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Nigeria and the Economy Community of West African States (ECOWAS): The Way Forward- Ali Ocheni

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The Treaty of Lagos, signed on 28th May, 1975, established the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a sub-regional group of West African countries.

At the time of its inception, there were sixteen member states: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote D’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Togo. Mauritania, however, withdrew from the Organization in 2000 and has since been a member of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) of North Africa.

It is worth noting that all these countries, except Liberia, shared a history of having been under colonial rule following the Berlin Conference of 1884/85 that mediated the “Scramble for Africa” by the metropolitan countries of Europe. They were former colonies of either the United Kingdom, France or Portugal. The concern about the negative impact and effects of colonial rule on the unity of the sub region prompted the Heads of State and Government of these countries to establish an organization that would promote the complementary development and economic integration of West Africa. The movement was spearheaded, in its initial phase, by General Yakubu Gowon of Nigeria and General GnassingbeEyadema, his Togolese counterpart. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Headquarters of the Community is located in Abuja, Nigeria while the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID) is sited in Lomé, Togo.

Other institutions and specialized agencies of ECOWAS sited in several member states include the Community Court of Justice, Community Parliament, West African Health Organization (WAHO), The Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering and Terrorism in West Africa (GIABA), West African Monetary Agency (WAMA), West African Monetary Institute (WAMI), the West African Power Pool (WAPP), ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREE), among others.

As already alluded to, the inspiration and motivating urge of the founding fathers of the Community was the rapid promotion of intra-regional economic development and integration. This was not only bold and visionary but many, at the time, thought it overly ambitious. Nonetheless, the leaders have kept faith and over the years, the Organization has played a significant role in the socio-economic growth and political development of member states. As a matter of fact ECOWAS has, in addition to its economic goals, given emphasis and attention to the security and political stability of the subregion, so much so that, today, it has become quite difficult to tell which of its objectives is preeminent: the original economic agenda or the newer political and security agenda that evolved on account of the security challenge that the subregionsubsequently faced.

In the circumstance, ECOWAS has adopted a two track and simultaneous approach to addressing and prosecuting its multifaceted agenda. Thus, it has expended energy and resources whenever the security of member states has been threatened. It has, therefore, from 1990 embarked on numerous peacekeeping operations in member states where security and stability have been compromised by internal conflict situations. These efforts and exertions have been undertaken in the belief that no real development can take place in the absence of peace and stability in member states. In addition, ECOWAS has encouraged member states to improve inadequate healthcare and disease control, act appropriately on issues of migration and citizenship, trade and trans-border crimes, famine and desertification and many other interventions.

ECOWAS is acknowledged as the most successful model of sub-regional integration on the African continent. But it must continue to retool its structures and processes if it is to achieve its set goals in response to changing sub-regional environment. It is in this regard that its Headquarters setup was transformed from an Executive Secretariat to a Commission in 2007. This was in accordance with the decision taken the previous year at the Summit of the Authority of Heads of State and Government in Niamey. The hope was that the change would, among other things, lead to the eventual transformation of “ECOWAS of States” to “ECOWAS of Peoples” in which the citizens of the subregion would be the focus of regional integration efforts and that they would take ownership of the integration project. Furthermore, the intention was to have a region without “borders” thereby facilitating free movement of peoples and goods and enabling them to come together as one people with a common destiny. This change of paradigm was to focus on citizens rather than states.

Unfortunately, member States and some ECOWAS officials often pursue narrower national and sub group interests instead of the larger regional interests in both their decision making and actions. Decisions at the Administrative and Finance Committee (Heads of ECOWAS National Offices) and Council of Ministers are, therefore, arrived at, often with the view of achieving national interests of member states instead of regional interests. The attachment to and prioritization of national and sub group interests over the larger regional interests by member states remains a major obstacle to the rapid implementation of ECOWAS socio-economic and integration agenda. Nothing exemplifies this unfortunate situation more than the current impasse and uncertainty over the Single Currency project where the Francophone and Anglophone member states appear to be on divergent tracks and perhaps even with different objectives.

