Thursday, October 29, 2009

Deadlier than HIV/AIDS

HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes and heart failure rank among the world killer diseases, however, none of these deadly diseases take as many lives in a year as road accidents. All the world known diseases give their victims a fighting chance of survival through adequate care and management of the sickness; not so with road accident. It often claims its victims with a speed of light while others suffer prolong or permanent disability. The recent statistics released by the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) about the spate of road accidents in Nigeria is mind-boggling. According to FRSC, the number of reported cases of road accidents on the country's highways between January and first week of October is put at 8,553. In the incidences, about 4,120 persons lost their lives while 20,975 others were seriously injured in the fatal accidents that involved 11,031 vehicles across the nations. From the statistics, it was clear that the accident rate for this year was on the verge of surpassing that of last year, which recorded 11, 341 accidents with total number of deaths put at 6,661 and 27,980 injured. It should be noted that these are figures of reported cases. It is a known fact that many cases of accidents particularly in sub-urban and rural areas go unreported.

The commission in a statement issued as part of preparations for the FIFA U-17 World Cup taking place in Nigeria advised Nigerian motorists and foreign contingents to exhibit extreme caution while plying certain routes designated as dangerous for motorists. The routes designated as black-spots due to some traffic peculiarities associated with them include; Abuja-Abaji-Lokoja, Obollo-Afor-9th Mile-Enugu, Keffi-Akwanga-Jos, Mokwa-Jebba, Lagos-Ibadan and Benin-Ore highways. The statement allegedly signed by the Assistant Corp Marshal in-charge of Operations, Mr. Boboye Oyeyemi also warned road users to strictly avoid road vices such as over-loading, speed violation, drunk-driving, route violation, use of cell phone while driving, non use of seat belts and night trips in view of the inherent traffic hazards associated with such practices. Worthy advice, I dare say.

However, what the FRSC statement failed to mention is the deplorable state of most of Nigerian roads. In The Guardian of 28 October 2009 the Managing Director of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA), Kabiru Abdulahi, said that over 80 per cent of federal roads have exceeded their life-span and that what is needed on them is total reconstruction and rehabilitation rather than repairs which he said would amount to waste of funds since they are bound to fail within the shortest possible time. Truthfully, all the routes designated as black-spots by FRSC belonged to the federal government. Nigerian Senate passed a motion recently calling on federal government to urgently repair many of the roads under its watch. That perhaps was part of what spurred government to action to award some of them to contractors.

Though it is a welcome development to have road contracts awarded, however, after the fan-fare of signing agreement and payment of mobilisation fee, the usual practice is that many of these road projects get abandoned soon after because the contractors working on them are often starved of funds. It would be recalled that the Ibadan-Oyo-Ogbomosho- Ilorin road project awarded by Obasanjo administration since 2001 or thereabout has not been completed. The situation is similar in many parts of the country. The criminal negligence of most of the roads in Nigeria is therefore partly responsible for the high rate of accidents on our roads. Allied to this is inadequate or total absence of road signs and poor illumination of our roads at night.

The human elements causing accidents that were itemised by the FRSC in its statement are well known to us. However, how much compliance have the FRSC and other ancillary organisations like the Motor Traffic Division of Nigerian Police and Directorate of Road Traffic Services (Vehicle Inspection Office) been able to enforce? The FRSC report claimed its various command units nationwide were able to nab a total of 309,112 offenders on offences totalling 364,496 ranging from non-use of helmet, seat-belt and number plate violations. Though this is significant arrests over a 10 month period, however, it is a far cry from the number of those who daily commit these infractions. What this means is that there is need for synergy among all the traffic management organisations to enforce compliance with road worthiness and traffic regulations. In Abuja, the ban on commercial motor-bikes from operating in the city-centres has led to huge vehicular traffic to Abuja municipal from the satellite towns. If work can be fast-tracked on the ongoing road expansion and metro-line in the Federal Capital Territory these will ease the present chaotic traffic jam in the FCT. However, the revival of the nationwide railway service holds the key to the decongestion of vehicular traffic on the roads as human commuting and haulage business are cheaper and safer through rail and even waterways. It then behoves government to explore and improve on alternate means of transportation such as rail, water and air. The more traffic is taking off roads, the longer the life-span of the roads.

