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Editorial/Opinion

Rwanda: Lessons in cows and blood

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The tagline was curious: “Welcome to Rwanda-the land of a thousand hills”. At my desk in Abuja, I didn’t get what it meant until two flights and one connection later, as the final flight swept down into the airport in Kigali.

It was nightfall, and an undulating sea of electric lights winked in the darkness. Looking through the window, I was at eye level with the lights on one side. On the other side, the lights were still far below.

I didn’t quite catch the illusion until daybreak when I saw the land for what it was: an endlessly rolling land of hills and valley.

Crests and troughs sweep through on every side. Out in rural Rwanda, it is farmlands. Inside the capital Kigali, it is asphalt roads.

Cars pull out of home gates and roll down 45-degree slopes to get onto the main road, then continue ascending inclines and descending inclines as steep as house sides throughout the city.

Kigali has a tranquil feel. By day businesses run, markets hum and traffic buzzes. For an African city, and compared against Lagos and Abuja, Kigali is superbly clean.

By night, a chill drops down on the city-and things slow down in real time.

Corners, bars, lounges and grills open up. The seedy ones have endless supply of poisons of choice-alcohol and tobacco.

The posh ones have similar poisons, but they come serenaded by Rwanda’s most famous traditional dance-“intore and amaraba”.

It is a superb production of choreography consisting of a “ballet” by women, the “dance of heroes” by men and the drums. It comes with a lot of feet stamping that rattles your eardrums while you watch the performance. It is Rwanda’s answer to “atilogwu”.

Rwanda sells tourism. Since 2017, it began selling itself as an up-market gorilla trekking destination. One of those treks sets you back some $1,500-nearly N549,000 or the equivalent of a year and a half’s pay based on the new minimum wage in Nigeria.

It is only able to do that after covering, pulling through and surviving a genocide in which nearly 800,000 people were killed. The speed of killing-800,000 in 100 days-is the fastest on record in Africa and left the country’s people reeling.

These day, the divisions and grievances are not evident as you mingle with Rwandans, but that massacre is on the tourism menu.

It is on offer at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. At the start of the tour through history is a video documentary that sets the mood back to April 1994, when the killings began.

Families speak of neighbours turning against them on account of their being either Hutu or Tutsi. Recounts of children ripped from the arms of their parents and slaughtered. Narrations of children watching their parents hacked before them. Women raped as torture, boys and girls used for war at the point of death, bodies thrown into rivers and wells.

The scale was mindnumbing. The screams and hacks came pouring back into a small display room through hifi speakers-low volume, low distortion, just a surround sound that rendered everyone in the room mute while my head swelled and goosebumps spread out over me.

Hamzat Lawal, of Connected Development, was in the room. He was in Kigali for a conference and took the tour a day before the conference opened.

People in Nigeria, especially the northeast, should come and watch this and learn, he said, shaken. He was talking about the cheapening of human life and dignity.

There is a lesson in Rwandan terror that Nigerian terror can learn from. In the grasp of genocide, the value of human life hit rock bottom. Insecurity, banditry, terrorism are pushing the value of the Nigerian life off the radar.

After the doccie, the main memorial with exhibits on display is a wealth on historical information, nail-biting pain and bleeding-heart regret.

The Hutu-Tutsi divide started quite differently, according to exhibits in the memorial.

The primary identity of all Rwandans was originally associated with 18 different clans. Categories as Hutu, Tutsi were merely socio-economic classifications within the clans, which could change with personal circumstances.

“But colonial rule made the distinctions racial, especially with the introduction of identity cards in 1932. It identified anyone with 10 cows as Tutsi, and anyone with less than 10 cows as Hutu,” the exhibit read. “This also applied to their descendants.”

Tutsis were a minority but they enjoyed access to education, employment by the ruling Belgian colonial government.

The few were used to oppress the many, creating a legacy of tension that exploded into violence several times before Rwanda even gained its independence.

For instance, up to 300,000 Tutsis fled the country in the wake of a Hutu revolution in 1959. Two years later, the country’s Tutsi monarch was forced into exile while the victorious Hutus declared the country a republic-before official independence in 1962 from Belgium.

