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Africans travelling in Africa: eliminating the difficulties and advancing regional integration

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No doubt, most of the observations and views contained in this piece as they relate to movement within Africa by Africans are not new. In fact, they are so stale to the point that they are considered “normal” given their relentless persistence and occurrence, and more so because we seem helpless. The decision to bring them to your attention is to reject the last opinion about helplessness and to rather argue that we must strive in our little contributions to ensure that Africa works for Africans, at least on the issues of integration and migration.

Within the spate of 7 years into the new millennia, two xenophobia attacks took place in South Africa. The nature of the attacks, especially the targets of the attacks made many observers conclude that they were actually Afrophobic hate crimes driven by discrimination beyond just being foreigners, but Africans. No reports have indicated that non-Africans were victims of these attacks. The third attack in February 2017 was yet again unleashed on Africans. This third attack tells many stories, especially in relation to efforts of African governments towards integration, mobility, migration and their developmental benefits. This piece is a brief attempt at “viewing” the efforts to improve mobility and integration in Africa as well as point to the “state of play” so far. In essence, how do we make movement by Africans in Africa easy, safe, productive and beneficial to Africans and Africa?

First, during the 25th Ordinary Session of the African Union Heads of State and Government, this took place in Johannesburg, South Africa from 14-15 June 2015, the Assembly discussing under the theme “Year of Women Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063 adopted a very progressive declaration (Assembly/AU/Decl.6/XXV) on migration?? The declaration affirmed the previous commitments of members aimed at accelerating mobility and integration on the continent. Thrusts of the declaration are mainly in three parts: (a) Work towards access for visa on arrival for ALL Africans by 2018; (b) Harmonise skills, competencies and education qualification so as to boost employment for Africans in Africa, and; (c) Ensure a common African position for the Malta 2016 Migration summit with their European counterpart. The Malta, Valletta Summit has since come and gone with a very bad deal for Africa, or one should say Europe dealt Africa a bad coin – Analyses on this will be provided in a follow-up article to this. And for this article, the focus will dwell [mainly] on the first thrust of the AU Johannesburg 2015 Declaration.

It is important to note that the African Union June 2015 Declaration on Migration was moved by South Africa as part of the country’s response to the 2015 xenophobia/Afrophobia attack. But the impressive thing was that Rwanda became the champion of this declaration. This declaration recognised that it was indeed needlessly hard, painful and expensive for Africans to move within Africa – a continent that was partitioned into territories by invading Europeans without dialogue with and consent of the African people. Sadly, it is the same Africans that continue to zealously lock the territories against their kith and kin whilst the invaders of yore now return as tourists and so-called investors to Africa who only need to purchase a visa at the port of entry to enjoy a safari experience and to cart away profit from minimal investment! No, the tone here is not meant as indignation and loathing of the invading slave and colonial masters, but rather an expression of disbelief at how Africans have adopted and stuck to the divisive partitioning of Africa. Rather, it is meant as a wake-up call to African leaders on the need to be broadminded, imaginative and prompt. To buttress these frustrations, some examples at a later stage of this article of one’s personal experiences in the course of travelling within Africa will be relayed.

Still, on the AU Declaration, it also recognised that Africa’s young persons want to enjoy the benefit of easy access to the continent so they can move in their quest to deploy their skills, talents and energies to efforts that will improve their wellbeing, assist their families and contribute to community and nation building. By the way, an endemic and growing unemployment and underemployment crises in Sub-Saharan Africa has since established a survival of the fittest inclination especially amongst the youth who constitute the bulk of the unemployed. Thus the relentless attempts at the desperate and often fatal journeys across the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert in spite of the news of recorded deaths notwithstanding are informed by the depth of youth despondency and palpable hopelessness.

To have a standardized comparability of education and skills qualification is and was rightly recognised by the AU as one of the ways of improving mobility and migration within Africa by Africans. By the way, when the discussion is about migration, the fact should never be lost that most Sub-Saharan African migrants are actually moving within the region. In essence, we have more Africans moving within African than Africans moving to Europe, the Pacific and North America. Thus one is a bit uncomfortable and at sea with this notion that African migrants are suffocating Europe, which is how one perceives it given how the EU is currently driving the Valletta migration outcomes.

