Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Three major impediments to Nigeria’s 2019 elections

Periodic elections are one of the pillars of every democracy. Elections give the electorate, otherwise known as voters, the opportunity to either renew the mandate of the incumbent or replace them with a new set of leaders. The carrot and stick nature of election is perhaps the most glamorous thing about democracy. It is important to stress here that unlike the notion held by many people, including our political leaders, elections are not a day event but a process. Elections can be likened to a social activity like wedding which takes months or years to plan for but takes place over a day or two.
The Independent National Electoral Commission served a two-year advance notice of 2019 general elections. The commission on March 9, 2017 informed Nigerians that the elections would hold on February 16 and March 2. It has even gone ahead to give dates of general elections for the next 55 years. It’s exactly 276 days to February 16, 2019 when the first set of elections are expected to be held. However, I am disturbed about three things which I think can impact negatively on the preparations and indeed, holding of the elections. They are the legal framework, funding and insecurity.
The first hurdle is that of the legal framework for the 2019 elections. INEC has planned for next year’s polls using the 2010 Electoral Act as amended as well as the 1999 Constitution, as amended in 2010. Since 2015, the National Assembly has embarked on constitution and Electoral Act amendments. The National Assembly and indeed all the 36 state Houses of Assembly have voted on the constitution amendments. I was hoping that the National Assembly would have by now collated those amendments that met the two-thirds majority cut-off from the states, passed them and sent the same to the President for assent.  As a corollary to that, the National Assembly has passed the Electoral Act 2010 amendments and sent to the President for assent which he has withheld based on objections to three of the clauses. The objections majorly have to do with Section 25 which not only seeks to reorder the sequence of election but adds an additional day to the two days earlier proposed by INEC.  Justice Ahmed Mohammed of Abuja Federal High Court had on Wednesday, April 25, 2018 told the National Assembly that it lacks power to dictate to the INEC the sequence of elections.  The Senate had earlier on April 12 resolved to remove the three offensive clauses and passed the bill to the President for assent. However, on the aftermath of the April 25 judgment of the Federal High Court, there was a report to the effect that the National Assembly was contemplating appealing the court judgment.
I wish the Senate and indeed the House of Representatives too will remove those offensive portions of the bill rather than appeal the court judgment. INEC needs to be certain about which legal framework it will be using to conduct the 2019 elections. Some of the noble provisions of this Electoral Amendment Bill include legalising the Smartcard Reader, lifting of ban on the use of Electronic Voting, pegging the amount political parties can charge on nomination forms, how political parties can replace candidates who die in the course of election, etc.
There is a cost implication to implementing some of the new laws and as such INEC needs to factor those cost into its election budget. Aside from that, there is a need for sufficient time for public sensitisation on these new laws. I am hoping that the current brouhaha over a new legal framework for elections will not end up like that of 2014 when ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s refusal to assent to the constitution amendment thwarted the effort to strengthen our legal regime.
Did you know that the delay in the passage of the 2018 Federal Government budget is hindering preparations for the 2019 general elections? The Commissioner for Voter Education at INEC, Prince Adedeji Soyebi, said this on Tuesday, April 3, 2018 on Sunrise Daily, a programme on Channels Television. Soyebi said the conventional budget for the running of the commission had been approved, but the budget for the 2019 elections, which was submitted separately, had not been approved, adding that it was worrisome given the fact that the 2019 elections were less than a year away.
Yes, by the time you’re reading this, the National Assembly might have passed the budget as the leaderships of the Senate and House of Representatives promised last week. However, the buck does not stop with the National Assembly. We have to hope and pray that the budget will be transmitted to the President on time for his assent and that there will be no controversies such as witnessed last year over budget padding and that the President will find it implementable and assent to it expeditiously. Even at that, we also have to hope that after the President’s assent, the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Nigeria will promptly release INEC’s funds to it. Thankfully, the commission is now on a first line change on the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
For many who do not know, many of the sensitive and non-sensitive materials that INEC will use for the elections are not found on the shelves of any company. They are customised materials and are also procured from overseas. We should also not forget that it is criminal for any institution to award contracts without cash backing and the Bureau of Public Procurement certification. INEC will have to wade through this bureaucratic bottleneck. Thus, timely funding is highly desirable and non-negotiable.  It is also estimated that the next general elections may gulp between N250bn and N300bn. I do hope sufficient provisions will be made for the commission to enable it deliver on credible and successful elections next year.
Lastly, the growing insecurity is a potent threat to the conduct of 2019 elections. Aside from insurgency and herdsmen attacks in Northern Nigeria, politicians have started to also heat up the polity. The ruling All Progressives Congress which is currently conducting its congresses and convention has not helped matters. In the May 5 and 12, 2018 Ward and Local Government congresses, a lot of violent incidents were unleashed leading to loss of lives in Delta and Lagos states. Party secretariats were also torched or vandalised in Imo and Rivers states. Even our courts were not spared. Last Friday, May 11, some APC members allegedly invaded Port Harcourt High Court beating up everyone in sight and locking up the gates to the court. This was reminiscent of what happened in Ekiti State in September 2014. This ugly development has put democracy under threat in Nigeria and is quite ominous. In case you didn’t know, it was reported in The Guardian of Monday, May 14, 2018 that political intrigues ahead of the 2019 general elections have made stock market investors lose N729bn in three months of decline. There are even fears being expressed that 2019 elections may not hold as scheduled if the security situation in the country does not improve significantly.
I challenge all concerned authorities to work hard to ensure that the elections hold as scheduled. Meanwhile, in case you registered during the INEC Continuous Voters Registrations between April and December 2017, I have good news for you. Your Permanent Voters Card is ready and you can go to INEC Local Government  office where you registered to collect it from next Monday,  May 21, 2018.
As someone aptly said, INEC will not count your prayer points but your votes. So, get involved in the electoral process, go collect your PVC and make sure you vote at upcoming elections.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Is this the beginning of the end of APC?

