Subject: After Obasanjo: RE THE OBASANJO MUST GO CAMPAIGN, Where Do you stand?
We Biafrans have made our stand clear on this matter: we shall all join in this Obasanjo-Must-Go Campaign, because it is the right thing to do.
And, this time, we are determined that what follows after a change from a rotten government must be planned and done correctly. In the past, whenever the evil regimes have been changed in Nigeria, the powers that be rush in another regime which only proves even worse than its antecedent. Thus, when a golden opportunity presented to do the right thing after Abacha's providential termination in 1998, the people allowed the Military to fritter it away by the people not insisting on Sovereign National Conference, thereby allowing the Military to practically pick and hand over power to Obasanjo. 5 years later, we are now here, complaining bitterly about how the same Abacha's hellish regime is now better than Obasanjo's fraudulent and visionless, anti-people government. We shall not make that mistake anymore.
The type of people-power action we are embarking on today shall produce the desired result: we shall drive Obasanjo and his government out of our lives. We have seen this work several times--most recently, in Georgia. And, we are going to make sure that the structure which in the past ensured that power crept back into the wrong hands shall be removed for all times. That evil structure is centralized control of Nigeria.  When the peoples triumph over Obasanjo, we shall make sure that that structure is effectively eliminated.
Therefore, as soon as the peoples successfully press Obasanjo and his government to resign, a few things will happen simultaneously:
1) Sovereignty shall immediately return to the peoples, which is where it belongs by natural law, by constitutional law--even the current constitution of Nigeria--and by definition. Sovereignty does NOT belong to the entity called Nigeria
2) Governance of the people shall immediately devolve to regions and or nations. Each Nation / Region shall take over control of governance for her people.
3) Security and Police function shall immediately devolve to the Nations.
4) A Sovereign National Conference shall be summoned within hours of the capitulation of Obasanjo and his government.
5) The first act of the Sovereign National Conference (SNC) is to ratify and formally recognize the individual Nations as Sovereign, Independent Nations.
6) The second act of the Sovereign National Conference is to create the OONN [O-2 N-2]: Organization of Old-Nigeria Nations
7) The main function of the OONN is to serve an executive-body with regards to SNC decisions, and later, as a platform for formal negotiations among the now sovereign and independent nations on matters of interest to the nations. Needless to say, every nation will have equal representation in O-2 N-2..
8) Mass movements of people are not necessary and are not called for during this period.
9) The Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) will help maintain a stable and functioning and remunerated labor force until transition is completed, and shall continue afterwards within O-2 N-2 to harmonize transnational labor.
Peoples living in Nigeria: we have another chance to end all our misery at the hands of unscrupulous, visionless usurpers and criminals called Nigerian leaders and their oppressive governments. We can do this, and shall succeed. But, more importantly, we also have the opportunity to break the endless cycle of fraudulent, anti-people governments which is continuing to strangle the life out of us and bleed us to death. We can, and we will do this final part successfully--and correctly, too.
Oguchi Nkwocha
Nwa Biafra
A Biafran Citizen



By Sowore omoyele


Recently I had written an article that I thought was a clarion call to our compatriots on the need to assume a critical role in sending a strong message to the illegal occupiers of our political space in Nigeria. It was not an article intended to play to the gallery, I was dead serious about my mission, I had no doubt that a lot of people felt the same way I did, I received tons of email from folks across the world regarding my call.

Interestingly, the United Action for Democracy (UAD) a coalition of civil society groups in Nigeria has made a similar call to unseat the Obasanjo government and pave way for genuine dialogue and credible elections to follow a Sovereign National Conference (SNC), I did not need any convincing that we need a new lease of political, economic and social life in Nigeria. I have had various sad experiences in recent years as a Nigerian; the most potent has been the election of Obasanjo to rule Nigeria in 1999 which led me to a state of depression and recently the appointment of a World Bank imposed expatriate as a minister of finance, also this was a big blow to my mental stability. I knew that Nigeria was going to the gutters for real, the utterances and demeanor of that woman as of yesterday regarding how much pain she will be visiting upon Nigerians is a clear testimony to my fears.

 The reason why I am sinking myself into the “OBASANJO MUST GO” campaign is that Obasanjo and his ilk represent the most vicious and insidious element of retrogression within the Nigerian society, their actions and pretensions is sickening to every sensible Nigerian. It is time for him to be told that there is nothing patriotic about hating the Nigerian people, or pretending to love the country while he despise the people that live in it.

 The UAD has arranged for mass rallies to be held in different part of Nigeria. Starting on November 18th 2003, there will be a symposium in Lagos to discuss the way forward for Nigeria before series of direct action(s) will be taken to liberate Nigeria from this destructive political mafia, in particular UAD will be hosting a huge rally on December 3rd at the Yaba Bust stop, the area is particular popular as a center of action against dictatorship in Nigeria, I remember that in 1989, 1992 and 1993, the anti-SAP protests, Babangida –must-go and the “June 12 protests” usually starts at Yaba bus stop because the students of UNILAG were particularly strong and action-oriented. Also in 1993, the Campaign for Democracy (CD) started the anti-Abacha protests on October 1st, finally the last anti-Abacha protest in March 1998 was executed at Yaba bus stop, it was tagged the “5-million man-march” which was a counterweight to the self –sponsored 1 million –man march for Abacha in Abuja, I happen to be one of the chief mobilizer for this highly successful mass action.

