Bukhastari: The Man Who Did Not Win

By Bunmi Makinwa

The dream was long. As she woke up, she remembered vividly all of it.

It was in a country called the Goliath of Africa. A rambling discussion is going on about a character called Maybaloon Buhkastari. Across generations and geographical demarcations, people speak about him in tones of veneration and wonder. The air of nolstagia about what could have been was palpable. 

A political party has ruled the country for almost eight years and people were  complaining about almost everything. Nothing appeared to have improved except for some roads, bridges and limited train transportation which have consumed more funds than they were worth. 

If only Buhkastari had been voted as president in 2015, he would have reversed the decline of the country and many things would have been better, the people said.

In newspapers, columnists wrote about Buhkastari in glowing terms. “He saw the problems of the country in practical terms. He had nothing to lose or gain. He only wanted to set the country right. He was committed, honest and prepared,” a newspaper editorial affirmed.

A famous critic of governments, Soho Kalaga, who was known for his radical views, lauded Bukhastari. A musician and activist, Kalaga, repeated everywhere that he performed, “The people deserve the leader that they have. You, my people, refuse to elect Buhkastari or give him a chance. See where you are.” Kalaga was said to have put together for imminent release a new, openly political song that had a popular chorus that goes thus:

“He promised us 

Our strong security

Our strong economy

Our strong people

Our dead corruption

Our new nation

But you did not allow him

Buhkastari should have been our President.” 

Buhkastari was born in 1942 in the northern town of Katsimau. He was nothing but a thorough military-bred. At 17 he started military training and soon became a young officer. He was lean, tall and frugal in his ways. When the military ruled the country, he served in various key posts – military and political. He was garrison commander, military secretary, state governor, and minister at various times. 

The story, true or not, was that he could not tolerate corruption. He did not like politicians. He vowed to people around him that any mention of bribes or anyone who lived beyond his means would go to jail after a summary trial hearing that he would head.

An introverted and generally self-effacing character, Buhkastari did not share the prevalent reputation of military officers as carefree, reckless or openly asserting authority. He took part in many coupsd’etat to overthrow civilian and military governments which he labelled as corrupt and useless. The people deserved much better was his watchword. He could not care less if political leaders rot in jail.

Several decades ago, Buhkastari had the opportunity to prove himself. After leading a successful coup to change the ruling government, he became head of state. Heavens had never seen such draconian laws and measures put in place in such a short time. 

Top brass in government ministries and institutions who were deemed untouchable hitherto were sacked, redeployed or jailed. The security branches of government had the power to detain for three months anyone suspected of sabotaging the economy or suspected of planning or breaching state security. Strikes and demonstrations were made illegal. 

The media, academics and critics, in general, were handcuffed ab initio with a special decree. “Any person who publishes in any form, whether written or otherwise, any message, rumour, report or statement … which is false in any material particular or which brings or is calculated to bring the Federal Military Government or the Government of a state or public officer to ridicule or disrepute, shall be guilty of an offence…”.

For the media specifically, offending journalists and publishers would be tried by an open military tribunal, whose ruling would be final and without appeal in any court. Anyone guilty would be fined and also jailed for up to two years.

The military government of Buhkastari did not just pronounce the laws and measures, it implemented them and dealt with so many people in its fashion. His government created a slogan, Win Against Indignity, to wake people up and compel adherence to the new ways.

At the time, most people cheered Buhkastari. His regime was seen as a bulwark against the many failures, indiscipline and corruption of the ruling elites. Despite some criticism of high-handedness, the regime was popular in most parts of the country.

When in 2003 Buhkastari first reappeared in the new garb of a retired military officer who had turned politician and declared that he would re-direct the country to the right path, only a limited number of people paid attention to his message. Under the emerging democratic political setting, he repeated the same message every four years during the presidential campaign seasons but his audience did not increase. 

In 2015, and for the fourth time, Buhkastari, despite his frustration and previous message not to speak any longer on the matter, presented himself still as a presidential candidate. He pointedly noted that the country was adrift and would sink if it continued under the same leaders. He promised that he would use civilian and democratic ways to rule. 

He preached, raved, danced and wore unusual cultural dresses to woo voters. He went to many parts of the country that he never visited in the past to show his face and convince people about his good intentions. 

He did not succeed. The results of the election showed that he was not wanted as president. He retired to his farm and said not even a word any longer on politics in the country.

As time went on, people started to talk about Bukhastari and what he would have done to reset the country. And the whispers and conversations became louder. People wished that Buhkastari had been chosen and elected in 2015. By now he would have had almost eight years to repair the country.

“He promised us

Our strong security

Our strong economy

Our strong people

Our dead corruption

Our new nation

But you did not allow him

Buhkastari should have been our President.” 

(Kalaga’s chorus continues)

Bukhastari had campaigned in 2015 that if elected he would change the lives of people, the economy would be strong, insecurity would disappear and corruption would almost be eliminated. Early in 2023, almost eight years later, and because he was not elected, all these issues worsened. 

On every indicator of development, the country was doing badly. Prices of consumer items have increased beyond what was ever thought possible. Bread, yam, gaari, tomato or onions were three to ten times what they cost when Buhkastari asked to be elected in 2015. 

Students at public universities had spent some eight months at home due to strikes by their teachers. Even after the universities resumed teaching many problems remain. Payments arrears of salaries of the Academic Staff Union of National Universities remained unpaid. 

Fuel subsidy by the government has increased by about 1000 per cent from 2015 to 2023. Diesel and kerosene were no longer subsidized and their prices have become excessively high without any obvious palliatives to citizens. The country inched gradually to a situation where its debt servicing payments would consume almost its entire budget. Petroleum remained predominantly the major source of income just as it has been for all the past years.

Since 2015, unemployment has increased four-fold and data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed that 33% of potential workers were out of jobs, and those who were employed mostly earned subsistence wages given especially the huge increase in costs of living. Youth unemployment was 43 per cent and the actual unemployment figure was said to be worse. Electricity, the motor that drives industrialization and growth, was as rare as it ever was. 

Insecurity was rampant and common so much that the movement of persons and goods has reduced significantly. The national currency exchange rate to the dollar which in 2015 was 190 has risen to 445 at the official rate. In the more readily used parallel market, it increased from 260 in 2015 to 740 in 2023. Buhkastari had specifically vowed that the national currency would not be devalued if ever he was elected, but his commitment failed.

People and voters in particular blamed themselves and criticized their sense of judgment. If only Buhkastari was elected in 2015 the story would have been different, people said. The former military and retired army general would have eliminated terrorists and kidnappers. The scam on fuel subsidies would have been stopped and the corruption in and out of government would have been reduced significantly. The dependence of the economy on only petroleum would have started to change. 

“We are going to secure this country. We are going to manage it properly. We will continue to improve the situation, security, and economy, and fight corruption,”  Bukhastari had said. When he did not get the votes, he returned to his farm. He is widely seen as a hero, a mystic and the best leader that the country ever had.

