Friday, July 31, 2009

Actualise the PDP Reform

With public opinion on its side, nothing can fail, with public opinion against it, nothing can succeed – Abraham Lincoln.
The outcome of the August 5, 2008 Peoples Democratic Party's National Executive Committee meeting should be commended by all lovers of democracy in Nigeria. It is indeed a step in the right direction. At the meeting, the NEC of the party inter alia resolved that its Board of Trustee should revert to its advisory position; there shall be no more arbitrary nomination of candidates, hence the party will uphold the rule of law and will forthwith monitor the performance of its elected officials while party elders are now to be co-opted into state caucuses. The NEC also reconstituted its disciplinary committee.In taking these far-reaching decisions, PDP is bowing to the pressure from within its fold and the general public who had not spared it on the ignoble role the party has been playing since the return to electoral democracy in 1999. It is on record that the party is the most castigated, vilified and disparaged. Yet, the party has always endeavoued to redeem its image. Apart from being the only political party which has an institute (Peoples Democratic Institute), it has from time to time organised retreats, seminars and conferences to educate and re-orientate its members. If PDP will follow through with this self-cleansing and hold fast to constitutionalism and internal party democracy, the tone would have been set for what to expect with the on-going constitutional-cum electoral reform exercise. However, if the party's reform agenda as set on August 5, 2008 is botched, then PDP would have justified the cynicism of the opposition parties and the Doubting Thomases in Nigeria that nothing good can come from PDP's Nazareth. The choice is PDP's.

Presidency Goofed on Electoral Reform

I wish to call the attention of the general public to the act of deliberate misinformation by the presidency particularly the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, on issues relating to Uwais Committee report on Electoral Reform. Adeniyi in a chat with State House Correspondents on Tuesday, June 2, 2009 was quoted in the media that the (Political Party Registration and Regulatory Commission) bill thrown out by the Senate on May 26 was prepared by the Uwais Committee as one of its recommendations and not by the president or his cabinet. That is being economical with the truth.
I have read the ERC report and the true position is that though Uwais committee did recommend for the establishment of PPRRC as one of the three new commissions to be created in the process of unbundling of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the committee did not prepare any bill having known that the 1999 Constitution will have to be amended first before this can be done.
The three bills prepared and attached to the ERC main report are: A Bill for an Act to Amend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999; A Bill for an Act to Amend the Electoral Act, 2006 and A Bill for an Act to Establish the Electoral Offences Commission. Even in proposing the establishment of Political Party Registration and Regulatory Commission, the ERC on page 29 of its report proposed a democratic nomination process which will see to it that the National Judicial Council will advertise the Board positions, screen the applications and recommend to the President for appointment subject to Senate confirmation.
Unfortunately, in the executive bills sent by the President to the National Assembly on April 30, 2009, the president decided to play omnipotent role in terms of appointment, removal and control of Board of the proposed Commissions. Specifically, as regards the PPRRC Bill, section 3 (2) of the bill states that the Commission’s Board members are to be appointed solely by the president. Section 5 of the Bill also empowers the President to unilaterally remove any Board member at his whim and caprice. Section 14 gives power to the President to give general directions to the PPRRC and this must be obeyed. What then is the whole essence of having a new Commission that will be dependent on the executive?
ERC advanced reasons for proposing the establishment of the new Commissions and we should not forget that the Committee received 1,466 memoranda from the zonal public hearings conducted in the course of doing its work from which the recommendations were distilled. I agree that the present economic realities might not be favourable to the setting up of new Commissions but if that is what we need to do to have credible elections, I am all for it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Declare State of Emergency in the Education Sector

Human Capital Development is crucial and central to any meaningful national growth and development. Recent revelations about the state of education in Nigeria, however, call for concern. They are simply mind-boggling and heart-rending! Nigeria’s Minister of Labour and Productivity, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode (SAN), recently said that a World Bank report on Nigeria put the country’s unemployed at a staggering 40 million, the majority of them being within the age of 18-25. This is not the first time Nigerians are being treated to unemployment statistics. I recall that in 2008, the Minister of Youth Development, Senator Akinlabi Olasunkanmi, said 64 million out of the 80 million youths in Nigeria are unemployed. He stated further that 1.6 million of the employed youth are underemployed and went on to declare that the data made available by the National Manpower Board and Federal Bureau of Statistics indicated that only about 10 per cent of the graduates produced for the labour market annually by universities and other tertiary institutions in Nigeria were able to get paid employment.One of the clues to the high rate of unemployment in Nigeria was given by the incumbent Education Minister, Dr. Sam Egwu when he said that about 80 per cent of the country’s university graduates are unemployable. He blamed the sad development on poor teaching, resulting from inadequate infrastructure and poor library facilities. Concomitant to this is the low carriage capacity of Nigerian tertiary institutions, which according to official statistics and media reports stand at less than 200,000 for the Nigerian university system as against an annual demand of one million. The simple deduction from these is that of the estimated 40 million unemployed Nigerians, be they university, polytechnic, monotechnic or Gollege of Education graduates, only 20 per cent is employable.There are two issues in the Education Minister’s submission. The first being that only about 20% of over one million students who apply to about 94 Nigerian universities gets admitted. The other point is that these lucky few that made it to the university are being trained with inadequate and obsolete infrastructure and equipment as well as poor library facilities.Over the years, the subvention to 27 Nigerian federal universities has been drastically reduced to the point that these academic institutions have become glorified secondary schools. In the 2009 budget, for instance, the entire education sector got N38 billion for capital expenditure. Considering the fact that this amount is for all federal institutions from primary to tertiary, as well as agencies and departments under the education ministry, it then becomes grossly inadequate. Yet, there is the Education Trust Fund (ETF) meant to provide funding support to these academic institutions.I am of the opinion that the time has actually come to declare a state of emergency in Nigeria’s education sector. We just cannot continue to pay lip service to education the way we have been doing in the last two decades. As a result of the years of inadequate funding and neglect of Nigeria’s academic institutions, many of the qualified and experienced staff have been lost to brain drain.In developing Nigeria’s human capital, there is an urgent need to revive our technical schools and strengthen the National Directorate of employment. The 6-3-3-4 mode of education already envisages that students who have demonstrated low capacity for academic studies would be encouraged to acquire vocational skills.