 UAD is currently embarking on consultations to create a formidable and united democratic alliance made up of workers, professionals, students, socio-cultural organizations, self-determination groups, and opposition political parties and youth organizations and other progressive social forces who are opposed to the current decadence in Nigeria, it is hoped that at the end of these series of actions these groups will come together to formulate strategies that will rescue Nigeria from the vagabonds in power.

According to the UAD, Obasanjo and his cronies have committed a breach of social contract with the Nigerian people by embarking on anti-peoples actions that have further degraded the quality of life of Nigerians by these actions, which include but are not limited to:









In a press conference addressed by Bamidele Aturu, UAD’s convener in Lagos, UAD stated that: “Civil society organizations, under the umbrella of the United Action for Democracy (UAD), have thus come to the irrevocable conclusion that the only way to rescue our country from the current path of destruction is to remove the current government from power.  The removal will be effected through the lawful instrumentality of mass democratic action, including rallies, protests, picketing, stay-at-home and other forms of civil disobedience.  In arriving at this resolve, we have not lost sight of the argument from certain quarters that in a democracy the ballot is the constitutional avenue for changing unwanted governments.  We however note that the people were blatantly denied the instrumentality of the ballot through the massive electoral fraud in April 2003.  A government, which imposed itself on the people through such anti-democratic means, lacks the moral right to plead constitutional protection.  He who comes to equity must do so with clean hands.  Furthermore, democratic governance is a social contract, implicit in which is the understanding that elected leaders must act in consonance with the interests and wishes of the people.  A government that breaches that social contract by taking delight in inflicting suffering on the people ceaselessly, as the Obasanjo government has done in the last four years, should reckon with the inevitability of popular revolt.  The Obasanjo government is a dictatorship in civilian robes and must be fought in the way every dictatorship should.


The battle line is drawn once more, and as was the case in the fight against military dictatorship, the people shall outlive this dictatorship.


Down with the Mafia government of Obasanjo!

Down with deregulation

Stop fuel price increase

Long live the fighting spirit of the Nigeria people”

 I find these allegations tenable and agenda for the campaign workable. While I was a foot soldier fighting against military rule in Nigeria, it was very heartening to hear our compatriots abroad bicker about the state of the Nigerian nation under military rule, but very sad that not many actually committed their time or resources to fight for change in Nigeria as such, for example, most of the pro-democracy groups relied on international funding agencies, whose themselves nurse hidden agenda on Nigeria to fund their activities, whereas Western Union was making billions of dollars on Nigerians living abroad  from remittance. The Italians in New York make more money from selling Pizzas to Nigerian that is invested in fighting to make a difference in our country.

 It is high time we jettison our complacency and put our time and money where our mouth is, if every Nigerian who wanted change were to donate five dollars to a common fund, we will have millions of dollars to fight with in one month and it will send a strong message to the stupid leaders at home.

 Please, do not get me wrong, I am not soliciting funds here but I will love to see some solidarity from all our people who have indicated to me that they want to participate in the cause to liberate Nigeria.


