Monday, July 20, 2009

Onoh :The phenomenon takes eternal bow

By T. A. Orji, Vanguard Newspapers
ON Thursday July 2, 2009, a mammoth crowd of sympathisers and mourners gathered at the Enugu State Government House South East of Nigeria, to pay their last respects to the sage, Chief Christian Chukwuma Onoh, during his funeral.

The presence of prominent Nigerians who took turns to pay tribute to the late Onoh bore eloquent testimony that while alive, his clout transcended even beyond imaginable frontiers.

In posit of fact the speakers were in agreement that Aninefungwu Okaa Omee as he was also known represented different personalities to different people. Therefore, each speaker described the Onoh that he knew, of course, based on close interactions at different times and space.

His first son Mr Gabriel Onoh while giving a vote of thanks pointedly remarked that his father was mercurial. In other words, he was endowed with mood swing.

However, the important message of his character is that he was a humanist personified. If you ever had a close encounter with Onoh whom I would be elated to describe as an Oracle of politics of our generation, he would have left you with unending refreshing memories when reflecting on him now, even as he joined his ancestors. With a deep feeling of nostalgia, I will state here my own interesting experiences.

There were two striking instances of my close interactions with the Oracle. The first was as an Administrative Secretary of the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC); I was on transfer in Enugu in 1999.

And during the general election in that year, the old political rivalry between Onoh and Dr Jim Nwobodo( two political gladiators in Enugu), was not only rekindled but was also fierce.

On learning that I am an indigene of Umuahia, Onoh visited my office. The reason as I understood later was, the wife of his opponent, that is Nwobodo’s wife is an Umuahian as myself.

So , he thought I would be compromised, but in the course of our discussion he found out that I am a decent Nigerian, and his confidence in the election processes increased instantly; he thanked me and left my office.

The second was when I was elected as Executive Governor of Abia State in 2007. He came to my office (here in Umuahia), congratulated me and said to me : Be courageous and champion the cause of Ndi-Igbo.

From these two remarkable meetings it was not difficult for me to arrive at the conclusion that he was a patriotic Nigerian, fearless and straightforward .

A belief, which I am pushing to those who didn’t have an opportunity of meeting him, one on one.

To him, anybody found to be connected with ensuring that Ndi Igbo do not lose their position as a major ethnic group in Nigeria, deserved to be supported.

His desire was for Ndi-Igbo to take political leadership position in Nigeria as other major ethnic groups have been doing. It is in view of this that he became a fearless and forceful campaigner of restoration of Igbo dignity.

And he was the engine room of the struggle for greater recognition for the Igbo man(and woman) any where he lives in Nigeria. Therefore, against this backdrop, Oracle was quick to take a swipe at anybody or groups who worked against the Igbo man getting his fair share in the Nigeria entity.

Because to him, this is a major struggle and he became a one man formidable force to deal with it as he deployed personal resources, time and intellectual works to confront even institutions that are anti-Igbo progress.

He was also known as an uncompromising politician who stood firm on any course he believed in and followed it to its logical conclusion no matter who was involved. A vivid example is the annulment of the June12, 1993 presidential election.

Onoh was consistent in his call for its revalidation. While alive Okaa Omee was an icon that could not be ignored and in death I have no doubts that he would be a greater icon. To his Wawa people, Onoh was an irredentist bent on putting the community on the nation’s map.

He did not hide the fact that was his root; he lived all his political life in Ngwo, his rural home town, in Enugu state. He lived among his people, lived for them and fought for them.

Although he was born into opulence, he lived a simple life such that the ordinary man had access to him. He inherited wealth from his father, but he was humble and driven by a genuine compassion that he affected people of diverse backgrounds positively with his wealth.

Many people would remember him as a kind and unique landlord. He was peculiarly cerebral; notwithstanding this, he had a curious mind wanting to learn more about everything even at old age.

