Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fraudster Eaglets as a Metaphor on Nigeria

On August 25, 2009 the Eaglet Coach dropped 15 players from the camp of the squad preparing for the 13th FIFA U-17 World Cup finals which Nigeria is hosting from October 24 to November 15 this year. Nigeria has won the competition thrice and came second once. In fact we are the defending champion. Coach John Obuh explained that the players were dropped based on performance as well as the results of the MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) tests conducted on all the players recently. This was after initial denials by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and the Coach. A source said Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a test that uses a magnetic field and pulses of radio wave energy to make pictures of organs and structures inside the body. It evaluates age (in this instance, of football players) from the degree of fusion of the distal radius (in the wrist) and compares these findings with those of normal population of similar age. Is age-fraud a new occurrence in Nigeria or football world? Definitely not. Many sports analysts have always suspected foul play in the age of players Nigeria parades for age grade tournaments, but since there was no proof, they let go. Now modern technology through MSI has come to prove conclusively that Nigeria was about fielding many over-age players either by error of omission or commission in order to gain undue advantage over fellow competing nations.

Indeed this ‘de-branding’ and unfortunate incidence is a metaphor on Nigerian nation. It is a law of Karma, nemesis that has caught up with us. The popular saying is that ‘you’re going to reap what you sow’. These young lads were trying to play smart because they have come to realise that it pays to cheat. They understand that Nigeria is a country where the Machiavellian principle of ‘the end justifies the means’ is given full expression. Has anyone been tracking the staggering number of exam cheats caught anytime there is a general examination such as the West African School Certificate (WASC) Examination, University Matriculation Examination (UME) or Polytechnic and College of Education Entrance Examination (PCE)? Exam fraud has become a perennial challenge to many of the Examination conducting councils like the West African Examination Councils (WAEC) and National Examination Council (NECO). It was even revealed that some parents go all out to buy leaked exam questions for their children while others engage the services of hired exam writers popularly called ‘mercenaries’. This menace has degenerated to the level of Primary School Leaving Common Entrance examinations. The phenomenon is not limited to general examinations but also rear its ugly head in Intra School examinations be it at primary, secondary or tertiary institutions. It is this unfortunate incidence that led Nigerian Universities to introduce Post-JAMB examinations. This second layer University entrance exams have revealed that some students who scored high in the UME sometime perform poorly in the Post-JAMB all because their sterling performances at the UME were aided and abetted.

We can recall the ‘Toronto Certificate Saga’ of a former Nigerian Number 4 Citizen between 1999 - 2003 who was disgraced out of office for falsifying his age and educational qualifications to the Nigerian House of Representatives. The man was later given presidential pardon and was made chairman of Board of an examination council. What is the moral lesson in that? Even early this year, the election of a member of House of Representatives from Lagos State was voided by the court on the premise that the man presented fake academic qualification to Independent National Electoral Commission. It is also an open secret that some of our civil servants doctor their age and service records so that they can prolong their stay in civil service. How many curriculum vitaes being peddled by many of us are genuine? If MSI is to be conducted on many of those who apply to work or are working in many of Nigerian companies that apply age-limit entry requirement, the failure rate will be high as many desperate job seekers are in the habit of making bogus claims in their CVs. Even for the youth service scheme, many of the students falsify their age right from the time of their admission to universities in order to qualify them for NYSC whose age limit for mobilisation is thirty.

The Eaglets age cheat story is a sad commentary on our national life. It taints all our past victories and laurels at age group competitions. Little wonder Nigerian athletes and footballers have a short performance records. While Lionel Messi of Argentina and Samuel Etto Fils are still on top of their game, more than a decade after featuring for their countries in age grade competitions, their Nigerian colleagues have fallen off the radar. The age scandal in the Eaglets camp should be thoroughly investigated. There is a need to know who recruited these over-aged players, what criteria were used in selecting them? and whether there were any attempts made by Nigerian football authorities to verify the claims of these men who claimed to be boys? Those found guilty should be punished while the decamped over-aged players should be banned from representing Nigeria in any international competitions. Similar searchlights should be beamed on players and athletes recruited for other age-grade competitions in order to prevent re-occurrence of this national embarrassment. Above all, let us all strive to make integrity our watch-word.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Don't Agonise, Organise!