Sowore omoyele
 Posted: Sun Nov 16, 2003 6:47 am
Post subject: Obasanjo must go
Text of a Press Conference by the United Action for Democracy (UAD) on
November 11, 2003 at Conference Room of Women Advocates Research and
Documentation Center (WARDC), Oshoppey Plaza, Allen Avenue, Ikeja, Lagos.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the press, welcome to this press conference. Its
main purpose is to announce that Nigerian civil society organizations under
the umbrella of the United Action for Democracy (UAD) will be launching the
Obasanjo-must-go Campaign on December 3, 2003.
The Campaign will kick off with mass rallies in Lagos and other cities in
the country. The other cities will be announced at the end of the on-going
The Lagos rally will take place at the historic Yaba Bus stop at 10:00 am on
that December 3, 2003. It will be addressed by leaders of civil society
groups, pro-democracy groups, self-determination/socio-cultural
organizations, student and youth organizations, opposition political
parties, organized labour and other social forces concerned about the state
of our nation under the disastrous Obasanjo administration.
The purpose of the campaign is to mobilize the suffering people of Nigeria
to end their suffering by compelling the resignation of the anti-people
Obasanjo government. The resignation will enable the reversal of policies
like fuel price increase which has created so much suffering and chaos in
the country. It will also enable the holding of the Sovereign National
Conference to chart a new direction for our country, after which there will
be free and fair elections.
The UAD is committed to the emergence of a united democratic alliance of
civil society, opposition political parties, socio-cultural organizations,
self-determination groups, workers, professional groups, student and youth
organisations and other social forces opposed to the current state of
decadence in the land.
We are embarking on a process of consultation after which a Pan-Nigeria
meeting of social forces will be convened to agree on common strategies for
rescuing the nation. Another programme lined up in the build up to the mass
rallies is a crucial symposium on the state of the nation, scheduled to take
place in Lagos on October 18. We call on all patriotic groups in Nigeria to
unite with the UAD to halt the national drift. We have also gathered today
as civil society organizations to speak out against the unacceptable state
of things in our country, including the unbearable levels of poverty,
suffering and indignity in which the majority of Nigerians currently live.
Our society is now enveloped in a frightening cloud of mass anger,
frustration and hopelessness. This unwholesome state of affairs is the
cumulative effect of four and a half years of inhuman, anti-democratic,
insincere and unpatriotic policies, programmes, activities and utterances.
These can be summarized as follows:
• The imposition by undemocratic means of economic and social policies which
induce poverty and suffering in order to satisfy the dictates of the IMF,
World Bank and Transnational Corporations like oil companies. These include
the unpopular policies of privatization, deregulation, liberalization,
devaluation of the Naira, withdrawal of subsidies on social welfare services
etc. These prescriptions which make up the SAP package have been responsible
for the ruination of many developing economies and the collapse of their
democracies, the latest examples of which include Bolivia, Argentina and
• The use of brute force to protect the mercenary interests of Transnational
Corporations like Shell and other oil companies in the Niger Delta resulting
in the massacre of thousands of defenseless men, women and children in Odi
in Bayelsa State and other communities since 1999. The massacres were
instigated by the oil companies.
• The use of military strategies in addressing communal conflicts, resulting
in the massacre of villagers in Zaki Biam and other communities in the
Middle Belt.
• Massive rigging and fraud during the last general elections, thereby
circumventing the will of the people, destabilizing the polity and
threatening national cohesion.
• Continual undermining of democratic institutions like the National
Assembly and the Judiciary in an attempt to create a personality cult.
• State-sponsored killings of opponents of the PDP in various parts of the
• Alarming rate of extra-judicial killings by the police, while failing to
contain armed robbery, assassinations and other violent crimes.
• Arrogance and contempt for the opposition and the citizenry.
• Uncouth utterances and crude conduct unbecoming of the office of the
President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
• The institutionalization of corruption, while squandering public fund on a
hypocritical anti-corruption crusade. Ladies and Gentlemen of the press, all
these and more have come to the majority of Nigerians as a rude shock, given
the great expectations that civil rule will usher in the good things for the
nation. Instead of the good things of life, the Obasanjo government has
offered nothing but anguish, misery, tears and blood. And from every
indication this trend will continue, as the government has shown no sign of
repenting from counter productive policies.
A good case in point is the current unilateral increase in the prices of
petroleum products. While the people were still groaning under the crushing
weight of the increase from N26 to N34 per litre of petrol, the government
instructed marketers to sell at any price they wished.
The result is the current anarchy of pricing and gnashing of teeth. Civil
society organizations, under the umbrella of the United Action for Democracy
(UAD), have thus come to the irrevocable conclusion that the only way to
rescue our country from the current path of destruction is to remove the
current government from power.
The removal will be effected through the lawful instrumentality of mass
democratic action, including rallies, protests, picketing, stay-at-home and
other forms of civil disobedience. In arriving at this resolve, we have not
lost sight of the argument from certain quarters that in a democracy the
ballot is the constitutional avenue for changing unwanted governments.
We however note that the people were blatantly denied the instrumentality of
the ballot through the massive electoral fraud in April 2003. A government
which imposed itself on the people through such anti-democratic means lacks
the moral right to plead constitutional protection. He who comes to equity
must do so with clean hands.
Furthermore, democratic governance is a social contract, implicit in which
is the understanding that elected leaders must act in consonance with the
interests and wishes of the people. A government that breaches that social
contract by taking delight in inflicting suffering on the people
ceaselessly, as the Obasanjo government has done in the last four years,
should reckon with the inevitability of popular revolt.
The Obasanjo government is a dictatorship in civilian robes and must be
fought in the way every dictatorship should.
The battle line is drawn once more, and as was the case in the fight against
military dictatorship, the people shall outlive this dictatorship.
Down with the Mafia government of Obasanjo!
Down with deregulation Stop fuel price increase Long live the fighting
spirit of the Nigeria people.
Bamidele Aturu Convener
Zikirullahi Ibrahim General Secretary
Georgia's 'revolution': A Parallel case for Nigeria?  OBASANJO MUST GO!!