In the dream, she saw Buhkastari, gazing endlessly at his cows on his farm. He could hear the voices of regret. He wondered what history would have said of him had he won the election. He pondered on whether after eight years in office he would still have been seen as a hero and exceptional leader. Had he become president in 2015 would he have been demystified?

She remembered clearly that the dream ended just as Bukhastari asked himself the question – By 2023, would I have become in the public view another failed leader of the country?

Fully awake, she gave the answer.  

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership

Archbishop Tutu Was Drum Major For Justice

By Bunmi Makinwa

In many situations, Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu did not lack words. He would say it as he saw it and he could not care less.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” – Desmond Tutu

If the quote reminds you of Wole Soyinka’s “The man dies in all who keep quiet in the face of tyranny”, then you are in good company. Tutu was a Nobel Prize Laureate for peace and Soyinka received the Nobel Prize for literature. 

Tutu’s quote above is one of my most beloved representations of Tutu’s principle or philosophy of life. He did not share the view that for the sake of peace, one should let powerful people get away with wrongdoings. For Tutu, the uniformed services must not be allowed to perpetrate injustice; governments must not make the lives of their people intolerable whilst few share the wealth of the nation. 

When he passed on at the age of 90 on December 26, 2021, Tutu secured his position as a historical figure against the apartheid regime in his country, South Africa. But he was much more.

He spoke, led and participated in protests and contributed to ending institutionalized racial injustice in South Africa, and he stood up for many other causes.

Borrowing the words of Martin Luther King Junior, Tutu can be described much more correctly as a drum major for justice. In many spheres and against all forms of oppression and suppression, Tutu stood tall. He combined theology and politics and broke rules and norms to affirm his stand against whatever was wrong.

Born and bred in the townships of South Africa where the black population was consigned during apartheid rule, there was the least access to education, health, public services, meaningful jobs and opportunities for growth. 

In the situation, Tutu could have been just another “boy” as a driver, gardener or cleaner – the kind of jobs officially allocated to black people under the oppressive regime. In the South Africa of his time, Tutu’s entire life would be determined by his “boss” – a white man or woman – who saw nothing good in the black boy besides serving his masters. But Tutu did not allow the system to determine his future.

He got educated and ordained as a teacher and priest. After his education in theology in the United Kingdom, he took on senior teaching positions at theological schools in South Africa and universities in Lesotho and Swaziland. As time went on he had jobs that took him across European and African countries. He was Bishop and Archbishop, among many roles and he used his positions to elevate his voice in the public domain, beyond his pastoral duties.

In whatever position he was, he spoke and acted against oppression and its manifestations, including those that were not so obvious to other people. 

Whilst HIV/AIDS was ravaging many countries and was especially high in South Africa, Tutu criticized the government for not adopting and using newly-available anti-retroviral drugs for treatment. He said that those who fought against apartheid “would be glad that a more realistic plan was in place but they would lament that too many died unnecessarily because of bizarre theories held on high.”

Against the prevailing public opinion and stigmatization of people living with AIDS, Tutu spoke against discrimination. He chastised the large pharmaceutical firms for blocking access to new drugs through their prohibitive costs, especially for developing countries. “People, not profits, must be at the centre of patent law for medicines,” he affirmed.

China, a giant country in all ways, does not tolerate any visibility from any country in favour of Tibet and its leader, the Dalai Lama. South Africa, swung by the weight of China refused for the second time in 2014 a visa for the Dalai Lama to visit the country. Tutu found his voice and spoke loudly: “I am ashamed to call this lickspittle bunch my government.” 

South Africa overcame apartheid and became a darling country for most of the world. But internally, the political leadership was less than upright, especially when President Jacob Zuma ran the affairs of the country. Tutu was unforgiven of the government. “Mr. Zuma, you and your Government don’t represent me. You represent your interest and I am warning you… One day, we will start praying for the defeat of the ANC Government. You are disgraceful. I want to warn you. You are behaving in a way that is totally at variance with the things for which we stood.”

Tutu must have upset many leaders. It did not matter to him though. When he visited Kenya in 1988 as President of the All-Africa Conference of Churches, in his sermon he spoke about how African countries were less receptive to criticism of government and detention was common. The media blackened out his speech. “Sad and bad” was how a minister in Kenya characterized Tutu’s speech. On departure, “President Moi was not happy with me. But he still allowed me to use the VIP lounge,” Tutu observed.

In Zimbabwe, at a church conference, after then-President Mugabe had spoken, Tutu pointed out that the church would keep the government on its toes and would be the conscience of the society. 

Tutu accused Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom and President George Bush of the USA of human rights violations in Iraq. “The immorality of the United States and Great Britain’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history,” he said, adding that, “In a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague.” Tutu refused to participate in a conference in Johannesburg because of Blair’s attendance.

“The so-called ordinary people, God’s favourites, are sick and tired of corruption, repression, injustice, poverty, disease and violation of their human rights,” he summarized his position.

Tutu spoke harshly about Nigeria’s dictator, General Sanni Abacha, and often criticized the Israeli government on the Palestinian issue. 

Tutu and Nomalizo Leah, his wife, had four children who took up various roles and professions. One of Tutu’s daughters, Mpho Tutu van Furth, is a priest and married to a woman. She cannot serve as a priest because the South African Anglican Church forbids same-sex marriage, although it is legal in South Africa. Mpho has since left the country.

Gender norms became more nuanced especially in the North as Tutu continued his spiritual, political and social activism. LGBTQIA is a short name that covers lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual. 

In Tutu’s world, human beings are essentially personalities that are inherently individual and social. No matter what sexual orientation a person has, Tutu maintained that every human person was God’s creation and loved by God. “Who am I not to love who God loves?” I heard Tutu ask repeatedly in several ways at international conferences. “I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this. I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place. I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid.” 

Tutu would not be constrained by the regular norms of society or of his career as a senior church official. In full priesthood regalia, he would dance in public often with a wide smile on his face. He would weep openly in public or break down and have to be consoled and held by people around him as he did during the period he was the Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. The horror stories of tortures, killings, disappearances and ill-treatment of families, people and young ones by agents of the apartheid government brought hot tears to his face. 

He was so given to showing his emotions of joy, sadness and somberness that his key staff often wondered how and when is the appropriate time to present him with issues and events that gravely hurts the psyche.

In many ways, Tutu did not accept the usual way to view issues. He generated controversy even among many staunch Christians when he said: “If you say God is a Christian, what happens to God’s relationship with the Jews? What about devout Muslims? The Dalai Lama is a person of unquestionable holiness. I’ve experienced God in a Buddhist temple.” How open a heart he must have had.

Tutu was full of humour. At an international conference that this writer attended, Tutu told the story of how he was gifted a cap at a high military institution in the USA. The officers struggled to make the cap fit Tutu’s head. His wife, observing the almost futile efforts, lightened up the situation by saying, “Never mind, just give it to him to take away, my husband has a big head.” And Tutu said, “Just imagine it. Sometimes I can’t even have my wife on my side of things.”

