Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Let’s roll back illiteracy in Nigeria

In 2000, a World Education Forum was held in Dakar, Senegal. There, 164 governments, including Nigeria, pledged to a global commitment to provide quality basic education for all children, youths and adults by 2015. At the forum, six goals were set. They are: Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children; ensuring that all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to, and complete, free and compulsory primary education of good quality; ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life-skills programmes; and achieving a 50 per cent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults. Others include eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality; and improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence of all so that recognised and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills. Concomitantly, the second of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals demand universal primary education.

Truth be told, less than four years to the target period for the attainment of the EFA, Nigeria seriously lags behind as the following evaluations have revealed. On May 16, 2011, Nigeria’s Education Data Survey 2006 – 2010 conducted by the Federal Ministry of Education in conjunction with the National Population Commission was launched in Abuja. The key findings of the survey presented by the NPC Chairman, Chief Samu’ila Makama, revealed that states in the North-West and the North-East geo-political zones have the lowest literacy rate in Nigeria. According to him, “Non attendance is highest among states in the North/East and North/West zones - 72 per cent of children aged between 6 to 16 years never attended school in Borno State compared with less than three per cent in most states in the Southern zones.”

Also, Yobe State has 58 per cent and Bauchi State 52 per cent illiteracy. For the North- West zone, Zamfara State leads the pack with 68 per cent followed by Sokoto State with 66 per cent with Kebbi trailing with 60 per cent. In the North-Central Zone, Niger State has the highest rate of non-attendance with 47 per cent followed by Kwara State with Benue and Nassarawa tied with 12 per cent each. In contrast, the South-East has the highest rate of attendance with all the children between 6 and16 years surveyed in Imo State said to have attended school. This is very disheartening. More so as one of the key initiatives of former President Olusegun Obasanjo was the launch of the Universal Basic Education in Sokoto in December of 1999.

In the 2010 October/November West African Senior School Examination, 80 per cent of the students who took the examination failed. According to the Head of National Office of the West African Examinations Council, Mr Iyi Uwadiae, at a news conference on December 23, 2010, in Lagos, 62,295 (20.04 per cent) of the candidates passed with English Language and Mathematics. The results also revealed that 141,167 candidates (45.52 per cent) obtained five credits and above. He stated that the results had fluctuated from 23 per cent pass in 2008; 21 per cent in 2009 and 20 per cent in 2010.

In a similar vein, in the National Examinations Council November/ December 2010 external examinations, out of the 25 subjects taken by students, none had up to 50 per cent pass mark. According to the Registrar of the council, Professor Promise Okpala, who announced the results in Minna on March 30, 2011, a total of 256, 827 sat for the examinations. Out of the total number that wrote the English Language examination, 51, 781 candidates passed, constituting only 20 per cent. In Mathematics, 87, 508 translating to 34 per cent of candidates that sat for the examination passed.

On June 24, 2011, the result of Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination held on June 18 was released by the Registrar of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, Prof. Dibu Ojerinde. Less than 50 per cent of the students who wrote the entrance examination passed. Out of the 1,493,000 candidates that sat for this year’s UTME, about 842,941 scored below the 200 pass mark out of a total of 400 marks. Of the overall figure, only about 500,000 will eventually make it into the 117 private and public Nigerian universities.

Such has been the sorry state of Nigeria’s education sector that it will take concerted and sustained interest of the three tiers of government to roll back illiteracy in Nigeria. Over time, the country has been perpetually reforming without much positive impact. There have been several education summits, surveys and probe panels. A news report says there are 41 parastatals under the Federal Ministry of Education alone. This is unwieldy and a drain on the meagre resources appropriated to the Ministry. It is high time some of these agencies are merged for efficiency and cost-saving. I commend the Ekiti State government for the merger of the University of Science and Technology, Ifaki and the University of Education, Ikere-Ekiti with the University of Ado-Ekiti. What does a state need three universities for when it can barely fund one?