By Abdulsalam Olatubosun Ajetunmobi,
[London, UK]
The three essential Cs of criticism, to be comparative, contextual and
constructive, should surely be the basis for all comment. When news reached
me on Sunday evening of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's
resignation, I instinctively wished Nigerians could be as brave as Georgians
when it came to ousting corrupt leaders. Wedged between Russia to the north
and Turkey and Iran to the south, the Republic of Georgia, once an affluent
country, is a third world kleptocracy like Nigeria. But the fate of
President Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia went back to January 1992 when a
leadership vacuum was created after the overthrow of President Zviad
Gamsakhurdia. As chairman of the State Council, an office then equivalent to
president, Shevardnadze fought 'organised crime and tried to find solutions
for separatist violence in the Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and
Abkhazia.' And, for all his prestige and clout he survived an assassination
attempt in which a car bomb exploded near his motorcade as he travelled to a
signing ceremony for a new Georgian constitution in August 1995. He was
nevertheless elected president of Georgia in November 1995.
Under President Eduard Shevardnadze leadership, 'unemployment hovers around
20%, some 60% of people live below the poverty line and pensioners are
forced to live on 14 laris a month - about $6. The education system is in a
state of collapse, you have to pay for health care, the roads are crumbling
and crime goes unpunished.' And like 'a powerful clique … running the
affairs of state under President Olusegun Obasanjo,' (a statement credited
to the former Minister of Defence, Lt.-Gen. Theophilus Danjuma) the nouveau
riches, including 'members of President Shevardnadze's own family,'
conspicuously lavished money around oblivious of the downtrodden members of
the society.
The Georgians, after the November 2 2003 parliamentary election which the
International observers comprising '400 monitors from several European
democracy watchdogs' alleged was marred by "spectacular" voting
irregularities, decided that they have had enough of a government that has
become an international byword for corruption and venality, while their own
standards of living have plummeted and took to the street to protest and
support the opposition.  And following weeks of protest to force the
President to step down, Eduard Shevardnadze finally bowed to the wishes of
the majority and resigned. So he was swept from power by strength of popular
Coming to Nigeria; in spite of deteriorating quality of life, lack of
freedom from danger to property, perversion of peoples' integrity in the
performance of public and duties by bribery, etc., President Obasanjo won
the 2003 elections only because officials were easily bribed, people
bullied, votes bought and many were justly terrified of facing up to the
situation. While the President seemingly acknowledges our wretchedness: "I
feel worried at times, when people talk about Nigeria being in money. …
one wonders what really they are talking about because we are poor in spite
of what we may think that we have" and also about corrupting influences: 'If
you find anyone involved in corruption, let me know. If I don't take
appropriate action, don't talk to me again,' his efforts so far in those
instances are superficial. A case in point: After its exhaustive effort at
unravelling the mysteries surrounding the US 12 billion dollars which
Babangida regime failed to account for in 1991 oil revenues that were
occasioned by the Gulf War, the PUNCH newspaper had to write recently to the
President asking for a copy of the Pius Okigbo Panel report that probed how
that billion dollar oil windfall was spent. As would be expected, the
President, through his Senior Special Assistant (Media and Publicity), Mrs.
Remi Oyo, just replied and said that 'efforts would be made to locate the
report and make it available to "all interested parties."
Every government needs a conscience, but in Nigeria, shamelessness prevails.
Transparency is not a concept with which the country is familiar. Since his
Christian rebirth and powerful religious experience, religion has been
central to President Obasanjo's being as well as to his office. On almost
every issue, the President's Christianity informs his life, projects his
personality through the cadences of an appealing Episcopal voice which
perhaps gives him passionately held certainties on all issues. Of course,
solace can be found in platitude as certain of President's loyal audience
attest: "He told us how he lived in prison. He said when he was in prison,
that he had just three clothes and about three pairs of shoes. Those were
the things he used for about three years. He said he has since discovered
that man does not need much to live.' But, to many people, the President's
homilies are not only unctuous and vacuous but his decisions are
reactionary. Lt. General T.Y. Danjuma (Rtd.) recently disclosed at Arewa
House, Kaduna, that he was frustrated out of office by a clique holding
President Olusegun Obasanjo's administration hostage, vowing not to accept
any public position. He said, "My four years as Minister of Defence in the
administration of Obasanjo was the most difficult and trying period of my
life' This would imply that the country is 'under the spell of a cult-like
clique' with a leader 'who would listen to no one but himself and the
members of a self-selected clique.' It is no wonder that people, under such
an inversion of the political order, have such a low opinion of standards of
integrity in public life and the country continues to remain an
accommodation of selfishness.
The government is increasingly losing the power of self-criticism and
becoming trapped in a self-referential morality. In his Encounter with an
Obasanjo man, Reuben Abati (Guardian newspaper, Sunday November 23),
satirised: "President Obasanjo sees far into the future beyond the people.
That is the point I am trying to let you see. Nigerians will be grateful to
him in the end. He will have the last laugh" Going by the President's public
utterances and those of his loyal supporters, it seems as if the satirical
expression reflects the way President would think of himself. But whether
President Obasanjo laughs last or not, it is pertinent to note that violence
stems only when leadership rejects reason, distort facts and ignore
evidence. Rejecting reason in favour of dogmatism and intolerance is a
dangerous game and is a recipe for disaster. When Eduard Shevardnadze first
became leader of Georgia, he was praised for ending the anarchy that
threatened to engulf the newly-independent country following the break-up of
the Soviet Union. By ignoring evidence and rejecting reason, he allowed
corruption to flourish and poverty to spread under his rule and so the once
popular and admired leader became a failure and was swept from power by
massive street protest.
To end this piece, there are perhaps two nautical images of President
Obasanjo and his vision for Nigeria I would draw our attention to. And just
like satirical statement I referred above, only history can decide which is
the truer for him. 'One is of Captain Smith on the Titanic, charging towards
the ice fields despite warnings and meeting with disaster. The other is of
Admiral Farragut in the American Civil War charging into Confederate
defences in Mobile Bay with the cry "Damn the torpedoes" and meeting with
Yours faithfully,
Abdulsalam Olatubosun Ajetunmobi,
London, UK