Tutu never shied away from being explicit in his humour. At a speech at the University of Michigan, also in the USA, hear the mischievous Archbishop: “One day I was in San Francisco, minding my own business, as I always do when a lady came up gushing. Oh, she was so warm and she was greeting me and she said, ‘Hello, Archbishop Mandela!’ Sort of getting two for the price of one.”

In human, humane, and humorous ways, the Arch, as he was fondly called by his staff and admirers, redefined the meanings of pastoral leadership as a purposeful, lifelong, shepherding of the weak, the meek and the strong. He strove hard and longed to make living a better world.

(Dec. 2021)

Cohen and Agrizzi: Two Ruinous Lives in The Service of Ruthless Masters

By Bunmi Makinwa

Two persons on two separate continents. Yet their life stories are similar in many ways. They could have been said to be of the same family genealogy. They are two of a kind – they have no principles, no dignity and no real love. For power and wealth, they would give up family, friends and country.

Michael Cohen’s book, “Disloyal – A Memoir: The True Story Of The Former Personal Attorney To President Donald J. Trump”, and Angelo Agrizzi’s “Inside The Belly Of The Beast: The REAL Bosasa Story”, both recount how two individuals – Cohen and Agrizzi – sought fame and luxury at all costs by total submission to the contemptuous actions of powerful individuals, namely, Donald J. Trump and Gavin Watson. 

Their narratives trace their paths and elevation first to power and riches, and then to destruction and disgrace, from which hardly any recovery is possible. They reveal character flaws that beg for deeper analysis. 

The authors tell their truths and confess to evil deeds of all types. They explain their awful actions that destroyed people’s lives, in the service of their masters. The narrators plead with readers and the public to understand their uncontrollable behaviours, and they seek forgiveness. 

In 2006, Cohen was a 39-year-old, successful attorney, street-wise New York deal-maker when he met Trump for the first time. Trump, a real estate mogul and television celebrity asked the tough-guy lawyer, as Cohen described himself, to scare Trump’s tenants and adversaries at a property.

Cohen was flattered by the invitation, awed at being in the presence of the “big man”, and desperate to prove himself as the no-nonsense, win-at-all-costs character that he knew Trump cherished. 

Cohen carried out the assignment successfully and was elated to be praised by Trump. Although Trump told a lie to him at their first meeting, and although the estate mogul did not pay him for the service rendered as he had expected, Cohen was prepared to do more to please the Boss.

It was the beginning of a long, complementary union between Cohen and Trump. Their association was dominated by countless demands from Trump to Cohen to mislead people, disregard facts, creatively colour untruths as facts, rob employees and contractors of their payments, pay off prostitutes, prevail on friends to act against their conscience and threaten people to scare them to submission. There is an endless list of well-documented unsavoury and unethical behaviours that Cohen confessed to in the book. 

As time went on, Cohen actively massaged Trump’s ego and supported his interest in aspiring to become president of the USA, although neither himself nor Trump thought that it would ever become a reality. No matter what, it would be a worthwhile business venture and ego trip for Trump. Well, to their surprise and shock, Trump became president. 

Afterwards, Cohen’s dirty past with Trump was unveiled by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Cohen’s utility and assets tanked and he became a liability for the president. Very quickly, President Trump dropped Cohen and created barriers between them, much to the surprise of the lawyer who had his schemes to enrich himself enormously from the presidency.

By 2019 Cohen has been investigated, jailed and forced to testify in Congress. The truth was out. The roles he played and actions he took as Trump’s lawyer, confidant, and ally and his fraudulent tax returns have become public. 

Cohen had served his purposes for Trump and had become a liability as he knew too much and was speaking out to protect himself (Cohen), his family, and his assets and to reduce his jail time.

Trump indirectly hastened Cohen’s path to prison where he would pose no further problem to the president of the most powerful country in the world.

In South Africa, Angelo Agrizzi, a very capable chef and restauranteur, fell under the spell of Gavin Watson, a well-known anti-apartheid, rich businessman.

Agrizzi joined Watson’s company, Bosasa, and together they built a billion-rand business empire by corrupting government and ruling party officials at the highest level. Watson, Bosasa’s Chief Executive Officer, was a gifted, larger than life cult-figure who paid for political connections to serve his business intentions. 

As Chief Operating Officer of Bosasa, Agrizzi was the hand of Watson to feed the financial lust of many senior people in government and influencers of government to win massive contracts. In South Africa, the presidency and top cadres of the ruling Africa National Congress party were named as recipients of Bosasa’s largesse during a major official inquiry, called State Capture.

It was at the Judge Zondo-led State Capture probe by the government that Agrizzi turned against Watson and became a whistle-blower. Agrizzi told the sordid secrets of Bosasa and Watson’s octopus-like reach deep into the belly of the South African government.

Watson has since died in very unclear circumstances. Agrizzi has been on trial on charges of corruption and may end up in prison. But only if his ill health and hyper-obesity allow him to live long enough through the court process.

In his book, Agrizzi described a world where biblical preaching, prayers, nepotism, selective discriminatory practices, intimidation, threats, brashness and suppression were used to advance the Master’s interests. All staff must comply with the CEO’s wishes, and no dissent was tolerated.

He became a trusted and close ally of the Master. As the Chief Operating Officer, Agrizzi perpetrated all kinds of  and unethical activities to please Watson and to make Bosasa a dominant enterprise in their business. 

When the bottom fell out of their schemes and the heavy hand of the authorities descended on Bosasa, Watson protected himself in all ways possible, just like Trump did. Watson encouraged Agrizzi to take the fall promising that he would be well taken care of. 

Agrizzi’s work and activities within Bosasa are similar to Cohen’s association with Trump. Agrizzi had joined Bosasa, a growing and powerful business and was impressed with power, wealth and influence among top government officials. The CEO and himself used the contacts to acquire large government contracts and suppress their competitors, in comparable ways as Trump and Cohen.

In two continents and with no interactions between them, human frailties and insatiable appetite for wealth led these persons on a similar path of self-destruction and, as they both stated, their families and friends suffered greatly due to the choices that they made.

Loyalty among unethical people (the boss and his side-kick) has strict limits – it is about ego, self-glorification and accumulation of personal benefits.

Cohen and Agrizzi, despite their pleas in their books for understanding and forgiveness, are broken characters. They are driven by desires to look and feel bigger than who they are. They fulfil their selfish desires by massaging the bigger egos of some leading personalities in a bid to lay claim to worldly achievements. 

Character types like Cohen and Agrizzi would do anything to assert that they have arrived at the top even when all they have is the wink of their bosses. They serve knowingly as willing tools.

The acquisition of money and wealth deludes them to feel that they are not only part of history but are making history because the bosses’ attention shadows fall on them and influence how strongly they are perceived by others. They mistake the aura of power for a warm embrace by society. 

In so many instances in history, the small personalities that are cloaked temporarily in big garments have served as willing pawns.

