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INTERNATIONAL POLITICS

Tinubu’s many Baptisms

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By Dr Chidi Amuta

Very few presidents get the unhappy privilege of previewing the full gamut of worries that will torment their presidency all within their first 100 days. President Bola Tinubu is lucky to belong in this rare collection. In less than a hundred days in office, he has faced challenges in the key areas that make or mar any national leadership. He has hit a domestic economic storm over his sudden halt of a troublesome subsidy regime on gasoline and foreign exchange. That has unleashed still unfolding economic and social consequences. He has faced severe political indigestion over his tardy handling of a ministerial list that almost got him into a constitutional trouble. As if that was not enough political palaver, he has had to cast away the bumbling chairman and secretary of his wobbly ruling party and replaced the chairman with a dollar loving ex- governor. Still to his benefit, a group of ambitious military officers in nearby Niger Republic decided to boot out the fledgling democratic government of President Bazoum.  That has thrown in a foreign relations angle to Tinubu’s cocktail just as he assumed the ceremonial leadership of the sub regional ECOWAS bloc.

If the world at home and abroad were to be still and at peace for his first hundred days, Mr. Tinubu would probably have concluded that being president of Nigeria is a cakewalk. But somehow, the man is lucky to have a fair sample of what lies ahead for him. These are the previews of a presidency that will be defined by unusual happenings. Each of these challenges presages an interesting time that could redefine the life of Nigerians and the future of the nation. Hovering at the background is of course the unresolved matter of the legitimacy of the Tinubu government and the integrity of the controversial February 25th presidential election now before tribunals and courts.

On the domestic front, the subsidy related crises have just begun. The impact of the hike in gasoline pump prices is in its infancy. The immediate rise in transportation costs, food inflation and escalating business costs are still unfolding. Labour unions are merely rehearsing long drawn protests and strikes that could linger for long stretches. The president has shown a perennial willingness to engage with representative of those hurt by his harsh policy options. That is a plus for the man.

The end of the subsidy regime was inevitable and a matter of national survival. A national economy that is spending over 100% of its revenue on debt servicing and with an external debt burden of over 100 billion dollars has nowhere to run to for relief. Subsidy on gasoline in particular is more like a gasoline tax whose incidence falls on hapless and helpless citizens. Foreign exchange arbitrage, disguised patronage and racketeering is also a form of subsidy to users of foreign exchange which had to end. Sundry leakages like crude oil theft, illegal mining and outright pilferage from the treasury have become imperatives if the economy must survive. For Mr. Tinubu therefore, these hard decisions were national existential imperatives.

It however remains debatable whether the President’s rather cavalier method of ending the subsidy regime is the best. Experts have argued that the subsidies could have been removed on a stage by stage gradual basis to cushion its impacts. But it turns out now that beyond the bravura of the Eagle Square off-script announcement of the withdrawal of the petroleum subsidy, little or no serious thought had gone into the consequences of the policy measure. That the announcement of the policy was made far ahead of the constitution of a cabinet and other critical bodies of the new government may indicate a government that is prone to hasty ad hoc policy measures than a rigorous approach to policy issues. Predictably, an equally hasty and lazy cash transfer measure was announced and touted as a comprehensive palliative. It turned out to be lazy, haphazard and almost foolish.

The arrangement was presumably designed to pay N8, 000 a month to each of 15 million households for a six month period. When subjected to widespread public scrutiny, it turned out that the measure was not properly thought through. No one was sure of the credibility of the statistical base for the cash transfer or the authenticity of the list of projected beneficiaries. It turned out that the list that the Buhari administration had used to implement its own N5, 000 per family cash transfer was adjudged unreliable and dodgy by the National Economic Council (NEC). The pressure of public opinion and outright lobbying from cash hungry state governors forced the presidency to drop the move and return to the drawing board.

Predictably, the President has now been forced by pressure of strikes and protests from labour unions to announce a new set of palliatives and relief measures. These range from food supply boosts, small business low interest credit incentives to provision of buses for mass transportation. In the absence of a fully formed government and a mechanism for ensuring serious implementation of the relief measures, we are still left with a scant instrument for policy implementation. What is required is not just the good intentions of a compassionate president but the combined will of a committed government as a collectivity. More importantly, government’s communication strategy needs to be revised to inform the public that the end of a subsidy regime implies a revision of our economic model. It requires time for the economic benefits of the end of subsidy to translate into beneficial outcomes. Most importantly, the federal government must re-direct the development goals of the nation from landscape decoration and white elephant projects to massive investment in social sectors of health, education and strategic infrastructure.  In his handling of the unfolding ripple effects of the end of subsidy, President Tinubu failed an elementary item in the code of presidential conduct. Presidents   preside over good and bad news. But they are not supposed to break bad news. They appoint fa;; guys to carry bad news and clean the mess. The president only appears on television with the good news when the clean up is done or almost done. Tinubu should have waited to appoint ministers to manage the subsidy removal trouble and only appear to address the nation when the palliatives and relief measures are ready.

