Thursday, February 22, 2018

Enhancing the integrity of Nigeria’s Voters Register

Recent reports of violations by underage persons following the local government elections in Kano State are deeply disturbing.  The voter register in Kano State is the one used for the 2015 general election. In July 2016, INEC used the same register to conduct a State Assembly bye-election in Minjibir Constituency…... No single incidence of underage voting was recorded. What therefore happened in the last local government election conducted by the State Electoral Commission? Was the voter register actually used or not?”  - INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu on Friday, February 16, 2018 while setting up investigative panel to unravel the reported incidence of underage voting in Kano LG election.

On February 10, 2018, Kano State Independent Electoral Commission conducted elections into the 44 Local Government Areas and 484 Councillorship positions in the state. As usual, the ruling party in the state, All Progressives Congress, won all the contested positions. That is however not the main news. The real gist is that by evening of the Election Day, pictures and video clips of underage voters casting ballot allegedly during the election surfaced in the media. A lot of commentators are of the opinion that there are a lot of undesirable elements in the country’s National Register of Voters.  This is worrisome and heart-rending!
For the records, it is not the first time the country will have issues with her National Register of Voters. For a long time, Voters Registers were compiled manually and without any biometric features of the registrants being captured. That was when Optical Mark Recognition Registration Form was in vogue.  By 2006, ahead of 2007 General Election, the Independent National Electoral Commission decided to capture the biometrics of the registrants. That was when the commission under the leadership of Prof. Maurice Iwu decided to use the Direct Data Capturing Machines to capture the fingerprints and faces of the registrants to be enlisted on the Voters Register. That exercise was sabotaged and undermined by some unscrupulous elements in INEC who in cahoots with politicians decided to pad the Voters Register with ghost and fictitious names. Of course, there were a lot of underage voters registered in that exercise. The National Register of Voter was the one used for the deeply flawed 2007 General Election where at least 13 gubernatorial elections were annulled at either tribunal or appellate courts. That election was adjudged by national and international accredited observers as the worst in the political history of Nigeria.
By the time Prof. Attahiru Jega was appointed in June 2010, his commission tried to audit the Voters Register and found out that it was irredeemably bad.  That was what led to the fresh nationwide Voters Registration exercise of January/February 2011 ahead of that year’s April general election. Even at that, the Voters Register was not totally cleaned up in spite of the attempt by the commission to use the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System. AFIS software could only identify and remove multiple registrants. However, there was also significant number of underage registrants who could not be weeded out.
It was the fear that the National Register of Voters is not 100 per cent clean that made the Jega commission to come up with the policy of accreditation before voting during the 2011 and 2015 General Elections. It was the believe of the commission that if accreditation of voters commence nationwide at 8am and ends at 12:30pm in 2011 and 1:30pm in 2015 even if anyone has multiple Permanent Voter Cards, he or she will not be able to vote in more than one place given the fact that there will be restriction of movement on election day and every eligible voter is supposed to be on queue to vote when it commence at 12:30 or 1:30pm. It was the fact that the NRV is also not completely clean that makes INEC to insist that every voter should obtain Permanent Voter Card. Prior to 2011, people are allowed to vote with Temporary Voter Card. Now, with the introduction of PVC in 2011, INEC went a step further in 2015 to introduce Smart Card Reader to authenticate and verify voters details. All these efforts are to enhance the integrity of our elections. 
Ordinarily, if the Registration Officers engaged by INEC, many of whom are ad-hoc staff of the commission, have followed the provisions of the Electoral Act on Voters Registration as well as INEC guidelines on the exercise, there wouldn’t have been this challenge of multiple and underage registrants. Part Three of the Act comprehensively enunciated the guidelines for the conduct of Voters Register and allied matters. Specifically,  section 10 (2)(a,b & c) stipulated that for anyone to be registered to vote, such must produce documentary evidences to support the claim that he or she is eligible to register  in accordance with provision of section 12 of the Act .
Among the documentary evidences required are Birth or Baptismal certificate, National Identity Card, International Passport, National Driver’s License or any other documents that will prove the identity, age and nationality of the applicant. Honestly, this requirement of the law is observed in breach by many of the Registration Officers. Similar requirement in section 14 of the Act is also largely ignored.  While the Registration Officers may have been pressured or threatened to register underage people as attested to by senior INEC officials who have publicly commented on this raging issue, in many other instances, the rules are simply ignored or not willingly and voluntarily applied. From the moment the Registration Officers compromised, either by error of omission or commission, what the election management body can do thereafter is simply damage control.
Section 19 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended provides a way out of the dilemma of underage voting as well as that of multiple or erroneous registration. The law says that INEC shall appoint a period of between 5 – 14 days to display the Voters Register for each Local Government, Area Council or Ward for public scrutiny. This exercise known as Claims and Objections are usually not well publicised and as such many voters are not aware of how to engage the process. Section 50 of the Electoral Act also states that candidates and Polling Agents can challenge the right of a person to receive ballot paper. The ground of challenge, in my own opinion, include when such potential voter is deemed to be underage.