The underlying criminal instincts of the Cohens and Agrizzis in various societies manifest in the ease with which they perform evil deeds, oftentimes beyond the original intentions of their wicked bosses. 

And when their bosses trip and fall, or the willing tools themselves fall out of favour, they try to atone for their narcissism in minimalist ways – by confessing their sins and seeking re-acceptance. 

Little would they think and remember that they have perpetrated suffering and damaged families and communities. Penance is good but it may not whitewash the past.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership

Osun State Election – The Real Winners

By Bunmi Makinwa

In a situation where standards continue to spiral downwards there is cause to celebrate small gains. Conducting a state gubernatorial election in Osun State recently with few major hiccups is therefore worthy of laurels. In the Osun State gubernatorial election, it does appear that good preparation prior to the election and effective actions on July 16, 2022, the election day, coalesced positively for successful conduct.

Who deserves recognition for the success and why? What can be gleaned from the election for improvement of future elections in Nigeria?

Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Ademola Adeleke defeated incumbent Governor Gboyega Oyetola of the All Progressives Congress (APC) party in declared results of the election. Although the last word on the results may not have been heard yet, it is timely to take a deeper look at several aspects of the election. The real winners, often left unnoticed, are those who enable democracy to gain some traction, taking a step forward.

In a previous write-up a few weeks back, in anticipation I had stated: “Also in Osun State, gubernatorial election will take place on July 16 this year, almost one month after that of Ekiti State. Both states will set the tone for how future elections will play out in South-West of Nigeria and many parts of the country.”

A lot of tension preceded the Osun election. There were many reasons for APC and PDP to be desperate, as they were during the election in Ekiti. Among the reasons are that having won in Ekiti, APC would like to win also in Osun and for the time being confirm its dominance in South-West, the fief of its presidential flagbearer, Bola Tinubu.

For PDP, coming third after APC and Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Ekiti election was humiliating and Osun election presented yet an opportunity for redemption in a state where it once reigned. Besides, PDP could reassert its claim that the party’s candidate Adeleke actually had won in Osun State in the last gubernatorial election of 2018, and that the election was rigged in favour of Oyetola. Never mind the court judgment that affirmed APC’s victory.

Reports from election monitoring groups indicate that vote buying by political parties occurred in many places in Osun State. The reports show though the cases were less frequent compared to what happened during the election in Ekiti State.

Some violence was also reported as were cases of tampering with votes and disruption of voting in some places. Yet, the reports showed that in comparison to what happened during the Anambra State gubernatorial election in November 2021and in Ekiti State in June 2022, the situation in Osun was much improved. Such progress is worthy of recognition.

In Osun, people were organized, persistent in making sure that they voted, and determined to make sure that their votes were recorded correctly. Overall, people took voting seriously and would not entertain any diversionary tactics or be derailed from their objective to vote for their candidate. It is reported that some voters collected vote inducement monies when offered by political parties but the voters still voted their choice as much as possible. It is proper that Osun people should be commended for their resolve to make their votes count.

It would appear that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had learned many useful lessons from past elections. Osun State, from various reports and news coverage, saw a better prepared electoral agency. Voting materials and personnel were deployed correctly and arrived on time at voting venues. It was widely seen that the new electoral equipment and facilities worked. The use of bimodal voter accreditation system (BVAS) which started with the Anambra election has proved to be a game changer. The machine reads voters’ cards, authenticate them, and cannot be manipulated.

Election returns were captured at locations and reported on INEC portal quickly. One could watch live reporting of electoral process and decisions on various news media outlets. At the collation and reporting centres, INEC officials were appropriately measured in their delivery of results. Voting documents were duly signed by party agents. Election officials provided answers to questions and solved problems as they arose. 

In the few voting centres where significant disruptions occurred – voters were attacked or hindered from voting, or ballots were destroyed willfully, or ballot boxes were seized by thugs – the returns were cancelled.

On its part, INEC performed very well, restored faith in the organization, and merits commendation.

Largely, the security personnel showed heavy presence and cooperated to assist smooth voting. They prevented people who wanted to disrupt proceedings, cause confusion or be violent. The security forces reduced opportunities for vote buying, maintained law and order, and ensured that voting went on smoothly. The security and intelligence services did the right thing and earn themselves a laurel.

The stakes were high at Osun. In continuation of the propensity for the ruling party at federal level to use its overarching authority and manipulate security services for nefarious activities, APC could have combined its control of state and federal governments to impose its will. Indeed, the election could have been deadlocked or indecisive, and could have got enmeshed in violent confrontation due to flagrant disregard of people’s choice. Refreshingly, none of these unwelcomed scenarios happened. Osun State and federal government deserve big cheers.

There is no hiding place for misdeeds and wrongdoing, thanks to online and Internet technology. In the same breath, positive happenings and situations are easily made known. Whilst the news media carried out their reporting and analysis in Osun during the election, citizen “journalists” and the general public sent out information constantly and relentlessly too. With mobile phones, tablets and similar devices, constant and relentless information emerged as photos, videos, texts and voice notes in the public space.

All actors – INEC, party officials, security personnel – were alert and kept in check. Kudos to the media, activist journalists and people who use their smart gadgets to capture information and monitor activities during the election. They all get a well-deserved recognition. 

It is early to draw conclusions on how well future elections will be organized in Nigeria. The factors that make for a fairly well-organised election at state level are not all similar to what characterize nation-wide elections, especially for presidential election.

In fact, when many states have elections at the same time for various offices, the resources – INEC, security personnel, media and monitoring groups – are over-stretched. The resources are not adequately available to cover every area of need. The close coverage and attention given to a one-state and one-office election cannot be replicated country-wide.

However, to institutionalize democracy, elections and voting where people’s choice prevails is absolutely crucial. It is necessary that people themselves demand to have their choice respected by making their votes count.

Perhaps well-conducted and free elections will mark the beginning of the realization that elected officers are to serve the electorate.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for leadership. For more reading, visit http://www.bunmimakinwa.com

Ekweremadu and Nobody

By Bunmi Makinwa

Two photos were to be identified on the screen of the phone. There were four Nigerians at the location in Maryland, USA. Without hesitation, three of the Nigerians identified the photo of the gentleman in suit and red tie – Ike Ekweremadu. A question followed – Is that the boy in question?

The name of the boy in question is Ukpo Nwamini David.

The media space has been dominated recently by news of former Deputy Senate President, Ekweremadu, his wife Beatrice Nwanneka Ekweremadu versus Ukpo David, an unknown and Nobody. In the scene somewhere is also Sonia Ekweremadu, a daughter of the Ekweremadus whose need for kidney to save her life led to the big news.

Ike Ekweremadu, 60, in his social media spaces describes himself as politician, lawyer, philanthropist, among others. Having been in the senate for almost 20 years, he occupies one of the highest heights of political power and influence. And being wealthy comes with it.

