Wednesday, November 30, 2011

ENSIEC and Campaign Finance

Enugu State Independent Electoral Commission (ENSIEC) is one of the 36 state electoral commissions in Nigeria. The Commission is at present making earnest preparations for the conduct of chairmanship and councillorship elections into the 17 Local Government Areas of the State. ENSIEC recently released the official guidelines for the elections. The 3rd September 211 official gazette titled “E.S.L.N. No. 6 of 2011 – Enugu State Independent Electoral Commission (ENSIEC) Guidelines for Local Government Council Elections Scheduled for the 10th December 2011” has a total of seventeen sections. Of greater relevance to this writer are the sections related to campaign finance in the guidelines.

Section 3 (n) of the document states that “each candidate shall pay a non-refundable deposit of two hundred thousand naira (N200, 000) for Chairmanship candidates and fifty thousand naira (N50, 000) for Councillorship candidates.” This same provision was repeated verbatim as a possible ground for disqualification in section 13 (f). It is noteworthy that this clause is neither in the Nigerian 1999 Constitution (as amended), Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) nor does it exist in the guidelines for election by Independent National Electoral Commission which is the statutory body that conducts all other strands of elections apart from the council polls.

My investigation shows that due to the unhealthy state of funding for local government polls by State governors in Nigeria, some state electoral commissions decided to charge administrative fees on candidates running for council elections. It is noteworthy that the levy is not on aspirants but on candidates. Apart from being a source of additional revenue to SIECs, such administrative fee also ensures that only serious candidates contest for council elections. Of course, many political parties and candidates have kicked against such charges which they call illegal and exorbitant. Some of them have gone further to sue the state independent electoral commissions over the issue.

As earlier noted, it is not all the SIECs that charges this non-refundable deposits neither is the amount charged uniform across the states that demand such fees. For instance, River State Independent Electoral Commission (RISEC) charges a token of N5, 000 for Councillorship and N10, 000 for Chairmanship positions. My inquiry reveals that these fees are refundable in certain circumstances. So it depends on how well funded the state electoral commission is that determines whether it explores other sources of income. Quite unfortunately, it is the contestants that bear the brunt of such additional charges as many aspirants would have spent money to purchase their nomination forms from their respective political parties.

Another ENSIEC requirement that borders on campaign finance is contained in section 3(p) (iii) which states that “Candidates for screening shall come along with the following: 3 years tax clearance certificate paid as and at when due preceding the local government elections. The tax clearance certificate must show the seal and the signature of the Board of Internal Revenue (BIR).” This, I think, is to ensure that those coming to govern the local government are responsible citizens who performs their civic duties as at when due.

The guideline in section 4 (h) frowns at vote buying. It states that: “Bribery or other forms of inducement to voters, either directly or indirectly, shall be avoided by candidates and their agents.” This is one of the ways ENSIEC hopes to create a level playing field for all the contestants. A curious provision is contained in section 6 (a) of the guideline. It states that “The candidates may print posters of any size not exceeding 14*16 inch size for the elections.” Why the specification?

Two possible grounds on which a candidate can be declared unfit to contest as councillor or chairman of a local government in Enugu State is if he or she is bankrupt and /or has been indicted for embezzlement by a panel of enquiry. In the past, indictment by any panels of enquiry has been used to weed out unfavoured candidates. In tandem with what now obtains at the federal level, it would have been better if ENSIEC disqualifies candidates based on indictment for corruption by court of competent jurisdiction.

Section 8 (4) of the guideline also bars chairman of a local government in Enugu State from holding “any other executive office or paid employment whatsoever, during his tenure of office” This is possibly aimed at preventing conflict of interest. This plethora of regulations notwithstanding, does ENSIEC has the manpower, resources and the technical knowledge to enforce these guidelines?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Justice Musdapher’s Advisory to Nigerian Judges

“A corrupt Judge is more harmful to the society than a man who runs amok with a dagger in a crowded street. The latter can be restrained physically. But a corrupt Judge deliberately destroys the moral foundation of society and causes incalculable distress to individuals through abusing his office while still being referred to as ‘honourable.’ – Hon. Justice Samson Uwaifo (Retd)

There is no gainsaying that Nigeria’s judiciary, particularly in 2011, have been in the eye of the storm. The institution has been enmeshed in war of attrition that has left it battered, bruised and soiled. At a lecture organised by the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS) on 10 November 2011, Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Dahiru Musdapher in a paper titled “The Nigerian Judiciary: Towards Reform of the Bastion of Constitutional Democracy” lamented the delay in the dispensation of justice which he identified as a major challenge in the justice delivery sector.