It is a good thing that INEC has set up a powerful technical committee under the leadership of a National Commissioner to investigate the claim of underage voting in Kano on February 10. The commission has also promised to make the outcome public. What INEC can do in addition is to ensure adequate protection for its staff currently engaged to conduct Continuous Voters Registration exercise. This is to ward off community leaders and politicians who sometime mount pressure on the ROs to register ineligible persons. Also, a well-publicised claims and objections exercise must be conducted well ahead of the next general elections. Thirdly, political parties and civil society should henceforth endeavor to deploy accredited party agents and observers to watch and report on the ongoing CVR. The commission should conduct community outreach to enlighten the people on eligibility requirements to register as well as hold stakeholder meetings with political parties to admonish their members to desist from pressurising Registration Officers to commit electoral offences. Identified masterminds of underage and multiple registrations must be properly investigated and prosecuted in accordance with the provisions of section 24 of the Electoral Act.  Election is a multi-stakeholder exercise and everyone must play its role nobly.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Ruckus over NASS reordering of 2019 elections sequence

Since the House of Representatives passed the 2010 Electoral Act amendment on Tuesday, January 23, 2018, there has been a lot of disquiet in the polity.  Senate had earlier on March 30, 2017 passed its own version of the amendment. The major concern of the political watchers is the reordering of sequence of election by the Green Chamber.  It will be recalled that the Independent National Electoral Commission had on March 9, 2017 announced the dates and sequence of elections and only on January 9, 2018 released a comprehensive schedule of elections.
According to the commission, the presidential and National Assembly elections will hold simultaneous on February 16, 2019 while Governorship, state assembly elections as well as Federal Capital Territory Area Council elections are to hold two weeks after on March 2, 2019. This was the same sequence the 2015 General Elections were held. However, the House of Representatives decided to reorder the elections as follows: National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives), followed by Governorship and State House of Assembly and lastly the presidential election. The conference committee of both chamber of National Assembly decided to adopt the position of the House of Representatives and this was eventually adopted by the Senate in plenary on Wednesday, February 14, 2018.
At the Senate plenary of February 14, ten All Progressives Congress senators staged a walkout after expressing their displeasure with the way the Red Chamber was railroaded into adopting the position of the House of Reps  on the matter. The ten senators, who claimed that 59 of them were against the amendment, were Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa-West), Abu Ibrahim (Katsina-North), Abdullahi Gumel (Jigawa-North), Ali Wakili (Bauchi-South), Binta Masi Garba (Adamawa-North), Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta-Central), Umar Kurfi (Katsina-Central), Andrew Uchendu (Rivers-East), Benjamin Uwajumogu (Imo-North), and Abdullahi Yahaya (Kebbi-North). The senators took turns to criticise the adoption of the report without a debate. They also alleged that the amendment was targeted at the Office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria currently being occupied by Muhammadu Buhari. The protesters equally cited irregularities in the signatories to the report.
I have had the privilege of discussing this nagging issue on Arise Television and NTA Network News. I have also discussed it in an earlier commentary published in The PUNCH of last Wednesday, February 14, 2018.
History of order of election since the Second Republic
Before reechoing my stance on this issue, let me take us on historical excursion on order of elections in Nigeria since 1979. I and a colleague, Kunle Animashaun, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at the Fountain University, Osogbo jointly wrote an academic paper entitled “Experimenting with Staggered Elections in Nigeria” about four years ago. Our research findings show that the 1979 general elections were held in a staggered form. The elections ran between July 7 and August 11, 1979. The first poll to be held was election into the the Senate which took place on July 7, 1979.  Elections into the House of Representatives were held on July 14, 1979 while elections into the state Houses of Assembly were held on July 21, 1979. Gubernatorial elections to choose chief executives of the 19 states were conducted on July 28 with the presidential election coming last in the pack on August 11, 1979.
In 1983, the order was reversed. The presidential election took place on August 6. Gubernatorial elections were held on August 13. Senatorial elections followed on August 20 while elections into House of Representatives were held on August 27. The last in the log, elections in to state Houses of Assembly took place on September 3, 1983. In the aborted Third Republic, elections into the various offices, both at the state and national levels, took staggered form. Gubernatorial and state Houses of Assembly elections were held on December 14, 1991. National Assembly polls comprising elections into the Senate and House of Representatives were held on July 4, 1992. The presidential election was held on June 12, 1993.     The 1999 transition elections which were supervised by the military were also organised in a staggered manner. Governorship and state Houses of Assembly were held on January 9, 1999. The National Assembly elections followed on February 20 while the presidential election was held on February 27, 1999 bringing to an end the demilitarisation project of the Abdusalami Abubakar military regime.