The factual barebones of the available information are that the United Kingdom (UK) government arrested the Ekweremadu couple allegedly for luring Ukpo David to the country to harvest his kidney under false pretext. The Ekweremadus have denied the allegation.

The arrest of the prominent Nigerians and allegation has generated controversy – support for Ekweremadu and claims that the process of bringing Ukpo David to the UK for the kidney transplant operation was done appropriately against those who say that Ukpo David was naïve, poor and tricked and misled to a life-threatening surgery.

There are many issues that arise and this article will look into some of them, especially to draw lessons for the political leadership of Nigeria. The UK courts will decide the case.

Quite as expected, the media, including social media, has been dominated by positive stories in support of Ekweremadus. The narratives use facts drawn from just about anywhere to show that nothing untoward was done, especially by the parents who wanted only to preserve the life of their daughter, Sonia.

The stories are highly biased and reflect one-sided use of the media in favour of the strong, powerful and wealthy. It may create public sympathy for the Ekweremadus in Nigeria. But it will have little or no influence on the legal issues and the court case in UK.

The list of politicians who have expressed support for the Ekweremadus keeps growing. You may count Senator Smart Adeyemi, Labour Party presidential candidate Peter Obi, Femi Fani-Kayode, Joe Igbokwe… Such support is predictable. By attempting to drown out David Ukpo, a voiceless Nobody, the Ekweremadus’ group lends stronger credence to the song, “Poor Man No get Brother”. But it does not add new facts or legal strength to the real issues.

The best lawyers available in Nigeria and the UK will represent the Ekweremadus. If the couple is found guilty, the jail time will be long. Of course, no amount of funds or effort will be spared to save the Ekweremadus from possible imprisonment.

However, Ukpo David, who won’t have money or wealthy friends, will be represented by UK’s prosecuting attorneys whose main aim is to carry out their jobs properly. Where there are systems, and processes are clear and well established, the ability to influence outcomes is very little. Nigeria’s political leadership does not understand such a situation and will throw out more and more money only to find out at the end that there is no hiding place. It has happened in the past to Nigerian politicians or rich people who faced justice in UK.

There are a number of pro-Ekweremadu arguments that should be examined. One of them is that Ukpo David is not under-age as claimed and that he voluntarily accepted to donate his kidney to Sonia through the planned surgery. He has used the Ekweremadu family to get into UK and wants to stay there hence the change of mind, some people argue.

The stated consent is explained from the side of the Ekweremadus. We are yet to see such clear evidence of consent whether written, video or audio. The voiceless Nobody is yet to speak directly on the issues.

The crushing poverty, deprivation and hopelessness of the youth population in Nigeria is palpable. I do not see how any young person in a similar situation to Ukpo David  would not take advantage of being in Europe to attempt to have temporary, and ultimately permanent resident status in any European country. The political leadership that has misruled Nigeria and whose children do not get educated in Nigeria nor want to stay there, cannot force the young generation to stay either.

If Ukpo David has indeed defrauded the Ekweremadus as alleged by spokespersons and friends of theirs, then Ukpo David has learned from the best how to exploit others. Those who defraud Nigeria every hour are the political leaders of Nigeria. The younger generation may end up taking back their resources from their leaders through any means possible – good, bad and ugly.

While the noise and arguments and legal wrangle go on, Sonia Ekweremadu, whose kidney is failing, has been pushed to the background. Nigeria’s political leadership continues to go abroad for medical care. The ordinary citizens and workers are condemned to poor services, un-serviceable machines and under-paid medical staff in public health facilities.

Private medical care is very expensive due to a host of reasons including lack of electric power, high costs of purchasing equipment, expensive security protection and continuous exodus of trained medical personnel out of the country.

The price of failed leadership affects us all, sooner or later, and our privileges cannot save us.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership. Previously, he was Africa Regional Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

Next Governor of Ekiti State

By Bunmi Makinwa

Map of Ekiti State in Nigeria.

The campaign season in Nigeria is widely visible, just as are frequent kidnappings, abductions, terrorist attacks, and killings for all kinds of reasons. As in many countries due to a combination of international and local factors, economic problems keep mounting, inflation is high and prices of almost everything are rising.

In March 2023, the presidential elections will take place alongside elections of many governors, representatives to federal and state houses. For politicians, their hangers-on, political jobbers, and beneficiaries of political hand-outs, it is the once in four-year cycle to rake in financial rewards. For the country, it is a repeat of a journey that has been characterized with worsening conditions in all sectors of the economy and human well-being. It is a journey to nowhere as the fundamental rules of engagement for political leadership are thoroughly enmeshed in corruption, cronyism and prebendalism –  a system of sharing government revenues to benefit self, supporters, and members of their network no matter how much it impoverishes the larger society.

Ahead of the presidential election, on June 18 this year, a hard jolt to politics will present itself when Ekiti State votes to determine its governor. Known in decades past for their natural determination to stay their ground, the election will determine whether the Ekitis’ democratic tradition which received severe setbacks and was overcome by money, official violence and manipulation during recent gubernatorial elections, has returned.

In 1983 in then Ondo State from which Ekiti State was carved out in 1996, the gubernatorial election highly contested for by NPN and UPN, two major parties, tested the fury of Ekiti people. The voters’ choice was upturned by the federal government’s ruling party, as was usually the case in many parts of the country. The people of Ekiti decided that the popular, obviously elected candidate, Mr. Michael Ajasin, must be declared winner of the gubernatorial election. Rigging was not new and some resistance was not unusual. However, the unpopular declaration of Mr. Akin Omoboriowo as winner saw an unprecedented show of people’s will in the state.

The massive resistance, burning, killing and mayhem that followed the announcement of Omoboriowo as winner was uncontrollable by security forces. In defiance but hidden away, he broadcast an acceptance speech. Yet, he was not able to assume office. Fortunately, a court judgment reversed the decision and Ajasin was legally, and appropriately, declared winner of the election

In Ekiti State, the political landscape has been dominated since Nigeria’s independence by left-leaning parties such as Action Group, UPN, ACN, and AD. The All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have dominated politics in the state more recently. Until just about two months ago, the candidates of APC and PDP were billed for a straight competition and one of the two would decide the next governor.

The situation changed after the parties carried out their primaries and chose their flagbearers. Many of the interested candidates were either out-manoeuvred or blatantly pushed aside in the process of party nominations. In anger, several of them decided to depart from their erstwhile parties and move elsewhere.

A major aspirant to gubernatorial position who contested the PDP primaries, former governor Segun Oni, felt deeply aggrieved and left his party to emerge as Social Democratic Party’s (SDP) gubernatorial candidate for Ekiti State. Until Oni’s position became public, SDP was a nominal party and considered as a relatively small player in the state. It has been transformed by the candidature of Oni and without doubt both PDP and APC are re-calculating how to overcome the challenge posed by SDP and its new candidate.

According to the electoral rules for the June 18 election in Ekiti State, the winner must receive the majority of the votes and at least 25% of the votes in at least two-thirds of the state. It means that the winning candidate must have widespread support of Ekitis.