Funding and financing of the ECOWAS project has always been an issue. Its funding has devolved largely on a single country. During the formative and early years of ECOWAS, Nigeria’s statutory contribution amounted to about 36% of its budget. However, with the introduction of the Community Levy of 0.5% surcharge of the value of imports from non-ECOWAS countries, Nigeria’s contribution shot up to about 90% of its total annual budget. Owing to observed significant wastage and inefficiency in its management system and processes Nigeria decided, with effect from 2004, to release no more than 0.3% of the Levy contribution. The balance of 0.2% has been held back and domiciled in an escrow account at the Central Bank of Nigeria. The position is that the retained funds will not be released until the allegations of mismanagement against the Organization are satisfactorily dealt with or a new levy formula recommended and approved for all member states. It is to be noted that in spite of withholding 0.2% of the levy, Nigeria’s contribution to the operational funding of ECOWAS still amounts to roughly 60%. This is in stark contrast to the 40% accruing from the remaining 14 member countries. Within this group Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire contribute 12% and 10% respectively.

Notwithstanding the huge financial burden shouldered by Nigeria, other member states and the Commission itself have continued to put pressure on her to quickly reverse the decision taken in the group interest and remit, in full, the 0.5% levy. So far, the Commission has not engaged in any serious introspection on the grave issues that Nigeria has raised, especially pertaining to the wasteful management of scarce resources. It would seem Nigeria is taken for granted, hence the reluctance and unwillingness or what may be termed the wilful failure to take any concrete steps to remedy and address her concerns and interests. Rather, all that one has noticed is the persistent call for the country to remove the embargo. In the circumstance many, therefore, are of the strong view that Nigeria should continue to withhold the 0.2% of the levy until there is considerable improvement by the Commission in the management of the Community resources and also there is evidence that other members actually remit their own contributions, limited as they might be.

It is doubtful that ECOWAS, on the basis of available evidence and actions taken, is inclined to bring down the high level of mismanagement of resources, especially in the Commission. A few examples to illustrate the point and its magnitude include the following:

i) The official residence of the President of the Commission, provided by Nigeria in accordance with the country’s obligation in the Headquarters-Host agreement, was abandoned at a point. This residence, in the highbrow Maitama district of Abuja, had been occupied by previous ECOWAS Presidents, but in the recent past, for reasons difficult to comprehend, a private house was leased for the ECOWAS President at a very high rate and rent paid for two years. In addition, there was an attempt to award a contract, at a huge cost, for the renovation of the abandoned Residence to a foreign contractor. The residence, being the property of Nigeria, should be renovated only after consultations with and approval by the Nigerian Government.;
ii) There is also the issue of purchase of airline tickets, most of which were sourced from travel agencies outside Nigeria where the Commission is located, making the point of departure different from the point of purchase. ECOWAS also maintains bank accounts outside Nigeria, where the Commission is located, with attendant extra costs of operating them.; and
iii) The Commission has a tendency to hold ECOWAS programmes outside Nigeria when costs would be lower if held at the Commission’s Headquarters. Perhaps with the Covid-19 pandemic restricting close physical contacts, the Commission will learn to hold fewer physical meetings and use its own facilities at the Commission for them.

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In the circumstance and in order to reduce duplication and cut down on waste, many people are of the considered view that there is need to review Host Agreements with countries hosting ECOWAS institutions with the view to ensure that uniform conditions apply in all member countries hosting ECOWAS Commissions, Institutions and Specialized Agencies, which seems not to be the case currently.

It seems obvious that it would be extremely difficult, as presently constituted and administered, for the Commission to provide the anchor for the expected transition from “ECOWAS of States” to “ECOWAS of People”. The current administrative management practices and the system of appointment of key officials of the Commission fail to take into consideration the financial contributions and demography of member states. For instance, Nigeria that contributes about 60% of the revenue of the Organization and has about 60 % of the community population (ECOWAS population is over 349 million and Nigeria’s is 200 million), should have a presence commensurate with its contribution.

This is, unfortunately, not the case. The country, for quite some time, has not exercised any real influence in the administration and general direction of the Organization. This would be intolerable and unacceptable in many international and intergovernmental institutions. It would neither be out of place nor unusual for Nigeria to seek and exert significant influence within ECOWAS as other major countries have done elsewhere. This  would not be reinvention of the wheel, given the practice in many International Organizations where certain strategic positions are even reserved for major countries and financiers. At the World Bank (IBRD), for instance, nobody questions the tradition that its President is always an American while at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) the Managing Director comes from Europe. In our continent and within the Southern African Development Community (SADC), South Africa, because she is the major financial contributor, can and often override or shape its decisions and also has significant input in the management of the finances of this regional economic community.