Drug Couriers and Nigerian Judiciary

Does it bother you? I mean the increasing menace of trafficking in narcotics and psychotropic substances and its concomitant effect on innocent Nigerians who are subjected to humiliating searches in and out of airports around the world. Hardly will a week go by without records of arrest. Each year, the number of arrests snowballed. People of all ages, gender and creed have been caught trafficking hard drugs in and out of Nigeria — from teenagers to octogenarians, students, artisans, graduates, etc.
In an interview in the Sunday Vanguard of August 31, 2008, the Chairman of the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Alhaji Ahmadu Giade, made some startling revelations about how the drug war is being fought in Nigeria by his organisation. Part of the major breakthrough of the organisation was the seizure of 14.2 tonnes of cocaine at the Island port. This, according to him, was the biggest seizure in Africa and the fifth highest seizure in the world. Earlier, under the leadership of his predecessor, Alhaji Bappa Jama’are, 248.3 kilograms of heroin, with a market value of N20.8 billion, was seized. To show that Nigeria is top-ranking on the ignoble list of drug trafficking transit countries, Alhaji Giade gave some statistics of arrest and prosecution in the last three years.
According to him, in 2005, the NDLEA had 779 cases of drugs; in 2006, the Agency filed 1,363 arrests, while in 2007, it had 1,508 cases. It is heartwarming that NDLEA has won 12,481 cases and lost only 207. However, the big concern is that no sooner are these drug couriers and barons convicted than they are released because of the discretionary powers used by some judges to grant these criminals “option of fine”. Why would the Nigerian judiciary covertly or overtly aid and abet such heinous crime against humanity, like drug trafficking, by giving arrested drug couriers “option of fine”? This is mind-boggling! To further worsen the situation, the minimum penalty of seven years imprisonment for drug offences seems to me like a slap on the wrist. In other climes, a minimum of 17 years to life imprisonment or even death penalty are imposed on drug trafficking to discourage involvement in the illicit trade. News media has it that about 20 Nigerians are currently awaiting the hangman’s noose in Indonesia alone.
Ironically, the Nigerian government is said to be pleading with Indonesian authorities to spare the lives of these drug traffickers. This, to me, is unnecessary. In 1984, the administration of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd) promulgated a decree imposing death penalty on drug trafficking. Though, a huge outcry greeted the execution of Bernard Ogedengbe, Bartholomew Owoh and Akanni Ojuolape for drug trafficking, this was largely because of the decree’s retroactive effect. While I would not call for death penalty for drug trafficking, life imprisonment without an option of fine will likely serve as a disincentive, hence there is a need to impose stiff penalty on trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. In a paper titled NDLEA: A Decade of Drug Law Enforcement in Nigeria, Alabi Uwiagbo said “Today, Nigerians hear more about cocaine, heroin and other narcotics than they hear about common malaria drugs in the media. And today, the image of Nigeria has suffered for the menace of hard drugs than from anything else. Apart from the image problem, hard drugs have the potential to destroy social life, particularly among the nation’s youth population”.
How true! This view was aired way back 1999 and the situation has not changed much in 2009. While stiffer penalty is imperative to curb drug abuse and trafficking, other solutions must include aggressive and sustained sensitisation of Nigerians on the evils of drug trafficking as well as creation of enabling environment for citizens self actualisation by the government. I am deeply convinced that with significant reduction in unemployment and abject poverty, that has made 70 million Nigerians to live on less than N65 a day, people will be discouraged to allowing themselves to be recruited as drug couriers. However, urgent as these measures are, what cannot wait is the need to get the Nigeria Judicial Council (NJC) to call Nigerian judges to order to stop being “Father Christmas” by giving “option of fine” to drug traffickers.

Ghana's 2008 Elections

Rainbow coalition it was. Fifty-eight people from 17 countries mobilised by The Carter Centre to observe Ghana’s December 28 run-off election. It was a privilege to be among those invited by TCC to participate in the democratic exercise. Prior to being invited, I had followed the 2008 Ghana elections with keen interest. It was soul-lifting that positive news was coming from the former Gold Coast after the December 7, 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections. However, as the saying goes, seeing is believing. Thus, when the invitation came from TCC, I couldn’t resist even as it was going to cost me the ritual of celebrating Christmas with my family in Nigeria.
Ghana, a country of 20 million people with 10 administrative regions and 230 electoral constituencies shares a common history with Nigeria. Apart from being a former British colony, the country also had its fair share of military rule. Ghana currently operates 1992 Constitution and the Electoral Commission of Ghana had just concluded its fifth election under the leadership of Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan. Under Section 44 (2) of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution, the chairperson of the electoral commission is appointed on similar condition as a Justice of the Court of Appeal.
My overall impression of the 2008 Ghana Presidential election run-off is positive. Ghana is a country where there is electoral democracy in truth and indeed. It is a country where people’s votes count and where patriotism runs in the veins of the citizen. The country has high level of political consciousness. In Ghana, there is no grant given to political parties. They source their money internally without limit, while foreign donation is barred.
According to Section 55 (15) of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution, only a citizen of Ghana may make a contribution or donation to a political party registered in Ghana. What, however, is doubtful is whether there is strict enforce-ment of this clause. Party members in Ghana buy party souvenirs. I saw many of them with their party flags, mufflers, handkerchiefs, etc. The parties in turn provide free transport service to members who may wish to travel to where they registered to vote.
Even though there are 16 registered political parties in Ghana as at September 2008, with provision for independent candidacy, only two of them can be said to be heavyweight. They are the New Patriotic Party, which is the ousted party; and the National Democratic Congress, which is the party of the new president, Prof. John Evans Atta Mills.
From January 7, 1993 to January 7, 2001, NDC ruled Ghana under J.J. Rawlings. In the December 2000 polls, NDC lost power to NPP and again lost at the elections in 2004. Now, history has repeated itself, like it happened in 2000, so it did in the 2008 elections. NDC, which had been in opposition for eight years has been able to wrestle power from the ruling NPP.
There is no gainsaying that there were unconfirmed allegations of the ruling NPP using coercive state resources like the Police and the military to harass NDC supporters. However, if this was done, it was in isolation and not widespread. That the NPP lost both the December 7 and 28, 2008 elections by a narrow margin says a lot about the political sophistication of Ghana’s electoral system. Even though the Electoral Commission of Ghana does not carry a tag of ‘independence’ as we have in Nigeria, it nonetheless was able to act professionally and discharge its duties creditably to the admiration of Ghanaians and international and local election observers.
Under the Ghana electoral system, there is provision for voting by proxy and special or early voting. While voting by proxy allows a person to vote on behalf of another person, special voting is meant for electoral officials, media practitioners and members of the Armed Forces who are likely to be on special duty on the election day. Special voting for the 2008 elections took place on December 2 for the first ballot, and on December 23 for the run-off presidential election.
In Ghana, the secrecy of balloting is ensured by the provision of a collapsible paper cubicle erected for voters to thumbprint in before casting their ballot. There is proper demarcation of the voting area and dipping of the forefinger of voters in indelible ink to prevent multiple voting. There is also tracking of the gender of the voter by the polling officials.
Again, party agents and the electoral commission are allowed to put their seal on the transparent ballot box and record the serial numbers both before the commencement of the polls and after counting of ballot. Record cards are provided for party agents to document all the details of the elections in their booths including tracking of the number of voters in their polling stations. Party agents were also given complaint forms to document any irregularities observed in their polling booths.
Religion took a back seat in Ghana elections. Both the December 7 and 28 elections took place on a Sunday, yet Christian leaders, rather than complain, shifted their service to Saturday to allow their congregation full participation at the poll. In fact, the religious groups were part of the 4,000 Coalition of Domestic Election Observers in Ghana.
The little minuses of the Ghana 2008 election is the bloated voter register, which a source put at a staggering 1.8 million. Also problematic was the party nomination process, which we were informed was very rancorous in both NPP and NDC. In fact, in Bekwai constituency where I observed the December 28 presidential run-off, some of the party loyalists decamped to stand for election as independent candidates and won. This was said to have affected the electoral fortunes of NPP in the ’08 elections.
Time has come for our election managers in Nigeria to learn from Ghana’s success stories. The process of election is as important as the outcome; and that is the main lesson of Ghana 2008 elections.