There are three candidates for the coming June18 gubernatorial election in Ekiti State. Or more correctly, there are two candidates and one.

Those who are familiar with voters’ inclination in Ekiti argue that the contest is a performance assessment of former governors – Segun Oni and Ayodele Fayose, and current governor, Kayode Fayemi.

Fayose and Fayemi are seen as strong leaders of respectively, PDP and APC in Ekiti State, and expressly targeting national political relevance and leadership. Their candidates, APC’s Abiodun Oyebanji, a former Secretary to the government, and PDP’s Bisi Kolawole, a former Commissioner, emerged from their parties’ primaries. The two candidates are important pillars for the future steps of Fayose and Fayemi in national politics. Hence the coming state election is a vital stepping stone for the future goals.

From right: Segun Oni         Kayode Fayemi                   Ayo Fayose

As governor of Ekiti State between 2007 and 2010, the admirers and supporters of Oni affirm that the period has been the most prosperous and stable era for the state. They maintain that Oni’s administration developed and implemented policies that encouraged investment, included all groups in governance, discouraged corruption, and attracted the best minds from Ekiti State and elsewhere for growth of the state.

Compared to Fayose and Fayemi, it is maintained that Oni’s commitment and passion for the ordinary people of the state was never in doubt and that he deployed the limited resources of the state competently to achieve astounding results.

However, Oni’s style of governance has been criticized for being less strategic in understanding political games in the Nigerian ways. For example, he is known as not having any material means or wealth to cater for his wide base of supporters. Despite being at the highest level of both PDP and APC at different periods, he has not overtly restructured and manoeuvered the parties to align with his ambitions or personal whims, a path many of his political colleagues take all the time.

Yet, his supporters within and outside Ekiti respect his style of leadership. They see a new, proven model of governance that points to true public service and ethical political leadership to renew the society.

Elections in Nigeria are won and lost often based on massive use of money to buy people and support, control of security machineries of state, use of violence, ability to corrupt electoral systems and institutions. It was not always this way. Voters’ choice in Ekiti used to matter greatly. The renewed interest in politics for the coming gubernatorial election seem to show that on June 18, Ekiti State will choose anew the resolve of their people to decide.

Photo of Election in Ekiti State.

Also in Osun State, gubernatorial election will take place on July 16 this year, almost one month after that of Ekiti State. Both states will set the tone for how future elections will play out in South West of Nigeria and many parts of the country.

Will the coming election rewrite the political direction of Ekiti State to reflect the wish of the people through a free and fair electoral adjudication process? Will June 18 in Ekiti confirm that votes matter and people’s choice does determine who wins? The questions and many similar others occupy minds of millions of people who watch and monitor the coming gubernatorial election in the state and political actions in Africa’s most populous country.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership. Previously, he was Africa Regional Director of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

Nigeria’s Next President

By Bunmi Makinwa

It is heightened political season in Nigeria. At national level the main question is – who will win the elections in February 2023 to become Nigeria’s fifth elected civilian president since 1999 when the military government stepped aside for civilian rule.

It would have been easier to answer the question if the candidates of the political parties are known and if their weights with the electorate can be estimated. It is too early to have the information. No party candidates are known yet. There are many self-declared candidates and early starters.

Rather than spend our time on persons and personalities, the article wants to examine certain criteria that qualified or favoured the past elected presidents. It will look into the traits that endure and will determine the next president through the electioneering process. The political experience since 1999 is most relevant. A military government of President Abdulsalami Abubakar organized elections and handed over to elected civilian President Olusegun Obasanjo. The civilian rule has continued to date under Presidents Umaru Musa Yar A’Dua, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari. Each and all of the four presidents won elections based on, in the considered opinion of this writer, their fulfilment of conditions stated below.

A pre-eminent condition to have a successful run for election as president is to have access to huge funds. By an average Nigeria’s dream, it is inestimable funds. The funds come from all sources. Whilst some personal wealth gives weight to the candidate, institutional funds are very important and the primary ones are federal and state governments. Several states combine as opportuned and provide deep pockets for their national candidate.

From left: Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan, Buhari

Funds also flow in from the private sector and the large ones are linked to government. Such sources of funds can be classified under government, though indirectly.

At every stage of the electoral campaign money counts. Party nomination forms are sold at a premium. In 2019, APC (All Progressives Congress) sold each form for 45 million Naira (at the time, about $125,000) and for PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) it was 12 million Naira ($33,000). The payments are non-reimbursable.

Party nomination elections is an ‘auction” arrangement and the highest paying candidate wins. Sometimes hundreds of millions of Naira have to be disbursed and it does not matter whether direct or indirect primaries are used.

There are no reliable figures available on electioneering costs attributable to each presidential candidature but estimates range from 10 billion Naira to 22 billion Naira from past elections, about half of the annual budgets of many states of Nigeria.

Of course there are many legitimate expenses involved in electioneering and Nigeria’s population of some 200 million covering 36 states, the Federal Capital Territory and 774 local governments is not cheap, to say the least.

The unorthodox expenses are as numerous as the illegitimate ones, and political parties and candidates who will win must take them on. When poor voters do not have transportation, the candidates must provide it. When voters have needs or they request privileges, they must be made available to secure their votes.

When security officials are to deploy to polling units, hot spots, and carry out nasty operations against opponents, the campaigners provide whatever is needed to facilitate such deployment – directly and indirectly. When generators or equipment and materials or additional security are needed at voting venues, counting offices and other places, the campaign offices and officials do oblige, willingly.

It is well known that constituents and party members see electioneering time as their own time to “chop’, and they do it plentifully. The large parties are well endowed and use money to edge out competitors.

The second criterion is that the candidate that wins is one who is nominated by a leading national party –APC or PDP, or by a new alliance of political parties of leading politicians with enormous pockets similar to how APC was birthed.

For reasons of huge expenses involved, logistics and spread across the country, and active “mobilisation” of media of communications, only major political parties have the financial muscle to carry out a meaningful campaign. Their candidates have always won and will continue.

It is important, as a third criterion, to have obvious or contrived support across at least two large ethnic groups. The constitutional criteria that a winner must have “not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory”, has to be met. The candidate who wins must have offices and/or representations across that many states and more. The visible presence of the political parties is a strong factor during future legal challenges that arise following INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) declaration of results.

A fourth criterion is the support from federal government and or state governments, and their institutions, especially the police and security forces.

The APC’s then candidate Buhari in 2015 defeated incumbent President Jonathan. Did it show the limitation and irrelevance of the specific criterion? No, it does not. For various reasons, Jonathan’s government did not apply the might of federal security forces in the usual overwhelming manner during elections and declaration of the results.

Did the presidency lose control of the leadership of the security institutions? Did the great number of state authorities supporting the opposition APC and Buhari weaken the presidency’s potential to use institutional security forces? Or was it Jonathan’s self-declared peace-maker role famously captured in his declaration that “my political ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian” that set a different path for Nigeria? If he had not accepted the decision, would federal might have prevailed and kept him in office for a second term? There are many unanswered questions and they further affirm the strong role of federal security authorities, especially the police.

