Nigeria News

Nigeria Time out: what we are saying


Notice was given earlier in the week that President Goodluck Jonathan would soon announce his interest in contesting the presidential ticket in 2015.

Well, I could have sworn he had already done that to the satisfaction, or dismay, of all his actual and perceived foes included, as well as his cronies and lickspittles. Or else what have all the upheavals and alarums been about?

The toe-to-toe stance between him and the Rivers State Governor, Amaechi, emerging from the grounding of the governor’s plane in Akure, was clear for all to see. It even overflowed to Governor Adams Oshiomhole in Edo State when his own chartered aircraft was suddenly not found airworthy, once the governor was on board.

It came to a head with the improper overt attempt to disrupt the Rivers State legislative assembly. The plan was not really to install a new leadership in the house, since no Nigerian, sane or irrational, would be expected to accept such a brutish and crude scenario offering of a “majority” of five over twice that number.

Of course, a nineteen-to-sixteen “minority” had earlier found accommodation in the President’s political mathematics. What are we talking about, what have we been talking about, if not the election of 2015?

The intrusion of Dame Patience Jonathan into the unsettled environment, for instance, could not have been set out to disabuse the mind of the people about what her husband is heading for. And though it may be considered only natural that any woman may be inclined to promote her husband’s fortunes, a President’s wife is not just any woman.

Even in the grip of the effort to aid her man’s ambition, she is bound to observe the limits of propriety in her involvement. Laying herself open to a charge of “excesses” in her behaviour would, at the least, be counter-productive.

We have had wives of politicians who were overt participants in politics in support of their husbands before now, like Madam Hannah Awolowo, whose decent reputation remained unsullied through the heat of the most searing campaign. This was clearly what Wole Soyinka was trying to bring close to those people who are steadily drifting away from shores of wisdom and good address.

While the problems of Rivers State are waiting to be resolved, it might all the same be worthwhile to note that the decision of the House of Representatives to take over the legislative duties of the Rivers State House of Assembly effectively dealt the State the blow of “emergency rule”.

It is to all intents and purposes of the same content with the situation in the three North-Eastern Sates, which are under de jure emergency rule.

The full exercise according to the law establishing democratic rule has been disrupted, though not to the degree that the planners of the Port Harcourt invasion might have wished. But the exercise of democratic freedom has been curtailed, and it irks me personally that a better way could not have been devised to retain the status quo.

The reactions of people all over the country have shown, however, that they know what democracy is, and that it is what they want. The invaders may suck into a respite at the moment congratulating themselves for their victory, but it is no more than a hollow victory which may sink to even becoming pyrrhic.

What is happening, though, calls for urgent correction lest the miscreants in this particular awful drama begin to feel they could wangle some kind of immunity to cover their gruesome actions. The situation grows more and more serious with each passing day.

Three days ago, a mob gathered to protest and disrupt the friendly visit of three governors of states to Amaechi, their counterpart. Things are coming to a fair turn when a Nigerian, let alone a governor, may not pay a courtesy call on a friend without getting harassed. Is that a dividend of democracy?

The National Assembly must come down and hard on all those had a hand in the attempt to capsize the craft of peace and good governance in Port Harcourt, for that was what existed there before the hooligans intervened.

And first, that is what should be tackled right away – the immediate restoration of the welfare of Rivers State in its entirety. Those who are in charge of security know what to do. And we are saying that they should do it. This situation must not be allowed to get worse, or it may not get better.

 re-visit the tenants’ law

The Lagos State Tenancy Bill was cultivated on a soil of prejudice. It was signed into law in August last year by the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola. It would not be surprising if it matured into a template for most of the other States because the history of development which holds Lagos bound to the aspirations of the other parts of the nation is still very vibrant in our life as a nation.

That is why one should take a good look at it especially in the way it relates the landlord and the tenant as different entities in the society..

The prejudice which nurtured the bill is somewhat universal. It is in the age-old distrust of the wealthy man who is known to be exploitative, powerful and usually the landlord. That notion derives its foundations from the days of serfs and their masters when the mighty routinely oppressed the weak. The masters were the land-owners, of course.

A lot has changed from those days. Human progress and social upheavals have narrowed the distance between the wealthy and the poor, especially in the exercise of individual rights. But it is not yet all square as could be garnered from the universal concepts of decent societies as attested to by Governor Fashola’s statements when he appended his signature to the bill.

Let us remember,”  asserted the Governor, “that property owners are privileged when compared to tenants. This law seeks change like it is done in all decent societies by asking the privileged to sacrifice a little so that the underprivileged can have a survival chance”. Speaking further about the bill, His Excellency continued, “It seeks to protect the poor and the underprivileged. A society that cannot protect the underprivileged cannot protect the privileged.

Ah, but it can, Your Excellency. In fact, it often does. But be it far from me to probe the philosophical depths of such a dictum against the assets of your erudition. In fact, the point I am straining myself to make is that a society that seeks to protect the underprivileged, had better also protect the privileged. Both sides are vulnerable, even if the privileged could stand much stronger unaided.

In fact, “the unprivileged” is a classification that tenants have outstripped, especially with the Tenancy Law, in Lagos State. They had committed a series of hurtful practices in the past, and even now, in the fulfilment of the bond that ties them to the landlords, i.e. the rent payment.

One of the measures that the landlords applied for the recovery of their dues in this regard was to demand payment for years in advance. Governor Fashola, with the background of an ancestral home in the Central Lagos precincts of Isalegangan, is of course, conversant with this predicament of landlords in receiving their rents. He referred to the frustrations of the recovery of a property from a tenant who has faulted and disappeared while keeping the property under lock and key.

And yes, that exists, but is no less as irksome as the recovery of the rents owed, which may be speaking to months of non-payment, by the time the property is recovered. The advance rent is also meant to address this problem. The bill does not touch this at all except where the tenant can be apprehended. And then it is the landlord who must bear the burden of going to the court and getting policemen.

The concession made for the benefit of tenants is indeed decent in several areas, but there must be an instrument which constrains them to be responsible.

For instance, a house that is locked for three months before any action can be taken to open it up for the benefit of the owner is definitely not too considerate to his own welfare, because the opening up is in fact, the beginning of his trails. But if the landlord already has some rents in advance, for instance, his loss becomes more bearable.

The official perception of the tenant as a weakling still toddling his way through a feudal terrain is, to say the least, non-operational. Many tenants know how to manipulate the law in their favour — in fact, many of them are bona fide lawyers (if you’ll excuse me) — and a legal instrument intentionally fashioned ab initio (pardon me again) with a bias in their direction, nimbly becomes a veritable weapon in their hands.

When we talk about sacrifices, we should also remember that the landlord must have made some sacrifice too, if only that of investment. The Tenant’ Bill ought to be re-visited, if only to make the landlord a part of the rest, and the tenant a partner of the landlord. Not all landlords are wolves, and not all tenants are innocent lambs.

Time out.

Anthony-Claret Onwutalobi
Anthony-Claret is a software Engineer, entrepreneur and the founder of Codewit INC and CEO of Portia Web Solutions. Mr. Claret publishes and manages the content on Codewit Word News website and associated websites. He's a writer, IT Expert, great administrator, technology enthusiast, social media lover and all around digital guy.

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