Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How Nigeria’s Economy fared in 2010

2010 will go down as a year of mixed fortunes for Nigeria. The budget was proposed to stimulate the economy but the majority of Nigerians are yet to feel positive impact of the stimulus package. A number of positive developments in 2010 for me are the passage and signing into law of the Asset Management Company of Nigeria as well as the inauguration of the board. The other is the tsunami that swept away the board of the Nigerian Stock Exchange in August. There was also the sustained reform of the banking sector with the classification of the banks into four groups with different capital bases viz. International, specialised , regional, and national banks; the CBN also initiate idea of having a 10-year reform for the Nigeria banking industry which the CBN Governor at a pre-convocation lecture at Bayero Univeristy, Kano in February 2010 said is aimed at "enhancing the quality of banks, establishing financial stability, enabling healthy financial sector evolution and ensuring that financial sector contributes to the real economy”. The CBN also set limit of maximum of 2 terms of 5 years each for bank chief executive officers (CEOs)

In September 2010 CBN withdrew the licence of 224 microfinance banks and thereafter restored the licence of 37 of them. There was also the reported crackdown on the bank debtors as 4 non-executive directors of Fin Bank were suspended for 90 days by Central Bank of Nigeria on September 27 for failure to pay their debts totalling N20 billion. The year has also witnessed crusade against corruption by the anti-corruption agencies. The Federal Ministry of Justice and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission used plea bargain mechanism to mete out punishment to some erring companies and individuals. This was adopted in the handling of the Halliburton bribe scandal as well as the case of the former Managing Director of Oceanic Bank. News report has it that $170.8 million has so far been recovered as penal fines by multinational companies involved in the $180 million Halliburton bribe scandals while assets and cash recovered from Mrs. Cecilia Ibru, former Managing Director of Oceanic Bank was estimated at N191 billion.

However, in spite of the over N5 trillion annual and supplementary budget for 2010, not much has been achieved in terms of infrastructure development. Many of the power, road and other basic infrastructural projects are yet to be completed. While work is progressing on some, others have been abandoned due to paucity of funds. According to the Minister of Finance, Nigeria’s domestic debts stood at about $28.5billion as at last September, while the external was about $4.8billion, yet government is planning to borrow more funds. Plans are afoot by the current administration to obtain $900 million loan from the export-import (EXIM) bank for the implementation of the $500 million Abuja-Kaduna Railway project and the $400 million National Public Security Communications project. This penchant for accumulating more debts is worrisome more so as we approach the next general elections in April 2011. It is on record that the current government from 2007 is master of policy inconsistency. What guarantee is there that these loans will be well utilised and what happens if there is a change of government in May 2011 after the April polls?

Nigeria with Index of 0. 478 currently occupies 113 position on the Worldwide Trends in the Human Development Index, 1970 – 2010. This is unenviable. On the 2010 Corruption Perception Index, Nigeria ranks 134 out of 178 countries. This also shows that the fight against corruption is far from being won. The recent lift of ban on some imported goods like toothpick, matches, energy and health drinks, furniture, textile fabrics, cassava and vehicles which are 15 years old and below leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Nigeria is still largely import dependent; the manufacturing sector remains moribund even as Bank of Industry is being provided with some intervention fund to revive some of them. One of such is the N100 billion Cotton, Textile, Garment Revival Fund.

The major distortion in the economy is the disproportionate ratio of capital expenditure vis -a -vis the recurrent. Even the 2011 budget presented to national assembly on 15 December has barely N1. 05 trillion out of N4.2 trillion budget for capital expenditure. This is a queer way to grow the economy. More so, Nigeria continues to run a deficit budget while failing to block the leakages in the system. Are we still dreaming of Vision 20: 2020? It’s indeed long way to economic freedom for Nigerians given the soaring unemployment and poverty despite the multi trillion naira budget which has remained largely an annual ritual, a mere hollow promissory note without concrete achievements. The most unfortunate thing is that our parliamentarian has refused to pass most of the anti-corruption bills such as the anti- money laundering, anti-terrorism and the freedom of information bills.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Playing politics with the Nigerian economy

I thought I was suffering from visual and auditory hallucination when I learnt that government of Nigeria had decided to lift ban on some hitherto prohibited items. These goods include furniture, textile materials, tooth pick, matches, cassava, energy drinks and vehicles that are less than 15 years old. According to newspaper reports, the government’s decision is ‘to replace the bans with tariffs to protect domestic industries.’ Government opined that banned imports result in huge revenue losses to government through significant trade diversion to neighbouring countries, and the routine smuggling of these items into the country. In un-banning the prohibited items, government therefore decided to slam levies on them.

The tariffs put on the items are: cassava- 15% levy in addition to the substantive 20% duty; toothpick- 20% levy and duty of 20%; furniture- 20% levy and duty of 20%; textile fabrics and articles (lace fabric, brocade, voile, African print, etc. and made-up garments) - 20% levy and duty of 20%; waters and beverages (excluding items like health and energy drinks only)-10% levy and duty of 10%. Health and energy drinks, such as Power Horse, Red Ginseng -10 per cent duty plus 10 per cent levy.

As a Nigerian, I find this new policy preposterous, disingenuous, incredulous and anti-development. How can a country open its borders to all manner of junks in the name of making money? How can a nation worth its salt believe that the solution to the inefficiency of its security agencies in effectively policing its borders is to turn the country into a dumpsite where all non-essential and waste products from Europe, America and Asia can be dumped? What manner of ‘jankara and voodoo’ economics believe that the way to protect local industries is to replace product ban with increased tariffs? I weep for Nigeria.

Of all the products that were unbanned, I cannot see one which Nigerians cannot do without. If a country in its 50th year of independence has to import cassava, toothpick, textile products, matches and energy drink, then the country without any equivocation has become a failed state. It is a crying shame that Nigerian government has deemed it fit to play politics with the country’s economy.

Just few years ago, under the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, cassava production initiative was launched with pomp and pageantry. What has become of that initiative? It is policy flip-flops like this that has led to the collapse of Nigeria’s manufacturing industries. Today, because of lack of basic infrastructure and exposure to unfair competition with imported goods many industries have closed shop in Nigeria and relocated to better climes including South Africa and Ghana. Some of these include Dunlop and Michelin tyre manufacturing industries. Hitherto, it is a Herculean challenge for regulatory agencies like Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and National Agency for Foods, Drugs, Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to effectively carry out quality checks on most of these imported goods because of their deluge into the country.

Of what use is toothpick to Nigeria’s economy that we do not feel ashamed importing it into the country? Under Chief Achike Udenwa as the Minister of Commerce and Industry, he launched the “Buy Made in Nigeria Product”. Today, all that has become history. There is nothing intrinsically wrong if these unbanned products are those that cannot be produced locally, but the irony is that most of these commodities can be manufactured locally and even exported to other countries if the basic incentives are given to local industries. As it is, cars, better still jalopies that have seen better days and which constitute environmental hazards are now being allowed into the country all for short-term pecuniary gains. We seem to have forgotten that throwing open our borders to these non-essential items will lead to increased demand for foreign exchange which we have in short supply. It will also lead to job loss as many of the local industries that are already producing below capacity utilisation due to the harsh production environment occasioned by multiple taxation, lack of basic infrastructure such as electricity, water and good roads and lack of patronage will now totally close shop and lay off workers.

The lifting of ban on the aforementioned merchandise is short-sighted and inimical to national development. 2011 General Election is looming and patently, government seems to be playing politics in coming up with this decision particularly as it was reported that just a couple of months ago, the Presidential Committee on the Review of Tariffs and Fiscal Incentives in Nigeria had asked government to peg age of imported cars at five years, commercial vehicles at seven years and ban vehicles that are 10 years old. The presidential committee was said to have also recommended that “Government should require that all brands of vehicles for which more than 5,000 units are imported annually into the country should be assembled locally, either by setting up a factory in Nigeria or partner with existing plants on contract manufacturing.” Furthermore, the committee was reported to have proposed total ban on importation of textiles that are produced locally. Rather than implementing these noble suggestions government instead lifted the ban, a move that endangers the ability of local textile manufacturers to repay loans obtained from the Bank of Industry, under the Cotton, Textile, Garment Revival Fund which is a government scheme to revive textile manufacturing.

Enough said, the wise men and women of the Executive Council of the Federation must meet urgently and re-ban these unbanned items. Nigerians should make do with those produced locally or do without them altogether, all in national interest.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Debutant Jide Ojo Launches Nigeria, My Nigeria

In commemoration of his 20 years of media advocacy, Jide Ojo, a development consultant, essayist and public affairs analyst on Thursday, 25 November, 2010 at Denis Hotel, Abuja launched a book titled: Nigeria, My Nigeria: Perspectives from 1990 – 2010. The 315 page digest contains 11 chapters dwelling on different aspects of Nigeria’s national life. These includes commentaries on governance, economy, legislature and judiciary, education, health, politics and elections, media, global affairs, security, electoral reform, labour, sports, religion and society.

As part of the event, a public lecture entitled: Elections, Power and Morality was also held. The Guest Speaker was Prof. Okey Ibeanu, chief technical adviser to the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The Chair of the occasion was Prof. Suleiman Bogoro

The event had in attendance dignitaries such as Ed Morgan, a development consultant, Prof. Sam Egwu, Governance Team Leader, UNDP, Hajia Amina Salihu, Programme Coordinator of DfID Coalitions for Change, Dr. (Mrs) Wumi Akin-Onigbinde of UNDP, and Dr. Pius Osunyikanmi, Commissioner for Education in Ondo State, ably represented by Mr Olawumi Ajayi . The book was reviewed by Dr. Kabir Mato of the Department of Political Science, University of Abuja. The Chief Host was Hajia Saudatu Mahdi, Secretary-General of Women’s Right Advancement and Protection Alternatives (WRAPA) and Head of Coalition of Gender and Affirmative Action (GAA).