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Nearer home in our subregion in the West African Monetary Union (UEOMA) – a  Francophone grouping where Côte D’Ivoire, with a contribution over 30%, is the biggest financial provider and, not surprisingly, is a permanent Governor of the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) and also controls and influences the Administration and Financial decisions of the Organization. It is believed that there is need to redefine the principle of equitable and just distribution of the “cost and benefits” of economic cooperation and integration as contained in Article 4 of the ECOWAS revised Treaty, with a view to changing the appointment pattern of key officials to reflect the level of financial contributions and demography of member states.

The present structure of the ECOWAS Commission seems to be modelled after the European Union Commission but, unfortunately, without the vision and resources of the latter. The additional financial burden for the 15-member Commission has been enormous (about US $10 million). This already has a negative impact on the scarce resources of the Community. It has also created a top heavy structure for the Commission with a high amount of resources deployed to administrative costs. With reduced and smaller investment in programmes and capital projects, ECOWAS’ impact on citizens of the sub region has become impossible or, at best, only minimal. If ECOWAS must continue with the current 15-member Commission, it should give consideration to the EU practice where each member state pays most, if not all, of the expenses of its own Commissioner.

ECOWAS needs to pay greater attention and concentrate on infrastructure development, harmonization of laws, procedures and policies that would encourage the economic growth of member states and facilitate faster and smoother sub-regional integration. This is necessary and urgent as most of the laws and procedures in member states are modelled after those of their former colonial masters.

Member countries also need to step up interaction among themselves using tools such as diplomatic engagement, dialogue and consultations to advance the overall interests of the Community as against the narrow national interests of individual member or group of states referred to earlier. A clear strategy should be developed to address the issue of the protection of Community citizens from being discriminated against by governments and citizens of other member states. Discrimination and unfair trade practices against Community citizens, unfortunately, have become commonplace. This is totally unhelpful and a complete negation of the ECOWAS purpose and agenda.

Needless to say, there is also the need for ECOWAS to clearly distinguish and separate political leadership and technical leadership within it. Failure to do so has led to flawed governance and inappropriate institutional models currently in place at the Commission. The main concern of ECOWAS and its institutions should be to ensure that the decisions of the Authority of Heads of State and Government are translated into implementable programmes in a most effective and efficient manner. These functions should be carried out by the technical leadership under the supervision of the political leadership. The tendency of creating unnecessary layers of administration and offices within ECOWAS should be resisted. First and foremost, the Community was established as an institution to promote and accelerate sub-regional development and integration. The situation where member states use it as a platform to create employment opportunities for their citizens is totally unacceptable and therefore should not be tolerated under the guise of political correctness. Political consideration should not override technical competence and capability in recruitment within ECOWAS and its institutions.

ECOWAS should also, as a matter of policy, continue to raise awareness about its activities, especially those of its many institutions so that the outcomes of their work could be brought to the attention of Community citizens. The opportunities and benefits derivable from ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID), for example, are not known to Community citizens. In this regard it would be very helpful if member states could share information and carry out sensitization programmes on ECOWAS projects among their citizens. The Commission should work for the full implementation by member states of the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons, Goods, Services and Right of Establishment. Sanctions should be imposed on member states that undermine the full implementation of the Protocol, especially movement of goods that are imported from third countries and attack on business premises of other community citizens. It is also time for the ECOWAS Court of Justice to be given additional jurisdiction to entertain disputes on economic and trade issues in the Community. The situation where the Court entertains mostly political and human rights issues should be looked into.

In concluding this retrospection on Nigeria in ECOWAS during these past 45 years, the questions that immediately come to mind are: has the country achieved its set goals within the body? What has it done or failed to do during this period that yielded less than the expected results? What could have been done differently and what is the way forward?

It is a little troubling that Nigeria appears not to be exerting itself robustly and with its usual confidence and authority within ECOWAS. This reticence may very well be on account of patent domestic challenges, declining resources and even policy obtuseness. Whatever is responsible, the situation is, nonetheless, frustrating. One recalls with pride her significant interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone, which in conjunction with the efforts of other likeminded countries, helped to restore peace, security and stability to those member states when they were in grave distress. One is fully aware that our upbeat exertions were aided and made easier by greater state capacity at the time. Nonetheless, it is one’s earnest hope that Nigeria will, within available resources, continue to act with vigour and vision within ECOWAS.

Several commentators have suggested that Nigeria, even though it has been generally selfless and made enormous sacrifices, has not been able to drive ECOWAS to the realization of its set goals during this period. Such analysts ascribed it to lack of trust within the Organization. They posited that, more often than not, Nigeria was dealing with a group of states, some of which are suspicious of her intentions. In fact, some of the Community members are made to believe that all Nigeria wants in ECOWAS is to dominate them. Nothing can be further from the truth on the basis of personal knowledge of the operations of the Organization. Our participation in it has always been non-threatening. We only seek to lead and energize its activities. We do not seek to dominate or usurp.