Nevertheless, easy and stress-free movement in Africa, especially by Africans still remains a mirage. Yes, very few efforts have been made to actualize the 2018 deadline for the implementation of the actions contained in the 2015 AU Declaration. It should not be taken for granted that member states of Regional Economic Blocs (RECs) in Africa have immigration arrangements between and amongst themselves, which are advanced and commendable. The AU 2015 Johannesburg Declaration was supposed to help improve on these current arrangements, which has not gone far enough in terms of advancing Africa’s integration aspiration. Some examples in terms of stages of compliance especially on visa on arrival for Africans will suffice here.

Rwanda has continued to stand out as the most committed to the genuine and easy integration and mobility of Africans in Africa. Rwanda remains the only African country that persons bearing African passports can travel to and get a visa on arrival without hassle for as little as 30 USD. It is even considering eliminating visa for Africans and it is hard not to see it come through on this. Thus, when one thinks of organising events in Africa, Rwanda is easily and always the first consideration on the list because of the no hassles with an entry visa, facilities availability, as well as the inspiring development one, sees happening there. It is so relieving, reassuring and inspiring when there! Glad to see that Benin, Togo, Mauritius and Seychelles are doing the same.

It was pointed out earlier that South Africa sponsored this declaration. And as part of her commitment to it, the country since January 2017 eliminated transit visa for Africans transiting through her borders to Southern African countries such as Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and Angola. Short to say that it was hard to believe that Africans for a long time had to endure this transit visa regime to get to Africa through [South] Africa! Nevertheless, expectations remain high for South Africa to deliver on her pledge to make visa on arrival for ALL Africans Happen in 2018.

Africa’s most populous and largest economy, Nigeria is another country steep in immigration reciprocity practice that is yet to move on the actualisation of the visa on arrival declaration. A country with a recession-dazed economy, facilitating easy access for African tourists and visitors would do her a lot of good. Ghana has since started to operate the visa on arrival policy for Africans. The visa-on-arrival fee in Ghana at $100 will benefit from a downward review.

Swaziland, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Botswana and Burundi will allow for visa on arrival when a national or an organisation domiciled in these countries writes and obtained a visa on arrival permission from the Interior Ministry. But the real hassles begin when the visitor arrives the country. Swaziland stands out here. As against conventional practice where visa is obtained at the port of entrance, for Swaziland, the visitor enters the country (say at the King Mswati III Airport) and has to go to the Interior Ministry in Mbabane where the actual visa is processed, and then return again to the airport to have the passport stamped for official entrance record! You can only imagine the waste of time, energy (very tiring because of the over 50 kilometres to be covered back and forth) and money (very expensive compared to the actual visa cost that is an equivalence of $8 for 90 days single entry visa).

Uganda has improved on her visa regime arrangement for Africans. Potential visitors to the country can get visa on arrival notice after making an online application. The response is usually fast within three days or less. It has reduced visa fee for single entry from$100 to $50. A similar online arrangement is being used by Zimbabwe and Zambia and they charge $20 and $50 respectively payable upon arrival at the port of entry. Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire also have a similar online arrangement but insist on online payment. Kenya has recently opened for visa on arrival!

These arrangements though commendable and good step forward, they, however, come with their difficulties. For instance, besides the fact that someone, hypothetically, without computer and internet knowledge will require assistance to make an online application, and then make payment with a Debit or Credit Card as is the case for the Kenyan She has however recently opened up for visa on arrival making online application optional for the visitor.

and Cote d’Ivoire online application. This is no doubt daunting especially for the unbanked Africans who are in the majority.

Perhaps there are many other African countries that are already offering visa on arrival to Africans but have been poor in communicating and publicizing it. This is the case for Mozambique, Tanzania, Togo, others. One of the problems with under publicity can be observed in the experiences air travellers go through in the hands of airlines’ ground staff who insist on appropriate authorization letter stipulating permission for visa on arrival as pre-condition for final check-in and boarding. The extortions by Immigration officers are still very much with us. Extortions are worse when the port of entering is through the land borders.

