Monday, November 29, 2010

Kidnappers on rampage

Top: Amb. Lawrence Akindele and below; Pa Abdul Lateef Olujobi. PHOTOS: MAURICE ARCHIBONG

Nigerian kidnappers invade Cotonou

Fear grips Nigerian community as kidnappers invade Cotonou
…Cemetery is ransom’s collection point
Nigerians resident in Cotonou now live in fear following a rising wave of kidnappings in that city, which is the economic capital of neighbouring Benin Republic. No fewer than six incidents of abduction for ransom have been recorded in Cotonou in the last six months, and Nigerians have been fingered or outright proven to have been involved in these crimes.
The latest kidnap incident took place penultimate Sunday, 21 November, 2010; when two children of Mr. Mike Orji, Assistant General Secretary of the Nigerian Community Union (NCU), Cotonou; were seized from their home, while their parents were on an outing.
Although the captives were eventually released, five days later; on Thursday 25 November; their father had to cough out over CFA1.2million (at least N380,000) to get them back. The rogue elements had earlier demanded a ransom of CFA20million (over N700,000) for the children’s release but after “negotiations” they had settled for roughly 50 percent of the original sum.
Although an apparently distraught Mr. Orji would not take our calls, when we sought confirmation of the release of his kidnapped children, Ambassador Lawrence Akindele, Nigerian Ambassador to Benin Republic, revealed the captives were set free on the day in question. The Ambassador, however, called for caution regarding the nationality of any criminal in Benin or other foreign lands, pointing out that; until the suspected criminal’s screening and documentation were concluded, one could not be certain; where such characters hailed from.
Nonetheless, the Nigerian envoy went on to condemn kidnappers harshly: “They (kidnappers) must be condemned. Their activities are nothing but sheer wickedness. In fact, they should be made to face stiff penalties, as deterrent to others”, Ambassador Akindele charged.
It could be recalled that the Nigerian community in Cotonou came under some form of heat over the kidnap of a Lebanese in April this year. The victim (names withheld) had been seized by two young men and taken to a hideout somewhere in the sprawling city. Following negotiations, one of the kidnappers had gone to pick up the ransom. However, he practically walked into a police ambush and was made to lead the security operatives to where the captive was being held. There, the victim was freed and both kidnappers taken into detention. To verify their nationality, the Nigerian embassy had been called in, and a consular officer as well as a member of the Igbo community had visited the detainees in prison; whereupon it was confirmed that they are natives of Ahiazu-Mbaise.
Aside Mr. Mike Orji; Mr. Innocent Otuohan, who hails from Mbitolu, Imo State; had surrendered CFA2million (over N700,000) as ransom for the release of two of his sons seized by kidnappers, five months ago. In the same vein, another Igbo victim was forced to pay CFA300,000 (over N100,000) as ransom to recover his two children, too.
An emerging pattern is the abduction of not one, but two children here; however, apparently owing to fear; prominent Nigerians in Cotonou were wary of discussing any thing that had to do with kidnappings in this city.
It is also worth noting that in all cases of kidnapping in these parts, the criminals had asked for the ransom money to be dropped for them inside a cemetery in the town of Ouidah. Ouidah (pronounced Widda) is an ancient slave port settlement and lies west of Cotonou on the way to Hilla Condji. The use of a cemetery as collection point of ransom money has sparked speculations that the kidnappers could be connected to evil cults.
Reacting to growing rumours since October this year that a kidnapping gang from Nigeria had invaded Benin Republic, and worried that any criminal act traced to a Nigerian could poison the cordial relationship between the host Beninoise community and law-abiding Nigerians who had been living in Cotonou and carrying out legitimate business for decades; members of the Igbo community had called a meeting, where the matter was discussed at length.
Rising from that gathering, it was agreed that a circular be sent to all relevant stakeholders calling on every Igbo in Cotonou to be vigilant because, as it had been learnt; the visiting kidnappers avoid lodging in hotels to evade detection. Instead, they squat in the homes of some kinsmen from where they hatch their evil plots.
The memo had therefore warned that any one discovered to be habouring any kidnapper would be reported to the Beninoise security authorities. As the highest ranking member of the Nigerian community at that sitting, the lot had fallen on Mr. Orji to sign the circular; and, it is widely believed the kidnappers resorted to abducting his children as part of a grand design to intimidate the man as well as silence other prospective critics of their nefarious activities.
When contacted, NCU General Secretary, Pa Abdul Lateef Olujobi said he was not aware of the incidents and, therefore, could not comment. Expatiating, this scribe said he had only just returned to Cotonou after a visit to his home town, Ede in Osun State, Nigeria; where he celebrated the latest Eid el Kabir.
Similarly, comments could not be got from the Chairman of Igbo Union in Benin Republic, Chief Ebuka Onunkwo. Chief Onunkwo had personally experienced life as kidnappers’ victim, and we thought his views were important in this matter, even though he had been abducted in Nigeria and not in Benin Republic. However, we were told during attempts to reach him that Chief Onunkwo, who is CEO of Bukas International Sarl; was outside Africa for business transactions.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Trial of 4 NGA chiefs billed to resume today

Joe Musa, 3 other NGA chiefs’ trial resumes today
One trial, many bizarre twists and turns

‘Justice is a two-way traffic: the same way the prosecution is entitled to look out for their security, is the same way the accused person is entitled to their speedy trial’ – defense counsel