He loved and enjoyed quality life, but that didn’t distance him from the less-privileged, as he mixed up well with the highly and lowly placed in the society. And he brought his experiences to bear on his perception of human beings, politics and leadership.

In the same token, his experience became useful when he had to lobby for creation of additional states for the South East. With his indefatigable zeal along with other Igbo patriots the South East zone now has five states. He was a man of faith in himself and his course, ever determined to push beyond the barriers to attain his goals.

Not many knew that Onoh was a contemporary of Pa Anthony Enahoro. But it is true that both men were the vocal voices in the Federal House of Representatives in 1958. He was the unmistakable charismatic politician others were queuing to drink from his fountain of wisdom.

He was a lawyer of note who yearned for justice and equality, but many know him as a politician. Oracle, in your grave as you were interred six feet into the womb of mother earth, I know that you will sustain the struggles for all that you fought and stood for such as equal rights, justice, fair play and socio economic and political non marginalisation.

I can assure you that on behalf of your esteemed admirers and associates, we will continue the struggles from where you stopped until the battle is won. Indeed, Nigeria and the Igbo nation have lost one of the highly rated statesmen and nationalists through your demise.

However, we take solace in the enduring legacies and works you left behind, which is why I posit we should not mourn your death, but rather celebrate you. And a good way of doing this is to ensure that the light which you lit does not dim.

Chief Orji is the Governor of Abia State.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

13 Years After, Intrigues Trail Wards Delimitation In Enugu State

Since 1996 when the military administration of General Sani Abacha, through the National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECON) conducted a delimitation of constituency that pushed the number of electoral wards in Igbo-Etiti Local Council in Enugu State downwards form 20 to 11, the ward structure of the council has remained altered despite the 1998 resolution of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which was ratified by the Federal Government that local councils that were not affected in the 1996 local council creation exercise should revert to its old structure prior to the exercise, and also a court ruling to that effect.

By Onyedika Agbedo, Guardian Newspapers

Eleven years after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) passed a resolution that local councils that were not affected in the 1996 local council creation by the military administration of late General Sani Abacha should revert to the its old structure, the Enugu State Independent Electoral Commission (ENSIEC) is yet to comply with the directive in Igbo-Etiti Local Council of the state. Rather, what obtains in the council, according to a group of nine communities, which feels marginalised in the present structure, "is a bastardly arbitrary arrangement imposed on the people in place of the pre-1996 status quo."

Created in 1976 through the local council reforms, the council was made up 20 federal constitutionally recognised electoral wards. However, in 1996, the Abacha administration delimited the wards to 11 in order to curtail administrative expenses. But following petitions condemning the exercise by various communities to INEC, the commission in 1998 decided to revert to the status quo in the petitioning councils and directed the States Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC) in the affected states to effect same.

In a letter to the Chief of General Staff dated October 14, 1998 and signed by the commission's secretary, Alhaji A. B. Mu'azu conveying the decision, which was made available to The Guardian, the commission noted that not doing otherwise would threaten the transition programme of the government.

"After the inauguration of INEC, no sooner had members settled down to work than they became inundated with deluge of petitions and physical representations condemning the delimitation carried out by NECON with particular reference to ward delimitation. The petitioners claimed that their wards were merged and even threatened to boycott electoral activities if nothing was done. The commission having been given the power under the decree establishing it to undertake such assignment, felt obliged to examine the complaints.

"After examining the over 500 petitions received nationwide, the commission found sufficient reason to review the ward delimitation of the defunct NECON so as to de-merge the numerous wards. Accordingly, the following criteria were used in the review exercise: Local councils not affected in the 1996 local council creation were to revert to the number of wards they had prior to the exercise; in the case of council areas that were split, the parent local council area were to retain the number of wards remaining after the split provided that the number of wards were up to 10 or more. Where they were less than 10, they should be made up to 10; all new council areas created in 1996 were to be left as delimited by NECON," the letter said.

