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Mixed Metaphors: Missing Punchlines By Sonala Olumhense

I write this is in honour of the Nigerian orator who said she would rather kill herself than commit suicide.

I write this is in honour of the Nigerian orator who said she would rather kill herself than commit suicide.

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Nigeria was built on speed, and I have known a lot of quick Nigerians.  From independence ceremonies in 1960 through a republican constitution to our first military coup was a mere six years, so it may be easy to understand why nothing which requires fleetness of feet surprises me within our boundaries.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, Nigerians produced fast boxers and faster sprinters, as a quick review of our Commonwealth and Olympic Track and Field delegations would demonstrate.  Any sport that needed to be completed within 10 or 20 seconds seemed manufacturer-made for Nigerians, and there was a period in which we nearly always put at least one man in the finals of a World sprints event.

That was before Nigerian rulers and sports associations began the voodoo of counting gold medals before we had even assembled teams for competitions.  They neglected the saying that you eat your chickens when they mature, not when the old chick is still sitting on the eggs.

Actually, that is not completely true, as Bayelsa State proved last week.

Bayelsa is ruled by one Timipre Sylva of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).  A PDP-ruled state nearly always remains a PDP State unless in situations where an electoral tribunal looks into a scandal that was previously called an election, and re-examines the evidence.

Similarly, a PDP governor who wishes to enjoy a second term gets a second nomination by the party, which almost always becomes generates that second term, unless in instances where things get a little mucky and the governor becomes a former governor who is forced to return from Britain dressed as a woman, or where he is invited to Abuja and told he will be the country’s next vice-president.

Anyhow, all that was until last week, when the PDP told the serving Bayelsa governor—who was previously the governor before he was sacked by a court only to be elected again—would not become the next governor.  Mr. Sylva, who had for quite some time not been in the same library with President Jonathan, let alone the same page, had heard of a political tsunami heading in his direction, but still could not believe it when his name failed to appear on the approved list of candidates.

But there was hope, of course.  In politics, there is always hope, unless you find out you are dead.  That is why, when some top party personnel told him there was something that could be done to ensure he did not lose what belongs to him, Governor Sylva asked only one question: How Much?

Then they put heads together, scratched what appeared to be names and phone numbers on a notepad, wrote some information that appeared to be names into Google, drew some images into Microsoft Publisher, and punched numbers into a calculator.  400, Governor, they said.

Governor Sylva arched an eyebrow in surprise.  400? he asked.

Some people who appeared to be the leaders of the group took their caps off, rubbed their heads and whispered spiritedly among themselves.

You did not hear us well, governor, one of them said.  The number is 500.  For 500, you will remain governor of this state for another four years.  In fact, your second term of office will not end until Jonathan has left Abuja.

Sylva broke into a smile.  “Why didn’t you say so before?” he asked them.  And then he asked: “What bank?”

They did not even look at each other.  “GMG Bank” they laughed, “5-EQ.”

An hour later, as the group and their key handlers attacked bottles of ogogoro and schnapps over unlimited supplies of fish peppersoup, it was done.  The 500 million, evenly split into five parts and disbursed into the trunks of five mint-new SUVs, drove through the gates of Government House and vanished into the Bayelsa night.

An hour later, Governor Sylva learnt that under no circumstances would he be allowed to run for governor under the PDP.

While that was going on, Samson Siasia, the Coach of the Super Eagles, was being sacked by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).  Under his watch, the Super Eagles had failed to qualify for the 2013 African Nations Cup.

The NFF, in effect, was asserting the principle of merit, which was both fascinating and funny, because Nigeria did not fail to qualify because of Siasia’s discipline issues with the team; it lost despite them.  It is eminently better to lose within the context of a disciplined team than to win without outside it, because sooner or later, indiscipline guarantees the most painful defeat.  The issue is that Nigeria sees the trees, never the forest or the farmland.  As a result, we would rather have defeat in the short sprints than prepare for victory in the long-distance race.  And so, last week, Nigeria enthroned another soccer magician.

But speaking of merit, last week in Johannesburg, the 2011 Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR) rewarded three Nigerian journalists for excellence.

Honoured as African Investigative Reporters of the Year were Peter Nkanga and Idris Akinbajo of NEXT newspapers, for their June 2011 story, “Last Minutes Oil Deal that Cost Nigeria Dear,” which detailed clandestine practices in Nigeria’s oil industry involving petroleum minister Diezani Alison-Madueke and other senior government officials.

FAIR celebrated the work as “an exceptional piece of journalism,” and also awarded another prize to NEXT’s Investigative desk editor, Musikilu Mojeed, for courage under intimidation and fire in supervising the story.  FAIR lamented that despite the incriminating evidence in the story, President Jonathan had gone ahead to return Mrs. Alison-Madueke to the same position in his new cabinet as petroleum minister. “In most countries, this article would cost the minister her job, if not her freedom,” it said.

FAIR does not understand: Alison-Madueke is not just one of Mr. Jonathan’s ministers; she appears to be one of his favourite people, judging by how often she is on his transformational travels.  A beautiful woman to have on long luxury flights, Jonathan must be asking her, “How can they say you are corrupt?”

Still, Mr. Jonathan has made a couple of respectable calls recently.  He says he will create special courts to focus on corruption cases, and also stop government officials from trooping abroad to seek medical care.  I commend him.

The question is whether he will ensure remarkable improvement in the health sector.  If he is not going to do that, his solution is worse than the problem.

Meanwhile, there are other forces thinking of abandoning their contributions to improving the quality of our health that the government ought to be worrying about.  One of them is the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which found in a recent audit that several Nigerian organizations that received hundreds of millions of dollars in grants were using the money to play kalokalo.

Groups such as the Melinda Gates Foundation, which is a key supporter of the Global Fund, are pouring a lot of money into helping us respond to disease, ignorance, inequality and poverty.   In six years, the Global Fund has signed grants of $682,149,515 with Nigeria, with nearly half a billion dollars already disbursed.  The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has itself already given over $25 billion in many countries.  Nigeria’s inaction could result in all of them and their friends folding their mats and taking their resources to other countries.

I have suggested in this column that if Mr. Jonathan truly wants to accomplish anything, he must find the courage to tackle his own party.  As last week’s developments in Bayelsa prove, the party is the biggest 419 of all, even unto itself.  We can move money, or move mountains.

But what do I know?  Like that orator, I would rather lose my sight than go blind.


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