The trial of four chieftains of the National Gallery of Art (NGA) is billed to resume today, 30 November, from 8.30am at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court near FCDA Resettlement Centre, Apo; with His Lordship, Hon. Justice Olukayode Adeniyi presiding. The hearing is slated to continue tomorrow, Tuesday, 1 December.
Chief Joe Musa, one of the accused persons, was in 2006 appointed Director General of the NGA; Nigeria’s apex agency responsible for the regulation of the nation’s visual arts sub-sector. Aside Musa; Mr. Olusegun Ogunba, Dr. Kweku Tandoh and Mrs. Oparagu Elizabeth; NGA’s Director of Finance, Director of Research and Education, and Deputy Director Administration respectively; are also co-defendants. All the accused persons are on suspension from work pending the outcome of Suit No. FCT/HC/CR/49/09.
The above named quartet, alongside a fifth accused, Mr. Chinedu Obi; were arraigned on 20 July, 2009. However, following amendment of Charge No CR/49/09 preferred against the five accused persons by the prosecution counsel, Sir Steve Ehi Odiase Esq. of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); Obi’s name was expunged from the list of defendants. Seven, out of eight witnesses, have already testified; but, taking the last witness seems to have turned into a tool for foot-dragging.
Initially, the quintet was collectively arraigned on a 12-count charge, which includes alleged diversion of N1billion of public funds between August 2006 and April 2009; but, the charges’ number dropped to 8, sequel to its amendment. Charges preferred against the four still standing trial include “Criminal Misappropriation” and “Falsification of Accounts”. But, this trial; whenever it is eventually concluded will be remembered as one that threw up many curious twists and turns.

Catalogue of curios
Consider this confounding curio: On 20 July, this year, during one of the hearings; the prosecution counsel, while seeking another adjournment, had alleged; inter alia: “I have also received strange phone calls on this matter, which makes me very uncomfortable...”. It is worth noting that this rendition made to the hearing of everyone in attendance; is also documented in the court’s Record of Proceedings. Strangely, however, the misinformation deliberately fed the public the following day by some media had it that one of the prosecution witnesses failed to show up in court over mystery calls to his phone threatening his life; whereas it was Sir Steve who claimed to have received allegedly menacing calls.
Moreover, the prosecution counsel had the previous day, 19 July; secured adjournment on the ground, among others; that one of the witnesses could not come to court due to illness. But, that witness particular was physically present in the courtroom on the date in question and some defense counsels had actually seen him and consequently prayed the court to order the man’s cross-examination.
More excerpts from the same Record of Proceedings: On 20 July, the court had hardly settled down to resume hearing when the prosecution counsel “required an adjournment to enable us investigate whether or not it is true that the 1st accused person has been interfering with the investigation and prosecution of this case”. EFCC counsel, Sir Steve Odiase (Esq.), was referring to what he called “intelligent report”, which he got; “that David Ajiboye, one of the prosecutors’ witnesses, was seen in the residence of Chief Joe Musa the previous day (19 July). According to Sir Steve, this particular witness also failed to turn up for pre-trial conferencing scheduled for 3pm that day; therefore, he needed time to find out what was really going on.
Interestingly, this prosecution’s request was countered by counsel to Dr. Kweku Tandoh (3rd accused person), who said “I urge the court to refuse the application for adjournment”. As preamble, the learned counsel had earlier submitted; “I sympathize with the PC (Prosecution Counsel), but he has not stated that he received any of such calls from any of the accused persons. He (PC) is prosecuting many cases. He (PC) declined to call the same David Ajiboye yesterday, when asked to do so. The PC should be compelled to continue with the other witnesses. Justice is a two-way traffic: The same way the prosecution is entitled to look out for their security, is the same way the accused person is entitled to their speedy trial”.
In the same vein, counsel to the 4th accused person had urged “the court to refuse the application of the prosecution counsel (for adjournment) on the grounds that the investigation the Commission (EFCC) will carry out, can run ‘pari-pasu’ with trial”. Continuing, this lawyer had added; “Adjournment again here will cause unnecessary delay. We urge the court to order that the trial should go on today as ordered by the court yesterday”.
However, the case was stood down till 11am. Immediately after resumption, counsel to the 3rd accused person had submitted: “I want to place on the records of the Court that the same David Ajiboye that was said to have run away by the learned prosecution counsel is present in this Court as I speak”.
Consequently, “The Court confirmed from the said Mr. David Ajiboye whether he was present when the matter was first called in the morning and he answered in the affirmative”; according to official Record of Proceedings. Albeit, the PC had immediately taken a different witness; and, after cross-examination and re-examination of prosecution witness 7, the court had set the matter down to 18 October “for confirmation of hearing”, even as it enjoined “the prosecution to produce all their remaining witnesses on that day”. However, that day’s sitting was overtaken by events; the date fell within the vacation period of the presiding adjudicator.

