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War is Not An Option, But the Rule of Law in Nigeria

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In an early July interview with the President of the Congress of Igbo Leaders in the UK and Ireland, Mazi Obi Okoli, believes that Nigeria has lots of challenges implementing a system of governance that will guarantee the interests of all within the nation. According to him, many of the problems, frictions and issues faced today in Nigeria is a direct result of the defective federal system, the 1979 constitution drafted without consultation and the negative attitudes by majority of politicians toward development in Nigeria.

Why did you choose to write the book “The Lost Igbo Treasure” as part of your life?

Our journey of life must be to add value to human existence. I believe that people have to leave some positive footprints that will allow the coming generations to access truth, information and facts about their history, traditions and culture. I chose to write the book The Lost Igbo Treasure in order to document the facts of history, proverbs, language, culture, tradition and beliefs of the Igbo people of West Africa. It is my resolute belief that an informed generation are the best generation that can make positive impact to the world.

Over the years, there have been discussions about different ethnicity in Federal Republic of Nigeria. How different are the Igbos from Hausas, Yorubas and Fulanis in Nigeria?

It is a huge fact of life that the Igbo people have never been subject to one particular kingdom or caliphate like the Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba tribes who are under the monarchical leaderships of Sokoto and Ife kingdoms respectively. This exposes the reader to the mindset, characteristics, beliefs and understanding of the Igbo people as an egalitarian people. The Igbos like every other human society believe in peace, co-existential continuum of the human race.

However, the Igbos are unique in their thinking, very hard working, strong, communal, resilient, entrepreneurial mindset, freedom seeking, family oriented and peace loving. The Igbos believe in the cosmological belief of the sanctity of human life, respect and fairness in their dealing with all human persons. They hold the sanctitutional belief of “live and let’s live”. They abhor injustice and deceit in human dealings. They believe that religion is and should be a means to an end and not the end of a means. 

All the above distinguishes them from the Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba who are influenced more by religious inclination and a combination of religion/societal belief for the later.

The Igbos are unique in what they do; how they live their lives, what they eat and wear, how to beat their path of existence on earth, the peculiarities and the  songs they cherish, so also are the music, behavior and general attitude to life. It is clear that the Igbos uniquely differ from other ethnicities, in each of the above respects, in Nigeria.

Looking inside your book, what treasures have the Igbos lost in the country’s history?

The effects of colonialism, slavery, foreign religion, the genocide of 1967 have all severely impacted the Igbo society. The cherished Igbo treasures of togetherness, love and culture, tradition, language and ways of life. Our norms, values, belief, character and attitude, communal engagement, proverbs, idioms are treasures which the ancestors bequeathed to us from history have all began to elude our people and nation as a whole. Every society is alive by the presence of their unique values and traits. A loss of any of the above has great impact on the people and their society. Ndigbo must awaken themselves to the gathering storms and begin to see that our treasures are vanishing before our eyes.

How would you interpret and connect ethnicity with the federal system of governance?

This is a very difficult question. I will try not to be very academic so your readers will be carried along. The federal system of government is one that divides or shares the powers of governance between the national (federal), state and local governments. If this is true then it is imperative that this system of governance will guarantee, safeguard and protect the interests of all component parts that make up the federation.

However, over the centuries the experiment of this defective system as practiced in Nigeria has denied many ethnic nationals the opportunity to enjoy or harness the benefit of such a system if any. The travails and struggles of ethnic minority communities in Nigeria has also been that of the rest contending against both cultural extinction, politico-economic marginalization and political participation traumatization by the North with the former contending against economic expropriation, marginalization, exclusion, developmental strangulation and political “oblivionization” of the rest of the country, especially the Igbo people of the Eastern Nigeria.

These negative dimensions and conditions of ethnic minority alienation and discontent in the Nigerian federation has been indeed made worse under the present regime and further tightening of the noose continues unabated.