One year later, Maj-Gen Juvenal Habyarimana, a moderate Hutu, was in power. The politics don’t make sense to many but he stayed in power for two decades.

Tutsi refugees in neighbouring Ugandan massed into the Rwandese Patriotic Front, led by current Rwandan president Paul Kagame, and invaded. The result was a power sharing arrangement that extremists took what’s been described as “swift and horrible action” to prevent.

On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi and other officials was shot down over Kigali airport. Within hours the presidential guard, members of the armed forces and Hutu militia groups set up roadblocks and began slaughtering Tutsis and moderate Hutus with impunity.

One group was the interahamwe (“those who attack together”) and the other impuzamugambi (“those who have the same goal”).

One memorial is dedicated to 10 Belgian peacekeepers assigned to protect the prime minister. A day after the plane crash, the UN soldiers were “captured, tortured and brutally murdered” by government soldiers in an attempt to provoke Belgium to withdraw from the UN’s assistance mission in Rwanda.

The killings were fuelled by the hate and mistrust already sown throughout the country. The Hutu 10 Commandments, published in 1990, had been circulating four years before the genocide.

The  labelled all Tutsi “dishonest in business” and declared as a traitor any Hutu man who took a wife, mistress or secretary of Tutsi background.

The propaganda that went right to hearts, and the clubs, hoes, machetes and guns that went to flesh are on display in the memorial.

The weapons in glass cases still haunt as though the blood they drew is still there.

The words-in French, then English-printed on paper still torment: “…women beaten, raped, humiliated, abused and ultimately murdered….Children watching as their parents were tortured, beaten and killed in front of their eyes, before their small bodies were sliced, smashed, abused, pulverised and discarded….The elderly, the pride of Rwandan society despised and mercilessly murdered in cold blood….Neigbhours turned on neighbours, friends on friend, even family on their own family members….Rwanda has turned into a nation of brutal, sadistic, merciless killers and of innocent victims…”

Those lives are now rows of names etched onto a marble wall at the memorial. A rose garden winds through the grounds. An inexplicable calm descends as visitors detach red or white roses, then reverently lays them on the graveside.

A warning asks visitors not to sit on the graves. Rwandans already know the rules, and have lived the story.

But it is a human story and one brimful of lessons. Rwanda’s present is a lesson for growing countries. Its past is also lesson for countries on the brink of making the same mistakes.

-Daily Trust –

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Editorial/Opinion

Unending nightmare of flooding in Anambra

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Flood menace has become a perennial occurrence in Anambra State and the battle seems endless.

Whenever the rainy season approaches, various communities, especially those around the lower River Niger, become apprehensive due to the havoc wrecked by ravaging flood.

They always battle with the high rising waters in their various communities whenever it rains.

A few days ago, heavy flooding submerged several communities in Ogbaru, Anyamelum, Anam and other areas of the lower Niger River, but luckily, there were no records of deaths.

The incessant flooding in these areas are often blamed on poor management of the environment, poor building structures and felling of trees on flood plains.

It was gathered that felling of trees on river plains, construction of structures on water ways are major impediments to the free flow of water, thereby causing siltation.

Last year, over 375, 142 people were affected by flood disaster across 10 local government areas of the state. Out of the numbers, about 18, 144 people were in the category of people in need, while 973 were either injured or sick as a result of the disaster.

Investigation further revealed that Ogbaru Council Area has the highest number of affected persons with 131, 175, followed by Anambra West with 100, 775 while Onitsha South has the least with 1, 005 people.

The secretary of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Idris Abubarkar, recently urged residents of the areas to stop construction of structures on flood plains.

He also advised those in flood prone areas to respect early warning signals by NEMA and move up to higher lands. “A major cause of flooding is the siltation resulting from a number of dams and cutting down of trees on flood paths, so we need dredging and de-siltation so that water can remain in its natural course,” he said.

The Executive Secretary Anambra State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Paul Odenigbo, said the state government has created 28 emergency shelter centres in flood prone areas in case of flooding anytime.