The author is using this medium to appreciate the over 100 persons who graced the occasion as well as scores of others who sent in their apologies for their inability to attend. May the good Lord perfect all that concerns each and everyone of you. I appreciate.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nigerian women are coming of age

Congratulations are in order for our Super Falcons. In further celebration of Nigeria’s golden jubilee independence anniversary, the senior female national football team on November 14 2010, at Sinaba Stadium in South Africa reclaimed the African Women’s Championship with a 4-2 victory over Nzalang Nacional of Equatorial Guinea. The win makes it a record 6th time the Super Falcons will win the trophy out of the 7 editions of the soccer competition. By this feat, the Super Falcons alongside their Guinean counterpart have booked tickets to the next FIFA Women’s World Cup coming up in Germany in 2011. The Nigerian female soccer team is said to be the only one in the championship whose head coach is a woman. The coach, Eucharia Uche, is herself a former Falcon player.

It did not end there. It was as if the tournament was organised to honour Nigeria as our ladies, apart from winning the trophy and gold medal as the champions of the soccer fiesta also won the Fair Play Award. Perpetua Nkwocha equally won the Golden Boot as the top scorer with 11 goals while her team mate, Stella Mbachu won the Most Valuable Player Award. Desire Ugochi Oparanozie also grabbed the final match best player award. This exploit is heart warming considering the fact that Super Eagles, which is the male senior national team had not given Nigerian football fan a lot to cheer in recent years. While the Super Falcons have won the female nations cup a record six times, their male counterparts have only won Africa Cup of Nations twice in 1980 and 1994.

At the XIX Commonwealth Games held in Delhi, India from 3 – 14 October, 2010, Nigerian female athletes shone like a million stars and posted superb performance. They won 22 of the 35 total medals hauled by Nigeria. These are 7 gold, 7 silver and 8 bronze medals to put Nigeria in the 9th position at the Games. Yet, despite the sterling feat of Nigerian female footballers and indeed athletes at all levels, their achievements have been greatly underappreciated. The bias against female sports was again on display when the Nigeria sporting authority and marketers could not find sponsor for live telecast of the female football championship. If it were to be the Super Eagles playing a major tournament or ordinary friendly match, it will be broadcast live. Also, on arrival, the ladies were transported in an articulated vehicle meant for transporting animals and farm produce. This is unfair to our female sportswomen.

As it is in sports, so it is in the socio-economic and political life of our motherland. Women are perennially relegated to the background. Hitherto, they battle a lot of socio-cultural barriers in their homes and families. In the northern part of Nigeria, the girl child education is still an issue, as some parents do not deem it fit to send their daughters to school. How then can Nigeria achieve universal primary education which is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals? Another MDG goal is the promotion of gender equality and women empowerment, how have we fared here as well? The 2007 National Gender Policy stipulates 35 percent appointive and elective positions for women by 2015. Nigeria is still lagging behind in the attainment of this goal. Since 1985 when Nigeria ratified the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), our parliamentarians are yet to domesticate it thus paving way for all sorts of discriminatory practices against women to go unpunished. Nigeria was actively part of the Beijing Platform of Action in 1995, 15 years down the line; progress is still painfully slow on the attainment of all the resolutions. It is true that Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution in section 42 espoused the right to freedom from discrimination, however, in practice; it is an open secret that women are being discriminated against. Patriarchy still holds sway while male chauvinism is in full display.

In the ongoing legal alteration, all the noble recommendations of the Electoral Reform Committee favourable to women were roundly jettisoned by our lawmakers during the process leading up to the constitutional and electoral law amendment. These include the recommendations for proportional representation. Others include the proposal that in the composition of INEC Board and the Political Party Registration and Regulatory Commission the Chair and the Deputy Chair should not be of the same gender. At least one third of the 774 Local Government Electoral officers was proposed to be women. ERC also suggested that in addition to the existing provisions of the 1999 constitution and Electoral Act on registration of parties, associations seeking to be registered shall maintain 20% women in the membership of all its governing bodies.

It is not all bad news for women though. I admit that efforts are on to systematically address the marginalization of women and reverse the harmful cultural practices against them. Every March 8 is recognized as International Women’s Day meant to celebrate the socio-economic and political achievements of women globally. Nigerian government also set up a full- fledged Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development. Many states have similarly carved out ministry to attend to women issues. It is also worth noting that the current administration has been making conscious effort to appoint more women into key government positions. At present, the National Economic Adviser to the President is a woman; likewise the Director General of Bureau of Public Enterprises, Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS), Senior Special Assistant to the President on MDGs, the Comptroller General of Immigration and the recently-appointed Executive Secretary of NEITI. Eight out of the about 42 cabinet ministers and three of the 12 national commissioners in INEC are also women. All these appointments are worth celebrating and I do hope the president will engage more women in key government Ministries, Departments and Agencies.

As we prepare for the 2011 polls, and as political parties organize their primaries, I appeal that more women should be elected party candidates. Having women in appointive positions is good but having more women elected into political offices is better. I look forward to the day Nigeria will have her first elected governor, and indeed president like Brazil just did. Meanwhile, let’s celebrate our female soccer heroines and indeed all female achievers as we do their male counterparts. And for Super Falcons, they should be supported to make a good impact in the 2011 World Cup in Germany.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lessons from US mid-term elections

It was not my first time observing elections. I have been similarly engaged both in Nigeria and Ghana. However, getting invited as one of the global assemblage of people to observe the November 2, 2010 US mid-term election was quite exciting for me. In the one week that I was in America for the exercise, I tried to soak in as much information as I could on one of the world’s oldest democracies. It‘s true that America has over two hundred years of history of electoral democracy. Yet, I believe Nigeria does not need two centuries to overcome her challenge of credible elections. It took Ghana just about a decade to become the toast of the rest of the world on how to conduct acceptable and transparent polls.

My American trip was an eye-opener. If we must catch up with the rest of the world, we must learn the positive lessons from other climes. With Nigeria in the process of conducting her fourth successive elections, it is widely believed that the forthcoming polls will be far better than the previous efforts at instituting electoral democracy. I was part of the team that observed election at Washington DC (District of Columbia) as well as in Montgomery County, Chevy Chase, in Maryland. However, most of the information in this article were what I picked up from the briefings received from the organisers of the US 2010 Election Programme. America operates a highly-decentralised political system with each of the 50 states responsible for the legislation and conduct of elections. It has neither a national electoral Act nor does it have a national register of voters as each state has its database of voters. USA also uses advanced technology for its elections. There are all manner of provisions for e-registrations (about eight states have commenced online registration of voters), e-voting as well as the use of technology by the media for opinion polling and voter education.

I found out in the course of my stay that in some states in the US, voters need not have voter cards or any means of identification and that in about eight states like Washington DC, you can register and vote on election day. The only thing is that your ballot will be in special ballot box. Also, in places like DC, voters have a choice of using touch screen or paper ballot while in Maryland, all voters use touch screen i.e. e-voting. In the US, election campaigns are allowed even on election day. However, this is done some meters outside the polling centres.
US has provisions for absentee ballot for those who will not be around on election day. This is sent by mail, fax or could be downloaded from a dedicated website. I also understand that about 20 states have provision for early voting for those who want. These are done at some few dedicated voting centres at a specified time of the day. Unlike the absentee ballot which can be mailed back to the election authority, in the case of early voting, voters have to go to the voting centres to cast their ballot ahead of the election day.

I found it very interesting that in many states in the US, elections are held for 13 hours on election day, i.e. 7am - 8pm or 6am -7pm.This makes it convenient and possible for workers to cast their vote on their way to work, during lunch break or on their way from work. Unlike the misconceived notion here that America is a bi-partisan country or that it is a two-party State, it was news to me to find out that there are between 100 - 150 political parties in the US — from the serious to the ridiculous. These parties operate at different levels. National, state or county levels. The two largest and most popular parties are the Democratic and the Republican parties. There is also a provision for independent candidates. It is noteworthy that voters can write in names of any persons they want even when they are not officially on the ballot.

In America, elections into Senate hold every six years and for House of Representatives, every two years. In the November 2 mid-term elections, polls were held into the entire 435 House of Reps positions, some Senate positions, some governorship positions, Board of Education positions, etc. There was also referendum as people vote on some constitutional amendments. Thus, there were both partisan and non-partisan elections held on same day. In the District of Columbia, elections were held into eight partisan and non-partisan positions as well as referendum on Charter Amendment IV. In the Montgomery County in Maryland, elections were held into 19 partisan and non-partisan positions. Also, in the Montgomery County, election officials are called Election Judges with the Presiding Officer being the Chief Election Judge.

In the US, the equivalent of our Deputy Governor here is called Lieutenant Governor. While partisan Secretaries of State are in charge of the actual conduct of elections at the State, yet there are no fusses or attempt by parties or candidates to discredit the electoral process as it is very transparent. The two weak points that came out strongly about the 2010 American mid-term elections are the airing of negative adverts by some candidates as well as the rising cost of election. An estimated $4.6 billion was allegedly spent on TV commercials and adverts alone during the mid-term elections.