But in a petition to INEC chairman, dated December 3, 2000 and titled 'Discrimination and naked injustice in the distribution of the 20 political wards in Igbo-Etiti local council area: A case of brazen marginalisation and disenfranchisement,' leaders of the nine allegedly marginalised communities (Diogbe, Idoha, Ikolo, Ochima, Ohebe-Dim, Onyohor, Udueme, Umuna and Umunko) claimed that the INEC directive was complied with in all the affected local councils in Enugu State (Ezeagu, Udi, Nsukka, Oji-River and Uzo-Uwani) except in Igbo-Etiti.

They alleged: "In Igbo-Etiti Local Council, a bastardly arbitrary arrangement was imposed on the people in place of the pre-1996 status quo. On enquiry, we were told with bravado that the arrangement was 'from above'. We protested against the 'arrangement from above' in a letter dated October 10, 1998 to INEC, a copy of which was delivered personally to the then INEC chairman, late Justice Akpata who was then on tour of the Eastern states. He promised to redirect the authorities in the state to redress the discrimination. In the contrary, the authorities hung on to the arrangement 'from above' to this day.

They added: " The present arrangement imposed on the local council is a brazen display of injustice, insensitivity and bravado reminding one of the military era. A situation where five towns share 16 wards leaving only 4 wards for nine towns in total disregard of the INEC directive is tantamount to gross marginalisation and disenfranchisement."

The leaders alleged that the towns had never in the history of the council produced any political appointee at the state or federal level while their only stint at the chairmanship seat of the council was during the Babangida regime when the seat was conceded to the zone, a gesture that lasted for just one year before the military removed them from office. They, therefore, noted that the only channel or opportunity by which the impact of the government can be felt by the communities was the political wards.

"The councilor remains the only government access to the grassroots. The ward, therefore, remains the only government unit for democracy dividends to the people. An autonomous community denied of this is as bad as not politically existing. This last card of the affected communities has been robbed of them in broad daylight with an air of bravado in a democratic era, where the rule of law should hold supreme," they noted.

The Guardian gathered that the communities after failing to arrive at a political solution to the issue through petitions and intensive lobby proceeded to the Federal High Court, Enugu seeking an order of the court that would declare the existing wards structure in the council illegal and order the ENSIEC to implement the INEC directive in toto. The court, in its ruling on June 19, 2003, granted the prayers of the plaintiffs and consequently ordered the ENSIEC to revert to the pre-1996 ward structure in the council as not doing so would amount to a breach of their constitutional rights. However, ENSIEC has allegedly despite the court ruling continued to conduct elections into the council using the 'illegal' wards.

Nevertheless, the communities have continued to cry out for justice. In an appeal letter to the state governor, Mr. Sullivan Chime dated March 3, 2009 signed by Agbo John, D.N. Aro, C. Eze, F.O. Omeje, J.U. Ugbor, S. Ugwuanyi and M.E. Ukpazi, L. Ugwu, J. Ezeugwu and D. U. Okegbe, the communities said the action of ENSIEC amounts to a clear disrespect of the rule of law and urged the governor, who was the attorney general of the state when the judgment was delivered in 2003 to prevail on ENSIEC to implement the court order.

They said: "As this act was seen as clear disrespect to rule of law, we had no option than to take the matter to our legal counsel who approached the Federal High Court, Enugu and ENSIEC chairman was charged with committal to prison.

"This action attracted the attention of the then attorney general of the state who presented himself on March 24, 2004 and appealed to the Court to step the matter aside, promising that the order of the court would be obeyed. On this promise, our counsel, Chief Enechi Onyia (SAN) agreed to drop the committal charge since the attorney general, on behalf of ENSIEC accepted to implement the order of the court.

"But on March 27, 2004, the same ENSIEC went ahead and conducted the election with illegal wards in Igbo-Etiti Local Council. Igbo-Itolu (the nine communities) mistook the action to be that it was done in view of the fact that there was not enough time for the commission to re-arrange the wards and restore it to the rightful owners before the election as only three days interval was left between the date the agreement was reached and the date of the election. We endured the injury and consoled ourselves that it would be corrected at least by the next election.

