Wale Odunsi: Boko Haram sponsors vs Nigeria, UAE revelation, US reluctance - Breaking News Nigeria
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Wale Odunsi: Boko Haram sponsors vs Nigeria, UAE revelation, US reluctance

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Nigeria’s independence clocked 61 years on October 1, 2021. Sadly, the country has been battling with the Boko Haram insurgency for one-quarter of six decades. Three weeks before the latest anniversary, something phenomenal that got everybody talking happened: an early gift from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

The Emirates won the hearts of millions of Nigerians with the revelation of Boko Haram sponsors. Many are disappointed that the United States of America (USA) remains indecisive on this important matter. I salute the UAE for stepping up and showing leadership while others dilly-dally. Their action was not only unprecedented, it will remain indelible. The UAE deserves more accolades.

The Emirates could have deflected but took the path of courage and honour. They are pained by what is going on in Nigeria and fulfilled what their conscience dictated. It should ring loud in our ears and stick to our heads that the UAE cried more than the bereaved, exposing some of the evildoers in Nigeria while the leaders who begged for votes remain silent.

Is it not amazing that security, anti-corruption and anti-narcotics agencies arrest, parade and prosecute sex workers, rapists, drug peddlers, petty thieves, rogues in public and private sectors, armed robbers, kidnappers, internet fraudsters a.k.a. ‘Yahoo boys’, but find it somewhat difficult to mete out the same treatment to terrorists’ godfathers? What is going on might actually be deeper than what we thought.

In case America does not perfectly decipher, we are pressurizing them to unseal the identities of Boko Haram funders due to the insistence of the Buhari administration that there is no need for unmasking. The presidency made its position known through spokespersons, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu. Likewise the Attorney General and Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami. Let it be on record that Nigeria is concealing the names of terror financiers.

Messrs Adesina and Garba strongly defended the non-disclosure, just like in the case of Twitter ban. He who pays the piper truly dictates the tune. These are senior colleagues we admired for their definite stance on issues and leadership failure before they were appointed into the ruling government. I have no doubt in my mind that the aides would hold a different view if they were not in power; they would have joined the clamour for divulgence.

Boko Haram was founded by Mohammed Yusuf in Maiduguri, the Borno capital in 2002. He successfully radicalised thousands of youths, preached hostility toward secular education and promoted jihad. His sermons spread like wildfire as adherents stored different recordings on their phones like playlists. Federal and state authorities became agitated. “Who is this young man that has attained authority, status and influence within a short period of time?”.

In July 2009, Yusuf reportedly died in the custody of the police after the military-led Joint Task Force (JTF) handed him over. Around the time, soldiers and policemen raided communities, picked out suspected Boko Haram members and executed them on the streets! These events infuriated staunch followers of Yusuf who took up arms and manufactured Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). They bombed security facilities and killed many security personnel in retaliation. I vividly recall the photos and gory videos. Since then, the fundamentalist group has been on a rampage, exporting its fury to neighbouring countries.

Cameroon, Chad and Niger have their own tales of Boko Haram ruthlessness. The insurgency actually led to the strengthening of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), headquartered in N’Djamena. Although the force had been in existence since the 1990s, its mandate was expanded in April 2012 to encompass counter-terrorism operations to suppress Boko Haram and Ansaru. The sects swelled in size and strength in the early 2010s, infiltrating the BAY States – Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.

In September 2011, former President Olusegun Obasanjo sought to broker ceasefire after he was contacted by a group of pacifists including activist and former Kaduna Senator, Shehu Sani. After conferring with ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, ‘Obj’, as fondly called, flew to Borno secretly. Within hours, the media got the scoop that the erstwhile military Head of State travelled to the State to meet Yusuf’s family. Not many were taken aback. Obasanjo is largely a fearless man, a reason some believes he possesses ‘traditional powers’.

Arbitration is one of his talents and to date, the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and West countries routinely engage the Prime Minister of Owu. At Yusuf’s household, Obasanjo, who spoke in Hausa, appealed to the relations to allow him mediate between and the government. Yusuf’s brother-in-law, Babakura Fugu, whose father was also slain in 2009, said it was the first time a high-profile figure would meet them.