High wire distortions
Interestingly, it is not only inside the court you get to encounter twists like this; outside, the manoeuvre assumes gymnastic, even acrobatic, dimensions. For instance; a respected national daily had, probably without the knowledge of its editor; carried a report purportedly emanating from the court’s sitting on 18 October; whereas no hearing took place on that day. Also, some news media had reported that it was a witness that expressed fear for his life over threatening calls; whereas it was Sir Steve, the prosecution counsel, who claimed to have received allegedly menacing calls.
In deed, there are many other points to ponder as far as this trial is concerned. For example, Charge 8 reads: “That you Chief Joe Musa being Director General of the National Gallery of Art, and Olusegun Ogunba being Director of Finance on or about the 1st day of August 2006 to April 2009 in Abuja within the Jurisdiction of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, willfully and with intent to defraud, made false entries in your employer’s books of accounts by inflating the monthly overhead cost of National Gallery of Art from N15million to about N19,257,116 and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 371 of the Penal Code Act Cap 532 of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (Abuja) 1990”
However, one of the witnesses; Mr. Henry Uche Achugbu, who is a Deputy Director in NGA’s Finance and Accounts Department, in a sworn statement to the EFCC; stated inter alia: “On salaries paid to staff; in 2006 we were paying about N16million monthly; in 2007 we were paying about N18million monthly; in 2008 we were paying N19.2million monthly; and, presently (around June 2009) we are paying around N21million monthly”. Record of the Court’s Proceedings on 19 July 2010 reveals that one of the Prosecution Witnesses, Eyioluse Solomon, a Senior Accountant with the NGA; practically corroborated Mr. Achugbu’s averments.
Mr. Solomon had re-echoed in the court, what he told EFCC operatives, while he was their guest following his invitation by the anti-graft agency in early March 2009. In Solomon’s words: “I was asked questions on petition against personnel cash, in 2008; I told them (EFCC) that before the era (of) consolidated salaries, we prepared salary to the tune of about N16million and that when we started paying consolidated salaries, we prepared salaries to the tune of about N19.5million on the average monthly basis. Consolidated salaries mean salaries which came before after (sic) the introductory (sic) of the monetization schemes for MDAs. The average monthly releases for the period 2008 was (sic) about N24.270million. Sometimes there could be stoppage of salaries of some staff due to one offence or the other. I could not therefore give an accurate figures (sic) of the salary expenditure”.
Months after the accused persons’ arraignment and after following the case based on exchanges inside the court; a hitherto little-known arts activists’ body with the acronym of AHEAD (Arts for Human Empowerment and Development) had jumped into the fray by calling a press conference, where it alleged a “Plot to kill the Arts and its symbols”. “The framing of Joe Musa and the destruction of the Art Community in Nigeria”, a statement issued by Ahead, signed by the association’s President, Mr. Dan Nwokoji-aku; reads: “That the sum of N2.2billion said to have been misappropriated by Joe Musa is totally false and a callous misrepresentation of the facts. When the DG (Musa) and other officials of the NGA were arraigned on 20 July 2009, the initial amount they were charged is N1.2billion. These much can also be found on EFCC website”.
Additionally, Ahead also reminded that “On 20 July 2010, the prosecutor alleged that he received several telephone calls that morning threatening him over the case and for that reason he wanted the case to be adjoined. He (the prosecutor) also claimed that one of the witnesses, Henry Achugbu, could not come (to court) because he was sick. (However), all the defense lawyers argued that Henry Achugbu was seen in court the previous day 19 July, 2009 and prayed the court that he should be cross examined.
Culling from documents in the public domain, the arts activist’s statement recalled that in 2008; the budget for NGA was N2,163,229,278. However, total amount remitted to the Gallery was N1,178,362,054; leaving a shortfall to the tune of N984,867,224. Apparently referring to accusations of embezzlement, Ahead queried: “Is it possible to embezzle an amount that was never released”?
In the arts activist’s words: “The testimonies or statements credited to all the witnesses were all misrepresented: They were all made up for the purpose of media bashing of Joe Musa…” and that “The court record of proceedings of this trial is available to the public to verify all the witnesses’ statements”.
Ahead had, among others, further pointed out that; “The counts were 12 and not 14 as widely reported. As at date, these counts have been reduced to 8 after 4 counts were quashed on December 17, 2009 and this has further reduced the amounts charged from N1.2billion to only about N800million”.
To be sincere, misappropriation is defined more by the deed than the sum involved; therefore, one could not attempt to exculpate the suspects because the money allegedly missing is less than N2.2billion. As things stand, the revered adjudicator, Hon. Justice Olukayode Adeniyi; is the only person that can declare any of the suspects guilty or otherwise based on proven evidence.

In for a long haul
Currently, the summary of observers’ views across the land regarding the ongoing prosecution of the suspects seems to be; “if this trial’s antecedents are anything to go by, those involved are in for a marathon”. This perception derives from the surprises that have dogged this trial since it began on 20 July 2009. Therefore, skepticism shrouds the possibility that Monday’s planned sitting would be fruitful. “The 30 November scheduled resumption of trial may well turn out another motion without movement”, mused one of many observers, who on arrival at Lugbe High Court in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) on 18 October, when the case had earlier been slated for continuation; learnt that the sitting had been postponed.
Expectedly, the suspects and their defense counsels as well as numerous watchers had turned up at Lugbe Federal High Court only to hear that the sitting had been put off. The reason, we gathered, was that the trial judge had just begun his vacation. The man deserved the rest after sitting to hear urgent cases throughout the period, when his counterparts and colleagues had their annual break.
However, the decision to postpone the resumption seemed not to have been communicated to both sides of the interested parties; otherwise, the prosecution team would have been seen at the court premises on 18 October, 2010.