Jail Evasion Cartel and the Drug War

The screaming headline in one of the weekend papers of April 18, 2009 reads ‘FG Uncovers Jail Evasion Cartel in NDLEA’. The report said 197 convicted drug barons and couriers had been illegally set free while 14 lawyers, 11 NDLEA officials and 11 prison wardens are involved. However, a news report on April 22 and advertorial on April 27 by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) debunks the involvement of members of the NDLEA. Rather the spokesperson of the agency said “the true position is that sometime in August 2006, acting on information that drug convicts manipulate themselves against serving jail terms with the connivance of some persons, NDLEA Chairman/ Chief Executive, Ahmadu Giade, ordered the Directorate of Inspectorate Services to investigate the allegations. “He also directed that all drug convicts sentenced between 2005 and 2006 be investigated with a view to confirming if they had served their full jail terms”. According to the NDLEA, “the outcome of the internal investigations was shocking, as it was discovered that a total of 101 drug convicts for 2005 and 96 drug convicts for 2006 were never taken to prison to serve their jail terms”. The report was alleged to have indicted two staff of the Federal High Court and 10 staff of the Nigerian Prisons Service as being the masterminds of the cartel. The finding was said to have been reported to the then Attorney-General of the Federation on August 18, 2006 in which the agency recommended to the Attorney General thorough investigation of all the convicts serving in Nigerian prisons. Whether it is the earlier news report or the reaction of NDLEA on the scandal, one thing is clear, the cartel truly exist. It has taken three years to unearth the existence of the referenced reports in the advertorial and yet it is unclear if the culprits responsible for this scandalous act of disservice to the nation have been prosecuted.How are we sure that all those notorious criminals the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) boasted to have put behind bars, all the human traffickers National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) claimed to have brought to justice or many other well connected criminals ever spent a day of their jail term in prison?The fact that the drug barons know that they can buy justice and escape punishment is responsible for the upsurge in the number of drug couriers and barons. At a recent media briefing, NDLEA boss said that in the first three months of the year (2009), the agency arrested 38 persons at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos alone. The import of that figure comes stronger in the agency’s disclosure that it arrested a total of 6,308 suspects in 2007, and 7,899 in 2008, an increase of 1,591 cases representing 20.14 per cent.It is laughable that when other countries are administering more punitive measures to prosecute their drug wars, the few who get caught are able to manipulate the system to escape punishment in Nigeria.It remains to be seen when the much-touted police, prison and judicial reforms will be concluded to give social justice a true meaning. Good people, great nation, indeed!

Preventable Labour Crises

IS there governance in Nigeria? I asked this question against the backdrop of the harvest of industrial actions currently going on in many sectors of the Nigerian economy. At the last count, different unions cutting across the Federal Ministry of Information and Communication, Ministry of Education and Federal Ministry of Health are on strikes.
In my own opinion, this is a preventable situation. For instance, if government had planned very well before embarking on the monetisation exercise, it will not owe its workers upward of two years arrears. The fact that National Medical and Health Workers Union and their counterpart in Radio, Television and Theatre Workers Union (RATTAWU) and Nigeria’s Postal Services (NIPOST) are being owed monetisation arrears portrays government as unserious and uncaring.
Nigerian government has spent the last two and a half years negotiating its 2001 agreement with Academic Staff Union of Universities! Not even ASUU’s warning strike could make the government to work round the clock to avert labour crisis in the education sector. According to information from ASUU and Nigeria Labour Congress, the situation in Nigeria’s education sector is so deplorable that of the over 90 universities in Nigeria, none of them is among the best 1, 000 in the world nor among Africa’s best 60. Any wonder why many affluent families now send their children and wards abroad to study? However, where does that leave the majority of parents who go through thick and thin to even send their children to public universities?
To show the height of irresponsibility and callousness on the part of federal government, N22.791 billion of the 2009 budget for education and health sector in the Federal Capital Territory was recently vired to road construction in the nation’s capital. Yet many of the hospitals and schools in the FCT are grossly understaffed and ill equipped.
The excuse of government about the global financial crisis and fall in the price of crude oil being responsible for its inability to meet its contractual agreement with labour unions does not hold water; many of the issues that made the workers down tools happened during the oil boom era when a barrel of crude oil was sold for as high as $147. If government cared for the welfare of its workforce, then the issues could have been laid to rest long before the global recession.
The way out of this mess is for the government to find the resources with which to resolve the protracted industrial crises once and for all. The socio-economic cost of the current strikes is of gargantuan proportion, though we may not realise it yet.
Government needs to remember that the glory of a king is the welfare of his people and if a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