Fugu was frank at the parley, hinting that 30 to 40 percent of Boko Haram fighters were in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. He presented a list of demands to Obasanjo. Although the requests were never made public, they reportedly included the reconstruction of demolished properties, the trial of government agents for extra-judicial killings, compensation for affected families and the release of incarcerated members.

Before the meeting, Obasanjo was in Jos, the Plateau capital, for peace talks with Christian and Muslim leaders over the ethno-religious conflict that claimed – and still claim – several lives. I know about and witnessed some of the atrocities that occurred. I was in the State as a member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Batch C 2010. It was scary. Anytime violence erupted, Christians were usually at risk on Northerners-dominated Bauchi Road, while the safety of Muslims could not be guaranteed on Southerners-dominated Bauchi Ring Road. My apartment was in between.

I remember how the NYSC repeatedly appeal that we always stay safe and avoid interstate trips except when necessary. Once clashes start, the thought of death and my body transported to my parents, Pastor and Mrs Odunsi (both passed on in 2019) in our village in Igbesa, Ogun State, filled me with dread. I never traveled during service year. I was security conscious too and often stayed indoors in my abode inside the University of Jos (UNIJOS) Senior Staff Quarters. Luckily, my Place of Primary Assignment (PPA) provided accommodation.

The crisis caused the cancellation of my set’s Passing Out Parade (POP) as the State and corps management feared for our safety. Grateful that I and hundreds of colleagues completed service unscathed. Not only did I serve my fatherland, I received NYSC State Honours Award for humanitarian efforts that touched orphanages and schools, and a Letter of Commendation by the Plateau Government for the facelift of a reformatory in Jos. The State is blessed with great people, food and weather. This is why the recrruing incidences of massacre makes my skin prickle.

I mentioned Obasanjo’s trip to Borno and Plateau because ten years after his endeavours and those of the government, religious, traditional leaders and other stakeholders, Nigeria is still wrestling with the Boko Haram warfare and Plateau catastrophe. Even President Muhammadu Buhari, who identified the cause(s) of Plateau problems during a televised debate before the 2011 general elections and proffered solutions, seems confused. It is now less than two years to the end of his second term in office.

According to a June 2021 report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), by the end of 2020, the conflict in North-East Nigeria had resulted “in nearly 350,000 deaths, with 314,000 of those from indirect causes”. About 1.8 million students are out of school. Similarly, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) declared approximately 2.5 million Nigerian refugees/internally displaced persons (IDPs). There are 780,000 such persons in Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Despite these pitiful statistics, America’s bureaucratic foot-dragging has continued. In September 2021, the UAE publised the names of six Nigerians apprehended for funding Boko Haram – Abdurrahaman Ado Musa, Salihu Yusuf Adamu, Bashir Ali Yusuf, Muhammed Ibrahim Isa, Ibrahim Ali Alhassan and Surajo Abubakar Muhammad. The announcement followed their indictment and prosecution in 2020 by the National Security Bureau (NSB) years after their April 2017 arrest.

I covered the story and it raises one’s spirit that the UAE listed the devilish men among 53 individuals and entities (allegedly) playing a role in inducing agony and taking lives they cannot give. Court documents showed how the convicted Nigerians, between 2015 and 2016, wired $782,000 to Boko Haram in violation of Article 29, Clause 3 of UAE’s Federal Anti-Terrorism Law No 7 of 2017. The transactions were facilitated by two fellow countrymen the NSB named ‘Alhaji Sa’idu’ and ‘Alhaji Ashiru’, described as ‘a government official’.

The government and most people in America honour God. In fact, “In God we trust” is the country’s official motto. Does the US government think God is happy with them for shielding the identity of terror financiers in Nigeria? Is America at ease with how pregnant women, nursing mothers, the young and elderly are grisly decimated by terrorists? Are the number of deaths, total permanent disability, and homes, livelihoods, communities destroyed not enough? Galatians, chapter 6 verse 2 urges those who can, to carry the burden of others. Hebrews chapter 13 verse 16 advises the sharing of what you have.

