga is in the harrowing question thrown at him by the prosecutor; Hugh Davies KC (equivalent of SAN here) which must have influenced the Jurors’s decision. Davies had fired, “From beginning to end, it demonstrates all he (donor) was to you was a body part for sale? Because he was going to get work and he would be paid the 3.5 million Naira, you felt you owed  him nothing?” The Jury system is emotive. Once the members connect to the soul of a story, the fellow on the other side, is in trouble. Considering the mindset that an African big man, which is true for most of them, sees those down the socio-economic ladder as nothing, reason their wailing in difficulty always means nothing, which Jury, would let such a super-charged moment go, despite all the sympathies for Sonia, the ailing one.

The fall of Ike in particular should be a major lesson for us all. As a parent, my heart bleeds for the family. Ike is just a desperate father, trying to do right by his dying daughter who had to quit schooling because of her ailment. Practically all those who convicted him in the UK court and convicting him on the social media, who genuinely love their children, would fall into his error. It is likely easy for him so doing, because the Nigerian environment has always aided his kind in wrongdoing.

Beyond his frailties and hubris, there is a spiritual dimension to the politician’s travails. Christians know it as spirit of error, especially when you touch the anointed of God. In Ike’s case, it could also be a race curse. 48 hours to his arrest, he had gone full blast, unprovoked, against Obi and his own Igbo race, to demonstrate party loyalty. All manner of curse were laid on him. Then Obi did what Jesus prescribes in Matthew 5:44 and the rest, as they say, is history. May the mercy of God find Ike, his beau and Sonia, amen. So sad.

 

Strictly Personal

As a continent, we must confront the emergency of our failure to learn, By Joachim Buwembo

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“As a nation, we must confront the emergency of our failure to learn!” well-circulated news clips showed veteran Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga saying, in reaction to the (lack of) preparedness despite accurate warnings of the floods that by the time he spoke had claimed some 200 lives in the country.

Baba, as Raila is popularly known, must have used the words “as a nation” advisedly for, at the time he was speaking, helicopters were evacuating (wealthy) foreigners from flooded sites as the Kenyan citizens continued drowning.

But Baba might as well have said “as a continent” because of the tendency to watch disaster coming and doing nothing happens in other African countries.

The question then is whether African leaders are doing their best to prevent or contain disasters and, second, the accurately predictable ones occasioned by climate change. The third question is if the best by African leaders is good enough.

If not, then the fourth question is what can be done without alarming the leaders who might become defensive and suspicious of those asking legitimate questions about the protection of life, property and infrastructure. The fifth question is how their capacity to learn can be created by the famous (or notorious) capacity-building workshops.

But, before proceeding, we need to answer a sixth question: Whether failure to learn is an emergency. Failure to learn prevails, otherwise we wouldn’t be acting like the hazards of climate change are unknown phenomena.

I spent a whole year at the beginning of the last decade flying into African capitals from my Nairobi base in service of UNDP and the International Centre for Journalism, training journalists on climate change reporting but, more significantly, lobbying and securing the commitment of chief editors to give priority to the menace threatening humanity.

And there were several senior journalists on the programme, ensuring that the major media in all countries on the continent were reached.

So, even if African leaders were occupied with “more important issues” than climatic threats to lives and livelihoods, if the media had kept highlighting the climate issues beyond reporting about big people periodically meeting in fancy venues to talk about it, the public would be demanding more serious preparedness by their governments. Having to endure senseless but predictable deaths and destruction of infrastructure is, indeed, an emergency.

The seventh question is, who will bell the cat? Who will tell the naked emperors (to be fair some are dressed) that they are naked?

A protocol official who was managing a visiting royal’s schedule once whispered his agonising experience when the foreign monarch overslept after sampling some local somethings, and the mere thought of disturbing the royal sleep was considered sacrilege by the royal entourage, yet the host counterpart was waiting and the clock was ticking away past their meeting time.

The protocol officer had to cause some commotion in the many-star hotel, causing a diplomatic incident to prevent a diplomatic crisis. It takes unusual steps to bell a naked emperor.

Yet the answer to the seventh question already exists: The African Union can, and should, bell the cat. The AU was not created to be a social club for naked emperors; it is meant to make Africa work. But Africa cannot work with the prevailing obstacles to its working: our “Emergency of Failure to Learn!” Don’t abbreviate it, those suffering EFL may think you are talking about a European Football League.

Only last week, Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority (Nema) announced to our largely inattentive public and authorities that the pollution over Kampala is approaching crisis level. The Nema boss reeled off some head-reeling data in particulates per million, summarising it by saying the air over Kampala is eight times above WHO’s permissible levels.

The authorities and public continued yawning.But the Nema fellows dutifully put it clearly that air pollution is now the world’s single leading killer, claiming six to seven million lives annually, about the same number Covid killed in two years, and far more than malaria, HIV, road accidents or anything you can think of.

Nema named Uganda’s top polluters that kill 31,000 a year as vehicles, boda boda, and domestic cooking (charcoal and wood).