The All Progressives Congress commenced election of new party executive members with the Ward Congress held last Saturday, May 5, 2018 across the country. Unfortunately, the party whose motto is Justice, Peace and Unity ended up with an exercise that was marred by widespread violence, alleged imposition of candidates, holding of parallel congresses, confusion and controversies. What happened last Saturday gave credence to the initial resolution of the party on February 27, 2018 when the National Executive Committee of the APC decided to extend the tenure of the current executives by a year, beginning from June 2018.

It took the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari who asked the party to rescind that decision because it was illegal and unconstitutional before the party agreed to have elective congresses and convention. Initially, the party had scheduled the Ward Congresses for Wednesday, May 2, 2018; Local Government Congresses for Saturday, May 5, 2018; State Congresses for Wednesday, May 9, 2018 and National Convention, for Monday, May 14, 2018. However, it later postponed the convention till June while rescheduling the congresses to May 5, 12 and 19 for Ward, Local Government and State elective congresses respectively.

The whole essence of the party congresses was to elect new party executives that will pilot the affairs of the party for the next four years as well as elect delegates for the national convention. Unfortunately, power tussles among the different interest groups in the party robbed the Ward Congress held last Saturday of any legitimacy. There were reported cases of violence. For instance, in Delta State, a chairmanship aspirant for the APC in Jeremi Ward 10 (III), Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State, Mr. Jeremiah Oghoveta, was reportedly stabbed to death. There were also reported cases of violence in Oyo, Rivers, Taraba, Anambra, Ondo, and Imo states. In some others like Adamawa, Imo and Ebonyi, parallel Ward Congresses were allegedly held. Among the issues raised Saturday’s APC Ward Congress include hoarding of nomination forms, election by affirmation or consensus rather than by election, diversion of voting materials, imposition of candidates, late commencement of voting and vote buying.

The APC spokesperson, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, in a statement issued on Sunday, May 6, 2018, described the Ward Congress as “generally peaceful” even as he acknowledged that there were some issues arising from the conduct of the election in some states.  According to him, “With this in view, the party had set up various appeal committees which will begin sitting from Monday, May 7, 2018. We therefore call on all party members to remain law abiding and where there are issues, they should seek redress through the appeal committees in their respective states.”

While the Ward Congress was underway last Saturday, another epochal event was taking place in Ekiti State. It was the APC primary to elect the party torch bearer in the state’s July 14, 2018 governorship election. Unfortunately, that exercise too was enmeshed in a swirling controversy that led to its indefinite suspension. Reports had it that some hoodlums with sympathy for some of the 33 aspirants disrupted the voting when they perceived that some of the delegates, especially the uneducated ones among them, were receiving instructions from an agent of one of the aspirants on whom to vote for. It was alleged that the agent was taking down the serial numbers of the ballot papers of the delegates with a view to purportedly pay them later for their votes.

It was also alleged that the secretary of the election committee was a business partner and a friend of the same aspirant whose agent was allegedly influencing the delegates’ choice. Here is what Segun Oni, one of the aspirants said to the press on the unfortunate incident:  “How would one feel to get to the field of play and find out that the referee was nominated by one of the teams? We found out that the secretary of the committee, Aliyu Mogaji, was nominated by an aspirant and Governor Tanko Al-Makura later got to know about this and dropped him from functioning as the returning officer. Even the fraud festered to the ranks of the security agencies. I quite appreciate the fact that violence was not the right way, but it was caused by anger.”