They continued: "As the time of 2007 local council election approached, we wrote several letters to the chairman of the ENSIEC and the Attorney general of the state reminding them of the order and the agreement made before the Federal High Court and equally made personal contact with the ENSIEC chairman on November 7, 2007. The ENSIEC Chairman, Chief A. Nwobodo promised verbally to carry out the court order as enough materials were provided to him to define and incorporate our concerns as was directed by the court.

"When we noticed that ENSIEC was determined to disobey the order of the Federal High Court for the second time, we allowed our counsel to move in and a committal charge was arraigned against Nwobodo. At our utmost surprise, the attorney general of the state came up with an application asking the same court to set aside the ruling of June 19, 2003, which he had already made an undertaking to carry out. The ground of the application was that the court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the matter despite the fact that the issue was raised ab initio and the court assumed jurisdiction on March 31, 2003.

They added: "As court proceedings were going on this application, the chairman of ENSIEC went ahead for the second time and conducted the local council election of December 15, 2007 without regard to the authority of the Federal High Court. On February 17, 2009, a ruling was made on the application and it was described by the presiding judge as not only an abuse of the court process but was also brought in bad faith."

The leaders noted that while they condemn anarchy, they were constantly losing grip of their subjects who were beginning to see them as saboteurs for reining them in. However, "we are convinced that as your government is determined to put smiles on the faces of Enugu state indigenes, our own will not be an exception. It is our firm belief that your government cannot subscribe or surrender to accept and hold or make use of a relay baton of oppression race to the people it owes a duty of care. We sincerely and honestly implore you to join us in asking ENSIEC to obey the rule of law and return our Federal Electoral constitutionally recognised wards as was directed by the Federal Government in 1998 and ratified by the Federal High Court on June 19, 2003," the leaders appealed.

African Farm Nears Completion

Dr. Nwachukwu Anakwenze, center, of Nigeria who practices medicine in Los Angeles says he enjoys the farm exhibits at the Frontier Culture Museum because it shows the commonalities in humanity through farming around the world. (Pat Jarrett/The News Leader)

Udodirim Mbanaso, 3, of Maryland stares at a spoonful of African food during the ceremony at the Frontier Culture Museum on Friday. As work continued on the West African Farm on Friday, the Frontier Culture Museum hosted a closing ceremony with traditional African food and guests from around the world. (Pat Jarrett/The News Leader)

STAUNTON — "Anyone that has stood in the mud, please stand up to be recognized," Jak Njoku, asked. Most of the nearly 100 people in the outdoor pavilion at the Frontier Culture Museum stood.

This is the cleanest I have looked in four years," said Njoku, as the audience laughed.

Njoku, a consultant on the longtime project of constructing the first authentic Igbo village in the country later said he couldn't find the words to describe how he was feeling.

"Oh, wow. Just, oh wow," he said, as he sat at the symbolic closing ceremony of the project conducted Friday afternoon. Although the project is not completed, dozens of volunteers, officials and museum board members gathered to celebrate the project, including Chudi Okafar, Consul General of the Consulate of Nigeria. "There is nothing I can say that will come close. Everything will be an approximation. Profoundly, profoundly satisfied. Abundantly satisfied. And that's an approximation."

The dozen or so teens, mostly football players from Robert E. Lee and Fort Defiance high schools, were among those who attended the ceremony. They were summer employees of the Frontier Culture Museum.

They spent the summer helping to construct an Igbo village replicating the Western African culture, standing barefoot in a puddles of mud in the blazing heat, stomping to create the perfect consistency. They made hundreds of clay loaves to be used to build a traditional man's home, called an obi, and houses for his two wives.