The benefits of pursuing and achieving a visa on arrival for Africans in Africa are enormous for Africans and their economies. Some of the benefits include: saved time/man-hour on embassy visa application processing; cultural mix and dynamism that can be gained through facilitated integration; economic boost through finance, labour and skill mobility; increased tourism and its related cascading gains; job creation as migrants have been documented to create collar-wide jobs as against the myths that they take jobs and cause security crises; elimination of the shame an African feels and faces when at a point of entry into an African country as one is stopped and harassed for visa but a European/Australian/American just stroll into Africa only needing to purchase a visa.

Of course, the availability of a visa on arrival policy for persons bearing African passports does not per se solve or eliminate the difficulties Africans go through in their quest to move within the continent. There are others, which have been stated briefly here: for poor Africans, especially women and traders travelling through and conducting their businesses through the land borders, their immigration and other security handling experiences are never palatable – try going through Nigeria to Cote d’Ivoire by road and you get the (ugly) picture. Travelers are extorted, forced to pay “toll-fees for immigration and health certificate clearance”. Even when the pillar of integration and mobility in Africa is erroneously hinged on security, one is amazed that security operatives at the borders will focus on extortion rather than look out for threats to the territorial integrity of the borders.

Low development of the African aviation industry and the attendant high cost of travelling ticket and tedious travelling routes and hours are other challenges to mobility and integration of Africans and Africa. African governments will need to work more on these. It is commendable to note that Ethiopian, Kenya and South African Airways have good route coverage in Africa. It is also impressive to see that Asky airline with some recognition and support from the Togolese government and ECOWAS is also pushing steadily to bridge the African route coverage gap.

It from the above that the October 2016 Maritime Security and Safety Charter signed in Lome, Togo should be seen as a good complimentary means to facilitating mobility of Africans in Africa. Specifically, one of the interesting provisions of the Charter is the creation of a Maritime Security and Safety Fund to promote, in a spirit of solidarity and co-responsibility, the free movement of people and goods by sea. No doubt, this charter would help deepen and expand the gains that could be tapped from the Blue (sea) Economy as well as helping to advance and actualize Africa’s development and environment sustainability aspirations. The Blue Economy can help accelerate Africa’s integration by bringing down the cost of travels and adding to route options. Travel by the waterways is still, however, less developed and exploited in Africa, at least for human movement. Yes, this charter will need to be publicized and analyzed more in details – maritime experts, players and enthusiasts should dig in!

Finally, Africa must find a continent-grown closure to the distortions colonialism exerted. It is inspiring that the AU continues to remain faithful and steadfast to achieving effective integration of the continent. Nevertheless, her member governments must put their feet on the pedal and wear new hats as pace and imaginations continue to be in high demand! Yes, effective integration coupled with profound public education, job creation opportunities and enlightenment on the essence of the Ubuntu spirit as well as conscious efforts to roll out public service delivery can contribute to enhance Africans mobility in Africa and reduce desperate and suicidal journeys across the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean Sea. Traveling within Africa need not be so stressful and nightmarish!

Akhator Joel ODIGIE is the Coordinator for Human and Trade Union Rights at the African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africawww.ituc-africa.org). He can be reached at: joel.odigie@ituc-africa.org

 

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2019 Nigerian General Elections: The Working poor and their Politicians

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A photo of people casting their votes used to illustrate the story [Photo credit: Daily Post Nigeria]
A photo of people casting their votes used to illustrate the story [Photo credit: Daily Post Nigeria]

Let me say from the outset that this piece is aimed at presenting the demands of the working people of Nigeria to the political class, political parties and politicians jostling for positions and power at the forthcoming 2019 general elections. Democracy (though largely the liberal kind that dominates the African continent and growing) is becoming the only-game-in-town, which speaks, partly, to consolidation. Sadly, the benefits have eluded those who make the biggest and most painful investments into it- the constituents, especially the indigent and working poor. The 2019 general elections, therefore, represent another attempt for the workers to make legitimate demands with the hope that they can use their votes to reward good stewardship, punish erring ones, and hopefully bring new and promising ones to authority.