Many a time when the APC gloat over the People’s Democratic Party and blame the party for all of the woes in our body polity, one is quick to say that it has no moral justification to pontificate and call the PDP names. Both parties are copying from the same textbook. In 2014, ahead of the party congresses and convention, the APC governors and a prominent leader of the party allegedly colluded to give the exercises a predetermined outcome. As it was in 2014, so it is now in the APC.

President Buhari was quite concerned with the growing disaffection within the party that he set up the Bola Tinubu-led national reconciliation committee on February 6, 2018. The committee obviously has achieved limited success since it was initiated. This may not be unconnected with the fact that Tinubu himself is among the aggrieved party members having openly called for the resignation or removal of the incumbent party chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. In a February 21, 2018, letter to the APC chairman which was copied to the President, Tinubu accused Odigie-Oyegun of seeking to undermine the mandate given to him by the President to reconcile aggrieved members and ensure party cohesion by engaging in some “dilatory tactics.” His words: “Drawing from your behaviour in Kogi, Kaduna and with regard to the state chapter assessment requested, I am led to the inference that you have no intention of actually supporting my assignment. Instead, you apparently seek to undermine my mandate by engaging in dilatory tactics for the most part.”

With what happened during the Ward Congress and party primary in Ekiti, are we seeing the beginning of the end of the APC? Time will tell. However, it is in the best interest of the ruling party to correct its past mistakes rather than continue to live in denial. It is on the brink of collapse because of too much vested interests among its many power brokers especially the governors, ministers, senators, House of Representatives members and the major party financiers.  It is a legitimate ambition to contest and win elections but such should not be earned through underhand tactics and sharp practices. Internal party democracy should not be sacrificed at the altar of political interest. If the APC will survive the brewing crisis, it must embrace equity, justice and fair play in its party affairs.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Dangers of using state funds for APC congresses

It is no longer news that the ruling All Progressives Congress has chosen the path of honour, constitutionalism and legality by publishing the timetable for its congresses. It will be recalled that in February, the National Executive Committee of the party resolved to extend the tenure of the National Working Committee members for a year starting from June 2018. However, President Muhammadu Buhari saved the day when he declared the controversial move as illegal and unconstitutional during the March 27, 2018 NEC meeting.
Now, the party announced that the Ward Congresses will hold on May 5; Local Government Congresses on May 12, while the State Congresses will hold on May 19, 2018. However, there is a raging controversy on how the forthcoming party elections will be funded.
Last Friday, online news portal, Premium Times, broke the news that the APC had asked each of its 24 state governors to donate N250m each for the purpose of funding the party’s congresses and convention. This will amount to a whopping N6bn! It is unclear as of now if the Federal Government and local governments under the party are also being taxed for the same purpose.
After an initial dismissal of the story as illogical, the national spokesperson for the party, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, on Saturday, April 28, 2018 issued a press statement as follows:
“At the meeting of the National Working Committee and the governors of the party held at the party secretariat on Thursday, 26 April, it was pointed out that many of the governors had fallen behind in the payment of their party dues. While some of the governors have been up-to-date with the payments, a few others have not paid at all. The governors were therefore requested to pay up, especially in view of upcoming party activities. It is therefore possible that a governor that falls in the category of those that have not paid since inception could be owing up to N250 million. For the avoidance of doubt, party dues are paid by all members of the party holding positions, either by election or appointment. Therefore, members of the National Assembly as well as cabinet ministers also remit a percentage of their earnings to the party.”