As President Goodluck Jonathan rightly observed during the presentation of the final report of the Presidential Task Force on Education on Wednesday, May 18, 2011, “Education is core to whatever we want to do as a nation. Nigeria cannot make much progress towards the attainment of its Vision 20-2020, unless we strengthen our educational system.” I agree with some of the recommendations of the Task Team chaired by Professor Pai Obanya. These include reforming the 6-3-3-4 system of education to make it more result oriented; accelerated action on the National Teacher Education Policy and the speedy implementation of the new Teachers Salary Scale. I am also in accord with the Civil Society Action Coalition on Education For All which is pushing for the implementation of a structured plan by the Federal Government to reach the UNESCO target of 26 per cent of annual budgets for education, half of which should go to primary schools within the first two years; publication of allocations, disbursements and projects to enhance citizens monitoring of resource allocation and inauguration of a joint government and civil society team to facilitate independent monitoring of the education budget. It bears emphasising that the redemptive measures in Nigerian education must focus on literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Guidance and Counselling for Nigeria’s Parliamentarians

The importance of legislature in a democracy cannot be underestimated or over-emphasized. The parliament is the linchpin on which democracy rests. Populated by the elected representatives of the people, parliaments make laws for the peace, order and good government of the country; approve annual and supplementary budgets of the government; oversee the performance of government Ministries, Departments and Agencies; approve nominations into key government positions, etcetera. Aftermath of the April elections, Nigeria’s national and state house of assemblies were inaugurated in June 2011. As the lawmakers settle in, it is important to remind them of the need to work in the national interest rather than pursuing their personal aggrandisement.

Truth be told, Nigeria parliaments at the federal, state or local government levels need to redeem their soiled image. At present, many Nigerians see them as ‘members of legisla-thieves ‘or ‘legislooters’. They are perceived as corrupt, inept, incredible, scandalous, indolent and a drain on the nation’s scarce resources. The distinguished and honourable men and women of the Nigeria legislature therefore need to be conscientious and serve the best interest of their constituencies and the nation at large.

To my own mind, Nigeria parliamentarians are overpaid and should therefore slash their salaries and allowances. In a country where over 70 per cent are said to be living below poverty line and government is foot-dragging to pay N18,000 minimum wage to her workforce, Senators collect N45 million quarterly allowance / running cost while their counterparts in the House of Representatives are taking home N42 million. Principal Officers get between N100m and N50m as quarterly allowances. For instance, the Speaker gets N100m while his deputy gets N80m, the House Leader pockets N60m; Deputy Leader N57m; Chief Whip N55m; Deputy Whip N54m and the Minority Whip N50m.

According to a report in Daily Sun of Friday, 3 June 2011, the 469 national lawmakers will earn N338.6 billion in the next four years. According to the report “The amount which covers salaries and sundry allowances to be earned by the lawmakers does not, however, factor in the deferential pays and other perquisites that go to the principal officers of the two chambers of the federal legislature. It does not also include expenses incurred on duty tours and estacode. It is also silent on the unverifiable lump sums that come from ‘oversight functions’ and ‘lobbying’.” Each of the parliamentarians also has about 11 aides working with them in Abuja and their constituency offices. Does anyone still wonder why election into the national assembly was a ‘do or die affair’?

To whom much is given, from him much is expected. Sadly, in spite of the humongous remuneration our lawmakers get, their performance is nothing to write home about. In the 6th National Assembly, in four years, the Senate passed a total of 90 bills or thereabout while their counterparts in the House passed a total of 187. This is out of over 400 bills (executive and private member bills) brought before our lawmakers. It was even reported that the Adamawa State House of Assembly passed a total of 17 bills in 4 years! Many of these bills were passed at the twilight of their term. The abysmal performance was largely due to the lackadaisical way our lawmakers go about their constitutional duties. Many a time, some of them are absent at plenary and committee sessions.

Another reason being that Nigerian parliamentarians are in the habit of observing long adjournments and vacations. This is not entirely their fault as the 1999 Constitution in section 63 says “The Senate and the House of Representatives shall each sit for a period of not less than one hundred and eighty-one days in a year”. A similar provision for the State House of Assembly can be found in section 104 of the Constitution. Thus, once our parliamentarians sit for a total of 6 months and one day in a year, then they have fulfilled the Constitutional provision. This law will need to be amended for the parliamentarians to sit for a minimum of 250 days or nine months of the year. In fact, our lawmakers should only get reasonable sitting allowance and not salary. That will help to reduce the cost of governance.

Another vital reason few bills are passed by our parliamentarians is their preference for oversight function over and above law making. In conducting this supervisory role, they engage in frequent travel and myriads of probes. This would have been in order if the oversight visits and investigations result in better governance. Beyond the showmanship, there isn’t much achieved. Many of the committee reports are not treated while reports of probes are safely locked up in the filing cabinet of the assembly leadership. It therefore wasn’t surprising when Bunu Ibrahim’s Presidential Projects Assessment Committee (PPAC) said in its report to President Jonathan on 2 June that the Federal Government is currently executing 11,886 projects, many of which have been abandoned. These are facts that should have been long unearthed by the legislature in the course of their oversight duty. There is an unconfirmed allegation that the parliamentarians use the oversight sessions to negotiate personal deals.