It could be recalled that the memo that sent Musa on suspension, reference number FMCT/25/S.3/C1/54, dated 10 September, 2009; was allegedly delivered within 30 minutes after Justice Sylvester Orji of Federal High Court Wuse struck out motions filed by Chief Joe Musa seeking preservation of the status quo pending the court’s verdict after his trial. Many respondents had, at that time, observed that the haste behind that suspension letter; given that Musa had 30 days within which to appeal against the judgment, hint at disregard for the rule of law and due process.
Such watchers see the current situation, where some media reports sequel to the sitting of a court are grotesque distortions of what transpired during the trial in question as continuation of an agenda, they described as “unwholesome”. Money, many followers of this case believe, is the suspected hallucinogen that inspires wild creativity on the part of some reporters, who jettison ethical principles with reckless abandon.
This situation; where proceedings in the court end up in the media with bizarre tweaks must be tracked and their perpetrators sanctioned. The scenario is the more disturbing because of its spread; from the sober to literally inebriate media, few are exempt; and, it is also worth noting that the writer’s identity or by-line is conveniently missing against some of these warped reports.
Evidently, editors, media proprietors and activists et cetera need to keep a close watch on this unfolding saga. Move over Nollywood; for, none can afford any distraction from the thriller unfolding in the trial of NGA chieftains! This is why for countless observers; all roads will lead to High Court on Monday, 30 November; 2010.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Happy Birthday Frauke!

Frauke and Wieben in 2000. Photo: MAURICE ARCHIBONG

Froh Geburtstag Frauke

Frauke Homann’s birthday invokes nostalgic recall of visit to Germany in 2000

In the last quarter of 2000, roughly 20 years after I finished a beginner’s course in the German language, I was able to visit Germany; thanks to Mrs. Renate Albertsen-Marton, the then Director of Goethe Institut (German Cultural Centre), Lagos.
My trip to Berlin was primarily to attend a refresher course in that European tongue, which I had earlier studied from 1979 to 1981, concurrently with Russian language at the then USSR Cultural Centre, also in Lagos. By 1995, some 15 years after taking my diploma in Russian; I had to admit I had lost that language due to outright disuse. I was still able to retain some German because of occasional exercises with nationals of that country or German-speaking Nigerians.
However, about 1999, I had started responding in English, when spoken to in German: Although comprehension wasn’t as easy as before, expressing my self in German had become even more difficult. Interestingly, Mrs. Albertsen-Marton actually pointed this out to me, and I told her how sad I was, but put the blame on inadequate use of the tongue.
Unknown to me, the lady had taken steps to ensure that my German though kaput, did not evaporate altogether. That, in a nutshell, is how she recommended me for a two-month refresher course at Goethe Institut, Berlin. That, in a nutshell; is how I got to meet my guest family, Wieben and Frauke Homann.
In Berlin, this great German couple practically turned out like long-lost family for me. Those days, Wieben in his 60s was already years into life as a retired teacher; however his elegant wife, Frauke, had not yet clocked the retirement age and was, therefore, still teaching. Before my arrival, this pair had hosted about 50 students of the German language from over 13 countries across the world.
Interestingly, Mr. Homann or simply Wieben was at the airport to meet me, when I entered Berlin that morning in early November 2000. November or autumn is usually not a warm period here, but that Wednesday morning the sky shone clear blue and the sun hung brave and bright as early as 10am. Moreover, the ambient temperature was rather warm for the season.
A risible fellow, Wieben had a quip in store as we headed towards the car park. “Sometimes, the weather can be cold for some days, but every time we have a guest from Africa; he brings some sunshine with him.”
The Homanns had waited three days for my arrival and had probably had to replace the apples and bananas, which adorned the desk in my room. That was not all; a welcome note written in German followed by Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa translations was placed before the Reis Gebaeck or Yatsukko Arare, Japanese hot flavoured rice crackers. This rice meal apparently came from Miss Mitsue Nagaya. Also a guest of the Homanns, the Japanese lady was pursuing a PhD in culture-related studies in Berlin.