The main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, in a statement on Sunday, April 29, accused the APC of diverting N6bn meant for the development of states under its control to finance the ruling party’s forthcoming national convention. The PDP was quoted as saying, “The APC is corrupt. Our investigation reveals that many of the APC governors are being coerced under the orders of the Presidency and the leadership of the party to move in huge sums of money in cash into the APC coffers, the bulk of which has already been frittered away by corrupt leaders in the party and agents of the Presidency”. Could this be true?
Sticking to the official response of the APC, how much is the percentage of the salaries of elected government officials and political appointees due to the party on a monthly basis? For instance, in April 2017, when Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State published his net monthly salary (after tax and other deductions), it was N470,521.74. Even if we go by the Gross monthly pay which is N555,926.25, there is no way any defaulting governor would have accumulated a debt of  N250m in party dues. Again, how come all governors are to pay the same sum of N250m? Truth be told, the APC is being clever by half.  Though the governors are supposed to pay personal membership dues and donate a percentage of their earnings for the running of the party, in practice, what they simply do is to use the state funds to make the payment. I recall that 21 PDP governors made a donation of N50m each amounting to N1.05bn on December 20, 2014 when the party organised a fundraiser in support of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election bid. Thus, the PDP accusing the APC of being corrupt is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
Truth be told, using state funds to support political party activities is illegal, unconstitutional and an abuse of state and administrative resources. It is also unethical. According to the Premium Times, as of February, 23 out of the 24 governors were enmeshed in one salary row or the other, according to the Trade Union Congress. Only Lagos State has continued to meet its obligations to workers and pensioners. Many of the governors owe salaries or pensions or both for extended periods that range between four months and above. It therefore constitutes a moral burden to be owing workers’ salaries and find it convenient to give a princely sum of N250m to your party from the state purse.  The only reason the APC governors will not run foul of law is if the monies are paid from their personal account and not the state coffers.
Another serious issue this donation to the party raises is the potential unsparing influence the governors will wield on the process and outcome of the planned congresses and convention. If they are expected to donate such huge sums of money for party activities, you can rest assured that they will do everything humanly possible to ensure that their preferred candidates for the various elective positions emerged victorious at the forthcoming party elections. They will spare no expenses to bankroll their choice candidates to be elected into the new party executives at the various levels. This is how party structures are hijacked by the governors ahead of the general elections. It is simply antithetical to the promotion of internal party democracy.
If the governors are not paying their membership dues and had to be asked to pay lump sum ahead of major party activities, it shows that they are not loyal and faithful party men. This indicates that they are not good leaders. I know for a fact that the major challenge of political party administration in Nigeria is lack of financial commitments by members to their parties. This is what usually paves way for party hijack by few moneybags who make huge financial donations to the party in order to curry favours.
This N250m levy on the APC governors does not look good on a party whose mantra is change!  It is a negative trend that should not be encouraged because of the dangerous implications it has on democratic consolidation.  Political parties have a wide range of legal and legitimate ways to raise fund. Apart from membership dues, there are also opportunities for political parties to charge Expression of Interest and nomination fees, receive donations from wholesome sources, profits on investment as well as take loans to fund their activities. A level-playing field is needful in the conduct of party elections be it congresses, conventions or primaries. Encouraging big donations from a few individuals is an indirect way of promoting godfather politics and party capture. This is a negation of sound democratic practices.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Imperative of industrial harmony in Nigeria’s health sector

