FESTAC TOWN and its 419 Reputation

By Adeola Aderounmu.

I lived in Festac Town from 1977 to 2002. I attended Central Primary School, 5th Avenue and later Festac Grammar School, 41 Road. From 1978 to 1989, I had my primary and secondary education in this once beautiful village called Festac Town. Festac Town is now a rotten place. Like everyother thing in Nigeria, it was not maintained!

There is a lot of history behind festac and there is a lot that can be highlighted regarding the rise and fall of Festac Town. One thing that struck me recently is the local and international reputation of Festac Town as a 419 town.

In 2006, I was driving in my 1986 Honda Civic along the streets of Festac with some friends and they were quick to point out that I didn’t get stopped by the police because of the number plate of my car. How is that, I queried? They told me that if my car plate number was FST and if the car looked very new, the police would have stopped me on the suspicion that I was a 419 perpetrator. FST as I came to know was the preference for the “yahoo boys” to show that they live in Festac Town.

Actually, I had seen images of Festac Town and yahoo boys on the internet in connection to a TV programme that ran on ABC television in the US. So, in a way, getting on ground in Festac myself and having life confirmation from my friends was not absolutely shocking.

I realized before I travelled to Europe in 2002 that while I’d spent many years studying at the University of Lagos and labouring afterwards as a humble teacher to lead a normal life, many young people around me were taking the fast lane. Many young boys and girls did unthinkable things to acquire wealth.   419 was the non-violent part of these unthinkable things.

I will not dwell so much on 419 because it is a dubious process that involves 2 or more parties. The greediest member of this party is the man or woman (not in Nigeria) who wants to reap where he/she had not sown. 419 is a fraud made famous not by Nigerians but by their greedy preys abroad.

In a recent radio programme that I stumbled on in Sweden, they are running a series on Lagos. The next programme will be on 30th June 2007 and they will talk more about Lagos. They have described Lagos as the most dangerous city in the world and Festac Town as the headquarters for 419 activities. Lagos is an issue on its own and the okada and the crazy transport system in Lagos really needs to be treated. I don’t know if Lagos is the most dangerous city in the world. I told my wife that maybe it is New York or Johannesburg-places I haven’t been to! 

419 is not a good thing but it has solved the problems of many unemployed graduates!!! It may have disrupted the future of many youth as well. I know a boy who dropped out of University to concentrate on 419 activities but I heard he is really broke now.  

The underlying issue really is that the government in Nigeria has neglected the issue of state welfarism and many Nigerians just devised whatever desperate means of survival that they can pull together.  In a society where corruption is tolerated and the public servants enriched themselves to the detriment of the society at large, what do you expect? People have resolved to self help and then, anything goes. 

Imagine the ongoing case of the former police boss. Wherever the case terminates will not be the issue, the crux of the matter is that the entire system called Nigeria needs a cleansing. What about the out-gone thieves called senators and legislators who bought houses that belong to the government of Nigeria? How did they have so much money in 4 years? Did they save all of their salaries? Didn’t they spend that on something to keep life going? Where will the new and in coming thieves live?

Festac is my base and I feel so defenseless on this 419 issue because I know it is true. But what has the local, state or federal government done in the last 20 years for example to prepare for the future of this generation of internet rats? What have they done or what are they still doing other than stealing, looting and gallivanting like nonentities? 

May the Glory of Nigeria come, soon!

This short story was published in the Guardian June 20, 2007.

Osamuyia Aikpitanhi,MURDERED IN SPAIN

 By Sonala Olumhense.

(From the Guardian on Sunday 17th June 2007)

First, they beat him. See, they “had to” subdue him, so they must have employed considerable force to reduce him to a whimpering rag doll. They then bound him hands and feet.

Then, perhaps astonished he still had any strength left to cry, call for help, or curse his tormentors, they gagged him. Still, the hatred in his vibrant, angry eyes must have spoken more eloquently than a dirge, because they then threw a sack over him so nobody on the flight could see their inhuman work.

His name was Osamuyia Aikpitanhi, and the location was civilized Spain, on June 9, 2007. His tormentors were local officials who set out to deport him, but then took the law into their own hands to make sure he never traveled again, or lived to talk about his experience.

Mr. Aikpitanhi was a Nigerian. His brutal torture and murder is the dehumanization and insult of all Nigerians. This action is a challenge to the new Government of Nigeria, which must deploy every diplomatic means to obtain a full report and apology, as well as adequate compensation for the family of poor Mr. Aikpitanhi. Incidents of Nigerians being treated like animals abroad must be brought to an end.

To this end, Nigerians with an Internet presence should go to Nigeriavillagesquare.com and sign the protest letter, or call the Nigerian Ambassador in Madrid at: +34 915630911. You would be saving a people.

Jumbo Award For Public Officers

By Kunle Sanyaolu. (The Guardian 17th June 2007).

THIS country could be 10 times better in terms of concrete development within a couple of years, if the governments of the day devote just a little bit of their time and energy to the Nigerian people.