For Nigeria, the lessons are manifold; I look forward to when we will run true federalism as is practised in the US with the states genuinely in charge of their respective political and economic activities. I hope a day will come soon when we will have no worry for electoral violence and thus have no need for armed security agencies to police our Polling Stations as well as have opportunity to vote for 13 hours without restriction on movement. It is appealing to me to ask the National Assembly to make provision for Out of Country Voting for Nigerians in the Diaspora, as well as give opportunity for early and absentee voting for millions of people on election duty such as the election officials, observers, security personnel, drivers, journalists and others who are hitherto disenfranchised during elections.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Maximising Tinapa’s Potentials

Cross River State is arguably Nigeria’s home of tourism. The State hosts the famous Obudu Ranch Resort, Old Residency Museum, Marina Beach Resort, Agbokim Waterfalls , Ikom Monoliths, Mary Slessor’s Tomb, Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort, Cross Rivers National Park and Carnival Calabar (a month long cultural festival held every December). Recently, I was in Calabar on official assignment and lodged at Amber Tinapa, the 243 room hotel situated right inside the Tinapa environ. This should be my third time visiting the business resort, the last time being in 2007. Tinapa is an architectural masterpiece, the first integrated business and leisure resort in Nigeria. It was conceived to be a free trade zone in the mould of Dubai. It comprises four emporiums of 10,000m2 each and about fifty four line shops that range between 150m2 to 200m2 in size. The edifice was commissioned in December 2008. However, two years down the line, I am very unimpressed with the lacklustre way the multi-million dollar project is lying fallow, grossly underutilised thus gradually turning into a white elephant project.

During my stay at the resort, I took a walk round the large expanse premises and what I saw shocked me. Save for the Amber Hotel which takes bulk guests who are looking for a serene atmosphere for conferences, retreats and seminars, as well as the Tmart emporium, few banks and a couple of other boutiques, the business arm of the resort is largely empty while the world class facilities installed barely five years ago are near dilapidation due to disuse. At Studio Tinapa, a movie production hub which boasts of Eagle Visitor Centre, Studio Tinapa Stars Boulevard, Amphitheatre, Pre-production suites, Post-production, Editing and Sound Studios, Cafeteria, Movie Set workshop and Studios 1 and 2, the story is cheerless. The place is locked up, devoid of any activities while many of the ornaments that adore the buildings have lost their shine. At the Ponet Waterpark in Tinapa only a handful of merry-makers and tourists were seen on a Saturday when this writer visited. The news is heart-rending too at the Seaworld Arcade and the Crafts village situated behind the Amber as both facilities were desolate.

Tinapa is a public/private partnership initiative. I have heard of the huge debts incurred by Cross Rivers State Government in building Tinapa, I was also informed sometime ago that there was issue with legal framework setting up the free trade zone, particularly customs procedures, which I believe have been sorted out. Free trade zones are designed to attract local and international investors to a particular business environment where transactions and production take place with minimum government intervention or restrictions in the form of nationality requirement, taxes, duties and other trade barriers. One glaring challenge I observed in the course of my recent three day stay at Tinapa is that the entire resort is wholly dependent on electricity generators. This is not sustainable. One of the workers at the complex told me that at the inception the resort was to have its own independent power generating plant but because the State government is owing the company that constructed the plant, they have since abandoned the project thus each enterprise or organisation wanting to do business at the resort have to provide its own electricity. This automatically pushes up the cost of doing business at the resort. At night, apart from the Amber which runs 24 hours on generator and therefore could light its immediate environment, the streetlights are non-functional and the entire business resort is in darkness. This makes security of lives at night a great issue.

With most of the spaces at the large shopping complex being mostly unoccupied either due to exorbitant rent, lack of basic facilities or its isolated location (10km from Calabar Town), it is not surprising that in spite of the huge resources spent on advertisement on Cable News Network (CNN) for many years, the Free Trade Zone (FTZ) is still deserted. Tinapa’s potential is huge and should be fully tapped. The place needs to be lighted up and well maintained if it hopes to enjoy patronage. The Tinapa vision has to be repackaged, rebranded and relaunched with adequate incentives that will enable tourists to crave for a visit. I think the Studio Tinapa should start to show films and host musical concerts. Am sure many of the patrons at Amber and the emporium will love that for relaxation. There is need for branded souvenirs that could be purchased by visitors who want to keep mementoes of their trip to the FTZ. Regular exhibitions and trade fairs will make the place come alive. .However, the cost of doing business there must be affordable and profitable. The reason most Nigerian traders go to Dubai is because of its cheap commodities. Tinapa’s services must therefore be qualitative and pocket-friendly. Whatever is hampering free trade in this zone must be removed expeditiously.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

National Assembly, stop toying with anti money laundering and anti terrorism bills

The reluctance of the Nigerian parliamentarians to pass the anti-money laundering (AML) and anti-terrorism (AT) bills is worrisome. Although, if history will be our guide, it rings true to the character of Nigeria’s members of the national assembly to hold anti-corruption bills in disdain. Similar fate as befalling the AML Bill has been the lot of Freedom of Information (FoI) Bill, Whistle Blowers Bill and several other bills aimed at promoting transparency and accountability in government.
Background to the Bill
President Goodluck Jonathan had written twice this year to appeal to the Senators and House of Reps members to pass the bill, all to no avail. News report has it that the new anti-money laundering bill was meant to replace the 2004 version of same bill which was said to lack the relevant provisions that will make it fully compliant with the recommendations of the Financial Action Task force (FATF), established by the G7 Summit held in Paris in 1989. Nigeria, at its last meeting with the FATF in Bahrain in February had promised to pass both the Anti-money laundering and Anti- terrorism bills before 30 June.
What the bill seeks to do
The new bill seeks to replace the Money Laundering Act of 2004, and make more comprehensive provisions to prohibit terrorism financing. It also makes provision for appropriate penalties for offenders and expands the scope of supervisory and regulatory authorities. It equally places a duty on bankers and other financial institutions to report international transfers of funds exceeding $10,000 to the Central Bank from where the records can be accessed by security operatives.
Both casinos and jewellers are also placed under duty to properly identify its customers and report transactions exceeding the stated amounts. The new bill makes provisions for the prohibition of the establishment of anonymous accounts in Nigerian banks and places a legal requirement for the reporting of suspicious transaction or transactions relating to terrorism financing on bankers.
According to Alhaji Ahmadu Giade, the chairman of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) “The bills (Anti Money Laundering and the Anti Terrorism bills) are very crucial because they seek to fight against financial crimes, promote security and boost the rating of Nigeria in crime control. No doubt, the proposed bills are a threat to criminals. If they come into effect, drug barons and other criminals will in addition to prosecution and possible conviction, forfeit their ill-gotten wealth.
Lawmakers Grouses
Senators called the bill a complex piece of legislation while the House of Representatives members voted against the provision that any transaction by individuals to the tune of N5 million and N10 million by corporate entities with any bank must be reported to the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU). They also expressed stiff opposition to penalties, fines and other financial charges in the bill which were all stipulated in the United States dollars instead of the national currency, Naira, arguing that it would be unpatriotic to pass such a bill as it came from the executive.
My thoughts
No matter the ostensible reasons given by the two chambers of the National Assembly for non-passage of the bills, to my mind, the real reasons are as follows:
1. The Nigerian lawmakers are trying to tread softly so that they do not shoot themselves in the foot. They either will not pass the AML bill at all or may decide to pass it after the 2011 elections just like they did with the Freedom of Information bill in 2007. This is because preparation for the 2011 General Elections is in top gear. The lawmakers are likely going to be contesting in the election for various positions. They therefore don’t want to leave any trail of their sources of election funding which they know will be above the approved political finance ceiling as stated in section 91 of Electoral Act 2010.
2. Even if the NASS will pass the bill eventually, it will be a watered down version which will be full of loopholes. This is again due to the lawmakers’ fixation about self preservation. They know full well that some of them indulge in many of the excesses the AML bill seeks to prohibit or curtail, hence the filibustering. It would be recalled that there have been speculations in the media about the humongous remunerations being collected by the members of the national assembly. If this AML bill gets passed into the law, many illegal and illegitimate incomes of the members of the National Assembly will be exposed to the anticorruption agencies both locally and internationally. This they do not want.
3. We need to also look beyond the lawmakers’ reactionary disposition to this anti- money laundering and indeed anti-terrorism bills. I strongly believe that members of the executives have a hand in the non-passage of the bill. With the Governors being the latest cabal in the country, I would not be surprised if the States Chief Executives are the one stage-managing the current lackadaisical disposition of national assembly to the two vital bills. Recent history reminds us that some of the governors, local government chairpersons and indeed past presidents and heads of state have been indicted and convicted for money laundering in and outside the country. It is not in the interest of many of these politically exposed persons who have been named in the Halliburton, Siemens, Wilbros and indeed Daimler bribe scandals to allow the free passage of the anti-money laundering bill. To the corrupt in the society, this is a booby trap, a landmine which they will want to avoid at all cost.
If all the above postulations are not true, how could the Nigerian parliamentarian show so much contempt for the President who have twice passionately appealed to them to pass the bill? Nigeria promised the international Financial Action Task Force to pass the bill by 30 June 2010. It is 4 months past the deadline, yet the national lawmakers have not deemed it fit to pass the anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism bills.
Any Consequence for non-passage?
The consequence of our National Assembly not passing these all important bills is unpleasant. Nigeria risks being blacklisted by the international Financial Action Task Force (FAFT). Legitimate international transactions risk being frustrated while foreign investment could be driven away.
The Way Forward
There must be sustained pressure from all well-meaning Nigerians on the National Assembly for them to pass the Anti Money Laundering and Anti Terrorism bills. These two bills must not be allowed to go the way of FOI and Petroleum Industry Bills on which the Nigerian federal lawmakers were long on promises but short on delivery.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Issues in Election Petitions in Nigeria

Two incidents in our polity warrant a critical review of the election procedures in Nigeria. The first is the Court of Appeal judgement in Ilorin on Friday, 15 October 2010. After 42 months spanning 3 and a half years, the appellate court declared that Dr John Olukayode Fayemi of the Action Congress of Nigeria and not Engr. Segun Oni of the Peoples Democratic Party won the 14 April 2007 and 25 April / 5 May 2009 re-run gubernatorial elections. The second reason for us to take holistic look at our election procedures is the on-going alteration of the First amendment to 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as well as the Electoral Act 2010. Before delving into the main issues in this piece, a little update is germane.