The political challenges and methods that will define the Tinubu presidency are already in full display. The president has obviously displayed unnecessary sloppiness in coming up with a list of ministers. A president that prides himself in having been long in politics and angling to lead could not readily come up with a list of 40 odd ministerial nominees over nearly a three month? The Nigerian public expected a faster delivery of the list to the Senate in contrast to the embarrassing delay in Mr. Buhari’s first term. Although the list has at last been delivered, the list reads more like a telephone directory of jobless strange bedfellows. The hopes that were raised in terms of the caliber of persons and the skill set required by the nation’s current state of disrepair.

One school of thought expected Mr. Tinubu to replicate his Lagos state emphasis on technocrats and seasoned reputable experts as against politicians. Instead, what the Senate is currently considering is a mixed bag of odd fellows. There are less than half a dozen worthwhile technocrats of any description. There are less than a dozen women, fewer than eight real youth. The rest is a mixture of former governors and opportunistic political jobbers.

Clearly, the segment of the Nigerian populace that harbored a messianic expectation of the Tinubu cabinet may be in for a rude shock. The majority of ex- governors on the ministerial list have only one major qualification: they are APC governors who helped Tinubu corner the presidential election. Other than that, they are the same governors who could not secure their states from casual bandits, who could not pay workers salaries and benefits for months on end. They are the same bunch of incompetent governors who literally sank their states in debt and shut down schools at the slightest opportunity.  The only conspicuous outsider from the APC band is former Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, who is being rewarded by Mr. Tinubu for betraying his party, the PDP, and pumping up Tinubu’s vote tally by all means in his state.

The internal politics of the ruling party, the APC, has now equally received Tinubu’s attention. The president has quickly moved to rejig the party machinery in line with his perceived cult of devotees. No one knows exactly what belief holds these devotees together other than crass loyalty to the president.  The Adamu -led executive may have been good enough to deliver Mr. Buhari’s succession plan or lack of it. Mr. Tinubu has now jettisoned that arrangement by forcing out Mr. Adamu and his secretary Mr. Omisore. Astute political observers have noted that Tinubu is reorganizing the party for his second term as president. The party has appointed or ‘elected’ former Kano state governor, Mr. Ganduje, as the new Chairman. The diehard Tinubu supporter has a less than attractive national appeal. He is more popular nationally for a viral video in which he was shown serially pocketing wads of dollar notes from an anonymous generous giver. The matter is still under investigation in Kano state but he now has a higher responsibility as the supremo of the nation’s ruling party.

While the ways of politicians remain forever mysterious and extraordinary, political parties remain vital national institutions for the survival of democracy. To that extent, the credibility of those who preside over and run the affairs of political parties ought to be subject to no less a rigorous integrity test and scrutiny than the very state officials periodically nominated by the parties for public offices. It may be convenient at this early stage to fill key party positions with favorites of the president. Subsequently, opposition to these questionable party officials could graduate into pockets of opposition to the political foothold of the president himself. That is usually the seed of instability in our political parties. In his political body language so far, Tinubu has been quite predictable. He is part of the old politics of assembling bad men and women to assuage a public that thrives on impressions. His cabinet selection is a mix of a few good men and a multitude of ordinary persons. They will do business as usual and disappear into the national pool of incompetent anonymity.

By far the most telling and far reaching early challenge for the Tinubu presidency is in the sphere of foreign affairs. The coup in nearby Niger Republic has come at a ‘good’ moment for Mr. Tinubu. Many Nigerian presidents serve out their tenure without experiencing a consequential foreign policy challenge. Tinubu must be grateful to the Niger coup makers for the opportunity they have given him to start out as a significant foreign policy president. Barely a fortnight after he assumed the ceremonial chairmanship of ECOWAS, the coup happened. In quick succession, the coup makers detained the democratically elected President Bazoum, suspended the constitution, sacked the government and garrisoned off the capital, Niamey. ECOWAS has issued a one week ultimatum for the coupists to back down and back off. But the soldiers seem to have dug in. They have been openly supported by fellow juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso as well as tacitly by Russia’s Wagner Group of mercenaries which is conspicuosly present all over West Africa. More interestingly, Algeria, as an expression of its long standing historical anti-French sentiments has pledged support for the coupists. In open rebuff of Nigeria which is leading the sub regional pressure against the coup, the dictatorship in Niger has broken off ties with Nigeria and ordered ambassadors of Nigeria, Benin, France, the United States and EU to leave Niger. The stage seems set for a major confrontation or at least a war of diplomatic nerves.

For Nigeria, the challenge is one of diplomatic leadership in a crisis virtually next door. The implications for us are wider than many are prepared to admit. First, Niger is important to the world only because of its uranium deposits which the West is not prepared to let into the hands of rogue elements especially the Russians. For us, the location of Niger is strategically important. The ousted Niger government was a barrier against the southward spread of jihadist insurgency from the Sahel.