The people of Nigeria want the details of the information America has on this satanic insurgency and the masterminds. Rather than name and shame, the US is delaying even as lives are wasted night and day. In late August, the US government, for the umpteenth time, assured it would identify sponsors of terrorism in Africa’s most populous State. Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard said talks are ongoing.

“That is something we are very eager to partner Nigeria on. I have had at least three conversations in the last two months on this subject”, the envoy told reporters. For how long are we going to hear and endure promises from the nation widely regarded as the most powerful on earth? Why is the US failing to prove the title by refusing to de-classify intel on the bastards fuelling the murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians? What are they afraid of? Thank God for UAE.

In early August, the State Department, supervised by Secretary Antony Blinken, added the names of five terrorist leaders in Africa to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs). Abubakar Shekau and Musab Al-Barnawi (both reportedly dead) are/were veterans on the register. The latter was Yusuf’s son and leader of the ISIS-affiliated Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP). Al-Barnawi was only 15 years old when his father and mentor died.

My argument: There is not much difference between militants and those who bankroll their activities; every single one should be brought to light. In March 2020, the State Department, led by Secretary Mike Pompeo, placed a $15million bounty on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro for alleged drug trafficking to the US. Maduro, the head of a country, was named! The US government must devote such energy to Boko Haram sponsors and stop making it look as if it cares less since Americans in Nigeria are rarely targeted.

Also during Ambassador Leonard’s chat with the press, she assuaged the fear that Nigeria might end up like Afghanistan: “I hear people making the analogy with Afghanistan a lot, it does not match up. When you listen to what President Biden said on how troops went to Afghanistan in the first place, it was because they were in a horrible tragedy, over 3,000 Americans were killed. That is a different construct.” My response: The 350,000 Nigerians dead had blood running in their veins too!

In mid-August, two weeks before the ‘assurance’, the Taliban chased out the Aghan government after a spirited 20-year battle with Aghan and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces. In an interview with CNN after the overrun, a commander Muhammed Afri Mustafa noted that even with the helicopters, weapons and tanks deployed against the Islamist movement, “the Mujahideen resisted very well”.

“It is our belief that one day, Mujahideen will have victory. Islamic law will come not just to Afghanistan but all over the world. We are not in a hurry, we believe it will come. Jihad will not end until the last day”, Mustafa sworn. Ambassador Leonard is aware that Boko Haram’s primary objective is the establishment of an Islamic State; the secondary objective is the wider imposition of Islamic rule beyond Nigeria. Simple maths: Taliban’s vow plus Boko Haram’s adjunct ambition may be equal to Nigeria takeover if not effectively and timely checked.

The US should never again tell us to stay calm; we never want to hear comments like “What happened in Afghanistan cannot happen in Nigeria”. Bandits/terrorists shot down military planes; bandits/terrorists assassinated Major General Hassan Ahmed; bandits/terrorists killed officers during an invasion of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA); bandits/terrorists have attacked schools, communities, military and paramilitary bases, UN and aid agencies’ buildings/facilities. They are not relenting yet.

Matthew T. Page, an Associate Fellow at Chatham House told me that though he is not knowledgeable enough to explain why the US has not taken the same measures as the UAE, the US military and intelligence assistance to Nigeria is a challenging proposition for several reasons.

“First, the Nigerian military has been a difficult and unpredictable partner over the years, even at the best of times. It is inherently suspicious of outside help and unwilling to acknowledge its shortcomings.

“Second, it routinely commits gross human rights violations which – under US law – preclude it from receiving many types of training and assistance. The military is unwilling to recognize that it has an appalling human rights record and to take meaningful steps to correct it moving forward and hold its personnel accountable for past abuses.

“Third, intelligence sharing has been challenging because the military has not always used shared information in a timely or responsible way. My understanding is, however, that intelligence sharing is the bedrock of US-Nigeria counterterrorism cooperation and continues to take place as needed.

