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Monday, 1 August 2016

CELEBRATING MY BIRTHDAY "ALONE" IN THE MODERN ERA!




Editor's Note: This article was written by Abdullahi Usman, Personal Assistant to the former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria.


“The absence of evidence is not (necessarily the) evidence of absence.” - Carl Sagan


For quite some time now, I have been on something of an extended ‘sabbatical’ period since leaving my last paid job all those several months ago. Being the largely private individual that I am, and someone who hardly socializes, I have devoted most of my cherished new found free moments reading some of the backlog of books and tons of other precious reading materials that I haven’t had the luxury of attending to all those hectic five years, especially most recently that I have literally been home alone, on account of my family’s extended vacation for the past three weeks or thereabouts. I also use the time in between to slowly ease my way back into my cherished passion of writing, which I have had to necessarily suspend for the some good six years now, except for my last two efforts within the last month or so.

You will, therefore, understand when I say that I had hoped to use the period of my being home alone to celebrate this year’s birthday in solitude, by devoting some of the time in reviewing what I personally regard as my rather interesting journey in this life so far, giving thanks to the Almighty for my modest achievements to date, watching some TV, and also using some of the quiet time to finish a rather long essay I have had to suspend in order to work on the previous two I had mentioned earlier, in view of their relatively more time-bound nature; I also intended to probably have my long overdue haircut, before finishing the day off nicely with a solo dinner date I had planned on taking myself out to, in the absence of my loving family.

And I did actually think I had it all figured out in terms of the exact details of how my entire birthday on Sunday, July 31, 2016 was precisely going to be, but boy was I wrong; I mean, how on earth could you possibly be all alone and by yourself in this modern era that we all live in, especially when you have two duly registered active telephone lines from the nation’s major mobile networks, through which you are also connected to numerous other social media outlets as well. What was originally billed as a quiet day turned out to be a crazy one in the end; what with all the hectic time one had to endure working out the phones and catching up with reading and acknowledging most of the countless birthday greetings and messages of goodwill persistently streaming in from every conceivable communication channel: after answering a few calls and responding to the first set of text messages that came in at the stroke of the midnight hour, I immediate replied the first Facebook post on my Wall from my friend, Musa Ali Baba, at exactly 12.43am and also “liked’ the follow up one by another friend, Ibrahim Mai-Bornu, who latched on to Musa’s post to send his own greetings at 1.14am, before I proceeded to retire for the night.

Upon waking up to the sound of my phone alarm to prepare for my early morning prayers a few hours later at exactly 5am, I was literally shocked to my bone marrow to see the multitude of messages that kept coming in from all directions throughout the day, which completely changed the course of my nicely planned activity for the entire day. From the good old email messages (yes, the email suddenly looks all so ancient nowadays!), to the more traditional phone text messages; from Yahoo messenger to the BBM and other similar ‘messengers’; from individual WhatsApp messages to greetings via the various WhatsApp discussion groups that I subscribe and belong to; from the well over 160 posts I received on my Wall as at the last count (which I personally tried to acknowledge by hitting the appropriate selections on the “like” button), to personal messages sent directly via my Inbox, and countless others, I kept receiving them in torrents!

Now, other than the individual phone calls I’ve had to personally pick up and respond to, I cannot possibly reply each and every one of you that reached out to extend greetings and messages of goodwill, could I? Of course, I would personally love to do so, but that is practically an impossible thing to do, in view of the sheer magnitude of people involved. In order not to offend anyone that I may possibly miss out if I were to choose the individual response option, I have deliberately decided to twist the old saying about killing the proverbial two birds with one stone by trying to ‘kill’ all of you and your lovely messages with a single stone - as one who found it extremely difficult to even kill a lizard as a child, of course, you all know that I couldn’t possibly think of exterminating any of you, don’t you!

In other words, I wish to respond to all of you in a manner that tends to lump you in groups; in pretty much, more or less, the same sequential order that our path has crossed during the course of our mutually beneficial existence on this very interesting planet that we have all come to love and call home. In the process, however, I may occasionally address some of you by name, and I crave your usual kind understanding for not going ahead to seek your prior permission before going ahead to do so, even as I seek forgiveness from many others, whom I may not be able to individually list out for the simple reason that you are far too numerous to mention in specific terms.