According to him, the 28 emergency shelter centres include six in Anambra West, six in Anambra East, four in Awka North, four in Ogbaru, three in Ihiala, three in Awka South and two in Ekwusigo.

He, however, urged residents to get prepared for emergency evacuation or relocation, in case of flood disaster. Former Chairman of Ogbaru Local Government Area, Arinze Awogu, said

“The flood situation in Ogbaru LGA has continued to take a turn for the worst and we’ve been losing people over the years due flooding.

He called on government to provide them with better equipped hospital to enable them manage the emergency. Worried by the level of flooding in Ogbaru 1 Constituency, Hon Chukwunonso Noble Igwe, who represents the constituency in the Anambra State House of Assembly, urged the state government to intervene quickly to save them from their sufferings.

Igwe said, “The only drainage system to check flood is the Sacamori drain in Okpoko and it is filled up with sand. That drainage is supposed to collect water from some parts of Awada, Fegge and the entire Okpoko down to Idemili River and finally to the River Niger, but for now, the Sacamori is filled up with sand, thereby enabling flood to ravage and destroy peoples’ property and lives.”

He described Ogbaru 1 Constituency as a no-go area because of the magnitude of flood during the rainy season, noting that most government schools in the area are completely non-functional due to flooding.

“Roads reading to Okpoko Boys Secondary School, Okpoko Girls Secondary School, and some other schools are in bad conditions, such that students struggle through rising waters to find their way home whenever it rains.”

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Editorial/Opinion

Ministerial appointment: The Aregbesola you don’t know – Farouk

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I wonder why the nomination of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola for ministerial appointment has been generating, unabated ripples and concomitant reactions across the country.

Nonetheless, the immediate past Osun State governor who was recently screened and cleared by the Senate will, in no distant time, be assigned a befitting portfolio.

But the uncommon consensus amidst a few pockets of unfounded criticisms against him has remained that many stalwarts of his party (APC) and friends hold him in a high esteem, saying he is a versatile and talented go-getter who can do wonders in any ministry or department.

Among his teeming adherents is Comrade Umar Farouk, an APC stalwart and friend of the former governor.

Farouk had recalled that as former Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure in Lagos State, Aregbesola laid the foundation for the infrastructural transformation of Lagos, one of the world’s largest megacities.

Comrade Farouk further noted that Ogbeni Aregbesola is not only an outstanding administrator and leader, but also a consumate grassroots campaigner and mobilizer who would take the NextLevel policy thrust of President Muhammadu Buahri’s administration to all and sundry.

“From my interactions with Ogbeni Aregbesola, I see him as a catalyst that would make that much needed difference that Nigerians yearns for under the Buhari administration. He has the experience and capacity”, Farouk maintained.

Equally commenting on the nomination, Prince Newgent Ekamon, a civil rights activist, described Ogbeni Aregbesola as pro- democrat and fiscal federalism advocate whose impact in government would not ignored.

” I recall that as governor of Osun state, Ogbeni Aregbesola was able to create 20, 000 jobs in his first 100 days and went on to initiate other popular socio-economic and people friendly programmes. This tells us that Nigerians would be the better for it with the coming of Ogbeni Aregbesola as Minister. His vast experience in government and skill would see him hit the ground running. He is not just a technocrat, and astute manager of men and materials, he is also a pro-people politician “, Ekamon affirmed.

A Public Affairs Analyst, Abdulkarim Salihu noted that he sees Ogbeni Ategbesola as team player, tested, trust worthy and loyal whose interest in politics is anchored on delivering life more abundant” to the people. “With his versatility and capacity, he can fit into any ministry and perform creditably”, Salihu argued.

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Editorial/Opinion

Politics as banditry in Nigeria

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April 15th 2019 was exactly when I boarded a British Airways night flight back to Abuja after a loaded three weeks’ vacation in the United Kingdom.

As I made for the terminal 5, of one of the world’s most glamorous and one of the busiest airports called Heathrow, a striking news story that made the papers of that day was the planned protest by some people in central London who were billed to be convoked from all parts of Europe to stage series of demonstrations to demand actions by world leaders towards addressing the impact and severe consequences of global warming and climate change. Never mind that comically, President Donald Trump who seems to have educational challenge has disputed tge veracity of climate change and proceeded to pull the USA out of the global treaty on climate change signed in Paris France.