The late Pan-Africanist, Tajudeen Abdulraheem was credited to use the slogan: Don’t Agonise, Organise! US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton also urged us to do same in her town hall meeting with Nigerians in Abuja on Wednesday, August 12, 2009. She challenged Nigerians in need of positive change to organise and use Information Communication Technology (ICT) to pursue their goal. Hillary reminded us of how President Barack Obama used ICT to mobilise millions of Americans to partake in the US electoral process. Yes we can and should use various platforms ICT offer to build the critical mass that can demand and get desired change we want. There is the internet which hosts a number of social networking sites like Facebook, Netlog, Blog, Twitters, E-mails, You-tube and Websites that can be used to sensitise and organise people. There is also the mobile telephone with facilities such as text messaging as well as the traditional mass media like radio and television.

Going by the latest development in Nigeria’s electoral system, it has become imperative for those of us who are dissatisfied with the status quo to begin earnestly to organise. Isn’t it ironic that the same week as Hillary Clinton came to tell us the home truths about ourselves, three re-runs took place in Oyo and Ekiti States and the reports were same old story of violence and massive electoral fraud? On August 15, 2009 there were two re-run elections in Oyo State. Many newspapers reported that massive rigging, violence and low turnout of voters marred the elections held to fill the two vacant seats of Oorelope and Lagelu constituencies in the Oyo State House of Assembly. Although policemen were deployed to maintain law and order at the various polling units, thugs were said to have had a field day as they intimidated and harassed the few voters who turned out for the election.

In another election into the Ekiti North Senatorial seat held same day and time, the situation was worse. According to news reports, many of the ballot papers printed for use in the Ekiti election had no serial numbers while some had conflicting serial numbers. This was discovered on the eve of the election. On the election day, voting did not start until noon in some of the polling booths while there were wide cases of shortage of electoral materials, mix up in the voters register, low voters turn out and violence in three out of the five local governments that make up the senatorial district. In fact, two journalists, Tunji Olanipekun, an Africa Independent Television (AIT) staff reporter, was not only purportedly beaten but had his camera smashed while Babs Daramola of the Silverbird Television (STV) was also reported manhandled by political thugs at Ifaki. At Iludun, former Governor of Ekiti State, Niyi Adebayo was allegedly attacked and the back windscreen of his car smashed. The Chairman of Moba Local Council, Mr. Akin Alebiosu was reported arrested with weapons and about 10 thugs. On the whole, police authority claimed to have arrested 50 persons for electoral offences. The latest was in Edo State where a court-ordered re-run into Akoko-Edo State Constituency 1 election on August 22 was also marred by violence.

Now, with these developments, and as warned by the Director General of the State Security Service in a recent meeting with the House of Representatives Committee on Police Affairs and National Security, 2011 elections will be bloody if the situation persist. The signs are ominous. Incidentally, the same week as we had the marred re-run polls, the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee on the reform of 1999 Constitution had its public hearings. The hearings were held to get public input into the 6 executive electoral reforms bills sent to the National Assembly in April 2009 and also on the executive amendment bill earlier sent to the parliament on the Land Use Act.

I was privileged to present a memorandum on constitutional reform on behalf of three coalitions: Constitutional Reform Dialogue Mechanism (CRDM); Gender and Affirmative Action (GAA) and Affirmation of the Rights of People with Disability (ARPWD) at the public hearing on August 11, 2009. My overall assessment of the hearings, many of which were held simultaneously (there were all-together about 5 different public hearings on different thematic areas between Tuesday, August 11 and Friday, August 14, 2009), was that it was hurriedly packaged. The exercise, which was probably organised to convince Hillary Clinton that electoral reform is on course in Nigeria, was put together within a week; hence there was low turn-out. Good enough, the various sub-committees have promised to continue to accept memorandum even after the hearings.

It is heart-warming that Hon. Eziuche Ubani at a press conference after the hearings said the ad-hoc committee on constitutional reform have agreed to focus on only the 6 executive electoral reform bills and the amendment bill on the Land Use Act. This was the position passionately canvassed by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Michael Andoakaa, SAN in his presentation at the commencement of the public hearings but which the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Usman Bayero Nafada vehemently opposed.