In the 2003 elections, the National Assembly elections were held on April 12, 2003 while presidential and governorship elections were held on April 19, 2003. Elections into state Houses of Assembly were held on May 3, 2003. The 2007 general elections were conducted across a two-week period. Governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections were held on April 14, 2007 while presidential and National Assembly elections were held on April 21, 2007. The 2011 general elections were also conducted in a staggered form. Elections into the two chambers of the National Assembly were held on Saturday April 9, 2011 (the elections were originally scheduled for April 2). Presidential election was conducted on Saturday; April 16, 2011 (was postponed from its original date of April 9). Governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections were held on Tuesday, April 26, 2011. The last general elections held in 2015 were held in two tranches. Presidential and National Assembly elections were held on March 28, 2015 after being postponed from the initial February 14, 2015 while the Governorship and state Houses of Assembly were held on April 11, 2015 from the initially advertised February 28, 2015.
The Justice Mohammadu Lawal Uwais 22 member Electoral Reform Committee whose report was submitted to late President Umaru Musa YarAdua in December 2008 did make a recommendation for staggered elections in Nigeria. The ERC in its main report had proposed a two tier election system for the country.  The Committee in recommending staggered elections had proposed that elections into executive positions of the president and state governors should be held on same day at least six months to the expiration of their tenure while national and state assembly elections should be held two years after the executive elections.
Merits and Demerits of staggered elections
One major strength of staggered elections upon which the proponents of the electoral model have built their advocacy is the manageability and efficiency of the model. They argue that holding elections across periods will allow for better and adequate preparation by election management bodies to contend with the challenges of logistics during elections. For the proponents of staggered polls, the intervals between elections provide opportunity for electoral agencies to review their performance in a particular election and re-strategise for better performance in the next election   which ultimately enhances institutional efficiency of the election management bodies.
On a personal note, I am totally against it for the following reasons. First, it is against international best practices, it will increase cost of running elections and impact negatively on the economy as well as induce voter apathy. There has been the argument that when presidential election is held first, it creates bandwagon effect as voters may tend to vote for the party whose candidate has already won the presidency. Why that may be so, the question is, so what? The same order of election as the one advertised by INEC for 2019 favoured the incumbent party in power even though it was party in opposition as at the time of contesting the 2015 general elections. So, if something is not broken, why fix it?
My preferred choice is for all elections to be held in one day. As I observed in an earlier opinion on this issue last Wednesday, “I have my reservations on the reordering of sequence of elections by the National Assembly. To my own mind, it is self-serving. I do know that in section 25 of the extant Electoral Act 2010, the federal lawmakers exercised that power. However, we should be progressive rather than retrogressive. Why for instance can’t we have all elections in one day as is done in other climes? I have been privileged to observe elections in Ghana, America, Egypt and Uganda. Multiple elections are held the same day. In the August 8, 2017 Kenya elections, six elections into parliamentary and executive positions were held on that day. Why should we have elections over three different days when we could have all of them at once? Remember, when we have election here, we restrict movement and shut down the economy. Imagine the gargantuan loss the National Assembly recommendation will inflict on our ailing economy!  The advantage that having all the six elections on the same day gives is that it will save costs and logistical nightmare. It will also shore up voter turnout as against the current practice where there is voting fatigue.”
Former INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, is on the same page with me on this. Jega at a public forum while still at the helms of affairs in INEC contended that staggered elections are costly. Besides, he noted that holding elections same day is in line with global practices. Jega’s words: “I think that in future, not 2015, elections should be held in same day in line with global practices and Nigeria should move in that direction in the future. Staggered elections are not cost effective and it is not cost efficient and it is expensive,” The INEC chairman cited Ghana, Sierra-Leone, the United States and Venezuela as countries that hold their elections in one day. If for any reason we however chose not to adopt this better practice, we should limit holding of general elections to just two days. If the federal lawmakers want to prevent bandwagon effect, they may want to have all but presidential election on one day and hold presidential election last on a separate date. That can be considered for future elections.
Quite unfortunately, the present imbroglio on the reordering of sequence of election is overshadowing all the other non-contentious noble considerations in the proposed electoral act amendment. With insinuations gaining ground that the president will veto the amendment, if the National Assembly fail to override the veto as was the case with the 2015 constitutional amendment exercise, then all the time and money spent on the amendment may go to waste. Some people are prodding INEC to go to court to test whether NASS has the power to order or reorder the sequence of election when section 15 of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution had already vested the power to organise, undertake and supervise elections in the election management body. The challenge that poses is that giving the slow pace of the judicial process in Nigeria, the confusion and uncertainty over the legal framework for the conduct of 2019 elections will persist and that is not good for electoral planning. It is therefore important to quickly lay this issue to rest so that INEC can come up with a near accurate budget for 2019 general elections.