It is mandatory to cater to the welfare of the personnel of agencies and commissions in charge of traffic management in Nigeria. This is what will make them to eschew corruption. Ill-equipped traffic management organisations cannot perform any magic if they are not well motivated to perform their duties. It is unfortunate that staffs, vehicles, communication gadgets and other operational tools are grossly inadequate for these agencies. Be that as it may, management and staffs of these organisations need to also understand that they are offering humanitarian services and should therefore be patriotic and be alive to their responsibilities even beyond the call of duty. There is no gainsaying that our road culture in Nigeria as at today is awful. Positive attitudinal change from road users is therefore imperative. This can be achieved through sustained public education and sensitization campaigns as well as enforcement of road traffic regulations. Life has no duplicate and as such, all of us; drivers and commuters, owe it a duty to obey road traffic regulations while government at all levels must also play their part by providing the enabling environment.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Cost of 2007 Elections in Nigeria

Periodic elections are an integral part of representative democracy. Elections offer citizens the choice to decide who should be their leader. It also offers voters the opportunity to remove non-performing representatives from power. A common voter education slogan is, ‘your vote is your power; use it wisely’ Elections represent the voter’s right to take part in forming a democratic government. Every election comes with a cost; unfortunately, many of us focus more on the economic cost of holding elections, while leaving out the social and political costs. Even when economic cost is analyzed, all aspects of the cost are rarely captured.

For a start, who are the people and institutions who make and spend money during elections? There are three categories: the election management bodies, that is, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and State Independent Electoral Commission (SIECs); political parties; and candidates. This is exclusive of the support from non-state actors like the international donor community and NGOs. The 2007 General Elections were arguably the costliest elections Nigeria has ever conducted. Apart from the cost of employing a 5,000-strong workforce in headquarters, and state and local government offices of INEC; about 500,000 ad-hoc staff were engaged to run the polls, and about the same number were hired to conduct the electronic voters’ registration exercise from October 7, 2006 – February 2, 2007. The attempts to use the electronic voting system (EVS) also added to the huge financial cost for the election as 33,000 Direct Data Capture Machines were ordered and when the vendors were behind delivery schedule, implementers had to improvise, acquiring thousands of laptops in order to conduct the Voter Registration. In order to implement the EVS, contracts were awarded for VSAT installations to enable Electronic Transfer of Election Results. Other notable issues that led to the huge cost of the election were the need to re-print over 65 million presidential ballot papers 5 days before the April 21 elections as a result of the Supreme Court ruling overturning the initial disqualification of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Not only that, some INEC staff did not properly vet the ballot papers before they were printed, thereby adding an extra day to the elections. The April 2007 elections were initially planned for 14 and 21 April; however, because of errors of omission or commission by some unscrupulous INEC staff, the elections had to be re-conducted in about 31 of 36 states in Nigeria on April 28, 2007. Not only did the Commission have to procure fresh sensitive election materials for the April 28 polls, it also had to pay the ad-hoc staff on election duty on that date.

With regard to political parties, it will be interesting to know how much the 50 registered political parties received and spent individually and cumulatively on the elections. Sections 225 and 226 of the 1999 Constitution and Section 88 of the Electoral Act 2006 mandated political parties to render annual accounts of their income and expenditures to the INEC, while Sections 89 and 94 of the 2006 Electoral Act also requested the political parties to file their election expense returns to the INEC as well as publish this information in at least two national newspapers. By the INEC deadline of 31 January 2008, only 26 of the 50 registered political parties had submitted their election expenses report to the Commission; none has yet officially published it in two newspapers.

According to the INEC official report on the 2007 general elections, 9,802 candidates ran for 1,564 positions nationwide during the April Polls. The breakdown is as follows:

Type of Election No. of Candidates

  • Presidential (I Seat) 25
  • Governorship (36 Seats) 485
  • Senate (109 Seats) 810
  • House of Reps. (360 Seats) 2,358
  • State House of Assembly (990 Seats) 5,788
  • FCT Area Council Chairmanship (6 Seats) 37
  • FCT Area Legislative Council (62 Seats) 299

Total 9,802

It is very important to know how much each of these candidates spent on their elections. Section 93 Subsection 2-7 of Electoral Act 2006 placed limitations on the amount each candidate may spend in order to run for office. Subsection (8a, b, and c) identified three important areas that candidates’ elections records had permission to omit: monies spent before notice of elections was issued by INEC; monies spent by candidates to obtain their party nominations; and, lastly, monies spent on their elections by their political parties. Aside from this, there was no provision in the law compelling candidates to submit their election expenses to INEC or to publish it for public consumption.