He attributed such delay to institutional incapacities in facilities (especially electronic facility), in-built delay mechanisms in the law, as well as failings on the part of some Judges, the official and private Bars, law enforcement agencies, litigants and witnesses. CJN also expressed concern about “the declining intellectual depth and overall quality of the judgments of some Judges as well as the frequency with which some Judges churn out conflicting decisions in respect of the same set of facts.”

Perhaps, most weighty of the comments made by the CJN at the NIALS lecture was his advisory to his colleagues on the bench. According to news report, Justice Musdapher said: “I must make specific mention of the need for Judges to prioritise criminal matters bordering on official corruption that are placed before them. It has since been recognised that corruption is the bane of development in Nigeria. Therefore, it is imperative for all Judges to realise that these cases are extremely important to Nigerians and must be dispensed with swiftly. I hereby strongly advise all Judges to accelerate the hearing of such cases and ensure that they are dispensed with within six months of filing. If for any reason the prosecution is not ready to proceed with the case, then the matter should be struck out rather than leaving the public with the impression that the judiciary is not performing its necessary role in curbing corrupt practices in Nigeria. These delays cannot be tolerated any longer.”

That statement was spot on. Nigeria over the years has been occupying the unenviable position on the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. With a score of 2.4 out of 10, Nigeria in 2010 was ranked number 134 out of 178 countries on CPI. In its official reaction to the CJN’s advisory, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission said if the directive is strictly adhered to by judges, it will not only draw to a close the over 75 high profile cases and 1500 others it is presently prosecuting in courts "with the attendant effect of reshaping the nation’s anti-graft war but will equally reposition the country’s reputation in the international community." It is therefore heart-warming to hear that the CJN has deemed it fit to drum up support for the anti-corruption crusade of the government.

However, this directive to my own mind does not have the force of law and as such CJN may not be in a position to sanction judges who flout it. If what happened with election petition tribunals is anything to go by, a constitutional amendment has to be effected on section 285 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended in order for a time limit to apply to the disposal of election petitions. The closest power given to CJN to make rules is in section 236 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended and it reads “Subject to the provisions of any Act of the National Assembly, the Chief Justice of Nigeria may make rules for regulating the practice and procedure of Supreme Court.” Thus, National Assembly must approve of any such regulation and it only applies to the Supreme Court.

The nobility of the intention of the CJN in helping to fast track adjudication on corruption cases is not in doubt; however, he must not over reach himself by issuing directives that can further embattle the judiciary. The advisory is in order if it is just to seek cooperation of colleagues to expedite adjudication process. In addition, he should join the EFCC’s advocacy for special court or tribunal to handle corruption matters. That in my view is the sure way forward out of the present quagmire of slow motion in the dispensation of corruption cases.

Further, it is not only corruption cases that needs to be fast tracked. All cases before the courts must be handled expeditiously. Comptroller General of Prisons, Mr Olusola Ogundipe has said time and again that the number of awaiting trial inmates in our prisons is intolerable. According to the CGP, out of the over 48,000 inmates in Nigeria’s prison custody only about 14,000 of them were convicts. Moreover, up to 50 per cent of these Awaiting Trial Prisoners have been on remand for between 5 and 17 years without their cases being concluded. A newspaper investigation has also shown that the Supreme Court is currently hearing appeals filed in 2001 and 2002. In his address at the event to mark the 2011/2012 legal year, Musdapher said that during the 2010-2011 legal year 1,149 civil appeals, 58 criminal appeals and 177 motions were pending before the court. This is preposterous!

Some administrative steps taken by the CJN to reform the judiciary are well-intentioned and commendable. Some of them include the reversal of an administrative order of his immediate predecessor in office, which restricted the sitting of the Supreme Court to only three weeks in a month. CJN directed the litigation department to fix cases for every week. The setting up of Justice Mohammed Lawal Uwais led 28 member judicial reform Committee is also praiseworthy even though reports of similar reform committees in the past have largely remained unimplemented. Also laudable is the CJN’s plan to introduce Intelligent Performance Measurement System for both judicial and non-judicial staff to weed out those who are unproductive as well as his announcement of the full computerisation of Supreme Court operations so as to ensure efficient and speedy processing of court documentations, fast-track compilation (and transmission) of records of proceedings and other vital documents; enable Judges; lawyers; litigants; researchers and the public to have easy access to online legal database among other benefits.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Implication of Nigeria’s 167 Million Population

Baby Gabriel, born 12am at Gwarinpa General Hospital, Abuja, officially made Nigeria’s population 167 million (82 million females and 85 million males) as the world celebrates Day of Seven Billion People on Monday, October 31, 2011. At that official figure, Nigeria also becomes the sixth largest population in the world after China, India, USA, Indonesia and Brazil according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Nigeria’s latest projected inhabitants represent 2.4 per cent of the world’s new population. According to recent estimates by the UN Population Division, by 2100 Nigeria will be the third most populous country in the world, next to India and China.

