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A New Trend That Will Destroy Judiciary — J.S. Okutepa, SAN

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There is a trend now within the legal profession in Nigeria. In every public gathering, members of the legal profession are warned not to criticise judges and judgments. Whatever the court decides must not be criticized.

No lawyer should appear on television to criticize judgment. If you belong to the Body of Benchers, you must be careful. You may wake up to face disciplinary action if you make comments that are considered unacceptable no matter how noble and well intentioned you think yourself to be.

At any special gathering, lawyers are warned to stop appearing on TV to speak. Lawyers are warned not to grant press interviews after court proceedings. We are gradually getting to the point of lawyers being ganged and muzzled not to speak out.

The right to freedom of expression is a constitutional right. It is in chapter 4 of the Nigerian constitution. It is part of fundamental human rights. Why should lawyers be ganged not to speak about bad judgments. When judgments turned the law on it’s head why should lawyers not discuss it.

What makes the judiciary more special than the other arms of government that it should not be criticized. The latest gang up against the exercise of freedom is the judgment of FCT high court, in which Paulyn Tallen was asked to apologize for describing a judgment of court as Kangaroo judgment.

NBA was a claimant in that case. Yet the motto of NBA is promoting the rule of law. Was that litigation intended to promote the rule of law?. I do not think so. In the country where the rule of law holds sways, nobody, including the judiciary, is above the law of the land. Where a judge delivered judgment that defiled logic and law that itself is a kangaroo judgment. Supreme Court says so. Court of Appeal says so. So what is wrong to say judgment that did not follow the law is a kangaroo judgment. Nothing.

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The way we wake and engage in sycophantic patronizing of judiciary as if Nigerian judiciary is Omnipotent and all knowing is wrong. Judges must be ready to be criticized if they deliver bad judgments. No judge is perfect. No human beings are perfect. NBA and the leadership of the legal profession must be careful not to muzzle members of the legal profession from exercising their constitutional right of freedom of expression. We can not just pretend that all is well. We know all is not well. Why can’t we speak and shame the devil. I ask.

For me, the solution to respecting the judiciary and judicial institution does not lie in ganging members of the profession or indeed members of the public from speaking publicly against the judiciary and judicial decisions. No, it does not lie there.

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The solution lies in the judiciary being above board. The solution lies in the judiciary and the legal profession being the light that shines in darkness. The solution lies in the uncompromising intergrity of the bench and vibrant bar that does not allow itself to be used to pervert justice.

The solution lies in the legal profession not being part of or allowing itself to be used as instruments of injustices.The judiciary istself must respect itself. The judiciary must not in judgments fetched ant infested firewood. Once the judgments of judicial contain ant infested decisions, then you can not stop the lizard of crooked criticisms.

The legal profession must avoid dancing naked in marketplaces. Yes, that is the only way people will not be angry with the judiciary. There is no need to praise an institution that fails to live above board. Rather than gang up people from speaking out, let the legal profession restore its image by doing what is right, and people will respect it. That is how the dignity and nobility of the profession will be restored and respected. Nobody tells any person not to go near the mount of a viper. Yes, because everyone knows it can bite, and the venom has an incurable poison.

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Dangote, Air Peace and the Patriotism of Capital – By CHIDI AMUTA

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Dangote, Air Peace and the Patriotism of Capital - By CHIDI AMUTA
Chidi Amuta

Money is perhaps a homeless vagrant. It has no nationality or permanent homestead in real terms. It goes and stays only where its masters are wise, prudent and far sighted. But in a world dominated by nations and their interests, real money is first a national asset and tool of governance and sovereign assertion. When money thus becomes a source of power, the nation whose flag the conquering company flies shows up to claim its own. Apple, Microsoft, Tesla, Coca Cola are synonymous with America. It is not because every American can walk off with a can of Coke from the supermarket without paying for it but because somewhere along the way, brand and nation have become fused and interchangeable. Every successful Business may aspire to an international identity but when the chips are down, every successful business needs to be anchored first on a specific sense of sovereign belonging. Ultimately, then, the companies to which sovereign wealth is usually ascribed have a final responsibility to that nation or sovereignty in times of trouble or goodness.

Make no mistake about it. Businesses are in business to succeed as businesses. To succeed as a business is to make tons of profit and invest in even more business and wealth creation. Sensible companies do not always overtly toe the government’s line. They instead buy into the hearts and minds of the citizens through the products they  offer and how friendly their prices are.