"We did not approach them to do this," said Kanayo K. Odeluga, national coordinator for Igbo volunteers. "The museum conceived this because they valued the contribution we made to frontier culture.

An Education
Odeluga traveled from Chicago with his wife and two children a week ago to work on the project. Odeluga puddled the mud, his wife single-handedly rubbed all the interior walls to smooth them and his children carried bricks.

"Our ancestors didn't just do menial jobs," Odeluga said, of the exhibit's significance. "That gratifies us. It makes us feel at home even after our migration from Africa. We are very humbled by this."

Elizabeth Bunin, a fifth grade language teacher in Charlottesville, said she attended a weeklong course on the Igbo at the museum because it lined up with her curriculum at school.

"You kind of get the basics. The bare bones, because it is not in the text books" said Bunin, who was wearing a long, bright yellow and black traditional Igbo dress. "You have to go do the research yourself. We've been seeing it, eating it, watching it. It's been totally experiential. Now, I can take my students to the next level."

A.J. Scott and Bryce Goodwin, both 17, who have been working on the project all summer, doing heavy, manual labor for minimum wage said they were relieved they would be done working on the project in three weeks.

"It feels great," A.J. said. "It relieves some stress."

"Relieved," Bryce agreed, shaking his head. "I'm ready to go back to school."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Lost Years

By Obi Nwakanma, Vanguard Newspapers

ON May 29, some Nigerians, particularly those who currently describe themselves as partisans of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, celebrated what they now call “Democracy Day.”

Yet, this day has no democratic symbolism for anybody else who is conscious, and who is an honest follower of Nigerian history and politics.

For one, May 29 was the day in 1966, when waves of premeditated killing began in the North of Nigeria targeting the Igbo, leading to the first phase of the pogroms in the north, which in turn snow-balled into the full scale event that was the Nigerian civil war.

It was also on May 29 that Jacob “Yakubu” Gowon made his moves signalling events that would lead to the final destruction of the old federation, the foundations of which were painstakingly negotiated by the nationalist politicians as a federal union, following his unilateral acts creating the 12 states with neither plebisctory nor parliamentary authority.

That act today is at the roots of Nigeria’s unhealable wound of history - its fragmentation. So for most Igbo, that day - May 29 - belongs on the register of infamy and is never celebrated. But it was typical Olusegun Obasanjo chutzpah to stick it, warts and all, to the Igbo, and to typically make a profound and dramatic point of it. So he chose to found his own second messianic regime on a date that carries such hurtful symbolism for them, as indeed for many other Nigerians, and to name such a day “democracy day.”

It was an act, epic in its wide presumptions. Olusegun Obasanjo was embarking upon a thoroughly revisionist project whose intention was neither renewal nor rejuvenation of nation, but of a will to claim new fronts of conquest: a Nigeria shaped in the image of the man who seriously thought himself the Maximus Pontifex of modern Nigeria. So, May 29 became from then - that day of his second inaugural - “democracy day” although nothing about it smells nor hints of democracy.

Indeed, it was quite ironic that Obasanjo’s mandate came with so little by way of democracy. A transfer of power had been made through a cabalistic process, by which Obasanjo became, a Greek gift from the ancien regime of disgraced military oligarchs seeking an easy way out of a historic quandary.

They found in him an old trusted ally to make their escape free of sanction.
They imposed their final will on Nigerians and gave us, through a flawed process, an old dinosaur waking from the slumber of his caged sleep to become Nigeria’s president in a millennium that demands new ways and new ideas of people; but especially of Nigeria which was in urgent need of new beginnings.

That is another story. But it does mark an important point of departure in my view, to examine the nature of the “democracy” we inherited, and which we currently practice, in order to see how clearly odd is the term “democracy day,” and how challenging these last ten years of “democratic” transition have been.

I should in fact say without equivocation that Nigeria is incapable of creating a democratic order in its current situation and at this stage of its historical formation. To be plain, Nigeria is not a democracy. It is some kind of hybrid monstrosity between a feudal society and a colonial order sustained by a thoroughly martial mindset or culture.