As electoral and constitutional reform is on-going, it is imperative to have legal and accounting mechanisms that will enable the public to know how much each of these critical actors in the electoral process received from private and public sources, as well as the amount of the resources generated for elections that were spent and how it was also expended. Right now, even though INEC, as a public institution is accountable to the National Assembly, an attempt to probe the award of contracts and the funds appropriated to the Commission by the Senate in May 2007 was rebuffed by INEC, who claimed that its solicitors advised ‘that the power of the National Assembly to investigate under Section 88 of the Constitution is incidental to legislation’. INEC claimed that only the Auditor-General of the Federation may audit its account and subsequently submit its report to the National Assembly according to the provisions of Section 85 of the 1999 Constitution. No-one knows when the Auditor General will finish auditing INEC’s account. However, it is unlikely to be very soon, in the light of the controversies surrounding a number of contracts for the elections alleged to have been awarded by INEC. In fact, former Senate President Ken Nnamani called it a ‘bazaar’. According to INEC, only when the report is ready will it be sent to National Assembly for consideration and the findings made public. This, too, is unlikely because the law does not provide for it, nor will the National Assembly – themselves the beneficiaries of the flawed 2007 elections – likely take steps against INEC, even if corrupt practices by the Commission are proven.

As the National Assembly attempts to amend the 1999 Constitution, it is important to note that while it is imperative for INEC and perhaps State Independent Electoral Commissions to be funded from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, it is equally important to insert a disclosure clause that will ensure value for money, and to make the audited accounts of the Commission publicly available to interested individuals and organizations. As previously mentioned, there is also the need for individual candidates and political parties to submit their audited election expense reports to INEC and to publish these in at least two national newspapers.

No financial audit reports have yet been published in any of the three national newspapers as stated in Section 88 (4) of the Electoral Act 2006, nor has the Commission made the audited election expense reports submitted by political parties after the 2007 elections available for public inspection. It also remains to be seen what steps the Commission will take against the political parties that did not submit their election expense reports. It is imperative to capture the income and expenditures of all the critical actors in the electoral process, whether these are Election Management Bodies, candidates, or political parties. We need to generate this data in other to help in the planning for future general elections. However, as illustrated above, it is a Herculean task to capture all the financial resources that go into any election. Even the 2007 elections are proving difficult to document because some of the candidates and parties who contested in the last general elections are still at the election petition tribunals, and a significant number of the election returns have been annulled by the courts. With some of the cases still on appeals, the actual cost of the 2007 elections may not be known until the tribunals have concluded their work and subsequent by-elections conducted in areas where the tribunals have so ordered. Despite the daunting challenge, we still need to grapple with this fact and compute the available income and expenditure figures on the April 2007 elections.

The cost of last April’s 2007 General Elections may be gargantuan in monetary terms; however, the real cost is the subversion of the will and intents of the people. Billions of naira may have been expended on the polls by the electoral commissions, the political parties and the candidates, yet the outcome of the elections has been ruled fundamentally flawed by Election Petitions Tribunals (EPTs) and election observers. These problems necessitated the setting up of the 22-man Electoral Reform Committee in August 2007. The ultimate challenge now is how to restore people’s confidence in the electoral process. The only way to achieve this is by genuine electoral and attitudinal reforms.

*This article was first published in IFES Money and Politics Newsletter of February 2008 (Volume 10)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Caring for the Physically Challenged Persons

No human is immune from vicissitude of life. Professor Chinua Achebe was hale and hearty until a fateful day he got involved in a near fatal road accident which has now confined the literary giant to the wheel chair. Yinka Ayefele, a gospel musician, was also involved in a motor accident. Today, though on wheelchair, he is a household name among Nigerian gospel music lovers. Mohammed Ali was an all time great pugilist; he flew like a butterfly and punches like the sting of a bee. Today, the world boxing heavyweight champion is down with an incurable Parkinson disease. There is a growing community of physically challenged persons, particularly in Nigeria. Reasons being the high incidence of road, industrial and domestic accidents; ethno-religious conflicts; diseases; afflictions; environmental hazards etc. Everyone is a potential member of community of persons with disability.