Transparent lifestyle
It is often said that charity begins at home. I believe that transparency and accountability couldn’t have a different root. After a two-month stay with the Homanns in Berlin, I came away with the impression that Nigeria’s march towards transparency and accountability, which are sine qua non for good governance; remains a long way off. Living in a German household, it would be impossible to live above one’s income because of the regular evening tea-time chat, and the fact that you only shut your bedroom door, when you’re indoor.
The Homanns have had guests from Japan, Cote d’Ivoire and China etcetera. I happened to be the sixth Nigerian quartered by this benevolent couple. Before me had been Dr. Yomi Akinwunmi. Others include Jide Ogungbade, Kazeem Adeleke and Emeka Udemba. After my visit, the Homanns also hosted Steve Ayorinde, among others.
During my visit to the German capital in 2000, I wasn’t the only guest of the Homanns. The other guest was Ms Mitsue Nagaya, a Japanese art history scholar, and each evening, every member of the household was expected to sit together after dinner for tea or coffee. This daily “einladung” (date) wasn’t just about tea or coffee; it offered a golden opportunity for probing no-holds-barred discussions. Often, things started with, “how was your day? Did you encounter any difficulty? Are your finances OK”? And then progressed to things like, “How did you come by that expensive item you brought home? Since from the very beginning, every member of the household already knew one another’s income, if you turned up with something beyond your earnings, you’d have to explain how you procured it. You simply couldn’t hide it away inside your room, since each person had to leave his/her bedroom door open upon going out. Now, that’s what I call transparency! No secrets: no corruption. I also noticed that houses didn’t have high fences around them, so every one could see whatever any one was up to. Furthermore, streetlights worked, as did traffic lights, and most important of all, there was uninterrupted electricity.
This last aspect brought me face to face with how abnormal successive Nigerian governments have left other Nigerians and me. This heartrending reality hit me, while I was setting a story on the PC in the Homanns’ sitting room, shortly after my arrival in Berlin. Frauke and her hubby had been watching TV, while I was busy tapping away on the keyboard.
A bell goes off on the Homanns’ computer, each time you punched the save key. After a while, Frauke actually had to ask me, if I had to press the save key after every sentence. She simply couldn’t stand the obtrusive noise of the save bell any more.
Coming from the Nigerian environment, where electricity supply is at best epileptic, I was pressing the save key, virtually after every word. That is how we typeset in Nigeria because there could be a power-cut at any time. However, power outage is a most unusual occurrence in Germany. Sadly, Nigerian political leaders’ irresponsible governance had trailed me all the way to Europe.
During my stay with them, Wieben and Frauke had taken me on a tour of the Treptow-based headquarters of world famous insurance giant Allianz, in Berlin, where an exhibition was also running at the time, and I had also travelled to a part of Berlin that used to be in the then Eastern Germany.
The inhabitants of this part of Germany are called Ossies, derived from the German word for East (Ost). It was here, in a neighbourhood called Prenzlauerberg, that I spent several hours with multiple awards-winning author Mrs. Holde-Babara Ulrich. We had been chatting for more than two hours, and were now savouring special Yuletide cakes (Stolle and Weihnacts Kuchen); when I suddenly realized I was having a hard time taking my eyes off the surrounding walls.
There was something déjà vu about two of the several paintings on her walls. I thought I could identify the artist. I was pulled out of my reverie by Holde-Barnara’s probe: Do you know the painter? I think so, I replied, guardedly. And, was Holde-Babara delighted; when I correctly named the artist? Her face lit up excitedly, when I mentioned Muraina Oyelami, a chief of Iragbiji, near the Osun State capital, Osogbo. Chief Oyelami’s works are some of many collectors’ favourites. Esa Iragbiji Oyelami, an alumnus of the Uli Baier’s Mbari Workshop decades ago, did not just distinguish himself as a painter; he had since grown into a revered traditional ruler. This royal father is also a celebrated drummer and culture scholar, who had worked at various universities in Europe and Asia as visiting lecturer/instructor.
Another reason Christmas 2000 proved an unforgettable experience for me is the grand Christmas party, which brought our classes at Goethe Institut, Berlin to a close. The get-together took place inside the auditorium, where we normally went for tea/coffee break. Though the event lasted barely two hours, the memory of this party would remain with me for the rest of my life.
There was plenty to eat and drink but, not being a food buff, this was the least part of the highpoints for me. For me, the classic clincher was the part, towards the end of the fest, when students from various countries were asked to sing Christmas Carol in their mother tongue. Many of my classmates, Scotsman Phillip, Brazilian Tomaz, Spaniard beau Signora Nora, Algerian Nahmi (I think) and others picked me out from the corner, where I stood and. Suddenly, there was a deafening silence in the hall.
Rising to the occasion, I reflexively broke into Keresimesi, Odun de/ Ebere, eyo; efi ijo si o. But before I could start dancing in line with the lyrics, the whole hall went wild. Spontaneously, everyone was dancing and from nowhere, sounds of drumming filled the air. Doors, bags, books and all were suddenly converted to drums. And there was a deafening applause, when I stopped singing.
However, another student, Jean Servais Bakyono, a journalist from Cote d’Ivoire, drew the participants’ attention to the fact that there were hundreds of tongues in Nigeria and wanted to know which part of my country the song came from.
Again, another loud silence: That was a Yoruba carol, I explained. Are you Yoruba? Bakyono queried. No, I answered, adding that Yoruba came to me spontaneously; that I actually have a working knowledge of three Nigerian languages and generally feel like I come from every part of my country.
So, sing us another carol in your own mother tongue, came another comment from my friend. At this point, I lunged into Eeyen amana ono nyin/ Eyen amana ono nyin/ Eeyen andi kpon kan, Eeyen amana ono nyin.
