The Senators and Their Passions By Simon Kolawole
I may be wrong, but three developments seem to perfectly represent what most of our senators are very passionate about. One, a bill to clamp down on the social media in order to protect themselves against “frivolous allegations”. Two, a motion over the right of Nigerians to watch English football on DStv. Three, the rejection of a bill to declassify Nigerian women as second-class citizens. The commitment displayed by the senators in promoting their positions offered me yet another evidence of the warped mentality of our political elite. Their passion, alas, is never the progress of the society, never equity, never fairness, never justice.
However, it is equally cowardly for lawmakers to seek to intimidate users of social media and try to deny Nigerians the right to free speech and information. Some of the biggest scandals in the history of Nigeria have been exposed by whistle-blowing sites such as Premium Times and Sahara Reporters, while some of the most successful socio-political campaigns in recent times have been championed by respected activists and commentators using Twitter and Facebook as platforms. It seems the easy way out for the lawmakers who have something to hide is to lump everybody together — as the “frivolous” bill seeks to do — in order to silence them.
That is why despite my misgivings with the invasion of social media by miscreants, I consider it as nothing but tyranny for anybody to use that excuse to manufacture a legislation to gag free speech and curb legitimate activism. Social media can be a force for good or evil — just as a knife can serve good and bad purposes. You can use a knife to slice bread and meat, but someone else can use it as a murder weapon. We must not throw the baby away with the bath water because of the activities of a few cowards. Our media history is littered with many failed censorship laws. Censorship will always fail. I’m not for anarchy, but we can promote responsibility without censorship.
The second area in which the lawmakers have displayed a lot of passion is the Barclays Premier League (BPL), the elite brand of English football. It is a global product, the most watched league in the world. Recently, Senator Isah Misau from Bauchi state sponsored a motion, “Concern on Unwholesome Practices by Multichoice Nigeria (DStv)”. He said many things, very passionately. He said DStv is a monopoly. He said its rates are exploitative. So far, so good. And then, to my horror, he added that “the motion is of public interest because football fans in Nigeria, especially followers of the Barclays Premier League, are at the mercy of DStv”. What!!!
We make a fetish of EPL when we convert it to a fundamental human right. By the way, I’m a football fan. And I love the BPL more than grilled fish and pepper soup. I hate exploitation. But the lawmakers must first get their facts right, and more importantly, get their priorities right. To start with, is DStv a monopoly in a Pay TV market that has Consat, StarTimes, ACTV and MYTV? That is very debatable. As for BPL TV rights, they are sold to the highest bidder. The price goes up at every bidding, and so subscription fee also keeps going up. It’s a global problem. In 2007, HiTV knocked off Multichoice for three years with a higher bid. When the next bidding opens, Multichoice can be knocked off again. That is how it works.
Misua passionately repeated an old “fabu” — that there is pay-as-you-watch subscription in some African countries. This means if you are not watching any channel, your subscription will not read. This is urban legend stuff. What people call pay-as-you-watch is actually pay-per-view — which is the world’s most expensive subscription! On Sky in the UK, for example, a basic subscription package is £21 per month. I was in the UK in May 2015 when Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao fought. It was available only on pay-per-view, costing me an additional £19.95. It wouldn’t matter if the fight had lasted for only 90 seconds, like the Mike Tyson vs Michael Spinks duel in 1988!
I’d rather think the matter of urgent national importance is the exploitation of Nigerians by the lawmakers through jumbo allowances and bogus budgets, not how much Multichoice charges me for watching Leicester City demolish Manchester City. The senators won’t display this same zeal when it comes to the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) or the Mambilla Plateau dam which is capable of generating 3,759 megawatts of electricity and has been in the “pipeline” since 1982. These are matters of urgent national importance, not the luxury of watching EPL, I think. If you ask me about national priorities and “public interest” today, I won’t include Chelsea vs Liverpool.
The third indication of the passion of these lawmakers was evident in the way and manner they killed the gender discrimination bill on Tuesday. It was so swift. The “nays” had it so easily. All that human rights activists, development economists and international experts have worked on for decades came to nought in a jiffy. Senator Ahmed Sani Yarima, who prides himself as the symbol of religious purity — please don’t look inside his file at the EFCC — led the attack, and he received good back-up in Senators Adamu Aliero and Emmanuel Bwacha, among others. Quoting all kinds of sections in the constitution, they killed a dream in cold blood, and without remorse.