Pathologies of Power: Human Rights, Poverty, Prejudice and the Polio Palaver
Hameed Agberemi §
In his powerful new book “Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and
the New War on the Poor” published in April 2003, Paul Farmer, Boston-based
medical doctor and Harvard professor of anthropology gives us a rare,
passionate, eloquent and profound understanding of how global inequality
creates massive disease and large scale death in poorer countries of the
world. Paul Farmer challenges the claim of the rich world to universal human
rights when they are so comfortable with incredibly massive gaps in people’s
quality of life between the rich countries on the one hand, and the
developing countries on the other. All informed mappings of alternative
global futures now predicting a worsening economic gulf between the global
rich who are getting richer and the poor who must slide further into
wretchedness and despair. Increasingly being exposed is the hypocrisy of
making the appropriate noises for human rights while neglecting the most
basic rights of all – food, shelter and health – rights that are necessary
for survival as an individual person with any sense of human dignity.
It is impossible to speak honestly today of human rights without speaking of
Poverty and Disease. In 1820 when colonisation of the South by Northern
countries was beginning to take root, the wealth ratio between the richest
one-fifth of the world’s people and the poorest one-fifth of the world was
only 3 to 1. The wealth gap had grown to 30 to 1 by 1960. In the
postcolonial era since the 1960s, the gap between people living in the rich
countries and those in the poor countries only grew more alarmingly, aided
by a peculiar global economic order. As at 1997, the richest fifth owned 74
times more wealth than the poorest fifth of the world. The four wealthiest
individuals on earth currently own assets that exceed the GDPs of the
poorest 48 countries with their 600 million people. The 360 men and women
recognized as billionaires in 2001 owned more wealth than 45% of humanity.
This inequality has daily worsened. While such inequality is too vast to
last, it portends great danger to human rights and world peace while it
subsists. Globalisation is an inevitable phenomenon, but it is a reality
whose content must be shaped for human rights, democratic values and
peaceful coexistence to have any chance of flourishing worldwide.
Poverty, more than any other phenomenon, has long remained the greatest
threat to the human rights and security of the largest majority of human
beings. The constant suffering caused by structural poverty profoundly
influences the lives of 3 billion people worldwide – almost half of humanity
– every minute of everyday, and almost totally forecloses the possibility of
well being and any sense of safety and human dignity. The poorest 46% of
humankind have only 1.2 % of global income. Their actual purchasing power
per person per day is less than that of the purchasing power of $2.15 in the
US, even after factoring in disparate real values after currency exchange.
826 million of the world’s poor do not have enough to eat. One-third of all
human deaths are from poverty-related causes: over 18 million annually
(including 12 million children under five). According to the World Bank’s
2002 figures, these are or 50,000 deaths everyday! At the other end, the 15
percent of humankind in the ‘high-income countries’ have 81 percent of
global income. Shifting a mere 1 or 2 percent of their wealth toward poverty
eradication would yield incredible results and almost end extreme poverty in
the world. It would seem morally compelling for them to do so. Yet the
prosperous 1990s brought even a larger shift toward more global inequality
because most of the affluent believe that they have absolutely no such
obligation to help the poor. In his incisive and masterful analysis “World
Poverty and Human Rights”, New York-based Columbia University Professor
Thomas Pogge explains how this belief is sustained, especially in the US. He
analyses how American (and Western) moral and economic theorizing and
American-led global economic order have adapted to make the US appear
disconnected from massive poverty abroad.
It is often argued that we Africans are so terribly poor because we have our
terribly corrupt elites and tyrannical regimes that funnel the resources of
our countries worth billions and billions of dollars away into private
accounts (it should be noted, in Western banks). Superficially, this is
true, and is one major cause of poverty, and it is of course significant and
needs concerted and continuous engagement. In this respect, current efforts
spearheaded by Transparency International to lobby governments to agree a UN
Convention Against Corruption represent a very positive development, one
that has unfortunately already encountered considerable difficulty from some
of the richest countries that are now unwilling to cooperate in the
repatriation of looted funds. Pointedly, little is however said of the
fundamental reasons why impoverished countries are so often governed by
dictatorial regimes and often for so long. In fact there are often racist
claims that ‘cultural’ reasons exist for maintaining such regimes in power,
as Lawrence Harrison and Sam Huntington have claimed in their dubious book
“Culture Matters”. The suggestion is that there is an inherent desire by the
people of the developing countries to be governed by dictators. Western
media and academia, with their global power over the creation of knowledge
and ideas, largely ignore the fundamental causes of structural poverty and
the underlying institutional order that allows such regimes to come to power
and to keep power.
We have in place an unjust global economic order that allows any group of
people capable of effectively holding power in a country as being entitled
by right to sell the resources of that country and to incur debts in the
name of that country. By conferring such privilege on any group simply on
the basis of their ability to hold effective power, irrespective of whether
they have any representation of their people; an incentive is constantly
created for people to forcefully take power through coups, with the certain
knowledge that if they can be successful in maintaining effective power for
just a few days, they will be able, through resource sales, to buy the arms
and the military support needed to perpetuate themselves in power. It is
abundantly clear that this global economic and political ‘order’ survives
only because it benefits the wealthier countries, which ironically are
democracies, democracies that so preserve human rights and democracy at home