But, contrary to everyone’s previous excited owambe-like, reaction to the Yoruba song, the hall was moved into a pensive, sobering mood probably by the solemn tone of this Efik song. When I finished, many won’t let me be; they asked for encore. Since it was by popular demand, I had to sing this carol all over again. I knew it was a splendid outing because some students actually came to ask me to write the lyrics of both songs for them afterwards.
Truly, Goethe Institut Berlin etched its name on my heart for life. Many thanks to Herrn Leiter (the then Director), Frau Renate Peschke, Frau Ikonomu, Frau Steinmetz, my class teacher, Frau Mock; and all the workers there, including a tall attractive lady, who was like the liaison officer between the school authorities and students of all continents, shapes, sizes, backgrounds and so on.
Christmas Eve in Lachendorf
Christmas in Germany offered the opportunity of enjoying life in Celle, Lachendorf and Nordburg; three other settlements of that country. Before we set out for Lachendorf, possibly to prepare the Hellers, our prospective host family; so they could work out the volume of food to cook in the light of the number of guests visiting, Frauke had called her niece to say that she would be bringing two foreigners along.
The youngest of the Heller kids, Malte; had apparently been listening to his mom talking to Frauke. When Malte heard that two foreigners were coming to their home, the 9-year-old asked to speak with Frauke.
His query: "Where are these foreigners (Auslaenderen) from?" Frauke responded that one is Japanese. The lad had no problem with that, he had a computer in his room, and some of his electronic appliances were Japanese-made. But when Frauke added that the other foreigner is "ein Schwartz aus Afrika," the boy perhaps almost grew hysterical with fright.
A good example of transparency is relevant here: Frauke actually gave the phone to me, so I could hear first-hand, Malte's reaction. "Mama, Mama, don't let them (the Homanns) bring an African here"! I returned the mouthpiece to Frauke, who asked the lad, "Warum" (why)? Once more, she handed the phone to me. Malte again: “If a black African comes here, he'll scare away Santa Claus, and I'll lose my Christmas presents!"
As the myth goes, every Christmas Eve, Santa Claus visits kids and dumps numerous Yuletide gifts around the bed of the sleeping children that had been well-behaved during the year. And having never seen a black in his life, young Malte believed that the sight of a black face would frighten off Santa Claus, thus depriving him of his Xmas gifts. Like Malte, most German kids living in the countryside encounter blacks on TV sets and the Internet. Usually, these blacks are African-American sports stars and pop music icons, but owing to international media prejudice, black Africans are synonymous with genocide (Rwanda, Burundi, and more recently, Sudan’s Dafur region), AIDS, famine, refugees and poverty.
Somehow, Frauke calmed Malte and reassured him that I wasn't the kind that would put off Santa. Und was ist er von beruf? The boy was now curious to know my profession. Kultur und Reise Journalist (Culture and Travel writer), Frauke replied.
To be candid, after this conversation, when we eventually set out for Lachendorf; I was worried as to how Malte would receive me. In Lachendorf, I met Mr. Manfred Heller, his wife Susanne and their brilliant sons, Malte and Jan-Ole on the first day that the snow cast a cleansing glow upon the earth since I arrived in Germany.
Susanne and her husband, Manfred; are both social workers. Other guests of the Hellers that evening included Inke, a pretty teenager, and her mom, Brigitte; as well as Grandpa Werner Hansen. Lest, we are accused of not being animal-friendly, Brigitte’s dog (Ulme), was also present, as were the lads’ cats, Findus and Rumpel. But let’s preview some of the German countryside we visited, first.
Located near Celle, in Niedersachsen; Nordburg lies barely 50 minutes’ drive from Hanover, that famous world trade centre, which also serves as the capital of this northern German State or as the Germans say, Land. Nordburg was founded barely 20 years before my visit, whereas the adjacent township of Alt (Old) Celle was already over 700 years old. The oldest extant building in Alt Celle, the Hoppenher Haus; was erected in 1532, according to an inscription on one of the walls of that structure.
Although Nordburg is supposed to be only three hours away from Berlin, by car, we spent five hours getting there because of a 10-kilometer bumper-to-bumper crawl, forced by an accident. Lachendorf lies 8 km from Nordburg, with Wienhausen in-between. Wienhausen holds a large museum-cum-Old People’s Home in a building, which used to house a monastery, until some 300 years ago.
Roughly translated, Lachendorf, the name of the town; sounds like Laughter or Laughing Village; but, this beautiful settlement is serious business because it has so much going for it. Lachendorf boasts a brewery, founded more than a century ago by one Herr Carl Betz, and aside her charming architecture, the well-manicured lawns and enchanting flowerbeds, this town has a thriving paper manufacturing tradition.
And, what’s so special about a paper mill, you want to ask? Well, what stands the world-famous Lachendorf mill out from the run-of-the-mill paper outfit is that Lachendorf produces papers, which are used for printing money. I learnt that this industry is more than 450 years old in Lachendorf. As to the exact age of Lachendorf, we could not ascertain. While Herr Werner Hansen, a member of the SPD believes the town is older than 1,000 years, we gathered that the then ruling CDU was planning an 800-year anniversary, at the time.
As it turned out, Malte happened to be one of the best English language students in his school. English is a compulsory subject in many German schools, but that wasn't all that got us hitting it off. When we went for Christmas Eve service at the local Lutheran Church, most northern Germans are protestant, while the southern and western areas are predominantly Catholic, Malte noticed that I could sing the hymns in German, and most of his probes elicited what I believe he considered proper responses.
We emerged from the church to find the topography under a thick blanket of snow. As the evening aged, the snow waxed thicker and the ambience grew colder, but inside the home of our hosts it was mid-summer, going by the warmth of the people in whose company I found myself.