For those who missed the House hearings, I enjoin them to heed the Senate ad-hoc constitutional reform committee’s call for memorandum and come forward to present their issues during the upper chamber’s public hearing. Hopefully the constitutional reform exercise will be fastracked to enable INEC have the requisite legal instruments for the 2011 elections. However, legal reform alone will not solve Nigeria’s endemic electoral problem. Of greater importance are the need for ethical revolution, reduction of perks of political offices and law enforcement. I do hope that the Coalition of Democrats on Electoral Reform (CODER) and similar credible coalitions will rise to the challenge of organising Nigerians on this critical issue of genuine electoral reform if we are to prevent what the former Head of State, General Mohammadu Buhari (Rtd.) called ‘somaliasation of Nigeria’.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Titlemania

Honouring people to whom it is due is a time honoured African tradition. In most African societies, respect for disciplined elders and successful people who have made their mark in the society is non-negotiable, and this is demonstrated in more than one way. Not only are such people greeted with reverence, their views are highly respected while they are also oftentimes, unsolicitedly, honoured with meritorious titles. Their sterling qualities and positive contributions to societal development have earned many the coveted crowns as kings or traditional and honourary chieftaincy holders.

It is not only traditional communities that recognise and honour merit, excellence and greatness, our various religions do. In fact, every religious sect or faith be it indigenous or foreign, all have special titles they use in honouring their outstanding devoted and pious members. Apart from titles such as ‘’Aare Musulumi ‘’i.e. the President of Muslims and the “Adini’’ are honourary Muslim titles bestowed on distinguished Islamic faithfuls among the Yorubas. In the Christendom too, apart from the general titles of Bishop, Pastor, Evangelist and Prophets, titles such as Deacons and Deaconess, Lay Reader, Baba Ijo i.e. Church Father, Iya Ijo i.e. Church Mother and Elder are honourary religious titles bestowed on active church members in recognition of their selfless service in the house of God.

In the academia, various awards are given to recognise successful academic pursuits the apex of which is the title of Professor Emeritus. Some honourary doctorate degrees (honouris causa) are also annually dished out to eminent members of the public by universities in recognition of such people’s enviable achievements and contributions to societal development. Government too has various titles that it gives to deserving members of the public. In Nigeria, such titles include CFR, OFR, OON, MON, GCON and GCFR. Even each profession is not left out. Example could be cited of the law profession where the title of Senior Advocate is the ultimate honour that practising lawyers could get especially in Nigeria.

Good enough that human society is not an ungrateful one as it recognises excellence and virtues. However, unlike what obtains in the good old days, title holding of whatever kind and nature no longer command the enormous respect it used to. This is not unconnected with the monumental abuse the conferment of titles have been subjected. It is indeed an open secret that politicisation and monetisation of the award of titles had greatly cheapened the value of such titles that are conferred on every deserving and undeserving person that can afford to pay the price or fee demanded for them.

Title peddling is now a brisk business embarked upon by many a traditional ruler and worse off ivory towers. For them, it is a survival strategy, a goldmine. The story could even be told of a late Yoruba Oba whose chieftaincy peddling record is unrivalled as he was so magnanimous with dishing out titles to whoever cared for one so much so that he even encouraged would-be chiefs to suggest names of titles they will like to have, all for a fee. The folly of ‘Plc traditional rulers’ can even be condoned; however, most embarrassing and unpardonable is the doctorate peddling act of some little-known private universities in the US awarding honourary doctorate degree to some notorious Nigerians. For want of filthy lucre, Nigerian universities too have joined in that rat race by seeking out wealthy Nigerians sometimes of doubtful means for undeserved award.

The issue is not that it is wrong to recognise and honour those who deserve to be honoured. The polemic here is predicated on the arbitrary, unbridled and unethical award to undesirable elements in the society. If we would be fair and objective, people for whom honour, reference, deference and recognition are meant are people with sterling qualities and exemplary conduct. These are people who could serve as role models by virtue of their virtuous disposition, Godlike character, monumental achievements and invaluable contributions to community and national development, not rogues, morons, wastrels and people whose names are bywords and are themselves pariahs in their communities.

Some peoples complimentary or business cards are quite intimidating if only by virtue of contents. What with all the arrays of titles held painstakingly listed out for people’s consumption. You need to see the pea-cockish attitude or gesticulations of some of these vainglorious and self-conceited title maniacs when they are being introduced. Woe betides any master of ceremony that fails to address them properly. Many of them are stickler for precision and would not compromise being ordinarily introduced without an exhaustive mentioning of their log list of chieftaincy titles, doctorate awards and religious honours. Ironically, the impact of these Alhaji, Dr. Chief, Otunba, Barrister ‘Lagbaja’ or Bishop, Dr, Chief, Engineer ‘Tamedo’ is rarely felt in their home towns or communities. The only thing people know and recognise them for is their basketful of titles and capful of feathers.