For President Tinubu, therefore, the management of the Niger crisis is multiply important. It is important for Nigeria’s stabilizing role in the West African region. It is important in terms of Nigeria’s capacity to partner with the West to frustrate Russia’s ambitions in the West African sub region. At a time when French influence in the region has waned, can Nigeria fill the gap as a force for regional stability? More importantly, the spread of military dictatorships in the countries bordering the Sahel poses a challenge for the sustainability of Nigeria’s democracy and those of its neighbors like Cameroun, Benin, Togo, Ghana, the Gambia and Cote d’Ivoire.

With a basket of unfolding domestic economic, social and political challenges, President Tinubu now has to define his authentic presidency. So far, he has not yet shown the steady hand of a prepared economic manager. Nor has he indicated a convincing capacity to choose wisely and assuredly in terms of a team to work with. But in the area of the foreign policy challenge that is unfolding in Niger, Tinubu has a clear and urgent choice to make as the ECOWAS ultimatum to the Niger junta ticks away. Will he become a ‘war president’ abroad even before he becomes a legitimate and capable leader at home? Yet, the nation and the world are anxiously waiting whether he can lead the forces of freedom in a world where the forces of freedom are now poised against a rampaging authoritarianism.

Dr. Amuta, a Nigerian journalist, intellectual and literary critic, was previously a senior lecturer in literature and communications at the universities of Ife and Port Harcourt


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INTERNATIONAL POLITICS

Vladimir Trump Resurgent

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By Dr. Chidi Amuta

The United States presidential election in November is looking more like a referendum. Though intended as a democratic ritual, it could end up as a choice between democracy and authoritarianism. That at least is what the rhetoric and track record of the two most likely  contenders now suggests. With his resounding victory in both the Iowa and New Hampshire caucus primaries, Mr. Donald Trump is galloping towards clinching the Republican nomination. Both Wall Street and Main Street America have in recent times been gripped by the trepidation that a return to the Trump nightmare is well within the realm of possibility come November.

On the other hand, an unchallenged Mr. Joe Biden is the undisputed choice of the Democrats. It is not just a disparity in partisan alignments that is tilting the election towards a referendum. It is the untidy manners and track record of Mr. Trump that is upsetting democracy’s apple cart in the place where it matters most. In the process, democracy in America seems to be on trial with the menacing silhouette of a home grown autocrat in the mIrror.

Mr. Biden has consistently presented as the candidate out to defend and protect classical American democracy. Somehow, the aggressive comeback campaign of Donald Trump has projected democracy and its very survival as the central issue of this campaign season. Ordinarily, Biden and Trump should have been dueling over abortion, the crisis at the border, unemployment figures, the wars in Ukraine and Gaza and the like. Biden should have been busy defending his policies and programmes in the last three years. But the re-emergence of a bullish Donald Trump has more or less made Mr. Biden the candidate of Democracy and no more. In the last campaign season, Trump gave Mr. Biden Covid-19 as a campaign gift and invariably lost the election to mostly on that account. Against a rampaging bull of a belligerent and autocratic Trump, Biden has no choice than to dig into the trenches as the mortal defender of democracy and the liberal heritage.

As things look now, Biden  wants to protect and preserve American democracy as we have come to know it. The rule of law, respect for individual rights, diversity driven by the understanding of America as a nation of immigrants, belief in the sanctity of the ballot as the determinant of who rules America, the requirement for decency as the unwritten code of conduct of those who must rule the free world and, above all, the projection of American democracy as a beacon to the rest of the democratic world. Implicit in the ritual of America’s democratic election every four years is the understanding that each election renews hope in democracy and strengthens democracy as a universal aspiration that holds out a promise for the free world. Somehow, Joe Biden has come to be the personification of these values and aspirations as well as an inspiration to all those who hold America tacitly responsible for the survival of global democracy and the enlargement of the coast of freedom all over the world.

Mr. Biden’s strengths as a symbol of democracy are ironically embedded in his perceived weaknesses as a person. He is not a demagogue. He is not necessarily a charismatic orator nor an electrifying presence. But he is a reassuring grandpa figure, the adult in the room as he was indeed in the Obama White House. His calming composure and attention to details is compounded by his long familiarity and multiple roles in the history of American democracy and the highpoints of America’s exploits on behalf of democracy around the world. If indeed America needed am embodiment of information and experience on the challenges and triumphs of democracy around the world, Mr. Joe Biden provides a ready historical centerpiece.