Three questions ought to clarify these claims: first, are Nigerians participants in this democracy; secondly are the oversight institutions of democracy functional, and above all, is the Nigerian state an organic entity that reproduces the values constant with the values of democracy?

I base my claims from the basic enlightenment perspective that situates man at the epicenter of the will of nations. I’m afraid that Nigeria does not reflect the values that conduce to the provisos of democracy, chief of which is the very fact of the autonomy of the self as a fully conscious and objective being capable of acting in total self interest.

The political rhetoric should inform us: Nigerian politicians are “rulers” not “leaders.” They are accountable not to the people but to their “godfathers” and have scant need for the their constituents beyond the symbolic moment. The last ten years have been lost years.

In that period Nigeria should have strengthened its civic capacity to create true democratic values. But it is clear that it is not in the interest of the current “stake holders” on the Nigerian colonial state to free the national space for democracy.

They will not without a fight. In 1998, when the military wing of the Nigerian ruling class was about to be forced out of power by a concert of factors which had confluenced with the June elections in 1993, they quickly created a diversionary crisis, sacrificed a number of their allies among whom ironically indeed was Bashorun MKO Abiola, a complex man who had been an arch supporter of every military regime and whose fingers were in every corrupt pie in Nigeria prior to June 12. Moshood Abiola became the standard bearer of the democracy movement in Nigeria by default.

He was basically hijacked and martyred to provide cause for the coalition that had formed against the military oligarchy, and the election of June 12 had become, in spite of itself, the rallying principle by which Nigerians gathered to challenge the military oligarchy.

But not long after, the key figures of the oligarchy regrouped and were once again recycled into the new order with Obasanjo.

Many of them emerged as ministers, party chieftains, parliamentarians, and key factors of politics in the last ten years. Former opponents of democracy became champions of democracy over night.

They used their substantial investments in power to muscle through the rather feeble democracy movement, whose leaders kept quibbling at the crucial moments until the nation was hijacked from them, and the initiative was taken from them.

The fact is that the last ten years has been characterised by a most disturbing truth: Nigeria’s political space was hijacked by a shrewd and ambitious group of men and women, who have very little democratic credentials, whose preparation for civic leadership is scant and possibly even non-existent, and many who in normal societies belong to maximum security prisons found themselves by default in state houses, and as ministers of government and lawmakers.

These men and women have sustained themselves by using means of terror rather than of discourse and dialogue.

We have witnessed political assassinations and chicanery of the worst kind in Nigeria; we have seen governors operating the accounts of states as though they were running their domestic grocery accounts; we have seen the collapse, perhaps because their foundations have been fundamentally weak, of the structures of bureaucratic governance of states in a proportion that compels us to ask the question: how can democracy exist without the kind of apparatus of oversight necessary for the internal regulation of state?

Among the most glaring issues of the past ten years have been the sanctity of elections: election is the sacred point of democracy.

But in Nigeria the institution that conducts elections is so centralized and the president of the electoral body so powerful that he or she can decree who wins or loses an election irrespective of the mandate of the people.

The last show of shame in Ekiti testifies to the anomaly of democracy in Nigeria and to the urgent need for the peoples of Nigeria to begin to ask questions, read the minutes of the last meetings, and above all, form compelling coalitions to restore the integrity of the electoral and democratic process.

Among the more important questions that must be asked should also be that question about the structure of the Nigerian state. That is the national question.

That we have postponed this question to this moment is a futile delay tactic, but it also signals the loss of these past ten years because it is a question that must be asked before we begin to practice democracy. And that question? What is Nigeria to me?

Igbo descendants help build replica slave huts

By Tony Gonzalez, News Virginian

STAUNTON, Va. - There might be about 5 million Igbo people in the United States--and 40 million worldwide--but "people don't know us," says Stan Ogbonna, who grew up in an Igbo state in southeastern Nigeria.