As Ruth Brown rightly pointed out, “praise, like gold and diamond, owes its value to its scarcity”. It is sickening, irritating, mind-boggling and deplorable seeing every rat, dog and pig being bestowed with unworthy honour. Didn’t Jesus warn us in the Bible not to cast our pearls before swine? If it is not known to us yet, honouring people of shady characters and rich fools would go a long way to promote crime as youths of today, who will be leaders of tomorrow, having seen the power of money, would also want to buy, rather than earn respect and honour. Let all concerned desist from this craziness in vogue for mutual benefit.

NB: This article was first published by Daily Sketch on Monday, January 11, 1999.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Political Economy of Nigeria’s Financial Sector

The hen has come home to roost. A Yoruba adage says if lies travel for twenty years, truth will meet it in just one day and so Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the new Governor of Central Bank on Friday, August 14, 2009 put a lie to all the false claims of some of our megabanks about their state of health. Since that fateful day when five of the Nigeria’s banks Managing Directors and their Executive Directors were sacked by the Central Bank of Nigeria, I have followed the development with keen interest. To my mind, much of the analysis of the unfortunate development has failed to appreciate the political underpinnings of the entire issue.

This is not the first time Nigerian banks will be in crisis. Right from the first republic, politicians have had dominant influence in the operations and misfortunes of our banks. Where are Africa Continental Bank (ACB), National Bank, Trade Bank, Gamji Bank and Societe Generale Bank today? All are defunct. Who were the people responsible for their distress? Am by no means saying that there are no fiscal issues bordering on financial indiscipline, mismanagement of shareholders fund and poor corporate governance in the matters arising, but stricto sensu, the issues are far beyond that.

Just last July 6, Senator Nkechi Nwaogu, Chairperson, Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions on the floor of the upper chamber named former directors of 13 failed banks who were involved in insider credit abuse that led to the banks’ failure. The former directors of the failed banks collectively owed the defunct banks N53.3 billion out of which the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) was said to have recovered a paltry N4.722 billion. Scores of names reeled out by Distinguish Senator Nkechi were those of political juggernauts who were directors of the distressed banks.

Already, news making round suggested that two of the Banks who were currently on life support of CBN donated N1billion each to the election campaign fund of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua while one of the former South-South Governors loaned N40 billion and $200 million from the same banks without paying back. We should not also forget that many of these banks contributed to the Presidential Library Project of Nigeria’s immediate past president as well as his elections in 1999 and 2003 under the aegis of Corporate Nigeria. If the board members of these five debtor banks are to be exposed it will be found that many of them are politicians and are also involved in the insider credit abuse. It baffles me that the CBN Governors did not deem it fit to dissolve them. Talk of scapegoats and sacred cows.

Political intrigues and considerations are perhaps responsible for the conspiracy of silence and aiding and abetting of these ailing financial institutions by the regulators. It would be recalled that the immediate past CBN Governor issued a press statement in favour of one of the banks and raised false hope that Nigeria’s financial institutions are immune from the global financial crisis. We now know better. If the truth must be told, what is currently happening in Nigeria’s financial sector is partly total failure of institutions. The Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation, Securities and Exchange Commission, Nigeria Stock Exchange, Corporate Affairs Commission, Federal Inland Revenue Service, relevant committees of National Assembly, the banks external and internal auditors, anti-graft agencies and even a section of Nigeria’s media should share part of the blame for condoning or refusing to blow whistle on the excesses and abuses in Nigeria’s financial sector.

Earlier in the year, there was news report that many of the Nigeria’s banks MDs are engaged in reckless spending spree; buying private jets and globe-trotting in the name of business expansion. Some analysts explained it away then that it is expedient. Where were the regulators when banks turned to casinos or lottery where unsuspecting members of the public were being asked to save and win mouth-watering prizes? Where were the regulators when banks were engaging in round-tripping and other unethical practices such as engaging beautiful ladies as marketers with targets to bring in certain millions of Naira within a short period? Where were the regulators when banks went gaga fixing arbitrary interest rates and refusing loan to small and medium scale enterprises?

All the sharp-practices and malpractices that the sacked management staff of Oceanic Bank, Fin Bank, Union Bank, Intercontinental Bank and Afri Bank were alleged to have committed were not new, what is desirable is an holistic cleansing of the entire financial sectors from the banking industries to the Stock Exchange and the Insurance sub-sector. However, it is doubtful if political solution will not be adopted by the regulators at the end of the day. This is because many of those responsible for the present and past undermining of Nigeria’s financial sectors are members of the ruling political elite.