In the run-up to the 2015 elections, a similar piece bothering on the same theme was authored by this same writer with the view to getting politicians and political parties to position themselves adequately to address the wishes of the Nigerian working families and their constituencies. The demands in 2015 were essentially about security; growing the economy that works for everyone in terms of creating jobs beyond mere growth figures and guarantees of shared (growth) prosperity; rein in private and public sector corruption; as well as the deepening and expansion of social protection benefits and the improvement in infrastructure development. Were these demands met? Of course, there are sundry commentaries and commentators, including hired spin doctors who will manufacture and rationale intended narratives to justify claims of success or otherwise. For the author, pieces of evidence through interviews, discussions and visits to homes suggest a negative horizontal performance.

Insecurity remains a nagging and fearful issue. Instructively, the red line of security accountability and the barometer of insecurity is when a life is or lives are lost violently or otherwise and a sense of disorderliness persist. On this count, the state seems to be showing whim capacity to check these. The killings across the nation and in the different communities (notably North-Central and North-East) are red lines crossed severally for which no one can be quiet. The nation recalled that it took the loud outcry of Nigeria’s Nobel Laureate to jolt the authority to what has been seen as a momentary reaction.

On the anticorruption front, the government at the centre and at the federating states have so far not taken advantage of the solidarity of the Nigerian working people and the organised labour. In fact, the strategy and approach are almost replicas of previous regimes. The carpet-crossing sainthood tactics to the anti-corruption war are cheap and irresponsible politics. Public looters only need to move from one party to another and overnight they are saints, deodorized and smelling righteousness. Politicization of the anti-corruption fight is fast crippling institutions and agencies saddled and established for this purpose. So far, there have been no policy alternatives to recalibrate the fight.

Of course, it is not only “the ogas at the top” that are corrupt. It is a systemic crisis fostered consciously to frustrate distribution justice. For instance, the persons and agencies responsible for our border integrity will shame you as a Nigerian with the outright, brazen and dehumanizing extortion they perpetrate day and night at the border routes. The Seme border is an exceptionally shameful case where toiling working poor, especially women and majority in the informal economy, are harassed, manhandled and traumatised all in the process to effect extortion.

Private sector corruption, which is actually far bigger than public sector corruption (read the African Union Mbeki Panel report on Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) from Africa) remains business as usual. An evidence of this is the inability of the state to investigate and prosecute persons named in the leaked Panama Papers even when the Nigerian people demanded state action.

Similarly, the privatisation of electricity and for which Nigerians are billed for darkness is yet another corruption that has been left to fledge in spite of the cries of the thousands of the affected. The Bank Verification Number (BVN) is a good initiative (less concern about the politics of who actually initiated it). But what has happened to the unclaimed monies the media reported were abandoned after the BVN introduction? One would think that a smart and quick forfeiture move by the state will help make such monies available to be quickly returned into circulation through the effective financing of public works and services.

On the economy, Nigerian households are still battling to recover even when we are told that the economy is out of recession. Worse, across sectors, salaries are not been paid to workers as at and when due. Federating states are the guiltiest. It is trite economics that money at hand aid consumption and the unspent monies are saved thereby making money available to be borrowed for investment (production). This process, in turn, creates employment, income and thus oiling the economic activities in a continuous motion. For developed economies, low interest rates are to encourage borrowing for investment and consumption so that production, productivity and growth are assured, other things being equal. The story remains different in Nigeria, but a more visionary and disciplined fiscal approach can change it. Nigerian workers want to see this change.

There is still a valid argument that one of the options available to a beaten and battered people is not to give up hope (as hopelessness breeds fatality). Rather, they must soldier on by seeking to use the 2019 elections as yet another opportunity to take a shot at recalling the retreating state, as well as sharpen their vigilance of the Nigerian governance project.

For the 2019 elections, the demands of the Nigerian working people, sadly have not changed substantially. The urgency and fervour are, however, stronger and sharper. Nigerian workers – the majority of whom constitute the working poor (someone engaged in gainful economic activities and from which the proceeds cannot assure daily basic needs), really want to see their fortunes change progressively. They have made ceaseless, countless and costly sacrifices for the nation towards the growth of the commonwealth.

