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.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Jonathan, please don’t run in 2011

The debate is raging on whether President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan should contest the presidential elections in 2011. In what appears to be a major indication that the president may run for the number one position in the next general elections, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, the president’s Special Adviser on National Assembly Matters, while briefing journalists in Abuja on Wednesday, 12 May, 2010, was quoted to have said thus: “Mr President is a PDP president and he is a member of PDP, and Mr President will run under the PDP,”

He further averred that despite the zoning policy of the party, President Jonathan will run and they are certain he will win. Whao! So we already know our next president ahead of the 2011 polls. Thus, there is no need for presidential elections in 2011. Cairo was later to issue a public statement that he made the earlier statement as a private citizen. Could that be true? If yes, it is the most unguarded statement by a president’s aide and should be sanctioned. Meanwhile, preceding this comment by Cairo was the flooding of major streets of Abuja with posters portraying Dr Goodluck Jonathan as Nigeria’s messiah. Isn’t something cooking?

President Jonathan in an interview with Christiane Amanpour of Cable News Network (CNN) in April had this to say on whether he would run for presidential election in 2011: “For now, I don’t want to think about it, because the circumstances of the day are quite worrisome. I came in as the vice president to run with President Yar’Adua, of course, getting close to period of election, he took ill. And I have to take over under somewhat controversial circumstances. So let us see how Nigeria will move forward first. I had a similar experience when I was governor of my state. I said, nobody should ask me whether I will contest election or not. I must first of all see whether the state is moving. If the country is not moving, what will I tell Nigerians I want to contest?”

It would be recalled that on March 2, 2010, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) National Working Committee (NWC) met and thereafter announced that power must remain in the North till 2015. PDP National Chairman Prince Vincent Ogbulafor said the decision was in line with the party's power rotation arrangement. "We felt that the zoning of the presidency of the party as enshrined in the party’s constitution should be maintained and therefore the zoning arrangement in the constitution should hold for the next four years," said Ogbulafor.

There are several elite groups and eminent personalities that have publicly advised President Goodluck Jonathan not to contest the 2011 polls. While the Northern political elites advised him not to compete in the 2011 elections because going by the PDP zoning arrangement their region ought to be allowed the privilege of producing the next president who will serve the remainder one term of Yar’Adua’s presidency, others have counselled him against contesting on the basis of the likely backlash his candidacy may have on the 2011 general elections. I belong to the second group.

Frankly speaking, President Jonathan has the inalienable right as a Nigerian to contest for any political office of his wish under the Nigerian electoral law. It will equally be very tempting for him to vie for the position now as he occupies a vantage position as the first substantive president from the minority group of Niger Delta region. My passionate appeal to him not to run in the forthcoming general election is based on the following reasons:

First, the declaration of his presidential ambition has a tendency of heating up the polity, particularly so soon after the last six months of political instability arising from the poor handling of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s illness. Jonathan’s presidential ambition will definitely pitch him against his political party, PDP, which had sternly warned of the need to respect the party’s zoning arrangement. It will also bring him on collision course with the Northern political elites who had been made to understand that political power will domicile in their region for another four years.

According to the provisional election time-table released by INEC in March 2010, if the general poll will be in January 2011 as being envisaged, then party primaries should hold within May 2nd to July 31st, 2010. President Jonathan became Acting President in February and substantive president on May 6, 2010, for me he is just settling down to governance, should he get pre-occupied with how to contest his party’s nomination now and possibly flag off his full fledge campaign thereafter, if he wins, as he likely will, then governance will suffer as he will be too distracted and majorly pre-occupied with his presidential campaigns. Furthermore, the president as part of his winning strategy may want to constitute a new INEC board that will assist him in realising his presidential ambition in 2011, thus the much touted electoral reform and concomitantly, credible elections may become a mirage in the next general election.