The Church and Healthcare Delivery

There is no gain saying the fact that healthcare delivery in Nigeria is in a deplorable condition. From primary to tertiary, health institutions are now shadows of what they are meant to be. Many even regard our hospitals now as mere consulting clinics. Factors responsible for this lamentable state of our healthcare delivery are numerous. One of them is inadequate funding by the tiers of government meant to cater for them. Over the years, subventions released to public health institutions have greatly reduced. These have hampered the purchase and maintenance of hospital equipment as well as lower the morale of health practitioners. Oftentimes, health workers have had to go on strike to press home their demands for better funding of the health sector as well as the prompt payment of their salaries and allowances.
The consequence of all these crises in the health sector is brain drain. I learnt that Nigerian doctors practising in United States of America alone are in the neighborhood of 25,000. Imagine if we are to add those in the Middle East and other parts of the world. Expectedly, because of the rot in our healthcare delivery, many rich Nigerians now travel abroad for medical attention. Those who do not have money to travel ask their loved ones abroad to buy and send them the drugs prescribed for them in Nigerian hospitals because of the prevalence of fake and adulterated drugs in the country.
Invariably, Nigerian citizens have gradually been made to be at the mercy of private health practitioners whose services are expensive. Do you blame them? They have to pay so much to deliver their services. The rent is huge, especially in Abuja; security has to be arranged to ward off criminals who sometimes pose as patients; generator has to be procured and maintained while the public power supply is on standby as it is mostly irregular. All these coupled with the cost of hospital equipment as well as other running costs leave the true practitioners with no choice but to charge prohibitive cost for their services. The failure of the state has also put Nigerians at the mercy of herbalists and fake spiritualists who claim to be able to cure virtually all diseases. It is worthy of note that many lives have been lost to the activities of these quacks and charlatans.
In this connection, I commend the fervor and enthusiasm that Nigerian churches have shown in the area of educational development with virtually every notable church establishing its own academic institutions- from primary school to university.I hereby recommend that the same energy and resources should be channeled towards founding and funding health institutions. As the saying goes, health is wealth. A healthy church is a wealthy church. The time has come for the church to be involved in bringing quality healthcare delivery to its followers. This, apart from being a means of winning souls for Christ, will generate employment for church members, bring affordable healthcare delivery to the people and ensure that our brethren do not die avoidable deaths.

A Journey into Yar'Adua's Electoral Reform Bills

In a manner reminiscent of the aborted tenure elongation debate which sounded the death-knell of the 2006 Constitution amendment effort, Nigeria’s Senate on May 26 threw out President Yar’Adua’s bill seeking to set up Political Party Registration and Regulatory Commission. The Senate said the PPRRC Bill, as packaged, violated the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and that it would not pass any bill that entailed the amendment of the 1999 Constitution until the Constitution was amended. When shall this be? Do the President and his legal advisers not know of this truth? It will be recalled that President Yar’Adua on April 30, 2009 sent 6 electoral reform bills to the National Assembly. They are a Bill for an Act to Amend the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Act Cap 15 LFN 2004 and other Matters Connected Thereto; a Bill for an Act to Alter Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and for other Matters Connected Thereto (Second Amendment); a Bill for an Act to Establish the Electoral Offences Commission and for other Matters Connected Therewith; and, a Bill for an Act to Establish the Centre for Democratic Studies and other Related Matters. Others are a Bill for an Act to Further Amend the Police Act 1967 CAP P19 2004 LFN and for other Matters Connected Therewith; a Bill for an Act to Establish the Political Parties Registration and Regulatory Commission and for other Matters Connected Thereto; while the seventh bill titled a Bill for an Act to Alter Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and for other Matters Connected Thereto (Third amendment) was sent thereafter. Curiously, there was no bill for the amendment of the Electoral Act 2006 which sets the guideline for our election. When shall this be? In a letter to the Senate President, David Mark, dated April 29, 2009, Yar’Adua said the bills were “critical to the actualization of electoral reform and consolidation of our democratic process.” The President at the press conference held on May 12 hoped that the seven bills will be passed within 6 weeks.
It was interesting watching the Senators take turn to castigate President Yar’Adua’s precious bill. While Senators Joy Emordi and Eyinaya Abaribe said it is fit for thrash can, Senator Osita Izunaso said the bill has been in coma for three legislative days and should be allowed to die after a brief illness rather than a protracted one. And die it did. The question is, what could have made majority of the Senators to ignore the plea of the President to pass the bill? It is intriguing that the Senators have to officially demand for the full ERC report before it was sent to them on Friday, May 22. Thus it is obvious that NASS leadership and members did not get to see the Uwais report nor the white paper issued on it earlier. This may have been considered an affront by the Senators. Having been privileged to read all the seven bills, I wish to state that the bills by their contents are antithetical and inimical to democratic ethos and would be tantamount to leaving leprosy to cure ringworm, if passed into law. Starting with the PPRRC Bill, it is my considered view that apart from violating the spirit and letters of the 1999 Constitution, it must have been killed by the Senators for attempting to arrogate more powers to the President. For instance, section 3 (2) of the bill states that PPRRC board members are to be appointed solely by the president. Section 5 of the Bill also empowers the President to unilaterally remove any Board member at his whims and caprices. Section 14 gives power to the President to give obligatory general directions to the PPRRC. Moreover, there is no guarantee funding for the new Commission in line with what is being proposed for the new INEC. What then is the whole essence of having a new Commission that will be tied to the apron string of the executive? In contrast, the Electoral Reform Committee who made the initial recommendation had on page 29 of its report proposed a democratic nomination process which will see to it that the National Judicial Council will advertise the Board positions, screen the applications and recommend to the President for appointment subject to Senate confirmation.
That many of the other remaining bills particularly the bills on INEC Act and Electoral Offences Commission and Centre for Democratic Studies may go the way of the PPRRC Bill is likely given that the President wants to have a stranglehold on them. For instance, in section 3 of the Electoral Offences Commission bill, 8 of the 10 member board (the other two being ex-officio members from Federal Ministry of Justice and Nigeria Police Force) are to be appointed by the president; Section 4 of the bill proposed that the president can unilaterally remove members of the board; while in section 5, the EOC may establish state offices including one for FCT. This is tantamount to creating another huge bureaucracy. There is no funding from consolidated revenue fund for the proposed Commission while power of the president to give general directions which must be complied with can be found in section 25 of the EOC bill. The bill in its explanatory memorandum is concerned with electoral offences committed only during general elections. What about electoral offences committed during party primaries, by-elections, re-run and supplementary elections? According to section 3 of the Centre for Democratic Studies bill, the 17 member board are to be appointed by the president save for the ex-officio members (NIIA, NOA, NIPSS, Ministry of Education, Head of Department of Political Science and History). President can summarily and unilaterally remove any member of the board according to section 5 of the bill while the President is empowered by the bill in section 17 to give general directions to the CDS Board. The Board members don’t even have to be men and women of integrity as the bill is silent on this criterion. In the proposed amendment to INEC Act section 2 of the bill seeks to replace the present 13 member INEC Board with a 20 member board. Considering the fact that unbundling of INEC is proposed, the number of the board members ought to be reduced not increased. India has only three member Commission despite having a 714 million registered voters and over a billion population. Nigeria has an estimated 65 million registered voters and a population of 140 million. Graciously, the INEC Bill was rejected by the Senate on July 16, 2009.
Most of the two constitution amendment bills dwelt on cross carpeting and independent candidacy, guaranteed independent funding for INEC and remove PPRRC functions from INEC. These are far cry from ERC key recommendations such as those that have to do with democratic appointment procedures for INEC and proposed new Commissions, those aimed at timely conclusion of election disputes before inauguration; staggered election; shifting of burden of proof on election dispute on INEC and the ERC proposal for the amendment of section 174(1) stripping the Attorneys General of the power to enter a nolle in relation to criminal proceedings instituted or undertaken in relation to any electoral offence created by or under an Act of the National Assembly. The bills on the amendment of the Police Act and the Constitution also fell short of ERC recommendation which seek to democratize the appointment procedure of the Inspector General of Police. ERC had recommended that the IGP should be appointed by the president on the recommendation of the Police Service Commission to the National Police Council, which in turn shall forward its nomination to the Senate for confirmation while his/her removal from office should also be by two thirds vote of the Senate after an investigation establishing his /her misconduct. The only couple of gender issues mainstreamed into the bills are those that say INEC Deputy Chairperson must not be of same gender as the chairperson and the recommendation of 20% women in political party executive. This is mere tokenism.
The above is the general overview of the bills that president Yar’Adua hopes will consolidate democracy. It is a farce. It is tantamount to calling an albino a white-man. The president has asked those who are unhappy with what he has sent to the National Assembly to send private member bills to NASS. This, to my own mind, is going to be a wasteful venture as the present National Assembly has demonstrated a lot of disdain for private member bill. A parliament that has passed only a few bills in the last 6 months and who still have scores of executive bills to treat is not expected to give priority attention to private member bill. Moreover, time is not a friend in this bid. Section 63 of the 1999 Constitution says the NASS members must observe minimum of 181 days sitting in a year. How many days do we have left to the end of the legislative year? Are we likely to see these parliamentarians working extra days or months beyond the minimum set by the Constitution? I doubt. As I write this, the Joint Committee on Constitution Review is yet to resolve the impasse within its rank which took place since January 16, 2009 in Minna. When then shall we expect any serious work to be done on the constitution review which is pivotal to any serious electoral reform exercise? As far as I am concern we will be lucky to have amendment to the Electoral Act 2006 the way things are going. Nigeria we hail thee!