Nigerian workers want to see an end to poverty wages. The struggle for the national minimum wage should bring about this. Thirty thousand Naira (roughly $85) as National Minimum Wage (NMW) is a very compromised-position bargain of organised labour that the government must appreciate and pay. This is because the “basic need basket” analysis (analysis of what an average family of four (a couple and two children) needs to survive in a month, at 30 days) as calculated by organised labour was put at a minimum of $200 for basic consumption per month. The NMW should be seen for what it is and can do to stem poverty and inequality. It is primarily a wage anchor for which wages must not fall. It helps to protect the wages of workers, especially the majority in the informal economy without union voice and representation. It can contribute to improving the spending capacities of indigent households (harder for single female breadwinner households) to meet basic needs provisions.

To fall into the argument of the inability to pay is be unmindful of the fat and stupendous salaries of top executives- employed, elected and appointed. Research has shown that salaries are usually disproportionally top-heavy and bottom lean. The top heaviness can be progressively pruned to accommodate decent rates for the majority at the bottom. Besides, we are yet to attempt to “drain the swamp” (block leakages of public sector/government wastages and corrupting lobby influence), which will also assure saved fund.

Organised Labour has been at the vanguard of demanding tax justice as part of their quest to shore up resource mobilisation capacities of the state aside being regular taxpayers through the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) income tax administration regime. For organised labour, increasing the revenue bases of government is partly aimed at defeating the argument of inability to pay. They are also of the view that resource availability will spur employment creation and the payment of decent wages, which are some of the time-tested means of defeating poverty and expanding the tax and revenue base.

Thus, workers in 2019 will not tolerate the threat of “no work, no pay”. Those threatening the application of this rule have never had their salaries and fat allowances delayed and unpaid. Strange still, the same persons forget the principle of “no pay, no work”. In fact, to be sounding and using threats even when parties to the negotiations (organised private sector and their labour counterpart) have reached a bargain with the government as the other member of the tripartite negotiation process is to be playing a two-faced agent provocateur bent on willfully posing threats to industrial harmony, which they want to blame on those who take actions to defend their rights. Workers will not be forgiving of any arrangement that delay and deny payment and increment of wages.

Nigeria is a country of young persons. Her youthful profile will remain and increase for at least another decade or two. The current dire socio-economic conditions – mainly underemployment, unemployment [both according to the National Bureau of Statistics stand at 40% of the labour population] and absence of social safety nets) are triggering and exacerbating regrettable choices young people are making, including embracing criminality, use of hard drugs and electing to undertake dangerous and desperate migration journeys through the Sahara desert and Mediterranean Sea to Europe and elsewhere. Creation of jobs must be beyond mere soapbox promises. Workers want to see real job creation initiatives that are devoid of political patronages.

Increased public spending on education to develop and upgrade employability skills and the creation of labour demand and absorption state-driven enterprises must be imaginatively considered in the job creation quests.

Further, genuine partnership and collaboration with other economies (like the OECD states and also south-south alliances) to mobilise support for schemes that productively engage young people could be considered. Programmes like the Erasmus plus skills development programme (an initiative that helps to take young person overseas to study with conditions of support for return and establishment) is one amongst many that could be considered.

The place of peace and security in the quest to attain stability and create spaces for productive activities cannot be overemphasized. Nigerian workers want their bread and the peace of mind to enjoy it. Afrobarometer [public opinion] survey of 2016 shows that 39% of Nigerians consider security-related issues as one of the top three problems their country is facing. That figure two years later, as own survey shows, has doubled and second only to economic despondency. Figures obtained from Nigerian organised labour sources show that hundreds of workers, farmers and members of their families have lost their lives violently from civil conflicts and the use of lethal violence in the non-civil conflict situation (armed robbery, extrajudicial and ritual killings, etc.). Nigerian workers will want to bring to power and positions politicians that are decisive, collaborative and fair in dealing with insecurity issues. Workers will continue to frown at any security arrangements that erode national unity and cohesion. Being sensitive to class, ethnic, cultural and religious identities is critical. Unfairness is when a group demanding secession arrangement is labelled as a terrorist organisation and leaves another group that openly and proudly claims countless retaliatory (sic) killings and property destruction to roam free and large. This compromises security and workers want to see a total and genuine reversal.