Hitherto, legal framework in Nigeria does not have time limit on election petitions (particularly since the Supreme Court ruling in Paul Unongo v Aper Aku and others, (1983) 2 SCNLR 332) neither does it recognise inauguration of candidates after disposal of petitions against them. Hence politicians, especially beneficiaries of electoral fraud use all the subterfuges in the statute books to frustrate the judicial process. They hire the best of election petition lawyers who use all the legal technicalities to delay court processes (since many of them use the state resources to fund their litigations). Some of the delay tactics they indulge in include filing of frivolous interlocutory applications and exparte motions. They also line up hundreds of witnesses to testify, all in a bid to waste the time of the court. In some extreme cases, some desperate litigants buy off witnesses of the opposing camps or threaten them to stay off the witness box. In the recent past, judges of the election tribunals are also being financially induced or threatened as being alleged in certain quarters.

Perhaps, these account for why some tribunals, against all judicial best practices, still strike out election petitions on technical grounds even when Office of President of Appeal Court who set up tribunals has strongly advised against this. There have also been some funny judgements being given by some election tribunals. There is currently the drama playing out between the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal where the apex court had unjustifiably ‘arrested’ the judgement of Appeal Court in the Sokoto Gubernatorial Election. A simple issue such as withdrawing an earlier filed brief has been delayed from March to November 2010. This is curious.

In order to cure the mischief of protracted litigation on election petitions, the Office of the President Court of Appeal in 2007 issued practice direction which stipulate timelines for the filing of petitions and other briefs as well as limiting the number of witnesses that the parties in a suit can call. This assisted to fast track the tribunal process to an extent but lawyers are still able to use other ploys to delay the cause of justice.

Then came the Electoral Reform Committee report in December 2008. The report, in order to cure the mischief highlighted above, recommended that election petitions should be time bound, ERC proposed 6 months for the resolution of all petitions both at the lower tribunal and the appellate court and that the swearing-in of winners should be after the disposition of election petitions against them. Unfortunately, the Council of State in March 2009 rejected these twin recommendations.

The National Assembly in eventually amending the 1999 Constitution pegged the filing of petitions to 21 days after election results are declared, gave 180 days for the hearing of the petitions at the lower tribunal and 60 days for determination of appeals at the appellate courts. The amendment however fell short of determination of election petition before inauguration of winners even as it agreed that the number of judges at the tribunal should be reduced from 5 to 3.

The most counter-productive and retrogressive of all the amendments to the 1999 Constitution was the alteration to section 239 to give original jurisdiction to the Court of Appeal as the Court of first instance in Governorship election petitions. The Court of Appeal, at present, has maximum of 70 judges. Already the court has original jurisdiction on presidential election petition cases, adding the gubernatorial petitions to that will collapse the Court. How will it source the judges that will serve on the governorship election petitions given that one may have to be established in each of the States? INEC said there will be gubernatorial elections in 32 States in 2011 April, add the Presidential tribunal to this. At three per tribunal, the Appeal Court will need 99 judges! So where will it source the balance of 29 judges? That is one headache; the other is that all appeals from National and State Assemblies Election Petitions will still come to the same Court of Appeal for final resolution. Yet, the judiciary has to do all these within a total of 240 days! (180 days at the lower tribunal and 60 days at the appellate court). Will that guarantee justice?

At present, the national assembly is contemplating an amendment which will restore original jurisdiction back to the lower tribunal. However, some legislators want gubernatorial petitions to terminate at the Supreme Court. This will worsen the already bad situation. If governors who lose at the Appeal Court are allowed to go to Supreme Court, that will further delay the cause of justice and overwhelm the apex court as well. There are only 21 Justices of the Supreme Court according to S. 230 (2b) of 1999 Constitution. We must note that with 63 registered political parties in Nigeria thus far, and the locus of these political parties and their candidates to challenge the outcome of the elections, the entire court system in Nigeria will be shut down for election petitions alone. Each election year, civil and criminal cases before these courts are adjourned sine dine (indefinitely) in order to give full attention to election petitions since they are sui generis. This is not good enough and the more reason we must stick to having time line for resolution of election disputes.

On a final note, the time is ripe to revisit the Electoral Reform Committee recommendations on election dispute resolutions. These recommendations are on page 242 of the main report of the Committee. They are: the need to produce rules and procedures that enhance speedy disposal of election petitions; the need to shift the burden of proof on election petitions from the petitioners to INEC; Rules of evidence should be formulated to achieve substantive justice rather than mere observance of technicalities; Elections to the office of President and Governors should be held at least 6 months before the expiration of their terms. No executive should be sworn in before the conclusion of the cases against him/her. In the case of legislators no one should be sworn in before the determination of the cases against him/her; and lastly, INEC should have no right of appeal. These measures, if taken, will restore sanity into our post election dispute resolutions. However, we must do everything to reverse this democracy by court order. Election should be determined at the poll not at the court as is currently the case.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Creating level playing field for 2011 elections

WITH the passage of the amended 1999 Constitution and Electoral Act 2010, the nomination, screening and inauguration of the board of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the release of timetable for the 2011 polls by INEC on September 7, 2010, the stage is gradually being set for the next general elections which may hold January or April 2011.

As we are in the season of political declarations and endorsements, it is important to remind our political elite to play by the rule. If the forthcoming election will be adjudged free, fair and credible, all attempts must be made to regulate the influence of money on the outcome of the polls. How political parties and contestants raise and spend money must be closely monitored to ensure that it is in strict compliance with the extant political finance regulations. Political finance covers both legal and illegal sourcing and spending of money in a political process. It also covers the use of State and Administrative Resources (SARs). These are resources of the State meant for good governance. During the electioneering process, abuse of state and administrative resources is very rampant. Misapplication of SARs includes the use of state finances or government money as well as other tangible and intangible resources of the State to gain undue advantage in the electoral contest. These resources include regulatory, legislative, media, institutional and coercive resources of government.

Ahead of the 2011 elections and in order to create a level playing field for all the actors in the electoral process, particularly the contestants, the Electoral Act 2010 attempted a ban on the misuse of SARs. Section 100 (2) of the new act explicitly says “State apparatus including the media shall not be employed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election”. Subsection 3 says: “Media time shall be allocated equally among the political parties or candidates at similar hours of the day”. Subsection 4 states that “At any public electronic media, equal time shall be allotted to all political parties or candidates during prime times at similar hours each day, subject to the payment of appropriate fees”. Sub section 5 reads: “At any public print media, equal coverage and conspicuity shall be allotted to all the political parties”. Sub section 6 fixed penalty for breach of subsections 3 and 4 of this clause at N500,000 in the first instance and N1million for subsequent infractions.

What the aforementioned S. 100(2) attempts to do is to place a blanket embargo on the use of all forms of state apparatus be it institutional, coercive, legal, media or any other to the favour or disfavour of any political party or candidate. Thus, it is wrong to use State resources such as government funds, aircraft, vehicles, personnel, building or offices, and agencies for politicking or campaigns.

This provision is not new. It was in Section 103 of the Electoral Act 2006. However, it was observed more in breach. State apparatus were fully deployed by many political office holders during the campaigns for the 2007 elections and indeed all previous elections. Remember the government’s sudden declaration of two days public holiday on 12 and 13 April 2007 ostensibly to allow people to travel to their hometowns to vote but really in order to frustrate Supreme Court adjudication on former Vice President Atiku’s case about his eligibility to contest the 2007 presidential polls. We must not also forget the alleged biased role some of the government agencies like the police, State Security Services, public media and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission were made to play in the last general election.

Will things be different this time around? I doubt. It is good to know that President Goodluck Jonathan publicly said on Monday, September 27, 2010 that he has never and would not use State funds for his presidential campaign ahead of the 2011 polls; however, on that same day in Owerri, Imo State, the Igbo Political Forum made up of prominent politicians from Igboland were locked out of Imo Concorde Hotel venue of their conference. This is because they were perceived to be working against the interest of the political establishment in the State and at the federal level. Attempt to secure other Hotel facility around for their meeting was also thwarted by security agencies. This is clearly a case of abuse of state and administrative resources.

The other clause of the Electoral Act 2010 which disapproves the exploitation of State and Administrative Resources is Section 87. This clause dictates the candidates’ nomination process for political parties. It emphasised the need for voting in the choice of party flag- bearers. The most interesting part of this provision is subsection 8 which says: “No political appointee at any level shall be a voting delegate at the convention and congress of any political parties for the purpose of nomination of candidates for any election”. Hitherto, most, if not all, political appointees are automatic delegates to most of Nigeria’s party primaries. Little wonder some of them appoint hundreds of aides without portfolio. The nobility of this clause, if implemented, is that it will ensure that incumbent political office holders do not have undue advantage over other aspirants at party primaries.

As the election approaches, relevant stakeholders in the electoral process such as the media, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and the election management bodies (INEC and SIECs) must brace up to educate political parties and candidates on these vital provisions and blow whistle when there is a breach. The umpire, which is INEC, has an added responsibility of enforcing compliance of political parties and candidates with the above-mentioned and other political finance regulations.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Nigeria beyond the Golden Jubilee

Nigeria is 50, does this call for celebration? Yes, it does. There are challenges quite alright, what with the high state of insecurity, soaring unemployment and grinding poverty, dearth or near absence of basic social infrastructures such as good roads, potable water, electricity, schools and health facilities.

Nevertheless, a philosopher once observed that “life is a tragedy to those who feel; a comedy to those who think”. In spite of our numerous and seemingly insurmountable challenges, there is still cause for us to rejoice on our attainment of 50 years of independence. Nigeria is one of the 17 countries in Africa to have received liberty from their colonialists in 1960.