Immediate past Chairman of National Population Commission (NPC), Samu’ila Danko Makama at his valedictory meeting with the media on October 26, 2011 “urged leaders at the three tiers of government to up the ante on nation-building initiatives, with a view to expanding public infrastructure in proportion to population growth in order to stem a future social crisis that could be foisted on the country by its alarmingly increasing citizenry base.”

He also stressed the need for the Federal Government to step up preparations for the conduct of the next census, expected to be in 2016 in conformity with global standard of 10 years interval and a three-year preparatory timeline. Drawing attention to projections that Nigeria’s population would be 188 million in four years and 221 million by 2020, Makama charged the government to brace up ahead of the challenges that would inevitably come with these population growths. According to him, the rise would impact positively or negatively on the citizenry depending on government’s plans or failure to plan.

Makama said: “For instance, we all know that such areas like health, food, housing, and other social infrastructure will dominate the need of the population. We should start thinking about protecting the people with adequate preparation ahead. Take family planning more seriously because if the current exponential growth rate of 3.2 per cent increases, it will translate to population explosion, which can mean crisis.” Erstwhile NPC chairman further opined that Nigeria’s increasing population has an annual growth rate of 5.6 million people and cautioned that the population explosion could lead to a higher rate of unemployment and poverty among Nigerians. “For Nigerians, it is necessary we start to space our children and have plans for them, otherwise this may lead to increased food shortage, poverty among Nigerians and a higher rate of unemployment. These effects are already manifesting in every spheres of life of Nigerians, many of whom still wallow in poverty”.

Speaking at a news conference at UN headquarters in New York to mark the Seven billion human population milestones, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon stressed the need for concerted action to address growing social and economic challenges of population growth. According to him, people have lost faith in governments and public institutions to do the right thing. “Our world is one of terrible contradictions. Plenty of food but one billion people goes hungry. Lavish lifestyles for a few, poverty for too many others. Huge advances in medicine while mothers die every day in childbirth … and children die every day from drinking dirty water. Billions spent on weapons to kill people instead of keeping them safe. What kind of world has baby seven billion been born into?”

On the same issue National Mirror in its editorial of November 7, 2011 observed thus: “There are disturbing patterns of global demographic trends that give serious cause for worry. The least developed countries are experiencing a population boom while at the same time facing underperforming economies, chronic scarcity of resources, food crises and famine. The developed nations have, in contrast, overcome most of these basic challenges, while their population growth has slowed down. The advanced and developing countries have shown the way out of the quagmire. Since 1979 China has put in place its one child policy, and America has its 2.1 children per family.....There is no reason why Nigeria should not toe this line. There is currently a national policy of one woman, four children; it must be enforced. This should be complemented with a vigorous national campaign to discourage the men folk from continuing with the traditional large family sizes arising from polygamy.

Helping married women to have access to good education and reproductive health services will be the most effective measure for fertility reduction. Furthermore, the authorities must work harder to check rural-urban migrations by developing the rural areas into places where citizens can enjoy a better quality of life through access to sustainable means of livelihood, good education and affordable, qualitative healthcare, among other basic amenities, including electricity and safe drinking water. It must be recognised; nevertheless, that population is an index of power in international relations. A big population confers status and respect, especially where this translates to abundant human capital. Beyond that, population size is a critical factor in investment decision-making. Markets must be found for goods and services produced, and so a large population is an asset to a nation.”

My own interpretation of all the aforesaid is that Nigeria’s new population figure could both be benefit or albatross depending on how our policy managers particularly government at all levels relate with the new figure. The first major challenge thrown by the new population size is for National Population Commission to come up with a disaggregated data of the 167 million. Each state and local government must be informed about its new population figure and concomitantly growth rate.

The second major issue lies in the imperative of good governance. There are three types of population: Over-population, Under-population and Optimum Population. I do not subscribe to the view that Nigeria at 167 million is over populated. I think the nation is well endowed to cater adequately for the size of its population if, and only if, the nation’s natural and human resources will be harnessed for national development. Here lies the imperative of selfless and visionary leaders with genuine anti-corruption posture. It is well and good for the government to embark on civic education on the significance of child-spacing and family planning, however, limited success will be achieved in this area because of our people’s cultural and religious orientations.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Estimable Recognition for the Amazons

Two notable Nigerian women would on Monday, 14 November 2011 join 362 others to be conferred with national honours by President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja. Hajia Saudatu Magajiya Mahdi and Barrister (Mrs.) Maryam Uwais (nee Isa Wali) have both been nominated among the 68 recipients for the Member of the Federal Republic (MFR). These women of substance, achievers and change champions have performed incredible feats in development work. Like a colossus, their activities and activisms straddle the area of education, human rights, law reform, legislative advocacy, banking and finance, etcetera.

