Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1967 assertion that the moral arc of the universe is long, but bends toward justice may be his most well-known quote about the nature of time.
Drawing on the words of nineteenth-century Massachusetts abolitionist Theodore Parker, King’s phrase moved President Barack Obama so much that he had it woven into a rug in the Oval Office. In his emotional victory speech after defeating Republican opponent Roy Moore, Doug Jones invoked King’s dictum while telling his supporters they had “helped bend” the arc during his senatorial campaign.
Yet as uplifting as the quote may be, it is not the most useful guide during the Trump presidency. Instead, we should heed words King had written more than four years earlier on scraps of paper while inside a Birmingham jail cell.
King was answering “A Call for Unity,” an open letter written by eight white clergymen who made a thinly veiled reference to him while criticizing outsiders. Citing improvements in the city’s racial climate since the beginning of the year, these religious leaders called the demonstrations being led by King, longtime colleague Ralph Abernathy and legendary Birmingham minister and community organizer Fred Shuttlesworth “unwise and untimely.”
“We do not believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified in Birmingham,” they wrote.
King took direct aim in his letter at the notion that time’s passage inevitably heals all ills. “Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively,” he wrote. “More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will.”
He penned these words at a difficult point for him and the movement.
Along with Abernathy and Shuttlesworth, he had been roughly arrested on Good Friday shortly after the campaign’s start, one of 29 times he was put in jail. This meant he was again away from his wife Coretta, who had recently given birth to their fourth child.
Living every day under the threat of death from the time community leaders tapped him to assume the mantle of leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 had exacted a toll on King, too. (When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated later that year, King told his wife in an eerily accurate prediction that he would not live to see his fortieth birthday.)
Birmingham’s decisive moment did not occur until early May, after movement leaders heeded James Bevel’s call to have black youth put their bodies in the way of Bull Connor’s fire hoses, batons and police dogs. The children’s bravery produced iconic images that led to worldwide condemnation. Their work also played a pivotal role in Birmingham’s leaders agreeing on May 10 to desegregate the city’s businesses and to establish a biracial committee to improve employment opportunities for Birmingham’s black community. These young people demonstrated that King was correct when he wrote in his letter to the clergymen that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability, but rather comes through the “tireless efforts” of people willing to struggle for justice.
King’s words echo across the decades as we stand on the cusp of the second full year of the Trump presidency. Now 89 years old had he lived, King undoubtedly would have opposed Trump’s racially-tinged rhetoric and policies like the tax reform bill that blatantly favors our wealthiest citizens. Perhaps even more fervently, though, King would have spoken out against Trump’s dual assault on truth and our country’s democratic fabric because they were such fundamental elements of his life and work. He repeatedly invoked William Cullen Bryant’s statement that “Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again.” And from his very first speech in Montgomery in December 1955, just days after Rosa Parks’ arrest, to his final address the night before he was killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968, King declared his bone-deep love for democracy and his belief that the transformation of “thin paper to thick action is the greatest form of government on earth.”
So as we pause to reflect the life of the King who gave his life fighting peacefully to have our nation be true to the lofty ideals enshrined in our founding documents, we should read his inspiring dream and his declaration of moral arcs bending inexorably toward a more just universe. But we should also remember, and be guided by, the sobering words he wrote in jail about time’s neutrality and the need to use it constructively, as well as by the courage and ceaseless effort exhibited by the Birmingham youth who joined him in the struggle to dismantle American apartheid more than a half century ago.
Jeff Kelly Lowenstein, a disciple of Afrobeat philosopher, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, is an Assistant Professor at Grand Valley State University. He wrote in for Satellite Times from Michigan, USA.
2019 Nigerian General Elections: The Working poor and their Politicians
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).
T.Y Danjuma, Dominion Farms and the Secret Files
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”.
Hate Bill Against Free Speech, By Oluwole Michael
“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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