The Nigerian workers, especially the working poor, in their quest to get their demands heeded will, to an extent, depend on how much loud and consistent “organised noise” they make about these demands.

So far, it is the young emerging Nigerians that want to “Take Back Nigeria” that are canvassing and speaking to these demands. Others, notably the established parties and “known” candidates are relying on endorsements and parroting the usual sound bites that are not biting at the national crises and meeting the demands of the workers.

Imperatively, organised labour together with their progressive civil society allies must urgently recalibrate their efforts through mass rallies and town hall meetings to educate and sensitize their members, workers and members of their families and communities of these demands and on how to use their votes to secure these demands. Nigerian workers must continue to keep hope alive, they must dream it and struggle for it so they can collectively celebrate the good outcomes, soon. 2019 beckons, so fast!

Akhator Joel Odigie is Coordinator- Human and Trade Union Rights at the Lome-based African Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa).

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T.Y Danjuma, Dominion Farms and the Secret Files

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TY Danjuma

In August of 2011, I was contacted by the Nigerian Minister of Agriculture and begged to come to Nigeria. He had just come from visiting our sister company in East Africa. He was very convincing. I along with another Board member soon arrived in Lagos to a great fanfare of private planes, helicopters, and fancy hotels. We were promised the world, if only we would come to Nigeria to build another Dominion Farms.

The 30,000 hectares of land offered by the Government looked great for farm development, located right between two rivers. Abundant water, the promise of a paved road, low interest government loans, streamlined import procedures, and help directly from the President himself. It was all “too-good-to-be-true”. We said we would consider it, and we did. Our first trips were to the community, the State Government, and to Upper Benue River Authority. In the community I personally spoke at every church open in the town and at the Mosque. Additionally, we held town hall meetings sponsored by the Emir for everyone in the area. Next we went to the State where I addressed thelegislature and held press conferences. Lastly we went to Yola and spent a half of a day with the Upper Benue River Authority executives. In Abuja we had extensive meetings with the Minister of Agriculture, the Minister of Water, the ports and customs office and the US Embassy. All agencies offered their firm support for the project. Several trips later we made the decision to proceed.

On 17 February 2012 in the Abuja Hilton Hotel we signed an “MOU” with the State of Taraba and the Government of Nigeria. Hundreds were in attendance inviting us to come to Taraba and begin. Some of the terms of the agreement included Dominion training in modern agriculture for the masses, the State of Taraba paying all compensation to anyone on the land, and for a new road to be constructed. Ninety percent (90%) of the land was to be utilized in a community farming operation with trained local people being in possession of these lands and the remaining ten percent (10%) used as a nucleus farm for training purposes and support. The following day Dominion in conjunction with Taraba State paid for 50 local Nigerians to go to East Africa for six months of training.

What was supposed to happen in six months is still in the process over 3 1/2 years later. It has been a calamity of failed promises. The Government contracted for provision of a new all-weather road however, it is still a dirt trail as the Government funding did not exist. The promised financing from both the State of Taraba and the Government of Nigeria was all talk but no money. Help from the President came in the form of a waiver for all duty on Agricultural equipment for everyone in the Nation, not just us. Treasury and Customs quickly hid the waiver and hid it in their “Secret Files”. We fought for a year to get the promised exemptions and only after tape recording the direct demands for bribes from high officials in the Treasury did we even find out about the “Secret File”. The Treasury attempted direct extortion from our manager and he recorded it and gave the copy to the highest law enforcement agency in the land but the culprits scoff at us with impunity. Government officials asked us to just forget the whole thing and pretend it did not happen. That was two years ago and nobody has been prosecuted to date. In every facet of Nigerian society money does all of the talking, corruption reigns supreme, and nothing moves without dirty money to grease the way.