Who Misinformed Yar'Adua on Electoral Reform?

PRESIDENT Umaru Musa Yar'Adua committed a gaffe in his maiden press briefing at the State House on May 12, 2009. The president was quoted to have said in relation to why the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the Council of State (CoS) rejected the Justice Uwais recommendation that National Judicial Council should be involved in the appointment of INEC Chairperson and Board members that "The recommendation for the National Judicial Council to appoint the chairman and members of INEC is not in line with the fundamental process of the law."
Having been privileged to read the Uwais report, I make bold to say that the above assertion by the President is incorrect. What the ERC recommended which is contained on Page 27 of its main report is that the National Judicial Council will advertise all the positions, spelling out all the requisite qualifications; receive applications/nominations from the general public; shortlist three persons for all the positions; and send the nominations to the Council of State to select one from the shortlist and forward to the Senate for confirmation.
Similar nomination procedure was recommended by the ERC for the appointment of the Chairperson and members of the Board of Political Parties Registration and Regulatory Commission. Who could have misinformed the President to believe that NJC is going to usurp his power to appoint INEC Board members? After all, the President as the chairman of the Council of State will still be responsible for the final nomination to the Senate for confirmation.
What ERC recommended is already in operation in some African Countries. For example, in Botswana, the Chairperson of the Commission must be a Judge of the High Court, and he is appointed by the Judicial Service Commission, other members are appointed from a list submitted by the All Party Conference (APC), and where the APC fails, the JSC makes its own recommendations. In South Africa, members of the Electoral Commission are nominated by a four-member panel comprising the President of the Constitutional Court (as chair), a representative of the Human Rights Commission, a Representative of the Commission on Gender Equality and the Public Protector. The Committee's nominations are then forwarded to the National Assembly. There is nothing in Nigeria's statute books that says the three arms of government cannot jointly collaborate to guarantee the independence of a critical institution such as the election management body. There is no total separation of power without checks and balances anywhere in the world.
The President wants us to appreciate his adoption of 73 out of the 83 recommendations of the Uwais Panel report. However, he must be told that it is not the quantity but quality of the recommendations that matter to Nigerians. The 10 recommendations that were rejected by the FEC and the Council of State (CoS) represent the heart and soul of the ERC recommendations. A case in point is the issue of conclusion of election petitions before the swearing in of candidates which was part of the Terms of Reference (ToR) given to the ERC when it was inaugurated on August 28, 2007. ERC recommended six months for disposal of election petitions before the inauguration of winners; however the FEC and the CoS rejected the idea by saying that the present situation where over two years are spent to adjudicate election petitions in Nigeria serve the cause of justice. How can delayed justice be good for Nigeria?
Again, part of the Terms of Reference was for ERC to look at the merit of introducing Proportional Representation as a means of reducing post election tension and address the grievances of disadvantaged groups in the polity. This noble recommendation was made by the ERC but was dismissed by the FEC. Even all but two of the gender recommendations were rejected. The question is, if the government already knew what is best for the country, why wasting time and other public resources setting up a 22-member ERC which sat for 16 months only to reject the key recommendations made by the Committee?
It is hoped that the National Assembly will be guided by the ERC report and not the biased and parochial interest of government as contained in its white paper. President Yar'Adua should also commence full implementation of non-legal/ administrative recommendations of the Justice Uwais report, pronto.