The news of these series of protests sent the shock waves across the political spectrum in London particularly bearing in mind that similar ongoing protests called Yellow vest demonstrations have had devastating impacts to the economic and commercial wellbeing of Paris, France.

Paris in France has a global reputation as the most beautiful city to visit by tourist. So tge political establishment in UK were rattled by the prospects of having similar mass action in Oxford circus which is the commercial nerve center of London.

We will soon revert to these two key European protests by the citizens of Europe.

But the necessity for making references to these two epochal events has occurred, when at the Nigerian National Assembly a very simple and peaceful move to call the attention of political leaders to the effects of environmental pollutants by way of making policy and legal frameworks to encourage the phasing out of petrol engine cars for electric cars was rebuffed by persons who otherwise ought to know better since most of them own hoysibg assets in Europe and America. But like the proverbial giraffe, Nigerian Senators buried their faces in the sand and refuse to be futuristic. Luckily, the fervour for mass protests in Nigeria has declined. But in other developed societies, citizens are demanding actions through series of mass movements similar to civilian led revolutions. So we asked, why are the yellow vests protesting in Paris France? Media reports states correctly that the wave of protests sweeping through France is not a rejection of green policies. It’s a revolt against the 1 percent.

For the past three weeks, France has been experiencing one of the most significant social mobilizations in its recent history, which laid bare the country’s social ills, anti-elite sentiment, growing inequalities and thirst for social justice. So says the news reports.

It all started on November 17 when tens of thousands of people took to the streets across the country to protest against rising fuel prices.

The protesters, dubbed “Les gilets jaunes” (the yellow vests) after the high-visibility jackets they adopted as a symbol of their complaint, blocked roundabouts, burned effigies and clashed with the police. They were angry about the almost 20 percent increase in the price of diesel since the start of the year, as well as the planned fuel tax hike President Emmanuel Macron had recently announced.

While Macron said the tax was necessary to “protect the environment” and “combat climate change”, protesters claimed the decision was yet another sign that the “arrogant” and “privileged” president is out of touch with regular folk struggling to make ends meet.

The intensity of the protests quickly forced the government to make a U-turn and first suspend and later permanently shelve its plans for fuel tax increases.

But not satisfied, media reports stated that, the protest movement was not only about fuel prices. It encompassed wider anger and frustration against the political establishment in general and President Macron in particular. As a result, the government’s decision to abandon fuel tax hikes failed to calm tensions.

The “yellow vests” want further concessions from the government. Their demands include a redistribution of wealth as well as the increase of salaries, pensions, social security payments and the minimum wage. Some say they will not settle for anything less than the president’s resignation.

So how did day-to-day frustrations about fuel prices and “green taxes” transform into a nation-wide protest movement attracting hundreds of thousands of people in a matter of weeks?

It all comes down to Macron’s apparent failure to connect with the people, understand their concerns and steer France away from destructive neoliberal policies. Now lets look at the London protests which yours faithfully missed by the whiskers because i had to return to Nigeria to resume my works. The protests in London is staged by those typically called ‘extinction rebellion Protests.’

The group describes itself as an “international movement” that uses “non-violent civil disobedience” to bring issues such as climate change to the fore.

Organizers say they want to see “radical change” to “minimize the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse”.

The movement started in the UK in 2018 after the release of a report on global warming by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – part of the United Nations.

But What do they want?Extinction Rebellion claims the government is guilty of “criminal inactivity” in addressing the climate change “crisis” and has made three key demands:

§ The government must declare an “emergency” and work with “other institutions” to make changes

§ The UK must enact legally binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025

§ A citizens’ assembly must be formed to “oversee the changes” needed to achieve this goal

The group says that under the current system the UK is “headed for disaster”, with climate change due to cause food shortages and “destroy communities”.

What did they do?