Therefore, the interpretation and connectivity of ethnicity with the federal system of governance is that of a resultant inherent contradictions and tensions in the evolution and operation of the Nigerian federal system. Many of the problems, frictions and issues faced today in Nigeria is a direct result of the defective federal system; the problematic 1979 constitution drafted without consultation and the negative under-developmental attitude of the Nigerian politicians.

All the above that I have mentioned, it has been made worse by the over-centralization of the governance system; the primitive refusal to recognize the complex ethnic configuration and interest; the pragmatic consensual underdevelopment of some regions, especially the Eastern part of the country; the relatively limited development of accommodative, consensual or power-sharing mechanisms; the absence or weakness of key mediatory or regulatory institutions; and the repeated distortion and abortion of democratic institutions. With the above administrative defects, it will be difficult for the nation to progress in contemporary times and be able to compete with other developing nations of the world.

Do you envisage any challenges and hurdles, for instance, if the Eastern States stand independently from the rest of the Nigeria?

The word “If” is relative. I would rather say “when” … When the Eastern States stand independently from the rest of the Nigeria there will be mountain of problems to face of which the greatest will be the problem of a mindset tabular rasa. For the new nation to triumph, we must clean up the mindset of our people from the retrogressive, corrupt, despotic attitude and character we would have migrated with from Nigeria.

We shall have the challenges of implementing a new functional system of governance that will guarantee the interest of all within the nation. We shall have the hurdles of implementing fast and modern economic policies, manufacturing strategies, progressive and meaningful educational system; effective purpose driven internal and external security measure that will safeguard, protect, defend our people wherever they live in the world.

We shall have the challenges of defining and implementing a robust manufacturing regime that will make us a competitive export oriented nation. The hurdles of corruption transfer, religious dependency on spirituality instead of hard work, the integration of our culture, tradition, norms and values lost in the euphoria of colonialization and sojourn in the plantations of Nigeria shall be hurdle that we must surpass to emerge a strong nation.

How sustainable is the economy, and resources available to support the needed development there?

The economy of the Eastern region is enormous and can definitely support and sustain the development of a new nation. There are abundant and available human, material, agricultural, industrial and technological resource which will be perfectly combined with the positive resilience of our people will catapult our nation in 20 years to a progressive global economic player.

Can it help bridge the development gap and what are future perspectives for the Igboland?

It will help bridge the developmental gaps and we hope to see a positive future prospect not just for the Igbo people, Eastern Nigeria but the world at large. A new nation of Eastern Nigeria will become the pride of all black people globally.

As the President of the Congress of Igbo Leaders in the UK and Ireland, how can you describe the popular sentiments of your fellow members there? Do they support the Eastern States to break away or rather advocate for national integration?

As you would expect in every organization you will have the pessimists, the rational and the progressives. In Congress of Igbo Leaders UK, we have divergent opinions. That is the beauty of such an organization blessed with the best minds, leaders and citizens of Igbo nation.

We endeavor to have healthy conversations, agree to disagree on pertinent issues. Overall, all our people want is to have a nation that all can be free. A nation where equity, fairness, justice, respect for the rule of law, absence of security operative brutality, respect for the fundamental human rights of her citizens, the right of life, education and movement without  hindrances, harassments and intimidation. I must say that if Biafra offers us such an opportunity, there will be no Igbo person who will reject such an opportunity. One thing that is clear from the opinions of some of our members, war is not an option.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Hydro-projects in Africa: Interview with Vladislav Vasilyev

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As widely known, Russia plans to hold the second Russia-Africa summit in 2022, as a further step to make inroads into Africa – that comprises a diverse collection of countries, each with its own set of development setbacks and challenges. The political culture and investment climate are, in fact, diverse but are also important forces in determining the levels of the economy.

As it aims at raising its economic profile, Russia is strongly encouraging Russian business leaders to prioritize sustainable development-oriented projects as a practical step towards raising the living standard of millions of impoverished population in Africa.

For instance, JSC Institute Hydroproject promises to transfer its experience in advanced and innovative technologies, and efficient use of water resources, especially ways of managing and ensuring reliable hydro-energy supply. JSC Institute Hydroproject can further help in the accelerated social and economic development in Africa. 

