Sunday, February 21, 2010

Imperative of constitutional and electoral reforms

First and foremost, I congratulate the new and first Acting President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, on his epochal promotion on Tuesday, February 9, 2010. Though, I wish the process leading to his emergence had been neater and less ingenious, I pray that God will grant him divine wisdom, knowledge and understanding to administer this country. As he had observed in his maiden address to the nation on February 9, “It is now time for us to move on in a more determined manner to tackle the various challenges we face as a nation. Our march towards Vision 20-2020 is irreversible. Therefore, we see a need to prioritise on a few of the most critical areas which continue to plague our efforts at engendering meaningful economic growth and development. Some of these critical sectors include power, infrastructure, security, generation of employment and business opportunities for our teeming young men and women.”
As the Acting President continues to receive counsel from all and sundry, I align myself with the position of the Eminent Elders Group, led by former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, who not only advised him to be “focused, courageous, decisive, honest, just and firm,” in the discharge of his duties, but also to scale down the seven-point agenda of President Umaru Yar’Adua to four “in order to meaningfully impact on the lives of Nigerians.” The four critical areas of focus, according to the group, should be free, fair and credible elections, power, infrastructure, as well as peace and security.
Recent developments in our polity have underscored the urgency of constitutional and electoral reforms. Among them are, the ambiguous sections of the 1999 Constitution, such as Section 145 on which Justice Dan Abutu ruled that formal notification of the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives of vacation trip or incapacitation by the president is discretionary and not obligatory. The other issue is the ruling of Justice Mohammed Liman on February 4, 2010, which said that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as presently constituted, is incompetent to conduct or organise any election in Nigeria. This is because the commission does not have quorum to take decisions, as only four out of 13 members of the board are remaining. Perhaps, the reason President Yar’Adua had tarried to refill the vacant positions in INEC is due to the on-going constitutional reform, which from all indications, may change the structure of INEC. At this juncture, let us examine how the current attempt to amend the constitution and the Electoral Act 2006 has fared.
The 88-member Joint Committee on Constitutional Reform was inaugurated on November 20, 2008. Things fell apart on January 16, 2009 in Minna, Niger State, during a retreat when disagreement over status, protocol and seniority led to the walkout of the 44 members of the House of Representatives in the joint committee. Thereafter, both chambers decided to go their separate ways in amending the constitution. The farthest the Senate and the House of Representatives have gone on the constitutional amendment exercise was the holding of public hearings on the issue. It would be recalled that in March 2009, the Executive Council of the Federation and the Council of State deliberated on the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Committee report and issued a white paper on it after which, in April, the president sent seven electoral reform bills to the National Assembly for consideration alongside the constitutional review. Between August 11 and 14, 2009, the House of Representatives held public hearings on the matter in Abuja, while the Senate held zonal public hearings on the same issue on December 14 and 15, 2009 after the committee had earlier in October held hearing on constitution amendment in Abuja.
I was privileged to witness the National Assembly public hearings on the matter and I dare say that there is danger ahead. Like the tenure elongation clause aborted the 2005/2006 Senator Ibrahim Mantu-led constitutional amendment exercise, the challenge of the on-going exercise is the likelihood of its derailment by the clamour for fiscal federalism and state creation. These twin issues, if not handled with care, will sound the death knell of the current effort. For sometime now, and particularly during the senate public hearings on constitution amendment, demand for fiscal federalism and state creation featured prominently among the presentations in many of the six centres. By my calculation, about 22 new states are currently being demanded. South-South zone demands Ahoada, Ogoni, Oil Rivers, Toru-Ebe and Urhobo States. The South-East zone is asking for Adada, Orashi, Equity, Aba, Njaba, Etiti and Ugwuaku states. The people of the North-Central zone are demanding Apa, Okura, Confluence, Okun, New Abuja and Katsina-Ala states. South-West zone requests for Oduduwa, Ibadan, Oke-Ogun and Ijebu states. This is preposterous! Rather than demanding for more states, I think what the agitators should have requested is better governance of the extant 36 states and the FCT.
Now that the power vacuum in the presidency has been filled, the Acting President must do all in his power to persuade the National Assembly to conclude the constitution amendment exercise by March 2010, at the very latest. This is realistic as all the groundwork had already been done and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has the required two-third majority in both the National and state assemblies to pass the amendments. The legal reforms are crucial for a credible 2011 general election.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Anambra Guber Poll: The Fortes and the Foibles

The February 6, 2010 gubernatorial election in Anambra State has come and gone but the memory of the poll will linger. The issues and debate on the election has dominated the political scene since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released the Notice of Poll on September 8, 2009. The election was unique in many ways. It marks the beginning of staggered elections in Nigeria as a result of judicial pronouncements. It is a one race poll where only one office, that of the governor was contested. The poll was vied for by the highest number of aspirants and candidates in the political history of Nigeria. A whooping 47 aspirants bought the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) nomination form to contest the party primary while a total of 25 political parties successfully nominated candidates to contest the election. The poll was also dogged by litany of litigations as aspirants in some of the political parties went to court to contest the validity of the nominations of their parties. The last of the court judgments that could have scuttled the election was the one delivered by Justice Mohammed Liman on February 4 when the learned judge agreed with the petitioner, Action Congress (AC) in Osun State, that INEC as presently constituted (with only four out of the 13 members of INEC board remaining in office) do not have the required number to form quorum and as such incompetent to conduct or organise any election in Nigeria.