The unimpressive performance of Nigeria’s legislative houses is also owing to the undue meddlesomeness of the chief executives viz. President, Governors and Council Chair persons in the affairs of the parliament. These executives covertly and sometimes overtly influence the choice of leadership of the Assembly. We saw that play out during the inauguration of the current legislative assemblies. There have been instances where Governors locked up parliament for months following a disagreement over issues. This was the case in Ogun State under the immediate past administration. Some chief executives also withhold assembly fund if they fail to cooperate with the their government or want to assert their independence by inquiring deeply into the activities of the government.

It behoves the current national, state and local assemblies to learn from the pitfalls of their predecessors and avoid same. They should eschew greed, truancy, scandals, brawls and other behaviours unbecoming of honourables. The executive too must stop treating parliament as its appendage. For non-performing representatives, it is high time their constituents invoked the provisions of recall as contained in section 69 and 110 of the 1999 CFRN rather than wait for 4 years to vote them out of power.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Good Governance as a Counter to Terrorism

For the umpteenth time, the nation’s security was threatened with the 16/6 bombing of the Police Force Headquarters in Abuja by terrorist group called Boko Haram. The Islamic fundamentalist group had, prior to the attack, raided many police stations, prisons and few other public institutions particularly in the North-eastern part of the country, killing and maiming people and destroying properties. The 16 June attack on Force Headquarters is significant in two ways. It was the first suicide attack on the shores of Nigeria. Second, the assault on the police head office is the first of its kind and exposes the docility of Nigerian police in counter-terrorism. I do not envy President Jonathan or the heads of the various security agencies in Nigeria. Truly, uneasy lays the head that wears the crown.

Terrorism has become a global phenomenon no doubt; however, not many countries have witnessed the kamikaze act of suicide bombings. It is regrettable that Nigeria mostly hugs international news for the wrong reasons. We are part of the PAIN countries (Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Nigeria) where polio is yet to be eradicated. Now we have joined other PAINS countries (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria and Somalia) where suicide bombings have evolved. Prevention, they say, is cheaper and better than cure. Unfortunately, we could not avert our insecurity from escalating to suicide bombing. Truth be told, it will be a long drawn war. The good thing is that, with the right strategy in place, we can reduce the soaring crime and criminality to the barest minimum. In fact, the panacea to terrorism is good governance. How do I mean?

Society’s preference for democracy over and above any other forms of government is the expectation of better life. People believe that democracy is a social contract in which citizens elect their representatives to government in order for them to work for the common good. Citizens under democracy look forward to an egalitarian society where their rights to the good things of life are guaranteed. They envisage self actualisation. In the case of Nigeria, over twelve years of democratic practice have not resulted into better life. Since the Second Republic (1979 – 1983) when the administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari introduced austerity measures, the hope of self actualisation for most Nigerians has dimmed. The nation’s austerity measures has been sustained by succeeding military and civilian regimes as subsequent structural adjustment programmes have led to unprecedented job loss, wage cut, inflation, unemployment and poverty. Unfortunately, while the political and military elites are urging the populace to imbibe belt-tightening measures, they were busy stealing and misappropriating our common wealth.

The upshot of the unending austerity measures is what we are witnessing today. Since our leaders reneged on the social contract which was endorsed by the 1999 Constitution (as amended) in section 14 (2) (b) which reads: “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government” it therefore should not come as a surprise that peace of our dear nation is under threat. To reverse this ugly trend, it is imperative that government at all levels make people’s money to work for them. Federal, State and Local Governments should initiate pro-poor policies aimed at alleviating the excruciating pains of Nigeria’s suffering masses. The good sign-post of these pro-poor measures is the eight millennium development goals viz. Eradication of extreme hunger and poverty, universal primary education, promotion of gender equality and women empowerment, reduction of child mortality, improved maternal health, eradication of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, environmental sustainability, and development of a global partnership for development.

It is my believe that if our comatose education sector is revived with adequate and accountable funding, then millions of out- of- school children who pose serious threat to the country’s security would be taken off the street, become well groomed and developed into asset rather than being a liability on the nation. What I have in mind is affordable and quality education. It is discomfiting that in many public schools, particularly at primary and tertiary levels, pupils still study under extreme hardship. Nigeria needs what the famous author; Elizabeth Price termed ‘Education without tears’. Education is one of the strongest weapons to fight crime, ignorance, unemployment and poverty.