Notwithstanding the climate of suspicion about its intentions, fostered by its detractors, Nigeria should continue to conduct, as it has always done, itself in a manner that furthers both its national, as well as the overall regional interests of the Community.

All that is required of Nigeria is to be proactive by engaging and discussing with other member countries, even before ECOWAS meetings, so that its positions would be clearer and better understood. The way forward is for the country to engage more and this engagement should be more strategic. It should be represented in ECOWAS and its various institutions by its very best who cannot be faulted on the basis of their competence. And, of course, there is absolute need for the country’s delegation to always prepare adequately before any ECOWAS meeting. This would allow full articulation of the issues and ensure familiarity by all concerned with our positions on them to facilitate effective negotiation with our interlocutors and partners. In this regard, ECOWAS meetings must be attended, at all times, by appropriate Government departments and officials that are responsible and who are fully seized with the issues at stake. The situation in 2014 where Nigeria was not represented at a crucial meeting to review the Community levy in Cape Verde should not be allowed to repeat itself.

Finally, it is believed that the time is long overdue for Nigeria to assess, review and critically interrogate its presence and role within ECOWAS, in effect, what it means to be Nigeria in ECOWAS. The assessment of the journey undertaken so far should also indicate the path to the future of the ECOWAS that the country wants and what its role in it should be.  Nigeria, with all its assets, will have to make up its mind, whether it wishes to be a leader or simply just any other member. It will have to make that determination and demonstrate fidelity to it. That is the choice and the way forward.

 

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H.E. AMB. Ali Ocheni, Nigeria Former Consul-General, People’s Republic of China.

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Opinion

The truth that hurt Onoja by Usman Okai Austin

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Over the weekend, convener of #RevolutionNow movement and publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore and the Deputy Governor of Kogi State, Edward Onoja, were involved in a social media war of words.


Edward’s daughter was recently admitted into the prestigious Nile University as a student. ( I have to put that student there to avoid Nigerians asking me whether she was admitted as a patient or a security agent).
An elated Edward Onoja took to his Twitter handle to wish his beloved daughter God speed ( whatever that means. You know in the Federal Religious Republic of Nigeria, we can coin anything to make our religiosity appear top notch. It is almost another kind of sin to not be religious in my country.)
I don’t think Edward did anything wrong by taking his daughter to school, taking photographs with her and wishing her success.
After all , success is what we all wish for our children. I was happy for him and the young lady, who was all smiles in the picture.
Omoyele Sowore also added a voice to the many congratulatory comments pouring in for the Onojas as a well wisher. In his prayers, he wished Edward’s daughter what a parent would naturally wish a beloved child.
But that obviously didn’t go down well with our darling deputy. He could not hold his emotions and consternation. What followed was a litany on invective. What is in Sowore’s prayer?
He prayed that the child;
1. May graduate and get a job.
2. May not be owed salaries when eventually employed.
3. May not be denied her pension after retirement.
Personally, I do not see anything wrong with this prayer. I do not think that any Nigerian would find fault with it. After all, Nigeria is the most religious in the world. The deputy governor himself goes to church. He has, on several occasions, demonstrated his sublime love for God by dedicating all his success to Him. So why the vituperation?
I would tell you why. Omoyele seemed to have touched the very truth through that cynical prayer. He squarely addressed the problems of Kogi State. The first truth glaring at Edward in the face is the total neglect of education in Kogi State. From primary to university education in Kogi State, it is a tale of deprivation and neglect. The Kogi state University is the worst, and is being referred to as a glorified secondary school by mockers. I personally spoke to a professor from the school. The erudite man complained of being owed salaries and even the current ones are paid at the discretion of the government. A lot of professors are abandoning the school for acolytes of the government.
The dream of the founder of the school, Prince Abubakar Audu , to be a world class institution and also affordable to the less privileged has been washed down the drain by a government in which Edward is a key player. The school now ranks 89th in Nigeria and 10477th in the world. A shameful reversal of fortune for a school which hasn’t lasted up to 30 years.
At the moment, the school fees have more than tripled for new and old students. For new students who are from the state, the school fees range between N57,000 and N68,000, while for those who are not from Kogi State it ranges from approximately N100,000 to N150,000.
Before you say it is still normal, please consider that in that state, many people are owed salaries. The said salaries are anything from N30,000 to N100,000, of which percentages are paid reluctantly by the government when they feel like.
These salaries are earned by only about less than 30% of Kogi’s 3.4 million strong population. The remaining over 70% are farmers, who struggle with the stubborn soil to eke out a living. These are men and women who believe that their children would one day put smiles on their faces when they are out of school.
The university education is being pushed out of their reach by means of the increased fees. Their parents, those who are lucky to work in government are not paid salaries and the school fees are not affordable.
We haven’t talked about primary and secondary education. The teachers are owed multiple salaries, and are forced back into the farms. They come to school when they are free. There is no government presence in the villages. The parent-teacher associations of most village and suburban schools have decided to find a way around the problem. They have resorted to employing secondary school leavers and other volunteers to teach in those secondary and primary schools under the title of PTA teachers. Their responsibility is on the association which pays them anything from N2,000 to N10,000 monthly.
Pray, what kind of service would anyone expect from such a situation? The first problem is that they are not qualified to teach. So, they would end up churning out half baked students and continue a circle of mediocrity. When their products get to the university, they are behind their peers on many fronts.
Secondly, a man who is receiving that kind of wage is not happy. What can N10,000 buy in today’s Nigeria? They too would look for alternatives that would better their living standard.
The story of Kogi state is a litany of woes. Edward should have simply said Amen to Sowore’s prayer instead of trying to put up a face saving argument that didn’t even come close to address the subtle indictment.
He stated that Sowore should have kept family out of politics. I want to ask Edward a simple question. Is it not politics that made his family the second family in Kogi state? The children they employ as thugs in Kogi state to run their political races for them are also people’s children.
They education system that has died in their hands are to breed good and responsible children. How can you destroy the future of other people’s children and be angry that yours was mentioned? Are some children more children than others?
Lastly, the kinds of words and angry vituperation that oozed from his response to Sowore are totally unbecoming of a man of his class.