Two Nigerian brands have recently stepped forward to identify with the citizens of our country in this moment of grave challenge and desperate self -inflicted hardship. Dangote and Air Peace are now on record as having risen to use their products, brand presence and pricing strategies to identify with and ameliorate some of the harrowing difficulties that Nigerians are currently going through.

The worst moments of our present economic travail may not be over just yet. The epidemic of hunger still looms over the land. Innocent people are still being trampled to needless death at palliative food centers. Some are getting squeezed to death while scrambling for tiny free cash. Inflation figures just got even worse at over 33.4%. Those who fled the country in awe of rampaging hardship have not yet started returning or regretting their decisions to flee. Most Nigerians, rich and poor alike, are still needing to be convinced that the curse of recent hopelessness can be reversed any time soon.

Yet out of the darkness and gloom that now pervades our national mood, a tinge of sweetness has begun to seep into the air. The exchange rate of the Naira to major currencies has begun heading south. The dollar, which at the worst moments in recent times exchanged for as low as N2,300 to a US dollar, has climbed up in value. As at the time of this writing, a little over N1,000 can fetch you the same miserable US dollar. That may not sound like paradise yet since it is still worse than the worst of the Daura emperor. Most Nigerians are praying that Tinubu should minimally take us back to the Buhari days in terms of the exchange rate and relative food security. We are still far from there.

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What has Dangote got to do with it all? The removal of fuel subsidy had unleashed an astronomical hike in energy and fuel prices. While motorists and transporters wept and wailed at the gas stations, the price of nearly everything else went through the roof. Since public power supply remains as epileptic or absent as in the 1970s or worse, we have been living in a virtual generator republic that is dependent on diesel and petrol generators. The price of diesel in particular jumped through the roof. Industrial production suffered just as transportation and haulage costs became unbearable. Every high cost was passed down to the suffocating hapless citizens.

Fortuitously, the gigantic Dangote refinery complex was coming on stream in a time of great difficulty.  Somehow, the hope was alive that the Dangote refinery would come on stream with a bit of good news on the pricing of gasoline and diesel. But no one knew for sure what Mr. Dangote’s cost accountants had in stock especially with the devilish exchange rate that reigned in the first nine months of the Tinubu tenure.

Energy and fuel prices were off the roof. A liter of diesel went for as high as N1,650 in some places. Gasoline was not any better. Those who wanted to keep their homes powered from generators needed troves of cash to procure diesel whose prices kept going up as the dollar exchange rate escalated. Factories fared worse.

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Refreshingly, Mr. Aliko Dangote whose mega billion dollar refinery in Lagos has just started producing petroleum products has a bit of good news for all Nigerians. He has reduced the price of diesel from the mountain pe58% to a more considerate N1,000 per liter, nearly a 58% reduction in price in less than a week. The prospect is good that when his gasoline products begin to flow through the pumps. Mr. Dangote may have even better news at the gas stations. Along with his fellow cement oligarchs had promised to deliver cement to Nigerians at a more friendly price. The full benefit of that promise is still a long way away.

It needs to be said in fairness to Dangote as a brand that more than any other single company in Nigeria, it has invested in the things that touch the lives of the people most immediately. Sugar, salt, fertilizer, tomato puree, fruit juices, cement and now petroleum products. No other single Nigerian brand can boast of a wider and more expansive range of socially relevant products than Dangote.

In direct response to the prevailing hunger and hardship in the land, Mr. Dangote has himself stepped forward to provide millions of bags of rice and other food items to Nigerians across the length and breadth of the country as humanitarian palliatives. In terms of the human face of capitalism, Dangote would seem to have perfected an enlightened self interest above his peers.

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Just when life was about to gradually grind to a halt, a bit of good news has come from unusual quarters. In a nation that has grown dependent on a feeding bottle tied to the beast of external suppliers of everything from tooth picks to civilized coffee, the belief persisted that all good news can only come from abroad. Nigerians could only hope to enjoy more friendly prices for the things that make them happy if our foreign partners changed their mind. Not any more.

It requires pointing out that the Nigerian spirit is too expansive to be bottled up within our borders just because air tickets are unaffordable. The urban- based Nigerian wants to go abroad for business, on holidays or just to flex!

At the worst of the recent moments, a return Economy Class ticket to nearby London sold for as much as N3.8m-N4million. Major international airlines insisted that the Central Bank had seized and was sitting on their dollar ticket sales proceeds. They needed to keep the high fares to hedge against the uncertainties that were everywhere in the Nigerian air. Nigerian travellers were being punished for the bad fortunes of their national currency and the untidy book keeping habits of the Central Bank.