However, many fear that Mr. Biden has not been sufficiently reassuring as a defender of democracy in terms of his performance on the job. The essence of democracy is ultimately in the ability of an elected sovereign to deliver on the expectations of a specific electorate. Mr. Biden is sometimes accused of the weakness that Mr. Trump frequently accuses him of. This can only be in the sense that his confrontation of autocrats has not been quite surefooted. He has largely ignored the baby tyrant in North Korea, been less than bullish in his psychological duels with Mr. Putin and has not quite campaigned openly against Mr. Trump’s anti democratic trail in America itself. He has allowed Mr. Trump to monopolize the use of fear rhetoric frighten ordinary Americans. In addition,  a good deal of the economic recovery under Mr. Biden in the last three years has been rather tepid and reversible.

Mr. Donald Trump has become etched in the imagination of Americans and the democratic world as something of an enfant terrible of deviant democracy. Mr. Trump’s initial emergence was greeted with some excitement as a refreshing departure. A Manhattan business man was heading for Washington to infuse the can do ethos of American capitalism into the boring On the contrary rigidity of Washington’s politics of  same old correctness. At that point, Trump was an embodiment of the American dream and dictum of “In Gold We Trust” was emerging as president. The assumption was that the pursuit of happiness through hard work and the building of wealth would lead to the spread of prosperity for all hard working Americans through the example of a different type of President. After all, Trump was reputed to have built his humongous wealth and prosperity through hard work and entrepreneurial bravado. No one knew what a Manhattan real estate entrepreneur would make of the White House. But the risk fitted into the adventure prone American mass psychology. “Sure, why not?, was the refrain in bars, restaurants and subways.

Mr. Trump looked at Washington and saw mostly a political swamp that needed to be drained. And he assigned himself the task. Between the White House and the Capitol in Washington, there is a cultural assumption that the politics of American democracy is a cultural ecosystem in and of itself. Washington has its meta language, its traditions, its conventions, codes and manners. Mr. Trump was aware of the outlines of this political ecosystem but said he was determine d to replace same old Washinglton with a new spirit. But he had no name for his new system nor had he thought it through in any systematic way. He was later to come face to face with it in a historic collision that left a political and physical carnage. By the end of his turbulent and chaotic first term,  America was a junk yard of its former self and no where near the threshold of a new republic.

His first catastrophic tenure ended up enthroning  an American version of illiberal democracy. To a large extent, he came to embody the antithesis and corollary of classical American democracy. Mr. Donald Trump was stubbornly recalcitrant, unrepentantly rebellious and unrelentingly bullish in his affront of the best traditions of democracy. He constantly sought to bulldoze his views through Congress, adopted abuse and insult as his standard political language. He posited the demagogue and thug as the archetypal leader, a model from the authoritarian play book.

In his choice of leadership models around the world, Mr. Trump consistently showed a clear preference and open admiration for the worst autocrats and dictators. His chosen models have been Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Xi Jiping of China, Kim Jung Un of North Korea, Viktor Orban of Hungary and Tayeb Erdogan of Turkey. Against these authoritarian models, he has excoriated the past leaders of his own country like Barrack Obama, George Bush Jr. and the Clintons. He cherished and admired the traditions and habits of dictators including reckless abuses of human rights. He openly admired elaborate parades and open displays of military power like those in Moscow’s Red Square and imperial France.

Most leaders who crave a second shot at power usually show signs of some repentance or maturation in their intervening period outside power. Not for Donald Trump. It would instead seem that the last three years have only served to reveal, through the American judicial system, the real tragic essence of the identity of Donald J. Trump. He has faced investigations for storing classified official documents in the bathrooms of his Florida Maralago mansion. He has faced countless judicial indictments over his role in the January 6th mob invasion of the Capitol. He has been indicted for lying abut the net worth of is businesses. He has been variously indicted for a business campaign funds  in payments for the services of porn artists and for defaming and harassing numerous women. His serial indictments for electoral offences in a number of states are on record just as some states supreme courts have ruled him out of the ballot in their states.  The vast majority of lawyers who staked their reputation and professional careers to defend or associate with Trump have ended up in jail themselves. Only Trump, courtesy of the elastic immunity of his office as a former President is still walking free but vastly injured and deformed. Yet, America’s rule of law provisions and strict judicial codes have not yet established anything that could possibly stop Donald Trump from standing in the November elections as the candidate of the Republic party.  The man remains fit to run for as long as he is not yet in prison uniform.

Yet there is an undeniable level of populism that has trailed Donald Trump ever since his chaotic first tenure ended. For a president who was impeached twice by the House of Representatives and only saved by the Republican Senate majority, his political base remains strong. It is a base of the vast majority who probably never went to college, work long days in factories, live mostly in rural America and are predominantly white, cocooned in the illusion that America was once the exclusive homeland of white middle America. They dream of a land with little immigrants, that abhors persons of colour and those who do not look like them. But that is an illusion, a myth spurned by Trump and his mobs of rough thugs and supremacist bands.