In the opinion of Nobel Laureate and Irish Playwright George Bernard Shaw: ‘The evil to be attacked is not sin, suffering, greed, priest-craft, king-craft , demagogy, monopoly, ignorance, drink, war, pestilence, nor any of the other consequences of poverty, but just poverty itself.” Shaw also said that “Lack of money is the root of all evil”. There is no gainsaying that terrorism feeds on ignorance and poverty. A poor and ignorant fellow is easy to indoctrinate and brainwash to engage in acts of criminality because he or she has little or nothing to live for. On the other hand, someone who has attained self actualisation and have a lot at stake will not be susceptible to being recruited to engage in suicide bombing or any other acts of terrorism for that matter.

It has been said, time and again, that Nigeria’s army of unemployed youths constitute a major threat to national security. We have some employment schemes running. They include National Directorate of Employment (NDE) and National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP). However, the impact of these agencies has been minimal. What the government need to do is create the enabling environment for private sector investment in the economy. One of such is the provision of basic infrastructures such as adequate electricity, good transportation network, potable water, credit loan scheme and good policy framework. It remains to be seen how government intends to disburse the N500 million earmarked in 2011 budget for provision of employment opportunity to teeming Nigerians. It is sad that six months into the year, the employment scheme is yet to take off. It is imperative for government to introduce welfare scheme for the unemployed and the poor. Nigeria has the resources to pay monthly stipend to the vulnerable people in her society.

Concomitantly, Nigeria’s security agencies need to redouble their efforts to make Nigeria safer than it is now. Intelligence gathering and counter insurgency measures need to be put in place. It is good that Nigeria now has an anti-terrorism act. This law must be put to good use. Our security agencies must work together, share information and be proactive. It is only a secured country that can enjoy foreign direct investment; peace is a prerequisite for development.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Two Years of Sanusi Lamido as Governor of Central Bank

The appointment of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as the Governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank in June 2009 was one of the laudable things the administration of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua did. His appointment during the time of global financial crisis was a well taken decision as the man has left no one in doubt about his mission to rescue the Nigeria’s hitherto comatose financial sector. In the two years that Malam Sanusi has been in the saddle as the Central Bank Governor, the apex bank has taken many critical, unpopular but needful decisions.

His first major assignment was the initiation of CBN and NDDC forensic audit of the account books of all the 24 operating banks in Nigeria. The audit report, which he could have swept under the proverbial carpet or used to extort money from indicted Managing Directors, if he had wanted to corruptly enriched himself, was rather made public and formed the basis of the removal of a total of eight bank Managing Directors who were found to have abused their exalted positions. He appointed interim Managing Directors in their stead. While the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has successfully prosecuted one of them through a plea bargaining deal, the other seven are still having their days in court. The CBN governor also approved a total of N620 billion bailout for the eight ailing banks to prevent them from going under. These actions led to series of litigations by the affected parties, job loss in the affected banks and pitched the CBN governor with the Senators and House of Representatives members. With the benefit of hindsight however, I am of the opinion that Malam Sanusi acted in the national interest.
Another key decision taken by CBN under the current Bank’s Governor was the pegging of the tenure of bank Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and Managing Directors to maximum of two terms of 5 years each. This is unprecedented! Despite the hullabaloo that greeted the decision in January 2010, by June of the same year, the bank MDs who have stayed 10 years and above have all voluntarily taken their graceful exit with the bank’s board appointing their successors who have since taken charge. In order to ease the credit crunch, CBN leadership of Malam Sanusi lowered the interest rate benchmark. Under him, the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON) law was passed by the national assembly and the board inaugurated.
Other reformed measures taken by the CBN under Sanusi Lamido was the classification of the banks into four groups with different capital bases; namely, international, specialised, regional, and national banks. The CBN also initiated idea of having a 10-year reform for the Nigeria banking industry which the CBN governor at a pre-convocation lecture at Bayero University, Kano in February 2010 said was 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.”

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 four non-executive directors of Finbank were allegedly suspended for 90 days by Central Bank of Nigeria on September 27, 2010 for failure to pay their debts totalling N20 billion.