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They are so vitriolic and completely lacking in substance. It shows one thing. That the man and his boss do not brook any other opinion that does not serve their interests. They want to be praised, worshipped and called ‘Excelon..’, whatever that means.
What is good for the goose is good for the gender. That’s what Sowore has implied. Edward had better sit down and provide the answer. He should stop those use of grammar that say nothing to us.

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Opinion

THE MAN, BUBA MARWA: WHY NIGERIANS AND THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY MUST SUPPORT HIM IN THE FIGHT AGAINST DRUGS– By Amb. Sunny Irakpo

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Nigerians were in ecstatic mood some months back when the former military administrator of Lagos and Borno states resumed office as the new Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA).

The anti-drug agency has a well-known reputation for apprehending individuals and groups that are into exportation and importation of banned substances into the country. In recent years, the NDLEA hasn’t been living up to its reputation of combating crime that are related to the production, packaging, usage and marketing of banned drugs all over the country. The agency, being one of the agencies working with the federal ministry of health, has recorded remarkable and spectacular achievements since its establishment. They have made visible progress in reducing the rate at which people produce and market hard drugs.

In the last decade, the scourge of hard drugs production and marketing has increased rapidly where present report have it that an estimated 15 million Nigerians are drug addicts of which one(1) out of every four(4) females in the country is a drug addict according to the United Natuons Office on Drug Control in 2018. We have seen cases of Nigerians making attempts to either import (smuggle) or export hard drugs in and out of the country. There have been countless cases of people that were apprehended by the Customs and NDLEA officials at our international airports and our land borders in recent years.
Nigeria as a country lack sensitization programs on the dangers of drug abuse and the monumental risk factor of involving in drug smuggling. Due to many psychosocial factors, many Nigerians have been lured into drug businesses. It has become prevalent amongst both genders. These days, you see women hiding drugs in different parts of their bodies and the men using different schemes to swindle immigration officers at the airports in their attempts to smuggle or export banned substance into or out of the country.

These acts are becoming prevalent in recent years and well-meaning Nigerians have been expressing concerns about the organization and its reputation that is fading away due to negligence and lack of government’s investment and adequately budgeting resources needed for the agency to thrive in curbing the business of hard drugs and apprehending its dealers.