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult. This piece has also been published today on Page 8 - 10 of LAWYER pullout in Thisday newspaper.  

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

INEC, NASS, EFCC and 2019 general election

Happy Valentine’s Day! It will be one year to the proposed 2019 general election on Friday, February 16, 2018. The Independent National Electoral Commission has been put on the spot recently. Many news media are interrogating the ongoing Continuous Voters Registration exercise. In fact, this newspaper’s sister publication, Saturday PUNCH of February 10 had a screaming headline on its front page entitled “Voter registration: Shortage of manpower, faulty equipment mar exercise”. Earlier, NOI Polls on Tuesday, February 6, 2018 published report of its opinion survey on the commission’s CVR. Apart from that issue, INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu last Thursday hosted the Acting Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Ibrahim Magu. During the courtesy visit, the INEC chairman solicited the support of the EFCC in addressing vote buying and monitoring of political parties’ campaign funds. Furthermore, the National Assembly last Tuesday passed the Electoral Act 2010 amendment where it reordered the sequence of election as against the way INEC had earlier arranged it.
On the issue of CVR, there is no gainsaying that INEC is having some challenges. According to the referenced NOI Polls the assessment of the ongoing CVR exercise by   INEC revealed that Nigerians scored the exercise 57 percent, indicating an average assessment. The poll which consisted of a mix of telephone and on-the-ground face-to-face interviews at registration centres further revealed that about 8 in 10 (81 percent) fresh registrants say they have experienced some challenges at registration centres such as: Long Queues (35 percent), Distance to Registration Centres (25 percent), Inadequate Computer Systems (19 percent), Late arrival of INEC Officials (16 percent); Poor Communication Skills of INEC Officials (11 percent), and Inadequate Personnel (7 percent) to mention a few.
The polling agency observed further that, the on-the-ground face-to-face assessment of the exercise gave enumerators the opportunity to observe and hear directly from prospective registrants, who complained of having to wake up as early as 3:00am to visit registration centres and still experience difficulty registering due to long queues and the sheer number of people coming out to register. In some specific instances, out of over 200 names on an attendance list at a centre, only about 30 prospective registrants get registered daily due to inadequacy of INEC officials and computer systems. The poll found that most registration centres had only a single laptop computer, which had the capacity to register about 30 to 40 people daily without technical disruptions. The poll was conducted in the week commencing January 29, 2018. The aforementioned was similar to what the report by last Saturday PUNCH published in its lead story.
Am weighing in on this issue because I have privileged information about the challenges the electoral management body is experiencing in the conduct of the CVR exercise. By the way, last Wednesday, I joined Dr, Bell Ihua, Chief Executive Officer of NOI Polls on WE 106.3 FM to discuss the report on the CVR. I was similarly on ‘Focus Nigeria’ on Africa Independent Television,  ‘Vision Nigeria’ on Raypower 100.5 FM and another pidgin programme of Raypower same day to discuss this topical issue. I also discussed the issue on Arise TV last Saturday night.
 At INEC retreat on Mid-Quarter Review of CVR held in Kaduna on Wednesday, June 7, 2017, the Commission’s chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu said inter alia that as at  April 27,  2017 when the current CVR exercise commenced nationwide, the consolidated register of voters in Nigeria stands at 69,720,350 and that this is the first time in the history of elections in Nigeria that INEC is embarking on a continuous registration of voters in the manner prescribed by the Electoral Act. He did acknowledge that it is indeed ideal and desirable to have the CVR at Polling Unit level but for budgetary constraint.
According to him, there are 119,973 (approx. 120,000) PUs nationwide. No CVR has ever been conducted by the Commission at this level.  The indicative core cost for roll out at the PU level per day is N1, 379,689,000 (approximately, N1.4bn). Meanwhile, the provision for CVR in the Commission’s 2017 budget is N1, 216,346,068 for all Voter Registration activities, including off-season elections that have become regular since the 2015 General Election. You can see the shortfall. What about having CVR at Registration Areas (Ward) level? The Commission also thought about this. There are 8,809 RAs nationwide. The indicative core cost for roll out at this level is N101, 303,000. Should the Commission decide to conduct the CVR at that level; the sum available to it will only be able to do that for less than two weeks. This explains why the Commission settled for the least expensive option of conducting the CVR at the Local Government level. More so, it is not supposed to be a fresh wholesale registration exercise but a mop up for those who just turned 18 years and those who have not previously registered.
It is noteworthy that since that last retreat held in Kaduna, INEC has been trying within its limited resources to address many of the nagging challenges with the CVR. It has increased the number of registration centres nationwide and purchased new laptops for the exercise. I am aware that additional 10 registration centres were approved sometime ago for all the states and Federal Capital Territory. In fact, in FCT the number of registration centres had increased from the initial six at takeoff last April to 33 as at today. I want to appeal to my compatriots to be patient and know that the CVR will not end until 60 days to the Election Day according to the provision of section 9 (5) of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended. However, I enjoin INEC to expeditiously create additional Polling Units and publish list of Voters who will vote there well ahead of election date.
I have my reservation on the reordering of sequence of election by the National Assembly. To my own mind, it is self-serving. I do know that in section 25 of the extant Act 2010, the federal lawmakers exercised that power. However, we should be progressive rather than retrogressive. Why for instance can’t we have all elections in one day as is done in other climes? I have been privileged to observe elections in Ghana, America, Egypt and Uganda. Multiple elections are held same day. In the August 8, 2017 Kenya elections, six elections into parliamentary and executive positions were held on that day. Why should we have elections over three different days when we could have all of them at once? Remember, when we have election here we restrict movement and shut down the economy. Imagine the gargantuan loss the NASS recommendation will inflict on our ailing economy!  The advantage that having all the six election on same day gives is that it will save costs and logistical nightmare. It will also shore up voters turnout as against the current practice where there is voting fatigue.

On the solicitation by INEC  to EFCC to assist in curbing vote buying and campaign finance abuse, much as it is desirable, it must however be done with caution. EFCC in exercising that power must be even-handed.  It should go after all the masterminds and arrowheads who orchestrate and perpetrate campaign finance abuses including that of state and administrative resources. I do not however see how EFCC will police the estimated 120,000 Polling Units to arrest, investigate and prosecute those who are usually engaged in vote buying at that level. Police are the ones that can effectively do that as they are present at all PUs. I fully endorse INEC’s motive to curb this menace as we cannot continue to have the best elections money can buy!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Buhari as Africa anti-corruption czar