In November 2010, CBN issued a directive which states that: "from the date hereof, no bank shall grant or permit to subsist, any loan, donation, gifts or any form of financial accommodation to any political funds, political party, or for political purposes whether directly or indirectly; incur any political expenditure". CBN under the leadership of Malam Sanusi also directed banks to ask their customers to update their account details and at present, banks are also executing the CBN directed Nigerian Uniform Bank Account Number (NUBAN) for all their customers. On Thursday, April 28, 2011, Central Bank of Nigeria issued a circular titled “Industry Policy on Retail Cash Collection and Lodgement”. In the circular, the CBN put a cap on the amount an individual can withdraw from his or her account at N150, 000 while corporate organisations can only withdraw maximum of N1 million in a day.

The aforementioned policy decisions and directives were taken under the leadership of the indefatigable but highly controversial CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. Under the incumbent CBN Governor, risk management has been central to banking operations as financial institutions have stopped granting unsecured and non-performing loans. Thus, it is no longer business as usual. The CBN Governor also stirred the hornet’s nest when he said at Igbinedion University 2010 Convocation Lecture that Nigeria’s national parliamentarians consume 25 per cent of the country’s annual budget. He was promptly summoned by the two chambers of the national assembly to come and explain the statement which they considered untrue and careless. He defended himself creditably. He refused to be cowed and even offered to resign his position if need be.

The CBN Governor has been much appreciated locally and internationally with flurry of awards and recognitions. This shows that only the corrupt, selfish and the unscrupulous love to hate him. To my mind, he is fearless, patriotic, conscientious, and of exemplary conduct. If he were to be a lawyer, we would have seen another fiery legal practitioner in the mould of late Chief Gani Fawehinmi who spent his life fighting the cause of the masses. Sanusi’s detractors have levelled all manners of allegations against him but none of such have been proven to be true. Amongst other things, he is accused of hidden, ethnic agenda in the removal of the 8 bank CEOs in 2009 and the proposed sale of the rescued banks; he is alleged to be talkative, brash and playing to the gallery. In my estimation, there seems to be too many reform measures being pushed in a short span of time and am just worried about faithful implementation of these initiatives. Irrespective of his human failings, I believe he deserves all the honours and accolades he has been showered. What the CBN action Governor needs is our prayers and support through constructive engagement of his bank’s policies so that Nigeria can be liberated from her current economic quagmire.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Nigerian Women and National Development

Nigeria is a blessed country. One of her many natural endowments is the human capital. About half of the population is made up of female gender many of whom are of ‘timber and calibre’ having distinguished themselves in their chosen careers. In politics, women form the bulk of the electorates and campaign mobilizers. Unfortunately, when it comes to elective and appointive positions, they are never given serious considerations. There are several policies, protocols and conventions that have been put in place to address and redress the age-long marginalisation against women in politics. However, many of them are observed in breach.

The fulfilment of Nigeria to the principles of gender equity and equality in all spheres of national life remains a far cry decades after the United Nations (UN) declaration of the year 1975 as the International Year of the Woman, and 1975-1985 as the decade of the woman. The UN had adopted the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1979, but this was ratified in Nigeria in 1985. Nigeria’s commitment was further buttressed by the much acclaimed Beijing Platform for Action of 1995 in which the country fully participated in drafting and adopting alongside most nations of the world. Other instruments that Nigeria has been a signatory to include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). Even the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) in section 42 guarantees right to freedom from discrimination.

UNIFEM now known as UN Women in a joint project with Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) titled “Promoting women’s participation and access to politics and leadership in Nigeria towards and beyond 2007 summarized key issues affecting Nigerian women in politics thus: “There are many reasons why women are not involved in and are often dissuaded from entering into politics. For one, they are primarily viewed as, and expected to be the caregivers, a prescribed role that can both limit their options for employment and participation in public life. Negative stereotypes are attached to women's participation in politics. In addition, female politicians are often discriminated against and are generally not taken seriously because it is believed that they cannot perform on the same level as men, i.e. that they do not have what it takes to be a politician. The majority of women entering politics are further disadvantaged due to financial constraints. Obtaining a nomination as a political candidate requires investment of substantial amounts of money, which many women do not have and often cannot raise due to the fact that political sponsors or supporters do not perceive women as "good" candidates to back. The threat of violence is also a major concern. Women entering into politics are often subjected to psychological and verbal abuse as well as attacks on their character and morals. Additionally, the rigging of elections and cancellation of party primaries also serve to dissuade women from entering into politics. The double burden of poverty and lack of education also affect women's participation in civic life and the political process.”