I do hope the the CBN Governor has not breached the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria with the approval of N400 billion bailout fund for the five ailing banks without a recourse to the National Assembly. It would be recalled that earlier in the year, Barrack Obama took his stimulus package to US congress for approval. The argument has been made that there is need to build the capacity of regulators and banks as there were dearth of competent people to run the industry. All well and good if the politicians will allow them do their work professionally, honestly and with integrity.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

On AY Live Abuja Invasion Comedy Show

On the 9th of August, 2009, I decided to play the caring husband by taking my wife to watch a comedy show which had been well advertised by major electronic media in Abuja: AY Live Abuja Invasion Comedy Show which is an annual gig by the enterprising and award winning comedian and entertainer, Ayo Makun. However the well attended show leaves much to be desired in terms of planning. The show which goes for N5, 000 for VIP seat and N3, 000 for popular side was supposed to start at 5 pm but did not commence until 6:30pm. Not only that; the hall was not opened to audience until 6pm while people were forced to queue like kindergarten pupils waiting for school assembly. When the hall was eventually opened, there was stampede as people surged to get in early in order to get a vantage point to seat.
By the time the show started at 6:30pm, it was obvious that the organisers had sold far more tickets than the Sheraton Hotel Halls can accommodate as almost half of the audience could not get a seat and had to stand up for almost three hours the show lasted. The promoter of the show informed us that there was another sizeable crowd outside who could not get in. He therefore mooted an idea of a second show. Naturally the audience disagreed because they suspected an attempt to cut short their fun in order to accommodate the second show which was not planned for. Again, there was no proper demarcation of the VIP seat neither was there any preferential treatment for them, even the AY Live magazine which was shared at the tail end of the programme were selectively distributed to anyone that catches the fancy of the ushers. The emcees of the show: Frank Edoho and Mercy Johnson were not called on the stage till almost an hour after the show had started, could it be that they came late for the show? Mercy’s dressing was something else; seductive and provocative, not something a good role model should promote. On the show proper, some of the jokes were jaded and dry. If the truth must be told however, the calibre of artistes on parade at the show was high.
I have a few suggestions for Ayo and his Abuja show promoter. Next time around, they should take their show to larger venue like the International Conference Centre or Abuja National Stadium. Better still, they should endeavour not to sell tickets above available seats. People should be allowed to take their seat once they have their tickets; the show should also start on time. It makes no sense starting late and then hurrying guest artistes through their acts. There should be proper demarcation of the VIP stand from the popular side. The AY magazine which was distributed while the show was on was a needless distraction and should have been given to the audience at the point of ticketing, entry or before the show commenced.