“Corruption and its effects have many sides. It poses real threat to national security, unity and survival of the African State and people. The African Union Agenda 2063, under Aspiration 3 recognises that corruption erodes the development of a universal culture of good governance, democratic values, gender equality, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of the law.”
– President Muhammadu Buhari in his speech at the launch of 2018 as the African Anti-Corruption Year on January 28, at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
It was the first time that the African Union will declare a year-long fight against corruption. To lead the assault, the AU on July 4, 2017, at its 29th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government in Addis Ababa unanimously endorsed President Muhammadu Buhari. Was this a meritorious appointment? Is there no better African leader to lead the fight against corruption in Africa? How has Buhari fared at the home front? What are the hurdles the President has to scale to succeed in this onerous task?
On Monday, January 29, I was a guest analyst on this topic on Business News at 3pm on the Nigerian Television Authority. However, the programme’s duration was too short to examine the entire parameters of this assignment hence my decision to pen this thought.
To my own mind, Buhari’s appointment is laudable. That the endorsement was unanimous speaks volumes. It shows the trust and confidence that the African leaders have in our President. It is a recognition of his administration’s efforts and commitment in fighting corruption in Nigeria. Recall that this government came to power on a three-point agenda of fighting corruption, insecurity and revamping the economy. I concede the fact that the war against corruption in the country is far from being won. However, while we may not be where we ought to be, we are not where we used to be. It will be uncharitable to say that this administration has not done anything or achieved much in terms of the onslaught against corruption.
Recently, while responding to some allegations by former President Olusegun Obasanjo against the incumbent administration, the spokesperson for the government who is also the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said, inter alia: “Our determined implementation of the Treasury Single Account has stopped the haemorrhaging of the treasury. Some N108bn has been saved from removal of maintenance fees payable to banks, pre-TSA. The nation is being saved N24.7bn monthly with the full implementation of the TSA.  The elimination of ‘ghost workers’ has saved the nation N120bn.”
As part of the measures to fight corruption, the Federal Government in December 2016 came up with the Whistle-blower Policy. According to the Finance Minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, as of July 2017, over 5,000 reports had been made through various reporting channels, 365 actionable tips were received out of the 5,000 reports. She said that over half of the reports came from public servants. The minister noted that the tips related to issues of contract inflation, ‘ghost workers’, illegal recruitment and misappropriation of funds. Others, according to her, included illegal sale of government assets, diversion of revenues and violation of the TSA regulations.
The Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, said on Monday, during the 2018 budget defence at the House of Representatives, total asset recoveries by the anti-graft agency amounted to more than N473bn, $98million, €7million, and £294,000 among others between January and December 2017. Under this administration, an unprecedented number of Very Important Personalities including Politically Exposed Persons have been arrested and currently being prosecuted in various courts across the country. These include former governors, ministers, commissioners, heads of departments and agencies, party chairmen, legislators and even judges.
As a measure of support for the administration’s anti-corruption drive, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen, on September 18,  2017, announced the creation of a special court for corruption cases while the Justice Suleiman Galadima-led Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Trial Monitoring Committee was also established.
On the flip side, not many convictions have been secured by the anti-corruption agencies.  The EFCC in particular has been widely accused of shoddy investigations and lack of diligent prosecution. The commission has also been indicted of shadowboxing, engaging in a witch hunt and media trial. This administration has equally been accused of double standard in the fight against corruption. According to Senator Shehu Sani, a lawyer and a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress from Kaduna State, “When it comes to fighting corruption in the National Assembly and the Judiciary and in the larger Nigerian sectors, the President uses insecticide, but when it comes to fighting corruption within the Presidency, he uses deodorants.” This observation was made in respect of the President’s tardiness in handling of the corruption allegations against the immediate past Secretary to the Federal Government, Babachir David Lawal. Other corruption scandals that have rocked this administration include the “Mainagate”, Kachikwu versus Baru face-off over the NNPC contracts and the indictment of the acting chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, by a report of the Department of State Services leading to his non-confirmation by the Senate.
Back to the continental assignment to champion the fight against corruption, President Buhari has his job cut out for him. He did acknowledge the Herculean task ahead of him and has promised to do his best. Among others, the President observed that “strong institutions are a necessary condition in any society which aims to fight corruption. In building strong national and regional institutions, we must adequately empower our national anti-corruption agencies and insulate them from political influence. We have to encourage increased institutional collaboration between law enforcement agencies and anti-corruption agencies in order to win this fight.”
That is spot on! The President was also on point when he noted that a judiciary which stands firm against arbitrariness and injustice by the executive is a vital pillar in the anti-corruption fight.
The three priority areas the President intends to pursue this year are: To organise African Youth Congresses against Corruption, in order to sensitise and engage our youths to the fight against corruption; to mobilise  all African Union Member States to implement the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, and  lastly, to advocate  the strengthening of the criminal justice system across Africa through exchange of information and sharing best practices in the enforcement of anti-corruption laws.

Perhaps, if these are faithfully implemented, the estimated $50bn being lost annually on the continent to corruption will be halted. The big questions are:  Will African leaders walk the talk? Will they give maximum support and cooperation to the leader of the crusade? Will the crusader also tighten the nuts and bolts of the anti-corruption war in his home country? Time will tell.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