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So, with the coming of Gen. Buba Marwa as the helmsman of the agency, all hopes have been restored and there are huge optimism that the organization will live up to its expectations by combating drug abuse and apprehending unlicensed dealers and illicit drug traffickers. The new NDLEA BOSS is a man with a stellar record in corporate management and organization excellence as a former military administrator of Lagos and Borno states, where some of us as pupils/students then in primary and secondary schools got familiar with his performance as his name rang bell even to the ears of the deaf of his noble achievements and fight against criminality in Lagos state in particular. As a concerned citizen and unrepentant follower of his track record, he has done excellently well in all the national tasks that were assigned to him by the federal government, especially in the area of drug management and control which he keeps demonstrating leadership capacity with undeniable results.

Haven attained high scores based on his performance from the previous appointment as the Chairman of the Presidential Committee for the Elimination of Drug Abuse in Nigeria, where he championed a comprehensive report to the federal government on the committee’s findings which necessitated his appointment as the new boss of the organization. His recommendation was as a result of his sheer determination and concern to save millions of Nigerians who are currently addicted to the menace of drugs. Needless to say, Gen. Buba Marwa is an astute gentleman with a penchant for excellence, growth, quality, a carrier of goodwill and discipline needed for achieving organization’s goals and objectives who for some of us are thus inspired and motivated by his personality, deeds and outstanding records as a gallant soldier and for his emergence as the man whom the cap fits. He has displayed readiness and will power as someone with the technical know-how and character to reposition the agency to greater heights.

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Why Nigerians and the world should support this distinguished Nigerian. From all performance indicators, the man is a goal-getter with proven integrity, goodwill and a detribalised personality who ensures that patriotism and national interest are pursued in place of personal aggrandizement. Just recently, the agency within 2 months has recorded successes worthy of commendation. For the whole of 2019, it is on record that the Murtala Mohammed International Airport NDLEA Command only recovered 34.109kg of cocaine and 21.79kg of heroine but with less than 2months of the new drug Sheriff in 2021, the command has seized 63.217kg of cocaine and 950kg heroine respectively.

In cannabis seizure, Edo state was in the news recently as 16,344 bags and seed weighing 233,778kg with estimated street value of the illicit drugs put at over 1.4 billion naira was seized, should Kogi state be mentioned where the command seized 10,978,399kg of the illicit drugs worth street value of 3billion naira seized or the 26 hectares of land recover, the 313, 36.759kg destroyed, should the seized cocaine in Lagos worth 30 billion naira be mentioned or the container loaded with tramadol be mentioned and so on.

The passion that is being exhibited by the new NDLEA Chief in this task is worth of emulation, couple with dedication, motivation, assurances of welfare packages and reward system to performing personnel, calls for partnerships and collaborations, anti-drug tours and visits etc. All these are signs of a dogged and pragmatic leadership. Sadly, the drug barons have found huge market within our youthful population by destroying their futures to make wealth. Nigerians should realize that when you throw a stone to the market, you won’t know who it will hit. Drug dealers as you throw stones, it can hit one of your relatives who go to the same market for trade.

In my noblest call, Nigerians should throw their weight behind this gallant soldier by supporting the fight at the family and community level. No youth should die aimlessly and ignorantly. No nation can survive nationhood or develop if the youths are sacrificed at the altar of drug abuse which is our current peril as a state. As we cry every day due to the high level of insecurity, kidnapping, banditry, criminality, cultism etc. Nigeria needs the youths for her inheritance to be preserved. Frankly speaking, the drug scourge is not a problem for the new NDLEA leader, but that of all Nigerians. The obvious fact is that no family is safe whether rich, middle class or the poor.
The federal government of Nigeria including the legislative and the executive arms must not pay lip service, the need for huge fund injection to help get the needed result is undebatable. Corporate organisations, religious bodies, traditional institutions, well-meaning individuals, the international community and donor agencies should come to our aid so as to help rescue Nigerian youths from total destruction in order to fulfil their purposes of creation.

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At our end, SILEC Initiatives as an organization is very much effective and relevant as we are in the forefront in the fight. We are glad to recognize the proactive steps taken by the head of the NDLEA and we are looking forward to working with him as he interfaces with all the NGOs that are into anti-drug sensitization and counselling.
There is indeed a breath of fresh air in the NDLEA and as an organization that is into anti-drug campaigns for over a decade now, we are already warming up to further expand our scope of work as it is our tradition to work with all government agencies that are into combating drug abuse. The need for we all as citizens and corporate citizens to stand and save Nigeria from this habitual and moral decadence is NOW!