Even though there were 25 candidates in the Anambra gubernatorial elections, only six of them got significant media attention. They are the candidate of PDP, Chukwuma Soludo, that of Labour Party (LP), Andy Uba, Prince Nicholas Ukachukwu of Hope Democratic Party (HDP), Governor Peter Obi of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Uche Ekwunife of Peoples Progressive Alliance (PPA) and Chris Ngige of AC. The culture of political debate was revived during the campaigns in Anambra State. Various interest groups organised debates for the candidates with the most prominent one being that of Anambra Rebirth Group on January 26, 2010. To a large extent, there was issue based campaign in Anambra while unprecedented level of political tolerance was also noticed. On the streets of Anambra, billboards and posters of all the contestants could be seen without one being destroyed for the other. The election also featured the wide use of opinion polls in order to influence voters. Unfortunately for the bookmakers, they were proved wrong as the eventual winner was not the one projected to win. As an accredited observer in the February 6 election, I saw that political parties and their candidates did not joke with the monitoring of the election procedures through their party agents. In the six local government areas visited by my team, we saw that the aforementioned six high profile candidates had their agents at the election materials distribution centres as well as most of the polling stations.

There were no reported cases of violent clashes among the supporters of the candidates as they crisscrossed the 326 wards of the state to appeal for votes. There was also no death recorded either during the campaigns or the actual election. All these are positive signs that are worth noting. Even the fear of arms-build up and sewing of fake police uniforms raised by the Inspector General of Police (IG) Ogbonna Onovo did not precipitate major violence during the election. The poll was largely peaceful with only isolated pockets of violence recorded. This says much for the professionalism of the police and other security agents deployed for the election. It would be recalled that over 230,000 officers and men of the Nigerian Police were mobilised for the Anambra gubernatorial election.

I also witnessed many positive things done by INEC. I saw high level of professionalism and dedication among the presiding officers and polling clerks that manned the polling units. They were courteous and cooperative with the voters, observers and party agents. They also tried as much as possible to follow the electoral guidelines. INEC had also provided voting cubicles in order to guarantee secrecy of ballots while we also learnt that all the ballot papers, ballot boxes and the result sheets have serial numbers, thus making them easy to track. Accredited observer groups, local and international as well as the media were able to follow through the preparation and conduct of the election, thereby contributing to the transparency of the poll. Among the other positive things observed in the Anambra election was the enthusiasm of the electorate who trooped out en-mass to perform their civic duty. Old and young, male and female they fished out their voters’ card and marched to designated polling stations to cast their ballot.

Unfortunately, many of them were disappointed. Their names could not be found in the printed electronic register. Many of them scurried from one polling unit to the other in the vain hope of finding their names on the voters’ register, all to no avail. I recall the scene that greeted my team as we got to Amafor Civic Centre in Nkpor, Idemili North Local Government on that fateful election day. No fewer than five potential voters accosted me to assist them locate their voting centre or convince the presiding officer to allow them vote. Sadly, as an observer, I could not interfere in the electoral process and as such could not be of help to the hapless voters. The resultant effect of the flawed voters’ register is that, of the 1,844,815 registered voters in Anambra State, only 301,232 voted at the election. The total valid votes cast was 284,547 while 16,685 were rejected. In simple arithmetic, 1,543,583 registered voters (about 84 per cent) were completely disenfranchised. This is preposterous! I also noticed that the distribution of voters per polling units was lopsided. On the average, there were supposed to be 500 voters in a polling unit. In some of the polling stations visited during the poll, the numbers ranged from 3,700 to 50. In places where the numbers on the voters roll was on the high side, it took longer time to accredit each voter as the polling clerk had to peruse huge sheaves of papers to locate the name of the voter. The flaw in the Anambra gubernatorial poll was topped by the late commencement of election in many of the 4,623 polling units. The exercise meant to start by 9am could not take off until about 11am and past noon in many places. This is quite untoward.

Graciously, INEC had admitted its fault on the flawed voters’ register and late commencement of poll. In fact, it has scheduled a verification and revalidation of voters for April – June 2010. However, in my humble opinion, what the Commission need to embark on now is a fresh voters’ registration exercise. The February 6 poll, in spite of the highlighted errors and inadequacies, has produced a winner in the name of the incumbent, Peter Obi. I say congratulations to him. It is also heart-warming to see that many of Obi’s fellow candidates had voiced their displeasures on some aspects of the poll but had rather decided not to challenge the outcome of the election at the tribunal nor call out their supporters to riot. Some have even congratulated him. This is noble and commendable. As Governor Obi gets inaugurated for second term on March 17, 2010, one of my key recommendations to him is to conduct elections into the 21 local governments of Anambra State without any further delay. It has been long overdue. The Anambra poll has also underscored the imperative of genuine electoral reforms. This is urgent, more so as INEC prepares to release the plan for 2011 general elections in March.