In this interview, Vladislav Vasilyev, Head of International Projects Department at JSC Institute Hydroproject, discusses his company’s efforts directed at establishing hydro-projects in Africa, further touched on the state support for Russian business in Africa. Here are the interview excerpts:

– How important is African market for your company, JSC Institute JSC Institute Hydroproject?

JSC Institute Hydroproject has vast working experience in African countries wherein we have done designs of HPPs in Algeria, Angola, Ethiopia, Guinea, San Tome and Principe, Tunisia, Morocco, Ethiopia. We would like to separately emphasize about the masterpiece high class engineering of the Aswan dam on the Nile river in Egypt. JSC Institute Hydroproject management has deep knowledge of the African market.

– What are your expectations from African governments, industrialists and agribusiness directors in cooperating on products and services of your company?

African countries are among the fastest growing in the world. About one and half billion people live there, and that constitute approximately 20% of the world’s population. At the same time, there is a big demand in infrastructure development. Even the United Nations, forming the “Sustainable Development Goals” emphasizes the high development needs of the African region.

The African market is a big challenge in all areas of water use, from land reclamation to large and complex knowledge-intensive industries, not to mention the usual but much-needed electricity generation. In this regard, we see many opportunities for cooperation with governments, industrialists and in the huge agroindustry.

– Do you envisage any key problems and impediments to developing business, especially in the sphere of agriculture in African countries?

Difficulties and obstacles are possible – this is life. However, we can look at things differently, and see the obstacles as opportunities and incentives. For example, the lack of land reclamation networks makes it possible to build and develop a water delivery system that can become a link to strengthen the local neighboring countries and peoples.

The construction of a hydroelectric power station requires a channel with a large water pressure, which means the presence of a water basin, a reservoir. This will not only provide the local region with electricity, but also provide water. Here are a number of issues that are being resolved with the participation of the design and survey and research school of such a company as JSC Institute Hydroproject.

– How competitive do you see African market for Russian companies, generally, and for your company, specifically? From the previous experience, what challenges Russian companies and investors face in Africa?

There are several challenges, which are still in place for Russian engineering companies on African market. Russia is still not a member country of African Development Bank. AfDB announces many tenders, which are closed to companies from non-member countries. Still it is only a few African countries, who signed an agreement on the avoidance of double taxation with Russia.

– Business needs vital information, knowledge about the investment climate and so forth. Do you think there has been an information vacuum or gap between the two countries?

In my opinion we can talk about the rapprochement of the positions of Africa and Russia, the formation of new and strengthening of long-standing ties. This is explicitly noted, for instance, by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Head of the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Uganda, Olive Kigongo.

Joshua Setipa, Managing Director of the United Nations Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries, says of the importance of high-tech companies: “It is important for us to continuously develop our partner network and establish cooperation with organizations that can help and support less developed countries with their technological and innovative potential. I am sure that working in Russia and, in particular, at the events of the Roscongress Foundation will help us to use the country’s opportunities for the benefit of others.” He said so at the recent Russia-Africa summit in Sochi.

– In your opinion, does the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit planned for 2022 hold an opportunity for raising the level of investment and business engagement with Africa?

Russia-Africa summit is unique platform that is expected to bring together corporate business directors and potential investors from both regions – Russia and Africa. We can simply agree that investments are always possible, and Russia is highly interested in them. This is also a state and business interest. Such people and companies are also among our partners. 

According to the achievements of recent years – this is not only the First Joint Russia-Africa Summit, but also during many previous bilateral forums, it is important to say that cooperation in the business sphere is just gaining momentum.

Now there is a lot of work to be done, including a well-structured and well-coordinated policy for Russian business, restructuring foreign policy and supporting economic circles – with African politicians, business people and residents of African countries. It is necessary to cooperate between scientific, technical, humanitarian, information, and digital platforms, and ultimately to develop common approaches for the implementation of our upcoming joint projects.