Nigeria’s health workers are at it again! The Joint Health Sector Union started another round of strike action last Wednesday, April 17. JOHESU, which draws its membership from the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives, Medical and Health Workers Union, Senior Staff Association of University Teaching Hospitals, Research Institutes and Associated Institutions, Nigeria Union of Allied Health Professionals and Non-academic Staff Union of Educational and Associated Institutes embarked on the industrial action after government failed to honour the agreement reached with the union on September 30, 2017.
JOHESU president, Mr. Josiah Biobelemoye, attributed the strike action to what he described as the “insensitivity and lackadaisical attitude of drivers of the health sector’’. He listed their demands to include upward adjustment of CONHESS Salary Scale, arrears of skipping of CONHESS 10 and employment of additional health professionals. Other demands are implementation of court judgments and upward review of retirement age from 60 to 65 years. Biobelemoye said that the union suspended its last nationwide strike on September 30, 2017 after signing a Memorandum of Terms of Settlement with the Federal Government.
According to him, the MoTS was supposed to be implemented within five weeks after the date of suspension of the strike. He, however, noted that six months after the suspension of the nationwide strike, government had yet to do anything tangible over the pending issues.
According to the JOHESU president, the union had on February 5 given a fresh 21-day ultimatum to enable the government meet the agreement reached. He said the union gave an additional 30 working days effective from March 5, after the expiration of the earlier 21 days’ ultimatum. Biobelemoye, who described the union members as peace lovers, emphasised that the 45 days was given simply because the union had the interest of the masses at heart. He therefore called on well-meaning Nigerians including traditional leaders, elder statesmen, opinion leaders and the general public to prevail on the government to implement the MoTS entered into with JOHESU. Biobelemoye explained that JOHESU members were not clamouring for equality with doctors but equity and justice, advising medical doctors and the Federal Ministry of Health to change their perception of the demands.
Truth be told, there is a frosty relationship between the two major unions in the health sector, that is, Nigerian Medical Association and JOHESU.  The non-doctors in the health sector believe that they are being maltreated and mistreated because they are not medical doctors. I listened to the JOHESU president on Radio Nigeria last week where he accused the Federal Government of giving preferential treatment to the medical doctors.  He said when doctors went on strike last year, government quickly sourced for money to pay them but a similar treatment is not being meted out to members of JOHESU. He recounted that as of September 2017 when JOHESU signed the memorandum with the Federal Government, the Federal Ministry of Health had yet to submit its budget for 2018. Unfortunately, JOHESU’s demand was not captured in the ministry’s 2018 budget. He linked all these to the fact that both the minister of health and minister of state in the Ministry of Health are medical doctors hence their sympathy for their colleagues working in the hospitals.
Whatever may be the issue, I think the Federal Government should stop being irresponsible. The impunity with which government at all levels breached signed agreements with different workers’ unions calls for concern. Why negotiating and signing agreement you don’t intend to honour or implement? For the sake of industrial harmony in the health sector, it is important for government to fairly and equitably treat all the unions in the sector.
As the JOHESU president explained, JOHESU members are not clamouring for equality with doctors but for equity and justice. Doctors alone cannot run health facilities. In fact, I learnt that doctors are just five per cent of medical workers while the remaining 95 per cent belong to JOHESU. The head cannot do without the neck and other parts of the body; hence, the need for fair treatment of all cadres of medical staff.
As things stand, for about a week now, all federal medical facilities have been grounded sequel to the JOHESU strike. The skeletal services being offered by medical doctors are not effective. Are the doctors going to process the patients, run laboratory tests, manage patients and perform the roles and functions of JOHESU members? Hundreds of lives might have been lost in the course of this strike as patients are forcefully discharged to go and seek medical support at the ‘Shylock’ private hospitals whose service charge is very prohibitive. Many patients are going to fall victim of quacks and charlatans who run unregistered and illegal clinics. There will also be those who will end up at the prayer sessions of many religious houses as well as herbal homes.
There is no way Nigeria will attain the goal of “Health for All” in as much as industrial crises still plague and persist in our country’s  health sector. As a panacea to reverse this ugly phenomenon, there is a need for full implementation of the Nigerian National Health Act 2014 which established the Basic Health Care Provision Fund to be financed from the Federal Government Annual Grant of not less than one per cent of its Consolidated Revenue Fund; grants by international donor partners as well as funds from any other sources.  It is the non-implementation of this Act in the past four years that is fuelling the crisis in the health sector.
Government at all levels should prioritise provisioning of qualitative and affordable health care services and ensure that health sector professionals are given their due rewards as at when due. The Federal Government should expedite action to resolve the ongoing JOHESU strike by simply honouring the 2017 agreement it signed with the labour union. Trying to cow the striking workers with the invocation of “No work, No Pay” service rule or hiring contract staff to do JOHESU members work are not the appropriate ways to address this labour crisis.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