In pursuit of his bigoted image of America, he has set up and inspired any number of white supremacist militias and street terror gangs. He has promoted any number of toxic conspiracy theories and pioneered countless divisive  loyalties. The Proud Boys, QAnon, Make America Great Again (MAGA) Brigade etc. In response, other groups like African Americans and Hispanics have set up self defense outfits and groups (Black Lives Matter etc), creating a very divided nation out of what used to be a multicultural and integrated  nation of diversity. Even in his Republican party, Trump has splintered the  GOP, alienated the mainstream Republic party elite and driven them to fringes of silence. The mainstream of the  party is now occupied by Donald Trump and his attack dogs and racist thugs.

Trump’s belief in electoral democracy begins and ends with elections if they end up re-anointing him as ‘winner’. For him, ‘winning’ in a democracy is triumphing over opponents and vanquishing political “enemies”. This is why he stopped at no excess in meddling with the presidential elections of November 2020. He endorsed all manner of conspiracies, election meddling antics, and open attempts at rigging which led to the fiasco of an attempted ‘coup’ of the Capitol invasion and storming of January 6th 2021.

What is remarkable about Donald Trump’s career to date and which has converted the next election into a virtual referendum is that he has hardly changed in his rhetoric, beliefs, defining warfare concept of power and overall  style. He has remained insolent, abusive, uncouth and thuggish as ever. More dangerously, Trump has remained unrepentant in his divisive views of the American nation. He wants to shut the borders, preside over the largest immigrant repatriation and deportation in American history. He has branded immigrants from Africa, Latin America and nearly everywhere else as toxic presences who are ‘poisoning the blood’ of his phantom pure idyllic America. The implicit racism, bigotry and decadent nationalism are right in your face.

The implications of a relapse into Trumpism in the United States for the rest of the world are too stark and frightening to contemplate. Trump will throw Ukraine under the bus and celebrate the triumph of Putin’s “Mother” Russia even if only to annul the emergence of Zelensky as a global super star and hero. The Palestinians had better forget their lifelong dream of an independent homeland. He will return to North Korea with a more elaborate utopian computer animation of what the Hermit kingdom will look like in return for dining with America. The hope of African countries (“S…hole countries”) for greater economic leverage in a new world of free enterprise and democracy would end up in the thrash can. An endless trade war with China will rage and bring world trade to a standstill. Europe will pretty much be on its own on world affairs, deprived of America’s historic trans Atlantic solidarity and support with which Europe stopped Nazism, Fascism and communism on their tracks for the decades after World War II. NATO would be deprived of American money if only to strengthen Putin as a counterweight to European strength and expansion.

China, Russia and their allies in the emergent axis of evil are waiting with optimism for the return of Vladimir Trump to the White House. That would give authoritarianism a major leverage in the the coming world contest between liberal democracy and authoritarianism.

But the statistical reality both globally and in the United States is hugely in favour of the triumph of democracy and freedom. The inevitable defeat of Trump in America’s November elections will herald a setback for the advance of authoritarianism as a counter force to the global wave of democracy.

Dr. Amuta, a Nigerian journalist, intellectual and literary critic, was previously a senior lecturer in literature and communications at the universities of Ife and Port Harcourt.


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INTERNATIONAL POLITICS

Tinubu, Matter Don Pass be Careful

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By Lasisi Olagunju

The last premier of the Western Region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, asked his guest what the town was saying. The guest told him the town was solidly behind him. The guest backed his claim with a cassette which he said contained the adulation with which the people of Ibadan welcomed every step so far taken by Chief Akintola. The premier listened to the cassette and brightened up. He thanked the guest, Chief A.M.A. Akinloye, as he took his exit. Akintola’s young confidant and aide, Adewale Kazeem, walked in. The premier told him of Akinloye’s good news and gave him the cassette to listen to. Adewale listened to the cassette, sighed and was downcast. The premier looked at the worried face of Adewale Kazeem and asked why. “The town is not good,” he told Chief Akintola, and added that the content of the cassette was not a true reflection of what the town was saying about the premier and his government. A shocked Akintola intoned “ta l’a á wàá gbàgbó báyìí (who do we believe now)?” The young man told the premier: “You had better believe me, Baba.”

The above happened sometime in 1964. A year later, the problem multiplied for Chief Akintola who became increasingly troubled, his hands unsteady; “he could no longer write his signature on a straight line.” One day, he was advised by the same aide, Adewale Kazeem, to resign his post as premier and end the raging crisis in the region. Akintola’s response was: “Adewale, ó ti bó; ikú ló má a gb’èyìn eléyìí (Adewale, it is too late. It is death that will end all this).” The above details are on pages 161 and 172 of the book ‘SLA Akintola in the Eyes of History: A Biography and Postscript’. The book, published in 2017, was written by a former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Kehinde. The author did not put those conversations in the book as hearsay. He heard them directly from Adewale Kazeem who rose in life to become a well-respected oba in Osun State.