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Nigeria- Ghana Trade War: Where to from here

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Several months after a series of bilateral talks between the Nigerian government and authorities in Ghana aimed toward addressing the nearly a decade-long controversy that led to the closure of Nigerian traders’ shops in Ghana, the problems have not been resolved. Hundreds of shops belonging to Nigerian traders are still under lock and key; while most of the owners are stranded. A number of them said they beg to feed, as many of them remain reluctant to return to Nigeria despite a window created by the Nigerian government to facilitate their safe return.

What has happened so far?

President Muhammadu Buhari stunned Nigeria’s neighbors when he unexpectedly closed the country’s land borders to goods trade, saying the time had come to crush contraband trade. The land borders with neighboring Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger were closed to goods in August 2019, with partial openings and closings for people prompted by the coronavirus pandemic throughout 2020.

The center of the lingering controversy was a $1 million levy imposed on Nigerian traders and other foreign investors to pay Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) before the shops would be opened. The conditions set by the Ghanaian authorities had triggered a debate in Nigeria and within the African sub-region, which many considered as a breach of ECOWAS’ trade protocols.

However, on 19 June 2020, armed men entered the compound of the Nigeria High Commission in Ghana, and destroyed buildings under construction. Nigeria’s foreign minister Geoffrey Onyeama described the vandalism as “outrageous and criminal” and urged the Ghanaian authorities to make sure that they protect Nigerian diplomatic buildings. Nigerian residents in Ghana held a demonstration calling for Nigerian government to take action. Although a piece posted on the Nigerian High Commission website in Ghana places responsibility on a businessperson who had previously claimed he owned the land where the building was being built, Nigerians living in Ghana still took to the streets to protest for their protection. The Ghanaian foreign ministry also promised that security had been “beefed up”.

Flashback on bilateral talks

The Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, had last year summoned Ghana’s Chargé d’Affaires to Nigeria, Ms. Iva Denoo, with whom he discussed the closure of the Nigerian-owned shops in Accra with a view to addressing the problem. Onyeama described the action taken by the Ghanaian authorities as politically motivated. However, his Ghanaian counterpart, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, countered his allegation, insisting that the crackdown was on illegal foreign retail businesses in Ghana.

Botchwey, described in a tweet by Onyeama, tagging Ghana’s policy on retail business as a politically motivated move as ‘most unfortunate. She said the Ghanaian government did not target any particular nationality in the exercise. “Countries sometimes take tough decisions in order to enforce their laws, just as Nigeria took a decision to shut its borders to stop smuggling, despite its impact on ECOWAS member countries,” she had said.

Is Ghana innocent?

While it’s easier to quickly point a finger at Nigeria as the aggressor, given it’s the bigger country who opted to shut its borders, therefore creating a ripple effect in the smaller economies, Ghana also has laws that clash with ECOWAS protocol, which ensures the free movement of the community’s citizens, as well as free and fair trade. The 2013 Ghana Investment Promotion Centre Act (GIPC) is one such Act. It prioritizes the interests of Ghanaian traders and business owners by designating certain only its citizens, whereby foreigners wanting to set up shop in Ghana must have a minimum equity capital of $10,000, run enterprises. That alone limits the number of foreigners – particularly from the poorer surrounding West African countries – who can successfully work in Ghana.

Where to from here

While tariffs can result in individual ‘winners’, a full trade war, protectionism, and a reversal of decades of globalization would damage economies across the board, hitting emerging markets particularly hard. COVID-19 has arguably pushed many countries towards concentrating on themselves, as many economies have been negatively affected in an exceedingly shocking manner. Although few expect to see the kinds of tensions witnessed in the 1980s when Nigeria expelled two million undocumented West African migrants, half of whom were from Ghana.

Key takeaways

  • Nigeria border closure weakened trade across West Africa
  • A full trade war and globalization reversal will benefit nobody
  • Nigerian traders have suffered the most; Ghanaians also faces pain
  • Traders have seen big losses.
  • Demolition of Nigerian High Commission building in Accra.