Any wonder the gains of women in the 2007 elections was reversed in 2011 as there are now seven elected female senators from upward of eight (after the annulment of the election of Senator Joy Emordi) while there are now about seventeen female members of the House of Representatives from twenty-five or thereabout in 2007. In many of the State House of Assemblies there is no single elected female House member. This is sad, especially considering the enormous input women made into the success and credibility of the 2011 elections. Apart from being a significant part of the electorates, many of them join partisan politics and contested for party nominations. Among those who registered voters and conduct the elections (INEC‘s ad hoc and permanent staffs) women were many. They, likewise, were part of the party agents, observer groups, journalists, and security agents that create the enabling environment for the polls. Women were also among victims of the pre and post election crises.

Women have been soliciting for 35 per cent representation in elective and appointive positions. This is not mere verbal expression. There is a federal government National Gender Policy that backs this up. Having lost out at the April polls, the only redemptive option for government at all levels; be it federal, state or local is to honour this policy agreement with Nigerian women. There are several ways this could be done. With the inauguration of the president, governors, national as well as state parliaments over, it is hoped that President Goodluck Jonathan would honour his solemn promise to women to give them 35 per cent appointment. For a start, he should appoint a female Chief of Staff and engage minimum of 15 female ministers in his about-to-be-formed 42 member cabinet. Our honourable president should also mainstream same 35 per cent female appointment in the selection of his aides, ambassadorial positions, board chairpersons, permanent secretaries and heads of agencies. The president has done well by appointing 8 female ministers in his dissolved cabinet and increased the number of female justices of the Supreme Court to three. We only need him to do better.

State governors should also replicate the above recommendations in the formation of their cabinet and other appointments at the state level. The re-appointment of Mrs. Ifeoma Jane Nwobodo, as Chief of Staff and Mrs. Eunice Ugwu as accountant general of Enugu State by Governor Sullivan Chime is exemplary and commendable. At the National Assembly, with the election of Senate President and his deputy as well as Speaker and his deputy over without a woman; it is important that women should be elected and nominated into other positions such as the principal officers and chairpersons of standing committees of the national parliament. The election on Friday, 10 June 2011 of Hon. Monsurat Jumoke Sumonu, the only female member of Oyo State House of Assembly, as the Speaker is heart-warming.

It was also cheering news that Mrs. Chinwe Nwaebili of Ogbaru Constituency of Anambra State was elected Speaker at the inaugural sitting of the State House of Assembly on Monday, 13 June 2011 while a female deputy speaker was elected in the Adamawa State House of Assembly. It is hoped that State House of Assemblies will elect and appoint women in their Assemblies among the principal officers and committee chairpersons. As elections into the 774 Local Government Councils come up across the 36 states, party executives and members must encourage and support women politicians to be elected as chairpersons and councillors. Political parties too must ensure the emergence of 35 per cent women in their various decision making organs. A true national development is unachievable without women.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Enough Of Ibadan NURTW Rascality

The supremacy battle by the different factions of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) Ibadan branch must be halted by Oyo State Governor, Abiola Ajimobi. For some time now, the Iwo Road axis of Ibadan has become a hotbed of intra-union crisis with many lives lost and properties destroyed. The affected area happens to be the melting pot of people from different parts of the country as it is a major motor park and gateway to many States. Needless to say that many victims of this disturbance were innocent commuters and passers-by who are not in any way involved in the Union’s activities.

It behoves the new governor, the Oyo State Commissioner of Police, the State Director of State Security Services (SSS) as well as the Nigeria Labour Congress (both national and State) to restore peace to the troubled areas. They must promptly arrest and prosecute the arrowheads and foot soldiers of these heinous crime. Oyo is a pace setter state but it must not be in crime and criminality. Enough of this NURTW rascality!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

SIECs and the Consolidation of Nigeria’s Democracy

The April general elections are over and encomiums have not ceased to come the way of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ably led by the indefatigable Professor Attahiru Jega. The European Union Observation Mission (EU EOM) presented its final report on the April polls on Tuesday, 31 May 2011. In the opinion of the Mission: “The legal framework, the general performance of the Independence National Electoral Commission INEC and of other stakeholders provided for the 2011 General Elections an overall democratic foundation for further democratic development in accordance with international principles and with international instruments ratified by the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. This positive remark by Alojz Peterle, the Chief Observer of the EU EOM is heart-warming considering the fact that in 2007 the EU Observer Mission had said that the polls were so flawed that it was below regional and international standard. With the democratic foundation already laid by INEC, will the State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) be able to build on this groundwork to consolidate Nigeria’s democracy? This question is apt considering that the 1999 Constitution (as amended) has placed the responsibility for Local Government elections with SIECs.