“It is my view that the notion that Nigeria needs more hardware to “crush” Boko Haram is flawed. Nigeria faces a complex range of security threats that include (but are not limited to) insurgency in the northeast. Military force is just one tool in the government’s toolbox: it needs to use a variety of others to get the job done.”

The former US intelligence expert on Nigeria said international training and assistance can be helpful, but real security sector reform, professionalization, reinvestment and recapitalization, a crackdown on rampant security sector corruption, and respect for civil liberties and human rights are all part of the equation.

“Branding every troublemaker as a “terrorist” and “enemy of the state” will not deescalate the cycles of violence and insecurity that are destabilizing Nigeria at the moment. Until Nigeria’s national, state, and local leaders begin addressing the causes of conflict – and stop, in many cases, making them worse – any effort to “crush” Boko Haram and other deadly threats will have limited impact”, Page added.

Notwithstanding my grouse, I commend the US for development assistance to Nigeria, interventions on the COVID-19 pandemic and the largest African defense deal (approx. $500million) covering the 12 A-29 Super Tucano, extra weapons, spare parts and contract logistics aid. Nigerian Air Force (NAF) pilots and maintainers were trained with the US Air Force 81st Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base (AFB) in Georgia.

The US Army Corps of Engineers is also providing $36million in infrastructure support to the A-29s’ home – Kainji Air Base: earth-covered magazines and aircraft sunshades; flight annex wing building for simulator training; ammunition depot and small arms storage; perimeter and security fencing; airfield hot cargo pad, lights and apron; parking, hangar and entry control point enhancements.

Additionally, Navy officers completed a drill conducted by US Coast Guard officers. The capacity builder will strengthen maritime law enforcement competence in Nigerian waters, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea. The trainees were tutored in techniques on the threat of piracy and oil infrastructure insecurity; perseverance during operations; scenarios and tactics in the use of force; evidence processing and arrest procedures; countering illegal fishing, trafficking of weapons, narcotics and people.

The USS Hershel “Woody” Williams too was in Lagos for an at-sea training exercise with Nigerian offshore patrol vessels. Again, the Navy Special Boat Service (SBS) and the US Army Special Forces completed a five-week Joint Combined Exchange Training (J-CET). It is good to know that Nigeria and America engage in military exercises – African Lion, Flintlock and Obangame Express.

In conclusion, two adages are germane: ‘You don’t go to bed when there is fire on the roof’; ‘Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches’. Nigerians are sick and tired of this terrorism madness. I am adding my voice and urging America to blow the whistle on Boko Haram sponsors. The US should act without further procrastination. The time is now, we await. To serving and fallen personnel of the Nigerian Armed Forces, I Salute and Thank You for your service.

Wale Odunsi tweets from @WaleOdunsi; email: wodunsi@yahoo.com

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Opinion

One Year After Lekki Massacre, Nigeria’s Devil Still Lives Within By Ibrahim B. Anoba

Whichever way the presidency, Sanwo-Olu, the army, and Malami choose to consider the Lekki Massacre or not, Nigerians must reckon with the fact that the country’s devil lives within. The real devil here is not merely the gang of leaders asserting their barbaric dictatorship on the rest of the country, but it is also in the failure of many across the country to join the fight for justice.

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It is laughable that the ruling elites hiding face in Abuja and across state capitals will tell their children that they love them while praying to the Heavens that those children live to fulfill their dreams. Yet, those same elites have gone about their political businesses as though October 20, 2020, EndSARS Lekki Massacre never happened. Only a foolish person would beg for the Heavens’ protection for their children while having a hand, in whatever way, in the massacre of others’ children. But we must leave the act of judgment and karma to the Heavens. 

We’ve listened to the federal and Lagos state governments and the military attempt to argue their ways out of the Lekki Massacre as responsible citizens. But even as these three state parties may convince themselves that they all had nothing to do with the killings, neither can convince the public of their innocence. The mere fact that they each have yet to give convincing reports or announce prosecutions directly related to the massacre can only further speculate they’re accessories to it.  