The countries that attained five decades of nationhood in 2010 includes: Senegal, Mali, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mauritania, Gabon, Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo Kinshasha), Central African Republic, Chad and Madagascar. Others include Nigeria, Somalia and Republic of the Congo (Congo Brazzaville). Nigeria, nay Africa went through centuries of trans-Saharan and trans-Atlantic slave trades; internecine inter-tribal and inter-ethnic wars as well as another century of colonial rule.

Nigeria, the giant of Africa fought and survived three years of bloody civil war (1967 – 1970) where close to a million lives were lost. There have been about a dozen successful and attempted military coups. Yet today, with a cumulative 29 years of military rule out of 50; we live to celebrate 12 years of uninterrupted civil rule. The many highlighted challenges have collapsed many countries – where is Somalia, USSR, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia today? They have either disintegrated or become a failed state. That Nigeria survived the aforementioned afflictions and many decades of military rule makes the call for celebration of our golden anniversary quite apposite.

Having said that however, Nigeria’s celebration should be modest. There is need for a retrospective and introspective look at the last five decades of our nationhood. There have been too many missed opportunities and handful achievements which pale into insignificance when compared to the humongous resources that have accrued to the nation’s treasury in the last 50 years. The greatest challenge facing Nigeria today is our weak democratic institutions such as the political parties, legislature at both national through to local councils, media, civil service, judiciary, non-governmental organisations and security agencies.

Our electoral democracy continues to throw up charlatans and mediocre as leaders due to our faulty leadership recruitment process. Our elections from 1923 persist to be a sham, mere charade. Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has just undergone some structural and legal reforms by virtue of the new board led by the indefatigable Prof Attahiru Jega. The 1999 Constitution as amended and the Electoral Act 2010 have granted INEC financial and administrative autonomy which it had long desired. INEC itself just released the timetable for the 2011 elections on Tuesday, 7 September 2010 signifying the commencement of activities for the next general polls.

We look forward to better future elections. Part of the drawbacks to the rapid development of Nigeria is her bloated bureaucracy. There are too many parasites on the Nigerian system. There is too much patronage, typical of a rentier state that we are. The wealth of this country has been cornered by less than ten percent of the population leaving the hapless majority in misery. While United States has 15 Secretaries (Ministers) and Britain has 22, Nigeria has 42 Ministers!

Furthermore, the US with 50 States has 100 Senators while Nigeria with 36 States has 109 Senators. What is the justification? The matter worsens when we factor in the uncountable aides being maintained for the political office holders at the expense of the State resources. Many of them have Special Assistants, Senior Special Assistants, and Special Advisers who are just feeding fat on the system, busy doing nothing. Nigeria has about half a dozen presidential aircrafts yet the country recently ordered additional three at a whopping $ 155 million (N21 billion).

Yet, British Prime Minister does not have an air fleet, neither does American president. The Pope who heads the Vatican City, and whose Catholic Church membership worldwide stands at 1.2 billion, flies Alitalia which is Italy’s national carrier. Nigeria must do away with waste and operate a lean government if it intends to make the list of 20 industrialised nations by 2020.

If Nigeria is sincere about its ambition to develop, then our leaders must do better with fighting corruption which has permeated the entire fabric of this country. Nigeria as at 2009 ranks 130 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. In fighting corruption, the country must find a commensurate way of rewarding her workforce. The skewed reward system which over-rewards the few political office holders at the expense of the key career officers in the bureaucracy must be addressed and redressed. Beyond the anti-corruption crusade, Nigerians must imbibe maintenance culture.

I often weep at the way we neglect our monuments and public infrastructures. Multi-billion Naira projects are often commissioned with zero allocation for maintenance. This is unethical, antithetical, imprudent and wasteful.

A veritable antidote to the lingering problem of deepening poverty in Nigeria is for the government to fix the power sector in a manner that will enhance sufficient generation and transmission of electricity. When this is done and light is made available to Nigerians at affordable price regimes, then we would be on the path to meaningful poverty alleviation.

This is because electricity is a catalyst to commerce and industry which are high employers of labour. As we prepare for the 2011 polls, it is my fervent hope that it will lead to the emergence of visionary and credible leaders who will harness the great potentials of this country for national development. The ingredients of progress are rule of law, transparent and accountable governance, and efficient as well as effective law enforcement. Going forward, we Nigerians need to internalise and exhibit positive attitudes, mores, values and ethics.

Monday, August 30, 2010

SEC and impunity in stock market

“Financial institutions which are poorly governed pose a risk to themselves and also to others and could pull down financial markets. Recent experience in the Nigerian financial market attests to this fact.” SEC DG, Ms. Arunma Oteh at the International Conference on Good Governance and Regulatory Leadership, May 2010

Yours truly is an investor in Nigeria's capital market having bought small units of shares in some of the quoted companies on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. I had been taken in by the huge return on investment and the humongous profit after tax that many of the companies listed in the NSE declared at their annual shareholders meeting.

That was before the bubble burst in March 2008. Today, my shares are not worth the share certificates on which they were written. My personal loss is miniscule compared to many big time investors in the stock market. Many lost millions and probably billions.

The total loss is actually in trillions. My sense of loss was relieved on 5 August, 2010 when the new DG of Securities and Exchange Commission, Ms. Arunma Oteh gave the marching orders to the then Director General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Prof. Ndi Okereke Onyiuke and also placed a suspension order on the president of the council, Aliko Dangote. The move which is long envisaged came on the heels of earlier vow in January, 2010, when the SEC DG promised before the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market that the era of sharp practices and malpractices in the nation's capital market was over.

Ms. Oteh assumed duties at the regulatory agency on 11 December 2009. She was quoted during the 2010 budget defence session at the House of Reps as saying that “henceforth, SEC will ensure that “inappropriate behaviours” of capital market operators will not go unpunished.” At the forum, she allegedly pledged a new regime of zero tolerance to share price manipulation, insider dealings and other sharp practices bedevilling the nation's capital market over the years. She further said that the Commission would strengthen its regulatory oversight, intensify monitoring activities and collaborate with other regulatory agencies in the financial sector to ensure the restoration of investor confidence in the capital market.

I believe it is the promise of January that is being kept in August 2010. Unfortunately, this seems like medicine after death. To my mind, the SEC hammer should have come on the NSE authorities much earlier to save Nigeria's investing public from further loss having lost trillions of Naira between March 2008 and now. A news report in Thisday of 1 January, 2010 had said that “the Nigerian stock market dipped by 34 per cent in 2009. The dip was caused by external pressure from the global financial crisis and internal ones such as over- speculation and arbitrary pricing of shares.”

It is an open secret that there have been a lot of underhand dealings at the Exchange. In recent times, there were claims and counter claims over the share manipulation of African Petroleum (AP) stocks. It is disheartening that it took the petition of the suspended President of the Council of NSE, Alhaji Aliko Dangote that the Stock Exchange is insolvent before the SEC sprung into action by removing the NSE DG and suspended the whistle blower.

While giving a background on events leading to the tsunami of 5 August in NEXT on Sunday of 22 August 2010, information attributed to the office of DG SEC says “as part of moves to determine the true state of affairs, SEC in April engaged a team from the US Securities and Exchange Commission which compiled a confidential report detailing lax oversight at the Nigerian Stock Exchange and the financial regulators. The report detailed cases of bribery inside the Stock Exchange, dysfunctional enforcement, “complicated and entrenched governance problems”, “clear instances of insider trading and market manipulation that resulted in no action”, and “woefully inadequate” surveillance, a clear indictment of the NSE authorities.

“The allegations regarding the leadership and membership of the council of the exchange against the NSE are very grave and that is why in our opinion, the SEC has decided to take this step in exercising its powers under the Investment and Securities and other applicable regulation.” In my own opinion it is on the basis of these revealing indictments that the DG of NSE should have been removed alongside the NSE Council Executives, however, SEC curiously directed the council to implement a clear succession plan and for the DG to handover to a successor by June. This is untoward.

Anyway, apart from the intervention at the NSE, the SEC, we are told, has also concluded moves to sanction about 260 stock broking firms alleged to be involved in unethical practices. While the Commission is still working on how and when to bring the erring stockbrokers to book, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on 12 August preferred a 22-count charge against the duo of Adeniyi Elumaro and Rakiya Mamman, who allegedly used their stock broking firm to defraud some notable Nigerians of a total of N405 million.

This, the report said, happened between January 2006 and December 2008. Scam in stock exchange is not the exclusive preserve of Nigerians, Bernard Madoff, an American investment manager, defrauded investors of about $50 billion in what probably is the largest swindle in Wall Street history. He is currently serving 150 years in prison having pleaded guilty to 11 felony counts on 12 March 2009, and sentenced on 29 June 2009.
All said, the issues herein have shown that Nigeria's financial sector has been in a quagmire over time. Just about this period last year, the incumbent Governor of Central Bank had removed eight Managing Directors of some ailing banks.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the capital market and its operators need to engender good corporate governance through their disclosure, reporting and transparency requirements. It, however, behoves, the regulator to ensure compliance. My prayer is that all Nigeria's equivalent of Bernard Madoff should have their days in court and get their deserved punishments. The culture of impunity in Nigeria's financial system must be halted if Nigeria's economy will ever get out of its current doldrums. As rightly observed by the SEC DG: “Government's macroeconomic policies will come to naught if financial institutions are not well governed.”

Article first published in Daly Sun of Monday, 30 August 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Preserving the Legacies of Nigeria's Heroes and Heroines Past

Arise, O compatriots, Nigeria's call obey
To serve our fatherland
With love and strength and faith
The labour of our heroes past
Shall never be in vain
To serve with heart and might
One nation bound in freedom, peace and unity.