For those who may not know, the bill seeks to eliminate violence against women and promote equal opportunities for all. It is in line with UN conventions. It seeks to destabilise certain customs and traditions holding women back. It says that when a man dies, the widow should have the right to the children. It says that when a man dies, the wife can inherit his property. The current practice in many places is that the widow is a witch; she killed her husband; so she does not deserve any share of the husband’s estate. It should be shared, instead, among the husband’s family. And the children? Come on, they were the husband’s children, not hers, and should be inherited by his family.
I would have suggested to the almighty lawmakers, the custodians of religious purity and cultural continuity, to look closely at the provisions of the bill and take the ones they think are acceptable to them. They threw out the entire bill so coldheartedly. Their position should offer us an insight into how they treat their own wives at home — and how they wish their own mothers, daughters and sisters should be treated by the society. We can hide behind the Bible and the Quran and the Nigerian constitution to perpetuate any regressive agenda. We would always get the support of those who are deceived into thinking we are rendering a sincere service to God.
I have said this before and I will say it again: most Nigerian politicians know how to get political power but they don’t know how to use it to advance the society. It is all about their selfish interests. They project and protect their own interests with all passion, zeal and commitment — whether it is to buy “committee cars” worth billions of naira or pad their pockets to high heavens in the name of constituency projects and allowances. They know how to make laws and pass budgets that will increase their levels of comfort. Most Nigerian politicians see power as an instrument to oppress, cajole, censor, dominate and intimidate the powerless and the underprivileged.
They don’t know how good use of power can make the world a better place for us all — boys and girls, men and women, young and old, rich and poor. They don’t know that with this power, they can heal wounds, break chains, care for the fatherless and comfort the widow. Can you imagine senators like Yarima employing the same anti-women zeal to pursue laws that will improve the quality of life of Nigerians, laws that will grant the poor and the vulnerable access to education, healthcare and water, and above all, equity and fairness? Can you imagine how many millions of Nigerians would be pulled out of poverty as a result? I testify that they have passion, but only for themselves.
4 other things
EMEFIELE AND INDUSTRY
One of the stated reasons for the restriction on forex supply to 41 imports is to protect local industry and encourage import substitution. The CBN governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, has been heavily criticised for trying to use monetary policy alone to stimulate local industry. However, I have been thinking lately: now that we have a full cabinet in place and the ministers are settling down, attention must shift to how fiscal policies can now help drive the “made in Nigeria” campaign. Policy makers must rise to the challenge through trade policies, tariff regimes, infrastructure as well as providing incentives and curbing smuggling. Complementary.
RIVERS OF BLOOD
Those who think balkanisation is the ultimate solution to Nigeria’s conflicts need to do more research. It took four different days to conduct the governorship election of the all-Ijaw Bayelsa state last year. Rivers state was flowing with blood ahead of yesterday’s re-run legislative elections, with the combatants promising each other a piece of hell. Pray, will this bad blood disappear when we have the Republic of Niger Delta? I’m not saying Nigeria shouldn’t break up. I’m just saying those who think it will finally solve our problems and end all conflicts have not convinced me with concrete evidence yet. Simplistic.
Reno Omokri, former aide to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, was ridiculed on Twitter two years ago when he said Sambisa forest was the size of Lagos. In truth, the forest, where Boko Haram was operating from and where the Chibok girls were for long believed to be held, is twice the size of Lagos. Gen. Tukur Buratai, army chief, said it is the size of Enugu state. Sambisa is actually one of Africa’s biggest forests. Many Nigerians think it is the size of a football field. It actually covers 60,000 square kilometres across six states. It’s like travelling from Lagos to Ibadan 500 times, or 250 times to and fro. Massive.
I must be the most conflicted Nigerian when it comes to oil prices. A part of me wants the prices to go as low as possible so that we can put more efforts into diversifying the economy. As long as we rely on petrodollars, we will keep rising and falling. But another part of me looks at unpaid workers, crashing naira and shrinking economy and is silently praying that prices should rise again. As oil is picking up again, I am happy and sad. Happy that the monetary pressure will relax a bit. Sad that we will soon return to our old ways. Crossroads?