That could soon change as Ogbonna and dozens of Igbos arrive at the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, where they're taking turns smacking and patting mud to build traditional houses. The huts will depict Igbo life in Nigeria, the source of thousands of early Virginian slaves.

On a recent weekend, at the receiving end of a line of volunteers passing egg-shaped masses of clay, Ogbonna had the honor of slamming each into place as the foundation of a third mud house took shape.

"This is awesome that somebody realizes that we have something that should be recognized," he said.

Months in the making, the Igbo (EE'-bo) village has gathered steam with an infusion of local volunteers and people of Igbo descent. The walls of two mud houses are rising and educational events are planned throughout the summer, said museum executive director John Avoli.

"What's been missing for us is the African contribution," Avoli said.

Museum leaders chose the Igbo people to represent the African contribution to the American frontier after months of research, including the review of slave-ship records and consultation with experts, he said. About 30,000 Igbos were brought to Virginia as slaves between 1716 and 1755, making up almost 40 percent of slaves in the state.

The village is the first of its kind in the United States, said J. Akuma-Kala Njoku, professor of folklore and anthropology at Western Kentucky University. Njoku is keeping Igbos informed about the project through online communities.

One such group, from the Washington D.C.-area, traveled to the museum Saturday to put in a day's work.

The volunteers worked in shifts, sifting sand and clay to remove rocks, mixing the materials with water, and stomping them into a moldable consistency.

"You dance in it," said Mark Onwuka, head of a D.C.-based Igbo group.

"You know, we're moonwalking in it," laughed friend Boniface Ezeosim.

Then group members passed the clay toward the foundation, where it was slammed into place. Over time, the group will add levels of clay, waiting days for drying. Ultimately, a thatched palm roof will cover the house.

"We want to make sure we impart our culture to our children," said Onwuka, whose parents lived in mud houses in Nigeria.

Ogbonna grew up in one in the 1940s.

"I learned by experience the art of Igbo architecture," he said.

The mud makes for a cool home in tropical Nigeria. Drawbacks include lack of restrooms and easy access for everything that creeps, volunteers said.

Igbos from Chicago are scheduled to work on the houses beginning Wednesday, and Njoku said he expects volunteers from as far as California. Avoli said volunteers from Nigeria hope to join the project as well.

By project's end, the Igbo village will include four houses, a perimeter wall, a traditional garden of yams and livestock including pygmy goats, chickens and guinea fowl.

How Anglo-French Colonial Rivalry Fuelled Smuggling

Business Day 07-07-09

The incidence of what in modern parlance is regarded as smuggling, in Nigeria can be traced back to the second half of nineteenth century following the annexation of kingdoms, royalties and territories in West Africa by the British and the French. The consequent establishment of different economic zones by these colonising powers and the imperial rivalry between them fuelled by conflicting heritage and values and the prevalent protectionism of that era certainly created a favourable economic climate for the illicit movement of goods across Anglo–French territories, especially between the Nigerian territory and that of once ancient Dahomey, now Benin Republic.

Following the annexation of Lagos by the British in 1862, Freeman, the then governor of Lagos, set up the first customs post which was to ensure that a two per cent duty was collected on goods imported or exported through Badagry. It is remarkable that both the local and foreign traders began to resist these custom duties which were seen as extra burden and sought ways to avoid its payment. On the part of the local trading population, their resistance to duty payment may have been informed by the fact that the making of international boundaries caused a split of communities and cultural entities between the British and the French. The different tariff regimes that this split communities were made to belong irked their sensibilities, as what was previously local short distance trade between their communities thus became international trade subject to customs control.