At 5.50pm on 6 August, 1962, Chief Obafemi Awolowo left his place for the residence of the Prime Minister, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, for a 6pm appointment. It was at the height of the political crisis of the early 1960s. Awo arrived at Balewa’s 8 Lodge on the dot and wasted no time opening their discussion. He asked Balewa: “Are you sure in your mind that this crisis will end well for all of us and for Nigeria?” Chief Awolowo said “Balewa replied in a low, solemn voice that he was sure it would not end well…” (See Awolowo’s ‘Adventures in Power’, Book Two, page 249). And, did it end well? There is no point answering that question. We all know how it ended. Today, there is a new fire on the mountain. Things are bad; very bad. Paris-born Nigerian singer, Bukola Elemide (Asa) sings: “There is fire on the mountain/ And nobody seems to be on the run…” The first time we heard a cry of fire and fear in our politics was in the Western House of Assembly in 1962. Since then, the mountain of Nigeria has been badly scarred by political bush-burners. A fresh blaze is balding the skull of the poor today and the consequences cannot be imagined.

There are consequences for everything anyone does or does not do. Even the words that I use here will have consequences. Ethnic and business ‘friends’ of the president will abuse me like they’ve always done to poets who refuse to do palace clowning. They forget that I am a child of the farm; I walk the furrows, not the ridge. I am beyond their shot. Authored by researchers Iain McLean and Jennifer Nou, a piece appeared in the October 2006 edition of the British Journal of Political Science. And the title? ‘Why should we be beggars with the ballot in our hand?’ That is the question we dare not ask here without them saying we should bring our heads. They say the president is our brother who cannot do wrong. They forget that we were not taught in Yoruba land to merely chase away the fox and pamper the cocky bumbling hen. We were taught to give justice to fox and then to hen – one after the other. How is keeping quiet when the ‘war’ is all around us going to help “our brother”?

The hunger that is in town today is more serious than the hunger that made Sango burn down a whole town. Yet, our leader appears not worried. He is not scared. It is business as usual. Why are we not fearing the consequences of our misbehaviour? A journalist recalled that sometime in 1965, Prime Minister Balewa was at the airport in Ikeja and was asked what he was doing to quench the fire in the Western Region. The big man looked around and declared that “Ikeja is part of the West, I can’t see any fire burning.” Truly, he was kept busy with positive assurances by flightless birds around him. He lived in denial, or in self-deception, he ignored the firestorm. The fire he refused to see grew uncontrollably wild; it became a blaze so much that when the cock crowed at dawn on January 15, 1966, it was too late for the head of the Nigerian government to save even himself.

There were protests in parts of the country last week by hungry Nigerians. But President Bola Tinubu’s trusted people said the protests were unreal; they said the president’s policies are good and popular with the people. They are telling the president that the hungry are not very hungry. They said it was the opposition playing politics, inciting the poor against the state. I saw Lagbaja, the mystery musician, from a distance at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, on Friday. I tried unsuccessfully to reach him and get him to sing: ‘Mo sorry fun gbogbo yin’ to those telling the naked president that his garment is beautiful. The ‘sorry’ is more for Tinubu. He is the one chosen and crowned to rule; and he is the one whose tenure is being measured by mass suffering, mass hunger, mass kidnapping. He is the one being scaffolded from the ugliness of the street. Tinubu is an elder. Should it be difficult for him to know the next line of action when a load is too heavy for the ground to carry and is too heavy for the rafters? We say in Yoruba land that when the going gets tough and life faces you, shoot at it; if it backs you, shoot it. When you are alone, reconsider your stand.

Did President Tinubu read Segun Adeniyi of Thisday last week? The columnist asked him to go and watch again the Yoruba mainframe play, Saworoide. If you are not Yoruba, look for the plot summary of that play, it should be online. Read it. It should tell what the warning is all about. They are all prophets – the warners. Did the president read Abimbola Adelakun of The Punch last Thursday? She warned that “things are getting out of hand.” Did Tinubu read Tunde Odesola of the same newspaper the following day? He wrote that in Tinubu’s Nigeria, “the poor can’t inhale, the rich can’t exhale.” Farooq Kperogi of Saturday Tribune has written twice (last week and the week before) on hunger and anger in the land. He warned Tinubu two days ago not to see himself as Buhari who misruled big time but escaped the whips of consequences. Festus Adedayo yesterday in the Sunday Tribune likened today’s Nigeria to ravaged Ijaiye, a defeated community of hopelessness. I, particularly, find very apt Adedayo’s reading of today’s suffering as Kurunmi’s war-ravaged Ijaiye of 1860/61. In 2024 Nigeria, respectable people beg to eat; mothers sell one child to feed another. It is tragic. Bola Bolawole’s offering drew from French and Russian histories of social and political tragedy. I do not know what Suyi Ayodele of the Nigerian Tribune is cooking for tomorrow, Tuesday. I will be surprised if Tinubu’s ‘friends’ have not reported these warners to him as his enemies. That is how we are being governed.