If the federal government is interested in protecting lives, it should have gone to greater lengths to create national committees or presidential investigative panels. But the absence of such interventions makes one wonder if committees and panels are only necessary when it concerns the petroleum industry bill or prosecuting political figures like Ibrahim Magu. Why would the President only be interested in calling the fire brigade on monetary and political issues rather than a national security-related event like the Lekki Massacre? 

Equally, if Jide Sanwo-Olu and those running Lagos State on his behalf are honestly consumed with the need to uncover what actually happened at the Lekki Tollgate, why haven’t they sued the presidency since the latter controls the military? More so, the massacre happened on Lagos soil and, as such, gives the state the right to sue any suspicious culprit to get definite answers. 

Of what significance has the kangaroo Lagos Judicial Panel on EndSARS been prosecuting those who fired the fatal shots at Lekki? Sanwo-Olu should summon the courage to ask the victims’ families if, to them, money equates justice. The justice that would bring those families any form of closure is in-court trials and sentencings. 

On another note, since the army has confirmed that some soldiers seen shooting at the scene of the murders are indeed registered army personnel, why has it yet to reveal their identities? Why hasn’t the defense ministry initiated emergency tribunals or ethics committee hearings to address this claim to the dot, i.e., ending in prosecution? It must be the case that those heading the military have lost it if they think that defending the country only involves fighting Boko Haram while not necessarily needing to give a dime about civilians.

Also, it is now clear that the attorney general’s office does not exist to serve the regular and the downtrodden. The deafening silence (absence of actions leading to prosecutions) from Abubakar Malami on the Lekki Massacre is disgraceful. Just in case Malami or his office needs some reminder, the attorney general’s primary job is to help secure justice for the country and its citizens and protect the constitution. Not only licking the boots of Buhari or spending time on national television threatening governors with the declaration of a state of emergency during elections. 

Whichever way the presidency, Sanwo-Olu, the army, and Malami choose to consider the Lekki Massacre or not, Nigerians must reckon with the fact that the country’s devil lives within. The real devil here is not merely the gang of leaders asserting their barbaric dictatorship on the rest of the country, but it is also in the failure of many across the country to join the fight for justice. 

To bring down a dictatorial democracy requires the subscription of a vast majority of the country. If older citizens (36 to 60 years) continue to not only remain idle in committing to advocacy but keep discouraging the younger citizens who have summoned the courage to fight for what is right, Nigeria will remain the same. 

Posterity will always tell. Fela Kuti’s posterity is golden because his actions were golden. We remember those who betrayed Biafra during the civil war today as eternal cowards, and rightly so. Memories and legacies are largely what individuals made of them while alive.

However, to those gone, we’ll forever remember your bravery. You’re the real Nigerians. We’ll keep asking for justice on your behalf. We’ll honor your memories in our hearts and tell of your gallantry to our children and those after them. You are the (s)heroes we’ll sing of in “The labor of our heroes past.” And may you all continue to rest in peace.

Ibrahim B. Anoba (‪Bàbátúndé Anọ́ba‬) is a Nigerian journalist and columnist for Sahara Reporters. He is also an Africa fellow at Atlas Network. He tweets via @Ibrahim_Anoba.

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Opinion

Buhari, South-East and claims of marginalization

By Obike Wilfred

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Many Igbos of the South Eastern Nigeria have been deeply brainwashed and poisoned to believe that any other part of the country is out to annihilate them. Far be it! What I know is their perceived problem is politics. They miscalculated politically and every political error is tackled and handled politically.

It has been well with them and the Northern Region since the first, second and third republics. They only had issues with the mainstream politics when they threw their best joker on President Goodluck Jonathan. Even though his administration had no physical impact in the region, Easterners gave him a cult fellowship. Everything then went wrong after he lost the election.

Succinctly put, Igbo youths got entrapped with the falsehood in the razzmatazz of “MARGINALISATION”. All are deception.

To buttress my points, I answer to the following:

President Muhammadu Buhari, Hausa/Fulani or 1999 Constitution is not the reason why 99% of educated Igbo youths live outside Igboland.