2019 elections and use of state and administrative resources

“We campaigned on three major issues – to secure the country, revive the economy and fight corruption. We have elections next year, politicians are already pre-occupied with the polls, but I am bothered more about security and the economy.”
–President Muhammadu Buhari during his meeting with Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, on April 16, 2018.
As we count down to the next general election scheduled for February and March 2019, apprehension has gripped Nigerians.  Many compatriots are worried about how governance is often sacrificed on the altar of politicking. As many aspirants declare their ambition to contest positions in the forthcoming elections, the norm is that governance will take the back seat as those currently occupying elective offices jostle with those seeking to wrest their positions from them. It is a known fact that election in many countries of the world, especially in Nigeria, is a war. I quite appreciate the above statesmanlike quote from President Buhari not to sacrifice governance for politics ahead of 2019. I do hope he keeps to that unforced promise.
I urge current elected office holders to put the country first and ensure that while pursuing their legitimate political ambition of seeking reelection, they do not lose sight of the need to deliver on their previous campaign promises of bettering the lives of their constituents. It was reported that the attendance by senators and House of Representatives members at plenary sessions has dropped significantly as many of them are found more in their constituency perfecting plans to ensure victory in their reelection bid.
Again, as politicians are engulfed in preparations for their elections, I write to remind them on the need to be careful not to abuse the state and administrative resources at their disposal. SARs are part of resources used in political finance and in many instances are wittingly and inadvertently misused or abused in order to gain undue political advantage. Among the SARs often abused include money; publicly (government)owned media, security agencies, government vehicles and airplanes, government personnel, as well as administrative powers.
Section 100 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended states that  state apparatus including the media shall not be employed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election. (3)  Media time shall be allotted equally among the political parties or candidates at similar hours of the day.  (4)  At any public electronic media, equal airtime shall be allotted to all political parties and candidates during prime time at similar hours each day, subject to the payment of appropriate fees. (5) At any public print media, equal coverage and conspicuity shall be allowed to all political parties. (6)  Any public media that contravenes sub-sections (3) and (4) of this section shall be guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable to a maximum fine of N500,000 in the first instance and to a maximum fine of N1,000,000 for subsequent conviction. These provisions of the law have often been observed in breach.
Many public media brazenly disregard this law as they are often instructed by their appointing authorities not to allow opposition parties and candidates have access to the state-owned media. Experience shows that many opposition parties and candidates have to rely heavily on private media to air their campaign adverts and news coverage. Sometimes, the state-owned media is used to demonise opposition parties and candidates as only negative and fake news on them are aired. The National Broadcasting Commission as the regulatory agency for television and radio stations in Nigeria has to rein in this act of impunity and mete out appropriate sanctions against erring stations.
This country has witnessed a lot of abuses of state and administrative resources especially in this Fourth Republic. There was an instance where a former President declared a two-day public holiday ostensibly to allow people travel home to vote during elections but really to prevent the Supreme Court from giving judgment on a matter about the candidacy of his Vice President who has been unlawfully excluded from a presidential contest. The Supreme Court judgment asking the Independent National Electoral Commission to include the name of the Vice President, who was contesting on the platform of another party than the one that brought him to power, on the ballot came barely five days to the presidential election. In January this year, a governor in a South-West state declared a two-day public holiday ahead of the state’s Local Government election ostensibly to allow people prepare for the election but really to stall the continuation of the court proceedings challenging the legality of holding the LG polls.
There was also the instance of an airport in Northern Nigeria being shut down for an emergency repair on the order of former aviation minister but really the order was targeted at frustrating opposition political party members planning to fly into the state for their party convention. Oftentimes, opposition political parties and candidates are denied permits to use publicly-owned facilities such as stadium or park for their campaign rallies. It is also in the nature of Nigerian politicians especially the incumbents to use government vehicles, personnel, and other facilities for their campaigns. Even when they use the media or other government facilities for their campaigns,   they either do not pay at all or pay a token that is not commensurate with the standard rate charged for the use of such facilities.
There have also been instances of abuse of coercive powers of the state by incumbents during the electioneering period. Security agencies are used to arrest, molest and hound opposition party members. The same way they use the anti-corruption agencies of government to arrest and carry out trial by media of opposition party members nursing political ambitions or known to be sponsoring some aspirants for elections. It gets really bad when laws are also made to target opposition political party members. Worst still is the use of state financial resources to bankroll the re-election of the incumbent or sponsor a successor. All these are acts of impunity that often rear their ugly heads during the electioneering period.
It is condemnable because it creates an uneven political field for contestants. It’s like one person riding a bicycle and another in a well-serviced car running a race, the outcome is definitely predictable. It is important for incumbent elective office holders to take heed and eschew abuse of state and administrative resources at their disposal. They are meant to be used for public good and not for undue political advantage.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Nigeria and the challenges of Universal Health Coverage