Amb. Sunny Irakpo is the founder/President Silec Initiatives, youth leader and anti-drug abuse advocate, U.S Government sponsored Exchange Alumni of the International visitors leadership program (IVLP) in combating drug addiction and the opioid crisis, bureau of educational and cultural affairs, U.S Department of State Washington DC

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Opinion

IGALA, WE SHALL RETURN-Col. Suleiman Babanawa

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The lgala are nostalgic and proud about the exploits and accomplishment of their ancestors.

That is the way of a proud race, one that has never been colonised by any black race. Unlike other ethnic nationalities in Central Nigeria, the Igala did not experience ‘foreign’ rule, the type that the Fulani Jihadists brought to Northern Nigeria.
We were not conquered by the Fulanis or Jukuns or any tribe becsuse of the type of leaders and the quality of the average Igala man, There were personal sacrifices made by our leaders and even our illustrious princess paid the supreme price to save her people. Igala warriors led by the Ibaji conquered the Afemai, the Esan and fought a bitter expansionist war with the Bini army. They gave us that place of pride in history and for that we remain eternally grateful for their efforts.
. However, today the world of the lgala nation has changed as the craze now is for money and the good things of life.
In the course of time, I identified some internal flaws in our character which are militating against the political, economic and social progress of our ethnic nationality. The folk at home, the ‘boys’ and the leaders are to blame for the situation we now find ourselves. Let me explain.
*The Folks* The urge to make it in quick time, build a house and own a car has reduced the self esteem of the Igala resident at home, both the young and the old.. Poverty, hunger and relative deprivation has done so much damage to the concience of our people as they have been reduced to unwilling beggers. If you call any meeting today the mind of our people go straight to money ….how much is he giving? Their interest is in the morsel, not from whom or where it is coming from. And that was the reason that aided Mr Yahaya Bello the Ebira governorship candidate to make inroad in Igalaland in 2019 elections. I wish to state without fear of contradiction that leaders are recognised by the amount of money they doll out to people and the frequecy they ‘service’ followers. The folks are not loyal to anybody or any political party. They are like your smartphones, no credit, no deal.
*The ‘Boys’* The ‘boys’ include people of all grades, from teenagers to octogenarians, who are able to demonstrate their loyalty through sycophancy, backstabbing, treachery or shedding of blood. They include illitrates the political thugs, the educated, the elite and the extremely poor. They live in Igala land, in Abuja and other cities in Nigeria and in the diaspora. They usually identify themslves as politicians and honourables,Elders etc the ‘boys’ could be tricksters who know the most effective prayer men, marabouts, imams and prayer warriors. They inundate politicians and money men of Igala extraction with clever proposals and irresistible verbal presentations on how to win elections and how to exercise power. The ‘boys’ can say or do anything to extract money from would- be ‘exellencies’. The ‘boys’ can and often serve more than 2 masters.They quarantine gubernatorial aspirants and candidates and determine who talks to ‘his excellency’ and who does not. They share appointments into the cabinet of the ‘governor elect’ before the election is done.
The ‘boys’ are always on the move, energetic and full of ideas.They are always available to hail their paymasters. In public gatherings they defend the sordid past of their masters who did not live to expectation in their past leadership roles. They are the attack dogs if anyone tries to be different or fails to identify with the ideas and pronouncements of their paymasters. The boys kill the Igala nation in instalments as a result of greed and the struggle to belong.
*The Leaders* Leadership in our land is always a function of money, how deep your pocket is. Our people have never lacked leaders, it is just that the leaders never last on the stage for obvious reasons–lack of money. There has been a great turnover of leaders since 2003 when Abubakar Audu lost his re-election bid. Leaders came out in their numbers trying to rule the state. Many people are no longer leaders, again for the reasons of lack of resources.Some past leaders who ruled the state were not prepared for leadership. They came, saw and conquered resources for themselves. They did not impact the lives of their people meaningfully. They left goverment house richer than they came in, even as their people have no water to drink and no electricity to grow their cottage industries. However, they would empower some cronies especially chief thugs and fronts. It is interesting that several years after they vacate power, our former governors try to castigate another government for underdeveloping their people. Our political leaders would wail for the people and call for unity and reconcilliation when they or their wards want to contest election. Is it not time we talk about remorse and restitution? The people are united in their poverty and hunger. All we need at this point is to reconcile our concience with lost opportunities.