The issue here is how do we treat those who are already members of this over 19 million estimated persons with disability in Nigeria? How do we treat the blind, the lame, the deaf and dumb, the infirm and invalid, lepers, amputees, mentally challenged, visually impaired, etc who abound around us? Do we discriminate against them, treat them as irritants or offer helping hands to them? Do we realise that Chapter IV of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which articulates fundamental rights also apply to these victims of circumstance? What can we do as government, corporate organisations, groups and individuals to make life better for persons with disability? These are the crux of this article.

Beginning with the political rights, persons with disability ought not to be denied their rights to vote and to be voted for. It would be recalled that Franklin D. Roosevelt ruled United States of America as President for 12 years from the wheelchair. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, physically challenged persons count less in our preparations for elections. The prohibitive cost of standing for elections coupled with the discriminatory attitude of political party executives have oftentimes denied these vulnerable groups the right to contest elections. When it comes to voting, the law is not too friendly to them as well. Section 57 (2) of 2006 Electoral Act says “the Commission (INEC) MAY take reasonable steps to ensure that voters with disabilities are assisted at the polling place by the provision of suitable means of communication, such as Braille, large embossed print or electronic devices or sign language interpretation, or off-site voting in appropriate places”. Because the law did not make it mandatory for the Electoral Management Bodies to provide these audio-visual aids that will help integrate persons with disability into the electoral process, the electoral commissions never cared to make them available. If the persons with disability are sidelined in the electoral process, how about political appointments? Same story. Information has it that only 10 states government have appointed persons with disability as special advisers on disability matters; even at that, it is doubtful if they are provided with funds to make them functional and impactful.

Our environment also conspired to make life uncomfortable for physically challenged persons. Access to public and private buildings is an endurance test for these vulnerable groups. Many of these buildings are without ramps and elevators thereby making access to them huge task for persons on crutches and wheelchairs. It is a psychological torture for dumb and deaf persons to watch or listen to news in this country. Many of our electronic media, be they private or public never factor in these people, who through no fault of theirs could neither hear nor speak. Yet, sign language could be used to interpret news and current affairs to this vulnerable group.

In spite of the explicit provision of Section 42 of the CFRN 1999 which stipulates right to freedom from discrimination, persons with disability are still heavily discriminated against. Employment opportunities are flagrantly denied them even when they are eminently qualified. Labour employers fail to see the advantage persons with disability usually bring to their work which is strong commitment to duty as they are not in position to gallivant about during office hours. Even in few places where these persons have been offered employment, they are treated with disdain as they are seen more as sub-humans. Their potentials are either not fully utilised or misapplied. National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) and National Directorate of Employment (NDE) that are supposed to assist persons with disability to be self employed could not do much due to inadequate funding of their programmes and stiff competition from the able-bodied men and women.

Why then do we snort at the menace of beggars? These hapless and challenged persons must survive one way or the other, hence their importunate requests for alms. Unfortunately, various governments’ reactions are to indiscriminately arrest these beggars and dump them out of town rather than providing them social welfare that will make begging unattractive to them.

In the sports sector, whereas our able bodied athletes often wobble and fumble at international tournaments, records have it that Nigerian disable athletes have brought Nigeria more laurels and national honour than their able bodied counterparts. Unfortunately, while many corporate organisations rush to sponsor live telecast of Olympic Games, the Paralympics hardly get mentioned no matter how great the performance of the physically challenged athletes are. This is unfair.

Many of the issues raised above are what a bill titled ‘National Disability Bill’ seeks to address. Fortunately, the bill has been passed by both chambers of the National Assembly (NASS) but needs the conference committee of NASS to harmonize their positions before it can be sent to the President for assent. This should be done urgently. However, legal reform - though desirable - is not the magic wand. More important are faithful implementation of the laws and positive change of attitude towards these persons with disability. This we can do by showing them love, care and affection. Remember, no one knows tomorrow!