Monday, July 25, 2011

Rochas and his cartload of aides

First, I am a fan of Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State. The chap strikes me as one unafraid to go against the grain; a quality I hold dear.

Second, I was disappointed, like most of his fans, when news of the ridiculous long list of aides he has engaged to help him on his ‘Rescue Mission’ broke. At the last count, the governor had appointed over 70 special advisers, senior special assistants, special assistants, and whatnots.

I am dismayed with the long list because the huge cost of maintaining these aides and their own aides would put a dent on the state’s budget. The list allegedly has such ridiculous positions as special assistants on Igbo Affairs and Non formal sector. This website reported on Wednesday that popular Nollywood actress, Nkiru Sylvanus, was also appointed senior special assistant on Lagos Affairs.

But the one that got me laughing hard is the alleged appointment of comedian Uche Ogbuagu as the Chief Comedian of the state. Like someone pointed out on Twitter, if Mr Ogbuagu’s appointment is eliciting so much derision and mirth, then he is already doing his job.

And doing the job is what should be emphasised here. It is understandable that the groundswell of support that Okorocha got during the interesting election battle with the former governor could easily turn to mass hatred if he as much as misses a step. However, the focus should be on how well he has done the job given to him so far.

The man cannot operate free of the system that he finds himself in. Yes, some people would choose to change the system to push through their agenda, others would choose to make the system work for them. Okorocha might be towing the latter path.

The system here is skewed so much that one needs to make immense sacrifices to win elections; especially when contesting against an all powerful incumbent. Maybe Okorocha, like somebody suggested, promised all these people appointments because he desperately needed their support in delivering much needed votes. Maybe he is engaging them to secure support for his administration. Maybe he just likes to know that hundreds of aides are available at his beck and call. Whatever be the reason, we need to look at the bigger picture.

If Mr Okorocha has not violated the constitution in any way by his long retinue of aides, and if he is not asking the legislature to approve extra budgets to pay their remuneration, he is free to structure his government anyway he wants. The chap can appoint 500 aides for all I care; as long as he delivers on his promises.

And so far, he does seem to be on the right track. Notable first steps include the slash of security votes which freed up an estimated N4 billion to aid the free education policy of his government, the suspension of bogus projects of the past administration like the 10, 000 jobs scheme and the N80 billion Imo Wonder Lake Resort.

So the focus should be on if he does the job, and not how he does it. And the flip side to all these is that with the long retinue of aides, the public would have more insight as to how he is running his government.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I was pleasantly surprised, and a bit flattered, when a distant relative sent me an SMS appointing me into his Committee of Friends for his forthcoming wedding.

Now, I haven’t seen, or spoken with, this guy for three years, so I didn’t really think I qualified as a friend. But I guess he was counting on our, not so clear, blood ties. The story goes that his grandmother and mine were cousins, so I guess that makes him family.

So, being an ardent believer in sustaining family ties, I made the trip to his Sango-Ota residence for the first meeting of the committee. I was very pleased that my (is it half?) cousin considered me important enough to help plan his wedding, considering that he is four years older than me, and about ten times wealthier.

On getting to his flat, my bloated ego suffered a slight puncture when I discovered that there were 37 of us in the committee. I was further shocked, and bewildered, to discover that we were in Committee Three. Yes, my dear cousin had inaugurated three different committees of friends for his upcoming wedding.

A bemused fellow committee member explained the set up to me; Committee One comprised of about 15 close friends of the celebrant who were expected to ‘donate’ N25, 000 each, Committee Two was made up of 30 business associates who were expected to ‘chip in’ N10, 000 each, while Committee Three included 37 not so close friends and relatives who were expected to ‘contribute’ N5, 000 each.

As the meeting progressed, I discovered that we were not really there to plan a wedding. We were there to ‘assist.’ We were simply part of a massive revenue drive. Someone whispered that the target was N1.2million. Our host spared no efforts to achieve this target, as he ensured that we were well lubricated with sufficient booze to loosen up some tight wallets.

In retrospect, my initial feelings of shock and disappointment at the commercialization of the process wore off. In fact, I began to marvel at the ingenuity of the scheme. It beats having to take a bank loan for your wedding in an era where bankruptcy occurs as the aftermath of some weddings.