Certainly, going through the tons of messages I received on the special occasion of this year’s birthday has been something of a proverbial trip across the wide spectrum of my entire life’s journey so far. I have received and read very nice messages and the occasional banters from family members and friends, as well as from old and new neighbors; from my primary school to secondary school classmates; messages sent by some of the lifetime friends I made from the two universities I attended for my first and second degrees in Nigeria and Scotland, and others I have picked up during the course of my variegated career in the private sector across banking through to the oil & gas industry, and, most recently, from my very challenging, yet interesting last few years spent in the public sector. Reading through them all has brought me to the sudden realization that through the rough and tumbles across the seemingly divergent and substantially unrelated fields of endeavor that have been the story of my life so far, I have certainly come across my own fair share of very nice set of the best possible specimen of homo sapiens on the face of the earth that anyone could possibly dream of meeting. Sadly, I also used the occasion to read some of my birthday wishes from previous years, where I also saw messages from cherished friends that are no longer with us; to Hon. Uzairu Suleiman Tahir, Shehu Aliyu Yauri, Zainabu El-Rufa’i, Rilwanu Buzu, Shehu Bala Sagagi, Arc. Maryam Ndalolo, and many others, may Allah SWT continue to have mercy on your souls. Indeed, as the saying goes, the most important part of a journey is often not the destination, but how you get there!

On the family front, I have received calls and/or messages from virtually all seventeen of my surviving siblings (may God continue to have mercy on the four of them, along with Baba and our mother, Umma, who are no longer with us) and many of their respective spouses; from the eldest of them, brother Tukur in Kaduna, who would never fail to recount the story about how he made sure I was the first to ‘taste’ the water from the newly installed tap in our family house all those several years ago when he arrived home on vacation to meet the water board people in the final moments of their installation job, to our last born, Musa, currently holidaying in Abuja. I say a big shout out to sisters Fatima (Umma) and Aisha (Maidubu), even as I sincerely apologize to the latter for my apparent failure to abide by her directives regarding the birthday cake (but you know I am home alone, don’t you?). I want to express my sincere appreciations to brother Faruk, and to Prof. Asabe in Sokoto, as well as Amina and Rahama in Kaduna, for reaching out on behalf of my three brothers and their respective husbands, Kabiru, Hassan and Aliyu.  I have also received the usual felicitations from as many as I could count among the nearly 70 children we share between us (I have actually never bothered to count my nephews and nieces again since my published tribute to my late father on the occasion of his death exactly two months shy of thirteen years ago, when they were only 51 in number!), some of whom also extended sincere best wishes on behalf of several of my grand nephews and grand nieces.

In fact, Barrister Usman Abba Shamaki, who never fails to remind everyone that he not only considers uncle Abudu as his most cherished role model, but also tries to tailor his own life around him (I still don’t know what I might have done to deserve that or, indeed, why he would even think so, in the first place, other than the fact that we ‘accidently’ happen to share the same passion for writing!), actually did call in the wee hours of the eve of my birthday, perhaps, out of the respect he has for me, to alert me that he just might succeed in giving me a coded surprise birthday gift that no money could ever possibly buy: a pledge he (or his wife, rather) eventually fulfilled with the safe arrival of my latest nephew to the world; a baby boy, who now shares the same birthday with grand uncle Abudu - and I say a big welcome to the word, birthday mate!

Every year too, a particular group of my nephews and nieces, who will each tell me that I happen to be their favorite uncle - I often have a torrid time trying to sidestep the endless booby traps they keep setting for me each time they ask me to choose who among them is my favorite - also have this interesting ‘bitter’ contest about who would be the first to reach out and wish me a happy birthday, and I have had to privately tell everyone one of them that they called first, just so that I won’t end up spoiling the fun I am getting from it. This year in particular, perhaps, in her apparent quest to beat others, and also possibly shake off the memories from her mistake of last year when she failed to call Baba Audu in record time, Barrister Fareeda actually reached out from Kaduna, oblivious of the fact that she called a whole 24 hours to my birthday! I had to struggle to find a nice way to deftly advise that she was slightly too early, at the end of our conversation, after cheerfully acknowledging her usual boisterous birthday greetings on behalf of herself, Dr. Rumaysah, Dr. Fauziyya, and the rest of her siblings.

Barrister Amina Shamaki, aka Mamiya; yes, that same one who would literally exterminate anyone that claims to be Uncle Abudu’s most favorite child (she now calls me Baba, as opposed to uncle, just so as to make sure none of the other nieces or nephews comes anywhere close to matching her affection!), also took time off her hectic schedule sorting out the home-front before dashing out to attend her weekend ACCA classes, to reach out and say big up to her Baba. My very own Yusra Mohammed (how could I possibly omit you?) also managed to beat ‘Kawu’ Nafisa, her perennial rival, in calling first this year, but not until my dear Mansur (aka Chuchu) had reached out all the way from his Scotland base to extend his best wishes on behalf of himself and his dear wife, even though Dr. Zainab (Ummi) was probably too busy at the hospital to call uncle. So also did Barrister Rafi’a, Barrister Nabila (Tandy), Fadila, Nadia (Tiya Gaye), Barrister Firdausi (Pheedo), my little Fatima (aka, Tatima, who is now threatening to be as tall as uncle!), Maryam (Mayramuje), and many others. Of course, Aunties Rabi and Zainab (Kilo) Bande will always make sure they hail their cherished Baba Audu on his birthday, and this year was no different.