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H.E. President John Mahama Appointed As AU High Representative for Somalia

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The Chairperson of the Commission, H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat, has announced the appointment of H.E John Dramani Mahama, former President of the Republic of Ghana, as his High Representative to Somalia.

As the High Representative for Somalia’s political track, President Mahama will work with the Somali stakeholders, to reach a mutually acceptable compromise towards an all-encompassing resolution for the holding of Somali elections in the shortest possible time.

In fulfilling his mandate, the High Representative will be supported by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), to ensure that the mediation efforts and the peace support operation work together seamlessly.

The Chairperson of the Commission calls on the Somali stakeholders to negotiate in good faith, and to put the interests of Somalia and the well-being of the Somali people above all else in the search for an inclusive settlement to the electoral crisis.

This should usher in a democratically elected government with the legitimacy and mandate to resolve the remaining outstanding political and constitutional issues that are posing a threat to the stability of the country and the region as a whole.

The Chairperson of the Commission also encourages all the Somali stakeholders and the international community to extend every support to the High Representative, who will arrive the country in the coming days.

Ambassador Abukar Arman, a former Somalia special envoy to the United States and a foreign policy analyst says there have previously been interventions from neighbors have not brought Somalia the promised peace.

It is clear that no Somali can pursue a political career in his own country without first getting Ethiopia’s blessings. Already, Ethiopia has installed a number of its staunch cohorts in the current government and (along with Kenya) has been handpicking virtually all of the new regional governors, mayors and so forth.

In October 2010, the African Union appointed Jerry John Rawlings as the AU High Representative for Somalia to “mobilize the continent and the rest of the international community to fully assume its responsibilities and contribute more actively to the quest for peace, security and reconciliation in Somalia.”

That however, Ambassador Arman says the former Ghana president and AU Special Representative for Somalia is now assuming his new post with significant diplomatic capital, mainly resulting from the credible work of his fellow countryman, former president, and Special Envoy to Somalia, Jerry John Rawlings.

“On the other hand, he would be carrying the hefty political burden that comes with the so-called African Solutions for African Problems and its cash-gulping record. The concept is taken hostage by African sloganeers and foreign elements eager to advance zero-sum interests,” he wrote me in an emailed message.

Make no mistake, Somalia is held in a nasty headlock by a neighbourhood tag-team unmistakably motivated by zero-sum objective. It is their so-called African solution (not so much of the extremist group al-Shabaab) that is setting the Horn on fire.

According to AFP news report, Mogadishu had been on edge since February, when President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s term ended before elections were held, and protesters took to the streets against his rule. But a resolution in April to extend his mandate by two years split the country’s fragile security forces along all-important clan lines.

Soldiers loyal to influential opposition leaders began pouring into the capital. The fighting drove tens of thousands of civilians from their homes and divided the city, with government forces losing some key neighborhoods to opposition units.

Under pressure to ease the tension, Mohamed abandoned his mandate extension and instructed his prime minister to arrange fresh elections and bring together rivals for talks. Indirect elections were supposed to have been held by February under a deal reached between the government and Somalia’s five regional states the previous September.

But that agreement collapsed as the president and the leaders of two states, Puntland and Jubaland, squabbled over the terms. Months of UN-backed talks failed to broker consensus between the feuding sides.

In early May, Mohamed re-launched talks with his opponents over the holding of fresh elections, and agreed to return to the terms of the September accord.

Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble has invited the regional leaders to a round of negotiations on May 20 in the hope of resolving the protracted feud and charting a path to a vote. In the meanwhile, the international community has threatened sanctions if elections are not held soon.

Somalia remains the epicenter of global geopolitical and geo-economic competition. Some of the major ones are in a cut-throat competition that further complicates the Somalia conundrum. With its longest coastline, bordering Ethiopia to the west, Kenya to the southwest and the Gulf of Eden, Somalia has attracted many foreign countries to the region in East Africa.

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