So, if you are contemplating a wedding, and you are interested in adopting this method, you had better start getting those contacts of long forgotten relatives. Look harder at that family tree; there are branches you might have missed before.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Yahoo boys target job seekers

Ifeanyi Mbadugha was pleasantly surprised when he got an email, on October 13, containing an employment letter from Mobitel Nigeria Ltd.

The 2004 graduate of Marketing was ecstatic, because the stipulated remuneration and benefits were double his present pay. However, his elation evaporated as he got to the fine print at the end of the offer letter.

“They said I was required to come (for resumption on October 16) with an affidavit certifying all the credentials that they asked me to bring for the documentation,” he said.

“Ordinarily that would not have been a problem, except that they directed me to a particular lawyer to do it. That was the first sign that something was amiss. I called the lawyer, and he told me to bring N6000.”

Biting at the bait

This served to grow his suspicion that he was the target of a scam. Nevertheless he played along, half out of a desire to see how it would end, and half believing that it could still be real. “I told the man that I could only afford N3000, and he told me to pay into his account and bring the rest on resumption day,” he said.

“So I paid, and on Saturday, I left as early as 5am, only to get to the Mobitel office in Victoria Island to see almost 50 other people with similar offer letters.”

The company personnel were as surprised as the deluge of expectant youth that raided their offices that day. Before 9am, as many as 30 of them had turned up. Their excited air of expectations turned to incredulity; and then to rage as they realised that they were victims of a massive scam.

“Three of them came from Ghana,” said Mr Mbadugha. “Some came by (air) flight. It was really terrible. The company workers were very embarrassed. I later discovered that 22 of us paid various sums into the account. The rest either were too ashamed to say, or they were smart enough not to pay beforehand.

Mobitel’s defence

Staff of the telecoms company moved quickly to dispel any lingering doubts. Staff vehicles were placed at the disposal of the stranded youth, to take them to their various addressed listed by the lawyers. “The first one (at Maryland) turned out to be a hotel,” said Mr Mbadugha. “The second one, at Anthony Village, did not even exist. Someone suggested going to the police with the account numbers to ask the banks to block it, but I knew it was fruitless. They must have withdrawn the whole money by then.”

Scandalised by the affair, the company swung into motion to discourage other prospective scammers by issuing disclaimers. One of which was published on their website read thus: “Mobitel Limited has been informed that unknown persons who are not affiliated with Mobitel are fraudulently soliciting money from prospective job applicants for positions with Mobitel Limited. Prospective applicants have received e-mails promising job seekers positions with us upon payment of a fee and the receipt of the recipients’ curriculum vitae.

Please be advised that Mobitel does not solicit payments from job seekers. Any requests for such payments should be regarded as fraudulent. Mobitel has absolutely no connection to any of these e-mails or related communications or persons. We believe these communications are part of an attempt to perpetrate fraud on unsuspecting members of the public. Adverts for positions with Mobitel are normally made on the career page of our website.”

Hunting nearer home

Hundreds of companies have found themselves in the situation that Mobitel did in recent times, as Internet scammers (popularly known as Yahoo Boys) have begun to latch on to the millions of desperate job seekers in the country. The fraudsters also go to the lengths of building websites, taking paid adverts in newspapers, and actually conducting aptitude tests/interviews for applicants. “One Yahoo boy in my neighbourhood is already begging to see that letter because he is interested,” said Mr Mbadugha.

The Yahoo boy, who gave his name as Henry, a 2002 Economics graduate, said he had attempted a similar scam last year, but did not succeed because he felt that it was poorly executed. “I used the name of an unknown company, that is why (it didn’t work),” he said. “What I will do now is to invest money in it. Put it in the papers or even if it’s just to print posters and paste around. Use the name of a big company that people will be eager to apply for. For the past three months, I never receive money from white man. This won’t be a bad idea.”

Gullible and desperate youth

Critics have been swift in condemning the gullible nature of university graduates in falling prey to such scams. “If a person who spent four years in the university can be stupid enough to pay for a job, then that person deserves to be hoodwinked,” said Onyekachi Ukwuoma, a Human Resource Executive.