SIEC was birthed by section 197 (1) (b). However, controversy has been trailing not only the performance of this Commission but also members of its Board. For instance, accusation of partisanship has been severally levelled against members of the Commission. This allegation is genuine considering that section 200 (1) (a) of the 1999 Constitution which prescribed qualification for membership of SIECs Board equated their qualification to that of an aspirant to the State House of Assembly which in section 106 (d) says such candidate must be a member of a political party and be sponsored by that party. That was the situation before the recent amendment of the 1999 Constitution. The inelegant drafting has been corrected as the amendment to the aforesaid section 200 (1) (a) has now been made to reflect that “in the case of the State Independent Electoral Commission, he shall not be a member of a political party”. This should ordinarily lay to rest the allegation of partisanship, perhaps when new boards of SIECs are constituted by the State Governors.

Just as it happened after the 2007 General Elections, many of the State Independent Electoral Commissions have started arranging to hold council polls. In fact, Rivers State SIEC had conducted elections into the State’s 21 local government areas on Saturday, 21 May 2011. News has it that Edo State SIEC will conduct council elections in August. With the flurry of elections coming, will SIECs learn from the success story of INEC and conduct free, fair and credible council polls? Will SIECs chairmen acquit themselves creditably like INEC chairman just did in April 2011? Will the donor community, the civil society organisations, the media, the political parties, the Governors and the State House of Assemblies give support, goodwill and the needful assistance to these managers of council elections just like they did to INEC? Council elections, to my own mind, are much more important than State and Federal elections. The reason being that Local Government is the closest to the people in the communities. It is the people’s first contact with governance. Unfortunately, most of those who have been managing these 774 LGAs in Nigeria belong to the ‘locust generation’. What they do is to plunder the resources of the Councils with scant regards for the welfare of the people at the grassroots.

The governors’ must share in the blame for the non-performance of the council officials. They have been accused of illegal deductions in the federal allocations meant for the LGAs. There is also the problem of illegal dissolution of Councils and appointment of sole administrators or caretaker committees which are unrecognised by the Constitution. Section 7 (1) says: “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed...” The latest violator of the rule of law are legislators in the Oyo State House of Assembly whose faction (13 out of 32 members) on Thursday, 2 June 2011 announced the dissolution of the Caretaker Committees of the 33 LGAs in the State as well as that of the Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission (OYSIEC). Rather than calling for early election into the Councils, the Oyo lawmakers directed the new Governor, Abiola Ajimobi to constitute a seven-member caretaker committees for each of the councils with each of the committee having at least two women.

It is imperative that if democracy will be consolidated in Nigeria, the State Independent Electoral Commission must be truly autonomous. Arbitrary dissolution of the Commission must stop. Undue influence of the Governor and indeed State Government in the operations of SIECs and conduct of council elections must cease. Governors must live up to their promise made to late President Umaru Yar’Adua and the Council of State in March 2009. In order to save SIECs from being abolished, Governors had promised to reform State electoral commissions in line with the transformation of INEC. Thus, governors must now initiate bill(s) to their respective State House of Assemblies that will guarantee the tenure of Chairmen and Commissioners of SIECs as well as adequate funding of the electoral commission. Aside legal reform, SIECs must be adequately staffed, equipped, trained and motivated to perform their assigned constitutional responsibility in a professional manner.

It will however be naive and foolhardy to think that only SIECs can guarantee credible elections at the council level. Political Parties have big role to play. They are the ones that will field contestants at the council polls. They must strictly comply with the Code of Conduct for political parties, embrace internal democracy in the nomination of their candidates, eschew violent campaigns as well as forswear sharp practices during the polls. The electorates too must actively participate in the electioneering process. Now that votes have started to count, they must follow the campaigns keenly and make wise choice at the council polls. Even if the candidates offer them inducements, they must vote according to the dictates of their conscience. Nigerian media must also beam their searchlights on the activities of each of the 36 SIECs in a similar fashion as they did on INEC. Credible council polls are sine-qua-non to deepening of democracy and good governance.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Path to National Transformation

President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan made a lot of promises during his nationwide campaign for the office of the president. The fulcrum of his campaign was his solemn pledge to transform Nigeria; to give our long-suffering motherland a breath of fresh air. Nigerians believed in his capability to deliver on his electoral promises hence the ‘landslide’ and ‘moonslide’ victory he recorded in the April 16 presidential poll. He scored over 22 million votes to emerge winner. On Sunday, May 29, 2011, during his inauguration, the President reiterated his vow to transform Nigeria. Newspaper editorials, opinion moulders, actors and stakeholders in the Nigerian project have been setting agenda for the president on how best he could go about the onerous assignment of engendering good governance in Nigeria. In continuation of the counselling sessions, I want to call the president’s attention to the immortal word of section 14 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). It reads: “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice”.