To all my countless number of cousins on both sides and their spouses (who have now become my own cherished cousins and nieces as well), I say a big thank you for reaching out, as well as for putting up with my occasional mild attempts at teasing you, which does not in any way match your habitual past time of pestering my otherwise very quiet life! Indeed, I treasure you all more than words could possibly express, and would always be ever ready to have you individually and collectively in my life again, if it were ever possible to come back to this world a second time, despite my continuous struggles to endure your usual constant ‘harassment’ of my very peaceful life (Sabbene Mahmud & Abbas, Aunty Iya, Maikano, Sani, Abun Lagos, Atiku, Dr. Faruk, Dawudu, Dr. Idris, Maryam/Mary, and Ado, y’all know the drill). Of course, to all the countless nephews and nieces, Safiya and Barrister Abba Jnr. (Uncle Pilot says hi!), Hairat, Isma’ila Bunza, and a host of others, very ably represented you all, and I say a big thank you. In terms of numbers, I couldn’t possibly provide any credible statistics regarding exactly how many we might be in our clan now, and may actually consider dusting up and reactivating my long rested proposal to apply for our own local government, immediately after the conclusion of the next national census exercise!

Coming back closer home, Nabila would expectedly call from her holiday destination to say her usual birthday prayers for dear Baban Khaalid, and also plead that we defer our annual birthday dinner date until she eventually returns, although Khaaleedo, on his part, was far too busy to give a birthday shout out to his Biyyo and playmate. I must also acknowledge our parents, Baba and Mama, as well as Aunty Farida, Nafisa and Mukhtar for calling reaching out from their own vacation to greet Uncle Abdullahi. I also wish to thank our other brothers and sisters, as well as our cousins, Barrister Zainab and Alhaji Lawal, who have equally sent in their messages of goodwill. To all my classmates at Government College (now Nagarta College) Sokoto, especially the Chairman of our Nagarta Old Boys Association chapter, Matawalle Garba Aliyu Gayari, who always alerts other members on our significant life events - both the happy and the not so happy ones, just so they could be aware and reach out - I say a big thank you to you too.

To my SBS and ABU Zaria classmates and schoolmates, I say a big shout out to you all, most especially my very good friends like Engr. Yusuf Binji, Pharm. Hisham Imam and Yaya Najib, who never fail to hail me on my birthday, as well as to Engr. Kabir Musa Umar (aka my Fellow), the convener, and other members of our chat group, such as Engr. Muntari Zubairu, who baked and sent a giant sumptuous e-cake, Rabiu Tata, Ibrahim Jibir and others. From my University of Edinburgh family, I received my usual greetings from my cherished friends like Yiannis Papadonikolakis and Yelfi Sabatakaki all the way from Greece, Hakonia Gudmundsdottir in Iceland and Yoshiaki Kondo in Japan. I also wish to express my sincere appreciations to my Kebbi Development Form (KDF) friends, ably represented by Prof. Ahmed Sanda and Dr. Musa Zagi, as well as to my dear brother and senior friend, Buhari Shamaki for always being there for me.

On the work front, I say thank you to Ahmed Alhassan, the convener and moderator of our defunct Gamji Bank/ITB chat group and Kayode Olomada for reaching out. I also received messages from several of my Ecobank crew, ably represented here, for lack of space, by the two other members of the three musketeers, Ayo Aina and Shafi Aliyu, sisters Timi Dawodu (Aunty T), Bola Okupe (Aunty Boyanye), Bola Joda, and Tolu Akinrele (Toyuyope), and a host of others; from the defunct FSB, sister Halima Kyari led the way, while Garrie Oghidi Snr. (aka Warren G.), Mrs. Iyabo Akinkugbe, Carol Anyaegbunam, Adesua Okofu, and several others sent in greetings for themselves and on behalf of all of my old UBA family. My AIPDC crew were ably represented by my brother, Abdul-aziz Aliyu.