These are the lines of Nigeria’s current national anthem. Sadly, not many Nigerians, including those who are holding public offices, could recite the national anthem, let alone believe in the words. Nigeria is in her year of Golden Jubilee having got independence on October 1, 1960. There have been series of lectures, seminars, colloquia, conferences, exhibitions, debates etc planned in celebration of the country’s 50th anniversary. There is no gainsaying that Nigeria still grapples with the challenges of nationhood and governance. It is doubtful if this state of underdevelopment; anomie and morass were envisaged or hoped for by the founding fathers and mothers of Nigeria. I mean the political, labour and media bourgeoisie who were actively involved in negotiating the independence of Nigeria from the British colonialist. Nigeria, like many African countries have been unfortunate to be plundered and pillaged for three hundred years under the trans-Saharan and trans-Atlantic slave trade. With the abolition of slavery came the dismemberment of Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1884 or thereabout. At the Berlin Conference, it became the lot of Britain to administer Nigeria through what is now famously regarded as Indirect Rule. Nigeria became a British Colony and a system of administration akin to what obtains in Britain was institutionalised in Nigeria. While the slave trade and colonialism lasted, Nigeria’s human and material resources were exploited not to develop the colonies as it were but to build Western Capitals of Europe and America.

Early in the 19th Century, anti-colonialist elements begin to mobilise to resist the colonial rule of Britain. At the fore-front of the struggle for self-rule in Nigeria were progressives like Sir Herbert Macaulay who established the Nigeria National Democratic Party (NNDP) in 1922, Pa Michael Imodu who led labour movement revolt against the colonialist autocratic and inhuman practices. Chief Obafemi Awolowo who was one of the brains behind the establishment of National Youth Movement (NYM) and Action Group (AG) and later Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Awo also established the Nigerian Tribune in November 1949; late Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe established National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon which later metamorphosed into National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) as well as Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) in the 70’s. Zik was also the brain behind the establishment of West African Pilot newspaper. From the Northern Nigeria, we had people like Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, and Sir Ahmadu Bello who were the arrowheads of Northern People’s Congress (NPC). What all the aforementioned people had in common was that they form part of Nigeria’s depleting genre of heroes.

According to the New 7th Edition of Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, a hero is a person, especially a man, who is admired by many people for doing something brave or good while a heroine is a female version of a hero. Nigeria has been blessed with sizeable number of heroes and heroines. Being from the South-Western Nigeria, I am more familiar with some of Nigeria’s widely acclaimed heroes and heroines from the Yoruba ethnic group. In this category are folklore heroines such as Moremi Ajasoro and Olurombi who sacrificed their children for the peace of their communities. Others include late Chief (Mrs.) Funmilayo Ransome Kuti who led women revolt against the oppressive tendencies of a former Alake of Egbaland, Madam Tinubu and Prof. (Mrs.) Jadesola Akande who was a former Vice Chancellor of Lagos State University and women’s right activist. There are however, longer list of heroes from the South West, ironically, in spite of the cynicism many of us have about Nigeria’s brand of politics, many of our national and regional heroes are politicians.

Leading the pack of the South West national heroes is Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Awo it was who as Premier of Western Region established first television station in Africa in 1959, built the Cocoa House which then was the tallest building in West Africa through proceeds from the sale of Cocoa, established farm settlements across the length and breadth of the South West region, instituted the Free Education programme for the entire region in 1955, built the University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University, established several industrial estates including the Wemabod Estate, Lagos as well as Oodua Investment Company. Awo was a visionary, a principled and selfless politician, human rights activist and a nationalist of note who as Federal Commissioner for Finance under the Yakubu Gowon administration helped Nigeria to prosecute the 1967-70 civil war without any external borrowing. I have been privileged to visit the Awo Mausoleum erected within his private residence in Ikenne, Ogun State and also knows his house where he lived in Ibadan along Oke-Bola road, these are modest residences compared with earthily paradises our contemporary politicians now erect for themselves. Awo served Nigeria in his life and times selflessly and is an all time hero of the Yoruba race. Other South-West Nigeria heroes include, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, a music icon who used his brand of music to fight oppression and promote human rights; Chief MKO Abiola, a business mogul, philanthropist and politician; Chief Gani Fawehinmi, human right crusader, lawyer, philanthropist, publisher and politician and Prof. Wole Soyinka, 1986 Nobel Laureate in Literature and Human Right Activist. Of all the aforementioned, only Prof. Soyinka is alive.

There are other pockets of heroes across the Nigerian landscape. There was J.S Tarka from Benue State in the Middle Belt, the South-South has produced heroes and heroines like King Jaja of Opobo, Isaac Adaka Boro, Ken Saro Wiwa as well as late Chief (Mrs.) Margaret Ekpo. In the South East, apart from Zik of Africa, we have heard of heroes like Chief Alvan Ikoku and Dr. Sam Mbakwe. North Western Nigeria has also produced heroes and heroines like Alhaji Aminu Kano, Hajia Gambo Sawaba and Queen Amina of Zauzau. These are just to mention but a few of Nigeria’s heroines and heroes.

Even though successive governments have deemed it fit to name one monument or the other such as universities, streets, airports, stadia etc after some of these fallen heroes and heroines, whether while alive or post-humously, the best way to preserve the legacies of these great men and women is to better their performance in areas of their excellence be it politics, philanthropy, governance, human rights advocacy, commerce and industry, music, journalism etc. Government, particularly, federal and state need to mass produce literatures on the heroic deeds of these people and circulate them widely so that many of the present generation of Nigerians who know little or nothing about these fallen heroes and heroines can deepen their knowledge about their great works and learn or perhaps model their lives after theirs. The heroic deeds of these great Nigerians also need to be thought in our schools from primary to tertiary institutions as part of History, Politics and Civics. Learning about these past legends and working tenaciously to implement their ideals, ideas and principles is one broad way we can ensure that their labours are not in vain.

This article was first published in The Ethics Magazine (Third Quarter 2010)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Worth of Character

Daily Sketch Wednesday, 18 November, 1998

You can get through life with bad manners, but it is easier and more honourable with good ones. Character is the only religion there is. Anonymous

The late Mahatma Ghandi of India identified what he called seven deadly sins. These are: Wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; business without ethics; science without humanity; politics without principles and religion without sacrifice of pride and prejudice. It is a truism that ‘the true rule in determining to embrace or reject a thing is not whether it has any evil in it, but whether it has more evil than good’. There is no gainsaying the fact that most of the world nations, with special emphasis on Nigeria are guilty of these seven deadly sins of Ghandi. Gone are the days when good and exemplary character is regarded as a virtue in Nigeria. Moral upbringing counts little and less these days with testimonials not worth the paper on which they were written. Students only obtain them for formality sake in contemporary times. Admission into tertiary institutions without due cognisance of the moral rectitude of the applicants has made our schools to be populated with deviants who later revel in being members of campus cults.

In the good old days, parents never compromised good character for their children. They ensured that their offspring were morally and intellectually sound. Home training inculcated through extensive discipline was their priority. A wayward, recalcitrant and obdurate child is heavily punished and in some extreme cases taken to juvenile homes for reformation. If he failed to change for better, parents do isolate or disown such a child in order to prevent him or her from soiling the family’s good name. That was a time when good name was worth more than silver and gold. Not anymore! Things have changed drastically; character, nay, good character worth much less these days. People only pay lip service to honesty and integrity in contemporary times. In fact, good character is no longer exemplary if majority opinion is anything to go by. This is because truth, honesty, respect for elders, courtesy, decorum, discipline and all other virtues which give a person good character have long been jettisoned. They have all been sacrificed on the altar of insatiable quest for money and civilisation.

Anybody that will be of good character would not contravene God’s injunctions nor is he or she expected to infract any of the seven deadly sins as enunciated by Mahatma Ghandi. What do we see today? All the laws of God and those of man are trampled upon with impunity. Any wonder things are at sixes and seven in our society? If we would respect the laws of man alone, which is an adjunct of that of God, this world would have been a better place to live in. If we would work honestly for our wealth, would allow our conscience to prick us when we indulge in sinful pleasure and would not seek knowledge that is devoid of character. Society would be orderly, peaceful and prosperous. Progressive development would also be the lot of any human society where ethics is the bedrock of business, where science is not pursued to the detriment of humanity, where there are principled politicians and politicking and also where there is religious tolerance. Utopian and fantastic as these might seem, any society that has these principles largely in practice cannot but be progressive and develop.

Conversely, it is an irrefutable fact that anybody that engages in these seven aforementioned sins is not patriotic, human nor of good character. What is the worth of character of someone who looted the nation’s treasury to amass ill-gotten wealth like many of our public office holders are doing? What is the ethic consideration of a swindler and a cheat who masquerades as a businessman or woman? Or what moral value is there in politics of prostitution, devoid of scruples and targeted at personal aggrandisement? Is hypocrisy not the name of religion without sacrifices of pride and prejudices? What also would be the worth of knowledge that is devoid of character? To my own mind, science is useless without humanity as its focus.

It goes without saying that the character of the people would reflect in the nature of government of any human society. After all, government and states are abstract entities run by people. Like a philosopher once observed, ‘let people be good and government be bad, when government is sick, the good people will heal it.’ Invariably, when we say that government is bad, it is the public office holders, the administrators and managers of government that are of questionable character.