Auf wiedersehen
Frauke and Wieben, I can hardly wait to see them again; and, all the other unforgettable folks I met, Malte, Jan-Ole, Jan-Peter, Dagmara, Mr. Manfred Heller, his wife Susanne and their brilliant sons, Malte and Jan-Ole; Inke, a pretty teenager, and her mom, Brigitte, as well as Grandpa Werner Hansen, Adama Ulrich and her mom, Barbara; among many others.

Auf wiedersehen!

Friday, November 19, 2010

President Jonathan hailed over Runsewe's reappointment

President Goodluck Jonathan GCFR
L-R: Tourism and Culture Minister Abubakar Sadiq Mohammed with Idu II.
NTDC DG, Runsewe with Comrade Mbon of AUPCTRE during the latter’s visit to Tourism Village, Abuja. 

All hail NTDC

Igbo king, Labour applaud Runsewe’s reappointment
‘New guidelines for FCT parks out soon’
The reappointment of Otunba Olusegun Runsewe as Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) has been roundly hailed by Nigerians from all walks of life. People of all strata; ex-president, sovereigns, nobles, the working class, labour activists and so on; have praised President Goodluck Jonathan for the retention of Runsewe as chief of Nigeria’s apex tourism body.
It could be recalled that former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, at this year’s Akwaaba Africa Travel Market (AfTM) held at Eko Hotel and Suites from 23 to the 25th October lauded Otunba Runsewe for tangible revolutionary improvements recorded in Nigeria’s tourism sector since he assumed duty as NTDC Director General.
From Anambra State to Kaduna State in the South East and North Central geopolitical zones respectively, through Abuja in Federal Capital Territory (FCT); President Jonathan has similarly been widely commended for reappointing Runsewe to a second term as DG of the NTDC. The maxim, “You don’t change a winning team”, seems an apt way of summarizing the comments made by countless respondents, when news of Runsewe’s reappointment hit town.
In deed, the “Igwe” (King) of Igbo Ukwu, HRH Martin Nwafor Ezeh, had sent this writer a text message in which he expressed joy at Runsewe’s reappointment, shortly after it was announced a few weeks ago. During a telephone conversation, which followed the monarch’s SMS; this Igwe or “Idu” II, had described government’s decision to allow Runsewe to continue in his current office as “an indication of President Goodluck Jonathan’s wisdom, and evidence of his sincere resolve to get Nigeria out of the woods”.
Apparently alluding to the tourism industry’s capability to enhance social and economic growth, Idu II remarked: “Where tourism thrives, it creates more jobs; and, when jobs opportunities are not scarce, the crime rate goes down. You know that the man (Otunba Runsewe) has brought about many positive changes in Nigeria’s tourism industry.
“Look at the number of hotels, festivals and fairs springing up all over the country now, and the large number of Nigerians for whom these enterprises and events provide a source of livelihood; who could have imagined that Nigeria would have so many thriving festivals before Runsewe assumed the saddle as NTDC director general”, the Igwe asked. Concluding, Idu II remarked; “It is a result of competence, devotion to duty and equitable allocation of values. In fact, people like Otunba Runsewe are the type of people we need at the apex of every sector for our long-awaited change; I hope other highly placed Nigerians will emulate him”.
Labour too
In a related development, members of the Amalgamated Union of Public and Civil Service Technical and Recreational Employee (AUPCTRE) have also hailed Runsewe’s reappointment, which they described “as a deserved one”. Executive members of the labour union made this declaration during a courtesy call on the NTDC DG at the Tourism Village, Abuja.
Vice Chairman, Federal Capital Territory chapter of the union; Comrade Stephen Mbon, was head of AUPCTRE’s delegation, which during its visit to Runsewe, paid glowing tributes on the NTDC helmsman. Mbon intoned that Runsewe’s renewed tenure is not a surprise to him and members of the union. Hear him: “You deserve it; and, it is to your credit that we now know more about tourism”.
The labour activist, who seized the moment to thank Otunba Runsewe “for the welfare packages, he has been delivering to NTDC staff since assuming office in 2006, added that the visit was necessitated by the need for a platform for the Union to officially congratulate him on his reappointment as the NTDC helmsman”. Recalling that the Otunba Runsewe-led NTDC Management had succeeded in “bringing the long-standing issue of promotion to a resounding conclusion”, the visiting labour executives, through Comrade Mbon went on to thank Runsewe, even as they asserted that, like “Oliver Twist (we) would always ask for more”. Therefore, the NTDC Management should not be surprised because as activists; “we the Union will continue to make demands”, Mbon submitted.
In his response, the NTDC chief; who thanked the visitors for their encomiums, ascribed his reappointment to the handiwork of God. Corroborating the observations of the visiting labour executives, the NTDC DG said that staff welfare has always been a priority to him, and that it was to the credit of the incumbent NTDC administration that more staff now travel abroad as part of their education and exposure, which the job demands.
Otunba Runsewe subsequently went on to highlight some of the facilities that NTDC workers now enjoy. These include the procurement of staff buses, which facilitate shuttles at great rebates; a highly subsidized cooperative shop located within the Tourism Village, where staff can purchase various items and pay in instalments, and the opening of a coiffeur (Idiri) Shop, where staffs enjoy indigenous hairdos.
Moreover, the Tourism Village also boasts a chain of restaurants, set up by his administration, which offer a wide variety of Nigerian dishes at affordable rates. Apart from the welcome services these enterprises offer to NTDC workers and personnel of other agencies, who patronise these shops; the marts also translate as business opportunities for the operators as well as employment for dozens of people that would otherwise have been jobless.
Concluding, Otunba Runsewe, who enthused that government was now seriously considering the economic prospects of tourism, courtesy NTDC’s efforts; also pointed out the presence of a clinic in the tourism village, where staff that feel indisposed can go and receive medical attention. Furthermore, he promised that the reviewed condition of service for staff, which the Union clamours for, is underway but serious consultations were necessary to ensure efficient implementation of the proposed reviewed condition of service.
‘New guidelines for FCT parks out soon’
Meanwhile, the NTDC DG, who doubles as the Chairman of the Ministerial Committee on Operation and Management of Parks in the Federal Capital Territory; has reassured that new guidelines for the operation of Parks within the FCT will soon emerge. Runsewe made this known, while addressing stakeholders during a recent meeting; where he also stressed that the committee, which was inaugurated at the instance of the incumbent FCT Minister, Senator Bala Mohammed, would do a thorough job.
At that interactive forum, organized by the Committee to create a platform for Park Owners and the Committee to rub minds and identify problematic areas, which include encroachment and allegations of illegal occupancy, among others; Otunba Runsewe had observed that every decision taken on relevant issues, which include application for reallocation, erection of masts by telecommunication services operators at some park sites, security, erosion, sewage management and its attendant health hazard amongst others; shall be based on merit and competence.
The DG, who revealed that the Committee was working in earnest; added that such efforts include visit to several parks around the FCT, even at night, to ascertain the true state of affairs. As soon as such investigations were concluded, the Committee, he said; would waste no time in issuing a blue-print to regulate activities of parks within the FCT.
At the meeting, Runsewe had also commended the park owners, observing that through their enterprise, which translate into job creation for people, who would otherwise have been idle; these entrepreneurs were helping to reduce crime. “The essence of this meeting is to know where the shoe pinches park owners and to find solutions to your problems”, the NTDC DG had said; while assuring that the present FCT administration is committed to providing solutions to the problems FCT park owners face.
The NTDC chief also advised parks’ owners to diversify in terms of the services they render in order to fully explore the commercial benefits that ownership confer on them. He suggested specialization; for example, that some parks could run as night-time affairs, whereas others could specifically cater for day-time relaxation.
While promising that the Committee will be proactive in providing solutions to the myriad problems identified and that a precedent would be set with the coming on board of the present administration; Runsewe had nonetheless lamented the inadequacy of conveniences in some parks. He believes that the number of restrooms in any such facility should be commensurate with the size of the relaxation park.
The NTDC helmsman subsequently reiterated his assurance that when making its submission on “Guidelines for Park Operators” to the FCT Minister, the Committee; would ensure equity and fairness for all practitioners, who operate within the ambit of stipulated laws guiding the procurement and leasing of lands for recreational activities as established by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA).