What they do now is simply to focus almost entirely on themselves. If only they could spend a tiny fraction of that time to the common man and common good, eldorado will not be far from here. Their selfishness and greed is evidenced by regular news over the past two weeks, about their plans for their housing, transportation, entertainment, inconvenience and severance among others. One of the latest is the federal government’s plan to procure N3.7 billion car loan for federal legislators. Under the scheme, a Senator will get N8.1m, while a member of the House of Representatives goes away with N7.9m loan. Another recent example is the upward review of basic salaries of top public office holders, including the President, governors, ministers, lawmakers, judges, special advisers, commissioners and a host of others. A cursory look at the allowances of federal lawmakers reveals however that the so-called proposed loans by the Federal government are nothing short of free gift, with interest, to the lawmakers. Each of the lawmakers is entitled to monthly car maintenance (N126,650 for senators and N124,075 for representatives); yearly wardrobe allowance (N500,000 a piece), constituency allowance (senators N5m, Reps about N2m). Annual utility allowance (N400,000 a piece), annual entertainment allowance (N600,000) and severance allowance (N6m). It means that in a year, a senator earns at least N8 million from these allowances to pay for the loan. But he still has huge allowances for housing, transportation, furniture etc. And of course, his severance allowance is intact. The picture is almost the same for members of the House of Representatives.

Members of the National Assembly are only 469, compared with a national population of 150 million. It is not even logical to begin to work out the percentage of federal lawmakers to the national population. Yet, the salaries, allowances and other emoluments going to the lawmakers must be a sizeable portion of financial resources available to the rest of the nation. This is neither equitable nor just. And it is far from being fair. The country is never going to make anything near progress because a lot of the money meant to create jobs, build and maintain infrastructure and eradicate poverty is being tailored only at meeting the exclusive taste of a select few. It is not new of course, but it is certainly getting worse. Every beneficiary of this largesse is aware of it. If not for the media, the rest of the nation probably would not know. The people do not need any further proof that their lawmakers are living easy, opulent and ostentatious life. Enough evidence of that abound in the cars they ride, the houses they build, their dressing and so on, all within minutes of their assumption of offices.

With the reported new salary structure for top political public office holders, the first thought that came to one’s mind is that these people have again awarded jumbo salaries to themselves. During the expired tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the government fixed and reviewed salaries for public officials. Another review has just taken place and although it was initiated by the immediate past-government, members of the new government will enjoy it. By the new package, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, now in the person of Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, will earn N3,514,705 as his annual basic salary, up from N1,405,882.00 recommended in 2000 by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). The Vice President gets N3, 031,572.50 up from N1, 212,629. The Chief Justice gets N3,363,972.50; Ministers N2,026,400; Senate President N2,484,242.50; Speaker of the House of Representatives N2,477,100; State Governors N2,223,705 and the deputies N2,112,215. The largesse extends to other top public office holders. The last time salaries of public office holders were reviewed was in 2002. The RMAFC believes that package is no longer realistic in view of developments such as rising price of essential commodities. The commission’s chairman, Mr. Nwadala Wogu explained that at the time the 2002 package was being put together, pump price of petrol was N16 per litre. It was N65 per litre when the current package was being prepared, meaning that the new package could have contained higher figures had the current level of inflation, including the N75 per litre of petrol, been taken into consideration. At least, the RMAFC admitted that there is inflation in the country and that frequent increases of fuel prices contribute largely to it. That is much more than the Central Bank will concede when it stated that increase in Value Added Tax (VAT) from five to 10 per cent would not aggravate inflation.

Ordinarily, upward salary review should be seen as normal, not just to correspond with rising inflation and cost of living, but also to reflect an improvement in standard of living. A person living in a one-room apartment but with a family of three or four can move into a three-bedroom apartment, if his salary is increased. This is providing however that inflation is not moving up at a rate to render the salary increase nugatory. The problem with Nigeria is that while public office holders are wont to quickly adjust their emoluments to reflect the prevailing economic circumstances, they are less eager to take similar measures for the larger citizenry. We can always recall the tug of war between government and civil servants whenever the latter demand salary increase. If and when government buckles to the demand, it whittles down the increase considerably under one guise or another, leaving only a paltry for the poor servants. Government officials thereby show insensitivity to the plight of the average Nigerian, while displaying greed and selfish tendencies. In addition, the salaries public office holders award to themselves mark an unfair and uneven distribution of wealth, to the detriment of the gross majority of Nigerians. This is so not just because the amounts are very high compared with the salary of the average Nigerian whether in the public or private sector. It is high also because the public office holders enjoy regular and high allowances that are not ordinarily available to public servants in general. Nigerians are not deceived by the fact that it is the RMAFC that is preparing and packaging the salaries and allowances. The fact is that the commission’s officers are appointed by the public office holders and therefore have to do their masters’ bidding.

If the truth must be told, public office holders are not living in true reflection of the poverty in the land. Recently the legislators of the National Assembly worked out their allowances (furniture, housing and transportation) for four years and awarded several millions to themselves. Each senator is said to be entitled to N57m while member of the House of Representatives is said to be worth about N47m in allowances. This is to cover a term of four years in which the Constitution earmarked 181 days of sitting in a year, with a minimum requirement that each legislator sits for 60 days in a year. For such lawmakers to gross so much in four years (this is probably outside a jumbo severance package they awarded themselves) is grossly out of proportion with the reality of our economy. It is incongruous with the fact that the average civil servants who work for 35 years can hardly boast of a couple millions as his terminal benefits. Legislative work is supposed to be part time, but it is proving to be a lot more lucrative than full time work. The only effect this situation can bring to the country is to encourage corruption at the civil service level and to stamp political contest as a do-or-die affair. Unless the trend of helping oneself officially and plunging the country’s treasury is quickly checked, Nigerians can forget development of infrastructure, roads, schools hospitals etc.

This is yet another opportunity for President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to assure Nigerians that this country will not drift under him. There is no point in his keeping quiet and pretending that things are happening through due process. Nigerians will remember him for his action or inaction in the face of obvious adversity they face in watching a few people corner the country’s resources.