The naira is ruined, the kitchen is on fire. We thought the regime of Muhammadu Buhari was the last leg of Nigeria’s relay race of tragedy. Now, it is clear he was actually the first leg in a race that won’t end soon. Tinubu took the baton from his game-mate and said his wand is made of hope in renewed bottles. His first eight months have proved that it is not true that the child does not die at the hands of the circumciser. This is better said in Yoruba – àsé iró ni wípé omo kìí kú lówó oní’kolà! This one is dying – or is dead. Before the president’s very eyes, the country has become a vast camp for stranded people; a nation of displaced people who live on food rations. The people now ask who is going to be their helper. Legendary Ilorin musician, Odolaye Aremu, at a moment of anomie as this, lamented that the one we said we should run to for safety is urging us to run even far away from where he is (eni tí a ní k’á lo sá bá, ó tún ní k’á máa sá lo).

Cluelessness is a physician treating leprosy with drugs made for eczema. Who told the president that opening the federal silos is the solution to a bag of rice selling for N70,000? It was N7,000 nine years ago. The protesting people from the north and in the south are not saying there is no food in the market. There is no scarcity of foodstuffs. It is not a demand and supply problem. There is food in the market, but the food in the market is priced beyond the earnings of the people. That is the issue, the problem, and it cannot be solved with handouts from grain reserves. It can only be solved with a magic that will shrink the price of foodstuffs to a size within the financial capacity of the poor.

Some say it is age that ails Tinubu making him unfelt in this season of pain. But, he won’t be the first old man to be king. There was a prince in Ofa who owned neither calabash nor plate (kò ní’gbá, kò l’áwo). But he had a large piece of cloth as his only item of value. He did not use it; it was too unuseful to the poor old man who would rather lend it for a fee to others for use on their special outings. The man’s condition remained critical, his poverty unremitting. He prepared himself and went to an elder for consultation. He sought counsel on what he could do so that he might gain importance. He was told to give up the large piece of cloth, sit back and watch. He did as he was told and soon after that sacrifice, the king of Ofa died and the people of Ofa made the poor old man king. They said among themselves that “this one will not be long before he dies and another will take his place.” But the old man became king and refused to die. Instead of dying, he became increasingly robust, younger and stronger. Life and living in Ofa became good and pleasant as well. The poor became prosperous and the rich richer. The people of Ofa fell in love with their king; they no longer wanted him to die. He reigned long and well. At the end of his journey, the departing king was satisfied that he had good tidings to take to his alásekù – those who reigned without destroying the crown, the ones who passed the stool to him for him to pass to others. This Ofa story belongs in the grove of the wise; it is deeper than I have told it. Its code is with the elders.

All who are favoured are counselled to take it easy with life. They should cast away the garment of greed, of hubris and of lust for the self. If they care, they can take counsel from these lines from the ancestral scroll: “Do not run the world in haste. Let us not hold on to the rope of wealth impatiently. What should be treated with mature judgment should not be treated in a fit of temper. Whenever we arrive at a cool place, let us rest sufficiently well and give prolonged attention to the future; let us give due regard to the consequences of things. We should do all these because of the day of our sleeping, our end (Má fi wàrà wàrà s’ayé, K’á má fi wàrà wàrà rò m’ókùn orò. Ohun a bâ fi s’àgbà, K’á má fi sè’bínú. Bí a bá dé’bi t’ó tútù, K’á simi simi, K’á wo’wájú ojó lo títí; K’á tún bò wá r’èhìn òràn wò; Nítorí àtisùn ara eni ni).

Tinubu’s salvation lies with his orí inú– his inner head. That is the priest he should consult. It is what he should go and ask for the way. His reign is painful.

Originally published in the Nigerian Tribune on Monday, 12 February, 2024


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INTERNATIONAL POLITICS

South Africa’s Genocide Case against Israel: Expert Sets out what to Expect from the International Court of Justice

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The International Court of Justice (ICJ) will be holding public hearings on 11-12 January at the Peace Palace in The Hague, the seat of the court, in a case brought by South Africa against Israel. South Africa has accused Israel of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention in its military bombardment and siege of Gaza, which started after the deadly 7 October Hamas attack on Israel. Both Israel and South Africa have ratified the genocide convention. We asked human rights and international law expert Magnus Killander for his insights.

What is the International Court of Justice?

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is one of many international courts. It is the most prominent and widely regarded as the most authoritative as it is the only judicial body set out in the Charter of the United Nations. It has general jurisdiction rather than being limited to specific areas of law such as the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea or regional human rights courts such as the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The ICJ should be distinguished from the International Criminal Court (ICC), which also has its seat in The Hague, in the Netherlands. The ICC can convict and sentence individual perpetrators for violations such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In contrast the ICJ deals only with the responsibility of states for violations of international law, not with accountability of individuals.