The Voting Rights of Nigerians

THE granting of Nigerians in Diaspora right to vote by a recent judgment of Justice Adamu Bello of Federal High Court, Abuja calls for sober reflection. Let me first congratulate Hon. Hakeem Bello, Prof. Bolaji Aluko and Mr. Uzoma Onyemaechi on their hard won victory. Hon. Bello had sometime in March 2008 invited me to observe court proceeding on the case but I couldn't make it. There is no gainsaying that the history of voting franchise has almost always been that of struggle. I recall that voting right was restricted in Nigeria initially to taxpaying adults earning 50-100 Pounds while women were also denied voting franchise for long before the adoption of universal adult suffrage which guarantees Nigerians who are 18 years and above the right to vote at elections.
Justice Bello's ruling has once again expanded the scope of voting rights in Nigeria. This is a manifestation of judicial activism which has seen Nigerian judiciary playing active role in Nigeria's electoral process. In December 2006, Justice Abimbola Ogie of Federal High Court Abuja had given a judgment in favour of some political parties who sought interpretation of Section 228 (c) of the 1999 Constitution which guarantees disbursement of fund to political parties on fair and equitable basis vis-a-vis Section 91 (2 a & b) of the Electoral Act 2006 which spelt out a sharing formula of 10% - 90% against parties who do not have any seat in the National Assembly. The learned Judge agreed with the petitioners that constitutional provisions override those of the electoral act hence grants to political parties should be shared on equitable basis. Judicial activism has also brought about the entrenchment of staggered elections in Nigeria with the Supreme Court interpretation of Section 180 of the 1999 Constitution in the Gov. Peter Obi vs. INEC case which now ensures that the term of office of a Governor or President starts to count from the date of being sworn in.
I am sure that that Nigerians in Diaspora Organization (NIDO) must have, deservedly, been savouring its legal victory. However, it is not yet uhuru for the estimated 10 million Nigerians living abroad who may be itching to vote in their adopted country henceforth. INEC under law has a right of appeal and may decide to explore it during which time the Commission may seek a stay of execution order of the court until the appeal, which may be up to the Supreme Court is determined. Even if INEC decided to abide by the Abuja court ruling, the law in its present form is a handicap. For instance, to activate the ruling of Justice Bello, Sections 77 (2) and 117 (2) of the 1999 Constitution and Section 13 of the Electoral Act 2006, among others, have to be amended.
Aside the legal hurdle is the Herculean administrative cum logistic challenge the court judgment pose. I sincerely doubt if the INEC as presently constituted has the requisite capacity to register 10 million potential voters in Diaspora. A credible voter's register is sine qua non to the success of any elections. Right now, INEC has a bloated 65 million registered voters list which needs to be cleaned up. In the last exercise which ended February 2007, there were many ghost and fictitious names on the register. Mike Tyson, the world acclaimed pugilist was said to have voted in Ondo State while Prophet Ayo Babalola who died almost five decades ago also had his name on the register. These anomalies were discovered in a Voters Registration exercise conducted in the country, it is better imagined what can happen to Voters Registration exercise conducted in Diaspora. I bet Barrack Obama, Celine Dion, Michael Schumacher, Roger Federer and Cristiano Ronaldo will all suddenly become registered voters of Nigeria. Granted that each of the political parties has a right to appoint an agent to observe both the voters registration exercise and actual elections, how many of the 54 registered political parties have the financial muscle to engage hundreds of thousands of party agents they will need to police their votes world-wide? In Nigeria where there is currently 120,000 Polling Units, none of the registered parties, save for the Peoples Democratic Party, could afford to appoint an agent to observe proceedings at all the registration or voting centres.
Again, if the political parties will not be able to have their agents' world-wide, can they trust the Nigerian Embassies and High Commission staff whom INEC might recruit as ad-hoc staff for the exercise to be unbiased? I'm asking this question against the background that Nigerian Ambassadors and High Commissioners are political appointees. They are mostly, probably with the exception of few career officers among them, appointed as compensation for their loyalty and support to the party. Hence, voters' registration exercise or elections conducted under the supervision of these politicians will likely be diluted with a huge dose of partisanship. Thus the credibility question will pop up again. Other challenges with the extension of voting rights to Nigerians abroad include the need to re-draw electoral constituencies, distribution of sensitive and non-sensitive electoral materials during elections, etc. The financial implication of all these to INEC is simply mind-boggling!
In order to make the electoral reform holistic, the time has come for Nigeria to also have provision for early or special voting as well as voting by proxy such as obtain in Ghana. Special voting will afford millions of people such as the INEC permanent and ad-hoc staff, journalists, security agents and local election observers who would be on election duty opportunity to vote. Moreover, prisoners, particularly those who are not on death row, have an inalienable right to vote at elections and this should be guaranteed. People with disability also deserved to be specially catered for at elections. In summary, the Justice Bello's ruling is a double edged sword that needs to be handled with care. Political will is of essence in its implementation.