“And even when some, especially government, agencies ask for payment, don’t they make it as transparent as possible? At least they either ask you to purchase application forms, or PIN for online applications.”

However, most unemployed youth disagree with Mr Ukwuoma. A snap survey revealed that most of them are not averse to paying for getting jobs. Charles Nwaorgu, a 2008 Sociology graduate is one. “I have a friend that got a job through one company like that,” he said. “When she was paying the N2500 they requested before aptitude test, I was like this could be a scam. But she paid, and wrote the test. Now she is working.

Another company, (Zipha Recruitment), have also sent me email. They are charging various amounts for different qualifications. I think I will try it. You can’t just allow such opportunities pass because of fear.”

And that is the mentality that Mr Mbadugha has chosen to adopt. “If one allows such things discourage him, things will only get worse. Nigeria is all about opportunity, and one must always be on the look out.”

Previously published in NEXT

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The monthly paycheck

The National Youth Service Scheme did not enjoy much popularity when it was introduced in the 70s. The young university graduates then were impatient to get to work, considering that they were intensely wooed by both corporate and government organizations.

Most of them saw the mandatory service year as a waste of career time, and impatiently blazed through it. Some went as far as devising ingenious means to avoid it and jump into the jobs that were beckoning.

Today, the reverse is the case. The jobs are no longer available, and the graduates gladly embrace the scheme. They do so, not because of any sense of patriotism, but because those 12months provide a relief from idleness and boredom. They do so because the scheme provides the first (and for some, only) time they will receive paychecks at the end of every month.

And because the scheme has adorned such an attractive toga, thousands of Nigerian university graduates go to absurd lengths to secure a berth in the service year. Those of them older than the age cap of 30 doctor their birth documents; pregnant ladies take ridiculous, and dangerous, steps to conceal it; and some even forge call-up letters when the NYSC has not invited them.

However, the icing on the cake is the revelation that some graduates, who have undergone the one-year scheme, connive with dubious NYSC officials to get re invited for another service year. Indeed, it stretches the bounds of credulity to receive reports of people who have served thrice. What kind of graduate would sink so low?

Agreed, the unemployment situation has approached crisis dimensions, but people still get jobs. Are these graduates sure that they earned their certificates? Does taking the coward's option solve the problem? While these questions boggle the mind, it is also instructive to remind ourselves that the country's unemployment rate has reached alarming statistics. Hundreds of thousands of Nigerian youth enter the labour market annually; less than 20% of them get jobs.

The country's abysmal business environment smoother the entrepreneurial spirit among this lot. Left with little or no choice, some of these youth are lured into a life of crime. Millions of university graduates are currently engaged in cyber fraud, both within and outside the country.

The situation has approached dire proportions in that most of these youth labor under the disillusionment that cyber fraud is no crime. A vast majority of Nigerian youth is therefore disinterested in Nation Building; and this is the most dangerous calamity that can befall a country. Our present crop of leaders should therefore, as a matter of utmost urgency, tackle the rising unemployment rate.

Lofty ideas of building an enviable economy by 2020 can never be achieved if the youth are left to continue like this. Nigeria's outrageous unemployment rate has placed the nation at the edge of an abyss. Until we remove ourselves from that precarious precipice, we will not be able to make any progress.

The time to act is now; before the bloated NYSC scheme bursts at its seams.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Skeletons of our history

Our gods have been starved to death.

The cutlass that occupied prime position under the man of house's bed has been displaced by the shotgun and AK47.

The wrappers that proudly sat on our mothers' waists has been replaced by Calvin Klein jeans.

The evil forest in my village was once the most efficient courtroom. People accused of a crime only had to answer one question in their defence; guilty or not guilty? And the judgement was swift and final. No adjournment. If not guilty, you woke the next day to sleep in your bed again; if guilty, you never get to sleep in your bed the next day, you woke dead and joined the skulls in the forest. The crime rate was remarkably low.

The kolanuts in the bowl has been replaced with chin chin and chocolates. Homemade gin by Hennessy. Akpu was replaced by garri; which in turn has been replaced by semovita. Egusi and Nsala have been replaced by Chinese soup. Abakiliki Rice is almost extinct; Thai Rice has taken over.