Parallel to the process at the ICJ, the prosecutor of the ICC has been investigating “the situation” in Palestine for some time, and may prosecute those allegedly responsible for atrocities committed by all parties to the conflict.

What is the International Court of Justice’s jurisdiction?

It can hear cases brought by states (“contentious cases”) and requests by United Nations bodies, such as the General Assembly, for advisory opinions. The ICJ has delivered judgments in close to 150 “contentious cases” since its first judgment in 1949, and 27 advisory opinions since its first advisory opinion in 1948.

The first time a case was brought to the ICJ alleging violation of the Genocide Convention was in 1993 by Bosnia against Yugoslavia. The second case was in 2019 by The Gambia against Myanmar. The third case was by Ukraine against Russia following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Of these cases the ICJ has so far only handed down a final judgment in the 2007 Bosnian judgment, 14 years after the case was initiated.

However, the ICJ has issued provisional measures in all the Genocide Convention cases, within a few months after the cases were brought to the court. Provisional measures are orders of the court to prevent irreparable harm. They bind the respondent state to refrain from certain actions until the court has delivered final judgment. The provisional measures in the Myanmar case adopted by the court in January 2020 prohibited the state from, among other things, taking action against the minority Rohingya group by

(a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to the members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; and (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

While there have been fewer killings of Rohingya since the provisional measures, their situation remains precarious both in Myanmar and in Bangladesh, where many of them have taken refuge.

In the provisional measures order in Ukraine v Russia in 2022 the ICJ ordered Russia to immediately cease its military operations in Ukraine and ensure that any military units or irregular armed units conduct military operations. However, Russia’s war on Ukraine continues.

What are the conditions for having a case heard by the ICJ?

1) There must be a substantive jurisdictional basis for bringing the case. This can be, for example, by agreement by the parties or, as in the case under discussion, that both states are parties to a multilateral treaty that provides for disputes between state parties to be heard by the ICJ. Article IX of the Genocide Convention is a case in point.

Israel ratified the Genocide Convention in 1950 and South Africa in 1998. Palestine has been a party to the Genocide Convention since 2014 and may bring cases before the ICJ, but hasn’t done so.

2) The state bringing the case must normally have an interest in the case. However, this does not apply to certain types of violations where all states in the world are considered to have an interest. Examples include alleged violations of the Genocide Convention and the Convention against Torture. In its judgment in the 2022 case against Myanmar on preliminary objections, the ICJ stated that any state can bring a case to it in relation to a suspected violation by another state that is party to the Genocide Convention.

The process

The first step in the case is the public hearing on provisional measures. South Africa and Israel are allocated two hours each to present their arguments on provisional measures. A decision on provisional measures is usually taken within one or two months after the public hearing.

The ICJ only makes a provisional assessment of the case to issue provisional measures. Thus even if the ICJ issues provisional measures against Israel, it does not necessarily follow that the court will – in its final judgment – find that Israel has violated the Genocide Convention.

After a provisional measures decision, the ICJ will proceed to determine any preliminary objections raised by Israel, such as whether the court has jurisdiction to hear the case on the merits, and whether South Africa has standing to bring the case.

If the preliminary objections are unsuccessful, the ICJ will make a judgment on the merits of the case in which it determines whether Israel has violated the Genocide Convention. The process until a final judgment takes several years. In many cases final judgment has taken a decade or more. Other states may intervene in a case, as many have done, for example, in the Ukraine v Russia case.

What action can the court take?

The ICJ provides declaratory orders. In its 2007 final judgment in the Bosnia v Serbia and Montenegro case, the ICJ found that Serbia had violated the Genocide Convention by not taking action to prevent the genocide in Srebrenica, and by having failed to transfer Ratko Mladic, who commanded the Bosnian Serb army that massacred Bosnian civilians, to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Other claims of genocide were dismissed by a majority of the court. The court held that the declaration of a violation was a sufficient remedy, and that the court should not provide any other remedies in the case such as compensation.

The orders of the ICJ are binding on states. Nevertheless, they are often ignored. This is in line with the general difficulty of enforcing international law, in particular international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

The provisional measures requested by South Africa include that Israel should suspend military activities in Gaza, stop killing Palestinians and prevent forced displacement and deprivation of access to adequate food, water, fuel, shelter and sanitation.

The ICJ can grant provisional measures different from those requested. While it is clear that the prevention of humanitarian assistance leading to starvation, forced displacement and indiscriminate bombings, taken together with statements by Israeli officials (see paragraphs 101-107 of South Africa’s submission to the ICJ), could constitute violations of the Genocide Convention, it is less clear that this means no military action whatsoever may be taken by Israel against Hamas.

Following its own precedent in earlier cases under the Genocide Convention, it seems clear that the ICJ should issue provisional measures. What such measures the court will order remains to be seen.

Professor Magnus Killander, Centre for Human Rights in the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

Courtesy: The Conversation


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