There is a Chinese proverb that says: If there is righteousness in the heart; There will be beauty in the character; If there be beauty in the character; There will be harmony in the home; If there be harmony in the home; There will be order in the nation; When there is order in the nation; There will be peace in the world. What a cheap way to attain world order. The big question is, are we prepared to follow these simple steps instead of spending billions of dollars prosecuting wars and embarking on pace keeping missions? Believe you me; being of good character solves everything. Do I hear you say we need ethical revolution? Certainly. Let it start from ourselves, our individual homes, before it spreads abroad. Then you can be rest assured that good governance that is presently not in our character would manifest and we would all be happy for it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

AMCON as a Fillip to Nigeria’s Economy

The signing into law of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) law by President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday, 19 July 2010 is long overdue. The bill which was recently passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly was initially part of the Prof. Chukwuma Soludo’s 13 point banking reform agenda way back July 2004. However, the bill was stalled in the parliament until the incumbent Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi re-introduced it at the National Assembly as part of the current banking reform measure which he kick-started in July 2009. The law, to my mind is highly desirable going by the several advantages that will likely accrue to our banking nay financial sector and concomitantly the nation’s economy. Some of the envisaged benefits of the bill as highlighted by the president during the signing ceremony are that:

The new law will ensure the stability of Nigeria’s financial sector and stimulate national economic recovery. AMCON, according to the President, will help to stimulate the recovery of Nigeria’s financial system from recent crisis by boosting the liquidity of troubled banks through buying their non-performing loans, helping in the recapitalisation of banks in which the Central Bank was forced to intervene, and increasing access to restructuring or refinancing opportunities for borrowers.
The law will also help in boosting confidence in the banks’ balance sheets and Nigeria’s credit and risk ratings, restore confidence in Nigeria’s capital markets, and prevent continued job losses in the country’s banking industry as well as safeguard the interests of depositors, creditors and others in Nigeria’s financial system. The Central Bank of Nigeria said it proposed the establishment of the AMCON as a way of freeing the banks of toxic loans estimated at N1.5 trillion and to enable them resume lending to the economy. CBN governor observed that it is a commitment to cleaning up bank balance sheet and restoring confidence in the capital market thereby setting the country on the path of growth. With all the aforementioned benefits, one cannot but commend the initiative of Central Bank in this regard.

The stage is now set for the full operations of the new corporation as the relevant authorities move to establish the Board and the management team. This is the crux of the matter. Nigerians are never bereft of noble ideas such as this; our major challenge has been that of faithful implementation. As CBN and Federal Ministry of Finance commence the setting up of the structures that will drive the process, there is need for them to recruit the best hands for the job. Not political jobbers and professional politicians who will see their appointment into the board or management team of AMCON as a reward for their loyalty to the president or his political party. There must be milestones and timelines set for the management team of AMCON as well as open and periodic performance review so that the public will know if the set objectives for the establishment of the corporation are being achieved. With the proposed buying off of the toxic assets of the banks, it is hoped that the current credit squeeze in the financial sector will give way to easy access to loan-able funds by the banks to the critical sector of the economy. Beyond these measures however, CBN and other regulatory authorities must keep track of activities of the banks and the financial sector of the economy to ensure that corporate governance and proper risk management are not compromised particularly in granting credit facilities to customers and investors.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

INEC board and electoral reform

This is, indeed, an exciting time for Nigeria. After an initial lull in the preparation for the 2011 elections, two recent events have brought about some animations in the polity - the announcement on June 8, 2010, of the nominees for the chairman and board members of the Independent National Electoral Commission, and the successful alteration of the 1999 Constitution by the Senate and the House of Representatives on June 2 and 3, 2010.
The presidential nomination and endorsement by the Council of State, of Professor Attahiru Jega and 10 other national commissioners, as well as 19 other resident electoral commissioners to fill the vacuum in INEC has been largely well received, except for the pocket of protests about the partisanship of few of the nominees.
Good enough, the President promised to replace all the nominees with party affiliations. This is heart-warming. Attahiru Jega is the first northerner and Muslim to be appointed Chief Electoral Officer of Nigeria. The good thing about Jega’s nomination is that he possesses the requisite pedigree being a political scientist, a university administrator and one-time member of the Electoral Reform Committee, which charted the transformation agenda for the country, between August 28, 2007 and December 11, 2008.
Also, out of the 13-member board, INEC now has three female national commissioners, from one in the last set. This is also commendable, as it shows that Nigeria is taking her national gender policy and other international covenants and protocols on gender serious. Nigerians wait with bated breath to see if these handpicked men and women will be able to deliver to us credible polls, come 2011.
Some of the hurdles that still need to be crossed in our preparation for the next general election are the screening of the nominee national commissioners and chairman of INEC by Senate, and the conclusion of the Constitution and Electoral Bill amendment exercise. The pleasant thing is that, work on the amendment of the legal framework is at advanced stage.
At present, we are a step to the conclusion of the Constitution amendment exercise, as two-thirds of the 36 states have to concur with the altered sections of the Constitution as proposed by the National Assembly before we can start to reference the amended version. With the support from the state governors, and the Forum of Speakers of state House of Assemblies, it is hoped that Nigeria can have cause to celebrate a successful constitution amendment exercise in its 50th year of political independence.
Some of the key constitutional amendments which elicit hope of democratic consolidation and prospects of better elections are as follows: Financial autonomy for INEC, national and state Assembly and the Judiciary; Amendment to section 156 and 200 of 1999 Constitution, which now prevents chair and members of INEC board, as well as those of State Independent Electoral Commission from belonging to political parties; Alteration of Section 145 and 190 of the 1999 Constitution, making it mandatory for president and governors to transmit a letter to the Senate and Speaker of House of Reps (for President) and Speaker of State House of Assembly (for governor), respectively when going on vacation or incapable of discharging their duties of office; The amendment to Section 160 (1) to the effect that INEC’s powers to make its own rules or otherwise regulate its own procedures shall not be subject to the approval or control of the president; Timeline for conclusion of election petitions (180 days at the tribunals and 60 days at the appellate court), and the reduction of tribunal judges from five to three.
Other noble alterations include, the elimination of tenure elongation through the back door, with the amendment of section 180 subsection 2c to read: “In the determination of the four year term, where a rerun election has taken place and the person earlier sworn in wins the rerun election, the time spent in office before the date the election was annulled shall be taken into account.” The National Assembly is also poised to come up with guidelines for internal party democracy and empower INEC to play more active role in ensuring that political parties observe principles of internal party democracy.
It is hoped that by the first week of July 2010, all the remaining issues about the legal framework viz constitution and electoral act amendment would be sorted out, and the new board of INEC inaugurated, to enable them commence prompt preparation for the next general election, which is due in January 2011, going by the provisions of sections 76(2), 116(2) and 132(2) of the amended Constitution, which now put elections at not earlier than 150 days and not later than 120 days before the expiration of the term of the incumbent political office holders.
However, even if and when all these are done, the greater challenge will be that of implementation of these new laws. Nigeria’s political system will only derive maximum benefits from these new legal provisions, when relevant authorities and political elite decide to play by the rules. Culture of impunity must be broken.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dishonourable Tenants of the House

Dr. Wale Okediran was spot on in his analysis of Nigeria’s House of Representatives in his latest book titled ‘Tenants of the House’. The shocking, preposterous, nauseating and infantile display of shame enacted by some scoundrels in the Nigeria’s House of Representatives on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 vindicated the veteran author and immediate past president of the Association of Nigerian Authors.
In the full glare of cameras and right in the presence of some 75 pupils of the City Royal Secondary School, Nyanya, Abuja, our parliamentarians engaged in karate, judo, boxing and wrestling. They kicked and threw punches at one another, shredding clothes of fellow legislators in the fracas. One of them in the process had a fractured arm and another a bloodied nose. Even journalists covering the National Assembly were not spared as some of them were brutalised in the course of carrying out their legitimate assignments. This is awful! I couldn’t help asking myself, why are we so cursed?
Since June 5, 2007 when the 6th National Assembly was inaugurated, intrigues and power play have dominated its activities particularly in the House of Reps. Within six months, the first female Speaker of the House, Hon. Patricia Olubummi Etteh, was ousted over allegations of financial mismanagement and replaced with Hon. Oladimeji Bankole.
Bankole himself is having a running battle with some elements who do not fancy his leadership style. First, he was alleged to have been involved neck-deep in a N2.3 billion car purchase scandal. A committee was set up to investigate the allegation but nothing serious came out of it. The evidence of Barrister Festus Keyamo, who was a star witness at the public hearing on the allegations, was discredited by the committee. Thereafter, the masterminds and the arrowheads of that accusation beat a retreat and recently returned to ask the Speaker to resign within a week, otherwise they would expose his shady deals. The Speaker called their bluff and at the expiration of their ultimatum, the Group of 11 (G-11) who call themselves “Progressive-Minded Legislators” alleged a N9 billion contract scam against the Speaker. They even went as far as submitting a petition to the chairperson of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Monday, 21 June 2010. Subsequently, they petitioned the ICPC on June 23.
In the words of Dino Melaye, the kingpin of the ‘Progressives’: “We have documents to prove that some items approved by the Body of Principal Officers, of whom the Speaker Dimeji Bankole is the chairman, were inflated. “A unit of 40-inch LCD TV set was purchased for N525, 000 each, contrary to the price list by the Bureau of Public Procurement and market price of N180, 000.” Also, he said, “while three bullet-proof Mercedes Benz cars were bought for over N50m each, two Range Rovers were bought for N57m each.” The House leadership was further alleged to have bought torches, car seats, fire extinguishers and sundry items for members at inflated prices. What a bazaar! Pray, what are the House members to use electric torches for? Is that a requisite tool in the art of law-making or performance of oversight functions? These allegations should be investigated thoroughly.
Having said that, however, the so called “progressives or G-11” have a share of the blame going by the way in which they went about their whistle-blowing activities. What they did has a tinge of vendetta as many of them lost out in the re-shuffling of chairmanship and deputy chairmanship positions carried out by the Speaker on 3 June. Moreover, the way they disrupted the House proceedings on 22 June is infantile and unparliamentary. Having watched the footage of the fracas, I have a feeling that Dino Melaye and his cohorts were actually grandstanding and playing to the gallery. Their play-acting and over-dramatisation do not diminish in any way, however, their claims which I strongly believe need to be verified by the anti-corruption agencies.
Eleven years after Nigeria’s return to democracy, the hallmark of our legislature remains instability. It is crisis galore in many of the state Houses of Assembly. On 22 February this year, for example, the ugly scenario recently witnessed in House of Reps was also on full display in Edo State House of Assembly when Speaker Garuba Zakawanu was violently toppled in a power tussle. Similar occurrences had happened in Bauchi, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo and Bayelsa States, to mention a few. This is mind-boggling and heart-rending!
While I am glad that the Peoples Democratic Party has come out to openly condemn the indecorous act of members of the House of Reps, the majority of whom belong to that party, I believe the national embarrassment the incessant brawls and bickering in the nation’s legislature at the national and state levels has caused the nation deserve having these undesirable elements recalled by their constituencies. Otherwise, they should be voted out in the next general elections. We the landlords of this House of Democracy must be prepared to sack these unruly tenants when their rent expires.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Deji of Akure's sacrilege

That the Ondo State government decided to bow to public wish by deposing the Deji of Akure, Oba Oluwadare Adepoju Adesina did not come to many as a surprise. The monarch before his removal from throne on Thursday, 10 June 2010 had been in the news for some time for the wrong reason.