Born on 20 April 1957, Hajia Saudatu Mahdi hails from Katsina State. She studied at Ahmadu Bello University and Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON) from where she obtained her first and post graduate qualifications in 1978 and 1992 respectively. She has certificates in entrepreneurship, Fiscal/Financial management, advocacy and human rights and Institution Building skills. She is a Fellow of the Institute for Corporate Administration in Nigeria and a recipient of national and international awards in recognition of her work in development and women’s human rights defence. She was in public service for eighteen years rising from being a classroom teacher to becoming the Principal of Government Girls Secondary School, Bauchi in August 1989. She was appointed Acting Registrar, Abubakar Tatari Ali Polytechnic, Bauchi on 12 April 1995 and held that position until 11 November 1998 when she voluntarily retired.

Though Hajia Saudatu distinguished herself as a teacher and an administrator, it was in the development work that she shone like a million stars. On retirement from public service, she was appointed a founding member of the Board of Trustees of the Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA), a registered non–governmental organization. From 1999 to date, she has served as Secretary General, member and Secretary of the Board of Trustees and is the official spokes person of WRAPA on all issues.

Saudatu Mahdi has a fair degree of Islamic education and knowledge, making her well recognized and respected among the Islamic Scholars due to her competent and productive dialogue with prominent scholars on issues relating to the rights of women under the Shari’a law in Nigeria. This skill was successfully utilised to support advocacy and sensitization around the appeals of Safiya Husseini and Amina Lawal, two Nigerian women who appealed against death sentences on charges of adultery which were upheld by the Sokoto and Katsina State Shari’a Court of Appeal in 2001 and 2003 respectively.

She has to her credit over 20 published and unpublished presentations on violence against women, Shari’a and women’s rights, women in democracy, women in education, CEDAW and the African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa). She has participated in and piloted varied studies on gender with specific focus on violence against women, bodily integrity of women and girls, gender gap analysis in Nigeria towards project implementation and research documentation on women’s political participation in Nigeria. From 2001 to date she has been working closely with lawyers and activists to develop a national law on violence against women under the auspices of the Legislative Advocacy Coalition on Violence Against Women (LACVAW), which is a network of about 55 civil society groups, religious organizations, international human right groups and other stakeholders working on various aspects of women’s rights.

Another intellectual juggernaut and a worthy recipient of Nigeria’s national honour in 2011 is Mrs. Maryam Uwais, a legal luminary and rights activist. Maryam was born 10 December 1959 in Washington D.C though a native of Jigawa State in Nigeria. She holds Bachelors and Masters Degrees in law from the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University among several other academic qualifications. Her career, spanning over three decades, started at Ministry of Justice in Kano where she rose from pupil to senior state counsel within 1980 – 1988. She had a stint at the Nigerian Law Reform Commission before joining the Central Bank of Nigeria where she rose from Assistant to Senior Bank Examiner between 1989 – 1998. From 1998 to date she has been principal partner in Wali-Uwais and Company (General Law Practice).

Her law firm deals in legal consultancy in diverse matters, including Constitutional Law, Islamic Finance, Banking & Insurance, Criminal Law, Human Rights Law, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Mergers and Acquisitions, Capital Market operations, General Banking and Insurance etc. She is also into legislative advocacy specialising in the provision of technical support on legislative issues, including the designing, development and implementation of legislative projects. Drafting, advocacy, research and conducting surveys to assist and enhance the process of legislation, and engaging the public on issues of good governance at public hearings.

Aside being an active member of Nigerian and International Bar Associations, Maryam has also served as council member of National Human Rights Commission; Member, Bureau of Public Enterprises Steering Committee on Anti-Trust and Competition, Nigeria; Member, Justice Sector Reform Group; Member, Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), based in Canada; Steering Committee Member, Commonwealth Education Fund;
Member, National Selection Committee for the 2003 and 2004 Fund for Leadership Development Program by the MacArthur Foundation; Consultant and National Facilitator, Technical and Advocacy Group for the passage of the Child Rights Bill; Member, Working Group on the Reform of Legal Aid in Nigeria.

She was also a member, Governing Council, Crescent University, Abeokuta, Ogun State; Member, Board of Directors, Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa, Banjul, Gambia; Member, Technical Committee of the Constitutional Reform Dialogue Mechanism; member, African Union (AU) Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child; Member of the Securities and Exchange Commission Bonds Sub-Committee; National Committee on Job Creation; member, Thisday newspaper Editorial Board, (Leaders & Company Ltd); appointed Independent Director, Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc in July 2011 and appointed Member, Legal Committee of the National Council of Privatisation (NCP). This is to mention but a few. Maryam has written and presented several academic papers both within and outside Nigeria.

What more can one say but hearty congratulations to these great daughters of Nigeria who have laboured to bring positive development to our dear motherland.