The Birth of CODER

Democracy can only have meaning when people’s supreme wish through the ballot box becomes inviolable and respected – Ayo Opadokun.
History was made in Abuja on July 30, 2009 with the birth of Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reform (CODER). Sheraton Hotel was agog with people from all walks of life who came to be part of the epoch-making event. The role call of dignitaries include political juggernauts like Alhaji Iro Dan Musa who was the chairperson of the launch, former Governors: Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Lam Adesina and John Odigie-Oyegun; former House of Representatives Speakers: Ghali Umar Naaba and Aminu Bello Masari; President of National Council of Women Societies (NCWS), Hajiya Ramatu Usman; Saida Saad; Prof. Awalu Yadudu; Senators Ben Obi, Nazif Suleiman, Olorunnimbe Mamora, Bode Ola, Ganiyu Solomon and former Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Audu Ogbeh. Governors Raji Fashola of Lagos and Peter Obi of Anambra sent representatives. Civil rights activisits were not left out. Among them were members of the Civil Society Coordinating Committee on Electoral Reform (CSCCER) such as Edetaen Ojo, Innocent Chukwuma, Emma Ezeazu and Angela Odah.
CODER is a child of necessity. Events in the polity is worrisome. Progressives , nay democrats are not convinced that the two year old electoral reform engineered by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is going to achieve any worthy outcome. They are right. The President sounded very convincing and seems to mean well at the inauguration of the the 22 member Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) headed by Justice Uwais on August 27, 2007 with the omnibus terms of reference (ToR) given to the Committee. The ERC worked for 16 months traversed the lenght and breath of Nigeria, soliciting and receiving memoranda. At the end of the day, a whooping 1, 466 memoranda were submitted to the 22 ‘wise-men and women’. On December 11, 2008 the committee submitted its report which has been receiving complimentary review in the press and among the political elites. Unfortunately, by March 2009 when the summary of the government white paper was made public, the enthusiasm of the people were doused as the key recommendations were rejected both by the Federal Executive Council and the Council of States. Among the vital recommendations rejected were those that has to do with the appointment to the Board of INEC and other proposed new commissions such as the Electoral Offences Commission; Political Party Registration and Regulatory Commission and the Centre for Democratic Studies.
While the ERC wanted a more transparent board appointment process that will involve the National Judicial Council in the recruitment exercise through advertisement and screnning of applicants before recommending three persons to the Council of State who shall appoint one of them for Senate to screen; the FEC and CoS rather wanted the status quo to remain. Government also rejected the recommendations that election should hold six months to the expiration of the term of incumbents and that all election disputes must be resolved within six months and before inauguration; likewise government rejected the recommendation for a more transparent appointment procedures for the Inspector General of Police as well as proposal for adoption of Proportional Representation System. Ironically, these were same things contained in the ToR of the ERC. Though the president hurriedly sent six electoral reform bills to the National Assembly in April, these bills are at best cosmetic and shallow attempt at dealing with the fundamental problem of our electoral process. Indeed, two of the six electoral reoform bills have been rejected by the Senate.
The president on May 12 at his inaugural press conference with the State House correspondents threw a challenge to those who are dissatisfied with what he has in the executive bills to come up with their private member bill(s). This is the challenge that CODER has taken up. CODER, according to its facilitators, is an umbrella body for all individuals, group, civil society and non-governmental organisations, labour, women, students, religious, traditional leaders who suscribe to the main agenda of making peoples votes to count. CODER aims at working together with all other public spirited Nigerians for the purposes of ensuring that key elements of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform recommendations are passed into law by the National Assembly. The objective of the new Coalition is to devise appropriate constitutional, legitimate, lawful and democratic means including media campaigns, town hall meetings and rallies etc to sensitise, mobilise and educate Nigerians on the desirability of having a much more workable electoral system that will guarantee the sanctity of voters wish in Nigeria.
CODER’s implementation strategy is three fold: To set up State and Zonal committees for the purposes of education, sensitisation and mobilisation of Nigerians on the urgent need for the implementation of key recommendations of the ERC report; to collect signatures at the Local and State levels with the coordination at the national level in support of implementation of key proposals in the ERC report and lastly, to adopt and endorse the key ERC recommendations in form of a private member bill for presentation to the National Assembly. In order to fast-track the implementation of its objectives, CODER has set up a technical committee that has prepared three draft bills namely: a bill to amend the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, a bill to amend the Electoral Act 2006 and a bill for an act to establish the Electoral Offences Commission. The Technical Committee of CODER headed by former Governor John Oyegun has also prepared a position paper on electoral reform. All these documents and few others were distributed at the launch of CODER.
Like many of the dignitaries who spoke at the launch said, the task ahead for the group is herculean as the opposition to its redemption effort is formidable. This, the facilitators of the group, admitted. As for me, having registered promptly as a member of CODER, I want to align my view with that of the erudite law scholar, Prof. Awalu Yadudu that CODER need not submit any private member bill but should seek to influence the amendment of the four remaining electoral reform bills before the National Assembly. This can be done at the level of public hearings and even other avenues like lobbying. The time is just not there to initiate a PMB. I also concur with the submission of Chief Audu Ogbeh that a sub-committee of former and serving legislators should be inaugurated for intense lobby at the National and State Houses of Assembly. Serious networking with existing civil rights groups such as CSCCER is desirable. There is need to establish Eminent Persons Group for the pupose of diplomatic shuttle cum lobbying. Democrats and progressives out there, wouldn’t you rather join us?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Shall we tell the president?