APC’s false hope on restructuring

In respect of political developments, I have kept a close watch on the on-going debate about “Restructuring”. No human law or edifice is perfect. Whatever structure we develop must periodically be perfected according to changing circumstances and the country’s socio-economic developments. We Nigerians can be very impatient and want to improve our conditions faster than may be possible considering our resources and capabilities. When all the aggregates of nationwide opinions are considered, my firm view is that our problems are more to do with process than structure.”
-          President Muhammadu Buhari in his 2018 New Year day address to Nigerians.
Last Thursday, January 25, 2018, the Mallam Nasir el-Rufai led 23 member committee on All Progressives Congress idea of restructuring submitted its report to the APC chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. APC had on August 10, 2017 set up the committee with the aim of determining the meaning and scope of restructuring for the party. It will be recalled that for a fairly long time now, there have been strident call for reform of the country’s political economy structure. It was indeed a campaign issue ahead of the 2015 general elections so much so that the APC promised “true federalism” and “devolution of powers” in its constitution and manifesto. Unfortunately, despite the repeated demand for the party to walk the talk, there has been a loud silence from the party leadership.
Ahead of the voting by National Assembly on the constitutional amendment, there was high hope that the federal lawmakers will vote in support of the reform of the country.  However, both chambers of NASS voted against devolution of power on July 26 and 27, 2017.   This was at a point that the agitation for referendum for self-determination by the Indigenous People of Biafra was at its peak. Shortly after the defeat of this bill came the three months quit notice issued by Arewa Youths against Igbos living in the 19 Northern States. It was the tension generated by this face-off that made the APC, in a volte-face action, to set up the el-Rufai committee.
At inauguration, the APC chairman said to the committee:  “Let me emphasise that your task is both critical and very sensitive, especially in the light of the clamour for restructuring, devolution of powers, fiscal federalism, resource control, and all other issues that describe the various forms of reforms that are being suggested for the restructuring of the current political architecture of our beloved nation. The APC constitution and manifesto vigorously canvass these issues and they are very elaborately provided for………It is your duty, especially having regard to the emotive nature of the national discourse on restructuring, to distil from our party’s constitution and manifesto the various ideas being canvassed in the different constitutional conferences that have been held in this country.”
It took almost six months for the party to define its position on the restructuring debate. According to el-Rufai, the committee engaged about 8,040 persons during 14 sittings throughout the federation; had 12 public consultations in all the six geopolitical zones in the country, while 409 memoranda were received from respondents. He stated further that in the process of their research, Nigerians indicated interest in 24 issues out of which the committee made recommendation on 13 in its four volumes report.
24 items identified by the committee and for which it carried out opinion surveys were creation of states, merger of states, state police, the derivation principle, fiscal federalism, local government autonomy, devolution of powers, type of government, independent candidacy, public holidays, the land tenure system, power sharing and rotation, type of legislature, affirmation for vulnerable groups like the physically challenged, women and youths, the minimum wage, border adjustment, secular statutes of the country, and the conduct of referendums.
Out of this lot the committee recommended resource control, merger of states, State police and prison, State Judicial Council and State Court of Appeal, independent candidacy, public holidays, minimum wage, referendum, fiscal federalism and revenue allocation, and local government autonomy. Of course, these recommendations are not devoid of their own controversies.
I applaud the effort of the APC but is it not too little, too late? Why did the party wait for over two years, and for NASS to vote against the party position, before embarking on this exercise? Are these recommendations not contained in the 2014 National Conference report? Given the seeming opposition of the president and the National Assembly against devolution of powers, is the exercise not in futility? What are the next steps for the party on this report? Will the party be able to deliver on this campaign promise before the 2019 elections as being demanded by the Niger Delta Avengers?
To my own mind, this issue has become a bone in the throat of APC. It can’t swallow or vomit it.  The party pledged it and didn’t know or is unwilling to deliver on it. In bureaucracy or management there is a phenomenon known as KIV. It means one of two things. It is either Keep in View or Kill in View. The way APC has mishandled this restructuring request the party either want to keep the issue in view and re-enlist it as a campaign issue for 2019 general elections or kill in view by hoping that by ‘filibustering’ (using delay tactics) the issue will die a natural death. There is no gainsaying that there is no sincerity of purpose and political will by either the APC as a party or government to do the needful before the next general elections.

The deliberate late decision of the party on this issue led to a situation where it is proposing independent candidacy and rejecting local government autonomy which had already been voted on by the National Assembly. I am of the opinion that APC’s timing of the release of this report is to serve as a red herring. It is to distract us from its underperformance. The party had subtly found a way to generate a new round of controversies. What APC has done on its purported true federalism and restructuring stance is similar to what President Buhari did when in October 2016 he set up Senator Ken Nanmani presidential committee on electoral reform. Like the el-Rufai’s committee, that committee too sat for six months submitted its report on May 2, 2017 to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice who promised to present the report to the president. Till date, no one knows of any action or decision that has been taken on that report. There is an adage that says “If a man deceives me once, shame on him; if he deceives me twice, shame on me.”

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Questioning moral rectitude in Obasanjo’s letter to Buhari