That 99% of Igbo entrepreneurs make their wealth outside Igboland cannot be traced to Yakubu Gowon or Obafemi Awolowo.

That no major city in Igboland has functional water supply cannot be because an Emir in Kano or Daura decreed.

That University of Nigeria, Nsukka, the foremost prominent Federal Institution in Igboland is the worst run, first generation University in Nigeria cannot be traced to any peculiar decision made by Aso Rock. The University Lands are now being sold to individuals for personal use.

That 50% of educated and skilled youths across Igboland are either unemployed or underemployed cannot be the making of Lord Lugard and his concubine.

Ndigbo must wake up. We have been deceived far way too long and the time to put to an end to these emotional manipulations must stop.

The structure or system in Nigeria is not the reason of the level of poverty in our land which is already competing with Jigawa and Sokoto levels. It is the making of our political Leaders.

We may not like this but the truth is that Igbos are also benefitting from the dysfunctional state of things in Nigeria. Pray, if not for federal allocation, how many Igbo States can pay salaries today?

Are State roads in Igboland better than the ones controlled by the Federal Government? Should Buhari or Federal Government start building inner city roads in ABA, ENUGU, ONITSHA, OWERRI, NNEWI etc?

Do you know that many Igbo politicians are unconscionable thieves in Nigeria, such that over 70% of government revenue in Igboland is stolen? Less than 50% is stolen in other regions.

How many Igbo Senators can you approach easily and get their attention for something? A young man from Kano or Sokoto can do that with a text message. Have you tried talking to any HOR Member from your place, say at the Airport or in a hotel lobby? Did he not make you look like a fool?

It is about time we begin to ask questions young men. Stop wasting your lives fighting for Biafra. If Nigeria disintegrates, it would go back to what it was like before the 20th century when every village was a country unto itself. Can we survive that?

Our rage has been misdirected at the wrong people. Nigeria will pass away but ALA IGBO would remain. We must begin to ask questions of those looting our resources. Has there been any month President Muhammadu Buhari held back Federal Allocation of any State?

Why are there no viable employment opportunities for young men in Igboland? Was there a report that any government within the region brought investors and the someone else outside the region asked them to go home?

How about the idle claim that Igbos are different from every other tribe in Nigeria? With the bad roads? Dirty streets, roads littered with refuse heaps? Can we for once tell ourselves the hard truth that we are not better than any other tribe in Nigeria, at least in terms of what is seen? Are we naturally wedded to self deception?

We must wake up. This whole nonsense must stop.

Obike Wilfred writes from Isialangwa Abia State.

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Opinion

Wale Odunsi: Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp outage affirms Mark Zuckerberg as Tech King

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At about 16:00 GMT on Monday, October 4, smartphone users around the world noticed a lull in Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp updates, the second time in 2021. In Nigeria, many initially thought it was the periodic outage of network services. There is high data usage in the country of 200 million people but telcos and internet providers are generally criticized for slow data connection.

Amid the confusion, phone owners restarted their device(s) in a bid to “find network”. Within an hour or two, information spread that Airtel, Etisalat, Glo and MTN were not guilty as charged in this instance. Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp were down! Family, friends, colleagues and neighbours were left with no option but to fall back on “normal call”. The phrase was coined and made popular after the launch and subsequent dominance of WhatsApp voice and video calls.

I jokingly told a pal that telecommunications companies in Nigeria would be happy “now that people must buy call credit”; I’m sure they made hundreds of millions that day. I further observed that despite confirmation of the social media platforms dormancy, users were jittery about the chats, documents, images and information in their accounts. “An ongoing hack”, some fumed.

Eventually, the downtime, which affected around 3.5 billion people, was fixed at about 22:00 GMT. Mark Zuckerberg has apologized for the internal technical issue. “Sorry for the disruption today. I know how much you rely on our services to stay connected with the people you care about”, he said in a post.

