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A Fearful New Year By Sonala Olumhense

Three years ago, Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke, who was the Director-General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for her N100 million “Africans for Obama 08” con.

Three years ago, Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke, who was the Director-General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for her N100 million “Africans for Obama 08” con.

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The US Democratic Party quickly denied knowledge of her fundraising.  But Mrs. Okereke-Onyiuke, who was also the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Transnational Corporation of Nigeria (Transcorp), would not be silenced.  “I am a woman of the highest integrity,” she thundered.

Prior to her troubles over the Barack Obama presidential campaign, Okereke-Onyiuke had been in several other unseemly businesses, including helping to rig the 2003 presidential election by means of an illegal Obasanjo-Atiku fund-raiser, helping Obasanjo to buy hundreds of millions of Transcorp shares.

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In 2011, however, Okereke-Onyiuke was disrobed.  Remember: she came to prominence as the boss of the NSE, to which she had ascended on the basis of presumed experience at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).

But an investigation in the US found Okereke-Onyiuke to be a woman of the lowest virtue.  "A thorough search of our electronic and paper files for the names, Ndi Leche Okereke, Ndi Okereke, Ndi Okereke – Onyiuke and Ndi Lechi Okereke – Onyiuke was conducted,” a City University of New York official said in an affidavit. “No record was found that Ms. Ndi Okereke–Onyiuke ever enrolled in the Ph.D. Program in Business or received a Ph.D. in Business at The Graduate Center.”

And while she may quite legitimately have walked past the NYSE at some point in New York before taking up her appointment in Nigeria, it was established that she never worked there, either.

In other words, from her dizzying heights in Corporate Nigeria in 2008, Okereke-Onyiuke was, within two years, face down in the gutter.   

But her story demonstrates who we are, how we got here, and where we are going.  Hers is the story of Nigeria’s soft underbelly where character and ability take second place to connections and luck, and where charlatans led by greed guarantee that nothing works.

Political parties are not interested in character. The Senate does not examine political nominees critically; they are told to “bow and go,” the arrogant admission that that if the Upper House even scratched the skin of some nominees, they would find contaminated palm oil, not blood. 

And then soon after, when such a Minister or ambassador is discovered to be an-convict or a smuggler; when it is found that a bricklayer has been given a carpenter’s job, nobody is remotely embarrassed. 

It is all quickly covered up.  The bricklayer dismantles the team; silences and sidelines the key professionals; grabs the huge budget allocation; travels the world. 

Think about it: when Mr. Goodluck Jonathan scratched one spot in 2010, his Presidential Projects Assessment Committee found as many as 11,886 uncompleted projects. Receiving the report in June 2011, Mr. Jonathan swore to find funds in subsequent budgets to ensure their completion.  Regrettably, in the 2012 budget, he did not breathe one word about them.  But imagine what it would mean to our unemployment statistics if Nigeria restarted just one-tenth of that number!

Perhaps not even one-tenth: imagine the impact if we restarted just a few hundreds.  Maybe Diano Ovie-Richy, who announced his suicide intention on Facebook at Christmas and then implemented it, would still be alive, brimming with hope. Challenged Ovie-Richy, looking beyond himself, “What are you doing to help the person that is still alive?”

Our rulers create Ovie-Richy-sized desperation by stealing the funds meant for anything and everything.  Many of Jonathan’s 11,886 projects—and contemporary ones—disappear in front of our Ovie-Richys who are in no position to fight the thieves.  In 2011, for instance, we learned of the disappearance of hundreds of millions of Global Funds in Nigeria which were meant for combating HIV & AIDS.  Case closed.

But by far the biggest illustration of our hopelessness is security, the new ATM machine on which President Jonathan proposes to spend N961 billion in 2012. 

In the 2011 budget, the security largesse was spread out lavishly to include: the Police, N12.93 billion; the Army, N121.42 billion; the Navy, N74.084 billion; and the Air Force, N83.27 billion.  Still, Mr. Jonathan returned to the National Assembly in October, requesting a virement of N98.4 billion for security, of which he wanted to give to the Police N5.43 billion, the Army, N2.84 billion; and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, N33.11 billion.

But insecurity remains our story, growing from armed robbery to kidnapping to militancy to IED and suicide bombings.  It is confirmation that Jonathan is emptying buckets of petrol into the fire.  He is budgeting for security but paying for insecurity, yet telling us we must be prepared to live with the paradox of greater expenditures alongside rivers of blood.

But we are where we are precisely because nobody is addressing the collapse of governance in Nigeria.  There is governance in form, not in substance.  Policy is implemented in speeches, and accountability is not an issue.  Jonathan has pledged a transformation agenda, for instance, but he has not defined it. 

Even if he did publish his transformation plan, it would be dead on arrival because he is unwilling to tackle corruption.  To budget nearly one trillion Naira for security in an environment in which corruption eats billions for breakfast is to be deeply cynical.  History tells us that all of those funds will be gone before Jonathan’s first anniversary, and he will be back at the National Assembly with a new plea for security funds.

Why would those funds disappear?  Because we know they will be swallowed up by the same insatiable monster, the zookeepers of who are the Okereke-Onyiukes, the Owoeye Azazis, the Michael Aondoakaas, the Hafiz Ringims, the Lucky Igbinedions, and the Abdullahi Inde Dikkos. 

These are interlopers and political jobbers who may be special for their loyalty to power, but who are dangerous for their incompetence, their corruption or both.  They are men and women who ensure that Nigeria keeps running, backwards, but backwards is not an Olympics sport.  Any ruler who maintains quality of this nature on the frontline of a battle defines his own defeat. 

Last Thursday, for instance, the Minister of Science and Technology, Prof. Ita Ewa announced that two million jobs will be delivered to Nigerians in 2012 through the ministry's Cluster Concept.  Better still, the project will yield six million jobs through mainstream industrial activities; two million through backward stream; and 18 million downstream.  According to the Minister, over 26 million jobs will be created overall. 

This would be good news if we had not heard it all before, and if we did not know that within one year, nobody in the government would even remember there was ever such a plan.  Meanwhile, all the funds voted for the “concept” would have vanished.

This is why Nigeria cannot fulfill its potential.  “When you know that there is 99 percent chances you would be caught when you steal and 100 percent chances that you would go to jail, you won’t steal,” said Shamsudeen Usman, the Minister of National Planning, last October. 

That is: when you know there is a 99% chance you won’t be caught when you steal, and a 100% chance you won’t go to jail, you will steal.  That accounts for our shameless journey from building “a nation where no man is oppressed,” to one where we bomb worshippers at Christmas.

We have been looted into penury, dysfunction, and violence.  Once, we were the definition of potential.  And then we became all potential and no performance. 

But now, time has run out on us.  The devil is providing work for hands marginalized by a lootocracy.  Incompetence and weakness can no longer do it.  And so, we enter 2012, poised to become a cautionary tale that political insensitivity and impunity are currencies with a flammable exchange rate.
Happy New Year.

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