Like Fred Nwonwu said, our young ladies have turned to scarecrows, with fake fingernails, fake hair, fake skin tone, fake eyelashes, fake lips, fake accents, and even fake breasts. Like Cheta Nwanze said, our young men are wearing leather jackets in the sun.

They are strangling our culture, and we are not resisting. We are all guilty. I have replaced the palm wine, that kept my forefathers strong and healthy, with Heineken. I have replaced my father's yam farm with bricks and imported flowers. I have turned papa's yam barn into a house for the generator. What will we tell our children?

I will not allow my children learn my culture from history books and the Internet. I will tie a wrapper once in a while, even if it's just indoors. I will break the kolanut once in a while, even if it's just before my children. I will make ugba for them, even if I have to microwave it. And my future wife must carry our child on her back, even if it's once in a while. So help me God.

They have strangled our culture to death. The least we can do is to preserve the corpse. So that our children can at least see the skeletons of our history.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My ancestors versus the church

He was buried sitting down, in a cupboard built specially for that.

Grandpa was a pagan until death, and so his burial threw up so many weird pagan rituals. From the bizarre, to the downright hilarious. The three day ceremonies kept us very entertained; that is apart from father, who nearly went bankrupt.

Grandpa was a pagan; and he was lazy. Any fellow who could afford to be an artist in those days was lazy. But, by jove, the old man made some beautiful sculptures. Some of which I have kept, until the day I will go to America, where I will sell them for big money.

Grandpa was a pagan; and did not believe in God. He drank more than his fair share of the palm wine, but he believed in honesty and truth. He lived his life under one simple belief - that his ancestors were watching his every action; and would punish him if he told a lie, or took another man's property.

Grandpa was proud to remain a pagan; and rebuffed all his children's efforts to teach him about heaven and hell. He couldn't understand how we could go and sit in a church, and listen to a 'small boy' teach about right and wrong, when we could simply call our ancestors to come at midnight and clarify any confusion.

Grandpa was a pagan, but he was a good man. He was a drunkard, but he was honest. He was lazy, but he worked hard to entrench peace in his society. He didn't believe in God, or any gods for that matter, but he believed in his ancestors.

And so he joined them at 106, sitting proudly in his throne, secure in the knowledge that he did not disappoint them. He joined them at the round table, and I wonder if they are still passing the cow horn filled with palm wine around. I have begged, and begged, that they answer a few troubling questions. But try as much as I do, I never seem to hear them whisper directions at midnight. And the question I ask is: are they in heaven, or in hell?

Monday, September 20, 2010

The things some fathers do

My father loves meetings to a fault. And I can't say I blame him; he inherited it from his father.

Grandpa was the oldest man in our clan, and a red cap chief to boot, so he held sway as the convener-cum-judge of the daily meetings of the clan. I am afraid it turned him into a lazy fellow.

Can't say I blame him either; I blame the society. You see, the traditional Igbo culture encouraged, nay, demanded dialogue. So much so that grandpa, and most old titled chiefs had to build out houses (obi) within their compounds to serve as venue for these meetings. I suspect this was done to keep the wife happy.

Everything was matter for spirited discussion among the men folk; from genuine matters of communal development, to marital issues. I was once privy to eavesdrop on one such occasion, where an indignant uncle asked that he be allowed to send his wife packing because she made too much noise while performing her conjugal obligations. I remember the men shaking their heads solemnly.

Father hasn't gotten round to building his 'obi' yet. Maybe he is waiting for his tenure as the oldest man. And he has been practicing for that day; with his children. And so, while we were still living with him, we had these meetings daily. Sometimes twice a day.

Anything was fodder for a conference. If the electricity bill came unusually high, father called a meeting. If his 1981 Peugeot 504 refused to start in the morning, father called a meeting. If the food supplies ran out before the month's end, father called a meeting. Sometimes, father even called a meeting to inform us that we will meet later in the day.

And then, father woke up one day to realize that we were no longer living with him. It is killing him. Not that he misses us; it's the meetings that he misses. I pray nobody teaches him how to make conference calls. But he grabs the advantage whenever any of us visits. And so we try not to visit individually. We accompany each other to go and visit father, so as to share the agony.