When we overcome the EFL and start tackling our EFT (not electronic funds transfer but Emergency of Failure to Think), we may direct the huge electricity quantities we generate but don’t consume to free cooking energy for the urban poor and to mass public transport, thus addressing the identified top causes of death in Uganda.

Nema can talk on but, for as long as we don’t handle our EFL and EFT, their alarm bells won’t move us.

Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail:buwembo@gmail.com

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Strictly Personal

If I were put in charge of a $15m African kitty, I’d first deworm children, By Charles Onyango-Obbo

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One of my favourite stories on pan-African action (or in this case inaction), one I will never tire of repeating, comes from 2002, when the discredited Organisation of African Unity, was rebranded into an ambitious, new African Union (AU).

There were many big hitters in African statehouses then. Talking of those who have had the grace to step down or leave honourably after electoral or political defeat, or have departed, in Nigeria we had Olusegun Obasanjo, a force of nature. Cerebral and studious Thabo Mbeki was chief in South Africa. In Ethiopia, the brass-knuckled and searingly intellectual Meles Zenawi ruled the roost.

In Tanzania, there was the personable and thoughtful Ben Mkapa. In Botswana, there was Festus Mogae, a leader who had a way of bringing out the best in people. In Senegal, we had Abdoulaye Wade, fresh in office, and years before he went rogue.

And those are just a few.

This club of men (there were no women at the high table) brought forth the AU. At that time, there was a lot of frustration about the portrayal of Africa in international media, we decided we must “tell our own story” to the world. The AU, therefore, decided to boost the struggling Pan-African New Agency (Pana) network.

The members were asked to write cheques or pledges for it. There were millions of dollars offered by the South Africans and Nigerians of our continent. Then, as at every party, a disruptive guest made a play. Rwanda, then still roiled by the genocide against the Tutsi of 1994, offered the least money; a few tens of thousand dollars.

There were embarrassed looks all around. Some probably thought it should just have kept is mouth shut, and not made a fool of itself with its ka-money. Kigali sat unflustered. Maybe it knew something the rest didn’t.

The meeting ended, and everyone went their merry way. Pana sat and waited for the cheques to come. The big talkers didn’t walk the talk. Hardly any came, and in the sums that were pledged. Except one. The cheque from Rwanda came in the exact amount it was promised. The smallest pledge became Pana’s biggest payday.

The joke is that it was used to pay terminal benefits for Pana staff. They would have gone home empty-pocketed.

We revive this peculiarly African moment (many a deep-pocketed African will happily contribute $300 to your wedding but not 50 cents to build a school or set up a scholarship fund), to campaign for the creation of small and beautiful African things.

It was brought on by the announcement by South Korea that it had joined the African Summit bandwagon, and is shortly hosting a South Korea-Africa Summit — like the US, China, the UK, the European Union, Japan, India, Russia, Italy, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey do.

Apart from the AU, whose summits are in danger of turning into dubious talk shops, outside of limited regional bloc events, there is no Pan-African platform that brings the continent’s leaders together.

The AU summits are not a solutions enterprise, partly because over 60 percent of its budget is funded by non-African development partners. You can’t seriously say you are going to set up a $500 million African climate crisis fund in the hope that some Europeans will put up the money.

It’s possible to reprise the Rwanda-Pana pledge episode; a convention of African leaders and important institutions on the continent for a “Small Initiatives, Big Impact Compact”. It would be a barebones summit. In the first one, leaders would come to kickstart it by investing seed money.

The rule would be that no country would be allowed to put up more than $100,000 — far, far less than it costs some presidents and their delegations to attend one day of an AU summit.

There would also be no pledges. Everyone would come with a certified cheque that cannot bounce, or hard cash in a bag. After all, some of our leaders are no strangers to travelling around with sacks from which they hand out cash like they were sweets.

If 54 states (we will exempt the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic for special circumstances) contribute $75,000 each, that is a good $4.05 million.

If just 200 of the bigger pan-African institutions such as the African Development Bank, Afrexim Bank, the giant companies such as MTN, Safaricom, East African Breweries, Nedbank, De Beers, Dangote, Orascom in Egypt, Attijariwafa Bank in Morocco, to name a few, each ponied up $75,000 each, that’s a cool $15 million just for the first year alone.

There will be a lot of imagination necessary to create magic out of it all, no doubt, but if I were asked to manage the project, I would immediately offer one small, beautiful thing to do.

After putting aside money for reasonable expenses to be paid at the end (a man has to eat) — which would be posted on a public website like all other expenditures — I would set out on a programme to get the most needy African children a dose of deworming tablets. Would do it all over for a couple of years.

Impact? Big. I read that people who received two to three additional years of childhood deworming experience an increase of 14 percent in consumption expenditure, 13 percent in hourly earnings, and nine percent in non-agricultural work hours.

At the next convention, I would report back, and possibly dazzle with the names, and photographs, of all the children who got the treatment. Other than the shopping opportunity, the US-Africa Summit would have nothing on that.

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

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