Like him or hate him, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu is a liberal businessman. Many people had expected that being a chieftain of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in those days and publisher of The Sun newspapers, he would not tolerate severe criticisms against the then powers that be in his publication. Contrarily, his editors and writers did punch the PDP government silly. A similar scenario is playing out now that he is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, judging from the robust and caustic articles and columns in The Sun titles. This is evident in The Powers That Be, a book written by the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Sun, Mr. Onuoha Ukeh.
The Powers That Be is a compilation of Ukeh’s thoughts and reflections on people, power and politics as published in The Sun over the years.
The 541-page book is beautifully woven around different themes subsumed in 13 chapters. Each of these chapters has different subtitles which reflect the central theme. In chapter 1, entitled ‘Theatre of the Absurd’, Ukeh dwells on the contradictions, absurdities and complexities of a country called Nigeria. You see this in the piece about the pro and anti-Buhari protests that took place in 2017. People like Charles Oputa (Charly Boy), human rights lawyer, Femi Falana; publisher, Omoyele Sowore, defied security agents to march with officials of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress and some civil society organisations in Lagos against the state of the nation. This didn’t yield much dividend as some pro-Buhari protesters also held solidarity rallies in Abuja, Kano and some other cities at the same time. So, did Sowore not make a mistake by staking his neck again to organise ‘Revolution Now’ protests across the country in August this year? He has been in the custody of the Department of State Services (DSS) since then and has been charged with treason. Despite court orders, he has not been released.
Our theatre of the absurd further came to light when heavily armed DSS operatives in 2016 raided the homes of seven judges in the dead of the night, broke down doors and arrested them for corruption. This appeared to be a prelude to the humiliation and subsequent removal of Walter Onnoghen as the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Ukeh sees this as a joke taken too far and that it provokes resentment.
He says, “If the Executive could get a judge suspended on allegation of corruption or whatever, when the judge has not been found guilty in court, and we applaud, very soon we will discover that judges will be told what to do with cases before them. By then it will be too late to have a proper democracy.” What a prophetic statement!
In February 2017, officers of the Nigeria Customs Service amplified the perfidy of the DSS by raiding Sango Ota Motor Park in Ogun State at midnight. They broke into over 60 shops and carted away bags of rice and kegs of groundnut oil. Ukeh condemns this midnight raid and says if nothing is done, officers may start visiting people’s homes to inspect cooking pots in search of smuggled rice. Recall that a few weeks ago, Customs officers similarly raided and sealed many car marts across the country, claiming that 90 per cent of cars in Nigeria were smuggled. As it was in 2017, so it is in 2019. Nothing has changed.
The Nigerian mess continues on page 17 with ‘Issues in the Maina Mess’. Here, Ukeh recalls the controversies that trailed the reinstatement of erstwhile assistant director in the Ministry of Interior, Abdulrasheed Maina, and some other controversies revolving around President Buhari. Remember that former President Goodluck Jonathan had appointed Maina to head a panel on pension reforms in 2010. In 2013, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission declared him wanted for alleged fraud. He abandoned his job and disappeared from Nigeria. He was later dismissed from service. When Buhari came to power, Maina returned more like a hero. He not only got reinstated in the civil service but also got a promotion.
These controversies, the author notes, “signpost a government whose actions and inactions have left many not only bewildered but also wondering why Nigerians fell for the lie that President Buhari would bring about a positive change.”
Part of the hypocrisy and pretension of our leaders is highlighted in the piece entitled, ‘Fuel Price: See What Politics, Hypocrisy Have Caused’ on page 18. Here, Ukeh chronicles the protest against fuel price hike by people like President Buhari, Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka; and former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, when Jonathan was President in January 2012. He regrets that these same people looked on when Buhari increased fuel price to 70 per cent.
It is in ‘The Coup in Police Recruitment’ on page 44 that the author explains this hypocrisy very well. In 2016, the police authorities had adopted the local government areas system in recruiting constables as against the federal character principle. Ukeh concludes that this was a deliberate ploy to ensure that states with bogus local government areas, irrespective of population, got more policemen than others, and that it ensured the North’s dominance of the police.
He also highlights the northern skew inherent in the appointments in the other security agencies and the judiciary. On page 374, he notes the delay by the President to appoint Justice Walter Onnoghen as substantive CJN. “In the last 29 years, eight justices of the Supreme Court from the northern part of the country have taken turns in occupying, one after another, the office of the CJN,” he says. And if I may add, another northerner is currently there as the CJN. Onnoghen who is from Cross River State was recently forced out of the position.
Ukeh may not be a seer, but he exhibits the traits of one in some of his political predictions. On page 450, in the piece entitled, ‘Warning To PDP! Watch Out, APC Is Coming!’ published on November 15, 2013, he warns that the PDP will destroy itself if the arrogance and warring posture of its leaders are not curtailed. The author then predicts, “Watch out, APC is coming. If the PDP dismisses this warning, as it normally does, it would be at its peril. One thing that’s clear is this: Whenever it loses power at the centre, it will take the grace of God for it to regain it.”
– Igbokwe is a respected journalist and publisher of News Probe