On the positive side, security forces play a vital role. There is no election without violence and maintenance and order by the police and other security forces is important. Whilst some candidates may aspire to provide private security services, it does not go near enough and cannot cover any reasonable size of geographical space. The already established forces with local intelligence and weapons are the ultimate decision makers.

The fifth criterion for this analysis is modern communication and media technology uses and manipulation, including fake news. The combined professional use of old and new media can affect how people perceive issues and candidates. The candidate who wins is often seen to have won even before election day, thanks to the packaging and positive momentum created and sustained through communication.

There may be surprises in this analysis. Why is it not important that the next president has a top notch agenda for development of the country? Should the candidate offer credible solutions for problems facing the country especially the obvious ones – poor security, weak and declining economy, huge unemployment, massive corruption? Should the candidate proffer ideas and directions for using the huge potentials of the citizenry, including rebuilding education and health sectors?

But, no. These issues can be mouthed and spoken about, they will not help to win presidential elections.

The system and process are laid out for access to big money, large political parties with extensive national presence, resources to deploy for applying technology in good and bad ways, ability to use federal might maximally in all ways, and selective use of security forces to take decisive actions in favour of desirable persons. These are fundamental and systemic issues that bring about the same end in Nigeria’s presidential elections. 

During the presidential electoral cycle which is repeated every four years, an avalanche of political parties emerges. There are many persons who claim that they want to be president. Only a few of the claims may be taken seriously.

Among the serious ones, there may appear some groundbreaking ideas for policies and plans to make the country better. Unfortunately, there is very little or zero attention to the ideas and persons who champion them. Most of the parties and persons do not meet the criteria explained above, hence they cannot go far or win.

Bunmi Makinwa is CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership. Read more at bunmimakinwa.com

Trump Takes Away America’s Clothes

By Bunmi Makinwa

Donald Trump news live: Latest election results
via the Independent

US President Donald Trump is acting true to type in his statements and position on the US elections. He has made accusations of fraud and vote-rigging. No supporting evidence. He has asked for votes not to be counted in some states. He has no such powers. He has said that he would fight legal battles until he wins and stays on as president. The chances of having long-drawn legal battles are limited because a president will be proclaimed and sworn in on January 20, 2021, anyways.

His opponent and most-likely next president, Mr Joe Biden, has urged for calm. He wanted the ongoing process of election to be completed and all legally cast votes to be counted. He would not engage in strong language against anyone. There is no doubt that his party and himself are preparing seriously for the legal battles and will make sure that no hurdles can stand in the way of having a president known and officially declared.

The US elections have never been this contentious or just “noisy”. I do remember several past elections for president when people would go about their usual business in the country, knowing that a president would emerge.

Before the election, Trump had refused to state that he would accept the results of the 2020 contest. During the 2016 contest against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Trump had also waxed strong on winning whilst, as we gathered later from books and information from his then close associates, he had no clue that victory was within reach until much later as results started to come in. He was as surprised as most people, including pollsters and the media, that he became president.

It is no surprise. In his business deals, Trump would go for the highest stakes even when he had no path in mind on getting anything at all. He would radiate confidence even when he knew that failure was around the corner. He would talk tough when he suspected that brashness could get him through.

As a president, he has told thousands of lies and made thousands of misleading statements. He mastered the art of repeating statements that are false until people who initially doubted him turned round to accept the claims. Remember that Trump said President Barack Obama was not born in America. Trump said that there was no Russian interference in the 2016 elections whilst all the security and intelligence institutions of USA insisted that they had the facts that Russia did intervene.

Trump also said that he never sent his lawyer, Michael Cohen, to make payments on his behalf to prostitutes that Trump had “business” with. The lawyer went to jail for doing Trump’s dirty business and wrote a tell-all book, “Disloyal – A Memoir”, that gave much more information on Trump’s life. More famously still, Trump said that Covid-19 pandemic would soon “just go away”. The terrible consequences of his statement and actions on the pandemic continue in America and beyond.

If Joe Biden wins the US election, would he really serve only one term?  Here's what that would mean for him and Kamala Harris - ABC News

Trump’s life of lies will stay with him as he fights for his future trying to prove that he did not lose the election even when the world witnesses the facts.

He will leave the White House and will continue to carry along a significant lot among the more than 70 million Americans who voted for him – they fail to see that the once-revered “Emperor America” has no clothes. The idea that the USA represented for some centuries has crumbled and it may never become whole again, no thanks to Trump’s four-year presidency.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership

#ENDSARS and Lekki: What It Means

By Bunmi Makinwa

Nigeria: #EndSARS movement avoids pitfalls of 'leadership'
People hold banners as they demonstrate on the street to protest against police brutality in Lagos, Nigeria, Thursday Oct. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

For several days, I have been part of the millions of people across the world who watched, exchanged and commented on or initiated videos, photos, and read texts, articles on #ENDSARS protests in Nigeria and many places.

Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos stood out. It was one of the earliest sites of the protests. Lekki area in Lagos is known for its large youthful population. It attracts the young upward mobile, new rich, struggling, celebrities and entrepreneurs. There are also those people who want to be identified with novelty, and parents who want their children to be close to where the actions are. It has residential, businesses and leisure places, all mixed into often indistinct communities.

Lekki, often a short label used to name many disjointed places around Lagos Island, has provided a territorial expansion for the rather small Island that got choked with economic and social growth over many years.

As was observed in the past few days, Lekki has become a haven of social and political activism, not only a place for so-called youth who want to enjoy life. The young people from Lekki and the rich and poor areas around it became the signposts of #ENDSARS campaign that has put Nigeria under immense pressure. These young people became arrow heads of unprecedented campaign to end police brutality and poor governance.

The group of #ENDSARS protesters at Lekki Toll Gate created an atmosphere. They ate, danced, gave political speeches all day long and even late at nights. They prayed, preached, worshipped. They organized services for food and refreshments, physical exercise and relaxation, medical and counseling services and security. They raised funds, disbursed and accounted for them. They made revolutionary statements, screamed obscenities, issued threats – all things that young, vibrant people do.

It was all peaceful. The campaigners showed that it was possible to be angry, noisy, emotional and yet stay calm and non-violent. Online social media and services were their major rallying structure.

In several parts of Nigeria, #ENDSARS protesters also carried out activities. Many of the protesters were controlled and peaceful. In some other places, protesters were confused with interlopers, hustlers, hoodlums and hungry people who for their various reasons exploited the protests. There were allegations of cases of sponsored hooligans who attacked and robbed people, committed arson to the chagrin of many Nigerians and the genuine protesters. The violence sometimes generated other violent reactions, and chains of violence grew across the country.