He had earlier in November 2009 been dethroned by his kingmakers who levelled the following allegations against him: “Violation of Akure tradition and custom by personally going to the market to disturb market women from performing their legitimate trading business and engaging in wanton and indiscriminate destruction of essential food items in the market”.

“Flagrant breach of age long and hallowed custom of Akure that makes it mandatory for the Deji not to leave his official palace without the knowledge and concurrence of the chiefs”. “Deliberate failure and refusal to complete the traditional rites for the stool of the Deji of Akureland contrary to the tradition and custom of Akure, rendering his selection and appointment incomplete, in that he failed to give the Akure chiefs the traditional 'Igbarunjo'”. “Incessant, rampant and recurring cases of highhandedness, brutal and repressive oppression of the people in and around the Akure community”.

The accusations went further that the paramount ruler “has been personally leading a team of recruited and sponsored thugs, gangsters, hoodlums and armed terrorists to people's houses at the late hours of the night to inflict injuries on innocent citizens in the Akure community in his presence and at his instructions and directives.” Apart from these, the council added that the Deji was desecrating the palace by grooming a notorious gang known as “60 by 120” that was involved in land disputes.

The above allegations were contained in a resolution signed by the kingmakers and widely published by several Nigerian newspapers on 9 November 2009. The embattled Deji of Akureland ascended the throne on November 26, 2005 after almost 10 years of interregnum. Succour, however, came the Oba's way when the Ondo State Governor refused to endorse his dethronement. Unfortunately, like a dog that is bound to stray which will not heed the whistle of the hunter, the monarch mobilised his palace aides and his new wife to attack his estranged wife, Bolanle, on Sunday, May 30, 2010.

News report has it that the wife was brutalised. Since that fateful day, the wrath of the public has been vented on the Deji. His wife has sued him to court and petitioned the police and the Ondo State government to seek redress; the Ondo Council of traditional rulers suspended him; the Ondo State Government queried him; several women non governmental organisations castigated him; the Senate summoned the Inspector General of Police to prosecute him and his kingmakers commenced another round of impeachment against him while newspapers editorialised and 'cartoonised' him. Simply put, Oba Adesina has fallen from grace to grass having incurred public opprobrium by his indecorous, uncultured and uncultivated act.

However, many of those men calling for the head of the Akure monarch are worse offenders. They are being sanctimonious and hypocritical. Is it not in this country that the wife of our former President published a book detailing how he turned her to punching bag and routinely battered and assaulted her? Is it not in this same country that a Rear Admiral in 2008 ordered the assault on Ms Uzoma Okere for the simple reason that she refused to give way to the convoy of the Admiral? Are some of the lawmakers who are sitting in judgement on the king not themselves guilty of wife battery and assault?

Are they not the same people who have refused to pass the bill on violence against women? Nigeria is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) since1985 but our federal lawmakers have declined to domesticate the convention. It is okay to call for the prosecution of the Oba because truly what he has done is reprehensible. Moreover, he has refused to show remorse. However, we men must all learn from the saga of the Deji of Akure and mend our ways in the manner we treat the womenfolk.

The major challenge with Nigerian society is patriarchy. We see life from the prism of 'this is a man's world'. In politics women have been at the receiving end. They are denied party tickets to contest even when they are eminently qualified to be the party's flag bearers. They are rigged out of party primaries and as party executives, they are deemed fit to serve only as women leader or assistants. Women are generally denied key decision making positions. Out of the 40 or thereabout cabinet positions, women occupy only 6. Out of 109 Senators they are only 8 left after the exit of Joy Emordi. In Kwara State there is already a campaign by some Islamic clerics that women should not be voted as Governor in the 2011 elections.

In the area of sports, Nigeria's Falcons have won the female football Nations Cup a record 6 times or thereabout, yet we hardly celebrate them. Many of us can not mention five members of Nigeria's female national team but can reel out names of over 40 Super Eagles players. Sports fans look forward to the World Footballer of the Year but while the male winner is celebrated with pomp and pageantry the female counterpart hardly gets a mention in the press.

This is grossly unfair. A society that is not 'engendered' is endangered. Much as it is impossible to clap with one hand and impractical for the bird to fly with one wing, so is it unfeasible for us to develop as a nation without giving women opportunity to contribute their quota.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Positive Lessons from UK 2010 Elections

United Kingdom, one of the world’s oldest democracies had its general elections on Thursday, May 6, 2010. The poll was to elect 650 parliamentarians into the House of Common. The election which took place in 649 constituencies failed to produce a clear winner as the Conservative Party which eventually dislodged the Labour Party from the 10 Downing Street failed to win the 326 seats it needed to singularly form a cabinet. This resulted to a hung parliament, first time since 1974 and second time since the end of the Second World War. In spite of the inability of the top three political parties’ viz. Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats to clinch an outright victory that will enable it form parliament, the political logjam was not allowed to linger. Within a week, Conservative party which had 306 seats was able to negotiate a coalition government with the Liberal Democrat party which had 57 seats. Labour party who had ruled for upward of 13 years and whose electoral fortunes dipped at the polls quickly acknowledged defeat as its party leader and immediate past Prime Minister, Gordon Brown resigned his position as both the PM and Labour Party leader thereby paving way for the formation of new coalition government which saw David Cameron of Conservative Party becoming the new Prime Minister of Britain and Nick Clegg of Liberal Democrats as Deputy Prime Minister. Swift was the power sharing agreement that it leaves no one in doubt that the national interest was put first and above any partisan interest.
That was one positive lesson Nigeria can learn from its former colonial master, Britain. Resolving the political stalemate was not unduly prolonged. Cabinet ministers were announced within 24 hours of the formation of the new government. In Nigeria, forming cabinet even in an election with a clear winner often take weeks and sometime months thus heating up the political temperature of the country as political gladiators engage in serious lobby either to make the cabinet or get their protégé on board.

Another example from the UK election is its peaceful nature. There was no assassination or kidnapping of any of the candidates. No ballot box snatching, no flawed voters register, no seat capture or any manipulation of the outcome of the election. There was also no political godfather or cabal claiming to have been responsible for the election of David Cameron as the new British PM. UK electorates wanted change and they got it through a simple civic exercise as voting. They filed out to cast their votes and their votes counted in the choice of their political leaders. This is worthy of emulation.
Yet another positive thing to note in the UK 2010 elections is the beauty of its multi-party democracy. United Kingdom and United States of America are sometimes cited as examples of two party democracies which neither of them are, at least by law. There are more than 2 parties in US beyond Democratic and Republican Parties, so also are there over twenty political parties in the UK. Though Labour and Conservative Parties are the best known, there were other political parties such as English Democrats, Respect-Unity Coalition, Green Party, Alliance Party, Christian Party, Scottish Socialist Party and UK Independence Party to mention a few. Half of the twenty political parties that contested the last UK elections won at least one seat with the Green Party winning its first seat in parliament. The issue here is that while other political climes are liberalising and expanding the political space, Nigeria is toying with the idea of reducing the current 57 registered political parties to between 2 and 5.

I do not support this move. Political parties as critical pillar of democracy should be allowed to live or die naturally based on their electoral fortunes. What political parties in Nigeria need is effective supervision by the Independent National Electoral Commission whose constitutional responsibility it is to enforce political party compliance with electoral code and party guidelines. Once erring political parties are appropriately sanctioned, there will be sanity in party administration. Worth noting is the British culture of civilised political debate and opinion polling. There were at least three televised political debates preceding the May 6 UK elections and the opinion poll which had earlier predicted a hung parliament holds true after the election.

By far the most positive lesson from the UK elections is the level playing field it guarantees for British citizens who are of mixed nationality. News report has it that three Nigerians won seats into the House of Common while about 15 others won councillorship positions. The three British Member of Parliament of Nigerian descent are Helen Grant of the Conservative Party who was elected in Maidstone & The Weald in the south east of England; Chi Onwurah of the Labour Party who was elected the new MP for Newcastle Central in the north east; and Chuka Umunna, also of Labour, elected to represent Streatham in south London.

These Nigerians in Diaspora join 24 other minority MPs. The new faces include the first three Muslim women to win parliamentary seats, one of whom is also the first Bangladeshi MP. In addition, the Conservative Party has its first two Muslim MPs and its first Asian female MP. The number of women elected to Parliament also increased from 126 to 142, although women now make up only 22 per cent of MPs. It is noteworthy that the doctrine of indigene versus settler which is one of the centrifugal forces tearing Nigerian politics apart was not allowed a role in British elections. UK is indeed United Kingdom. My hearty congratulations to Helen, Chi and Chuka, Nigerian worthy ambassadors to Britain.