Rather than vying for presidential elections in 2011, Dr Jonathan should focus on governance and deliver on his avowed promises to Nigerians. He should endeavour to be a statesman rather than being a politician. While statesmen think of the next generation, politicians think of the next election. The credibility of the next general election will be better guaranteed if he does not run for any political office in the forthcoming polls. This is because he will likely be more even-handed and neutral about the outcome of that election than he would be if he were to be a contestant.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Umaru Yar’Adua’s Economic Legacy

Former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua is a man with good wishes and intentions for Nigeria but whose debilitating health did not quite allow to make sufficient positive impact on the country. In the area of economy, the Ex-President ideas are embedded in two key initiatives viz. the 7 Point Agenda and the Vision 20: 2020. Quite unfortunately, he couldn’t see any of the two programmes to fruition. For instance, one of the indicative parameters under the Vision 20: 2020 was that Macro Economy will experience “A sound, stable and globally competitive economy with a GDP of not less than $ 900 billion and a per capita income of not less than $4000 per annum” this and the key infrastructural development that was meant to happen as part of his seven point agenda had not been achieved largely due to the global and domestic financial crises which started in 2008 and negatively impact on the nation’s Stock Exchange as well as the Banking and Insurance Sectors of the economy. Share price had lost between 70 to 80% of their value while the nation’s currency – Naira has depreciated against the world’s major currencies like Euro, Dollar and Pound Sterling.

There is credit crunch in the economy as banks refuse to lend money due to the Central Bank driven reform that saw to the removal of eight out of the 24 banks Managing Directors in August and October 2009. The financial sector is still undergoing reforms to enable them recover. The Niger Delta crises saw to the heightening of insecurity in the region and resulted in the country not being able to meet its OPEC production quota. There was also fall in the price of crude oil in the international market which translates to the inability of the government to fund its annual budgets. In order to tackle this Niger Delta crisis, Yar’Adua initiated the amnesty programme as well as the creation of the Niger Delta Ministry. However the inability to declare the state of emergency in the power sector and to also achieve the much touted 6,000 MW of electricity means the economy still runs on electricity generators with concomitant increase in the cost of production by manufacturing companies. This has necessitated the closure of many factories with some of them relocating to better climes.

There were also too many industrial unrests particularly in 2009 as different sectors of the economy went on strikes to press home for better condition of service and living. Yar’Adua’s administration was also plagued with energy crisis as the country witnessed perennial fuel scarcity as a result of over reliance on importation of petroleum products for domestic consumption. The late president attempted to introduce deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum sector. This has been put on hold. The introduction of Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) sparked off huge controversies which has stalled the passage of the essential bill. It is noteworthy that Yar’Adua granted 10% equity to the host communities under the PIB however, the non-passage of the bill means the communities cannot yet enjoy the royalty.

In perhaps one of his last earthly assignments, Yar’Adua in a budget speech meant to be delivered while presenting the 2010 budget to the National Assembly in November 2009 said this about the Nigeria economy: “Notwithstanding the global economic crisis, the Nigerian macroeconomic environment has improved with macroeconomic stability maintained in 2009 due to Government's proactive response to the crisis.
As a result, economic growth has remained resilient, with real GDP growth for 2009 estimated to be about 5.86%. Headline inflation has fallen from 15.1% in December 2008 to 10.4% in September, with core inflation falling to 7.4% over the year to September 2009. The government's debt position remains sustainable, with an external debt stock of US$3.86billion as at the end of October 2009. Indeed, our total public debt is estimated to be less than 10% of our GDP, showing that it is still within acceptable and cautious limits compared to countries in our peer group. Our external reserves position is secure, with reserves increasing from US$43.19billion in early July to US$44.095billion at the middle of October 2009. The official and parallel market exchange rates have converged considerably as a result of further liberalisation of the inter-bank market by the Central Bank.”

If the above assertions of former President Yar’Adua is to be believed, then it will be safe to say that under his chequered administration, the country witnessed growth without development. According to a development theorist, Dudley Seers, to say that there is economic development, we must asked three pertinent questions: What is happening to inflation, what is happening to unemployment and what is happening to poverty? If any of these three is increasing, then there is no development. In my own opinion, under the administration of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, what majority of Nigerians experienced is high cost of living rather than high standard of living.

My advise to the newly sworn in President Goodluck Jonathan is to pursue the infrastructural development, substantial increase in electricity generation as well as increase agricultural production to ensure food security. He must also see to the successful completion of the amnesty programme as well as put structure in place for security of the country against external aggression and internal insurrection. Goodluck to Jonathan, your time starts now!