The lice of poor performance in government – poverty, insecurity, poor economic management, nepotism, gross dereliction of duty, condonation of misdeed – if not outright encouragement of it, lack of progress and hope for the future, lack of national cohesion and poor management of internal political dynamics and widening inequality – are very much with us today. With such lice of general and specific poor performance and crying poverty with us, our fingers will not be dry of ‘blood’”.
-          Former President Olusegun Obasanjo in his Tuesday, January 23, 2018 special press statement on President Muhammadu Buhari’s government.
The dust raised by the missive of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo asking the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari not to run in 2019 is yet to settle. The former president who recently made history as one of the five octogenarians in history to earn a Doctor of Philosophy had last week x-rayed the administration of PMB and characterised it with the above cited opening quote.  Since the publication of that statement, I have had the privilege of analysing it on some electronic media platforms. I have discussed it on ’Majelisa’ on  Kiss 99.9 FM, ‘Nigeria Today’ on  Nigerian Television Authority  and ‘Burgami’  on Vision 92.1 FM,  all in Abuja.
While the opinion expressed in the letter resonated with many Nigerians including myself, it did not go down well with many other compatriots particularly members of President Buhari’s party, the All Progressives Congress and many people from northern Nigeria. Does Dr. Obasanjo have a right to air his opinion on the president? The answer is in the affirmative. Section 39 (1) of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, as amended in 2010 says “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and import ideas and information without interference.” What Obasanjo expressed was his personal opinion. In fact, he called it brotherly advice. Hear him “I only appeal to brother Buhari to consider a deserved rest at this point in time and at this age. I continue to wish him robust health to enjoy his retirement from active public service. President Buhari does not necessarily need to heed my advice.”  I am one of those who think the former president does not have to make a public show of his advice to the incumbent president. The truth is that he has unfettered access to him and has actually met with him on more than one occasion since he came to power on May 29, 2015.
Among those who are critical of the opinion expressed by Obasanjo, also known as OBJ are those who aligned their thoughts with the position expressed by Simon Kolawole, a renowned newspaper columnist and publisher of the news medium known as The Cable. Simon had in an article entitled “Obasanjo as Nigeria’s Moral Compass”  published in Thisday newspaper of January 18, 2015 articulated the former president’s poor human rights records, bad governance and lack of moral rectitude.  Assuming without conceding that Simon was right in his referenced article, does that stop Obasanjo from pointing out the pitfalls of his successors? Many people believe that Obasanjo is a megalomania who likes to pontificate on the weaknesses of others while ignoring his own shortcomings.
He is a typical ‘aritenimowi, a fi apaadi jaanran bo tie mole’ (Yoruba proverb that translates as one who likes to criticize others while covering up his or her own inadequacies). In the very opening paragraph of his letter to Buhari, Obasanjo offered insight into his motive for writing the letter, According to the octogenarian, there is a Yoruba saying that ‘when lice abound in your clothes, your fingernails will never be dried of blood’.  Therefore, to ensure you do not have blood on your fingernails, you have to ensure that lice are not harboured anywhere within your vicinity. There is also another Yoruba adage that says “agba kii wa loja ki ori omo tuntun wo” that is, while the elder is in a marketplace the head of a baby will not be allowed to bend.
 Perhaps OBJ’s intent is genuine as he said “Some may ask, what does Obasanjo want again? Obasanjo has wanted nothing other than the best for Nigeria and Nigerians and he will continue to want nothing less. And if we have the best, we will be contented whether where we live is described as palaces or huts by others and we will always give thanks to God.”  There are also those who think OBJ is being opportunistic and was cashing in on the popular discontent in the polity. They said he is just rehashing many thoughts of Nigerians who felt the Buhari administration has failed to deliver on many of its campaign promises. They pointed out the existence of Third Force such as the National Intervention Movement established by Olisa Agbakoba, SAN and others since November 29, 2017 and the ‘Red Card Movement being spearheaded by Dr. Oby Ezekwesili since January 4, 2018. According to his critics, Obasanjo is not saying anything new and is just trying to reinvent the will by calling for the establishment of Coalition for Nigeria. Incidentally, Dr. Yunusa Tanko, who is the national chairman of National Conscience Party, addressed a press conference on Thursday, January 25, 2018 announcing that about 30 political parties have agreed to form a working alliance under the auspices of an umbrella organisation to be known as Coalition for New Nigeria (CNN).
There are at least three categories of people who are against President Muhammadu Buhari’s reelection bid. They will rather not have him on the ballot come 2019. The first are those who believe he pledged to do only one term in office as president. Although many Nigerians are not privy to this pact or gentleman’s agreement, however in September 2017, Hajia Aisha Alhassan who is the incumbent Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development granted interview to British Broadcasting Corporation Hausa Radio where she stated inter alia that “In 2015 prior to the election, when Buhari decided to contest following intense pressure, he declared that he was going to serve one tenure, that is four years. And to date no-one can claim Buhari has expressed any desire to stand for re-election in 2019.” Alhassan’s political ‘godfather’ and former Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, perhaps seeing that the president is being egged on to contest for second term, left the APC back to Peoples Democratic Party in December 2017.
The second group of antagonists is those who believe the president is not in a good state of health and is too old to govern for an extended period of eight years given the fact that he was in and out of a London hospital for over hundred days last year. However, the third category of people are those who feel he has failed to deliver on his 2015 campaign promises and as such is undeserving of being return to power in 2019. Many Nigerians are in this fold. Just like Obasanjo did, they cited the growing unemployment, poverty, insecurity, infrastructural deficit, lopsided appointments, tardiness in decision making, rising commodity prices and high cost of living as some of their reasons.  
Centre for Democracy and Development in 2015 set up a monitoring mechanism to track the performance of the 222 campaign promises of the president (see ). Out of the lot, as at last Friday when this piece was written, only six had been achieved, 112 is ongoing while 102 is not rated, meaning work are yet to start on them. Yet the administration is getting to three years in office and many feared that with the election timetable out and the next general polls scheduled for February / March 2019, many of the ongoing projects may not be completed due to politicking for mandate renewal. Many Nigerians believe that the Buhari government is not only slow but underperforming.
What really are the implications of Obasanjo’s last week’s epistle to Buhari? For me it is ominous. In military parlance, there is something called ‘espirit de corps’. Obasanjo and Buhari belong to the military elite and are the two most fortunate who have had the privilege to serve as Head of State and civilian presidents. Obasanjo was senior to Buhari in the military and actually endorsed him for president in the lead up to the 2015 General Elections. It will seem that after some private consultations without the desired change, Obasanjo decided to go public and put issues on record for posterity. Remember the saying by Franz Fanon that  “The future will have no pity for those men who, possessing the exceptional privilege of being able to speak words of truth to their oppressors, have instead, taken refuge in an attitude of passivity, of mute indifference, and sometimes, of cold complicity.” Of all the past presidents and Heads of State  alive  - Gen. Yakubu Gowon, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar, Alhaji Shehu Sagari, Chief Earnest Sonekan and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, it is only Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who has openly come out to criticise the incumbent. To me, it is a bold, courageous and patriotic move.
Another implication is that it is a clarion call on the PMB administration to redouble its effort and deliver on its campaign promises. Speaking truth to power is a commodity in short supply in Nigeria as many members of the elite class like Obasanjo will rather prefer not to rock the boat and allow maintenance of status quo. However, OBJ’s open criticism is tantamount to holding the government’s feet to fire to ensure that it delivers on the party’s and candidates pledges. This is good for our democracy as it will help to deepen it.
It is heartwarming and commendable that both the APC and President Buhari took Obasanjo’s criticism in good faith and responded in measured and civil tone. In time past, even under Obasanjo’s administration, his media aides and Minister of Information would have taken anyone bold enough to openly criticise their principal to cleaners. They would have engaged in vitriolic attacks and even ordered the arrest and detention of such person no matter how highly placed. Rather, in this instance, the president’s media aides kept mute and allowed the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed to respond. The response was very apt and straight to the point. The Minister appreciated OBJ and even called him a patriot. He thereafter countered the non-performance claim on the administration in the area of economy with facts and figures. He talked about the giant strides in the reduction of inflation, improvement in the ‘ease of doing business’, agriculture, sold minerals, weeding out of ghost workers and savings from the operations of Treasury Single Account among other highlights.  In a rare admittance of truth, the Minster observed that “These positive indices may not have immediately impacted positively on Nigerians, but Nigerians will definitely get a new lease of life a short while from now.”