*The Blame Game?* The blame game does not help us but the aim of a post mortem is to learn some lessons and avoid certain human erors that should never happen again. If you go to Ebiraland today you will understand what your people expect you to do for them if you are in the driving seat. Good hospital, world class water project, institutions of higher education, electricity etc etc. I love the transformation of Okene, the Confluence University and its Teaching Hospital under construction. I admire the feat of the Ebiranization of the top echelon of Kogi State Civil Service and the heavy presence of Anebira in the Boards and parastatals of the Federal Govermentof Nigeria. Tough sons get such things done for their people, broken natives are too naive to contemplate that. Even at Ogugu, in Igalaland, see what Mr Edward Onoja is doing for his people. Never has any project of that magnitude been done anywhere in Igalaland for the benefit of the common man. That is how I rate leaders and leadership. Any other criteria?
WHAT MUST BE DONE
My observation is that we wish for better days ahead without willing to pay the price. Our hope and strength remain in our youths but most of them are the ‘boys’, their education and exposure not withstanding. The unfortunate fact is that most of our people, especially the youths toy with their future. They follow feudalists and mercantile politicians who do not know the pain of our people. Of what use are leaders who maintained cowardly silence in the face of injustice, cruelty and all forms of oppression metted to their peoplle? They do not risk anything for the sake of the people, even as they could buy the people guns and cutlasses to protect votes for themselves.
The Igala are nostangic and fervently desire to return to their rightful position in Kogi politics. I suggest the following measures that are necessary and of immediate importance:
*Enlightenment*. Enlighten and continue to educate your family on politics in lgalaland and Kogi State in general.. Impress it on the minds of every members of your family that lgala people have resoved to vote only for an Igala candidate. Your effort should be directed at members of your family and extended family, inlaws and friends.
*Registration of voters* Ensure that members of your family have voters card. Those who lost theirs due to whatever reason shoud go and get their cards back with effect from May/June 2021 as directed by INEC.
*Search For Good Learders*. Those who know the traits of good leaders should strive to get them out. The leaders must be knowledgeable,versatile and honest. Our leaders must be ready to restore our broken spirit. The leaders must be Igala body and soul and loyal to our race. They must not be bought and carried away by sycophants and the mafia(both internal and external). He must not be a religius fanatic. Leaders who did their earlier education in Igala land or have once lived among the people should be at advantage. Leaders who live outside our shores in the diaspora but have record of attending to and solving community problems are at great advantage. The search should be meticulous. Dont just accept anything imposed on you.Open your eyes, upgrade your morale values and pray. Search for young vibrant leaders, they are there!!
*Prepare For War.* As you whole heartedly resolve to serve your nation, be on your guard. Watch your back. Your preparation must start today, not January 2023. Election in Kogi is a war in many ways. There is the ta-ta ta-ta-phase. There is kill and go phase. There is INEC abracadabra phase, the tribunal jibiti phase and the take- it -or leave -it verdict of my Lords. I dont advocate for violence but prepare to stay alive.
*Look for Sponsors* Our people must look for sponsorship from among our sons and daughters to assist with the huge cost of running a gubernatorial election. Here our former Gorvenors must take the lead.
*Assert Yourselves*.Igalas must be ready to assert themselves. For any party in this countr to think that they can hurt the feelings of the lgala people without consequences is unbelievable. Its only the eyes of a child that fears a painted devil. We must collectively come to terms with our fate.
*We must organize*. The power of the poor lies in their ability to organize. We must cordinate ourslves in each of our hamlets, communities and towns. Lack of unity is being tauted as one of our drawbacks.Idont think so. Its just a cheap blackmail. Unity of purpose is what we need in Igala land.Not the utopian unity we call for everyday as if we are at war with each other. In any case the actions and inactions of every lgala son and daughter (not necessarily the leaders) will largely determine our sense of direction.
*Shun Cowardice* I regret to say that most lgala leadears love their safety and security so much that they preferred to be seen but not to be heard. for the fear of government thugs, security officials, armed robbers, bandits kidnappers etc. They fear lgala land and speak as if this is Borno State or a war .Leadears must speak up and kick where necessary. If leaders fear humilation and persecution, they are not yet leaders. What is leadership without courage. I wish Dino Melaye were an lgala. That is why I love Austin Okai and Austin Otene, my young Turks..Remember:”No guts, no glory”. And you know that.
*Enthrone justice, Shun Violence* It is important that we enthrone justice in our land, even as we must shun violence. I feel sad and devasted when ever l see or hear of injustice and violence among our people. We must do everything to recognise the right and dignity of each and every member of our great nation.We must fight security threats and breaches by exposing criminals in our domain
I wish to thank Dr Aminu Audu ffrom UK for his short comment on the need for us to radically change our ways froom greed and corruption to enable us choose the right leaders. It is this comment that motivated me to write this piece.

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