Commenting on this partition and its impact on the political economy of the West African sub-region, A.I. Asiwaju, a border historian notes that the tradition of rivalry between France and Britain which in the first instance, compelled the partition of… regions at the turn of the nineteenth century… laid the foundation of two contrasting colonial administrations… and led to the implantation of rival economies featuring different markets…”

At the period when a uniform 2 per cent duty was paid on both exported and imported goods in the Lagos-Badagry corridor, the duty on French goods was as high as 10 per cent This was in consonance with the protectionist policies of the British and French which bordered on the need to create overseas markets for their burgeoning home industries. The colonies were perceived as captive markets which should not be open to competitors. It is interesting that such protectionist posture still informs the trade policy of not only advanced economies of today but also the developing ones.

It is apparent that in the event of such customs requirements, the trading community became challenged and smuggling became an option. The incidence of smuggling in the 1860s became phenomenal as “large quantities of spirits and other forms of French wine continued to find their way into Badagry through Porto Novo” Smuggling of goods was at this period as even done today through boats and canoes in the night period. They plied routes that made them avoid the prying eyes of law enforcement agents.
As early as 1864, the colonial administration in Lagos promulgated an ordinance that prohibited smuggling. However, this law did not stop smuggling or discourage smugglers. The setting up of revenue courts that tried smugglers was one way the colonial government addressed the case of smuggling. It is reported that “in 1906 [one] Capt. Walter Martins was arrested for carrying prohibited goods in his ship and was imprisoned for twelve months…”

With negotiations between the British and French over the incidence of smuggling and other matters of common imperial interests leading to the creation of an International Boundary across Nigeria and the Benin areas on the 10th of August 1899, smuggling still continued across the two territories. While the French imposed low tariffs on goods, the British that depended much on these duties for colonial administrative expenses imposed high tariffs. It is noted that the French did not encourage the importation of “durable English bicycles into their territories, thus forcing up the price of English bicycles and encouraging their being smuggled into Dahomey [now Benin Republic] from Nigeria”.

To prevent resisters to the strict French colonial administrative framework which fuelled involuntary protest migrations from Dahomey (Benin) to Nigeria, the French colonial administration imposed very high duties on the importation of arms into Dahomey. This was much higher than it was in the Nigerian territory. This variation in duties equally encouraged smuggling of arms into Dahomey.

This colonial pattern of smuggling fuelled by contrasting economic and tariff regimes is not dissimilar with the trend, especially since the 1970s. John Igue, a prominent Beninois economic geographer has traced the present flux of smuggling of goods from Benin into Nigeria to the period of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) when Nigerians, essentially of Igbo stock sought refuge in notable Beninois cities like Cotonou, Porto-Novo and Ouidah. These refugees who were essentially traders used these cities as havens and platforms for the fuelling of an export and smuggling trade into Nigeria. In agreement, Tom Forrest, a research economist the University of Oxford, in his prosopography on Nigerian private enterprise catalogued the profiles of Abiriba-Igbo traders who since the late 1960s continued their trade in second-hand clothes in Benin and Togo following its ban in Nigeria and the vagaries of the Nigerian Civil War that adversely affected the eastern territories. This migration of Abiriba-Igbo second-hand clothes dealers to Benin explains the present domineering and visible presence of Igbo traders in Cotonou.

In addition to the role of a growing settler Nigerian population in Benin, the increasing dependence of Benin, a close western neighbour of Nigeria, on the re-exportation of goods to Nigeria as a major source of national revenue and even employment for its population has continued to fuel the incidence of smuggling of goods- either totally prohibited in Nigeria or those with high import duties in the country. It is remarkable that Benin Republic generates over 50 per cent of its national revenue from port charges and fees at Cotonou port dependent on being a conduit of importation for re-export to Nigeria.

Historically, smuggling in Nigeria has been sustained by a political economy that rests upon a protectionist argument. Whether under colonial rule or since independence, import tariffs have been used to protect home factories in the case of the British and local factories since the period of self-rule. The logic of strong consumer taste, domestic effective demand and country neighbours’ deriving sustenance by pursuing alternate economic regimes has combined to render Nigeria’s protectionism ineffective.