Issues in PDP Legislatures Demand for Automatic Tickets

Dr Mohammed Haliru Bello, Deputy National Chairman of PDP earlier in the year promised that the party will give all its political office holders automatic tickets. The party promptly debunked this position saying that the party chieftain was merely expressing personal opinion. On July 1, 2009, Senate President, David Mark made a formal demand for automatic tickets for the 87 Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senators to facilitate their return to the red chamber in 2011. Mark made the request at a dinner he organised for the members of the National Working Committee of the PDP in his Apo Legislative Quarter. He decried the high turn over of Senators after each election and rationalised his demand on the basis that the move would ensure that legislative experiences already gathered by the present crop of lawmakers are not wasted. In his view, the serving senators have proved to be reliable, competent and knowledgeable, and therefore merit automatic tickets. PDP had reiterated its earlier position that nobody will be given automatic ticket among all its elected public office holders as doing so will negate the party’s constitution particularly article 17 (A-F).
In spite of the donouncement by the party, the issue has been a recurring decimal. Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu in an interview published in The Guardian of Thursday, July 23, 2009 justified his support for the move. He was quoted as saying: “Nigeria has the highest turnover of parliamentarians in the world. And when you send people to seminars, trainings, workshops and they sit in parliament from year to year and at the end of the day, they don't return, those monies are wasted. We are thinking that as much as possible, as much as our system can accommodate, we are going to ensure that we reverse this trend. A situation where about 80 per cent of our senators don't return is not healthy for our system.” PDP executive council in Anambra State has also come out to say that the reason why the State’s parliamentarians in the National Assembly called for the composition of caretaker committee in its place was because it refused to give in to the demand of the legislators for automatic ticket for the 2011 elections. Aftermath of the defection of Governor Ikedi Ohakim to PDP, Speaker of Imo State House of Assembly, Goodluck Nanah Opiah, said the best way to reward his colleagues at the Assembly for their steadfastness and belief in the PDP was to give them automatic ticket in 2011 general elections.
That the issue of automatic tickets is becoming recurrent in PDP is a dress rehearsal of what to expect when the candidate nomination process will commence in the last quarter of 2010. The question is, why are politicians and political parties in Nigeria aversed to elections? Though the request for automatic ticket is a legitimate demand with some merits, however, it is largely self-serving and undemocratic. For instance, how does this request help to promote internal party democracy? Party primaries is a time-honoured principle of representative democracy. It is a known fact that PDP had never kept faith with this process as more often than not the guideline set by the party for the party primaries are observed more in breach. Now that our parliamentarians are directly and indirectly canvassing for automatic tickets for 2011 elections, what they are covertly saying is that there is no need for party primaries for the next general elections
I dare say it is only in the sight of the Senate President and probably his party members that the Senators have done wonderfully well to merit an automatic ticket . I as a Nigerian and many compatriots do not share the belief that our National and State Assemblies have exibited sterling performance. To my own mind, their acts leaves much to be desired as they are more interested in endless and meaningless probes and oversights than in their primary function of legislation. A recent newsreport showed that 14 members of the House of Representatives have been there since 1999, yet two third of them are mere bench warmers as they neither move motions, sponsor any bills or play any active role in the parliament. The age of Methuselah has nothing to do with the wisdom of Solomon; it is not how long a member stays in the legislative chamber that counts but his or her impact while there.
The other issue in the request is the apparent disdain of the proponents for the party’s zoning principle. It is a known fact that the PDP and indeed many communties have zoning or rotation formula which they follow in order to ensure that no geo-political zone or community is marginalised. Automatic tickets will be tantamount to breach of formal and informal agreements that have been reached by people of different zones and communties and this will be counter productive for PDP as it might lead to exodus of its members who will be aggrieved by that decison to alternative platforms.
All said, PDP might be unwilling to give anyone automatic ticket because doing so will deny the party huge revenue source. It would be recalled that in 2006, apart from the N10,000 each all aspirants had to pay for Expression of Interest Form; Presidential, Senatorial and House of Representatives aspirants paid N5m, N1m, N500,000 respectively as nomination fees. There were about 28 presidential aspirants who obtained the PDP form in 2006 and thousands of other aspirants; this is goldmine for the party which it will not want to lose. Party members who are eying being elected party delegates to the congresses and conventions will also not be in support of any endorsement of automatic ticket for any elected office holder as this will mean loss of revenue for the delegates and party chieftains who trades party tickets and award it to the highest bidder irrespective of the party’s electoral guidelines.Matter of fact, automatic ticket is against democratic ethos and an ill-wind that will create more problem not only for PDP but Nigerian polity. If indeed our parliamentarians had done well then they should have no fear contesting the party primaries. Their experience and stewardship while in office should stand them in good stead for victory not only at the primaries but also at the general elections. Should they lose due to the application of zoning formula, they have 53 other registered political parties to move to in order to realise their ambition. It would be recalled that Senators Uche Chukwumerije, Gogwin Satti and Patrick Osakwe won on the platform of PPA, AC and Accord Parties respectively when PDP denied them its ticket for 2007 elections. Alternatively, if the proposal for independent candidacy is passed into law before the next candidate nomination exercise, they will have addtional platform to stand alone and contest.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Nigeria at the Mercy of MEND

Section 14 (2b) of the Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution says “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. Unfortunately, the government seems to have abdicated this crucial responsibility going by the high state of insecurity in Nigeria. If there is doubt in anyone’s mind about how insecured Nigerians are, the bombing of Atlas Cove jetty in Lagos on July 12, 2009 by Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) must have erased such. That a handful of militant group can pull a surprise attack on Nigeria’s oil facility far from the core Niger Delta environment shows that we are done for. Since 2006 when the MEND and other militant groups commenced serious act of sabotage: bombing oil facilities, taking oil workers hostage and kidnapping innocent citizens, one would have thought that a serious and responsible government would have nipped the emerging tragedies in the bud but that is expecting too much from a government which is in perpetual state of inertia. Not even the hurried assemblage of Joint Military Task Force popularly called JTF has been able to curb the MEND’s act of internal insurrection. Pray, what will happen in the event of exernal aggression?
I keep wondering why none of our security chiefs has deemed it fit to resign their position or get sacked for their abysmal failure in the discharge of their duty. Nigeria boasts of Police, Army, Navy, Air Force, State Security Service (SSS) and National Intelligence Agency (NIA); yet with these plethora of security apparatus, militants are having a field day: maiming, killing and destroying our commonwealth and national patrimony and nobody is being made to answer for this gross negligence and ineptitude. That MEND was able to carry out a successful attack on oil distribution jetty in Lagos exposes the underbelly of Nigeria as an unsafe and insecured country. Unless urgent proactive measures are taken, all the corporate headquarters of our financial institutions, many of which are on the Atlantic Beach as well as the sea ports in Lagos are at grave risk of attack. In no distant future, I won’t be surprised if MEND or any of the militant group launch attack on the Three Arms Zone in Abuja where we have the State House, National Assembly and the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal. I am not an alarmist but many people will agree with me that in the last three years many unprecedented things have happened and are still happening. Initially, we all thought hostage taking and kidnapping for ransom is a Niger Delta phenomenon, now we know better, there have been reported cases of kidnapping in Kaduna, Abuja, Imo, Abia, and Anambra among many other places which are considered hinterland. Ironically, the realisation of improved power supply, just like the country’s oil supply, is at the mercy of the militants. The gas that will be used to power many of the multi billion dollars thermal electricity generating companies being built across the country is in the Niger Delta region. Isn’t it high time for government to diversify Nigeria’s energy sources from thermal to coal, solar and hydro power stations?
President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces will do well to sanitise our security agencies by relieving those whose acts of negligence and docility have put the country in this state of anomie of their jobs and restructure the security agencies for better efficiency and effectiveness. There is no gainsaying that failure of Nigeria’s Custom Service to effectively patrol the country’s borders led to the proliferation of arms and ammuntion in the Niger Delta region and Nigeria as a whole while lack of reliable intelligence report by the security agencies made it impossible to preempt and forstall some of these militant attacks.
There is need to enter into sincere negotiation with MEND and its affiliates even as the current grant of amnesty to militants who are ready to abandon armed struggle against the Nigerian State is commendable and should be sustained. The release of Henry Okah is a laudable step but beyond that, there is need to pursue agrresive development of the Niger Delta region. Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the creation of the Niger Delta Ministry are good initiatives but there must be adequate funding for their developmental projects. A situation where NDDC budgetary allocation is not being fully released does not augur well for the peace process. The government also need to reign in the excesses of the oil companies who operate in the Niger Delta as some of them continue to degrade the environment through oil spillage and gas flaring. Good governance holds the key to peace in the Niger Delta. A situation where the governors of the Niger Delta states line their pocket and embark on personal aggrandisement at the expense of the suffering majority in the geo-political zone must stop. There must be accountability for the funds received by the governors either from the federation account or the internally generated revenue. Niger Delta political and community leaders must make peoples money work for them. On the part of MEND and other militant groups, there can be no development in a volatile environment. It is time to cease hostility to pave way for the development of their communities. It is easier to destroy than to build and further destruction of national assests may deprive the government the resources or wherewithal to develop the environment. It is also ironic that militants are taking construction workers hostage and demanding heavy ransom in exchange for their release. It would be recalled that this made Julius Berger, the German construction company to abandon some of the contracts being executed in Rivers State. This does not augur well for the development of Niger Delta. Acts of brigandage and criminality will only exacerbate the already bad situation not only in the Niger Delta but in the nation at large. Let us all give peace a chance.
Jide Ojo is an Abuja based Public Affairs Analyst