Almost from nowhere, Nigeria’s largest international airline, Air Peace, announced a low fare flight into London’s Gatwick Airport. The airport itself is also owned by a Nigerian businessman. The fares were unbelievably low, as low as N1.2 million in some cases against the exploitative fares of all the major foreign airlines plying that route. Unbelievably, Air Peace pulled off the London Gatwick  deal with quite a bit of fanfare and patriotic noise making that set the foreign competitors scampering back to the drawing board. Air Peace floated the Gatwick fare reduction as a patriotic act, more like social responsibility to fellow Nigerians than the plain business sense which is what it really is. It was a drive for volume in a market of low volume driven by high fares.

To drive home the patriotic edge of its revival of international flights, Air Peace rebranded its crew and adorned its senior cabin crew with uniforms that featured the traditional Igbo “Isi Agu” motif. For those who are hard at hearing, the Isi Agu motif on Nigerian traditional outfits is of Igbo ancestry just as the Aso Oke, Adire and Babanriga are South Western Yoruba and Northern Hausa-Fulani respectively. A Nigerian airline intent on striking a recognizable indigenous resonance and identity could adapt any combination of these traditional dress motifs to drive home its original and national identity. The isi Agu features a series of lion heads, obviously severed at a moment of unusual valor. To go on a hunt and successfully kill and decapitate a lion is an undisputed symbol or infact a metaphor for unusual valour and heroism among the Igbo. Therefore the choice of that motif by Air Peace in its new cabin outfit is in fact a modern statement on the unusual heights to which Nigerian enterprise can rise if inspired by a patriotic commitment to national greatness. The Isi Agu is therefore Nigerian national heroism captured in an outfit.

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In their recent pricing strategies, neither Dangote nor Air Peace has acted out of pure charity or patriotic feeling. Both are reacting to the pressure of latent demand in a market where the purchasing power has been depressed by economic difficulty brought about by government policy and political exigencies. Yet each of them is intent on being seen as acting out of altruistic patriotic motives. That may be true in the short term.

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For every liter of diesel sold, Dangote is saving the Nigerian consumer 60% of the current market price. A savings of 60% is a lot for households and businesses. Similarly, for every Economy Class ticket sold by Air Peace on the London route, the average Nigerian traveller gets to save between N1.3million-N1.6 million. That is an awful lot of relief which travellers can apply to other competing needs in these hard times. No one can deny that these are direct savings and benefits that accrue directly to Nigerian citizens. To that extent, both Dangote and Air Peace can be said to be applying their capital to serve a patriotic end.

It is common capitalist gimmick for companies to apply a percentage of their profit to pursue communally beneficial ends in their territory of operation. Oil companies build schools, hospitals, libraries and other socially beneficial  infrastructure in their catchment localities. In normal corporate parlance, that only qualifies as Corporate Social Responsibility(CSR) or targeted social beneficence.

But Dangote and Air Peace are doing something a bit more far reaching. They are shedding handsome percentages of their revenue and therefore profit to fellow Nigerians at a time when such savings are desperately needed and deeply appreciated. That is an instance of capitalism serving a patriotic end over and above its statutory tax obligations to the government. This should be commended.

It does not ,however, make these companies any less rapacious as capitalist ventures than any others. They may in fact be investing in better times and bigger profits when the bad days are over. They are investing in the goodwill of the market and therefore deepening their brand penetration and mass sympathy. These are strategies which are far sighted marketing ploys that dig deep into the hearts and minds of generations of consumers.

Ultimately, every capitalist is like a cat; selfish with nine lives and prone to inherent cunning. But, as former Chinese leader Deng Zao Ping said when embracing the free market for his long standing communist nation: “A cat is a cat. It does not matter whether it is a black cat or a white cat. For as long as it catches mice, it is a good cat.”

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Needed: One standard hospital per state (1) – By HASSAN GIMBA

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Hassan Gimba is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime

I never thought I could attend the Eid prayer held on 10th April, a day after I clocked the definitive age of 60: I have now joined the senior citizens’ rank. Not being confident I could attend the Eid prayer seems an understatement; for actually, in February, the way I was feeling within me, it was looking to me that I would not witness Ramadan, not to talk of participating in the Eid marking its end.

I easily get exhausted from the littlest of tasks, making me always gasping for air to fill my lungs. It reached a stage where I could not walk ten metres without bending down, holding my knees and inhaling from both my mouth and nose.

It all came to a head when the news of the death of my mother reached me in the early hours of January, 8. I could not walk at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja which made the flight authorities move me in a wheelchair to the base of the plane, where I climbed the stairs with great effort, stopping at the plane’s entrance to gather myself.