The land leased to us was and now still is partially occupied by Upper Benue. They have no lease nor is it in their mandate to occupy land, only to control the rivers. A broken down water treatment plant and many unoccupied homes and buildings came with the project. These were all master planned to be immediately converted into a training school with dorms, classrooms, and sports fields, but as we arrived Upper Benue changed their minds and refused to leave. Pleas to the Government brought little relief and finally they recommended we just build new facilities, but we had not budgeted for this. The State and Federal money promised for financing the project were just not there so finally TY Danjuma, a very influential and wealthy person from Taraba State came along and requested to be part of the project. The Danjuma Foundation committed to constructing a new school and that sealed the deal. Dominion partnered with TY.

As our equipment arrived at the ports, bribes were demanded. The clearing agents added “extras” to our billings and when we demanded to know what these were there was no response. We would not be part of their corruption. We eventually changed clearing agents and it helped for a while but it always came back to a hold-up about something. New rules were put into place as we attempted to bring in 120 shipments of supposedly exempt tractors, rice mills, and the like. The agents ignored the President’s directive. The Minister of Agriculture tried to intervene many times but to little or no avail. In the end we paid massive amounts of duty not budgeted for, but NOT ONE BRIBE! Delays added up so much demurrage that finally it was necessary to quit the fight.

We have totally experienced Nigeria. I have been extorted, arrested, detained, lied to, and about anything else one can imagine. We have held to our convictions, not paid bribes, obeyed the law, and kept our dignity, with our frustration levels continuing to rise on every occasion.

Nonetheless, we have plodded on through years of delays, because we will not compromise our standards. It has cost us dearly in both interest and in valuable time. We have battled to import around 120 loads of equipment. Virtually everything is finally there for the making of a fantastic farm but it is years late in getting there. Every shipment was a struggle and a shakedown.

We began construction on the site including flood protection dikes, 12 small homes, a maintenance building and the beginnings of a rice mill. We started clearing lands and our relations with the community were good. Upper Benue still occupied the buildings but they had left the land. We were finally about ready to plant crops at the end of 2013 with the State of Taraba promising to pay compensation as was their contracted duty to do when things suddenly changed.

Shortly after we arrived in Taraba, the then Governor Danbaba Suntai made a serious mistake when he ordered the pilots off his plane and decided he would fly it himself. Of course he crashed and nearly killed himself and others on board. First they said he was dead but somehow revived him again but the time with no oxygen left him with serious mental problems. We now had an acting governor, Umar that was trying to fulfil his role but TY did not respect his position. The fight ensued and our road building stopped, the compensation from the state did not get paid and we sat still again. A cabal was formed to try and place the ailing governor back into his office. This was supported by my partner TY so here Dominion sat in the middle of a political war. Then the bomb dropped! An old consultant to Governor Suntai and some of his aids decided they needed to be back in control so they came to TY and fabricated a story of how Upper Benue and Dominion were having extreme difficulties and that the Federal Government had to pay the compensation. They took this to TY who evidently summoned the President to his house and passed on the fabricated story.

Mr. President called the Minister of Water on the carpet. The Minister then called Upper Benue, and Upper Benue got mad. They felt Dominion had double crossed them, and now our good spirit of co-operation was gone and they decided to occupy the land. The State got involved along with the Minister of Agriculture and State legal counsel. In effect we have no land to occupy so no farming has been done and none will be. Two sections of Government lay claim to the land we were allocated and the battle goes on. The President gave a directive through the Minister of Water that Upper Benue vacate the premises completely and let Dominion operate unhindered. It is yet to be complied with ten (10) months after the order was issued! This was our main condition for opting to resume work rather than walk away from the project.

Boko Haram is a subject of its own. This group wants an Islamic State with no education for women, and only Islamic studies for men. They kill thousands and the government can seemingly do little or nothing to intervene. They kidnap hundreds of young girls at one time and the army can’t find them. Kidnapping of foreign nationals is part of how they finance their operations, and many expats just end up dead. Boko Haram has formed a caliphate like ISIS in Iraq and is already capturing multiple cities in Northern Nigeria. In Taraba State the Muslim Fulani tribe of nomadic people has taken up a war with the TIV and Jukun tribes of Christian and Animist people.

These groups kill each other weekly and between them all, thousands have been killed or driven from their homes. Their domain is moving closer to us. It used to be three hundred kilometers away from us, then two hundred, and now it is just next door.