but so often support tyrannies abroad whenever it happens to suit their
economic interests to do so.
Some will go as far as arguing that rich countries have somehow “caused”
poverty in poor countries through historical institutions such as
colonialism and slavery. Even though there are some grounds to engage in
such discourse, such arguments are unhelpful in my view, because the claim
is hyperbolic, and is extremely difficult to sustain in the face of
empirical evidence. My argument instead, is that regardless of how this
extreme poverty came about, rich countries help to perpetuate and worsen it,
and that the persistence of such extreme structural poverty is the root
cause of rising global insecurity, bigotry and hatred, and is a common
factor in most ongoing conflicts, and today, is the biggest obstacle to the
articulation and implementation of human rights in poor countries,
especially those in which religion is strong.
Amongst her many other problems, Africa currently stoops under the weight of
a murderous trio: unfair trade, inescapable debt, and HIV/AIDS.
The skewed unfairness of the control by Western countries of the World Trade
Organization was brought to the fore at the recent botched Ministerial
Conference in Cancún, Mexico. The so-called ‘free-trade’, which not only
sets the worth of human labour in countries around the world, but also
massively influences the flows of resources, income and wealth across
borders, is actually not free, as John Madeley has persuasively demonstrated
in his new book, “Hungry for Trade: How the Poor Pay for Free Trade”. Rich
countries consistently refuse to make compromises over the $700 billion
dollars of imports they shut out from developing countries while insisting
on the opening of markets for their own exports. A change of attitude on
this alone would eradicate extreme poverty in the world.
We already know, don’t we, that WTO rules that determine world trade and
indirectly, the value of human labour across the world, favour the richer
countries by far, because those rules are the outcome of ‘negotiations’
where ‘bargaining power’ is overwhelmingly the most important determinant in
producing outcomes. In “Rigged Rules and Double Standards: Trade,
Globalisation and the Fight Against Poverty”, the British-based NGO, Oxfam
showed in a 2002 report how WTO rules emerge from so-called negotiations and
how even those unfair rules are flouted with impunity by the governments of
rich countries while poorer countries are compelled to follow these rules.
Some Western governments, not all, continue to align with the WTO in
claiming, against overwhelming evidence and logic that their version of
‘free’ trade reduces global poverty. America’s own Nobel laureate in
Economics, Joseph Stiglitz showed in his recent book, “Globalisation and Its
Discontents”, how dubious such claims are, but the current US government
continues to resist free trade on many goods and services, from food to
steel, which is now at the centre of the trade dispute with the European
Union. In spite of the dangers posed to the well being of countless millions
of people around the world by unregulated liberalization of the economies
and globalisation of the markets, our own ill-advised government accepts
almost every advice of the IMF and the WTO, policies that often only
increase poverty at home. Wiser governments are doing more to protect their
people against the harmful effects of globalisation while trying hard to
capture and leverage all its advantages and gains – flows of information,
markets and labour – on behalf of their people. The Nigerian government
fails woefully on this, compared to, say, South Africa.
On debt, Nigeria for example spends 48 – 52% of its wealth everyday
servicing multiplying compound interests on debts owed to the IMF, the
WorldBank and credit institutions in the rich countries (which by the way
does not reduce the actual principal of the debt)! Only about half is
available to run the economy and maintain social services. These debts were
accumulated mostly during corrupt military dictatorships, which have ruled
Nigeria for more than 30 of the 43 years of post-independence. Several
coming generations have no hope of ever repaying this debt under the current
economic system. Similar situations abound across developing countries.
20 million people have so far died of AIDS. Of 42 million people currently
living with HIV/AIDS, 30 million live in black Africa. 2.4 million died
during 2002. According to current figures from UNAIDS, 550,000 of these
deaths were of children. Over the next decade, without effective treatment
and care, projected deaths are expected to ruin national economies and
decimate the labour force of several countries, apart from altering social
structures in families and communities with the creation on massive scales
of a special generation of orphans and widows. While African governments, in
the culture of silence, denial and inefficiency, have not done anything near
enough on HIV prevention, and while this failure cannot be overemphasized,
Western pharmaceutical companies, which ironically are the most profitable
of all businesses in the world, refuse to reduce the cost of treatment drugs
to any levels near affordability for sufferers in Africa. It is cynical
enough for businesses that profit from sickness to be the most profitable in
the world. It is tragic that at the same time, by citing patent issues,
these super-rich companies refuse to allow cheaper production by indigenous
companies that are willing to make these drugs affordable, because of fears
that doing so may slightly reduce their overall multi-billion dollar annual
profits. Yet, during the anthrax scare after the 9-11 attacks in New York,
many of these same companies, without solicitation from the US government,
offered to lift patent restrictions on several drugs, especially Cipro to
make medications available to all people in case of massive biological
weapons attacks by terrorists. Meanwhile, in sub-Saharan Africa, over 6,500
are dying of AIDS everyday, a quarter of these being children! Paul Farmer’s
book uses harrowing stories of life – and death – in extreme situations to
question our biased understanding of human rights and pleads eloquently for
a more informed sense of social justice that addresses the ongoing
structural social violence that the mass suffering, illness and death of the
powerless so potently represents worldwide. He also illustrates the ways
that racism and gender inequality are embodied as disease and death, asking
more broadly whether solutions would not have been found for AIDS, malaria
and tuberculosis if these many millions dying were citizens of Western
societies rather than of Africa, Asia or Latin America. He identifies such