The demonstrations began at 18:00 BST on 15 April, with protesters blocking roads at Marble Arch, before moving on to Oxford Circus, Waterloo Bridge, Piccadilly Circus and Parliament Square.

Activists also caused more than £6,000 of damage at the Shell headquarters in Belvedere Road.

Organizers had urged members to block five “high-profile locations” by booking time off work or going on strike.

“Think festival, arrange to stay with friends or bring camping gear,” the group’s website said.

Over the next 10 days activists glued themselves to and sat on top of trains on London’s light railway, marched on Heathrow Airport, staged “die-ins”, glued themselves to the entrance of the London Stock Exchange and chained themselves to Jeremy Corbyn’s home. But How did the protests affect London?

The government said the protests disrupted the lives of “many hundreds of thousands of hard-working Londoners”.

Police rest days were cancelled over the Easter bank holiday, as more than 1,000 officers were deployed across the city.

As of Thursday afternoon, a total of 1,130 activists were arrested for a range of public order offences, according to police.

So far 69 people have been charged. Who got involved?

In amongst the group’s estimated tens of thousands of protesters, Hollywood stars, global climate change campaigners and Olympians appeared at the demonstrations.

Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg, who gained global attention after staging a climate change protest at her school, came to London to tell demonstrators: “Keep going. You are making a difference.”

She also addressed Parliament, reprimanding the UK for supporting shale gas fracking, greater exploitation of North Sea oil and gas fields, and expanding airports.

On Waterloo Bridge, Olympic gold medal-winning canoeist Etienne Stott was one of the activists who had to be carried off by police officers.

Actress Dame Emma Thompson also joined climate change protesters on board a pink boat parked up in the centre of Oxford Circus. However, Nigeria is on the opposite side of the revolutionary pole. Senator Ben Murray- Bruce who had educational stints in Europe proposed an electric car bill but it was shot down in a manner as if to say the politicians were mere anti- environmental bandits.

The Nigerian senator, Ben Murray-Bruce, who represents Bayelsa East Senatorial District, has taken to his Twitter page to share two of the bills he recently proposed before the Senate.

One of the bills he proposed is the Electric Car Bill, which is basically seeking that the National Assembly approves the use of electric cars in Nigeria.

The Objectives of this Act are to; (a) Comply with the clean energy policy. (b) Encourage the use of modern technology, (c) De-emphasize on oil consumption, (d) Reduce air pollution.

But true to the suspicions of most activists that these senators are a bunch of anti-green bandits, the Nigerian Senate rejected this forward looking bill that sought to phase out the use of petrol cars and introduce electric cars in Nigeria by the year 2035.

Also rejected was the bill that sought to open up the Nigerian citizenship to other Africans.

The two bills were sponsored separately by Ben Murray-Bruce, the lawmaker representing Bayelsa East senatorial district on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

According to Murray-Bruce, combustion cars were causing pollution and contributing to global warming and developed countries are gradually phasing them out. He said phasing out petrol cars would help fight the twin environmental menace of global warming and air pollution.

However, Senator Jibrin Barau said there was no need to make any law compelling Nigerians to use electric cars at a particular period.

He said in view of the economic strength of individual Nigerians, it would be unwise to come up with such legislation.

While kicking against the bill, Ike Ekweremadu, the Deputy Senate President, said it would affect Nigeria’s economy as an oil-producing country.

In the end, Murray-Bruce was advised to withdraw the bill, which he did.

On the bill to open up Nigerian citizenship to other Africans, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah said Sections 25, 26 and 27 of the constitution adequately took care of that. Consequently, Senate President Bukola Saraki put i t to a voice vote, and a majority of the senators voted against it.

As we await the coming of the next session of the National Assembly, Nigerians must wake up from slumber and be ready to make suggestions, stage mass movements and civil protests to ensure that all arms of government complies absolutely with best global practices in such a way that constitutional democracy would be better nurtured, promoted and protected. Making Nigerian environment cleaner and greener is a necessity that must be vigourously campaigned and actualised or we perished. We must day no to politics as banditry.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @www.huriwa.blogspot.com, www.emmanuelonwibiko.com, www.thenigeriaminsidernews.com.

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