The same routine was enacted when our plane landed at the Malam (don’t know why they spelt it MALLAM with a double l) Aminu Kano International Airport, where I had to be wheeled to the vehicle that conveyed me to Potiskum. To ease my difficulty, I had to be injected intravenously with bronchodilators on the three-hour journey.

Throughout the week I was at Potiskum for her seven-day prayers, I was ensconced in my room and couldn’t be at the family house where the main gathering took place. And I became dependent on my wives for many things a healthy person would do for himself.

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And it is not as if I had not sought medical attention. God knows I had always advocated for our leaders to attend hospitals at home. I did the same. Some seven years ago I went to the Asokoro General Hospital where an x-ray was done for me. They said there was nothing wrong, but I knew something was wrong with me. Even then, I started feeling exhausted because I could not do what I normally did easily. And it had nothing to do with ageing.

I did some tests in some private laboratories, and the results were normal. Then I went to NISA Hospital in Abuja where I was looked after by a pulmonologist, Dr James Agada. It is not a run-of-the-mill hospital and not cheap, moreover, I paid for VIP treatment. Yet, my case kept deteriorating till I became almost an invalid.

Then I had an opportunity to visit my governor, Honourable Mai Mala Buni, over an issue that needed some clarifications and he saw my condition. He became alarmed and sought to know what happened. I explained what I could to him, including my voyage to hospitals here that were quick to give me a clean bill of health that I knew was not true.

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He undertook the process to reverse the ailment and give me back some lost health. He got in touch with an agent, Shettima Alkali, a kind-hearted professional, who got me a visa to Saudi Arabia. Buni, a man of faith, said: “To be there, drinking the holy Zamzam water and praying at the Ka’aba itself would do you wonders.”

And so began my journey in search of health.

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I left Nigeria on 12th February from the Malam Aminu Kano International Airport via Peace Air. I will talk about Air Peace and its wonderful, friendly crew another day.

As had become the norm, I was wheeled into the plane from Abuja to Kano to board the Saudi flight and at the Kano airport too I was wheeled into the plane. It was the same procedure at Jeddah Airport until I reached the apartment where I was to stay. Once there I found it easier and more convenient since I had my son, Abubakar Sadik, a big, strong fella to do the wheeling.

In Saudi Arabia, one goes through the healthcare system from the Primary Health Care Centres except if one wants to go straight to a private hospital. To conserve funds and also see how their system works, I started from the former despite my almost desperate condition.

However, if you are an Umrite (my coinage for one undergoing the Umrah), you have an inalienable right to be accepted and diagnosed in government hospitals free of charge, even though there are fee-paying options.

Relying on that right, I started by going to the Jeddah East General Hospital where various tests were carried out on me: blood tests, electrocardiogram (ECG), x-rays, computerised tomography (CT) scans, etc., and the results were good. With all health issues eliminated, everything pointed to problems to do with pulmonology.

Still, I went to a Primary Health Centre this time around. Their primary health centres are as equipped as our general hospitals, if not better. Being the entry point to the health system, every General Hospital has a PHC that refers patients to it. And so this one referred me to King Abdul Aziz General Hospital, Jeddah, where the same tests conducted at Jeddah East were repeated with the same conclusion.

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With the certainty of what my ailment was, I left Jeddah for Madinah, arriving at Makkah the next day. I searched online for a good pulmonologist and each search result had one Egyptian, Dr Hebatullah Kamal Taha of Saudi-German Hospital, Makkah, coming up tops. She also comes a bit more expensive than the others. I then booked and paid for an appointment with her for the next day.

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At exactly 10 am the next day, accompanied by my wife, Dr Aminat Zakari, and son wheeling me, I was ushered into Dr Heba’s office. A petite, friendly, middle-aged woman. After analysing the results from the two General Hospitals we went to in Jeddah, she made us do a test to ascertain the level of oxygen in my blood and then prescribed some drugs, telling us to return after five days.

Hassan Gimba is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime.

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Mr President, salary hike won’t resolve the present hunger, by Hassan Gimba

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Hassan Gimba

These days, the words dominating the air are “hunger” and “protest”. And that, we are told, is because of two others – “dollar” and “salary”. Unfortunately, those capitalising on the latter two words to push for the first two words hardly mention the words “production” and “security” which are fuelled by justice and fairness. And there can be no justice without the rule of law.

I suspect some behind-the-scenes push regarding cries of hunger and a subtle mobilisation for protests that would engulf the entire country. While not discounting the fact that there is massive hunger in town, it is not entirely true that this government caused it.