Former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu likened democracy to a computer, made broadly of two parts: hardware and software. There are two things President Jonathan and his lieutenants should do to transform Nigeria positively. They need to deliver the software and hardware dividends of democracy to Nigerians. By democratic software, the president and indeed all other political office holders at the three tiers of government viz. Federal, State and Local Government and across the three arms of government, that is, Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary must strictly observe the intangibles such as the rule of law which comprise of supremacy of the law (Constitution), equality before the law and fundamental human rights. If our elected public office holders will observe constitutionalism; play by the rules; guarantee civil liberties; run open, transparent, inclusive and accountable government, then Nigeria will be on a solid footing of transformation. If the principles of separation of power and checks and balances will be heeded in inter-governmental relations, then Nigeria will be transformed.

The president in his inaugural address on May 29 said “The bane of corruption shall be met by the overwhelming force of our collective determination, to rid our nation of this scourge”. We wait to see. Strict observance of the national pledge is crucial. It reads: I pledge to Nigeria my country/ To be faithful, loyal and honest/ To serve Nigeria with all my strength/ To defend her unity/ And uphold her honour and glory/ So help me God. If our political office holder will take this to heart and strictly obey the letters and spirit of their Oath of Allegiance and Oath of Office, then the country will be on the path of transformation. Good laws, best fit policies as against best practices, reforms and roadmaps also form part of the software of good democratic dividends. In truth, President Goodluck Jonathan did the country proud and set the right tone for national transformation by enhancing the conducive environment and support to the Independent National Electoral Commission to deliver on largely credible polls in April 2011. The signing into law of the Freedom of Information bill on Saturday, May 28 is also a positive sign that GEJ is interested in transforming Nigeria.

Hardware of democracy consists of tangible things which impact on peoples’ lives. Among these are social infrastructures like hospitals, schools, roads, railway, houses, electricity, pipe borne water, stadia, et cetera. There is no gainsaying that despite huge annual budgetary allocations for capital projects, there is a serious infrastructural deficit in Nigeria. It is a crying shame that in our 51 years of national independence, Nigerians are running their individual ‘local governments’ by providing electricity, water, security and homes for themselves. Yet, 1999 Constitution (as amended) says in section 14 (2) (b) that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.

It was a rude shock to me when on June 2 Presidential Projects Assessment Committee (PPAC) led by Ibrahim Bunu said in its report to President Jonathan that the Federal Government is currently executing 11,886 projects at the cost of N7.78 trillion, out of which N2.696 trillion had been paid to contractors. The report also stated that, "reckoned in today's prices and allowing for unreported ongoing projects, the total cost needed to complete all projects may well be as high as N8 trillion". The committee also found evidence of large scale, widespread institutional mediocrity, deficiency of vision and a lack of direction in project management, which results in poor conceptualisation, poor design and faulty execution. "Needless to add that, this has resulted in avoidable losses of billions of naira to the Federal Government. As a matter of routine, contracts are awarded without securing the required funds in the annual budget to ensure their timely execution."

Any wonder there are infrastructural deficits in Nigeria? For heaven’s sake it is sheer criminality, grand deception and breach of Fiscal Responsibility and Public Procurement Acts to embark on this magnitude of white elephant projects. Every Wednesday the Executive Council of the Federation (Federal Cabinet), with the swiftness of preparing noodles, initiates new projects or earmark billions of Naira to on-going projects, yet years after, there are no completions in sight. President Jonathan should do well to stop initiating new projects and concentrate on the completion of these 11, 886 ones. I for one do not see the need for 9 new federal universities established by the Federal Government in 2010 when the existing ones are grossly underfunded. If Nigeria will be transformed, political considerations should cease to be the prime factor for initiating capital intensive projects.

Bloated bureaucracy is also unhelpful hence Presidential Advisory Committee recommendation for leaner government earn my support. President Jonathan should see to the faithful implementation of the recommendations from T.Y Danjuma’s PAC and Ibrahim Bunu’s PPAC. I recommend that the President should forward the reports to his economic team and the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission for proper considerations.