Pix from NTDC trip to China

L-R: NTDC DG, Otunba Runsewe and Commissioner, Department of Information and Tourism, Taipel City Government of the Republic of China; Mr. Chung-Hwa Tuo (above) and below:
Students of Kaohsinng University of Hospitality and Tourism in a group shot with Otunba Runsewe.

Expect tourist traffic boom from China - NTDC Chief Runsewe

Expect tourist traffic boom from China Runsewe

In line with the unrelenting efforts of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), aimed at strengthening the country’s tourism industry; Nigeria will soon start to experience a boom in tourist traffic from the Republic of China following a recent visit to that country by a team led by the NTDC Director General, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe.
For a start, at least 300 tourists comprising mainly of students are expected in Nigeria within early in 2011 as part of a programme drawn by the NTDC to encourage youth tourism. “This set of age bracket, I mean youth is being targeted to form the nucleus of future tourist traffic to Nigeria from all over the world, we are using the Republic of China as the second pilot project. You know sometimes this year about 40 students from the China University of Hong Kong came through us to Nigeria”, Otunba Runsewe said during an interview with journalists at the Southern city of Kaoshing.
According to the tourism agency boss, there is a great enthusiasm among the Youth and the people of Republic of China about future visit to Nigeria adding that at least 200 students from the National Kaoshing University of Hospitality and Tourism have expressed their desire to visit Nigeria with all of them saying it would be a great experience for them to be in Africa.
Already, the Nigerian head of Mission in Taipie has been contacted for visa assistance to the students and others wishing to visit the country.
During a reception organized by the National Kaoshing University of Hospitality and Tourism, the Rector Prof. Jimmy Yung announced an offer of scholarship to two staff of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation wishing to pursue an undergraduate or postgraduate degree programme in the Institution.
Professor Jimmy Yung said the institution has reserved the offer until the next academic session explaining further that the institution which was established about 17 years ago is the only University offering courses in Hospitality and Tourism in the whole of the Republic of China.
Otunba Runsewe accepted the invitation of associate professorship to the
institution and thanked the Rector for the offer while promising that he would act at once by forwarding the names of the lucky staff to the Institution as soon as possible.
Otunba Runsewe also met the Commissioner of Information and Tourism of Taipie City Government Mr Chung Hwa Two who conducted him and his team round the City Hall where they viewed and experienced the Hall’s Discovery Theatre.  The theatre is said to be the first of its kind in the world equipped with a special screen that displays images to the minute details.
The three-day visit was climaxed with a visit to the 2010 Taipie International Flora exposition which drew participants from 46 countries with six presidents attending. The Expo staged for the first time in 1960 in Rotterdam has moved form one city to the other among the 33 member countries.  It is to show off the strengths of local horticultural industry.
Through the exposure to the beauties of flowers and gardening visitors can gain deeper appreciation for the importance of the gifts of nature and how we can co exist and prosper in harmony with out natural environment.
The six-month expo has it theme for 2010 “Rivers, flowers, New Horizons, the idea of Nature and civilization in Harmonious coexistence”.