Let there be light!

One of the campaign promises of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the last decade was the provision of stable electricity. The issue of electricity has been such a recurring decimal in political campaigns that from councillorship to presidential elections, it always topped the agenda. Yet at every turn, instead of having the promised megawatts of electricity, what Nigerians have been treated to are megawatts of excuses and darkness. Starting with former President Obasanjo’s administration, he got an act of parliament to change NEPA (National Electric Power Authority) to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN); balkanised the old NEPA into several autonomous companies and established the National Integrated Power Project. An estimated $16 billion was allegedly spent by the Obasanjo administration alone on power projects, while there were high turnovers of PHCN management as they were sacked one after the other for inefficiency. A probe of Obasanjo’s investment in the power sector had been done by the House of Representatives without any concrete outcome.Obasanjo’s successor, President Umaru Yar’Adua, promised to deliver stable electricity to Nigerians. It features prominently in the president’s much touted Seven Point Agenda. In fact, the president promised to declare a state of emergency in the power sector within his first 100 days in office. More than two years in office, Nigerians still await that declaration. The president came up with mega excuses, there is need to carry state governments along, there is need for legislation and so on and so forth. Again, we are promised 6,000 megawatts of electricity by the end of 2009 and 10,000 megawatts by the end of 2011. To achieve this feat, Ministers of Power were changed and they in turn sacked the management of PHCN for the umpteenth time. Yar’Adua also set up a Presidential Steering Council on NIPP to drive the implementation process. Massive sloganeering is currently going on through government-owned media networks about how we are close to the promised land in electricity self sufficiency.Recent developments have, however, shown that all the megawatts of electricity being promised by this administration may be a mirage afterall. Permit me to cite some instances which lend credence to this. At a meeting of the Presidential Steering Council on NIPP on July 13, 2009, N283 billion was approved for the NIPP projects. The council, while addressing the press after its meeting, linked regular supply of power in the country to the success of the amnesty recently granted militants in the Niger Delta and the return of peace in the region. Minister of State for Power, Nuhu Wya, said peace in the Niger Delta was key to guaranteeing regular power supply, as the country needs quality gas supply to power electricity turbines across the nation. He said further that due to the lack of gas, the government had turned its attention to the use of hydropower generating stations. Soon after Minister Wya made his remarks, Nigeria’s substantive Minister of Power, Dr Remi Babalola, while addressing House of Representatives Committee on Power, said it might no longer be possible for the Federal Government to fulfil its promise of delivering a minimum of 6,000 megawatts of electricity by December this year. He blamed it on gas pipeline vandalism which has resulted in shortage of gas to power the turbines in the power stations. As if that was not enough, the PHCN workers also embarked on a warning strike on July 13, 2009 demanding for 150 per cent increment in their salary and threatening to shut down all power generating stations, if their demands were not met. How bad can things get?The questions on my mind are that: Besides thermal and hydropower generations, are there no alternative sources of power? I know for sure that electricity can be generated from solar (sun) and coal. These alternative sources are available in Nigeria. Why can’t the government do some pilot experiments on them to test their effectiveness as energy sources? Were there enough feasibility studies carried out before these power projects were embarked on? I asked this against the background that the issue of pipeline vandalism has always been there, even before the escalation of Niger Delta crisis. Moreover, since pipeline, as a means of transporting oil and gas, has become unsafe due to vandalism, why can’t we lay rail line from the gas sources to the power plants in Egbin, Alaoji, Papalanto, Geregu and Omotosho or better still, transport gas to these power stations by trucks in a similar way that petrol is being transported across the country after the destruction of the Nigerian rail system? If we cannot source gas locally due to Niger Delta crisis, then let’s import.Moreover, there is a need to investigate likelihood of international conspiracy aimed at thwarting government’s effort at providing stable electricity in Nigeria. There is a possibility of some multinational and local power generators manufacturing companies aiding and abetting these vandals in order to stay in business. Afterall, Nigeria is said to be the highest consumer of electricity generators in Africa. The situation at hand needs thinking out of the box. The darkness that has enveloped Nigeria will not go away by lamentation, excuses and show of helplessness being portrayed by the Ministers of Power. This is the time to awaken the ‘can-do’ spirit and rise up to the challenge.There is no gainsaying the fact that a country of close to 150 million population cannot be sustained on power generators. The colossal loss of manpower, industries and financial resources that lack of electricity has caused this nation is better imagined. Aside the pollution and preventable deaths which the continual use of power generators has caused, there is no better way to rebrand Nigeria other than ensuring that we have light for productive, recreational and relaxation purposes. Enough of mega excuses!