 “Health is a human right. No one should get sick and die just because they are poor, or because they cannot access the health services they need”
 –Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General
Health is wealth, so says the golden adage. A healthy nation is said to be a wealthy nation. The World Health Day is celebrated every year on April 7, under the sponsorship of the World Health Organisation. Last Saturday marked the 70th anniversary of the World Health Day. The theme of this year’s World Health Day is “Universal health coverage: Everyone, everywhere”, and the slogan for the 2018 campaign is “Health for All”. Incidentally, every December 12 is celebrated as the Universal Health Coverage Day under the auspices of the WHO.
According to the WHO, data shows that despite some progress, too many people are still missing out on health coverage. According to the international organisation,  “At least, half of the world’s people are currently unable to obtain essential health services. Almost 100 million people are being pushed into extreme poverty, forced to survive on just $1.90 or less a day, because they have to pay for health services out of their own pockets;  over 800 million people (almost 12 per cent of the world’s population) spend at least 10 per cent of their household budgets on health expenses for themselves, a sick child or other family member. They incur the so-called ‘catastrophic expenditures.’  Incurring catastrophic expenditures for health care is a global problem.”
Universal Health Coverage refers to a system that provides healthcare and financial protection to all citizens of a particular country. It is organised around providing a specified package of benefits to all members of a society with the end goal of providing financial risk protection, improved access to health services, and improved health outcomes.
In Nigeria, like other countries of the world, health insurance is the fastest way to achieve Universal Health Coverage. Unfortunately, the National Health Insurance Scheme established in 2005 has achieved only about three per cent coverage. According to a ThisDay report of December 21, 2017, Ghana which started its health insurance scheme the same year with Nigeria in 2005 has grown its scheme to more than 50 per cent. Statistics have shown that the level of out-of-pocket expenditure as a share of total health expenditure in Nigeria is still placed at 72 per cent, the highest on the continent and one of the highest in the world. Even poorer countries in sub-Saharan Africa like Kenya (26 per cent), Gabon (22 per cent), among others are doing better. Research also shows that countries afflicted with conflict and post-conflict like South Sudan (54 per cent) and Sierra Leone (61 per cent) are still better than Nigeria.
In order to speed up the attainment of Universal Health Coverage, the Nigerian National Council on Health a few years ago gave approval for states to create their own health insurance schemes through legislation. Many states have taken advantage of this opportunity. States that have set up health insurance schemes include Lagos, Oyo, Ekiti, Delta, Bayelsa, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Kwara, Abia, Adamawa, Kano, Anambra, Sokoto, and Enugu. How much successes have these 14 states achieved in terms of health coverage in their states? Can this health coverage be extended to local government employees as well as made mandatory for the organised private sector workers?   To further smoothen the pace for a universal coverage for Nigerians and increase the percentage of Nigerians in the scheme, stakeholders, including the Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Senator Lanre Tejuoso, are pushing for policy change to make the scheme mandatory for Nigerians, just as it applies in most countries where it has worked.
In the words of Tejuoso, “We are proposing that if every Nigerian, whether an ‘okada’ rider, barber, tomato seller, or recharge card seller, contributes N200 monthly towards their health insurance, the pool will significantly change healthcare for good in his country. For instance, assuming 100 million Nigerians pay N200 monthly, that will amount to N20 billion, and with this, poor Nigerians needing healthcare access will get it without them paying money from their pocket for it. Once you are a contributor to this pool, you will have access to any of our health facilities. This will significantly settle some basic healthcare issues in the country”.
Well said! However, it will be good to quicken the passage of the amendment to the Act setting up the National Health Insurance Scheme to make it mandatory for all Nigerians to contribute a token to enrol on the health insurance scheme. Desirable as it is, it may not work perfectly as many poor citizens may be unable to pay the premium. Government should therefore make health services free for certain categories of vulnerable Nigerians such as senior citizens who are 60 years and above, pregnant women and poor people who are suffering from terminal sicknesses and ailments.
Some experts have also called on government to subsidise community-based health insurance. My worry with the issue of subsidy is its propensity to being abused. Experience from subsidy regime in the oil and agricultural sector where government decided to subsidise petroleum products such as petrol and kerosene and fertiliser does not inspire confidence.
The entire health insurance scheme needs to be overhauled for better service delivery. Many enrolees currently under the scheme are complaining of inefficient and ineffective services by the Health Maintenance Organisations. There is also the bigger issue of funding of health sector. Some years ago, all African countries met, and agreed in Abuja to give at least 15 per cent of their entire national budget to health. Unfortunately, Nigeria’s health budget is hovering between five and nine per cent annually.
About two weeks ago, American billionaire, Bill Gates, was in Nigeria and called for greater investment in education, health and human capital development. In a recent exclusive interview on the Cable News Network, Gates was quoted as saying, “The current quality and quantity of investment in this young generation in health and education just isn’t good enough.”
The philanthropist had at a special session of the National Economic Council on Thursday, March 22, 2018 said Nigeria would do better with strong investments in health and education, rather than concentrate on physical infrastructure to the detriment of human capital development. He noted that   “Nigeria is one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth, with the fourth worst maternal mortality rate in the world ahead of only Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad. One in three Nigerian children is chronically malnourished.” If we intend to change the heartrending narrative and ensure the Universal Health Coverage, government at all levels in Nigeria needs to earmark more resources to the ailing health sector of the country. A stitch in time saves nine!”