Meanwhile, Dominion has six policemen protecting the equipment on what is supposedly our land which is occupied by everyone but us. Around 1,000 hectares were cleared in March of 2014, by Dominion in readiness for planting by Dominion. Instead Upper Benue, in conjunction with the local community, moved in and planted their crops! There seems be no let up as everyone is ready to go back to the same land in the next cropping season!

Dominion is caught with no way forward. I now must have heavily armed police protection with me for safety at all times and this is no way to run an operation. Our operations manager and his family have been moved away from the location for their own protection.

The final blow came with an article by the Times of London. It is obvious they put a lot of work into this story in order to make Dominion a villain of some sort. Dominion has been accused of taking land, displacing people, and using dangerous chemicals, when in fact not one of the accusations is remotely true. Dominion was not aware of the presence of the reporters even though the journalist had to pass right in front of our offices and operational area at the farm site with Upper Benue and the locals the day they visited the site. No one deemed it fit to hear or ask side of the story, nor were we given adequate time to respond to the many allegations outlined in the article. The images in the article are a true representation of the lack of current farming activity with not a single home on the ground. This appropriately describes how we have not occupied anything or displaced anyone. As for journalism this is nothing more than a smear campaign on the Nigerian Government and upon Dominion Rice and Integrated Farms.

Nigeria is in a crisis. In reality it is much easier for an investor to leave Nigeria than to come and invest in such a stressful climate. Environmental Rights Action (ERA) / Friends of the Earth Nigeria (FOEN) and Center of Environment Education and Development (CEED) all boast of your decision to support the communities affected by Dominion. It is now your obligation to do so. The people of Nigeria need massive support and huge investments. These precious people lack desperately for every need of life. What will you do for them when their children are hungry, and there is nobody to turn to? Please take up the challenge and invest the billions of Naira necessary to change these lives. Dominion will no longer be in your way.

Calvin Burgess, Chairman Dominion Rice and Integrated Farms Ltd. First published this piece in February 2015 with the title: “Beautiful country! (NOT) Doing Business in Nigeria”.

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Opinion

Hate Bill Against Free Speech, By Oluwole Michael

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

—from Strength to Love, 1963

When the news broke that Members of the Parliament in Nigeria are busy working on the enactment of an act that will punitively deal with hate speech offenders with capital punishment. Although it is not a surprise to me that such move is being made by the Nigeria’s lawmaker at this crucial time the country is approaching year of general election. It appears the law is geared towards protecting the interest of the highly vindictive political class.

Much have been experienced recently about human right abuse by those holding forth in political offices. There has been several records of press gagging, muzzling and outright intimidation. The same thing goes for other civilians too, who are always deprived access to justice. Attempt had been made in the past by Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah to silence social media advocacy against public office holders. He made the attempt by sponsoring a bill against usage of social media to checkmate the use of social media and Short Message Service (SMS) in the country. The bill was eventually thrown out on the ground that it has so many obnoxious content and duplication of positions that had already been taken care of in previous enactment.

What the bill is impliedly meant to achieve is outright gagging of the press. Individuals who have become a personae figure in calling public officials out will be at the risk of constitutional violation anytime they exercise their right to free speech. This, to me is a return to draconian rule by surrogacy. The military would have been in the perfect mould of advancing such law through decree, but that is not the case with the 8th National Assembly.

Those in the National Assembly should bear it in mind that they will later in life find themselves on the other side of the divide, whereby they will have to challenge dictatorship. The aura of office being latched on to propose anti people laws will not be forever.

To Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi of Niger State, the bill you have sponsored is another testament of the value someone of your ilk place on human life. Recommending death by hanging as capital punishment for offenders is a way too rough to go by someone that should be working in the capacity of the office you are privileged to occupy transiently. What Nigeria need now is good leadership from people like you so that narrations in the public discourse will change from perceived hate speech to love speech.

If it is hate speech to checkmate excesses of people holding forth for the electorate, then we must ask again if truly we are practising democracy. The unbridled rush to tag any speech not in favour in the ruling class as hate must be jettisoned. Live and let all the vulnerable Nigerians live!

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