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult. Follow me on twitter @jideojong

 N.B: This article was first published on Page 12 of the LAWYER pullout in Thisday newspaper of today January 30, 2018. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Will National Assembly deliver on its 2018 Agenda?

“Going into the new year, I can only wish each and every one of us the best as we prepare for the task ahead. It is a crucial year. As you all know, this, in all probability, will be the last productive year before we go into the 2019 electioneering period. Not only is there a need to up the ante in terms of productivity, it is important we keep our eyes on the big picture. Let us not be caught in the political fray before due season. To each and everything under the sun, its own time. This is Nigeria’s time. Let us devote ourselves to her service. It is therefore imperative that we speed up consideration on the various bills on which legislative work remains outstanding – particularly economic bills. Calling for similar attention are the other parts of the Petroleum Industry Bill related bills still to be passed, namely: the Petroleum Industry Fiscal Bill and the Petroleum Host Community Bill.”
-          Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki in his welcome address for the legislative year 2018 on January 16.
The National Assembly resumed from its end-of-year recess last week Tuesday, January 16, 2018. On that day the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives Hon. Yakubu Dogara addressed their members on their agenda for 2018. Last Wednesday, I was on the set of Nigeria Today, an evening current affairs programme of Nigeria Television Authority with the Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, Hon. Alhassan Ado Garba Doguwa to review the legislative agenda for the year.
In a democracy, the importance and indeed the preeminent position of the legislature cannot be overemphasized. Apart from making laws, the legislative assembly also performs oversight functions as well as appropriate money for all the arms as well as ministries, departments and agencies of government. The legislature also confirms certain key appointments of government. No matter the noble intentions of the executive arm led by the President at the federal level, governors at the state and chairmen at the local government level, without the support of the legislative arm, such intentions may not be realized.
The All Progressives Congress is in the third out of its four year term and given the fact that the next general elections are scheduled for the first quarter of 2019, effectively there will be a lot of politicking in this new year.  However, I enjoined our federal lawmakers to remember the words of the Senate President cited above. A lot of Nigerians expect so much from our lawmakers at all levels. There are a number of issues they need to take on promptly in order to ensure delivery of dividends of democracy.
It is imperative for National Assembly to pass the 2018 budget presented to them by President Muhammadu Buhari on November 7, 2018. Late passage of the budget has been a major albatross on previous and present administrations. Why is it that the average time our national appropriation bills get passed has been April? The last budget was actually signed into law on June 12, 2017. This has continued to cause economic dislocations and non-completion of many infrastructural projects.  There was high optimism that our financial year will be from January to December starting from 2018 but this is not going to happen due to late presentation of the estimates as well as non-cooperation of Ministries, Departments and Agencies in coming forward for budget defence. Much as I want quick passage of the 2018 budget, it must however be stripped of all paddings. Two budget tracking civil society organisations viz. BudgIT and Centre for Social Justice have both clinically examined the budget and published some wasteful and frivolous expenditure items running into several billions of Naira. NASS should remove or reduce those bogus estimates and pass a budget that is implementable and will ensure value-for-money.
There is also the lingering issue of constitutional and electoral act amendments. While the constitutional amendment is broader in scope than the electoral reform issues in the legal framework, it is imperative for our lawmakers to expedite actions on the passage of a new or revised framework for elections in Nigeria. A lot of people are of the opinion that our problem is majorly that of leadership deficit; to correct this anomaly it is urgent and important for both the constitutional and electoral act amendments to be wrapped up in good time ahead of the next polls. If these exercises are concluded latest by February 2018, this, being a year before the next general polls, will give ample time for election stakeholders such as the election management bodies, the security agencies, the political parties, the civil society organisations working in the area of elections, the media and the electorate to plan and mobilise resources to effectively play their roles towards ensuring credible and peaceful elections.  
It is heartwarming that last Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill which Senate previously passed in May 2017. Now that the two chambers have passed same version of the bill, it should be expeditiously transmitted to the president for assent. Meanwhile, the outstanding two bills in this cornucopia known as Petroleum Industry Bill (that is the Petroleum Industry Fiscal Bill and the Petroleum Host Community Bill) should equally be quickly passed and sent to president for assent. For those who may not know, the PIB has been in the National Assembly since 1999. Now, this bill is so important to the country that it holds the solution to the problem of perennial fuel scarcity currently being experienced across the country as well as will enhance transparency and accountability in the opaque and oily oil sector.  
I also do expect NASS to pass laws that will enhance national security particularly the one that will lay to rest the perennial herdsmen and farmers conflict that have wrecked many lives and property. For instance, if the executive is reluctant to sponsor law prohibiting open grazing, such bill could come as a private member bill. NASS can also ensure that our security agencies are well resourced to perform their constitutional and statutory function of maintenance of law and order. I do hope that laws that will also strengthen ‘ease of doing business’  will be passed so that the needed inflow of foreign direct investment can be realised as well as upliftment of small and medium scale enterprises. 

On a final note, lawmaking alone will not bring about good governance or democracy dividends. Each arm and tier of government must play their roles nobly. Proper and professional oversight of the MDAs is important just as robust and cordial working relationship must exist among the two chambers of the National Assembly as well as the executive and judicial arms of government.