Man and Superstition

Not to be at least a little superstitious is to lack generosity of the mind – De Quincy
It was Frank Olize who broached the subject about the myth or reality of superstitions in his Sunday, July 20 1997 edition of Newsline. The answers he got to his poser are quite interesting even though varied. In fact the responses of the interviewees to the veracity or otherwise of superstition really showed Nigerians as superstitious lot who still subscribe to their cultural beliefs in spite of their literacy level, status or religious faith. This, to me, does not come as a surprise as superstition is not a peculiar phenomenon to Nigerians or Africans but a worldwide belief that cuts across age, sex, creed and clime. But pray, what is superstition?
Superstition, according to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines the word as “a belief which is not based on reason or fact but an association of ideas, as in magic”. It is true that superstition may not essentially be reasonable or factual, yet considering the fact that ours is a highly spiritual society, such seemingly absurd and illogical beliefs may not be totally baseless, unfounded and inconsequential. For instance, the omnipotent God who most of the world population believe in is not visible to human sight but yet we can all perceive Him in the way He answers our prayers. As God is a mystery, so also are most of our traditional beliefs esoteric and therefore puzzling to the uninitiated.
If we really understand the underlining factors that gave birth to some superstitions, we would realise that the belief does not suffer from poverty of logic as many of us are wont to think but are actually products of many years of empirical observation of causes and effects. Clinical analysis of superstition will show that the phenomenon is designed or evolved to serve dual purpose of control and warning, or better still, premonition. For one, taboo is an integral part of superstition. That is to say, when social custom of any human society forbids certain thoughts or practices from being exercised such constitute belief in superstition. For instance, it is a taboo in Yorubaland to give out things or point at one father’s house with the left hand. Such is regarded as being disrespectful. It is also forbidden for pregnant women to walk the streets at one p.m or am; to beat man with a broom; to whistle in the sun or at night; to draw rain water with hand or bath in the rain and also to marry one’s siblings or blood relations.
An analytical look at all these aforementioned taboos will reveal they are not without reasons or logic. The ultimate rationale behind their formulation is to serve as control measures in communities where such beliefs are observed. Taboos are pre-emptive and preventive practices which are meant to protect us against ourselves and surrounding dangers. Simply put, taboos are prophylactic medicine. Why this is so can be seen in the real reasons some of these taboos were promulgated. While the ostensible reason for asking a pregnant woman not to come out on the street at 1 p.m could be to avoid meeting fairies or ghomids, the real reason is to stop the potential mother from walking in sunny afternoon which may be detrimental to the health of both the expectant mother and the expected child.
In the same vein, while the ostensible reason for asking young children not to bath in the rain is to avoid incurring the wrath of Sango, the god of thunder, the real reason is not unconnected with the prevention of our young ones from catching cold and contracting pneumonia. As earlier mentioned, while some superstitions are prophylactic or meant to serve as control measures, others are premonitory. They are in the sense that certain occurrences are believed to act as a token, omen or harbinger of fortune, misfortune or an event.
A very good and topical case in point of a premonitory superstition which most people subscribe to is the one that happened on 23 July 1997 when Afro-beat King, Fela Anikulapo Kuti was widely rumoured to have kicked the bucket only for the rumour to be doused the following day. The superstition in this saga is that it is generally believed that anybody who falls victim of such malicious rumour will automatically have his stay on earth prolonged. Invariably, as it applied in Fela’s case, he would not die prematurely. Still in line with premonitory superstition, an itchy palm is believed to mean that one would soon experience a monetary windfall while an itchy foot is a sign that one would soon embark on an unexpected journey. In the same vein, some individuals are believed to have hair of attraction, likeness or love while others are alleged to have hair of hatred or repulsion.
It is a common belief that when one kicks one’s left foot against a stone unconsciously, it means there is danger lurking somewhere in the vicinity, just as well as Christians believed that the appearance of rainbow in the sky is remembrance of God’s covenant with man that He would no longer destroy the world with flood. It is also noteworthy that dreams, trances and visions and their interpretations are products of individual cum societal superstitious beliefs and are in essence ominous or premonitory. The explanation need to be given that while taboos are traditional or customary promulgations which are binding on every individual in the affected society and whose violation or infraction sometimes attract certain penalties, one is at liberty to believe or disbelieve omens or premonitions as they are more of a personal thing. That is however not to say that discountenance of certain warning signals or premonitions cannot be to one’s own cost.
In sum, every human being alive is superstitious. Consciously or unconsciously, overtly or covertly, we all are. Any human being who believes in God or gods and who subscribes to certain mysteries of the world is already a superstitious being.
Daily Sketch Thursday 31 July 1997 (Page 16)