neglect as grave human rights violations comparable to murder and torture.
In the just-published book, "Disease and Globalisation", and with particular
reference to HIV/AIDS, British professor Tony Barnett of East Anglia
University warns us of the gathering dangers of a global health crisis, and
shows us the stark relationship between poverty, inequality, and infectious
Even though current levels are unprecedented, economic inequality and
structural poverty are not new phenomena. The rich have always been few and
the poor very, very many. What is new is the intense globalisation of
information. Whereas, in the past, people, in their struggle to overcome
want, simply did their best and left the rest, and were often willing to
accept their ‘fate’; today more than ever before, because of the
globalisation of information through numerous forms of media, people are
aware of their enormous relative deprivation. They have accurate information
on the wealth of others. Soap operas from the rich countries pour into homes
through TVs in villages worldwide, with images of affluence that on the one
hand cause consternation, but on the other hand also bear stirring messages
to act for the material salvation that comes from prosperity. While some
become desperate to be rich, try all means and succeed, others refuse to
try, and so many try and fail. Hatred and bigotry are part of the fall-outs.
Political religion often presents as both a tool for mobilization and a
medium for the appropriation of liberation discourses. There are
far-reaching implications on the creation and exacerbation of conflict
processes worldwide – with globalisation making these processes more easily
replicated across borders.
Intractable economic difficulties and corrupt governance among other
socio-political problems often drive millions of people to seek social
justice through politicised religion – which, partly because it is
marginalized in popular and formalized discourse, is sometimes forced to be
militant and reactionary. Poverty worsens the circumstances. And poverty is
intense and worsening in Nigeria. In the face of all of the above, political
religion has become suddenly attractive to millions – for Christians, most
seen in the rise of the Prosperity Churches and expanding expressway camps;
and especially for Muslims, seen in the unconditional demand for Shari’ah.
Many Nigerians inevitably seek a shelter against the failures of the secular
state, because they expect that religion will be a tool for accessing life’s
basic needs, or that even if it fails, it offers constant messages of joy
and hope – and thus survival.
There have been recent controversies in Nigeria about the polio vaccines,
which have sent ripples around the world. Polio is an infectious disease
caused by a virus. It can strike at any age, but affects mainly children
under three (over 50% of all cases). The disease causes paralysis, which is
almost always permanent. In the most severe cases polio can lead to death by
asphyxiation. Today, the disease has been eliminated from most of the world,
and only seven countries worldwide remain polio-endemic. This represents the
lowest number of countries with circulating wild poliovirus. At the same
time, the areas of transmission are more concentrated than ever – 98% of all
global cases are found in India and Pakistan – and of course Nigeria, now
the biggest home for polio in Africa. Given the pain and the medical,
social, economic and psychological cost of polio to sufferers and their
families, we should all be extremely concerned that Nigeria stands out so
starkly on the world polio map. And we should all support efforts at
eradication through vaccines, which have proved to be instrumental in
defeating polio elsewhere in the world.
When several states of Northern Nigeria therefore intervened in the mass
polio vaccination plans of the federal government recently, there was
understandable disquiet. There were allegations and counter-allegations, and
there was both abutment for and condemnation of the decision of these
governors. While there was enlightened debate on some national media, it is
sad that many well-known and otherwise respected commentators disclosed
their naiveté and in some cases revealed abject prejudice, in a public
health crisis that was sadly spiralling dangerously into an adversarial
political and religious narrative.
The claim that the US-led ‘West’ had deliberately infected with HIV,
Nigeria-bound polio vaccines supplied by the WHO of the United Nations as
part of a plot to reduce Nigeria’s Muslim populations was not only
ludicrous, it was dangerous and tragic in a nation where ignorance is still
so endemic and where rumours are therefore powerful. Putting aside the
ridiculous claim that a government, which now oversees a society in which
Islam is the fastest growing faith, could have the motive to kill living
people (children!) of other countries for religious reasons; it is utterly
nonsensical to suggest that such a scheme, if ever dreamt, would be run in
the 21st century, not by the CIA, but by the WHO, which is controlled by
medical officers from around the world, the majority of them from the
developing nations. That claim deserved as much condemnation as it got. It
has substantially setting back the cause of polio eradication in Nigeria. It
is sad.
I am however dismayed at the total absence of intelligent analysis on why
the US government arouses so much suspicion in Muslim communities,
especially on the issue of public health. This failure speaks volumes on the
poor state of journalistic curiosity and balance, not to mention the quality
of social scholarship in Nigeria today.
Put aside for a second all I have written above about the human rights
implications of poverty and infectious disease in the poor world, and the
sense of hypocrisy it has unleashed against the graphic situation of
affluence in the rich world. There is now growing anger even in the US as
citizens discover the actions and policies of their past governments on the
issue of “population control”. In “Reproductive Rights and Wrongs: The
Global Politics of Population Control”, US Massachusetts-based professor,
Betsy Hartmann showed how numerous programmes, including the forced
sterilization of women, have been funded on large scales in poor countries
in the past, including in Muslim countries such as Bangladesh. As one who
believes very strongly in Women’s Reproductive Rights, including a woman’s
God-given right to family planning and the right to have a say in deciding
with her spouse, when and how many children she can love, care for and wants
to have, I reject the idea that legitimate family planning and child spacing