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

‘Saint’ APC, ‘Sinner’ PDP and 2019 elections

 “The first lesson I learnt in my military training is to never reinforce failure. What we have now is failure. It will be foolhardy for Nigerians to reinforce failure by re-electing an ineffective and incompetent government in 2019”
 –Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo on Monday, April 2, 2018
Nigerian politicians are at it again! They have started to heat up the polity ahead of the 2019 general elections scheduled for the first quarter of next year. On Monday, March 26, 2018, the Peoples Democratic Party apologised to Nigerians for mistakes the party made while in power. The National Chairman of the party, Uche Secondus, pleaded for forgiveness at a public national discourse on “Contemporary Governance in Nigeria.” Secondus apologised to Nigerians for “impunity, the imposition of candidates and other mistakes made in the past.” He assured Nigerians that under his watch, there would be no imposition of candidates or any form of impunity in the party’s activities.
The All Progressives Congress made a heavy weather of the apology. The party asked Nigerians not to accept the PDP’s apology and urged the party to make restitution for “looting” the treasury during its 16-year hold on power at the centre. The ruling party further asked all the PDP members who have allegedly defrauded the country to return the stolen wealth as a sign of true atonement for their sins. Meanwhile, the Federal Government had hitherto prevaricated on the execution of the judgment delivered in July last year by Hon Justice Hadiza Rabiu Shagari following a Freedom of Information suit number: FHC/CS/964/2016 brought by SERAP ordering the government to publish the list of Nigerian treasury looters. The judge had asked the Federal Government to tell Nigerians the circumstances under which funds were recovered, as well as the exact amount of funds recovered from each public official.
The APC saw a golden opportunity to hit at the PDP when the latter made public apology for its sins. It quickly rushed to the press last Friday with names of six PDP chiefs currently being tried in court for alleged corruption. This was followed up with a list of 23 others on Sunday, April 1, 2018. A list referred to by cynics as an April Fool’s list. Of course, many Nigerians were not impressed with the lists for several reasons. I had expected the Federal Government to publish names of those whose cases had been fully tried and suspects convicted by courts of competent jurisdiction, and not people still being tried in court. If at all the party wanted to grandstand by publishing the lists, they should have been appropriately labeled lists of suspected treasury looters! Under the Nigerian law, an accused is deemed innocent until proved guilty.
Another point of departure I have with the APC on the published lists of alleged looters is that they contained only names of the main opposition PDP members. No member of the APC was included in the lists. Are Nigerians to assume that all the APC members are saints and all the PDP members are sinners? Incidentally, a former aide to President Goodluck Jonathan, Reno Omokri, had in a perceived retaliatory move published names of 10 APC members whom he classified as being corrupt. Like those published by Alhaji Lai Muhammed for the APC, Reno’s list is also of those who have been dragged to court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on corruption allegations or those under indictment by panels of inquiry.  As of the time of writing this, neither the Federal Government nor the APC has yet to react to Reno’s list. It will be interesting to read what will be the defence of the APC. After all, as the old saying goes, what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.
Truth be told, the Federal Government and the APC are on a wild goose chase by trying to demonise the main opposition party. To my own mind, every political party, the entire 68 of them we currently have on the register of the Independent National Electoral Commission, is made up of the good, the bad and the ugly people. Just like the church named All Saints Church, it is a fallacy of overgeneralisation. Most elected representatives of the people irrespective of the political party that sponsored them for election are responsible for the nation’s woes. A pot should not be calling the kettle black. The APC should remember the wise saying that a person who lives in a glass house should not throw stones. In my own estimation, there is nothing the PDP did in its 16 years in government at the centre that the incumbent APC government has not manifested in its three years in power.
A case in point is the illegal and unconstitutional extension of the tenure of the current National Working Committee of the APC. It will be recalled that on February 27, the APC extended the tenure of the National Working Committee of the party for 12 months. Citing Article 13 of the APC constitution, which empowers the NEC to carry out the functions of the convention, the party said NEC decided to extend the tenure of the current NWC members and other executive committees at various levels for another 12 months, starting from June 30, 2018.This action has led to a lot of controversies with the Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, and the Lagos APC distancing themselves from the position of the NEC. Similarly, an aggrieved member from Imo State, Mr. Okere Nnamdi, dragged the APC to  the Federal High Court in Abuja asking it to  sack the Chief John Odigie-Oyegun-led National Working Committee of the party.
Okere said the APC NEC erred in law and acted illegally, unconstitutionally in view of the combined reading of Section 223 (1) (a) and (2) (a) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), Section 85 (3) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and Article 13 (3) (ii) of the Constitution of the All Progressives Congress 2014 (as amended)” Exactly a month after the initial decision, President Muhammadu Buhari publicly ordered his party to rescind the decision to extend the tenure of the NWC. According to the President,  after due consultations, it became imperative to overturn the resolution to extend the NWC’s tenure as it contravened Article 17 sub-section 1 of the party constitution which recommends a four-year tenure for all elected officials.  The President further stated that the tenure extension contravened the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which requires elected officials to present themselves for re-election after four years. He, therefore, stressed the need for members to avoid constitutional infractions which could make the party vulnerable to litigations.
The APC has yet to rescind that controversial decision. Rather, the party decided to set up a committee to look into the issue. Nigerians should also not forget how the party leadership tried in vain to impose principal officers including Senate President and Speaker of House of Representatives on the National Assembly in June 2015. Will a party like this make bold to say it has strong internal democracy and observes constitutionalism? Why is the party afraid of holding congresses and convention as and when due? I am of the opinion that if the party intends to conduct a transparent and credible congresses and convention, it should have nothing to fear. It should remember the saying that he who must come to equity must come with clean hands. Heating up the polity in order to gain undue political advantage ahead of 2019 polls is unwarranted and antithetical to democratic ethos.