I decided to borrow the title of this article from the famous British author, Jeffery Archer, because it is very apt for what I intend to discuss in this piece: the state of insecurity in Nigeria. That there is a breakdown of law and order in Nigeria is not an exagerration, what with the way criminals have held the nation by the jugular. The militants of the Niger-Delta were having a field day, bombing oil installations and taking people hostage; in the Southern Nigeria, kidnapping has become a flourishing business. In fact, according to Police Affairs Minister, Yakubu Lame, in a press report of July 23, 2009, an estimated 512 persons have been kidnapped in the last six month of this year with Abia State alone recording 110 cases. Armed robbery and cyber-crimes are uncountable. This year alone, there have been about three cases of religious riots with the recent Boko Haram sectarian violence being the worst. The earlier ones being in Bauchi and Niger states.
Now on Boko Haram, there were different newsreports on the activities of the sect. The sect has been existing for 14 years and the leader was said to have been arrested last November and charged to court but was granted bail in January 2009. That act of indiscretion by the judge partly cost the country the five days of preventable wanton destruction of lives and properties witnessed from Sunday, July 26 to Thursday, July 30, 2009 when the sect’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was alleged to have been captured and later killed. By the way, why should the security forces decide to kill Yusuf after he has been captured without the due process of being charged to court for prosecution? Is this an attempt to cover up or could that be because of lack of confidence of our security agencies in our judicial system? Even Saddam Hussein and Charles Taylor, who allegedly committed worse crimes were given fair trials in court.
Unfortunately, the President was away to Brazil when the Director General of State Security Service, Afakriya Gadzama, opened up about the state of insecurity in Nigeria, warning that 2011 elections would be bloody if the situation remained unchecked.
The DG SSS was reported to have given the warning at an interactive session with the House of Representatives Committees on National Security and Police Affairs on July 30. Gadzama accused government of ignoring security reports. He absolved his agency of dereliction of duty when he said “SSS had never failed to issue warning notices on impending troubles in all flash points, but not much was being done to avert such crisis.”
The SSS boss said information on kidnapping in Niger Delta, armed robbery in South East, attack of Atlas Cove in Lagos, the Jos crisis and the latest sectarian violence in some parts of the northern region had been passed to the appropriate quarters. He blamed the problems of insecurity in the country on the fallout of political system that disconnected the people from the government and the porous borders. Given the example of Anambra State, Gadzama said there was a large influx of arms into the hands of thugs, which, according to him, gave rise to kidnapping and violent robbery. He alleged that the attitude of displaying wealth and government’s inability to carry the people along also contributed to the state of insecurity, not only in the South East, but in other parts of the country. He warned that ending the crisis in the Niger Delta would not put an end to violence, as there was the need to strengthen all security agencies in areas of provision of working tools and improved service conditions. He also mentioned a disconnect among security agencies. The new IGP, Ogbonna Onovo, in his submission at the occasion, said the problems of the Nigeria Police were not strange to the House in areas of inadequate vehicles, shortage of personnel and outdated equipment to work with. Even though he said the police were doing their best, he urged the lawmakers to increase funding for the police.
Now, Gadzama’s can of worms calls for certain clarification. Much as it seems like the familiar story of buck-passing and blame game, there are a few questions we must ask the SSS DG. Which appropriate quarter did the SSS DG share this intelligence information at his disposal with? Is it the Army, Air Force, Navy, Police, Customs or Immigration? Was the security reports shared with the president and/ or concerned state governors who are chief security officers of the country and their states? If the answers to these questions are in the affirmative, it then shows that our political leaders have been playing politics with the security of this country. That has not been in doubt anyway.
Section 14 (2b) of the 1999 Constitution says “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. The president and the state governors and perhaps the council chairmen enjoy huge security vote which they don’t account for every year. Annually, the budget for defence and the police are in the top five, yet there is a perennial and incessant complaints by the security agencies for better logistic support and welfare. It is in the same police that is clamouring for better funding that a former IGP was convicted of embezzling a whopping N17billion (cash and assets) while the driver of a former Commissioner of Police in charge of Budget was also caught with a sun of N21.6million in June 2007. It is in the Nigerian armed forces that we have theiving army officers who steal money meant for their subordinates and sell arms to the Niger Delta militants. It is in the same security sector that we have oil bunkering ship that was impounded and disappeared (remember the case of MV African Pride?)
Shall we tell the president that Nigeria’s security sector will continue to be a cesspit of corruption and inefficiency inasmuch as there is no political will to remove the bad eggs, deadwoods and the fifth columnists in that sector. Shall the president be informed that if the arrowheads and financiers of Boko Haram sect and other perpetrators of sectarian violence are not brought to justice and everything is made to end at the level of Commission of Inquiry, then sectarian crises in Nigeria shall not abate. Shall we tell the president that the unemployment rate, poverty rate and crime rate in the country are intolerable and that he must be proactive and live up to his responsibility as the President and Commander –in- Chief of the Armed Forces?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cross Carpeting and Nigeria's Mercantile Politics