can be compared to population control, which not only immorally tramples on
the reproductive rights of women and men, but calls to question a whole
people’s right to autonomy and choice in the determination of their
collective destiny – not to mention the dubious economic assumptions that
Malthusian theories of population control rest upon. The ingenious
University of Nebraska Masters student, Sally Torpy, has successfully
defended her now-publicised thesis, "Endangered Species: Native American
Women's Struggle for Their Reproductive Rights and Racial Identity”. She
chillingly documents how through the 1970s, Dr. R.T. Ravenholt, the US
global population control czar, had a written policy that hoped to sterilize
25 per cent of the world's roughly 570 million fertile women at the time.
Worse, new evidence is now out that programmes were funded to forcefully
sterilize 100,000 to 300,000 rural women in Peru from the 1970s up till as
recently as 1997. Some Peruvian health workers reportedly received bonuses
ranging variously from $4 to $12 for each woman they “persuaded” to have a
tubal ligation. Doctors and hospitals were pressured to meet sterilization
I wonder why any intelligent person should be surprised that some people do
not trust the US government? Or suggest that when US citizens are themselves
angry at these revelations that their past governments have violated human
rights, Nigerians who are angry and suspicious about general US government
behaviour on public health and other issues around the world are only
zealots and fanatics.
All too often, I find that many Nigerian commentators – even professors –
are incapable of distinguishing between the US, as a people who are for the
most, a kind, compassionate freedom-loving people ever conscious of the
noble founding values of their nation on the one hand; and the US as a
government or State which often acts abroad in defence of narrowly construed
interests that sometimes go directly against human rights and freedom.
Others reveal incredulity that such a people often end up with such
governments in a democracy. Even then, in terms of respect for human rights
and international legality abroad, no one can compare astute President Bill
Clinton (never mind his personal failings) to the obtuse us-versus-them,
evil-defeating Texan Cowboy currently occupying the White House. And in a
democracy, a people deserve the leader they get. They had the brilliant and
well-informed Al Gore, but they let the funny Florida votes happen.
Of course, the US government has no control on the WHO, the UN organ that is
funding the polio-eradication programme in Nigeria. Yet the WHO hasn’t
always defended people against flawed programmes such as the above. The
Oakland-based Independent Institute has now claimed that the WHO, knew what
was happening in Peru and other places, but kept quiet. This of course hurts
the credibility of the WHO, as we have now seen in Nigeria. Especially given
the current nature of international politics, people now expect the UN to
stand up to the powerful countries in defence of international legality and
human rights of people around the world, lest it become truly irrelevant.
A so-called expert explained in the print media that “there is a religious
dogma among ‘Northern Muslims’, that whatever comes from America or the
Jewish state of Israel is unacceptable to them”, a bigoted simplistic
analysis that is neither astute for a national commentator, nor in my view,
even educated at all. Although I have been to several parts of Northern
Nigeria, I am unaware that such a notion exists either as a dogma or even as
a generally held popular theory.
I agree that the polio issue was deeply politicised. But in her obsession
with the politicisation, the National Programme on Immunisation boss, Ms.
Awosika failed to see the larger picture. She brushed aside a number of
genuine concerns that thoughtful people raised, seeing it all as either
political or fanatical. She was widely quoted, "what is happening is
political and if it is political, the party in power is PDP and those who
are going against the programme, can only be non-PDP people”. As a person
who is suspicious of most Nigerian politicians from all the parties, I find
to be inane and almost supercilious, claims that those asking that the
vaccines be tested for safety before use are all politically motivated. In
her fixation with political adversaries, she did not for example address the
issue raised about thimerosal, the mercuric-based compound used in very
minute quantities as a preservative in polio vaccines. It is important to
note that in Western countries, thimerosal is no longer being used in
vaccines, because of fears it may have long-term negative side effects, as
many mercury compounds are toxic. Yet, there were reports that stocks of
polio vaccines earlier manufactured and sent to poor countries were not
recalled from circulation when concerns about the safety of thimerosal were
raised as had been done in the richer countries; and that indeed thimerosal
continued to be used by some manufacturers in other parts of the world. This
in my view was one of many other serious issues that ought to have been
addressed throughout the crisis that were either obfuscated or trivialized.
The whole point of this long essay has been to interrogate our biased
understanding of human rights, criticise the prejudice that underlies it,
and show why structural poverty and mass disease should be seen as human
rights issues. Regardless of religion, the peoples of the world all
basically want the same thing. We want a roof over our heads, food on the
table, good health, education for our children, the possibility of enjoying
the fruits of our labour, and the happiness that comes from the exercise of
freedom; personal and communal safety, and so on. But unless people have the
minimum resources for decent survival, they cannot live in dignity. The many
freedoms we mostly taunt when we speak of human rights mean nothing to those
millions who are never sure of the next meal. It is hypocritical in a world
with so much wealth and so much poverty and suffering to speak only of
individual rights and civil liberties. I argue that socio-economic rights
are at least equally important – especially for the majority of humanity who
are less privileged. A situation where the powerful in our world live in
unbelievable affluence, while caring little for the suffering, hopelessness
and despair of millions who continue to perish from poverty and preventable
illness is only symptomatic of the many pathologies of power that plague our
world today. These pathologies are the real sicknesses responsible for much
conflict – not to mention rising hatred and bigotry in the world.