EndSARS protest: Lagos loses N234 million to tollgates closure |
#EndSARS protestors at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos

In contrast to the places that witnessed violence, throughout the days of protest, the Lekki Toll Gate site remained peaceful, steadfast, focused, determined to achieve its objectives. Lekki became a new symbol of young people’s organizational and agenda-led capability for initiating change. It would try the patience of Lagos State Governor Jide Sanwo-Olu who worked relentlessly to seek compromises and solutions, though with limited success.

The protest at Lekki prevented vehicular and human traffic flow; it disturbed normal life considerably, but it did not become a fighting site, nor did it become a place for heinous acts.

It all fell apart on Tuesday, October 20, 2020. Firstly, a poorly planned 24-hour curfew imposed by Lagos State government gave little time for people to get home. Then as night fell, the usual lights and CCTV in the area were turned off. In the abnormal situation, military forces moved in and shot at protesters with what appeared and sounded like heavy military guns. It is not yet known how many people died or were injured. The civil and peaceful disobedience should not have earned protesters a long-term imprisonment, not even a life sentence. But they got fired on, condemned to death.

Is it the way to handle peaceful protests?

Nigeria | Lagos under 24-hour curfew to quell protests against Nigeria's  police - Africa
Chaos ensues after a last minute curfew is announced in Lagos

The incident at Lekki Toll Gate introduced a discomforting dimension to peaceful protests in Nigeria. It questions the integrity of its democratic practice built on 60 years of post-independence experience. No government should turn its armory against its own people, least of all its young people engaged in peaceful demands for change.

At this time, there are several investigative panels and committees looking into various aspects of the protests and actions taken by governments and security forces. It is critical that their work be done speedily, blame and punishment be apportioned, and remedies be applied. The main and initial focus on #ENDSARS an demands made by protesters should not be buried in the melee of issues – the protesters should reorganize and develop new tactics to attain their goals.

On 16 June 1976, South African policemen of the apartheid regime shot at students who took part in the Soweto Uprising and killed 13-year old student Hector Pieterson. The photo of wounded Hector carried by another student with his sister running alongside became a symbol of resistance. The incident radicalized South Africans who were against their oppressive regime. It increased the insurgency by militant students and young activists who sabotaged the government within. Many of the students left  the country to join African National Congress’ uMkhonto We Sizwe (the armed wing).

Here and now, Lekki Toll Gate and the various images and photos online stand out as embodiment of the new generation of young Nigerians desiring peaceful change, facing an ill-prepared security apparatus of an odious, inefficient government.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership

#ENDSARS As Hope In The Future

By Bunmi Makinwa

Nigeria: #EndSARS movement avoids pitfalls of 'leadership'
People hold banners as they demonstrate on the street to protest against police brutality in Lagos, Nigeria, Thursday Oct. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Days of protests have shaken Nigeria in a way that is different from any other protest since “Alli Must Go” in 1978, a nationwide student protest against military government over increased costs of feeding on college campuses that rocked the country to its roots.

The apparent lack of organizational structure for #ENDSARS is unique. It has no visible arrowheads, no visible locations of its births and no prior building blocks. “Ali Must Go” had university student union leaders in charge, it had tertiary institutions for convergence of ideas and tactics, and it had many years of fervent student unionism and activism against the then dictatorial military governments.

What #ENDSARS owns is the Internet and its limitless uses. Even more important to the burgeoning protest is the sudden awareness that real power belongs to the people. Our young people should have known this fact. They waited, watched, lost direction as the leadership in all sectors failed the nation. But it is better late than never.

In a country where 70 per cent of its 200 million people are below the age of 35, young people must seize the moment and turn the tide in their favour. They can shape the country to make their future a place not just to survive, but also prosper. The young people are the future, and it starts today.

Although #ENDSARS started as a robust reaction to wicked, abusive and oppressive policing by a special arm of the force, it has become a staging platform to review the excesses of governments, poor leadership, loss of values, economic hardships and corrupt systems.

Due to the trend in number of deaths and births, Nigeria has more young people than old. About one-third of Nigeria’s population are between the very active age of 15 to 35. This is a potent force for good, but if it is abandoned to its fate, it can turn deadly and become a rampaging troop of destruction.

In a well-managed economy, the country’s large working age population with a low dependent non-working population should translate into a development boom. But Nigeria has lost the time and the essence of the demographic dividend as a large part of its young vibrant population of working age is left out of its economy. Young Nigerians between age 25 and 34, the most vibrant working class, have 30 per cent unemployment. One in every three employed Nigerian is under-employed. This means that only about half of the productive workforce is actually fully making contributions to the economy.

EndSARS now | The Guardian Nigeria News - Nigeria and World NewsOpinion —  The Guardian Nigeria News – Nigeria and World News
Demonstrators carry banners during a protest over alleged police brutality, in Lagos, Nigeria October 14, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja/File Photo

Nigeria has some of the lowest indicators of social, economic development. #ENDSARS should be a beginning for meaningful turn-around. Leadership is about making life have meaning for people, and making tomorrow a pleasure, or, at the minimum, tolerable.

Young people in Nigeria do not have any future to look forward to. Not unless you have access to the few plum jobs, not unless you have parents or mentors who open the doors, not unless you are “lucky” and somehow get access to something that gives you a break. The number of young people keeps diminishing who can have a normal life, even as the population of young people increases.

A people who do not have today and cannot dream of a future that is worthy of existence is a danger to itself and to others. The Nigerian young people are getting desperate and are boxed into hopeless, cynical corners. Young people are on their knees. They beg for grades in schools and colleges, they beg for jobs no matter that they are qualified, they beg for living wages even when they are employed, they beg to deploy their acquired skills after being  well trained.

EndSARS: Street demonstrations banned in Abuja - FCTA | Nairametrics

Young people, especially women, even pay to emigrate to become prostitutes who sell their bodies in expectation of jobs, income and support. Many choose to engage in any dastardly act as a means of survival or for a better life. They do not pray for God “not to lead us into temptation”. The temptation to sin has been legitimized by a society that makes normal routes impassable. They do not see hope in the future.

When young people know what power they have, Nigeria will change. As I have written elsewhere – “Young people overwhelmingly constitute the largest majority of the population. They have no meaningful future ahead of them. They have no means of running out of the country. They may have to force renewal and give the country a new breath”.

The power to choose who leads us has been taken away by the systemic corruption that makes access to political office available only to higher bidders. Scholarships and funding support to study at tertiary institutions is often used as political patronage and not granted to the needy. The way to get a decent job is made impossible no matter how well a young person performs in his/her studies. The opportunity to own a business is closed because the banking system and financing is laden with insurmountable obstacles.

In systems that open doors to its young people, it is possible to plan to have a job, have a home, have a vehicle, or afford organized public transport, and look after one’s children within one’s means. In such situations, and in most cases, entry to jobs is merit-based, mortgage facilities are available for use throughout one’s working life.

#ENDSARS should become the beginning of making Nigeria a great country, not one that is crippled by wanton looting, poor leadership, and deep-seated corruption.

Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership