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.