We grew up regaled with stories of hunger or famine hitting the lands that some people dug into the underground storage of ants to salvage grains. Or people eating wild leaves or even raw calabash plants. Yet there were no protests.

Under the Shehu Shagari administration, the powerful Umaru Dikko, minister of transport, and chairman of the Committee on Rice Importation, once told us when confronted by “cries” of hunger that there was no hunger in Nigeria “because no one was yet eating from the dustbin”, and that Nigerians ought to be grateful as the government was paying salaries without borrowing. There was no protest, either.

I still recall a viral audio of a renowned Sheikh, Malam Qalarawi, complaining in the 80s that the dead were better than the living because the cost of petrol was ₦3 (yes, three naira) and torchlight battery formerly 80 kobo was somewhere around ₦1. And he threw in a puncher: “Ga basir”, meaning people suffering from haemorrhoids. Who does not have it now? Yet, there were no protests.

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We have had periods when even essential commodities were proportioned and rationed and people flogged while struggling for their share, yet there were no protests.

To be honest, there has never been a time in our history when there was no hunger. Perhaps the exceptions were that there were some positive factors in the society that made the hunger and deprivation of yesteryears more tolerable.

In the first place, no hope was misplaced because hard work paid off. People were educated almost free and health care delivery was functional and affordable. Crime was something read about and people felt secure while the judiciary was a sanctuary for the justice seeker.

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Everyone was hopeful that their tomorrow would be better because they had seen those before them getting fair treatment and getting their just rewards.

But even then, Nigeria was a prosperous nation that was on the march to self-dependency. There were hydro basins scattered around that encouraged dry season farming while our farmers, even though predominantly subsistence farmers, were not short of fertiliser supply and other related Agro-allied inputs. Because of the robust and unhindered agricultural activities in the north, there was an abundance of groundnut, grains, cotton, livestock, etc. and these fed many industries in the food, cosmetics and textile industries.

We had rubber and cocoa plantations that served a lot of local and international manufacturers in the automobile and confectionery industry. There was coal and many others as well.

Now, most of the basins in the north are relics, the livestock are still being walked hundreds of kilometres for pasture, while insecurity has driven our farmers away from tilling the soil.

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When Nigeria was facing some economic hiccups, the government of General Olusegun Obasanjo cut down the cost of governance drastically. A leader cannot be talking about improving the economy of his country while taking billions outside its shores to shore up foreign businesses to the detriment of hungry, jobless citizens back home. Among the measures Obasanjo took was the state policy of adopting assembled in Nigeria vehicles, the Peugeot.

In 1972, when the Udoji Commission recommended, among others, a Unified Grading and Salary Structure (UGSS) which embraced all posts in the Civil Service from the lowest to the highest, the naira was stronger than the dollar at about ₦60/$100. The commission increased the annual minimum wage from ₦312 to ₦720 (from ₦26 to ₦60). ₦720 was the equivalent of $1200.

As of the time of writing this, $100 was over ₦150,000! $1200 will be about ₦1,800,000. What this means is that the Udoji Commission’s minimum wage of ₦60 ($100 then) had more purchasing power than today’s minimum wage of ₦30,000 ($20 now). Then, just imagine $100 as a basic monthly salary today! That’s ₦150,000.

I have said it before and I will repeat it now: ₦1 million as minimum wage will help no one as long as the naira is weak. Period.

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What we need now is not a salary increase, but the strengthening of our currency. Take the case of China. As of January 17, 2024, Shanghai had the highest monthly minimum wage among 31 provinces, with $370 per month. Germany had €1,584.00 per month as of June 2020. Spain, as of June 2019, had €1,050, Poland €523.09 and Belgium €1,593.81.

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And these are countries that are richer than us and have higher GDP.

Now cast your mind back to when the naira was at par with the dollar and assume our minimum wage of ₦30,000 is $30,000 taking ₦100 to be equal to $100. Don’t you think that is more than enough?

To print more money just to pay civil servants will no doubt cause inflation, or even hyperinflation, as with Germany after World War II or what we saw in Venezuela and Zimbabwe. The salary gain would be so rubbished that the entire country would regret the increase for less than one per cent of the population.

The best way out is for public service salaries to be uniform, cost governance to be drastically reduced, and for Nigeria to start producing what it eats, wears and drives. And there is no better time to start than now and no better people to start than those running the country.

Then there must be fairness and justice. And security of life, property and investments.

With these in place, Nigeria will leapfrog many countries it is now looking up to.

• Hassan Gimba is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime.

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