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) apparatchiks are masters of political chicanery. When Chief Vincent Ogbulafor, PDP Chairman said the party will rule Nigeria for 60 years, many political observers thought it was a joke. In less than a year after making the statement, the party has shown that it meant business. PDP by fair or foul means had won virtually every court ordered re-run elections at whatever level except the senatorial re-run in Plateau State between Senator Gogwin Satti formerly of Action Congress and Ibrahim Mantu of PDP. There had been six gubernatorial re-run elections in Kogi, Sokoto, Bayelsa, Cross River, Adamawa and Ekiti States; PDP ‘won’all. The party lost Edo and Ondo States gubernatorial seats to AC and Labour Party respectively through judicial verdict. In order to make up for the loss, the Party decided to poach from the rank of other political parties. The poaching which was cloaked in the apparel of reconciliation has yielded bountiful reward for the party. In the last one year or thereabout, three governors and many of their supporters had so far dumped the parties that brought them to power for PDP. They are Governors Aliyu Shinkafi of Zamfara State, Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State and Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State who decamped to PDP on July 25, 2009.
Cross carpeting portends a grave danger to Nigeria’s fledgling democracy. It is a negative political culture which should not be encouraged. There are currently 54 registered political parties in Nigeria even though 50 of them participated in the controversial 2007 general elections. Of the fifty, only five of the parties viz. PDP, ANPP, AC, PPA and Labour Party won at least a gubernatorial seat; that is if we discounted APGA gubernatorial seat in Anambra where the court has pronounced that the seat was not vacant in 2007. Out of the 36 gubernatorial seats, by PDP’s poaching machination, it now controls 29 states having reduced ANPP’s initial five gubernatorial seat to three and PPA’s two to one after the defection of Ohakim. PDP’s cross carpeting business can be likened to two Biblical stories: King David and Uriah over Bathsheba where David with many wifes decided to take Uriah’s only wife. It is also akin to King Ahab’s coveting of Naboth’s vineyard when he already has more than enough.
What PDP has done to ANPP and PPA is tantamount to backstabbing or betrayal. How can a well-meaning and a democratic party be poaching from other parties with which it has formed Government of National Unity? Unfortunately, due to selfish interest of these other political parties, instead of pulling out of the GNU, they are just blowing hot air and issuing empty threat. It is a good thing that ANPP has dragged Zamfara Governor to court, however, this should have been preceeded by coming out of the unholy alliance with PDP at least for symbolic reason.
Senator Gogwin Satti who recently defected from AC to PDP had said that there is no morality in politics. True! Afterall, John F. Kennedy had said that in politics there is no permanent friends or enemy but permanent interest. However, Nigeria’s multi-party system will continue to be stifled as long as the ruling party continues to send moles to other political parties to destabilise them in order to give justification for their selfish act of political decamping. Also if the Supreme Court judgement in the case of Governor Rotimi Amaechi versus INEC and PDP is anything to go by, when people vote at elections in Nigeria, they are voting for the party and not the individual candidate. That was why Governor Amaechi who was not PDP candidate in the April 14, 2007 gubernatorial election in Rivers State was able to vicariously benefit from the election because the votes were for PDP and not its candidates. The import of that on the issue of political decamping is that the mandate given by the people to a party cannot be transfered by the candidate to another party. At best the party who won at the poll should be allowed to nominate another candidate to fill the seat of the decampee or at worse the post should be declared vacant and a by-election conducted. In as much as past and present decampees are allowed to keep their mandate, many more of such will continue to happen.
Morally speaking, it is most disheartening and unfortunate that the same President who sent an electoral reform bill seeking to prohibit cross carpeting to the National Assembly is also the one going to personally welcome political prostitutes to his party. This does not show that the president believe his own electoral reform initiatives. What President Yar’Adua is overtly or covertly encouraging is one of Mahatma Ghandi’s seven deadly sins which is politics without principles.
Abraham Lincoln in a speech to Illinois Legislature in 1837 said “Politicians are a set of men who have interests aside from the interest of the people and who; to say the most of them are taken as a mass, at least one long step removed from honest men”. This exactly is what all these decampee politicians have shown: personal aggrandisement, dishonesty and lack of political principle. All these alignments and re-alignments are geared towards the 2011 elections. Whither peoples interest?