My brothers and sisters in Unipetrol/Oando would not be left out as they all filed out to felicitate with me; I received several greetings from dear brothers and sisters at Oando Aviation, ably led by Emeka Onyema and Bello Ndagi representing Lagos and Abuja respectively; my good friends, Yila and Enada Yusuf, who sent in greetings on behalf of my birthday mate, 12-year old, Yahaya, and as well as from several contemporaries and junior and senior colleagues alike at the Headquarters. From my last work place, I received greetings from many of the people we shared countless memorable days within the five years of our challenging experience, and several other brothers and sisters who supported us in our quest to make a difference. My Oga CTA, Prof. Okey Ibeanu, Oga SA, Prof. Muhammad J. Kuna, Dr. Kole Shettima, as well as Kemi Oyeyemi, and a host of directing and other staff far too numerous to mention I salute you all. To my cherished friends and neighbours in 1004 Estate, Festac Town, Thomas Estate and Fara Park Estate, Ajah, all in Lagos, and my current residential estate in Abuja, I say a big thank you to you, and see you all again same time next year, God willing! Indeed, even though I was undeniably home alone on my birthday, for all intents and purposes, it was only in the literal sense, as I had countless others from across different channels to keep me company throughout the day.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

THE LOOMING KENYAN IEBC GAMBLE: VOICE FROM ABROAD



(image courtesy of nairobitimes.com)


This article was written by Abdullahi Usman, the Personal Assistant to the former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
 
As a foreigner from a far away distant land, perhaps, one should better harken to that timeworn diplomatese that expressly speaks about respect and non-interference in matters involving another country. But if one may take the liberty to offer an opinion strictly as a concerned fellow African with an abiding interest in the democratic and electoral consolidation on the continent, my humble advice, for all that it is worth, would simply be that we do not always have to throw away the baby with the bath water. Sadly, that has often been the practice with our numerous Elections Management Bodies (EMBs) in several jurisdictions all across Africa.

For some as yet rather inexplicable reasons, we somehow seem to always find a way to discredit our electoral commissions in order to provide the necessary grounds to do away with the existing team and pave the way for the appointment of entirely fresh hands, ahead of every upcoming or new round of elections. It is very sad to note, rather unfortunately, that would appear to be the case with the ongoing debate around the leadership of one of Africa’s highly respected EMBs, the Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), at the moment.

In so doing, however, we inexorably end up depriving the commission, nay the country at large, of the inherent benefits associated with the consolidation, refinements and continuous improvements in the electoral process that often come with having the same team conduct more than one election over the course of their constitutionally stipulated tenure. The case of the Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan - led Ghanain, and Dr. Christiana Thorpe - led Sierra Leonean, Electoral Commissions in West Africa, which conducted several elections over the course of their respective tenures (6 elections for Dr. Gyan and 2 for Mrs. Thorpe), immediately comes to mind in that regard.

It is, indeed, not for nothing that several well established electoral jurisdictions the world over, consider it best practice to stagger the appointment of their electoral teams in such a manner as to ensure that the tenure of at least half of the existing commissioners always overlaps with that of a new set of appointees, just so as to provide the much needed continuity that is so vital to the critical job they carry out as an EMB.

The wholesale appointment of a new team into such an important body or, indeed, total replacement of the existing one, especially coming just around, or so close to the election period, often carries with it, the inherent risks of causing needless disruptions and avoidable problems around the conduct of the election itself; a situation we must collectively seek to prevent as Africans, as much as we all possibly can.

Having said that, one is not, in any way, trying to play down or belittle your rights, as Kenyans, to raise legitimate issues or concerns around your electoral system as a whole, or, indeed, your elections management body as presently constituted. But the solution, perhaps, better lies in isolating whatever those specific principal concerns might be, and addressing them well ahead of your upcoming elections, rather than doing away with the current IEBC team so late in the day; and I am talking from experience as a concerned brother from Nigeria, who was deeply involved, and has witnessed, first hand, the immense benefits of having the same team conduct more than one election for what would eventually turn out to be the first time in our electoral history.

Your next general elections slated for August 2017 may, indeed, seem so far away on the face of it. But, believe me, 14 months is a relatively short period when it comes to putting in place the necessary operational structures and logistical requirements for such a huge undertaking as organising national elections in the contemporary African context, with all the hugely daunting and often considerably overbearing social, environmental and infrastructural challenges that often come with the territory.

This is scarcely enough time for any new Commission to settle down to learn the ropes, having gone through your country's famously rigorous appointment processes, and still be able to prepare well enough to deliver on your citizens’ massive expectations and collective aspirations for a free, fair and credible electoral process within this limited period; and you should, quite honestly, not follow that perilous road at this particular moment.

Any move in that direction, at this point, will be inauspicious and amount to nothing but a big and unnecessary gamble, at a time the IEBC needs all the support and encouragement it can get from all quarters to prepare for the huge task ahead, and must be avoided at all costs, in my view. The country’s leadership and its entire citizenry from all political persuasions will, therefore, do well to resist the temptation to attempt any risky experimentation with a new IEBC in order to avert the possible complications that may accompany such an ill-advised move. As Marylynn Longsdon rightly cautions; "if your life suddenly takes a turn for the worse, remember you are the one who is driving".