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.