News about his loss of $6billion in Facebook shares-dive went viral. A Facebook user in Nigeria, King Prestige, contested the figure. “It’s a lie. If this man makes such, per some number of hours, what stops him from being the richest man? The richest is worth 200bn dollars if am not mistaken.” The comment generated more than 50 interesting replies in 5 hours.

The debate of whether Mark Zuckerberg lost $6billion in 6 hours or did not will continue. One thing we can at least agree on is that the American tycoon, internet entrepreneur and philanthropist is the Tech King of his generation. The fact that he founded, cofounded, purchased or invested in the three apps that shut out close to half of the world’s population – including his “rivals” – would make him an unopposed member of the “Planet Earth Board” if there was one.

Facebook currently has a market cap of over $1trillion and 2.8 billion active users monthly. Instagram, worth an estimated $100billion, has 1.3 billion active users monthly. Facebook acquired IG for $1billion in 2012. WhatsApp, the most popular messenger app in the world with 1.6 billion active users monthly, was worth $5billion in 2020. In 2014, Facebook bought the startup from Jan Koum and Brian Acton – two former Yahoo! executives – in a $19 billion deal.

The ingenuity, rise and influence of Mark Zuckerberg and the likes should serve as a reference for countries, especially in Africa. They must heavily invest in education to boost the capacity and knowledge of hundreds of tech gurus yet to be discovered. The laxity of governments on the continent is the major factor causing brain drain.

In November 2017, President Muhammadu Buhari presented the N8.6trillion 2018 ‘Budget of Consolidation’ 2020 to the National Assembly; Education got N605.8billion (7 per cent). As expected, Nigerians complained it was below the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) “recommendation”.

Defending the allocation, Education Minister, Adamu Adamu told reporters that UNESCO never fixed a benchmark. “I led the Nigerian delegation to UNESCO and the issue came up. UNESCO said they never, at any fora and under any circumstances, suggested 26 per cent as the optimal level of funding for education for any nation.”

However, a UNESCO report, titled ‘Education for All 2000-2015: achievements and challenges’, notes: “Direct aid to education plus 20% of general budget support (aid provided to governments without being earmarked for specific projects or sectors) to represent the estimated 15% to 25% of budget support that typically benefits the education sector.”

Also, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office Social Policy and Education Working Paper December 2020 provides that for the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 to be achieved, all countries have the responsibility to sustain a certain level and quality of public investment in education.

“While external support is critical in the short term, domestic revenue mobilization is the most sustainable way of investing in education. If anything, COVID-19 should strengthen the resolve of ESA governments to keep education on top of their spending priorities by meeting or exceeding the 20% minimum education spending as a percentage of total government expenditures or 4-6% of their GDP”, it reads.

The Nigerian government must increase budgetary allocation to education if it is truly interested in global competition. Those in positions of authority should stop gaslighting the young citizens with the “youths are the leaders of tomorrow” line. It will only make sense if adequate resources are earmarked to help them grow intellectually.

I urge the federal government, 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to start/renew the establishment of Special Schools. These institutions, which can be tuition-free or highly subsidized, will take in kids exceptional in different fields such as architecture, building, engineering, environment, health, information technology, natural and physical sciences.

I maintain that the insistence of being the ‘Giant of Africa’ will remain lip service without conscious effort to aggressively upgrade all facets of the economy. It’s like football: games are not won based on club status, players’ names or statistics, they are won by tactics, cohesiveness and determination.

Nigeria has many more hidden Iyinoluwa Aboyeji (Flutterwave), Ezra Olubi and Shola Akinlade (Paystack) and other young techpreneurs, their potentials must be harnessed. Millions of youths were delighted when Stripe’s acquisition of Paysatck for $200million made headlines in mid-October 2020. Interestingly, it was during the End SARS protest against police brutality.

The story of how Mark Zuckerberg attended the prestigious Harvard University and later dropped out of the Ivy League school to focus on his dream is not new. He remained loyal to his dream and is a success story. Married to Priscilla Chan, the 37-year-old is now worth $123billion. Take a bow, Mark.

Wale Odunsi tweets from @WaleOdunsi; email: wodunsi@yahoo.com

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